Get your Portable ID!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

RAID

So I'm working on trying to build a backup NAS for my office, and I'm thinking of using a hardware RAID5 card (3ware 9650SE-4LPML) coupled with OpenSolaris.

Any thoughts, Internets?

Cliff's Notes to Male Personal Ads

I've created a helpful guide to reading a 25-50 year-old man's personal ads for you ladies. Here's what they're actually trying to say.


Hello. I am a male approaching an age where I am no longer confident in my ability to attract the opposite sex and am therefore stepping up the level of urgency of my requests. My own personal qualifications for being involved in a relationship are meaningless from my perspective as I find myself in possession of a penis. In all likelihood, I'm probably useful to somebody if I would just make an effort.

I am seeking a female that will go to bed with me who I will be able to stand looking at and talking to in the morning, with option to extend that to all subsequent mornings for the remainder of either of our lives.

I am not picky, but here is a list of things that I am picky about, which tends to extend to nearly every aspect of your being, most notably those you are not in direct control of and which I should probably ignore.

Please respond immediately, as each passing second in which I have not had a response erodes further my confidence in my ability to attract the opposite sex and vastly increases the likelihood that I will die aspirating in an alleyway under the crushing burden of a substance abuse habit.

No fatties, that just further damages my confidence in my self-worth as it does not properly adhere to the strictures of the modern male self-image which I have been made to accept for the last two to five decades of my life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fallout 3

I've been hooked on Fallout 3 in the spare time I've had in the 4 weeks since it was released, which between moving, meeting with real estate bastards, reading the Night Watch novels, papers for classes and a reticent RAID unit at work, has only been about 50-70 hours. No doubt about it, it's got its claws sunk into me.

When I want to like a game this badly, its defects scrabble at me with their tiny claws. Eventually those defects and limitations prove enough of an irritation that I actually spend some time thinking about them and realize that they really should have caught this crap in the design stages.

My chief complaints with Fallout 3 isn't that it is "Oblivion with guns" as the common complaint is phrased. I'm OK with "Oblivion with guns." I kinda wished I had a sniper rifle the entire time I was playing Oblivion. Also, it's more than just that. My problem is that it's Oblivion - with all of its defects, shortcomings and just plain design no-nos - with a better game nailed onto its ass like a massively expensive game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

And make no mistake, Fallout 3 is a better game than Oblivion. The plot is more interesting and delivered better. The few developed characters are more interesting, the random events are far more interesting, there are a more quests than the previous two Fallouts AND Oblivion combined, the areas are more unique than in Oblivion... The list does go on. The number of improvements they've made in their delivery, storytelling style and the extent to which they've resisted Bethesdaisms is commendable. But the flaws are still there, and the most glaring ones should probably be considered inexcusable in this day and age.

I shall enumerate them on my patent-pending Fail-O-Meter whose range goes from 1 to 11, from "Actually, not fail" to "Epic Fail."



  • Vampires(8) - Seriously? Fucking vampires. Are you people so horny for the dead that you cannot make a single fucking game without vampires in them? Burn your Anne Rice books, then your Brian Lumley books, then yourself for good measure. While not actually a fail per-se, the vampire subquests were so incredibly lamely veiled love notes to vampires that it came across like a child's stick figure drawing of you and Count Chocula holding hands and kissing. Whoever at your company is responsible for this should be fired, and immediately, so they stop frou-frouing up your games.


  • Texture art(11) - EPIC FUCKING FAIL. The issue isn't the quality of the art, which I'll get back to, but the god damned compression. When somebody can put out a texture mod within 2 weeks of every single one of your product releases since Morrowind which triples the quality of the textures without having any impact on performance or file size, you need to fire your textures people and hire people who actually understand how to do computer art.

    Back to the quality issue, you still need to fire the guy who does human faces, they're ugly as fuck. Also, in a world in which there is so god damned much turpentine that you can hardly walk around without tripping on some, why is everything still so fucking dirty? Presumably because there isn't a single rag left in the world after they dropped the Ragomic bomb on the Wasteland to make sure that nobody could make molotovs from all the ridiculous amount of scotch and vodka laying around to use against the Chinese.


