Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Army Navy Surplus Stores

I recently started trying to find a good Army Navy surplus store around me, and I’ve learned that they have nearly gone extinct.

For some reason, I got hit with the nostalgic urge to visit an Army Navy store in the past few weeks. Between their cheap camping gear like paracord, the fact that I could use a new pair of BDUs, and the sheer joy of window shopping, I really just wanted to go to one and peruse their wares. I might pick up something if I found anything I could make use of at a good price. Military specification bags and knives are supposedly some of the best, and I’d like to try out a canvas belt like I’ve heard of some people finding at surplus stores. Plus, people seem to rave about the thermal poncho liner, or “woobie” as I hear it referred to among those who know of its excellence. I hadn’t gone to one in several years, so it seemed like the time to go see what any local stores had on hand.

Looking around on Google Maps, I found that there weren’t many at all around me. The one that I remember going to most recently has long since closed down, and been replaced by a pawn shop. One in a nearby town seemed to still be in business, but it was too far away for a lunch break trip. Ideally, I wanted somewhere close enough that I could swing by, look at what they had, and get back to work on time.

One location appeared to be just a few minutes away from my house. Not something I could easily reach during lunch, but I could swing by just to check out the exterior after work. On my way home, I took a detour from my normal route to see if I could find this possibly hidden gem of an Army surplus store. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an online catalog with their warehouse listed on the map. There was no storefront, so no way for me to actually look over their physical goods as I wanted to do.

In searching, I found several other online Army Navy surplus suppliers. One store in particular, I actually ended up purchasing some shoes from. These are all well and good (arguably superior, since you can see all of their products from the comfort of your home), but it’s just not the same as going to a physical store and looking around at what they have. It’s almost like going to pawn shops and looking for bypassed treasures.

Along the way, I learned some about how surplus stores work. Apparently, surplus stores attend auctions for collections of military surplus goods. These stores buy up items in lots at the auctions, and sell them individually at their own location.

Eventually, I came to the realization that there really wasn’t a need for brick and mortar Army Navy surplus stores anymore. Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay have tons of new and used items that surplus stores might carry, or high quality replicas thereof. For small town surplus stores, how can you compete with the price and selection of E-commerce giants? They need enough business to net a profit, in addition to keeping the lights on. Admittedly, my niche situation is far too uncommon to pay the bills for most surplus stores.

You need paracord? Walmart has bundles of 100’ for $10 or less. That nylon belt that I was curious about? Amazon has them for $8 or so, in a variety of colors and styles. You can even buy a box of MREs from Amazon, which I long thought nearly impossible to obtain.These options are even better than a catalog. I can see current inventory, order what I want, and have it delivered to my door in 2 days or pick it up on the same day in some cases. Why even bother going to a specific store that may or may not have what I want, when I can throw a bundle of paracord in the buggy with my weekly grocery run?

I still maintain that there is almost a romantic notion of looking through old uniforms and gear that have seen actual use. It’s like a museum that you can purchase from. And at the surplus stores that are still in operation, you may very well be able to find better deals than what Amazon or Walmart have. But that option may not be around for much longer. With everything moving to online retailers, a military surplus catalog may be the closest you can get to visiting an actual surplus store.

If there is an Army Navy surplus store near you, go check it out. They sometimes have some genuinely cool items. From wardrobe pieces, to camping gear, and everything in between. Sure, you may be able to buy similar things online, but there is something to be said about the experience of exploring your local surplus store.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Runescape - Double XP Weekend and Second Ban

A few weeks ago, Jagex held its semi-annual Double Experience Weekend (DXPW) event on Runescape. With a few exceptions, players gained double experience for nearly any action from February 23 to February 26, 2018. These exceptions, along with the consequences of my attempt to reach level 99 Magic again, have left a sour taste in my mouth.

DXPW is always announced several weeks before it begins, in order to give players time to prepare. Players stock up on materials and items to train certain skills and take advantage of the bonus experience rates. For typically expensive skills like construction, DXPW gives players 72 hours to spend half as much, and train skills twice as quickly. Since DXPW only comes twice a year, most players like to make the most of it.

