Blog Archive — Page 30

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  • To Run, or Not to Run, That is the Question

    Right, having pitched a roleplaying game setting with the caveat that I wouldn’t run it, I appear to have acquired four potential players. So, here’s the deal.

    With four or possibly five committed players, I will run an online game. It will be run on a wiki rather than on a forum like RPoL. I will deal with the entropy problem the same way I did for In Love and War: game threads will not necessarily wait for you. If multiple characters are doing things in a thread, and one of them stops posting, it will be assumed that they’re not doing anything interesting. If you want to do something and it’s really critical that the world waits for you, let me know. The usual solution is to split off into a 1 player + GM only thread.

    The game is not necessarily Reawakening. I will put what I run up to a vote. (Leave comments wherever you happen to be reading this.) Here is a list of games that I have come up with or been asked to run, but haven’t run yet.

    • Reawakening (Punk faeries)
    • Dreaming Awake 2 - though very little could convince me to run this online rather than face-to-face.
    • Beyond the Fields we Know (oWoD Virtual Adepts) - this game is only really cool when played realtime over IRC, SSH etc. I don’t have the time to run this right now, really. If rampaging hordes of potential players appear, I may consider it, player count for it is about 20.
    • What Lies Beyond Broadlands Road (Comedy Changeling, product of too much alcohol)
    • War on Terror: The RPG (Comedy super-power game) - pregenned characters only, this is a two-hour convention game really
    • In the Night Garden (Kids TV + Cthulhu) - I am too sober to run this
    • The Time War (Doctor Who + Feng Shui)
    • A currently not-thought-out 7th Sea Explorers Society game
    • A currently not-thought-out Nobilis game

    Advance warning: All these ideas require a bit more work before I’d consider them playable games, so when there’s consensus on what I’m running, I’ll spend a few days working on background fluff, then we can start character gen.

    Any questions? =D

  • Changeling 2: The Anti-Changeling?

    I have thought up yet another setting for a roleplaying game that I will probably never get to run. This may be of interest to my former “Changeling: In Love and War” players since it’s in the same world, though the feel of it is completely different. Pretty much the opposite, in fact.

    I have two words for you: Punk fairies.

    Here’s the introduction.

  • Oh Look, a Totally Normal E-mail

    Ahahaha WHAT.

    Rupert Murdoch is now following you on Twitter

    I feel that the order of the Universe has somehow been challenged. And defeated.

    Note: The account is @fakerupe, so er, yeah.

  • November

    Once again, the world has whirled its way around its orbit and arrived back at what us mammals call “November”. Perhaps it’s the shortening days, the wind and rain, or maybe just the after-effects of Hallowe’en, but November has had a strange effect on me in recent years. At University, certainly, after a Summer away and an October of re-settling in, November was when the drama started rearing its ugly head.

    Then, as now, it’s most marked by a feeling of disconnection - that there’s some distance between myself and the real world. Chores go undone, meals uneaten, important things forgotten, and my brain floats between creativity, blank ‘meh’, and frustrated boredom. Combined with the residual Unseelie feelings from the Hallowe’en just passed, and the leaves blowing past in the wind, it puts me in a strange place.

    Incidentally, I wrote a (very) short story. It’s far more upbeat than the rest of this blog entry, and as a bonus will only consume about two minutes of your life. It’s here:

    November in the Court of Seasons

    Read, share, enjoy, etc. Happy All Hallows’ Day!


    Allow me to share with you one of the most bizarre and infuriating login forms I have ever seen. This is it, the one for CPP Identity Protection.

    CPP Identity Protection Login Form

    Yeah, you read that right. “Password or username” followed by “E-mail address”. The site drops hints that apparently passwords are discontinued, and since last year every customer has a username instead. Er, guys? Do you even understand how this works?

    So when you join, you get a letter that contains your username, which is a pretty short alphanumeric string. It’s pretty much… a password. Not a very good one, but still.

    First time you log in, you get a delightful series of prompts that up the WTF factor even more. The first one is “change your username”. My first reaction, as I guess it is for a lot of people, is “yeah, this alphanumeric string is crazy-hard to remember. I’ll just use the same username as I use everywhere!” I actually got as far as typing ‘tsuki_chama’ in the box before I realised. That would leave my online handle and e-mail address - both publicly-known information - as the only things protecting my account. On a website that deals with identity theft. Whaaaaat?