  • Movement and hit detection(8) - Seriously, this crap wasn't even good enough when Morrowind came out, and now is 6 years later. You move around like a guy on top of a very sticky ball who is propelled by somebody pushing him around by the head. Simple small slopes are unclimbable and at any given time, trying to climb over some feebly constructed and strangely placed pile of rubble which couldn't have fallen there because the ceiling above is intact, you may become irrevocably stuck, requiring you to load a save game to get out, because your character is too stupid to understand climbing and too weak to climb out of a hole that is knee deep and steeply walled. When jammed in this situation, should you decide to shoot past a piece of rubble that is more open space than solid to hit some enemy who is no doubt approaching to laugh at you for being too stupid to extricate yourself from a small pile of debris, you will find yourself hitting thin air, or aiming for a tiny piece of rebar which, if you were mad and spatially retarded, might be considered between you and your target. Hit detection fail, collision detection fail, movement engine fail. Redo your engine - it doesn't cut it in 2008, and it certainly won't cut it in 2010. This is not difficult - people have had better movement engines than this since the late nineties.


  • Enemies(7) - As with Oblivion, the world is populated by four kinds of people:
    1. people who are invincible because the writers couldn't figure out how to deal with the fact you killed them
    2. people who aren't invincible but are holy and sacred and the universe themselves protects them so if you kill them you're the worst person ever - even if that person is a complete and utter douchebag who deserves death and you can tell before their lame giveaway plot lets you know it's OK to kill them
    3. people who are OK to kill but might still talk to you even though they're boring people with recycled dialog options
    4. And ravening, psychotic drooling lunchbox-headed murderous freaks who will stop at nothing to flay the skin from your bones, make a canoe from it, and shit in that canoe.

    I'd like to think there is more range to human discourse than just "worship/ignore/kill," and I'd also like to think that even the craziest of motherfuckers might eventually become intimidated enough to surrender or recognize that you just saved their ass from something worse than either of you and not immediately attack you.

    The AI has improved since Oblivion, no doubt about that, but the characters walking around with that AI haven't gained any depth since Daggerfall. If a group of 3 raiders is fighting off a Deathclaw and I blow the Deathclaw's brains out shortly before it swipes the last survivor's legs clean off, I'd expect the raider to at least try to figure out why I saved him, rather than immediately checking "Deathclaw" off of their list of "Things to kill/eat/fuck" and then noticing the next item on the list is yours truly.

    I'm not expecting a redemption quest and a back story for every roaming asshat the Wasteland has to offer , but I would like to see, just once, a sandbox game where they recognize that the enemy of your enemy just might be your friend. Imagine saving a raider from aforementioned Deathclaw, and later you save a raider from the same gang from a yao guai. Both times the raider recognizes you spared them and runs off. Later you encounter the same gang and they're friendly to you and will trade with you. This is the human experience - few people are such bastards that they fail to understand the dogma of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Every hostile NPC in the Bethesda games practices a "I'll scratch your back with a knife" dogma of human interaction and it just frankly gets old. They could at least ignore you if you don't attack them occasionally, even if they are total bastards. We live in an era where video games are becoming more and more like traditional storytelling, where even the ordinarily shallowest games are acquiring thought-provoking depths. It wouldn't hurt to have the one genre which always has been thought-provoking - RPGs - try to modernize as well.

  • World interaction(5) - I can't climb up your ass too much about this, since the whole game industry has been taking giant steps backward in this department since the nineties. But I'm going to try anyway.
    • In 1990 - that's 18 years ago for the mathematically challenged, Origin Systems gave us the Worlds of Ultima games. In The Savage Empire every item that your character (as in Ultima 6) was interactive, labeled with a name, if it was small enough to move, it was movable and you could actually build weapons out of junk you harvested from the countryside.
    • In Wasteland in 1988 (that's 20 fucking years ago) you could force locks with crowbars, knock a locked door down with brute strength, blow them open with explosives, each lock had a hardness value determining what it could be blown open with (grenade not enough? try c4), and if you really wanted to, you could pick the lock. Weapons jammed, but, once fixed, returned to their full value. You could use your perception skill to locate hidden doors or discern the combination for a tricky combo lock. You could dig out debris with a shovel to allow you to move through a blocked area.
    • In Fallout 3, you can drag some stuff around like you were a retarded man attempting to use the Force, pick up some useless junk, and interact with everything else in the world with a boring series of menus and pop-out dialogs. Everything else in the world is completely immobile with the exception of the ludicrously exploding cars, debris is an inviolate and indestructible single unit, and if something blocks your path, you need to find a tunnel to go around it or never pass it. The few weapons you can build are all built using a special item only found in a dozen or so places in the game and they use a menu and a rather well-done sound effect. In the end, you get a weapon which is only as good as the average piece of crap you find in the Wasteland, with the exception of the explosives, which although they're made out of cola and detergent and cherry bombs, do more damage than anything else in the game short of actual nuclear bombs. Should you tire of this bleak world and decide to leave it for greener, less radioactive pastures, you wander off into the sunset, only to find an invisible wall which inexplicably informs you that you can't go any further, as if you were a ghost and your soul was tied to your place of burial.

