BlueCross / BlueShield of GA Website 
Worst. Website. Ever....

BCBSGA has got to be the worst website I have ever had the misfortune of using. I needed to get copies of a couple EOBs for my health insurance plan. The usability for the personalized pages is absolutely horrendous (I can only assume the rest of the site is similarly bad). First of all, I had previously made an account on the website, but recent security upgrades required that I go through a "security upgrade" process. The problem is that I just tried to login before doing the security upgrade. A good website would allow the login and immediately initiate the upgrade process. Unfortunately, BCBSGA decided it would be better to have a generic login error with no indication of what the problem is. Instead, you have to go back to the front page and click a link to upgrade.

Next, the upgrade process forced me to create a new login name when I already had a perfectly good one. Why? (There was no indication that I COULDN'T reuse the old login name, BTW. ) When I finally did get to the claims section, all the links to my EOBs were broken. Also, the summary version of each EOB was wrong. For instance, deductible for all claims was listed as zero when I know for a fact that I have to pay ~$300 per family member per year. Ridiculous.



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Restarting Explorer (the right way) 
I never knew this! How incredibly useful. :)

Restarting Explorer



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Ubuntu (7.10) on Dell Laptop 
I put Ubuntu 7.10 Desktop on a spare laptop at work (Dell Latitude D400). I immediately notice the hard drive clicking problem discussed recently in the media regarding Ubuntu (Slashdot).

More specifics:

Ubuntu Bug Report

For fear of killing the drive prematurely, I decided to apply one of the suggested fixes. I used the "99-hdd-spin-fix.sh" method described in the bug report above. That definitely stops the clicking. Unfortunately, it totally disables auto parking of the head/spin down (or whatever actually happens during a LOAD_CYCLE). This is confirmed from running:

smartctl -d ata -a /dev/sda | grep 193;


I'm guessing that 99-hdd-spin-fix could be less aggressive by using a lower value for "hdparm -B". However, one individual that posted to the bug report had difficulty mapping actual behavior to the 0-255 possible values.

Finally, I decided to leave it as is but I enabled ENABLE_LAPTOP_MODE in /etc/default/acpi-support. I think this is a nice solution because I normally have the laptop plugged in and don't need the aggressive hard drive power management. However when unplugged I like the idea of having more power as well as keeping the hard drive head parked nearly as often as possible (for fear of bumps/drops that might crash the drive). Seems to work so far and queries with smartctl seem to confirm everything.

An unrelated problem I ran into was that the laptop could NOT hibernate or go into standby. This was solved by disabling compiz under: System->Preferences->Appearance:Visual Effects.

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Schadenfreude 
Definition: Schadenfreude. Noun. German origin.

: to derive pleasure from the embarrassment of those who don't know what 'schadenfreude' means when used in casual conversation.

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Super Metroid 


I recently purchased Super Metroid for the Nintendo Wii (originally on the Super Nintendo). As big a gamer as I was back in high school during the release of Super Metroid, I somehow managed to miss playing this one. Years later I would occasionally hear people heap praise onto this game as one of the greatest ever released. Iím glad to finally get the opportunity to play it. My only complaint to Nintendo is that they should have released Super Metroid a few weeks before Metroid Prime III rather than just a few days. As it is, I will likely put Super Metroid playing on hold while I tackle Metroid Prime III (which Iím picking up after work today).

I have played (and beaten) several of the other Metroid games. Itís easy to see just how much influence Super Metroid has on many other games in the seriesóespecially Metroid Prime for GameCube and the GameBoy variations. In some ways, I am disappointed in how much similarity there is. Itís like hearing a cover of an already great song before hearing the original. Somehow you end up missing out on enjoying the experience of listening to the original to the fullest.

The key game play experience that Super Metroid provides is this notion of backtracking. As you explore the game world, you will find that you cannot reach every area, open every door, or kill every enemy. However, you will eventually find an item like jump boots, a particular gun, etc., that will allow you to overcome previously encountered obstacles. So in this context, backtracking is going back and forth through the game world to find the items you need to explore deeper into the world.

Backtracking has been the tenet of Metroid games since the beginning of the series. As far as game critics go, backtracking has been controversial in general but in my opinion Metroid has generally done it right. From the game developersí perspective, backtracking is useful because they get the most bang for their buck in terms of content development. Since the gamer keeps traversing the same areas in the virtual world, that means artists and level designers can justify spending more time on polishing the content and making it more interactive. If done right, backtracking can also be satisfying to the gamer because they will notice how their skills improve over time in the same areas. Enemies that were once very difficult become easier to defeat as the gamers strategies and weapons/armor improve. Additionally, there is the reward of overcoming obstacles and being able to explore more of the virtual space. Done wrong, the user can find the backtracking tedious and boring and become largely disoriented trying to figure out which way to go next.

So far, Super Metroid has proven to have just the right balance of backtracking versus forward progress to maintain a fun game experience. There are several crafty puzzles in the game. All the weapons and items are Metroid staples, but they are still fun to acquire and use. Some items were actually introduced in Super Metroid, but as they were reused in later games they are not new to me. Bosses are huge and visually impressive given the capabilities of the Super Nintendo. However, I do find the strategies to beat them a bit contrived and monotonous (though itís rare for me to make differing observations of bosses in other games).

As it is, Iím probably only a third of the way through the game. So far I can say that Super Metroid is definitely deserving of its praise, especially when you consider it was originally released in 1994. If youíre like me and have played most of the other more recent Metroid games already then you might not be quite so impressed, but itís definitely worth the $8 to download and play on the Wii.


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