    The second prompt is for the “username reminder”, i.e. password reminder, assuming you left your ‘username’ as a password-like string. Now there was no limitation on what you could have as a username, I guess you could have “abc” if you wanted. But here, your password reminder, is another story. There’s a drop-down box of Secret Questions, the usual sort - first pet, memorable place, etc. You have to pick one, there’s no free entry. And then you enter your answer to that secret question.

    Which must be at least 8 characters and include at least one number.

    Geez, do you think there might be another authentication field that you might want to apply that restriction to instead? But yeah, I’m fine, because I had a pet hamster called ROBOHAM-877.

    So yay, the only vaguely secure string you’re providing is your password recovery answer, which is not needed to log you in at all, only to recover your bizarro-username in case you forget it, assuming you didn’t just go with the flow and set your username to the same damn username you use everywhere else.

    Identity. Protection. Fail.

  • Never Work With Hardware

    Beware, techie ranting ahead.

    I have learned one important lesson over the last three weeks: Never, ever work with hardware.

    We have this board - I shan’t say exactly what it does for obvious reasons, but suffice to say that it generates signals and sends them, and sometimes receives signals and processes them. And, three weeks ago, it started crashing. Randomly. Sometimes after a few seconds, sometimes after a few hours, but it would always crash. Yeah, that kind of bug. Also, the development environment features what I will call “quantum breakpoints”. These are just like normal breakpoints, where you can stop your code at some point and examine the state of variables, only they change things in tiny imperceptible ways, and usually when you start the program again from a certain breakpoint it just won’t work.

    So, I wrote most of the code for the main signal-processing chip on this board, so I got to try and sort this bug out. Thanks to the lovely combo above, it took me about a week to narrow down the bug to a certain bit of processing code. To make matters even harder, it turns out that this is not a bit of code that I wrote. So I call in the guy who wrote that code, and we spend nearly another week tracing through his code. By this point we’ve also discovered that there are several different ways in which the crash happens, in some of which the chip’s Program Counter is not even pointing at a memory location that even exists, let alone actual code.

    We start wondering if it’s a memory addressing issue, so we write all kinds of test programs, all of which work flawlessly. So we call in the FPGA guy, whose chip also accesses the same memory, and he has at the problem for several days, also getting nowhere. With all of us plus electronics guys and other people who have used the same chips before, we’ve now got half the project team sitting in a lab flailing wildly at what most be the most obscure software bug in the world.

    Until someone checks the power line to the chip. And it’s about 10 milliVolts too low. Ten milliVolts! Turns out the signal processing function that made it crash didn’t have any software bugs at all. It just happened to tax the processor quite a bit, so it drew more current, so the voltage dropped a tiny bit - not enough to stop the processor, but just enough to make it corrupt its own internal memory and crash horribly.

    THREE BLOODY WEEKS chasing a software bug and… the voltage supply to the chip is slightly too low.

    So, er…. ARGHARGH PROPRIETARY HARDWARE. From now on I’m only dealing with things with x86 chips in them, and operating systems. In fact, even OS-native code can go hang. Virtual machines. No, wait, fuck it, interpreted code. Is there a language where I can run interpreted code in a virtual machine? I have the sudden urge to stay as far away from hardware as possible.

  • Diesel and Autumn

    A cool breeze blows in through the crack where my door doesn’t quite shut properly, promising the Autumn ahead, but yet hanging on as long as it can to the sunshine. Now and again helicopter downdraft blows the door open and closed again, wafting in that thick, sweet, black smell of diesel.

    I am in a shipping container miles from the sea, miles from just about anything of note bar my office and the occasional nuclear reactor. It may also be the world’s most well-powered container - I count seventy-nine separate plug sockets for various voltages.

    In case it was not apparent from the last sentence I am very, very bored. For I am doing what one normally does in shipping containers: installing NetBeans.

  • E-mail to Ofcom: DRM in Next-Gen BBC TV Signals

    This e-mail was sent to Andrew Dumbreck at Ofcom on 16th September 2009.

