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Home - Sweet Expectations -The Woman's Hospital at West Houston Medical Center - North Austin Maternal Fetal Medicine opened its doors in 2009 and has been helping to improve the care of high-risk pregnancies throughout Central Texas.

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  • A. J. Littlewood "Ali L" - Subject to "evaporation" - ?!

    I wonder if you can help me. I have now purchased several containers of Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 gallon, 128 fluid ounces, and a fine product it is too. But by the time it's delivered to me in England, the container is only a little over half full. Is that normal?

    I have queried this with the post lady and she puts it down to evaporation, which she refers to, somewhat charmingly, as "the angels' share".

    Now my neighbour says he's seen her prowling the estate, armed with a box of cereal and a ravenous look, but I don't give much credence to what he says. (The same neighbour keeps going on about some mythical creature known as the "MILK-MAN", who leaves milk on doorsteps in the dead of night: so what on earth does he know?)

    Anyway, even half full, it's still a great product. Keep up the good work, Tuscan Whole Milk 1 gallon, 128 fluid ounces!

  • Rachel Turet - nothing short of a miracle

    With a great deal of skeptisizm, I read this book over five years ago. Ulcerative colitis was bleeding me to death, not that I had a life much worth living at the time. My world revolved around pain and I could be no further than 30 seconds from a bathroom. Ms. Gottschall, her book, and the diet completely vanquished all my symptoms of UC, saved my life and restored my intestinal health. I've just finished reading the reveiws of Courtney Lewis and a reader from Conneticut, who were both put off by the amount of work involved in maintaining this diet. Perhaps their symptoms were not as crippling as mine. Perhaps they have success with medication and have no problem with staying on it for the rest of their lives. I wish them well and hope they do not eventually require the surgery that many of us with this disease must face. I am concerned however, that their reveiws might prevent even one person from reading the book, which is why I am writing about my own experience. After 6 months on this diet I went for my yearly colonoscopy and my doctor declared my colon to appear "like that of a healthy 18 year old's". I have been off of all medication for over 4 years. I currently facilitate a listserver of almost 400 participents, most of who are on the diet. If anyone is interested in joining it, write me at rturet@optonline.com

  • David Koppel "eyemnot" - Despite a rocky launch, solid and entertaining gameplay

    First off, the vast, vast majority of negative reviews for this game fall into three categories: Those who loved Diablo 2, and are upset about any aspect of gameplay that is different than Diablo 2 (change is remarkably difficult for some people, even when the change is overwhelmingly positive), those who are upset with the periods of time during which they have not been able to play since launch, and those who found out the game requires you to be online to play, and have therefore decided to write a negative review of a game they have never played, nor have any intention of purchasing, as some sort of misguided protest.

    Yes, Blizzard was not able to handle the volume of customers at launch. Yes, this is a bad thing. However, this will be of ZERO interest to people considering buying the game, which is what reviews are for. The server overload issue was specific to the launch, as the number of rabid fans (myself included) who anxiously watched their clocks tick down until they could start spamming the login number is significantly lower than the average number of users at any given time since then.

    In short, the "I can't log in because the servers are full!" problem is FIXED.

    There is still regular scheduled maintenance, and downtime for patches. This is pretty standard for online Blizzard games, and CAN be incredibly frustrating if they coincide with your prime gaming windows of opportunity. However, downtime for patches will both decrease in frequency, and average duration, as the game matures.

    I'm not sure Diablo 3 has an established "normal maintenance" schedule yet, but if World of Warcraft is any indication, it could be as frequently as once a week, for 3-6 hours. Add in patches an average of once every two weeks, for another 2-5 hours (rough estimates), and that's still a lot of uptime. Again, it is incredibly frustrating if you have, for example, taken the day off from work to play, only to find out the servers are down, but for the most part the impact will be minimal for the vast majority of players.

    Regarding being online to play:

    I don't find that to be a problem at all, but I know many people find that incredibly offensive/inconvenient/frustrating. In fact, the game is designed to be a "social" game, encouraging multiplayer cooperation either through shared gameplay (up to 4 players may play at the same time), trading (there is a built-in auction house, with a planned "real money" auction house where players will be able to buy, and sell, in-game items and gold for real cash or Blizzard store credit), socialization (through chat), and the planned Player versus Player combat (PvP). All of these elements require an active online connection.

