Challenging the Concept of Challenge


Or, the truth about MMO gaming….

Since I started blogging, I’ve read a lot about how players want to be challenged. A good amount of this conversation has circulated around World of Warcraft and the WotLK difficulty drop. I always accepted these statements as understandable truths but lately I’ve been questioning just how true they really may be.

Do we play MMORPGs for the challenge? A lot of you will probably say yes and I’d have to disagree with most of you.

To better explain, let’s look at the definition of Challenge:

“A test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking: a career that offers a challenge.” – American Heritage

Compare that definition to the current “challenges” of most popular mmos: pressing the right keys at the right times, staying out of the glowing shapes on the ground, try not to let the monster hit you, and put in enough time.

There’s more than that for some players but I think that about sums up the average players “challenge” in an MMO. The usual justification is that “it takes skill to play your class well.” Yeah, maybe, bust most MMOs don’t really require you to play your class “well” to succeed. They require you to fulfill your requirement which, we all know, doesn’t necesarily mean doing anything even near well.

By and large, MMOs follow a more time = more reward formula. Skill and challenge really have nothing to do with that. In the pursuit of equal opportunity, challenge has been lost in translation.

What does challenge mean to me? It means having to pay attention to a fight the whole time or risking death. It means more than auto-attack, 1, 3, 2, 2, 2. It means taking risks and making decisions that could make or break an encounter. In short, it means a much less forgiving game. For some players, dedicated raid/guild leaders and PvPers to name a few, that formula holds up. For the rest, time and repetition are the “challenges” they’re meeting.

But do we really play MMOs for the challenge of them? I sure hope not, otherwise we all went into this thing organizationally deficit, which, taken as a whole, is probably true (getting a group of people together is part of what makes a group leader’s job more of a challenge than most other aspects of play).

MMOs fill a different gap in our gaming lives. They provide a feeling of moving from one place to another, progression, that gives our gaming purpose. They give us a social outlet that gives it meaning and value. They give us a meta-game, a distraction from the day to day, and something to devote or intellectual resources to.

If I want “challenging” gameplay, I’ll turn to a game with difficulty settings. When I’m playing an MMO, I don’t expect any more challenge that knowing what buttons to push when and where not to stand — until that special little player comes along and pushes me outside of my bounds. The truth of why PvE will always top PvP in popularity is that most people in this genre want an MMO for what it is, a slightly dumbed down RPG they can experience with other people. And that’s not so bad.

Edit: I just read a recent article at Ferrel’s site, Epic Slant, that made me want to clarify something. He made the point that, yes, learning new encounters can be difficult. There’s no doubt about that. The reason I still feel that, on the whole, modern MMOs present little is that most people do not go through the effort of learning encounters themselves.  I wish more people would, I wish that I would, because it presents a far more exciting encounter until it’s mastered. There’s a social expectation, however, that counteracts that desire. The expectation is that you’ll either a) know what’s going to happen ahead of time; or b) keep up. That expectation pressures people to follow instead of learn.

WoW bought forth a massive influx of database sites so it’s no longer necessary for people to learn encounters on their own. The learning curve is drastically reduced for the vast majority of gamers because as soon as a guild or two clears through the latest dungeon, a strategy is put online that details everything subsequent groups are likely to encounter. Plus, for a guild with VoIP, only one person really needs to know the encounter well, and they can just tell the rest of the group what to do. Unfortunately, I also think a good chunk of gamers just want the gear upgrade at the end, too. Why bother with the frustration of learning the encounter on your own when the fight is just a means to an end anyways?

Perhaps a better statement is that modern MMO end-game is as challenging as players want it to be… most people just want it easy.


Syp Hits It On the Head

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On his blog, Biobreak, Syp has hit the nail on its head with his synopsis of the TBS to WotLK raiding transition and why it’s a bad thing. He’s echoed my feelings more poignantly than I’m able, so I thought I’d share them with you.

“I wasn’t always pleased I never saw some of the highest raiding content in WoW, just to see it, but I was okay with the fact that it was there above me — at least there was the feeling that I hadn’t “done it all”, that the game had a few challenges left in store.

It is disturbing to consider if devs just give up on making games difficult at all, figure all we instant-coffee society consumers want and demand is for our characters to get virtually strong by doing the least amount of effort available, and make titles that reward us for overcoming nothing.”

