Author Archives: carnifex

The End is Here

Apparently we have 32 days until the world ends on September 23rd.

So-Called ‘Experts’ Predict The World Will End 33 Days After The Solar Eclipse On August 21st

PezWitch has informed me that she will not accept this as an excuse for not getting her a birthday present. I told her not to worry, I have a plan to save the planet, all I need is; 20 fifty gallon fish tanks, 330 meters of copper tubing, 400 rolls of duct tape, 40 cans of WD40, 1000 gallons of glycerin, 22 motor boat batteries and a pink 1968 Cadillac.

Eclipse day 2017

I bought myself 3 pair of Amazon eclipse glasses and I used one as a camera filter. Most of the pictures were pretty unusable, but I did get 2 decent shots.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set

Product Summery:
Name: Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Author: Sean Punch
Line: GURPS
Cost: $50/$35 for PDF
Pages: 474 (Spread across multiple books)
Webpage: http://www.sjgames.com/dungeonfantasy/

When the Kickstarter for this product was announced I was pretty excited. GURPS is one of two games I truly love, the other being HackMaster (also known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition). DFRPG came about as a reaction to the Old School Renaissance in gaming. the OSR was a movement of gamers who felt the old ways were the best ways, they wanted to bring back the simple games of their youth where kicking down doors, killing monsters and collecting treasure was a way of life. DFRPG sought to simplify GURPS so it could be used for this genre. DFRPG was a big hit for Steve Jackson games, the line was PDF only, but since it required GURPS Character book, it helped to sell many of those. The Kickstarter campaign was an effort to bring DFRPG to the print world as a starter set not just for DFRPG but for GURPS in general. The boxed set is not due for at least another month, but this week in celebration of GenCon 50, they released the PDF’s to the Kickstarter backers and I have now had a chance to look at the game.

There is a lot of new art here, which is good, Steve Jackson games is notorious for reusing art. Thankfully they went with a two column format rather than the three column they used in GURPS Characters and Campaigns, this is much easier to read. They also used an orange colored font to highlight options and such, which I think added clarity and readability to the document. The game is well written and I think easy to understand.

I have always liked the GURPS game mechanic, at least in theory I like it. All resolution die rolls are done by rolling three six sided dice, trying to roll under your target number, whether that is an attribute or a skill level. This puts all resolutions rolls on a nice bell curve instead of a flat 1 in 20 type roll. I also like the customization options available for building characters, players can literally build anything they have points for. Of course the problem with that is too many options and a scaling problem. Like all point based systems it is very easy to fall into one of two traps, either your points are spread too thin and the character is really not very good at anything in particular or the character is spectacularly skilled in one or two areas and utterly incompetent at anything else. There also tended to be a lot of character overlap in skills and characters stepping on each other niches.

DFRPG solves this problem by reducing options down to a manageable level and takes a step further by using character templates. The templates emulate the character classes of Dungeon & Dragons, Fighter, Thief, Cleric, and Magic User. Once you have chosen your template there are customization options. This speeds up character creation, makes sure everyone has a niche to follow, while still providing for character development beyond the character niche as the game progresses. The author of DFRPG did a good job of distilling GURPS down to a good workable set of rules, slightly more complicated than GURPS Lite, but no where near and complex as the full system.

DFRPG does not as of yet have a true setting beyond the dungeon crawl trope. This is not really a problem as I think it lends itself well to sandbox games or even adapting something like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The game really does have an old school feel to it. Personally when I get around to running this next year, I will be using the Castle Defiant sandbox I wrote about several months ago, although if I were going to run a lengthy campaign, I would have to develop and alternate reality Yrth where Clerical magic is a thing and pagan gods roamed the world. Frankly I am not even sure setting is even necessary for this type of game, just start everyone in a tavern and move on from there.

Overall, I am very happy with this product. I will be even happier when I have the box set in my hands. If you are looking for an easy introduction to GURPS or you are an old school gamer looking for something that feels like it was written in 1985 but plays like a modern game, this is the product for you. On the other hand if you are looking for a new GURPS source book with detailed background information or a generic game where you can dump cyborgs into King Arthur’s Court, you are going to be very disappointed.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 4
Game Mechanic: 4
Setting: 3
Overall: 3.66666666667

What buttons does this press?