    The common argument is that players should also have the option of playing online, if, like myself, they prefer to play the game without other players. There are two main problems with that, which is why I think Blizzard mandating all gameplay be online only is reasonable.

    The first is the design of the game itself. All of the components I mentioned above would have had to have been built in such a way as to cleanly handle not being connected to the server. In effect, they would have had to create, test, and maintain two separate interfaces for the game. Not a huge obstacle, true, but one with very little payoff.

    The second is the issue of cheating. Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 were both plagued by a host of problems with people bypassing the rules and restrictions placed on the game. In Diablo 1, character editors allowed players to change literally every aspect of their characters, even during online play, resulting in "level 1" characters running around and instantly killing anything and everything (including other players). In Diablo 2, widespread duplication of items crippled the online economy, forcing Blizzard to run several "bandaid" solutions to attempt to get things under control.

    Plain and simply, eliminating offline play makes it much, much easier for Blizzard to prevent cheating, and when it is unable to prevent cheating, it at least makes it much easier to detect, track, and fix.

    There are other games out there, some of which are major titles, that also require that you be online in order to play, yet which offer no real benefit to the players for doing so. This is far more offensive and intrusive. Diablo 3 at least gives you features that actually take advantage of being online (primarily social, but that is a completely logical application of online play). I don't personally find the online-only option for Diablo 3 offensive, even though I have found that requirement in other games to be offensive.

    What I do find offensive is that so many people offended by the requirement have decided that the appropriate way to express their displeasure is to "game" Amazon's review system, providing false reviews of a game they have never played. I'm sorry, but the statement "if it requires online play, it automatically gets 1 star from me" only demonstrates that you don't understand the entire concept of a "review". The best way to express your dislike for that requirement is to not purchase the game. Lying to other people because not everyone feels the same way as you is childish and obnoxious.

    Now for the gameplay itself.

    I find it funny seeing the complaints that are most common about Diablo 3's gameplay. The most frequent complaints seem to be "I loved Diablo 2, but Diablo 3 is just boring and repetitive!", "Diablo 3 has nowhere near the customization Diablo 2 gave you for your characters! They totally dumbed it down!", "the classes/skills are broken/imbalanced!", and, my favorite, "Inferno difficulty is way too easy/hard!".

    First off, Diablo 2 was, and still is, one of the greatest video games ever made. The fact that it is still alive, kicking, and has an active community 11 years after it launched is a staggering accomplishment.

    However, the downside is that people love that game so much, what they have decided they want is exactly the same game, only with new characters, monsters, items (so long as the old favorites are still there!), quests, and stories. What many people lose sight of is how many problems Diablo 2 actually has.

    Most of the major changes people complain most about are direct responses to the problems most people complain about in Diablo 2.

    In Diablo 2, you assigned attributes (strength, dexterity, intelligence, and vitality) to your character. Each time you gained a level, you received points, which you distributed between the 4. However, people quickly found that those attributes had very little meaning in the beginning of the game, but became very important very late in the game. Additionally, there really were very few good ways to distribute these abilities, and every other distribution would result in your character becoming permanently "sub-optimal" once it reached a certain level. Blizzard addressed this in Diablo 3 by automatically assigning those points each level, based upon the class you are playing. This model of automatic assignment has been used in role playing games, both electronic and pen-and-paper, for decades, and is a tried-and-true method that helps provide a gradual increase in your character's overall power, without allowing you to accidentally "break" your character. Yet many Diablo 2 players cite this as "dumbing down" the game.

    Similarly, in Diablo 2, each level you gained a point to put into a "skill". Each skill belonged to a different "tree", with better skills requiring investing in weaker skills in order to "unlock" them. Each class had three of these skill trees, resulting in most players focusing on either a single tree, or a "hybrid" build incorporating selected skills within two or even three trees.

    The problem was that these choices were (initially) permanent.

