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Planets With Atmospheres: Almost Available?

26-Apr-18 03:00 pm EDT Leave a comment

 

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Frontier staff have recently been heard hinting that planet atmospheres could be gradually rolled into players’ Elite Dangerous Experience soon!

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or me, a veteran Elite CMDR who has been playing various versions of the game since its introduction in 1983 (yes — I am that old) being able to interact with planets regardless of whether they have an atmosphere or not is simply a basic feature.  Although the initial release of Elite back in 1983 offered only single-planet star systems where the “planet” was really just a line-art circle (whose surface would result in the loss of your Cobra Mk III craft if you ran into it), Elite II and Elite II: Frontier both enabled you to take off from partially-terraformed moon Merlin in the Ross 154 star system.  There, one could see the reddish sky and the eerie gas giant Aster dominating the skyline from the tarmac of the local starport with the lights of a nearby domed city also in-view.  Elite Dangerous has taken us back in some respects to an earlier time when such extravagances as being blasted to dust for not requesting tower clearance prior to liftoff from said planet-bound starport was but a glint in David Braben’s eye.  (Braben is, of course, the mastermind behind the Elite franchise as well as the original programmer.)

CMDR ObsidianAnt who runs an extremely popular running commentary on Elite Dangerous shares with us in his latest YT-cast a preview of what might (and should) be coming throughout 2018 and perhaps 2019 by merging the view of an Asp Explorer spaceframe with a short demo of worlds created using a tool called Space Engine, available for download here.  ObsidianAnt says that Space Engine and Elite Dangerous are “two very different pieces of software” in his video, but perhaps not being a software developer himself he’s missing some background.  Whatever code is used as the basis for Space Engine, I’m extremely skeptical at the outset that the two titles (the other being Elite Dangerous) can’t be integrated.  True, there are numerous tasks associated with software integration methodology, but speaking as a systems developer (my own strength) I’ve been tasked with taking two “very different” pieces of software and experienced some degree of success in getting the job done several times in my career.  Superficially, I’m not seeing any architectural issues or other seemingly insurmountable challenges.  Frontier Developments has a very capable team of software engineers, obviously — and it would be something just short of unimaginable to say a 3rd-party product like Space Engine can’t be made to work with Elite.

Of course, one must keep in mind the console platforms which might introduce challenges I could, in fact, not imagine.  But on the PC, it’s unlikely to my mind the effects we’re seeing in Space Engine can’t be successfully migrated to Elite Dangerous.  At the very least having a perusal of the Space Engine source could cultivate stronger implementations of atmospheres on the worlds of Elite Dangerous.

If you have a different take on this subject, please chime in with a comment below.

And regardless of the timeliness of new feature intros to the game — kudos to Frontier Developments, creators of Elite Dangerous, for creating a truly immersive and enjoyable spaceflight sim.  We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for that next “big thing” to come out….we know you won’t let us down!

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The Future of Elite Dangerous: The Great In-Game Debate

25-Jan-18 11:31 pm EDT Leave a comment
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MDRs IronJaguar and SoapyKnight joined me in an unarranged VoiceComms chat session this evening to discuss wing options.

Or so I thought.  Suddenly, we were talking about VR gaming and the collective disappointment with how long new features were taking to be rolled into the Elite: Dangerous universe.  As a software developer myself, I’m acutely familiar with how it’s produced.  Prior experience with the world’s largest software production company, Microsoft, has helped that education and acquaint me with the most modern practices involved with the full software development lifecycle.  I thought I’d bring this view to a pair of gaming consumers; one from New York and another a fellow Canadian who lives relatively close, geographically (which is not a given in the world’s second-largest country).  CMDR IronJaguar, in particular, laid the heaviest expectations on Frontier (the producer of the Elite game series).  Could he be convinced to be more understanding of the issues involved in producing Elite: Dangerous?  And what about Frontier’s competitors?  Where is Star Citizen?  What about EndSpace and From Other Suns?  Could they pose a threat to Elite’s dominance in the VR flight sim market at some point?