Answer, ALL OF THEM!

Dungeon Fantasy is coming

Last year Steve Jackson Games ran a Kickstarter to fund the production of Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Dungeon Fantasy is basically old school murder hobo style gaming done in GURPS. I went in as a $250 backer so I basically got everything that did not require me to go to GenCon to get. While the actual printed stuff is still a couple of months off, they did release the PDF version today to those who backed the Kickstarter, although I expect in a couple of weeks they will put the PDF’s up for sale to the general population.

Release the PDF’s a head of the printed product was a good call. This gets the product out there and into the hands of players and GMs. In the next few days, we will likely start seeing reviews popping up and forum discussions on Enworld and RPGnet. With a bit of clever marketing, this could easily be turned into momentum for the game by the time it hits the shelves. The set includes a couple of adventures, so I will likely run this as some filler games this fall. I am kind of excited about this, because it reminds me a lot of the early days of GURPS.

I Love RAID 5

Last week one of the hard drives in PezWitch’s computer failed. For those who don’t know, she has 5 drives in her system, one small solid state drive for the operating system, one 1 TB solid state for her games and three 2 TB spindle drives which are configured in a RAID 5, this is where she keeps her data, pictures videos, writing, whatever. Fortunately the drive that failed was in the RAID 5. The RAID 5 worked flawlessly, doing exactly what it was supposed to do. When I installed the new drive the RAID controller detected it and asked if I wanted to add the drive and rebuild the array. It was literally as easy as replacing a failed hard drive, only no data was lost and I did not have to reinstall Windows.

I am really sad today

I would not say that I am depressed, but I am very sad. Perhaps I have finally reached that age where I think the world is going to hell in a hand basket and if everyone would just listen to me, everything would be alright.

GenCon 50 is next week

I so want to go to GenCon this year. I would love to get out of town and put my life behind me for one grand weekend of killing dragons and scrapping clean a dungeon for every last copper piece. Instead of wondering why nazi’s are marching in the streets, I want to be chucking dice with like minded strangers, going to panels and listening to artists and creators talk about their games, and wandering through the exhibit hall looking for old and beloved games or perhaps, new and interesting games. Instead of wondering why I am $200 short on budget this month, I want to play a pickup game Call of Cthulhu in someones hotel room until 4:30 AM in the morning, then rush to McDonalds for coffee and breakfast taco, to make it just in time to an early morning game of Mutants and Masterminds. Oh and Red Sonja cosplay, I want to go to GenCon because I like Red Sonja cosplay.

Encryption 101

Not many people know this, but I am a published author. By published author I mean, I have been paid for my writing. I have been published in 2600 magazine, Dragon magazine, Linux Gazette and a little known magazine called DOS Resource Guide. I have never received more than $50 payment and in the case of DOS Resource Guide, they folded before I received any payment at all.

It is really kind of sad too, because that one is probably the article I was most proud of. I wrote a qbasic encryption program that I felt was kind of clever in its implementation. Of course it would never withstand the attention of the NSA, but as I said in the article, it would keep your little sister from reading your files. Most of the qbasic encryption programs of the time simply used the password provided to seed the built in pseudo random number generator and then used the XOR function along with these pseudo random numbers to encrypt the file. I took this a step further and used this process to generate a 128 character string which I then used via my own algorithm to fill an array the size of the original file with a pad, which was then used to encrypt the file. Again, this was not military grade encryption, but I think for a first try it was a novel idea.

This lead to another project which I actually did with a friend. He decided the best way to encrypt a file was to use another file as a key. His idea was to XOR the bits in the file you wanted to encrypt with the bits in the key file. The way we built the program was it required three things to decrypt the file, a user name, a password and the key file. I used more or less the same process I used in the first program, only instead of using my own number to encrypt the file, I would use my numbers to determine the location of the bit to be XOR’d within the key file. As close as I could tell at the time, as long as you never used the same key file twice, it would be basically impossible to crack the encryption. This of course was naive thinking back in 1994, today I suspect this could be broken in a weekend using a $400 laptop.

