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Blog: Cyberwar on /North Korea/? [Saturday 20th April 2013]

Apparently Anonymous, that vaguely extant hacktivist group that lazy journalists like to write about when they're Googling for news rather than going out and doing their actual job, has threatened to declare "cyberwar" on the fancifully named Democratic People's Republic of Korea [link].

Cyberwar on North Korea? That seems as likely to be effective as declaring cyberwar on House Lannister.

Blog: To cure you they must kill you [Wednesday 3rd April 2013]

I spent a little time fixing someone's Windows system. Because, you know, Windows is easy to use. It didn't have a virus; it just had an inexplicable amount of anti-virus. It seems that the anti-virus program's chief strategy to fight virus infection is to just fill up all the memory and use all the CPU cycles itself, so there's no headroom left for the viruses to get in. It's a bit like trying to cure yourself of a blood disease by injecting your veins with bath sealant.

Blog: Is Valve's destiny THREE? [Thursday 10th January 2013]

Here's a weird little pet theory for you. Consider our friends over at Valve Software, makers of the excellent Half Life 2, Portal 2, Left4Dead 2, Dota 2, and Team Fortress 2. That's a whole lot of 2s. Of these, Half Life 2 is the oldest, and the next chapter of the series the most painfully overdue. So where do all these unrelated games go from here? Well, to THREE, obviously.

Given Valve's fondness for being silent until they're sure they're in a good position to deliver, it's easy to go from casual imputation to wild fantasy. So, without any evidence at all, here's my wild guess about the future of each of Valve's core game titles:

  • All these titles exist in the same fictional universe ("Valviverse?"). Half Life and Portal are already (slightly) interrelated, and it's not hard to figure out how to incorporate the anarchy of Left4Dead's Green Flu zombie pandemic into Half Life's Seven Hour War, as perhaps a Combine bio-weapon meant to soften up resistance and thin out the human population before and after their primary military operation. I'll admit that it's harder to work the cartoonish mayhem of Team Fortress and the fantastical lunacy of Dota, as they're not really very compatible with the gritty world of Half Life. The usual scriptwriter follies are still available - alternate dimensions, distant past or future, VR simulation, and (my favourite) "you broke reality with your damn manchine".
  • So let's call all these games THREE - but I'm not suggesting that Value consolidate these different franchises (each a distinct genre, with different fanbases) into a single game. They obviously need each individual game to remain a distinct product, but tying them together into a single milieu makes each work for the other.
  • The story unfolds through each episode, and through subsequent DLC for each.

Why would Valve do this, when they're already swimming in money, and when each franchise is individually healthy (if we consider Half Life's lengthy state of hybernative naptosis to be healthy? Because Valve need to sell as many of their forthcoming Steam Box PC/console/TV hybrid thing as possible. And rather than simply boast a bunch of sequels as launch content, weaving the whole thing into a major event can only enhance the press coverage and gamer hunger for the thing.

If they do this, Valve's track record suggests they'll tease it somehow, perhaps by an ARG, or by some subtle under-the-wire DLC. With everything already updated on Steam for technical reasons, it'd be easy for them to alter some noticeboards or leave the odd corpse from one game in another.

Now, that's thinking with portals.

Blog: Aliens vs. Thanksgiving [Tuesday 20th November 2012]

It's at this time of year that millions of college-age Americans return to the family home and to their childhood place in the family structure. Some can decide whether to sit at the kids' table or the adults'. If they choose the adult table, they'll hear an hour-long lecture about how Barack Obama is an evil alien who is out to destroy America; if they sit at the kid table, they'll hear an hour long lecture about how Megatron is an evil alien who is out to destroy America.

Does this mean that Barack Obama is really Megatron?

Blog: Under Google's bonnet [Tuesday 8th May 2012]

I've just noticed that in Google Chrome's settings screen, the section with all the technical stuff is called "Under the Bonnet" in the en-uk version, and "Under the Hood" in the en-us. It's a little thing, and in itself it doesn't really matter (I doubt many UK users wouldn't know what "under the hood" means), but it does show that someone is paying attention to the details, which has a positive halo effect for one's perception of the rest of the product.