    It seems we've sacrificed an interactive and cleverly constructed past which was dry in personality for a future which is shiny and full of personality but doesn't do anything.


With a studio the size of Bethesda, the wealth of middleware available to take a lot of the work out of making a game, and nearly two years of development time, I just plain expect better than Oblivion's engine with some fun additions tacked on. The shit that was plainly broken with Oblivion should have been resolved before they started adding on to the engine, and they need to recognize the shortcomings in their game design style and correct them. Game development isn't just a business, it's an art, and until the few studios which have the cojones and freedom to treat it like one start actually treating it like one, we're going to be the one medium which is totally discounted and marginalized by the mainstream as being shallow escapism.

And maybe we are shallow escapism, but that doesn't mean we can't develop our art, god dammit. Don't feel alone in all of this, Bethesda - you're not - plenty of other companies have much to answer for with their games and their lack of advancement between them (coughBungiecoughLionheadcough) but you're the one company that we have to hope is going to suck it up and make good games, since nobody else seems to care to make deep quality RPGs anymore. You need to send your artists away for proper training (I recommend asking Valve to help out), send your writers and designers to some writing workshops, make your programmers spend some quality time with movement and physics (try Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge's contextual movement) and add a "required reading" of some of the best games in history to your list of prerequisites to being assigned anything meaningful in your next project. You have the potential to make the best games that come out every year, ones which will be remembered forever. Don't let yourselves fall short.

Ok, I'm done talking like anybody from Bethesda will ever read this now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things Learned from Having my Internet Connection Restored

As momentous an event as losing internet access can be for a person who relies on it for day-to-day living, the (I suppose) trauma of suddenly regaining it can be just as impacting.  The internet plays a very large role in my life, both as a good and a bad influence.  

Being a little introspective about the effects of access to the Internet and deprivation from it reveals some interesting facts.
  • I get far less work done when I have an internet connection.
  • I spend more money when I have an internet connection.
  • Paradoxically, despite getting less general work done, I get more homework done when I have an internet connection.
  • I spend less time fixating on how my homework would be easier if I had an internet connection when I have an internet connection.
  • I appear more intelligent than I really am when I have an internet connection.
  • This makes me more cocky and therefore more of a douche.
  • I spend less time goofing off when I should be doing homework when I was goofing off earlier due to my internet connection.
  • I watch more television when I have an internet connection (thank you, Hulu and ABC.com)
  • I consume more advertising and am more informed current-events-wise when I have an internet connection.
  • I am more social and spend more time communicating with other people when I have an internet connection.
  • I actually leave the house more often when I have an internet connection; my communications with other people cause me to be more active and motivated to get out and about. I read an email from a friend asking what I'm up to, I decide "really nothing" and get out and move. I read about a project somebody's working on and it inspires me to get out and get what I need to work on my own projects.
  • My life is far less insular when connected to the internet as casual contact with the ideas, activities and lives of other people result in change in myself.
What may we conclude from this?  
  • An internet connection is a fixture of modern life: like running water makes living easier, running information makes thinking easier.
  • Entertainment is easier to consume when it is fed directly to your lazy ass.
  • Productivity decreases due to the easy access to entertainment, but potential productivity is increased by the easy access to the collected knowledge of humanity.
  • The addictive nature of easy access to media makes futures like those predicted by Gibson and Stephenson far more likely; there people who live not like junkies for media, but more like fetishists who fixate on their virtual world as much or more than their real world. The virtual world has more impact on their internal life than the strictly physical concerns which keep them in contact with their source of information.
  • Constant access to the diversity of the internet, even within narrow interest groups, results in cultural and attitude shifts on the individual, and emergently, societal scale.
Predictions based on these conclusions:
  • In the future, as the Internet becomes a larger fixture in our lives and younger generations become the new "old people," people will be, on average, lazier about the seeking of knowledge, but overall more knowledgable due to the ease of accessing it.
  • People may be more creative but less original.
  • People may be less risk-averse, but more lethargic.
  • People will be very good at the few things they are good at, but mediocre at best at most skills.
  • The scope of a person's talents will act as the defining limits of their range of expertise and their skill at locating information; they will only know where to find information if it is at least tangentially related to their primary areas of expertise, but they will be exceedingly fast at finding that information.
  • World culture, though homogenizing to a large degree, will evolve at a much faster rate due to the deluge of information and creativity produced worldwide.  Fast and convenient access to this information and the influence of aggregators will factionalize, but also serve to homogenize, these new influences.
  • Fusions of genres of creative endeavor will eventually destroy genre, or at least dilute it to an extent where it becomes closer to metaphor than to the formative and limiting factor it currently is.
Hmm, that's enough hokum for the moment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Things Learned From Having No Internet Connection for Over a Week