I wish I still had this code, unfortunately it has suffered digital death as many of my early projects have. I even went looking for a copy of the DOS Resource Guide where my original program was published, but unfortunately I have not been able to find more than a few issues here and there. I guess an old short lived magazine from the early 90’s covering an obsolete operating system holds little interest for anyone these days.

Oculus Rift and Linux

So there is some very tentative support for the Oculus Rift in Linux. Basically at this point, I am looking to just get my desktop extended to the Rift, to me this is a the most basic first step. I am not there yet, but I am close. Here is the step by step instructions for getting started. When I run one of the demos, like Simple or Test.py, it does light up my Rift and I do get an extension of my desktop, the problem is the displays are switched and I have not figured out how to change that yet.

sudo apt-get install -y build-essential libusb-1.0-0-dev libudev-dev autotools-dev autoconf automake libtool libudev-dev libusb-1.0-0-dev libfox-1.6-dev libogre-1.9-dev libois-dev libtinyxml-dev cmake libogre-1.9-dev libois-dev libtinyxml-dev git cython sdl2-dev libglew-dev

mkdir src
cd src

git clone git://github.com/signal11/hidapi.git
cd hidapi
./bootstrap
./configure
make
sudo make install

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/OpenHMD/OpenHMD.git
cd OpenHMD
./autogen.sh
./configure –enable-openglexample
make
sudo make install

sudo -i

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”2833″, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ > /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”0bb4″, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ >> /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

echo ‘SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, ATTR{idVendor}==”28de”, MODE=”0666″, GROUP=”plugdev”‘ >> /etc/udev/rules.d/83-hmd.rules

udevadm control –reload-rules

exit

#### Unplug your Rift from the machine at this time and plug it back in.

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/OpenHMD/OpenHMDDemo.git
OpenHMDDemo
cmake .
make
./OpenHMDDemo

cd ..
git clone https://github.com/lubosz/python-rift.git
cd python-rift
sudo ln /usr/local/include/openhmd/openhmd.h /usr/include/openhmd.h
sudo ./setup.py install
./test.py

cd

That is it, at this point you should be able to run the demos. The next time you start Steam, it is going to detect the Rift and install SteamVR, which does not work, but it does cause some errors, so to fix that run this command;

sudo apt install libxtst6:i386 libxrandr2:i386 libglib2.0-0:i386 libgtk2.0-0:i386 libpulse0:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386

Personal Security Vs Online Identity

Personal security is extremely important on the internet. Everyone needs to take steps to make sure their important personal data is protected. Everyone should be using LastPass or KeyPass to manage website passwords, I would also suggest two factor authentication where ever possible. It is also a good habit to not be too revealing about oneself while online and you need to be careful about who you are friends with or following you on social media. Do not allow strangers to have unnecessary access to details of your life. A good example is this blog, I have no control over who reads this blog, so I do not post things like vacation pictures until I am home and I very carefully manage my Facebook account so only people I personally know can see anything and I dutifully delete old posts.

The other side of this coin is managing your online identity. I have met people who stubbornly refuse to have any social media accounts at all because of the security risks involved. The problem with this, is it makes it easy for people to take control of your online identity. A few years ago as a prank, I opened a Facebook account for my Nephew. I purposefully got several details of his life wrong, like his birthday and his graduation date. I did not send out a single friend request to anyone, nor did I post anything other than setting his profile picture. Within 24 hours about a dozen people, including family had sent friend requests. I made it almost 48 hours before he found out about it and figured out it was me and asked me to close it. Pause and think about that for a little while. I had complete control over his Facebook identity for 48 hours, unopposed and unquestioned. I could have posted anything, or in a more sinister light, I had access to a dozen peoples Facebook feeds, who were happily sharing their lives with me.