Blog: ipod nano replacement [Saturday 5th May 2012]

Back when it first came out in 2005, I bought one of the first generation of Apple iPod nanos. It's been a few years since I retired it, replacing it with an iPod Touch and then an Android phone - but I'm pretty good about storing old things like this properly, with all the necessary equipment and in good order. It seems Apple are worried these old things pose a fire risk, so they're replacing them.

Apple's page about the replacement program calls it a "safety risk" without providing much detail; Wikipedia's article mentions a few overheating events (but really not a lot). Still, Apple are clearly worried about their liabilities. So they took back the old one (a black 2GB model) and they've sent a new 8GB silver one.

It's slightly strange to get an Apple product like this. There's none of the usual Apple "unboxing" experience, because there's no box at all. The Nano came in a generic shipping box (one downright Brobdingnagian when compared with the tiny size of the player). No manual, no cable, no software, just the tiny Nano with a serial number sticker.

I'm surprisingly sentimental about technology. I still have every mobile phone I've ever owned (though I've given one to a relative) and, until this, every mp3 player too, right back to a Diamond Rio PMP300. If it hadn't been for the fire risk, which really prevents me from lending the old thing to someone else, I'd probably have kept it.

Still, the new Nano is an impressive little thing. It weighs very little (it's almost light enough that one could keep it only on the cable), the built-in clip is a nice idea, and the touchscreen works nicely. The build-in pedometer doesn't compare very well with a decent Oregon Scientific one, however - it seems to be rather arbitrary and unresponsive.

Older news and blog entries

Full text of older blog entries and website news are stored on the blog index page.

Contents

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ImagesImages

The photo archive contains a number of photos of landscapes, buildings, nature, and animals with silly expressions on their faces. There's also some high-resolution digital pictures of various natural and artificial textures, which may be of use for texture mapping applications.

New: I've added some of my favourite closeup photographs, prepared in nice large sizes, to the new backgrounds section.

TechnologyTechnology

The source for a tiny  java web server (HTTPd), together with some commentary, is available under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL). With some help from various people I've gotten this down to just over 15 lines of (horribly unreadable) java code. Can you make it any smaller?

Are you tired (or embarrassed) of that uncomfortable delay between launching a large java application and it actually appearing? Help overcome your feelings of inadequacy by wrapping your application in this handy java application splashscreen application, which can show a logo or other graphic while the main application loads.

This page also contains a few weird tricks you can do in the java programming language (but shouldn't).

A discussion of optimisation, in the context of a simple java text processing program is presented in the the java hexdump page. Surprisingly, this shows we can write text processing programs (which are generally IO bound) as fast as decent C language programs.

I've made some notes on webdesign, including:

  • Some advice for the novice website creator and designer.
  • What do I think of the website of british furniture retailer Habitat? Not much.

As almost any user of UNIX and its workalike environments knows, there's really no point in writing your own utilities - as soon as you're finished you'll find someone already wrote a better, simpler, faster solution to the same problem, probably in about 1970. Here are some UNIX shell programming gems that I discovered, shortly after writing my own versions.

Games - RtCWGames - RtCW

Like its ID Software predecessors, Activision's game Return to Castle Wolfenstein contains a number of secret areas, cunningly positioned throughout the game to divert the player's attention from how interminably dull and criminally derivative this rather average game is.

Games - DoTTGames - DoTT

Tim Schaefer's Day of the Tentacle is one of the best computer games of the lost "second age". It worked (with an unpleasant amount of that nasty config.sys wrangling) under DOS and older versions of Windows but it really doesn't work properly under Windows XP. One might think Lucasarts might have released a DirectX version for windows, but perhaps moths have eaten the tape their only copy of the sourcecode is on (or something like that).

This site contains some mystical instructions for playing DoTT on Windows XP and (I think) on Windows 2000. Kindly multi-lingual readers have produced translations of this page into norsk, and nederlands. If you'd like to contribute a translation, even into something mad like Klingon, then I'd be happy to host it.

Although it's not very hard, and it's impossible to get it "wrong", some folks have asked me for a walkthrough of DoTT. As it rather spoils the game, I'd strongly recommend you read it only if you're really really stuck.

For your convenience, there are also the answers to some DoTT frequently asked questions.

Photos

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