Watch today’s gaming session here to find out!

Elite Dangerous Universe: Calendar dates?

24-Jan-18 10:39 am EDT Leave a comment
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ello CMDRs!  It turns out that the date on the Elite Universe timebar (3304) is pretty close to the same day of the week we experience in 2018:

January 3304

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
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As you can see from the above, today ‘s date in 3304 (January 24th) falls on a Thursday, while in 2018 it is obviously a Wednesday.

Just another interesting fact about the gameplay of Elite, brought to you by CMDR Trium!

Follow the Adventures of the FNS Quantica!

22-Jan-18 01:41 pm EDT Leave a comment
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CMDR Trium Augus, January 3304

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he year is 3304 and mankind has started to explore the galaxy in earnest with tens of thousands of humans fanning out across the cosmos thanks to affordable spacecraft being made available to people from various walks of life: explorers, bounty hunters, miners, exothropoligists and many others.  Supported by other companies like Universal Cargographics, Cannon Research, the Aegis Corporation, DeLacy Spacecraft, Lakon Spaceways and many others, this intrepid group together with (the real) Frontier software development company has created an environment spanning our Milky Way galaxy, including 400+ billion unique star systems containing a smattering of eyeball-catching astronomical phenomena.  Herein, spacecraft commanders (CMDRs) complete on missions for starport or political factions, pursue community goals with galactic impact and/or further the ambitions of humanity in their own unique way, or just trade ferrying cargo from one system that’s in demand in another.  Against this background, you can follow the adventures of CMDR Trium Augus (yours truly) and watch the epic saga of those he deals with unfold.  This is just the beginning of a universe Frontier calls “Elite Dangerous” and is the brainchild of David Braben; who created an old game for 8-bit computing platforms (like the Apple //e or Commodore-64) called “Elite” back in the mid-1980s.  It is upon the legacy of the game (and its successors in the 1990s) that Elite Dangerous is built.

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Click to launch INARA Radio player – which accompanies you playing Elite Dangerous!

Ongoing coverage of the events in this make-believe universe are presented in digest form here.  But I encourage every reader to visit The AppRefactory Inc. on YouTube as soon as you’re finished with content presented here.  My story is one handled in a video presentation that gains new contributions almost daily through the winter months and weekly at other points during the year.

Hope you’ll visit us soon!

Other background info on CMDR Trium is available at the following sites:

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Other websites supporting CMDRs in the universe of Elite Dangerous:

A Solid Programming Intro (for Beginners)

07-Dec-17 08:38 pm EDT Leave a comment

 

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Microsoft Virtual Academy: Introduction to Programming with Python (#8360)
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re you new to the world of programming?  I keep telling people it’s really quite simple and if one applies themselves, it’s something everyone can get into if they’re really that interested.  And no – you don’t have to go to College/University to learn how!

So what’s a good place to get into the world of software development fast and see if it’s something that might interest you?  Recently, I decided now would be an opportune time for me to pick up yet another programming language: Python.  It’s been getting a fair bit of attention lately and can be useful I discovered when exploring the emerging world of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  In fact, I did study AI while attending a pre-law programme at the University of Manitoba many years ago.  (Will forego saying how many.)  There I was able to get into the world of AI through an unlikely major: Philosophy.  The Computer Science (Comp. Sci.) programme wasn’t offering any curriculum in the universe of AI yet and it would be a few more years before the Internet made programming attractive as a career choice for me.  But I’d already taken an Intro Comp. Sci. course with prerequisites waived by the Dean of Arts and had amassed a fair bit of technical skill through my exploration of computers as a personal interest.  I knew the opportunity to study AI wouldn’t likely come again while I was at school so I signed myself up.