The point of this post is to point out that while everyone needs to be security conscience, everyone also needs to have control over their online identities, if for no other reason than to control what is being seen and heard. If you have no online identity and you piss someone off, it is really easy for them to assume your identity and ruin your reputation. If you already have an online identity that you have properly managed, it is easy to say, that is not me, see here is my Facebook account, I don’t know who this person is. If you don’t have a Facebook account, it is very difficult to deny that guy posting “My Little Pony” porn on Facebook is not you. If you already have a Facebook account, you also have full control of the message and the image you are projecting. Make your profile picture a picture of you in nice cloths, a couple of time a week post something that shows you in a good light, keep a tight leash on who you friend and who you allow to see your posts, don’t let anyone tag you in anything you feel uncomfortable with. Even if you were at the bong party, you want to be able to deny it.

Computer Station

Today I bought a new shelf to replace the old orange card table I removed during spring cleaning. My plan here is to build a permanent place for my Commodore 64 and Vic 20 computers. Since they will not get much real usage, comfort should not be an issue, this is really more for display.

 

The very top will probably hold misc stuff like my scale Green Lantern Power Battery or perhaps the Portal Gun. The second shelf, which is empty right now is where a TV set will go. My plan is to head to a pawn shop and see what I can get for under $50, if I can’t find anything reasonably priced, I will head to Walmart and see what they have, I am sure I will find something for under $100.

Edit: I changed the picture to the completed display. The TV would not fit on the 2nd shelf, so I put it on top.

I feel old

When I was in my 20’s, I never felt old, when I was in my 30’s I occasionally felt old, when I was in my 40’s I felt old about half the time, now that I am in my 50’s, I feel old most of the time, I am not looking forward to my 60’s.

I almost went back to Linux today

So today I was really close to returning to Linux as my primary operating system. I want to reiterate, that I don’t hate Windows, Windows 10 for the most part has been fine. In fact my plan was to setup a dual boot, so I could still use my Oculus Rift. The fact is, I just feel more comfortable with Linux. What stopped me was that the recovery media supplied by Dell failed, it seems to be looking for an image that does not exist, I am not sure why I can’t just do a bare metal reinstall, but it will not let me. I suspect that it will only let you do that if the hard drive is blank, otherwise it would rather do a restore or reset.

So this got me to thinking, why do I need to keep Windows at all, of course the answer is, because i want to use my Oculus Rift. This leads to the next question, why do I need the Oculus Rift, I mean, I am not a gamer and anyway I seem to have a lot of excuses for not playing them. Beyond a few interesting videos, the Rift really has not provided anything in the way of improvement in my computing experience. It does not really give me any new ways to interact with my computer. There is a program that lets me use my desktop with the Rift, but I am still basically using the same old desktop, I am just using the Rift as a monitor and the controllers as a mouse, there is nothing new or interesting about it.

Give me something new, give me something that truly improves how I use my computer. I am not asking for the Oasis from Ready Player One, all I am asking for is new and interesting ways to access my data. If you can create a game that lets me pick up a gun and shoot a mutant, why can’t you design an OS shell that lets me pick up a book and read it? It sounds stupid, but Microsoft actually had the right idea with Microsoft Bob, yes yes I know, it was a horrible piece of software that is now the butt of many jokes, but that does not mean it was not a good idea. Its problem was the Operating System and the hardware at the time was not advanced enough to provide a credible experience. That has now changed, we can now build a virtual house, our data expressed as objects within the house so we can stroll through it and interact with the environment. Please, give me something that makes this $600 worth the investment.

Me and my Vic 20

I got my first upgrade for the Vic 20 I purchased a couple of weeks ago. I got a 32K expansion cartridge, because well 3K is not enough to do anything more than write a couple of dozen lines of Basic code. The Cart cost about $30, it was easy to configure and worked like a charm. I downloaded a game called Pentagorat, which required a 24K expansion and was written in just the last couple of years. I figured this would be the best test possible for how the new memory was working. It amazes me that there are still people out there not just writing code for these things, but building and selling hardware for them as well.

I thought about getting the PENULTIMATE Cartridge for the Vic 20 instead, it not only had the memory expansion but included a bunch of games as well. Unfortunately this thing is made in the UK and would have cost me $150 to get and that seemed too ridiculous for this project.