  • I read really goddamned fast, going through 6 books in that 2 week period.
  • This is annoying when you're too sick to go out and find books you haven't already read and only have 4 books you haven't read sitting around.
  • Being sick and having no internet connection is like being stupid and having no Jerry Springer.
  • I cannot read anything written by Terry Brooks without skimming completely past the content of 2 out of 3 paragraphs.
  • I really like trashy D&D novels for some reason.
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales is fucking fascinating.
  • I own far too many games that I have not played through, and yet inexplicably, when deciding to engage myself with video games when ill, I tend to choose to play shit I've already finished mostly.
  • Mercenaries 2 is the new Jesus.
  • Dan's copy of Soul Calibur IV brings me joy
  • World of Goo is fucking brilliant but painfully difficult at times.
  • Mega Man 9 is ten kinds of awesome in concept, but I can't even beat a single stage. I may be too old to play NES games?
  • Oblivion still gives me happy pants. No idea why I enjoy it so much. Looking forward to Fallout 3 with an increasing enthusiasm the closer the release date approaches because of this infatuation.
  • I don't remember Far Cry being as hard as it really is. Maybe I beat it on Easy before? Although I seem to remember having to cheat to finish the game, which I'm not doing this time so far and I'm playing it on Normal difficulty.
  • I can get through the entirety of Portal in about 1 hour now, stopping to deface cameras.
  • I realize all of the above makes me a huge nerd.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lessons Learned from LittleBigPlanet Beta

  • Sackboys are awesome.
    • They can fall any distance without taking damage.
    • They can drag an object many times their own weight
    • They run really damned fast.
    • They have an unbreakable grip.
  • The editor is awesome on toast.
  • Stay away from building on the edges of the level - it looks tacky.
  • You could probably build a steam engine analog in LBP without difficulty.
  • Build from the foreground back into the screen - otherwise you stand a real chance of your players jumping down from somewhere you never intended them to.
  • I really have to figure out how to do those cardboard billboard style things - thin layers of cardboard. They're so useful.
  • When building an LBP level, you should think of it as if you're creating an amusement park - think facades, tethers and mimicry rather than genuine engineering. It'll save you time and sanity.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Praise Be!

Image redacted for the sake of eye-preservation

I was searching for the name of the city that Jesus rode into on an ass (for purposes nearly as irreverent) when I happened across this image.

This is a prime time to enter into the discourse the term pareidolia, which is a term which describes the tendency of weak and random stimuli producing a strong recognition response. When you see strange shapes in the clouds or faces in a carpetor you severely mishear English words in or out of foreign languages or in the static whispers of blank audiotapes, or in this case, the form of Jesus in a dog's ass, you're experiencing pareidolia.

Science supposedly has recently found evolutionary advantage in superstition on the basis that responses to imagined or unrelated stimuli may have spared the lives of animals by causing them to react to the imagined presence of predators, thus potentially saving them at a critical time when the predator would have gone unnoticed. This is probably most noticeably in the observable behavior of house cats who occasionally stare at a point nearby in space as if it were their greatest foe and flee or suddenly attack a sock.

It occurs to me that pareidolia may serve a similar purpose in humans. While it made it easier for us to recognize the patterns of our allies, enemies and prey, it also served to cause us to perceive enemies where none existed, potentially saving us in those occasions where the spurious recognition was coincidentally true. Superstition and pareidolia go hand-in-hand, and is most especially noticeable when we are children. The forms we perceive in the darkened room, our belief that something haunts our closet and under our bed, and our general overarching terror of anything we cannot see in our formative years is most likely an adaptation - our odds of survival were greatly increased if we had the good sense to run to mom and dad when it was too dark to spot predators.