While I wouldn’t exactly say that WoW’s current raiding game is “overcoming nothing” (not that he exactly said that) I do share the same sentiments. I didn’t really care for the “1% of players see the end-game” philosophy, I equally don’t like the “95% of people who try will see and beat the end-game” notion either. Are we truly at an all-or-nothing state of affairs?

At least having content that’s a little more barred sets a tangible, yet perhaps elusive, goal. You probably won’t get there but maybe you will. Now, it’s simply a matter of finding the time and a PuG that knows how to listen on vent.

Thanks Syp!

Communicating With the Underling


I’m thinking of leaving my kinship on LotRO. While I was away, there was apparantly some stirup that threw off the whole essence of the guild. Yet, I have no idea what it is.

After a month of being gone, I thought I’d log into the forums and give everyone a little update. On the main page I was greeted with a brief yet ominous letter from one of the officers. In as shadowed a way as possible, the letter stated that the guild was undergoing restructuring to, well, remove structure and build community and that they would understand anyone who chose to leave. Oh, and that they appreciated the support from the remain members.

To me, that little message spelled out “exodus.” For some reason, people were bailing from the guild, or so it must be from the sound of things. This struck me as odd because, honestly, it was one of the best I’d found in any game. It was highly structured, yet I saw this as a positive; the system was designed to support people in all walks of play. Weekly, messages were posted about how the guild had reached a new membership threshold and that we were becoming more selective in who we would allow in (we made sure applicants ideals matched our own before). In short, up until the posting of the letter, everything about the guild was sparkling. Or so it seemed.

Needless to say, when I saw the note, I wanted to know what the hell had happened. I checked the forums and found a single thread with another member asking the same questions I was. Two weeks after it’s posting there was still no response other than people echoing the OP’s concerns.

I stepped away with a “well, that’s not good…” notion floating through my mind. With so much going on IRL, though, it slipped away like so many fragmented ideas have of late.

When I logged in last night, I found myself looking at a “New Mail” icon on my screen. The officer who had posted on the website had sent out a guild wide message saying that the last few weeks had been filled with turmoil but giving virtually no indication as to what that was supposed to mean. I asked the nearly 20 other members online at the time and was more than a little surprised that not a single person knew what had happened. As a matter of fact, most people had been left wondering too.

That wound up leaving me with was a very drear impression. I knew something was going on, something big and dark,  but no idea what I was tied up in. That didn’t lead to a very good “feeling” within the guild. Chat was quiet and what did occur was brief. Everyone knew there was something but no one knew what.

That really sucks. This kinship has been great in everything leading up to this. I mean, they were big enough that no matter what you wanted to do or when you wanted to do it, the chances were that you’d have other members by your side to do it with. They had a philosophy of “build up the individual to build up the whole” even if you weren’t a raider. Hell, they would even gear you out with the best in slot crafting gear every 10 levels. How many guilds can say that?

And yet, here it stands, for all its structure and great community, crumbling before those who witness.

What I hope guild leaders understand is that, for many people, guild choice is a very personal and meaningful decision. Most people that actively search for a guild settle because they find a philosophical match with their beliefs on why a game should be played. Once they’re in they invest themselves and try to find a spot within the community. When things like this happen, it hurts morale. This “thing” that people have come to care about, even if in a small way (if you didn’t care about it to some  degree, the chances are that you wouldn’t have bothered trying in the first place) is suddenly changed in some vital way.

At some level, it almost feels disrespectful to not address the issue at its face. Maybe it’s presumptious or rude of me to say that but, after all, a guild provides a reciprocal relationship. Giveth as you taketh away… or something like that. Yet, it’s almost like if you weren’t there for whatever dramatic event occurred, then you’re out of the loop and are now cast outside the circle. That’s not community.

I know that I’m the exception. Having to leave the game for extended periods of time carries with it this work hazard. But when 20 people are online and not one can name what this big pressing issue even IS, I think we can phone Houston about the problem. There are guild meetings but is that enough? For the day to day maybe, but in this case, I don’t think so.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Right now, it’s like there’s a black cloud over kinship chat. It’s quiet, it’s brief, and no one wants to mention the storm brewing overhead. I signed up for the guild because the community philosophy matched my own, so I’m hesitant to admit that it may be failing. Yet, like so many others, I don’t even know if it is failing, and that fact seems contrary to the “community building” the leadership is trying to push right now. I mean, if we’re facing a darker night, shouldn’t we band together? That’s what they’re asking for but against what? It’s hard to band together when you don’t know what it is that you’re even facing.