Netbooks: A look back

I did some spring cleaning recently and one of the things I came across was a couple of old Dell Mini 9’s I bought 8 or so years ago. One of them did not so much as post, the other turned on and booted, but the CMOS battery seems to be dead. I pulled the memory, wifi and 8 GB SSD drive out of the broken one and threw it away. The SSD in the working one is only 4GB, so I be swapping that in and using the other parts if I happen to need them.

What drew me to these netbooks was how small and cheap they were. Of course being small and cheap also meant they were seriously under powered. Sure you could check you email and do some light web browsing, but just about anything else was not going to be a good experience. The netbook while itself died, it did lead to the iPad and eventually the Chromebook. I personally do not even use a laptop outside of work anymore, when I travel I carry an iPad.

I think oddly enough, there is still some utility in a small system like this, if they could sell them for say $50 out of vending machines as disposable systems. I buy one at the airport on my way the the well known hacker haven of Billings Montana, use it while I am traveling, then when I get home, wipe the drive and drop it off at Goodwill. If I am paranoid, wipe the drive while I am on the airplane and “Accidentally” leave it at the coffee shop in the airport before I head home.

 

The Blue Cheese

The Blue Cheese was the first Magic the Gathering deck I ever designed by myself. Later iterations dropped the Strip Mines, they were banned or restricted I think, I replaced Power Sink with Force of Will, and occasionally I would replace the Ghost Ship with Air Elemental or Mahamoti Djinn, but this was the original deck.

This is a classic U/R control deck, I played counters, burn and disks to keep my opponents side of the table clear, while beating on them with creatures chosen for their ability to regenerate, which makes them great blockers and could even survive popping a Nevinyrral’s Disk. I won a surprising number of games with it, and even the dreaded NecroDeck had a hard time against it once I laid down a second Island.

Creatures:
Ghost Ship x4

Uthden Troll x4
Clay Statue x4

Spells:
Counterspell x4
Power Sink x4
Lightning Bolt x4
Disintegrate x4
Nevinyrral’s Disk x4

Land:
Mishra’s Factory x4
Strip Mines x4
Island x10
Mountain x10

My general strategy was Counter early, Disk away anything that got through during the mid game and use Burn at the end to either keep the other side clean or finish my opponent.

In retrospect I now realize that this was a successful deck because of the meta game I was playing in at the time. We were in Germany and there were very few cards available. No one was playing blue at the time so it was easy to trade for all the blue cards, most of the other stuff, either no one saw the utility in or were actually common and easy to get, because even in our limited environment, everyone had 8 or 10 and were willing to trade them away for harder to get cards. I traded a single Armageddon for all 4 of the Nevinyrral’s Disk’s. This was the first deck in our group to have 4 of every card and by extension, played very consistently. While everyone else was waiting for their big card, I almost always had the cards I needed by the time I needed them.

I miss Linux

I started using Linux around 1992, I started using it full time around 1999. I stopped using it just a few months ago when I bought an Oculus Rift and decided that was more important than the Operating System I was using. Now a couple of months later, I find myself missing Linux, it is nothing major really, just a lot of little things.

  • It is nearly impossible to get things to look the way I want them to. In Linux, I have control over every part of the user interface and it is pretty easy to get everything just right. In Windows, I can change some colors and choose a background, but that is about it.
  • Windows command line still sucks, even PowerShell blows the big one. In Linux I would regularly drop the the command line to do quick and dirty tasks that are just faster and more efficient than a GUI. The regular Windows command line has a very limited command set which makes it very difficult to built decent scripts without adding a ton of 3rd party programs. PowerShell tried to do better, unfortunately all the new commands are terrible and badly structured.
  • Windows 10 is head and shoulders above Windows XP in security. The problem is, while Windows 10 is kind of “Good enough” it is still not as good as it could be. In Linux I didn’t need a virus scanner or an anti-malware program, heck I almost did not even need a firewall. With Windows, a dedicated virus scanner, a dedicated anti-malware program are absolute MUST HAVES. Anytime a popup appears you had better read every word of it before you click on anything and 99% of the time you are better off killing it than clicking on anything.
  • Windows 10 is also head and shoulders above Windows XP in stability, and again we are solidly in the “Good enough” territory. But you know what, I still get weird error messages and yes the very occasional unhappy face that is the new blue screen of death. In Linux when things went wrong, it was usually because I was being stupid, in Windows, errors just happen out of the blue for no apparent reason.
  • In Linux it was easy to cut off all the internet Ad’s, in Windows even with ADblock Plus and an anti Ad host file, the bloody Ad’s still sneak in and Facebook is the worst.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Writing again

