The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

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| February 28, 2008

Confirmation of customer card data compromise leading to loss of money

At home fabrication

| February 27, 2008

This has interested me for some time. I mentioned it in 's blog, and he pointed me at this talk given by an MIT professor.

This is my real interest in Star Trek Replicators or Diamond Age Matter Compilers – the ability to hack physical things just as if it were software. Right now, I want a program which does X, I go write it. It uses some time, and some bits on a drive. When I no longer need it, I delete it, the bits are reclaimed. In this model, the same thing would be true of physical objects. Instead of (and this happened recently) needing a replacement chunk of steel 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1″ and thus getting a piece of steel and cutting it to the correct size, I would model it in an app and toss it into the matter compiler. Similarly, if I wanted to design my own small model tanks, I could go nuts with some 3D CAD program, stuff it into the matter compiler, and go. Or, I could take an existing design, like an M1A2 Abrams, and fiddle with it.

This is not that farfetched – 3D models and macros are already shared by the POVRay community for generating their images, this is similar, except it generates physical objects.

Further, once you have the ability to compile matter into an output object, the next logical extension is to decompile matter. Garbage pickup becomes a thing of the past as your household refuse is decompiled into some type of buffer area, or possibly just rearranged into something inert (kind of like ingots of metal which are melted down and then you use to cast things – your garbages is recompiled into a brick which you put in a cabinet under the unit and then put back in the unit when you want something.. Alternatively, if you are attached to some central area, then the matter goes there for storage and comes back).

Now, it's late, so I won't get into the disruptive nature of this technology. However, consider this – since the wealth of nations is effectively built on scarcity (of precious metals, food, etc.) what happens when these things are no longer scarce? Further, while brilliant designers would still be in demand, what happens to manufacturing?

The way I see it, most manufacturing business would become design shops or cease to exist. After that, an infrastructure would develop similar to online music distribution – you buy something and get to make so many copies before it stops working. Of course, you can just stick the original in the machine, tell it to scan it and duplicate, and you can always make another copy. This, there will be all kinds of crazy mandated copy protection, and then a bunch of folks will rebel and come up with their own designs. Of course, as in The Diamond Age, actual handcrafted items will still have value, but will be a fancy luxury item…

So, I guess I did get into it more than I intended to, but that is because it is so interesting…

Of course, the real question is if there is going to be an economic collapse before we get to this new age..

Narrativist vs. simulationist..

| February 24, 2008

I've been thinking a lot about role playing game mechanics and such. One of the things I like about Spirit of the Century is the abstraction and narrative flow (aka “a narrativist role playing game). Now, on the flip side, one of the things I don't like about D20 games is the lack of realism in their simulations (as in, it is not “simulationist” enough). However, it occurs to me – when someone is wearing armor in SotC, it is basically the same as someone wearing armor in D20 – namely that this is largely abstracted to keep things playing nicely.

Why is it that it bothers me when it is D20, but not when it is SotC? I'd think that because it seems to me that players are more invested in the game with SotC – they are “writing a collective tale”, I am willing to accept it. With D20, it's basically a “tabletop video game” – hack and slash, shoot things, etc. It's kind of like the difference between playing games in “co-op mode” as opposed to “deathmatch” mode.

However, does it really matter? After all, the conflict resolution mechanism doesn't really determine the style of a game. If what I like about SotC is the use of fate points to alter narrative flow, and these rules are largely an addition to the core Fudge conflict system (which is, essentially what Fate is), then what is to stop us from using those rules on top of D20, SR4, or the WoD storyteller system? Hell, Shadowrun already has Karma points built into it – it just takes a little tweaking to make them more powerful.

Does this really have to be “narrativist vs. simulationist”, or can it be degrees of both? For example, a very crunchy rules system is heavily simulationist, but it can also allow a massive degree of narrative control – modifying rolls, declaring things to be so, etc.

So, then is it really a question of:

  • How crunchy do you like your rules? and:
  • How much narrative control you want to put in the plans of the players?

Thus, is the ideal system recipe:

(1) Take whatever you like to use for conflict resolution (SR4, D20, WoD, diceless, whatever) for core game mechanics, ideally optimized for setting, with appropriate flare (the use of playing cards in original Deadlands was a fine example of this).

(2) Add in some variety of mechanics to alter those conflict resolution mechanics or influence game events outside of the character – essentially a “meta game” mechanic to allow for increased narrative control.

(3) (Optional) Add in genre specific elements to facilitate the game not dragging. My main thought here is that the Gumshoe system doesn't really fit into the above, but is still badass. For those unfamiliar, it is a selection of skills and abilities for investigation type games where, if used, they ALWAYS succeed. The reason is that, in an investigation game, finding clues IS NOT TREASURE, it is PLOT, and thus MUST succeed, else the game stalls.