Should I head to brighter shores? Or hold down the fort and hope someone offers a breadcrumb clue on the issues at hand? If you’re a guild leader, I’m interested to know how you would approach a big issue like this. I’m full of questions today but perhaps someone has some insight.

You know, it’s times like this I have to ask, WWAD: What Would Arbitrary Do?

The Achievement Trap


Now HEREs a guy whos achieved something

Now HERE's a guy who's achieved something

I have to tell you something that may come as a surprise given my enthusiasm about Warhammer Online’s Tome. I don’t like achievements. I have no enthusiasm for them, on any game or platform, and I grew tired of even WAR’s pretty darn quick. Oh, the secrets we keep.

It’s been on my mind lately as I listen to my usual round up of podcasts. Achievements this and achievements that and OMFG I want the violet proto-drake. I don’t get it.

In my minds eye, I see achievements as something to be rewarded when you truly do something noteworthy. It should be something that makes you stand out and that make other people take notice.

In this regard, WAR was on the right track. Mythic gave you a wide array of achievements to work towards and gave you a good selection of rewards along the way. Anything from little lore blurb, to a title, to a trophy you can display on your armor. Things that were nice to get but weren’t so flush-worthy that people got up in arms freaking out about them. Still, they let you brag if you wanted to, using a handy panel right in your character window.

On other games though, they border on pointless. I’m going to pick on WoW because it’s the big kid on the playground. Why would I want to spend countless hours scouring the world to get some “achievement” 3 million people have already gotten before me? How much of an achievement is that really? Look at how many achievements you get without even trying. WAR is guilty of that too but in their scheme of things you’re also being rewarded with content, backstory, and context. WoW? They give you some arbitrary point value you can’t use for anything.

I know I’ll hear it if I don’t bring it up. You can get nifty things like titles from doing some of WoW’s achievements. And I give it to them for ramping these kinds of rewards up for some of their more recent holiday celebrations. The fact of the matter though is that achievement rewards are few and far between. There’s no incentive. Oh wait, that proto-drake. Let me tell you why I don’t like him, you’re literally chasing the freaking dragon. The irony there kills me. And do you know why he’s pink? It’s old blood from all of the players he’s chewed up while trying to get him. Those poor fools that thought they could miss one achievement. Hah, they thought they were hardcore. Go play Darkfall, noobs.

Are we really at the point where completionism equals fun? Where we’re driven by pixels so much that we strive for a 10 second placard and no real gain? I know that I’m not but the amount of excitement surrounding this stuff leaves me in wonder. Some achievements may be a ball to go after and if you have fun with it, more power to you. You get more out your $15 a month than me. When there’s a reason to achievement hunt, maybe I’ll go for it. Until then, I’ll gape with failed understanding of these hunters. Just because something works on the XBOX doesn’t mean that it’ll work in WoW.

Unless you’re talking about the next expansion, Halo meets Azeroth: Death to Night Elves. Then, it’s full of win. I gotcha back, Syp. Down with those spikey eared she-devils and their colorful dance parties.

Bringing Something New to the Table


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself feeling the gaming itch more than usual. This is probably because I know I won’t be able to play as much as I’d like in any circumstance. So, I satisfy (yet also intensify) this urge by listening to gaming podcasts and keeping up to date with my favorite blogs.


Perhaps unfortunately, some of the best podcasts I’ve found deal exclusively with WoW. The Instance is one of my personal favorites, not so much for the game they cover, but for the good humor and persistent charisma of the hosts. As one could imagine, after listening to enough WoW talk, I got the urge to log in to the game again.


It didn’t help that two of my best friends had been after me to roll a Death Knight on their server. So, I did. It was a funny thing though, when I logged in, I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was missing. It was the same old game I’d always enjoyed except it… seemed more hollow somehow. Then I realized, for the first time ever, I was in the exact opposite situation as I’d been in multiple times: even though I was playing WoW, I really wanted to be playing Darkfall.