I considered what I might want to work on for DXPW. I recently knocked out 99 Runecrafting, and I didn’t really want to put too much effort into Smithing since I’d also like to get all of the Respect rewards from Artisan’s Workshop. The only logical option was Magic. As much as I was still salty and burned out from my previous ban while working on Magic, DXPW would let me cut the remaining xp to level 99 in half.

To explore the idea of grinding out 99 Magic during DXPW, I started crunching some numbers.

At the time, I had 11,329,410 Magic xp. Level 99 requires 13,034,431 xp. That gives me a gap of 1,705,021 xp to obtain before I hit level 99.

High Level Alchemy normally gives 65 xp per cast. To get 1.7M xp, I would need to cast it 26,232 times. Since DXPW doubles that 65 xp per cast to 130 xp per cast, it would drop my required number of casts down to only 13,116. If I could manage a little over 13k casts of High Level Alchemy within 72 hours, I could get level 99 Magic.

13k high alchs. Was that reasonable? Could I do that easily, or at all? It had been so long since I was regularly grinding Magic, I didn’t recall how many casts per day or per hour that I usually got. Looking back through my updates, I seemed to get between 2k and 3k casts per day on average. One time, I did manage to get 5k casts in a single day. Since DXPW was a special occasion, and I could justify buckling down on my grind, I could definitely get between 4k and 5k casts per day for the duration of the weekend.

Realizing that 99 Magic was perfectly feasible with DXPW, I started buying up supplies. I tried out a few different items from the Runescape Wikia high alch market watch page. My top priorities were items that would buy quickly enough, while still making a slight net profit, and low cost per item. More expensive items usually make a better profit, sure. But they have a lower buy limit, they typically buy more slowly, and I didn’t know if I could afford to buy 13k of them. Plus, they have gotten the high alch value wrong on occasion, so the net profit is either less, or in extreme cases, it may even result in a net loss. I didn’t care about making a ton of money (I can do that later), I just wanted to get 99 Magic.

Magic Shieldbows seemed to be the best fit for my needs. They were cheaper than most other items commonly used for High Level Alchemy. The buy limit of 5k per 4 hours was plenty high enough to get how many I needed, and they purchased very quickly at market price. I bought up enough to hit 14k in combination with my other high alch items that I had banked up from before, and got enough Nature runes to match. I could’ve gotten the exact amount that I needed, but those extra few hundred would just be the icing on the cake in celebration.

DXPW officially began on Friday, February 23, at 12:00 PM GMT or 7:00 AM EST. I was ready to start as soon as the clock rolled over and they announced it over game chat. However, I wasn’t getting the expected 130 xp per cast. Instead, I was only getting 78 xp per cast. That didn’t seem right. I looked it up to confirm my gut feeling. Sure enough, double experience was members only. Those of us with f2p accounts only got a paltry 20% bonus.

I won’t say I was devastated, but I was certainly disappointed. All of my calculations assumed a full 2x bonus experience. I had only purchased enough supplies to cover about 14k casts. With 20% bonus experience, that 13,116 became 21,859 casts of High Level Alchemy to reach level 99.

There was no sense in whining about it. I had purchased quite a bit of supplies. I may as well use them while I get some bonus xp. Who knows, maybe I could knock out the nearly 22k required casts within my 72 hour window. Probably not, but it’s possible. Either way, every cast of high level alchemy that I managed during DXPW counted as 1.2 casts any other time. That adds up when you’re dealing with a few thousand casts.

I started high alching and didn’t really stop unless there was a portable forge up. Since I also had quite a few protean bars I wanted to get rid of, I figured DXPW was the best time to get rid of them. And since protean bar smithing runs for about 5 minutes without interaction, it bought me some time to forget about the grind every now and then.

By late afternoon, I had managed to get 98 Magic and several Smithing levels. Since I didn’t have the supplies to reach 99, I placed a few orders on the Grand Exchange to buy more Nature runes and Magic Shieldbows. I would need them eventually, and if I did manage to burn through all of the supplies I had originally purchased for DXPW, it would be good to have more available.