It is also given free rein with certain kinds of blindness, resulting in a condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome or in the midst of a really good trip (or really bad fever.) There are always those who will see The Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or Jesus Christ himself in a moldy shower curtain (or Lenin) and be willing to drop some serious loot on it.

It's not all religious experiences and medically-caused hallucinations though. Some people like to have fun with the phenomenon.

Me, I think I'll try making a toast printer and earn some e-bay cash.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why don't you call me anymore?

When people talk about their formative years, they seldom refer to college. This is interesting because, on the whole, college and a person's first jobs are more formative of the personality they'll go around sporting for the rest of their lives than summer camp in 6th grade or how much time they spent being bored at Grandma's house on a rainy day.

The term Alma mater is used to describe universities. This term means (to embrace all possible meanings of Alma) "beneficent mother." Originally this just meant that you were a suckling at the teat of knowledge, but it's become more true in recent times than it was in 1088 when the phrase was coined.

So the question arises, as it does with all neglected mothers, "Why don't you call me anymore?" Most people spend more time communicating with the people they met in college than the people they met in high school, unless of course they return to their home town after graduation rather than pursuing a career in strange and foreign states. Census numbers show that most people who get married actually met their future spouse in high school or college with that number weighted toward college for professionals.

So given that we've established that college is a major and important part of life, forms relationships which last lifetimes and is responsible for the formation of much of your personality, politics and opinions later in life, why don't you call anymore?

Alumni associations are surprisingly small, and alumni involvement at most universities is reasonably slight - even the donations come from only a small minority of graduates. I'd be interested to hear whether college papers regularly hear from recent graduates who weren't involved in the college paper during school. So what's the deal? Why do people suddenly lose interest in their alma mater after graduation, save on football weekends?

The alumni associations at universities tend to be seen as a sort of good-old-boys network for the rich and famous and for those who were involved in campus governance in their glory years. Mr. Magoo and Mr. Burns in their fur coats with their 1921 pennants. This conception isn't helped by the fact that they charge dues as if they were a country club.

So how do you keep graduated students actually involved in current events at the university? I think the answer is the same way people keep in touch with their college buddies now: over the web. What is necessary is the creation of an entity which describes current events, but not in such a dense stream as the school paper, maintains discussion boards, takes polls regarding public opinion of major campus issues, makes arranging get-togethers easier, etc. Who would do such a thing?

How about the campus yearbook staff? They already have variety, life, politics, fraternity and sorority events, sports and retrospectives; why not have them continue doing this more often than once a year? Publish a digest form of the previous 4 years for graduating seniors, keep in touch with alumni who graduated as many as 4 years before to ask them about how previous events shaped current events. Keeping those graduates in touch with the university and interested in current issues seems like a proper endeavor. More public involvement with and awareness of the campus can never be a bad thing for the students who have to live there for 4 years.

Moreover, such a site, indexed, condensed, summarized by a diligent staff would produce something like an oral history of a campus.

We are living in an age where much of our culture is impermanent. Our media dissolves in under 50 years, our non-vital digital data from only 20 years ago has bit-rotted its way into oblivion, what digital culture existed 20 years ago is now lost forever save in the memories of those who lived it. We are in a time where history is an endangered species. Some things are worth preserving. The Quinn and I took a trip to a few libraries around campus just to find out what the old name for the Murrow Communications Center was before Edward R. Murrow was a pimp. It was surprisingly difficult. Yes, we found out. No, we won't tell you. Consider it an exercise.

I guess my point is that I don't really think that at site like this would be huge or popular, but it might snag that vocal minority who would have something to say about the campus and current events but don't because there is no venue for them to do it and they do not know of an audience who would listen.

I know I probably wouldn't.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But Isaac Newton beat me to it...

I'd like to be the first to say "Fuck you, Apple."

I've just spent the last week doing nothing but wrestling with OS X Server's incredibly fucked up postfix implementation.

Here's the deal. When a message is received which is addressed to a bogus domain or mailbox name (that's the parts after and before the @, for you Philistines), it's supposed to be silently rejected. That's just how the internet works these days. You don't blithely accept for relay all mail which comes to your computer.