I’ve felt that way at some point in time in almost every other MMO I’ve played because WoW is where I got my MMO start, and we all know how powerful that old draw can be. It’s that nagging, not-quite-satisfied feeling you get that lets you know you’re truly torn with what you want; the essence of a shallow gaming experience.


I’ve gone through several burn out periods in my WoW career but I’ve never really felt the same way as I did while playing my DK. It’s not the WoW is a bad game or that it’s not fun. I think that it’s because Darkfall is so incredibly different, it offers something totally separate from WoW.


They are two games in the same genre but in two wholly different classes. WoW may offer a good story and fun quests but Darkfall offers you true adventure and the adrenaline rush that real risk brings. WoW gives you dungeons and raids but Darkfall gives you a more complete group experience because the best parts of the game can only be completed with the help of others. There are no quests in Darkfall but that’s not to its detriment because players matter and create every bit of the politically intricate story you can follow by the hour. We are the heroes and the villains, friends and foes, driving the game forward.

The mechanics are so incredibly different too. I found myself hitting the shift key to try to make my DK sprint only to remember that there was no such option in WoW. It also took me a second to get back into the control scheme of the game. I longed for the ability to swing my own weapon and moved my camera into the first person perspective.


Yet, the longer I played, I got back into the familiar groove and started to enjoy to eloquence of timing your attacks just right, figuring out the perfect rotation, and really working the character to its maximum potential. I had fun again.


But that cloying feeling remained and, on top of that, I started to miss having to tackle objectives with guildmates. I now know what everyone says when they call WoW a massively single player game. It’s multiplayer by choice whereas Darkfall is by design.


After my romp through Azeroth, I decided to keep both my WoW subscription and my Darkfall subscription. This was a big choice for me because I’ve never been able to justify keeping to subs active for any length of time. Yet, in this case the two games offer experiences so starkly different in almost every respect, I can feel comfortable making the investment. I don’t buy in to the idea that everyone who plays WoW is a carebear or that Darkfall is only for the PvP-junkies. It’s possible to enjoy both because you take something different away from each.


When I want fun PvE, I’ll go to WoW. When I want exciting PvP, exploring, or just some time to have fun – without pressure – with my clan, I’ll go Darkfall. I’ll take my apples and my oranges, then say thank you for each.

Creating Your Own Fun


Too much pipeweed

Too much pipeweed

The next few paragraphs talk about a fun experience I had last night, skip over them if you want the core point =)

Last night, I had more fun in an MMO than I’ve had in a long time. The funny thing was, I was doing something that I usually don’t do: roleplay. I’ve dabbled in it a little n the past but it’s something I’d generally do in passing tiny bits at a time. Nothing in-depth or consistent, at all. So, when I got invited to an RP gathering on LotRO last night, I put it off for about 45 minutes to “finish a couple of quests”.

That was true, I was questing, but part of me was hesitant to put off leveling to take part in something that I’d possibly not enjoy or even find a little awkward. Still, the person asking me to join them (I figured there’d be about five people, give or take. It was a small guild gathering, after all) was very outgoing and I didn’t want to be stand-offish. After all, one of my resolutions with LotRO was to enjoy the journey as much as my destination.

When I got to my friend’s kin house (guild house), I was surprised to see several guilds represented by over twenty people in the room. Tables abounded with food and a keg stood on the far wall. A couple of people were playing a duet on a harp and lute in the middle of the room while several others danced. There was a lot of idle in-character conversation and, like a real party, it wasn’t all about the troubles of the world. It was less “the shadow looms in the East, doom is at our door” and more “It’s been a long time, welcome to the party! Can I offer you some ale or some food?” In the back, a lone person stood smoking by the fire; another browsed through the kin’s bookshelves.

I wound up staying for almost an hour. It was genuinely fun because the players made it so. Game mechanics helped (music, ale that makes you “merry”, various pipeweed) but more than anything, I think it was because the people were into it. Even as a mostly dormant roleplayer, I was drawn in. I found myself wanting to explain my shabby leather armor (I’m a tank but can’t wear heavy armor yet) and still bulging midsection. It was contagious.