Satisfied with my progress, I decided against trying to keep high alching while cooking dinner. What’s an hour or so going to mean across 72 hours of the weekend? I could pick back up after I finished cooking.

Or so I thought. I tried to log in after dinner and saw an unfortunately familiar notification. “Your ban will be lifted in 47 hours, 37 minutes, 26 seconds.” Really? REALLY??

As much as I was disappointed when I saw that f2p only got 20% bonus xp for DXPW, I can’t quite describe how I felt when I realized that I was banned again. Disappointed, frustrated, baffled, and some other cocktail of emotions. I was playing legitimately. I always have. No bot detection is perfect, sure, and I can understand a player getting a false positive ban every now and then. But two false positives in the course of a few months? That’s just ridiculous.

Judging by the time remaining, it appeared the ban had been applied around 9 PM on Friday evening. My account would be available again on Sunday evening. While that would leave me with around 12 hours of DXPW, I didn’t even care to take advantage of it. I was so annoyed that I had received 2 bans, despite never cheating, that I didn’t even want to play again. At least not for a while. I would be missing out on 20% bonus xp, but what does that really matter?

So I didn’t play for the entire remainder of the weekend. I didn’t even think about it. It was liberating, honestly. We went to the zoo and saw the animals. It was nice to be in touch with real life, and not tethered to a game just because they were boosting the amount of imaginary points in a specific date range.

On Monday morning, I eventually got around to logging in. I wanted to see if they docked any of my experience gained. I’ve heard before that sometimes, Jagex will take away experience or items gained from illicit play. Getting banned was one thing, but if they also took away the progress I had made, it would’ve added insult to injury.

Fortunately, I was still at level 98 Magic, which meant they probably hadn’t taken any xp away. I wasn’t keeping up with it to the letter, but that was probably about right. Since DXPW was over, I decided to calculate how much progress I got within the 14 hours or so that I did manage to grind.

I started DXPW at 11,354,189 Magic xp and 3,973,722 Smithing xp. Before I got banned, I had reached 12,224,131 Magic xp and 4,632,249 Smithing xp. That was a net gain of 869,942 Magic xp and 658,527 Smithing xp, for a total of 1,528,469 between the two skills. I got almost 870k Magic xp within 14 hours. I could’ve gotten 99 Magic during DXPW easily.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly how many casts of High Level Alchemy I managed during DXPW. I didn’t record exactly how many supplies I bought, and the experience rates fluctuated over the course of the day. The base rate was 1.2x for most of the time, but Jagex occasionally boosted it to 1.25x after meeting charity donation milestones. Not only did the base rate change, but several players used pulse cores here and there, giving further busted xp rates temporarily. Going with the minimum and most frequent xp rate of 78 xp per cast, getting 869,942 xp would have taken 11,153 casts. So I probably got in at least 10k casts, if not closer to 11k casts. All within 14 hours.

I could have gotten 99 Magic during DXPW, but I didn’t. Not because I didn’t have enough time or supplies, but because Jagex banned me. This makes twice that they have banned me, and I have never once cheated while playing Runescape. They pride themselves in their bot detection, but if you’re going to get two false positives within the course of a few months for the same player, maybe you should tweak your methods some. Don’t punish honest players, even if that means you might miss a few actual bots here and there.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

SteelSeries Free Mobile Wireless Controller

I recently obtained the Free Mobile Wireless Controller from SteelSeries, and I have been tremendously pleased with it.

I’ve never been a fan of touchscreen controls for video games. If a game was made specifically for touchscreen devices, or ported from other platforms with controls adjusted properly, they aren’t bad. Still not quite as good as a dedicated controller in my mind, but they’ll usually pass. Emulators of non-touch platforms on touch screens are normally atrocious. The on-screen buttons often obscure part of the screen, and there isn’t any tactile feedback to let you know whether you’re still on the buttons or where you are on the d-pad or analog stick. It’s always been a terrible experience for me to play emulators on a touchscreen device.

