Monthly Archives: July 2017

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!

RE: Treasure Con, Billings Montana, 1983 to 1985

After the last post reminded me of TreasureCon again, I decided to do a run on Google, to see is anything new had popped up since the last time. This is apparently pages from The Retort, a newspaper published by what is now Montana State University, but back then it was Eastern Montana College.

Spring Cleaning

I have been on vacation all week and I spent most of that time doing some long needed spring cleaning. While throwing out old furniture and giving away books by the box, I came across these;

These two drawings were done for PezWitch by Phil Foglio at Treasure Con III in Billings Montana in 1985.

My new project

I accidentally won an ebay auction for a Vic 20 Computer. I say accidentally, because I have never actually won an ebay auction before. Normally I just hit the buy it now button if I really want something. When I do bid, I set a max bid and adamantly refuse to go over my max bid, this is usually not enough. Well this time $41 was enough and shipping was only $15, so I got a fully functional Vic 20 with a cassette drive for $56. Pretty good price when you consider most people selling them set ridiculous prices on shipping like $60 or $70.

Fortunately my SD2EIC drive is compatible with the Vic 20, so is my 1541 disk drive, so all I have to do really put some programs on the SD card and I am good to go. I spent a year fixing and upgrading my Commodore 64, so I expect I will do the same with this. I think I will do a JiffyDOS upgrade on the motherboard and maybe buy a PENULTIMATE CARTRIDGE which provides a memory upgrade and several ROM games.

I know, it looks a lot like the C64.

Max Headroom

Isn’t this on Netflix or something, I should re-watch this.

Oculus Rift Update

The last several weeks I have not messed with my Oculus Rift much. I really like the device, it is comfortable on my head, the controllers work very well and there is some content that is just amazing. The $600 I spent on it however was probably too much for the overall experience. I read they have lowered the price, so good for everyone who has not yet bought in.

There are some shortcomings though. The first issue is my vision must be just bad enough that it cannot compensate, because while it is not terrible is is also never quite right either. The second problem is, you really do need an area of 6-8 feet around you otherwise you bump into things. Third, there is just not that much good content available. Zero Days VR is excellent, it is well done, visually stimulating and very informative. Job Simulator, Nvidia VR Fun House and Steam Labs are all fun, but limited to a few hours of interesting play. On the other end there is Minecraft, which is completely unplayable in VR for me. While I did have some motion sickness issues early on, I have been able to deal with it in most games, but Minecraft I simply can’t, just being in it makes me sick and dizzy, and moving around is vomit inducing.

I purchased Star Trek Bridge Crew, this is a game that was made for me, and I really should be excited about it. I have two problems, first, it does not review well. The solo play is very limited, but there is a fairly limited interesting game play. The best part of it is getting together virtually and playing with other people. Which leads into my second problem, reviewers all said more or less the same thing. It is hard to find other players who want to immerse themselves in play and are willing to help out new players. This makes me very weary of joining an online game. I have tried playing multiplayer games before and my experience has been rarely good.

Overall, I think the Oculus Rift is a good first generation product, but i think ultimately we are just not there yet. VR is just not widespread enough to allow for a lot of really good quality immersive content. Facebook places is going to be a lot of fun when everyone I know owns a headset, but until then, no so much. I still think this is an area where modern technology really failed to deliver on its promises. If we had started working on this back in 1993 when Doom came out, by now we would have a beautiful VR experience and monitors would be a thing of the past. However, instead of virtual reality, we have Twitter.

The way the 80’s should have been?

I couple of weeks ago I posted on Twitter and Facebook, that I wanted to start a group similar to the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA), but instead of Renaissance reenactments, I want to reenact the 80’s as they should have been. The SCA glosses over all the bad things about the middle ages; war, famine, plague, and poverty. In the SCA everyone gets to live in the castle, no one has to be a pig farmer.

In my Society for the Creative 80’s, no one has to flip burgers at McDonalds, everyone has a cool job that gives them plenty of time to go to concerts, smoke pot and fuck. Sort of a retro future where computers delivered on the promise of a better tomorrow, and economic policy that benefited the working poor and the middle class. A world where neon colors, big hair and electronic music rule the day. A time when porn girls had natural boobs and rocker boys didn’t lip sync. The world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, but we danced until dawn anyway.

Abbie Hoffman said; “The ’60s are gone, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great.”

My Response; “Welcome to the 80’s where dope, sex and music are better than ever!”

Server Update

The server has been humming along nicely now for the last two weeks. My clever backup scheme seems to have worked perfectly this last weekend. Carnifex.org seems to be back and running smoothly. I suppose it does take a disaster to get me doing the things I should have been doing in the first place. I mean last year I migrated to new hardware and setup everything in virtual machines just for the type of problems I experienced, but because I failed on the follow through,I almost lost the whole shebang.  So lesson learned

Hour of Devastation Pre-release

Today I spent 4 hours playing Magic the Gathering, I do these pre-release tournaments every now and again. The one thing I always learn when I go to them is that I do not play Magic enough to be good at it. Back in the day I would play 3-5 hours a week and I would spend maybe another 2-3 hours a week designing and tweaking decks, these days I do not have the time nor the ambition to do either of those things.

I think I like the idea of playing Magic better than I like the reality of playing Magic. Ideally, I would like to find a super casual group of players who meet once a week at someones house and we spend 1 or 2 hours playing 1×1 games with everyone, then everyone gathers around the table and we spend an hour or two playing a group game. Everyone brings fun and interesting decks and we play for the love of the game and the social gathering. I’d love to be a part of a Battle Deck  or Rookie Deck League, run in a gauntlet format.

I should probably just quit once and for all.

I am over Twitter

I officially declare Twitter the new MySpace, only people who are hopelessly uncool and out of touch continue to use it.

Cutting the cable

I canceled my cable TV service today, I also killed the service to my two TiVo’s. This really started last fall when I realized I was forcing myself to watch TV shows I was really not enjoying all that much. Over the last 6 months, the wife has been more and more watching Korean dramas via streaming services like Drama Fever. Neither of us has watched much real network TV in months. A couple of weeks ago I called my provider and reduced my service down, I figured $40 a month is fine and I might come across something I like. A couple of weeks later, I am thinking about it and really, I am still not watching TV, virtually every show I have seen has been on NetFlix, Amazon or Hulu.

So yesterday I went out and bought a set of old fashioned rabbit ears and surprise, I get 6 channels, pretty clear. Most of the channels are PBS stations, but I also get an ABC affiliate as well. I also bought a cheap DVR on Amazon to record the odd show, like Masterpiece Theater. I got one for $30, all I need to add is a USB storage device, I have like 6 laying around here of various sizes.

Today, I drove to the cable company and did the deed, I decided to in instead of calling for two reasons, first I had to turn in the M-Cards anyway and second I figured if I called, they would try to talk me out of it, if I go in, there would be 10 people behind me waiting and the person waiting on me would have no interest in delaying the line. I was basically right, I was out in less than 10 minutes.

Once that was done, I called TiVo and told them I no longer had cable and they obliged me very quickly by cancelling my service and not asking any questions. The TiVo service was costing me $40 a month, $20 for each box. The cable prior to my downgrading it was costing me $180 a month, including internet. My bill should now be around $65 for just the internet. That is a nice savings of $155 per month. I don’t think I am going to miss it much.