Apple's system doesn't accept mail to bogus domains, but it does accept mail to bogus users. Sure, local_recipient_maps and relay_recipient_maps are two fine and dandy wonderful files which are intended to keep the server from doing that. The only problem exists when you are setting up a mail server which authenticates from another domain controller. Then Apple's setup automatically accepts whatever@yourdomain.com regardless of whether or not "whatever" is a valid mailbox name or not.

This creates problems because:

  1. The server's delivery queue becomes filled with undeliverable mail.
  2. The server bounces the mail when it realizes that the queue is undeliverable, creating a bounce message via MAILER-DAEMON which then gets stuck into the queue.
  3. The queue now has a bounce message which is scheduled to be delivered to whoever sent the message, which, almost univerally is either a bogus domain name or some poor innocent bastard's email account.

The end result of this is that, in the best case scenario, our mail server spams some poor guy with a bounce message containing junkmail. In the worst case scenario, this bogus mail sits in the queue for as long as 5 days (by default behavior, thanks again, Apple) trying to deliver. While it's failing to deliver, the 2 outgoing connections total (once again, default behavior, thanks, Apple) are clogged up waiting for domain name resolution to fail.

This means that all of the messages which are attempted to deliver at this time are postponed for, you guessed it, the Apple defined default time of 400 minutes. When they come around for delivery again, if the queue happens to be full again, the message is requeued again this time postponed for a non-linearly increased time of > 400 seconds.

The end result of this is that with even 5-10 of these undeliverable messages sitting in the queue, the queue can get backed up for as long as 24 hours within less than a day of receiving an unholy volume of spam.

Aforementioned unholy volume being a number < 300 per day. As a result, the queue will often be sitting there with less than 300 messages (which should take at most 20 seconds to process all of them) for as long as 20 hours without attempting to redeliver a single one of them.

To quote Alice Cooper, "Welcome to my Nightmare."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Being an account of a lengthy quest to discover what to refer to elements of decor in wallpaper and illuminations as.

So I got a hair up my ass about what you call all those little traditional leafy and curvaceous patterns in illustrative work. I then set out to figure out what to call them. I encountered motifs, both vegetal and tessellated, insular illumination, drolleries, inhabited initials and various other curiosities.

In the end, I was no more illuminated than I was initially.


But I'll get over it.

Ahem.

…beinge an accounte of divers topic∫.

Tor and I had fome matter of difcourse yefterday about how awesome English was back in the days before there were any actual rules of grammar. You would Capitalize anything you wanted to Draw Attention to, tack the letter 'e' willy-nilly onto things in a highly inconsistent fashion, and just sort of randomly choose to insert the medial 's' which made it read as if it was an 'f' (now surviving only as the integral symbol in calculus.)

However, rules of style were still strongly in play. For instance, it was traditional to decorate the fuck out of a title page and include some description of what's going to happen in the book, usually in the form of something like this:


A Tale of False Cheeses

Beinge ann accounte Moft Dire of Travails fuffered in the procurement of a plate of Nachoes from an convenient store.

It occurred to us that it would be awesome if there were some person following you around phrasing every annoying thing that happened to you as if it were an Elizabethan drama.

I know that'd make me feel better at least.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Things I Learned from Dwarf Fortress p.3

  • Goblins are child-thieving blessings in disguise.
  • When the goblins start invading you, at first they're just annoying bastards who kill all the dwarves you need.
  • When you have repelled enough of them, they start arriving with steel weapons and armor.
  • These weapons and armor sell for a fortune to traders, and better yet, you can melt them down for metals (when on a typical map, you may be starved for metals for making your own gear.)
  • Above ground airlocks for keeping your merchants safe when the goblins arrive = priceless.

Press fail, Putin fail, News at 11

Putin is in the news now for doing something that sounds like Kim Jong-il-esque propaganda. However, the article has an interesting ambiguous modifier in it:

He helped measure the Amur tiger's incisors before placing a satellite transmitter around the neck of the beast, which can weigh up to 450 kg (1,000 lb) and measure around ten feet from nose to the tip of the tail.

Who else read that as one heavy damned satellite transmitter?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Making people see ghosts

I found a nifty publication from a team of scientists who are doing research which is just awesome.