Recently, I’ve found that slow-paced games like RPGs can be passable on touchscreen devices. I would prefer a physical controller, but I can get by with the touch controls. Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Trading Card Game on Game Boy and Game Boy Color respectively both worked decently well with touch controls. I tried The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, but the movements were just too quick for me to play with any proficiency.

When discussing this issue with a coworker, he mentioned that he was trying to get rid of the aforementioned bluetooth controller. While I would normally be keen to take him up on such an offer, I informed him that the bluetooth connectivity of my janky phone was broken, and that I would have to decline.

After picking up a pair of bluetooth headphones and successfully pairing them with my phone, I decided to ask about the controller again. Sure enough, when you follow the instructions to pair a device properly, it actually works. He was willing to give up the controller, normally a $50 accessory, for $5. I figured at that price, I may as well take it off his hands.

The controller connects via bluetooth, and I was initially concerned that there would be too much of a delay to play anything fast-paced. Fortunately, the delay is minimal, maybe a fraction of a second. It obviously isn’t perfect, but it’s short enough that I can usually anticipate the input lag without any issues. Even playing Donkey Kong Country 2, a platformer with some very specific timing, I don’t really have any issues after a few minutes to get acclimated to the lag.

Left: K-Cup Right: Controller

As for size, the controller is extremely small. On the plus side, this makes it super portable. On the negative side, it could be unwieldy for people with large hands. My hands are pretty big, but it feels surprisingly good to me. Not quite Dualshock 4 comfortable, but comfortable enough that I have no fatigue from playing long stretches with it.

Battery seems to last reasonably long. I’ve never played it down to empty, but the official documentation claims roughly 8 hours of play time and 2 hours to fully charge it. I play with it for a while, and stick it on the charger when I’m done.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the controller. I can’t say I would’ve paid full price for it, but it was certainly worth more than $5 to me. If you’re looking for a solid controller that’s portable, but capable, this is the way to go. If you can find one discounted, even better. It seems to work for emulator gaming on Android, and I plan on using it to play games on a Raspberry Pi when I get around to setting up RetroPie.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Runescape - Free Open Membership Weekend

On two occasions, Jagex has made the full paid version of Runescape available to all players for a 72 hour duration over “free” or “open” weekends. For free players, this has been a boon and truly valuable opportunity.

The first “Open Weekend” spanned from June 9 to June 12, 2017. This was during a time when I wasn’t playing, so I wasn’t aware of it. However, had I been playing at the time, or at least knew about it, I certainly would have hopped on to play.

The second, this time called a “Free Weekend,” was from November 24 to November 27, 2017. As I mentioned soon after, I was actually playing for that membership weekend. I did some Slayer tasks, both solo and group. I ran some dungeons with the full gamut of p2p skills available to me. When I couldn’t actively play, I worked on Divination and managed to get it all the way up to level 50.

Since Jagex normally charges for access to this portion of the game, it begs a few questions. First, why did they offer free access to the paid parts of the game, even for a limited time? Logically, the answer seems to be that they wanted to bring in new players who were previously f2p exclusive. For many free players, if you never see the paid skills and activities, you may be content with just playing the free game. However, if you get to try out a teaser of the paid parts of the game, you may be more likely to pay for membership after the free access has ended.

Will Jagex offer another weekend of free access to p2p portions of Runescape? I think that depends heavily on whether they see an influx of new members in the weeks following these events. It is tremendously unlikely that Jagex loses money with these promotions. While some p2p players were vocally bitter about Jagex offering f2p players the chance to play the full game without giving current members 3 extra days of membership, I highly doubt that it caused anyone to quit playing the game and cancel their membership. If a substantial amount of previously free players did elect to pay for membership after these free weekends, it would behoove Jagex to continue them on occasion. Not so often that free players get their fill of membership, but enough to remind them of what they’re missing out on.