    Players would assign points to skills, and find that the skill either required a massive investment of even more points to become viable, or was so underpowered as to be useless. Some skills would actually reach a point where you were putting "too many" points into it, and the resulting benefit would become so negligent as to be worthwhile. Even worse, at several points in time Blizzard had to drastically change how skills worked, causing existing characters to be nowhere near as good as they used to be. Eventually, they allowed players to "respec", giving very limited opportunities to "fix" each character (I believe one free "respec", and then several hours of questing/killing boss monsters to accumulate more).

    The solution to this problem in Diablo 3 is that skills (and runes, which are additional modifiers applied to specific skills), are simply "unlocked" by reaching the appropriate level. You get (eventually) 6 total skills to use at any one time, although you can change which 6 you use as often as you like. Each of these skills has an additional "rune" that you could apply to it, to tailor the effects to your particular play style (for example, one rune might make an ability do slightly more damage, while another makes that same ability cover a wider area of the screen, affecting more enemies). On top of this are three "passive" effects that affect your character at all times. Each class has 15 different passive effects to choose from (again, unlocking as you progress in levels), and can swap them out just like skills and runes.

    One of the big game elements from Diablo 2 was repetition. Once you reached a certain level of play, the object of the game shifted from progressing through the quest lines and content, and instead became a quest to get the "best" items.

    Equipment in the Diablo series is largely randomized. Any given monster or container could give gold and/or items when destroyed. The quality of these items varies tremendously. Some are "trash"; common items with no special properties. Others are "magic", giving them one or two bonus attributes to make them significantly better than the common items of the same type. "Rare" items have more magical bonus attributes than "magic" items, making them much more desirable. There are also higher quality items than "rares" that vary depending on which version of the Diablo series you are talking about. However, all of these magical bonus attributes are randomly determined, to one extent or another.

    This means that your weapon-swinging Barbarian could find a rare mace, that looks perfect for smashing some enemies with... only it gives a bonus to your mana regeneration (mana is something Barbarians do not use) and your intelligence (arguably something else Barbarians do not use). This makes it much less attractive to you than the other mace that gives you additional strength (allowing you to hit things harder) and makes you swing your weapon faster (allowing you to hit enemies more often).

    Since this process is random, you will see a LOT of items that are "useless" to your character (what this really means is that they just aren't nearly as good as other random items more appropriate to your class).

    What this does is adds incentive to go through a LOT of items, in the hopes of increasing your chances of finding stuff that is either really, really good for your character, or really, really good for someone else's character, in the hopes that you can trade it to them in exchange for something you'd like to use.

    This is exactly the same in all three Diablo games.

    The main difference between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 in this regard is that in Diablo 2, the best (and, in some cases, the ONLY) way to get the very best of the best items was to defeat very specific enemies ("bosses"). This meant that the best players spent literally hours upon hours (and not 3-4 hours, but rather dozens, if not hundreds of hours) going through the exact same 5-30 minutes of game play to kill the exact same boss over, and over, and over until they got something good out of it.

    The solution to this in Diablo 3 is that the very best items don't drop exclusively off of the bosses. Instead, you have a better chance of getting them off of randomly placed "champion" or "rare" enemies. The intent of this is to encourage players to go through entire sections of content, instead of endlessly repeating the same tiny slice over and over. This is coupled with a general leveling of the likelihood of "top" items dropping in entire areas, instead of highly localized sections (even random containers in the highest difficulty levels have a tiny chance of giving you "top" items, instead of just the "bosses").

    Yet oddly enough, those same Diablo 2 players who were perfectly happy to log in, step through a portal, kill two rooms full of skeletons, collect their loot, log out, log back in, and repeat the exact same two rooms (known as "farming Pindelskin", after the unique monster that was easily accessible, yet had the potential to drop excellent items) for hours on end are complaining that running through the same 2-3 hours of content over and over again is "mind-numbing", "boring" and "painfully repetitious".

    Keep in mind, also, that this repetition is only at the very highest level of the game, which less than 10% of the players have reached (and which will always be a minority of players).