The whole thing got me thinking about what it is that keeps so many people into the genre. Even though many claim that games like WoW and LotRO are Massively-Single-Player RPGs, I think that misses the point a bit. Whether or not you’re soloing, you have the opportunity, at almost every turn, to interact with other players. We get to see good people and bad, as they come into and out of our gaming lives. Be it direct or not, they have an impact upon us and our impressions of the game. I know, a game may perhaps be more fairly judged on its own merit but an undeniable part of any MMO is the community. They’re a part of the world, like in real life, whether we all would care to separate them from it or not.

But, I think that’s great. In any large community, you’ll get people that are morons but you’re also going to get a lot of genuinely good people as well. I have a lot of fond memories of PuGing through instances on WoW. I met many people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Together, with faces always changing, we shared laughs and overcame many challenges of the game.

I tend to believe that as players we make our own fun. If you’re with like-minded people, even things that seem boring can be brought to life. How many small events with your guild have you had turn out to be more fun than you expected? Was running across the map naked that much fun or was it because of the people you did it with? On that same token, how many instance runs/raids have been a blast because you clicked with the people you were there with?

That’s one of the reasons a strong community is important. I read Beau’s blog pretty frequently (it’s pretty good, you should check it out) and I heard him mention once that he likes the lesser played games because the community is smaller and more well knit. For all of the reasons a big game might succeed, sometimes the closeness of the players gets lost in translation. That’s one of the reasons why players railed against cross server scenarios in WAR. Community is important.

And on that same token, so is community enhancement. And encouragement. Players should be encouraged to come together and interact without forcing them to do so in order to progress. Since we can create our own fun, I think it’d help the new offering of games to maintain that MMO feel some people think is missing without impeding those who would prefer to solo. WAR could benefit most from this, I think. They have a great universe flush with possibility. But right now, there’s not much incentive to be around other players outside of the pursuit of RvR. Luckily, RvR brings about interaction and fun all its own.

So, to sum up my thoughts, last night showed me again that we can find fun in the creativity and humor of other players. Bringing that interaction to life through game elements, dungeons, and the like, is what MMOs are all about. In the end, I don’t think it’s the gear that drives the player who get the most enjoyment out of gaming. I think it’s doing something fun made funner by doing it with other people. Massively Single Player? Maybe in Counter-Strike but not in any MMO I’ve ever played.

Whew! What a Week It’s Been!

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Wow! This past week has been nuts. I’ve been totally absent from blogging since the unraveling of the valentines day mystery hints. I apologize for that. I’ve been up to a lot though, IRL and in-game.


Let’s take a step back to the beginning of last week. I’d mentioned then that school had started up again and, with it, student teaching. The funny thing that’s happened though, is I’ve spent more time reading about games than playing them! For the longest time, I’d come home from college or whatever I’d done after and hop on WAR, or WoW, or Vanguard to drift away from the stresses of the day. Now though, college isn’t college. It’s more of a full time teaching job, with all of the responsibilities and obligations associated. So, I’ll read my favorite blogs on lunch break, or what have you, and come home ready to crash.


That was last week leading into this week.


I’ve found my groove though!  So what’s with all the silence around here? Well, it’s hard to write about games if you’re not playing any. When I’ve gotten home this week, I’ve spent it in a game or two. Admittedly, it’s been mostly WoW, despite my inclinations to get some things done in other titles. We’ll get there in a minute.


So, what’s up in the wide world of WoW? Pretty much the same thing as any level 80 sans raiding Naxx. I’ve had great luck with PuGs though. Monday, I was able to get into a normal vault run (two pieces of tanking warrior gear dropped) followed immediately by a run of normal Obsidian Sanctum. I’ve been able to get my T7 hands last week and this latest run got me the 22 slot bag. So, apart from badges, I have everything I need from OS10 standard! I’d love to try to with some drakes up but the PuGs I’ve been in have been real hesitant about that. Personally though, a 0 drake run is so easy that I’m going to start pushing for a little more challenge.


Skip this section if you don’t want a rundown of Obsidian Sanctum – from a ranged DPS perspective.


For those than have never been, here’s a (very basic) run down of the sanctum. You have three drakes up surrounding a central island with the main raid boss. There’s trash in between each drake. The way we’ve been doing it is to go clockwise around the zone. On the first drake, tank and spank until he opens a portal. When he does, go inside and kill the single elite you’ll find there. When he dies, you phase out back into the normal boss fight. Rinse and repeat. Oh, and watch out for the red circles on the ground. It’s the same thing for the far right drake, essentially. On the second drake, the one in the back, we haven’t even been going into the portal. This guys summons little whelpling adds. If you have the AOE for it group them together and burn them down. This process repeats.