With the first weekend in early June, and the second in late November, they were separated by about 6 months. Considering Jagex already runs the Double XP Weekend promotions roughly twice a year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them do free access weekends on about the same schedule. We’ll see if they decide to run another one sometime in late Spring or early Summer.

If Jagex does decide to make a semi-annual event of the free access weekends, it would behoove free players to plan for them, in order to take full advantage of the temporary membership. For players like myself, with no plans to start a regular membership anytime soon, to use these membership weekends to take care of some p2p tasks that actually improve and aid the f2p experience. Because of this, I’ve come up with a tentative plan in case Jagex does announce another free access weekend.

Before the weekend, I want to line up a few things that I can do on f2p. I’ll get my Dungeoneering progress up to the full 35 floors that f2p can access. While I already have 100% respect in Artisan’s Workshop, I’ll get it back to 100% if the free weekends become a regular thing. Finally, I’ll identify p2p items in my bank that I’d like to sell or otherwise get rid of. Free players can occasionally get p2p items from Treasure Hunter or other sources, and I’d like to clean out as many of these as possible from my bank.

During the weekend, I’ll capitalize on this preparation. At Artisan’s Workshop, I’ll cash out my respect. I’ll set up Grand Exchange orders to sell off any items I want to get rid of. Any xp boost items that I obtain, I’ll use on the p2p money sink skills. Construction and Summoning, most notably, require inane amounts of gold to train. The best thing that I can do is push bonus xp into those skills to reduce the total amount of money I have to spend on them.

When actively playing, I’ll get my Dungeoneering progress as high as possible. Since prestige is based on the number of floors you completed on your previous reset, and averages with the current floor progression, it should increase my experience gain after I reset again. If I reach the highest floor available at my current level, I’ll prestige and stop training Dungeoneering for the weekend. If not, I’ll reset just before the weekend is over.

At times when I can’t actively play, I’ll train Divination. With so few required clicks, I can easily work on my Divination skill without paying much attention. I’d like to reach level 80 to unlock the Invention skill, but that isn’t likely with everything else I have planned for the weekend.

Above everything else, though, I plan on having fun. I don’t often get to train skills like Slayer, and I have a lot of fun with them. Despite the running gag of Runescape players being hyper efficient at the expense of enjoying the game, I mostly do what I want to do. So what if I don’t get the absolute maximum gold and experience out of those 72 hours? At the end of the day, it’s a game, and it is intended to be fun.

After the weekend is over, I’ll go back to training Smithing at Artisan’s Workshop. I’ll begin at floor 1 in Daemonheim and work my way through every f2p floor in time. I’ll do basically the same stuff I already do, just with an extra bump of experience, cash, or whatever else I get during the brief time on p2p.

Obviously, another weekend of free access to the paid areas of Runescape is far from guaranteed. Jagex has made no official statement on whether they’ll do another one. I think it’s likely that they will, especially since it serves as an easy way to demo p2p for otherwise free players, and possibly bring in some new subscriptions. However, if they do decide to run the promotion again, and especially if it becomes a regular thing, I want to be prepared to maximize my benefit from that time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Textbooks and Access Codes

Textbooks are unreasonably expensive, everyone is aware of that. But to couple an access code for course material with the purchase of a textbook? That just seems greedy to an unprecedented level.

The Theory
My opinion on textbooks is that they should serve as auxiliary material only. Tuition is expensive enough as is, and if I’m paying you to teach me, you should be able to teach me without banking on a book as well. Give me all of the course material, the assignments, the exams, and any other required material, all for the cost of the course itself. If I want extra help, the textbook should be there as an option.

If you do need a book, bake it into the cost of the course. If both the class and the book are necessary, but only one of those is part of “tuition,” it’s like you’re selling me half of a product. You’re selling me a car, but it won’t run without the engine that I must purchase separately. I bought a house, but it doesn’t have any doors or windows to actually get in unless I buy that option as well.