I quote:

A large proportion of paranormal experiences occur in specific places. They are associated with a sensed presence, fear, odd smells, apparitions along the peripheral (usually left) visual field that “disappear” when directly (foveally) viewed, and auditory experiences (loud noises). Continuous measurements within these areas reveal bursts of low-frequency magnetic fields, ultrasound, and other physical anomalies that can directly affect objects within the space as well as the human brain.

We have simulated and reproduced these experiences by applying complex frequency-modulated magnetic fields through the brains of normal people who have experienced haunts.

In one case a young man and woman, both of whom displayed elevated scores on the Roberts scale for temporal lobe sensitivity, reported suddenly awakening between 2:00 and 4:00 A.M. The man experienced an apparition moving through their bed. Both individuals experienced odd sounds (breathing), marked apprehension, and the feeling of a presence. Continuous monitoring of their electronically dense house revealed repeated transients of complex magnetic fields with peak strengths between 15 and 30 mG, similar to those that evoke the sensed presence in our experimental studies. These peaks were concurrent with the reports of the paranormal experiences. The fields were generated by less than optimal grounding of the house.

I want a hat which can make me see ghosts too!

Amusing Spam

As the webmaster of The Evergreen's website, I get what we in the business like to call a "Sweaty Fuckton" of spam emails.

Mind you, for the benefit of those theoretical people that Hormel have hypothesized might be confused by this usage, I'm not referring to the well-known food product which bears the same name and is favored by Vikings, but rather to unsolicited email.

Of course, though unsolicited, it is not always unwelcomed. Say, for instance, you wanted to enlarge your wanger, or your jubblies. Or if you were looking for a pill to make aforementioned stand upright. The wanger that is. I'm not cognizant of any pill which causes one's jubblies to stand upright, but if there were such a thing, I'm sure there'd be a market.

Pursuant to the original point, however, I get a lot of spam email. Occasionally this email has the capacity to amuse me.

For instance, this email's subject line suggests what should be done with it:

Subject: Incinerate

Then there is the bizarre indian version of Engrish:

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love

Blessed indeed are the conspirators, for they shall inherit the earth.
However, my favorites are always the randomly generated clause messages:

Nothing like it [DETAILS] displeasing ducked

I ducked displeasingly three times in one day... My vehicle was being unkind to my head.

abominable tarp

Abominable tarp? Damn, I've gotta get me one of those.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Things I've learned from Dwarf Fortress p.2

  • Unfriendly Goblins suck. Hard.
  • Always build a wall around your important resources before building fancy tombs and offices for the mayor and complicated waterworks celebrating the richness and creativity of dwarven society.
  • If you don't have a wall around your important resources before the Goblins show up, you should probably just start digging a lot of graves.
  • Coffins are a useful thing to have a lot of in stockpiles.

Google Chrome

I'm torn on the subject of Google's new and shiny browser.

The UI for the new browser does all of the things I want it to do - minimizes the standard menus into a pair of buttons, leaves the bookmark toolbar at the top, turns the status bar into a floating tooltip whenever the status changes, takes up very little space at the top, usurps the standard Windows application window controls bar and replaces it with mo sexah tabs.

It loads in under a second on both of my main desktop machines, renders things more correctly than any browser I've yet had, loads Flash pages without delay and without having to install any plugins (that I didn't already have installed... I'm talking to you, Firefox.) and it makes thousands of Julienne fries.

However, it looks like Google has almost missed the point that Firefox has been making in its long struggle to eventual dominance for the last 5 years. Google Chrome has no add-ons, no options to speak of, no theme choices, no plugins, no zoom, no RSS support... Well, it's a shell of a browser. It's what Internet Explorer 1 would have been if Microsoft had given a rat's ass about performance and web standards. It's featureless.

Why is that is, Google?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Things I've learned from Dwarf Fortress

  • You can make valuable fertilizer from ashes or lye, and you can make lye from ashes.
  • Dwarves like falling down wells.
  • Digging into an above-sea-level aquifer when your entire culture is built into the side of a cliff is usually a bad idea.
  • Camels really hate engravers.
  • Friendly goblin tribes rock.
  • Underground lakes are buried for a reason. That reason is snake men.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Privacy & Government Scrutiny

I'm certainly not one of those yahoos who agrees with the statement that you shouldn't need privacy if you have nothing to hide. Typically these people are the same ones who would condemn nudism but disagree that it's the same thing. Modesty is privacy practiced for the sake of other people.