A couple of years ago I set myself to writing a short story. I admit that it was basically porn. The point of the exercise was to write 10,000 words, what I wrote was not particularly important, I just wanted to write a short story and set a couple of goals for myself. I wanted to write 500 words per day culminating in a 10,000 word short story.

I have decided I am going to start this up again. Same parameters, 500 words per day, 10,00 word goal. This time I am writing a near future cyber thriller, or rather I am writing the prelude to a cyber thriller. I am setting up the world and laying out the background of the primary character. I am placing the story in my Alt-80’s CyberPunk setting, it sucked as a GURPS game, but I think it is interesting enough to set some stories in. While the GURPS game took place in the early 2060’s, my story is going to be set in 2017 and will describe some of the events that lead up to the Alt-80’s world of 2063. I am current up to 2000 words, wish me luck.

On this day in history

On July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon. I am old enough that I sort of remember the hype around this, just like I sort of remember the events surrounding Watergate. This is one of those things I wish I had a clearer memory of, because it was important. This was one of those events in human history that shows what we can do when we put our minds to it. Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon proved we could do anything. One of my greatest fears is looking back at this and finally realizing it was that moment where we reached our zenith and we will never be that great again.

More site updates

The final part of the website that existed outside of this blog was the Companions of Xarth Wiki, which up to this point was housed within PMWiki. I wanted to bring it into the WordPress framework along with everything else, just for simplicity and continuity. I have been needing to clean it out anyway, there are several half started projects that will never be completed, so I might as well dump it. I have not finished the transition yet, but I think it will be done by tomorrow sometime. At the top you should see a new tab for the CoX Wiki, if you see that I missed something important, let me know.

Edit: Okay, I am not going to get this done before next weekend.

The importance of backups

My friend Chad over at the Kurulounge, linked to one of my posts about my server being down, specifically the one where I discuss backups.

http://kurulounge.blogspot.com/2017/07/what-im-reading-732017.html

This is something that is important, I agree with Chad, and it is worth repeating, if you have proper backups, it solves so many problems and in this day and age there is really no excuse for not doing it. Carbonite is a great idea, but there are other options as well. I use Dropbox, for the paid accounts, they maintain older versions of your documents for 30 days, longer for business accounts. This means, if you get hit by Ransomware, you simply format and reinstall, then delete all your infected files from Dropbox and download the previous un-encrypted versions. Then instead of sending a bitcoin to the Russian government, send them a message that says “Nice try asshole!”. Don’t think because you are running Malwarebytes that you are safe, remember anti-virus and anti-malware software is only as good as its last update and the bad guys will always be 1 or 2 weeks a head of the good guys.

Backup your files, then test your backup, then backup again!

RE: Spring Cleaning

Something else I discovered while spring cleaning. More Phil Foglio.

Site Updates

I had a couple of standalone pages on this site. These pages were basically picture albums that PezWitch wanted done. One memorialized her favorite cat Bunter and the other her Grandmother Ellen. I also had one that posted the pictures I took for Thanksgiving last year. I have migrated these pages to the blog, you should be able to see them under “Picture Albums” Tab at the top.

I also added two new albums, while I was spring cleaning I came across a frame that had multiple pictures of PezWitch from childhood on. None of these pictures had ever been scanned, so I scanned them and added them to the collection. Since I had one for PezWitch, I thought it might be a good idea to have one for myself as well.

 

More TreasureCon

While I am on this TreasureCon kick, I might as well post some pictures.

Meow Kitty!

The Original Hit Girl!