Let’s say that I do decide to buy the textbook. I should be able to get it from literally any source that I choose. You give me the ISBN to tell me what book it is, and I should be able to get sufficient materials from anywhere. The school bookstore, Amazon, or other book purveyors should all give me something that satisfies the conditions of the class. Even more illicit means of acquisition should be applicable. You shouldn’t care how I got the book, as long as it is the appropriate book. I’ll personally deal with the legal repercussions of using torrents to get a PDF of a textbook.

The Application
To illustrate my point, I’ll explain how I didn’t purchase a textbook at all for my most recently completed term at SNHU. I didn’t even purchase the auxiliary materials. I literally paid tuition, and that’s it.

For my first class, I got a digital rental of the textbook. In a digital format, I could get it instantly, I wouldn’t have to worry about losing or damaging it before I returned it, and I could access it from any device that I own. I kept up with reading for the first few weeks, but I eventually slacked off when I realized that I could handle the coursework without the extra aid of reading the textbook.

At the start of my second course, I decided that I would try the work without purchasing the material at all. Worst case scenario, I discover that I need the book, I go online and purchase the digital rental, and I have access to the book within like 5 minutes. Not only did this class recommend a textbook, but it also “required” a roughly $5 collection of case study artifacts. Out of principle, I didn’t purchase that either. I figured I could wing it until I absolutely had to have one or both of these items.

For 10 weeks, I used a lot of Google searches, but I did not once buy, rent, or in any way obtain the “required” materials for this course. I cited the textbook in the reference page for basically every assignment that I completed, but I don’t have a clue what the first word was. At the end of the class, I finished with an A-. I just used Google and the provided course material, and I got the second highest grade possible.

Clearly, textbooks are not necessary. Proving in a trial by fire that I could get a decent (or even good) grade without the required materials, I decided to follow this practice in all subsequent courses. At $50 or more a pop, I would save a significant sum of money over the course of my degree by foregoing the purchase of textbooks unless absolutely necessary.

The Wrench in the Gears
This plan to pass on textbook purchases came to an abrupt halt in starting my third course at SNHU. Instead of offering a traditional textbook, this course required a “zyBook” purchase. I learned that zyBooks is a platform or ecosystem of sorts, that gives digital access to related reading, as activities that demonstrate the material in action.

As much as this zyBooks thing may sound like a good way to learn new material, there were a few implications that I strongly opposed. First, it meant that I had to go through the SNHU bookstore. Since it was sold as an access code instead of a traditional textbook, other bookstores didn’t even have the book listed. Not only was the book unavailable from other purveyors, I wouldn’t have trusted it even if it was. I’ve had bad experiences with buying access codes from third party suppliers in the past, so I’ll typically go through the school bookstore for those items. Even if I oppose the idea of bookstores as school profit centers, if I need a code for a class, I don’t want to risk having to buy it twice.

The second implication about this zyBook only dawned on me during the first week of class. When working through the work for the first module, one of the items mentioned completing the activities for chapters 1 and 2 of the zyBook. There was no way to turn these items in on Brightspace, so I figured maybe they were optional. Sure, I *could* do them for practice, but if I wasn’t graded on them, why waste my time?

I looked through the grades page on Brightspace, and it listed distinct items for the zyBooks activities. If I couldn’t turn these in on Brightspace, how in the world could I actually get credit for them. Not wanting to get to the last minute and risk missing deadlines, I asked about the zyBooks assignments in the class discussion board. After a few hours, some students responded and suggested that the professor could monitor our progress in those activities on zyBooks and then manually populate these grades in Brightspace. The professor came along later and confirmed this hypothesis.

While I wasn’t quite furious, I was certainly frustrated. The access code for the zyBook was $48.60 from the SNHU bookstore. While I’ve certainly paid more for textbooks in the past, this was essentially me purchasing a subset of the course content. If I didn’t pay for the material, I wouldn’t have access to the zyBooks activities. If I didn’t complete the zyBooks activities, I would receive failing grades on those items. Considering how many of those items were listed in the grade book, and their respective weights, I would surely fail the class if I didn’t buy the zyBooks access code and complete them.