    Dear Sir,

    I am writing to you regarding the document entitled “Enquiry to Ofcom from BBC Free to View Ltd concerning its DTT high definition multiplex licence”, which I have just been made aware of via an online news source.

    As a Briton and a licence-fee payer, I would like to register my distress that, from this document, it looks like content providers are pressuring the BBC to protect content via a Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme that would require all end-user equipment in people’s homes to have the ability to decode it. This is a clear step backwards from the freedoms that the BBC introduced with the iPlayer, and a step away from the licence-fee payers being able to access the content they pay for in any way they want.

    Furthermore, I use a custom-built PC as a digital video recorder in my living room, using open-source software. These open-source applications generally do not have a corporate sponsor or a pot of money from which they could pay to licence the decoding technology that is being suggested, which would render my and similar devices useless for recording these signals.

    I am strongly of the opinion that the BBC should be working to make its broadcasts more widely available, not less, and thus that the introduction of DRM on BBC broadcasts is not in the public interest that the BBC attempts to serve.

    Thank you for your time.


    Ian Renton

    Result: Success!

  • Letter to MP: The Intercept Modernisation Programme

    This letter was sent to Sir John Butterfill MP (Conservative, Bournemouth West) on 22nd April 2009.

    Dear Mr Butterfill,

    The content of the Government’s proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme and discussions regarding the creation of a central government database for recording internet traffic data have been brought to my attention by the Open Rights Group. I am writing to you to express my concern and to ask that, if you are in agreement with my points below, you oppose any such motions if and when they arise.

    Firstly, the expense involved in maintaining such a central database would be enormous - compared to the current level of information the government holds on its citizens, the amount of internet traffic information generated by each person is vast. This information is currently gathered and stored for some time by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but a single central database would be much more expensive to set up, maintain, and search. I’m sure in the current recession the majority of Britons could name any number of things they’d rather their tax revenue was spent on!

    The second issue that concerns me is privacy. Though this kind of data is currently stored by ISPs, I do not believe civil servants have free (or even easy) access to it. The Police can have access to data on specific individuals given due cause, and I have no issues with that system. However, one central database or easy government access to existing ISP databases implies “data mining” - analysing large data sets, including data from individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing, in order to pick out suspicious behaviour. I do not believe that individuals who are overwhelmingly likely to be innocent ought to be routinely monitored in this way.

    Furthermore, the more freely this information moves around, the more easily it can be lost or stolen or hacked into and make its way into the hands of those who could use it to steal identities, steal money or simply sell lists of e-mail addresses to spammers.

    Lastly, I do not believe that there is even an advantage to these plans. I’m sure the given purpose will once again be anti-terrorism, but I do not believe the proposed plans are likely to reveal any evidence of serious terrorist activity being planned. For a fairly tech-savvy user (as we must assume terrorists who conduct operations online are) with the motivation to do so, encrypting one’s e-mail or even one’s entire internet traffic is not difficult. This degree of internet traffic monitoring will only affect those innocent people who either don’t know how to encrypt their communications, or don’t believe that they ought to have to do so just to stop their own government snooping on them.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian Renton

  • Letter to MP: Freedom of the Press and the Guardian's "Gag Order"

    This letter was sent to Sir John Butterfill MP (Conservative, Bournemouth West) on 13th October 2009.

    Dear Sir John Butterfill,

    The Internet has been buzzing today with the news that the Guardian newspaper was prevented from publishing a question that is due to be answered by the Secretary of State for Justice tomorrow (Wednesday 14th October). This action was brought about by solicitors Carter-Ruck on behalf of their client, Trafigura.

    Regardless of the nature of the question and of the Guardian and Trafigura’s less-than-amiable relationship, I’m concerned about this clear attempt to restrict a fundamental freedom of the press - to report on activities at Westminster - by lawyers acting in the interests of a large multinational corporation.

    Although Carter-Ruck have (as of about 1.30pm today) dropped their gag order, this kind of thing could easily happen again in the future, and next time the legal challenge may not be dropped so quickly.

    I would like to know if you or your Party would support a proposal strengthening and clarifying the right of the press to report on parliamentary activity, to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian Renton