Form 4473….

| February 24, 2008

(stolen from here)

Hollywood pisses me off

| February 24, 2008

So, Liz and I just watched Live Free Or Die Hard, and we're getting a little pissed about the fact that none of these so-called hackers have or know how to use guns. Liz suggested that it is the result of Hollywood writers only knowing about California hackers who are all a bunch of anti-gun socialist hippies. Let us review:

  • “I'm a Mac” hacker guy doesn't know anything about guns until the very end of the movie where he makes an extremely difficult shot (and doing a horrible job of actually keeping the gun steady while he does it) where he manages to put 4 rounds in a guy half-hidden by a hostage. Of course, when he saves John McClane's life by smacking this dude with a hunk of metal bar – not picking up one of the four guns on the floor and just shooting the dude. Luckily, the bad guy just falls down the elevator shaft. Now, granted, this dude is from Camden, NJ, and everyone knows people from NJ hates guns.

  • Kevin Smith hacker guy has a whole “I'm in my mom's basement and I made it my command-post” schtick going, which is fine, but these guys go there for sanctuary, and then they leave and John McClane has no guns. WTF? Okay, sure, once again, this dude is in Baltimore, and everyone in MD hates guns, but come on.. not one?

Just once, have them go to some hacker's house ranch in upstate NY (they could have even landed the helicopter on his front lawn), and then when they have to go, they are sent on their way with several guns and a crapload of ammo. If the badguys show up, well, that's why said hacker has an AK and a pile of mags, and goes out in a spectacularly heroic fashion…

TaxCut doesn't work on OSX w/ Case-sensitive file systems

| February 20, 2008

Recipe: (1) Get new OSX (2) Say “ooh! finally! Case sensitive file systems!” (3) Get TaxCut 2007 (4) See it crash when it tries to open a file which doesn't exist…. (5) Make a symlink from the file which doesn't exist to the one which does (ln -s F2XMIT.cxml f2xmit.cxml), and it no longer crashes!!

Someone needs to update their software…

Called and reported it. Known issue and they're working on it. But, if it crashes because it can't open a file, that's likely why…


| February 11, 2008

So, it occurred to me that I've been talking about cons on my gaming lists, but not here.

I will be attending the following cons this year. If you are going too, drop me a line and we'll meet up and have a pint.

Cold wars – March 7-9, 2008 Historicon – July 24-27, 2008 Carnage – November 7-9, 2008

Folks calling for secession of NYC… again

| February 10, 2008


Now, the basis here is that NYC contributes $11 billion more to NY state's economy in taxes than they get back. This is both true and misleading. Yes, they do contribute that much, but there is a lot of stuff the state does for the city which the city would otherwise have to contract out simply because they don't have the land mass or resources (prisons, water, etc.).

NYC already carves out a large exemption for itself on most laws, and I for one would welcome them leaving. It is a widely-held belief that upstate NY's economy has been run into the ground largely because of various state-sponsored economic programs designed for NYC which hurt business upstate, or programs to revitalize upstate getting shot down because no one in the city cares about it and they have such a large voting block that they can kill it.

Add to this the large difference in beliefs and values of folks from the city and folks here, and we really run into a huge “them and us” mentality.

Personally, I would like to see a new state of “New York City and Surrounding Counties”, which would be the city plus Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Those are the ones with the completely different laws already, and is pretty much where the border is.

Ground Zero Games releases Stargrunt II as free PDF

| February 10, 2008

Press release here.

For folks looking for an alternative to GW's “we have a new edition, so you need to buy $50 worth of rulebooks plus $200 worth of new minis because your old unit arrangements are no longer valid” endless cycle, these are generic rules which can work with any minis. Of course, Ground Zero Games makes their own line of minis, which are quite good.

(Full disclosure – I've only skimmed these rules, but if they are anything like their Dirstside II rules, I expect them to be quite good).

The thing I like about this style of rules is that you can pick up whatever cool looking minis you like and use those.

Now, the downside is that you need to find folks to play with, since the game doesn't have nearly the penetration as GW's games, and there are no given “points values”. This is a departure from Dirtside II, which did have points values, but on the other side, it more reflective of reality. You know that your force is weaker, so when setting up the objectives, you scale the goals accordingly. For example (and I'm just pulling this out of nowhere, it has no bearing on reality), a third-world insurgent force needs to inflict some amount of damage on the first-world force. The first world force needs to kill them while protecting their assets…

Impressive paint jobs

| February 9, 2008

I wish I could paint this well.