Extortion, is what that is. If you don’t pay for this auxiliary item, I’ll fail you. Nevermind the fact that I’ve already paid $1,881 for the course. Nevermind the fact there is already a platform (Brightspace) on which SNHU students can receive course material and participate in assessment activities. Nope, we have to pony up an extra half a Benjamin (a Grant, if you will) for access to the full collection of course material.

I tweeted to SNHU about. They responded, asking me to privately message them. I told them that I wasn’t happy with having to pay for access to course material when I already paid tuition. They suggested I could apply for scholarships. First, I’m in a Master’s program, so scholarships are basically nonexistent. Second, it’s not about me specifically having to pay the money. It’s about the principle of the matter. No student, having already paid for tuition, should have to pay another fee to access the remainder of the class content. That’s ridiculous.

In conclusion, realize that if a university calls a textbook or access code “required,” they may be right. Even if you as a student already know the material, and could easily pass the assessments without buying the book, you might still be strong-armed into buying the book or code. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. Is it absurd? You bet. But they call the shots, and if they want to make you pay more money for extra material, apparently they can. My nihilistic view of higher education just got a little more bleak.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Runescape - Journey to 99 Runecrafting

After several weeks of grinding, I have achieved level 99 Runecrafting.

When I got falsely banned for botting while training magic, I decided to take a break from my high level alchemy grind and do something else that doesn’t take much attention. The most afk training method I could think of was Runespan. It doesn’t yield any profit, but it only takes 1 or 2 clicks per minute, and it is considered by far the fastest Runecrafting experience.

At first, I didn’t care about going for level 99. I wasn’t doing Runespan because I wanted to train my Runecrafting. I was doing Runespan because I didn’t want to get banned again. It was easy to do while working on other things because it didn’t take much attention. Even if I couldn’t pursue 99 magic, I could at least work on something without fear of getting banned.

I started training at Runespan on December 5, at level 85 and around 3.5M xp, from when I started playing again in October. By December 6, I was up to 3.7M xp and got Rue, the Runecrafting skill pet, after only a short time of training. Maybe getting level 99 Runecrafting wouldn’t be so bad.

I began monitoring my progress consistently on December 9, to get a feel for how quickly I gained xp and how much I averaged per day. Crunching the numbers, I discovered that I could maintain a rate of just under 50k xp per hour when I was on a roll. On a good day, I could get upwards of 300k per day. My average was a little closer to 250k per day. Either way, I was getting a quarter mil experience per day, easily.

From my starting point of 3.5M xp, to the level 99 requirement of about 13M xp, getting 9.5M xp would only take a little over a month. That wasn’t bad at all. Even if I hadn’t originally planned to go for 99 Runecrafting, I may as well get it while I was there.

Anytime I was doing something that didn’t take my full attention, I was training at the Runespan on my phone. While most of my time was spent afk, I did make a few friends while I was there. Harmoncorp was a few levels ahead of me, so it was an unstated competition for a while of who would get 99 Runecrafting first. Toward the end of the journey, lingling209 and I would have discussions about how working conditions differ between different regions of the country. I’d speak to DarkPegasuS whenever I saw him around. Several players came through, but a few of them were there more regularly than others.

Before long, I was within range. From level 97, I got to level 98 and then 99 in consecutive weeks. In the low 80’s, level 99 feels like forever away. When 99 is just a few levels ahead, that last 2.5M xp or so just seems like a challenge. Can I make it? Of course I can. Let’s see how long it takes.

On February 8, 2018, I finally hit level 99 Runecrafting. I started the day with just over 200k xp to go, and I knew that was completely feasible. In order to commemorate the event and keep the tradition of my previous level 99 skills, I took a video of hitting the skill mastery milestone. After I reached my goal, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I stayed at the Runespan for a while, to the confusion of many players there. Several asked me what I was still doing there, and I couldn’t really give a definite answer. Part of me wanted to reach virtual level 100, just because I haven’t hit that for any skill yet. Another part of me just had no idea what to train next. I wasn’t quite ready to go back to training magic yet (and I’m still not). The inertia gained from training Runecrafting so consistently made it easier to keep doing it than to figure out something else to do.