When all the drakes are down, you can take down the big dragon in the middle. Stay away from his tail and don’t stand right in front of him. Throughout the fight, he does an aoe you can easily move out of and also calls lava waves. These can be in front or in back. When you see the emote about the lava churning, move your camera to the side and look for a split in the lava. Stop what you’re doing and get in between the split. RIGHT IN-BETWEEN. If you’re off-spot, you’re going to die to the lava wave or come real close.


And that’s it. Rinse and repeat. I know this isn’t all inclusive but if you want a basic idea without reading a plethora of WoWhead comments, this is it. If I’m missing something, and I know I probably am, feel free to add it in the comments.


Begin reading again.


Anyways, half-assed guides aside, I’ve also been able to get into a couple of heroics. I ran heroic Oculus yesterday, which was fun. I love drake-based combat. It went easy as pie except for the last boss where it took my group a couple of tries to move away from his arcane barrages on time.


All of this dungeon running let me figure out an important fact about 200 series nVidia cards. They seem perfect at first. They crank out the FPS at blazing speeds with games set to the highest settings. It’s enough to really make you satisfied with your purchase. Until you step into a raid encounter and your FPS drops to 1-2. After some digging I found out that the 200 series cards have trilinear optimization set by default to “on”. You must go into the nVidia Control Panel and manually disable it. Apparently, TO tries to anti-alias every spell animation at once which destroys fps. I have the 500dps on Archavon to prove it. Disabling makes no noticeable difference and gave me.. wait for it… 60 extra frames a second.


Apart from WoW, I’ve been playing Vanguard a bit. The scale of this game simply amazes me. I’ve played through a big chunk of the trial isle (which is HUGE) and am almost always in awe of my adventures. So far, the quest requirements haven’t been revolutionary or anything but their stories and where they send you to complete them have been very cool. And there’s so much to do. It’s obvious that this was a game designed to keep you playing for a long time. You have your four scopes of play, Adventuring (normal leveling), Diplomacy (a conversation based card game), Crafting (more in-depth than any other game I’ve played), and Gathering, which is standard “find-the-node”. Vanguard really captures that essence of explore and adventure that is lost on almost every other game out there.


It’s art style isn’t for everyone but it does lend a lot to the immersion. It’s realistic enough where the environments seem almost real sometimes. They also have some great lighting affects which lend a lot to this. Tone mapping, which costly performance wise, is pretty cool. I love how I can immerge on the other side of an underground tunnel so see my screen go white as my characters eyes adjust to the brightness of day, only to see a beautiful expanse spread out below him.


Or it. I play a dog-man. No, honestly. If you took a German Shepherd, stood it up, gave it some pecs and a green robe, you’d have my little druid. He’s all good though. Lacks a little ferocity maybe (two mobs at once tend to pull his tail) but I like him.


I’ve been a little in between on my gaming though. Where does a newly-casual spend his free time? WoW is well and good but only if you can get a group quickly; otherwise, you pretty much grind away the time. WAR is appealing, very actually, but I’m hesitant to cancel Vanguard quite yet. This week will probably decide that for me though. Then there’s LotRO which is another great option for a casual, so perhaps I’ll play around there. The thing is, tri-juggling MMOs is hard to maintain. I’ll have to settle in somewhere and, despite WoW’s failings, it’s hard to give up on something you’ve spent so much time on.


I’ll get a post up on that this week.


So, to end this “mega-post”, what can you expect from the blog this week? More frequent posting, for one. I’ll be doing some drafting this weekend, such as the post I just mentioned, and I’m also planning on writing the second installment of “So Your Spouse Hates Video Games”. In the first part, I talked about handling it like an adult but we all know that sometimes our hobby comes under attack in a less than adult fashion. This week, we’ll look at how to dish it out as well as we can take it.


If you have any ideas for posts, or tips on stories, feel free to contact me at I’m also happy to publish guest entries, emails, etc. within reason, of course. Sorry for the quiet this past week. This week should be back on track. I hope J   

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