The typical argument against giving the government the right to routinely violate your privacy, and it is a good one, is that once you have allowed them this right, you have effectively removed your ability to later overthrow that same government when and if it begins passing laws which violate your fundamental human rights - at least those which you aren't as willing to surrender as you were the right to privacy.

I don't think necessarily that this is the BEST argument against allowing the government to monitor your actions.

The government has shown itself to be extremely bad at protecting private information about its citizens whenever that information is collected on a broad scale. Leaks of social security number databases, home addresses and even disclosures of their own secret agents' identities have occurred just in the last 4 years. The government has given databases of hundreds of thousands of US citizens to private companies so that their TSA bullshit can continue to harass citizens who don't pay a handling fee.

Given their problems with keeping secret information secret, are you really comfortable having all information about your life and identity stored all in one place with millions of access points (for all the people who will be collecting this information?)

At present, your only protection from your fellow citizens is the relative obscurity of an individual life and the lack of profitability in extending the effort to get all the goods on a single person. The time expenditure and risk is too great to usually bother with it unless it is a personal matter or the person is very rich.

The larger the profit which can be acquired by a single successful criminal act and the lower the difficulty and risk in the operation, the more likely it is to be attempted. This is why people rob cash registers most often rather than individual people in our United States. This is also why more people rob cash registers than banks - the risk is lower and the ease is higher.

When you have a giant database containing salable information whose security is necessarily extremely porous given the large number of people who need access to it, you have a target which is worth hitting. Now I realize these already exist - the DMV and Social Services in most states have a fat computer network attached to giant databases full of all sorts of information about families.

However, this information is already stolen and sold; abusive spouses seem to track down their "better halves" far more often than mere chance and predictability would account for. DMV records and credit card databases are used by private investigators and insurance companies to track people down regularly.

Now imagine a database which might store the last 1000 phone numbers you called, or who has been sending you mail, or where you go on your weekends, the last time you had an oil change and where, where all of your known associates and friends live... Now imagine this information also tied to your name, date of birth, mother's maiden name, city of birth, social security number, name of your first pet make and model of your first car and city you purchased it in...

The government retaining information based on omnipresent surveillance does nothing to protect its citizens, but simply leaves them vulnerable to the depredations of whoever has access to these systems.

A low-level bureaucrat becomes obsessed with a young boy and starts stalking him, arranging for selective "noise filtering" of his own activities long enough to kill him in the breezeway of his apartment block.

A somewhat underpaid mid-level manager with skyrocketing mortgage interest begins selling information in small numbers on beautiful women living near predators - all off-the-grid by performing the sales quietly through channels outside the scope of governmental surveillance. He calls it a "dating service."

Another mid-level manager makes a living selling full ID theft packages to illegal aliens. Scans the recently dead list, writes down all the necessary information to make up a fake ID that will pass muster, sells them in bundles to a reseller, later you find out that your next-of-kin is living in New Mexico and has run up $350k in credit card debt before the estate has even gotten out of escrow.

All of these scenarios are altogether too plausible, and at present are nowhere near as easy to perpetrate as they would be in a total surveillance state. Worse, getting away with it would be easier in a total surveillance state. In a total surveillance state, it is believed on an official level that nothing escapes them - they know everything. Therefore they would not believe that somebody was successfully circumventing their process. Therefore whatever you were accused of must be true because nobody could have done it other than you.

It doesn't matter that the credit debt was run up after your son was dead; only he could have done it, so you still are liable. The person who killed your child in the apartment breezeway was dressed like you and about the same height, so it must have been you. You must have signed up for that dating service, our database is impregnable, these aren't stalkers, they said you contacted them first.

So maybe I'm overreacting, but I think not. I think that we shouldn't be afraid of what our government will do to us with the information they gather; we should be afraid of what our fellow man will do to us with the information our government will gather and then refuse to adequately protect.

Friday, August 15, 2008

BBQ Day!

Pheed!

Barbecues always kick my ass. I always seem to work really hard at getting the place set up for one, but never seem to think about what we're going to do other than make food.

I believe this is largely because my family barbecued often and we sort of made our own entertainment. We'd invite other family members over to play Pinochle and such. It was a big part of my definition of summer as a child, these family barbecues.

So much so, in fact, that they took on an almost ceremonial quality, as if by producing spare ribs and macaroni salad appropriately we would appease our totem spirits and the crops would get their rain and the elk would run wild.