Eventually, I decided to look into what other skills have afk training methods available. Several players mentioned using Artisan’s Workshop to train Smithing, so I may try my hand at that. Even if I don’t go for 99, I could at least get level 80 to knock out another requirement for unlocking Invention. After that, who knows? I’ll eventually get back to grinding out magic, but that could be in a few days or a few months.

It may be a long road, but I’m well on my way to "Lvl 99 Everything." I don’t know if I’ll ever get all skills to 99, but I’m certainly not stopping any time soon. We’ll see where my travels in Gielinor take me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Going Camping

I’ve never really been a huge fan of “the great outdoors,” but I really want to plan a camping trip.

My past experience with camping has been… minimal. I went most recently around 5 years ago, a trip that I have described in slightly more detail before, but still never gave a full tale of, and probably don’t remember well enough now to flesh out all the details. I went with my now wife and a group of friends up to Pisgah National Forest. While I won’t say this trip was awful, it could have gone significantly better. I sliced my finger open while trying to to split some wood into tinder. We went hungry the first night, because I never got a fire going to actually cook dinner. The next day, we bought some duraflame logs to get a fire going, but we still didn’t really have all the supplies and tools we needed. It was an interesting experience, for sure, but a little preparation and expertise would have made the trip much more pleasant.

Before that trip, I haven’t stayed outside overnight in a long time. I stayed in a tent outside a friend’s house one night, but that was because of a 2 day bachelor party, and all we really did that even resembles camping was sleep in a tent. I’ve made several attempts at camping forays with friends who had more experience camping, but each of those ended fairly early in the evening because we didn’t manage to get the tent up, or build any sort of sustaining fire.

The one camping trip in my memory that was an honest success was a church camping trip that I went on back in my childhood. We had probably somewhere around 20 to 30 people gathered in a field near a river. With so many people involved, we had at least a handful who really knew their stuff, so we had a pretty good fire going the entire time and it certainly felt like a temporary home in the outdoors. Then again, I was also a kid at this point, and my role in this trip was just going and having fun with the other kids while the adults did all the hard work. One other kid did slip into the freezing cold river while trying to catch a Frisbee, so that was some terrifying excitement, but he got out alright and everything went better than expected.

Otherwise, the closest thing to “camping” that I regularly had was staying in an old Airstream camper at Lake Murray every weekend during summer vacation. Those were some incredible memories, but to call it camping is a stretch. A fire was completely optional, since we had a fully functional range in the camper. Lodging consisted of comfortable beds and air conditioning, as well as a working TV that we had my PS2 hooked up to most of the time. This was far less primitive and far more comfortable than tent camping.

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve got kids that I think would enjoy camping, I’d like to try a proper camping trip again. Obviously, I would start slow. We’ve planned to take the kids out one evening in our own backyard, just to see how they do with sleeping in a tent. After that, we could try them down behind my grandparents’ house with the goal of not leaving the woods once we go down. If things get hairy, a warm bed is only a 10 minute walk away. But if they can successfully stay in the woods overnight without coming back inside, maybe we can see about going to an actual camping location. Pisgah would be nice if we could line up a better spot, or maybe doing a weekend on Lake Jocassee in combination with a boat rental.

Before we do a bona fide camping trip, I would definitely want to do some research and plan it out. What tools do I need? What sort of bag or storage options should I get to haul everything out there? I’ve got no shame using duraflame logs to get a fire started, but I may also need to bring some of my own firewood with me. In short, I have so little practical experience with camping and no learned sources available that I’d feel sorely unprepared to go in my current state. Perhaps the backyard camping with kids would give me enough exposure to figure things out on my own. Still, being an hour and a half away from home gives a lot more gravity to adequate preparation than being literally right behind my house.

If any seasoned campers out there have advice, I’m all ears. I’m going to make my own mistakes and learn from experience, but I would love to hear some of the problems that other people have had in order to anticipate and prepare for them.