    For the average player, the game flows rather nicely, with a lot of different ways to progress. There are the quest lines, which lead you through a story (admittedly, not the best story in the world, but Diablo has never been about the story, and Diablo 3 adds WAY more depth to the story and lore than either of its predecessors). Once you complete the story, you can restart on a higher difficulty level (Nightmare), where better items appear, you can reach a higher level, and enemies are smarter and stronger. Complete Nighmare, and you can play through a third time (Hell difficulty), with yet another increase in rewards, character power, and enemies. Finally, once you have reached level 60 and completed Hell, you can try your hand at Inferno (the aforementioned highest level of the game).

    Inferno is intended only for those players who really are looking for a challenge, and is much, much more difficult than Hell. That being said, it is somewhat of a work-in-progress, as Blizzard is planning and making changes to "balance" the difficulty of Inferno to keep it difficult, but also make it a rewarding and enjoyable experience for those who want to put in the time and effort.

    Other key aspects of the game that bear mentioning:
    - You gain access to a blacksmith and a jeweler, both of whom you can train to make increasingly more powerful items. The blacksmith items are, for the most part, simply random items of a specific type, level, and rarity, allowing you to make items that will (hopefully) fill in gaps in what you are currently using. For example, if you don't like the hat you are wearing, you can use your blacksmith to craft a rare helm of roughly the same level as you, which will then get 4 randomly determined abilities. If you are lucky, most or all of those abilities will be beneficial to you. The jeweler lets you improve and reuse gems, which fit into existing items to allow you to add specific effects (for example, one gem in your weapon will increase your damage every time you hit, and another will cause enemies to take damage when they hit you).
    - When playing by yourself, you can pick one of three different followers to help you along. They participate in combat, can use a small assortment of items, and provide (somewhat) entertaining dialog throughout the game.
    - In addition to random items, the actual world you travel in is (somewhat) randomly generated each time you start a game. This means that each time you travel through an area, it will not only look slightly differently, it will have different enemies, and, more importantly, different "random events" that add quite a bit of depth and enjoyment to the game. None of these random events are mandatory, but many are fun or amusing, and some can be quite challenging. They also tend to provide different levels of rewards, often involving challenging monsters to fight, or chests full of treasure.
    - The multiplayer system makes it very easy to find other players, whether you want to play with friends, or random strangers.
    - Hardcore mode allows you to set it so that once a character dies, they can never be played again. Some people enjoy this challenge, as it forces a very different, and much more conservative playstyle. Definitely not for everyone, but if you think the game is too easy, give this a try!

    Summary:

    The game itself is fairly big, and has excellent replay value. There are 5 different classes to choose from (Barbarian, Monk, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and Wizard), and countless different ways you can play each class.

    However, there is work that needs to be done to improve aspects of the game. This is a new game, and of a pretty ambitious scope. Many of the character abilities need to be improved in one way or another, and other aspects of the game have not yet been released (real money auction house, PvP). It can be expected that Blizzard will be actively making changes to specific aspects of the game here and there, and they've already announced some of their plans. This process of general and gradual improvement is frustrating to some, but the fact of the matter is the game is very fun, and very playable, right now. It will only get better with time, and the worst problems that remain will likely be gone in a matter of weeks.

    Diablo 2 was the definitive "hack and slash" action RPG of 2000 - 2012. Diablo 3 demonstrates that Blizzard studied Diablo 2's strengths and weaknesses, and is putting serious effort into capturing the elements of what made Diablo 2 great, while smoothing out many of the rough spots that made the game of limited interest to the "non-hardcore" game community.

    The game is fast-paced and fun, accessible to relatively casual players, yet deep enough to have something for most serious gamers. Quite frankly, the vast majority of the negativity around the release of the game is undeserved, and simply the result of short-sighted and unrealistic expectations.

    This is a game that will last for a while. It still remains to be seen if it will have the longevity of its immediate predecessor, but taken on its own merits, it is easily one of the best current video games on the market, and well worth the price.

  • Auggie - Best deal on antvirus

    I like this deal of getting the renewal code on Amazon at this price and simply entering it in the subscription status renew link at the bottom of the Norton screen.
    The renewal fee via the Norton itself or the Norton Symantec website was double of this.
    Great deal for a great product.