What has any of this to do with Python?  Well, some feel that being a self-taught programmer puts one at a kind of disadvantage.  I feel strongly they’re wrong about that — although there is a lot of reading one needs to do to get up to speed on programming theory and data management before they can safely claim they’ve got a Comp. Sci. equivalency.  And then there’s the environment of a University that just can’t get replaced.  Even so, online study can make you a productive resource in many organizations including those that don’t offer employment to anyone missing a Comp. Sci. degree (or lacking the opportunity to get one).  I came across a curriculum in picking up Python that offers a performance transcript and even a certification for paying customers.  The curriculum itself is, however, freely available and geared toward the new programmer.

Why might an experienced programmer take this course?  As one of the instructors points out, a programming language is like a spoken language in that if one doesn’t use the skill, it can become “rusty” and eventually even require retraining.  So while tempted to dive right into Python syntax, you might find it helpful to take the two-day course or at least challenge the exams that come with it (at least the paid edition, which is reasonably priced by the vendor, Microsoft) and re-verify that you’re up to speed.

Alternatively, if you’re in a .NET Certification programme, you can find that this material will nicely compliment the other available materials out there.

This course wins a rare 5-stars from me!

Keybase Brings Free Security to Novice Users

02-Sep-17 11:59 pm EDT Leave a comment
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GP encryption is not new – quite the opposite.  But it’s always had one big advantage over its leading competitor: S/MIME.  S/MIME is used to encrypt email using certificate-based, 3rd-party authentication whereas PGP relies on dual, private/public key encryption.  And thanks both to S/MIME gaining commercial vendor support relatively early, coupled with being easier than the open-source-supported PGP (with relatively primitive tools that required some degree of technical competency to master); those wanting to encrypt email easily had to deal with investing in 3rd party certificates that could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars before the feature was available.

KeybaseThanks to Edward Snowden, we’re all now pretty-well acquainted with the notion we’ve lost privacy and will likely never get it back.  But even so, that doesn’t mean the government (or God-knows-who nowadays) ought to have carte blanche to read chats, emails or become privy to what you’re downloading via bitTorrent or what cash you’re exchanging with parties online.  (At least not until tax time.)  And a tool that works on all platforms big and small, like Keybase, is now available to assist with all of the above!

To begin, it’s best to start on a Mac or Windows environment – somewhere where the configuration utility can operate.  The system does a pretty decent job of talking one through the process of setting up one’s first PGP (security) keys and getting the app installed.  However, one improvement for the future might be getting this utility (also called a “CLI” or “command-line interface”) to work within a web browser so one can perform the entire process using a hand-held device.  Once the software is installed, one finds installed an icon in their system tray (on Windows) which will present the list of users and some very heavily shaded icons (despite) which are used to access other parts of the Keybase app.  The CLI also has its own icon deployed to the Windows ‘Start’ menu and this is where you can quickly access many of the features associated with setup.  In my case, I already had PGP keys and so using the CLI was a necessary part of the setup.  Regardless, to get acquainted with the CLI and how it works with setup, I’d begin by loading up a copy of the “new user” docs in a web browser.  Then in the CLI utility, run two commands:

First, run “keybase help” to see what commands are instantly available to you as a new, unregistered user (there are a few), and

Second,, run “keybase signup”.

Finally, I’d quickly read through the “basic docs” you have open in your browser and drill down into any areas where you have questions.  Still more questions about Keybase and maybe PGP?  I strongly advise you get a Reddit account if you’ve not already got one and access the group called r/Keybase.  You’ll find this well-trafficked!

Although the Keybase app (accessed from the system tray) links to several choice apps, PGP is extremely versatile and plug-ins exist for Microsoft Outlook 2016 (and earlier) and is used with numerous other applications.

If there is a down-side to the app, there is a concern that — since a Keybase account can be used with several keys — it could be possible for someone to associate 2 keys (which typically involve two email addresses being known) together and thereby create an identity profile on a Keybase user.  This is a security concern, although an obvious workaround would be to register PGP keys to separate Keybase accounts and thereby never expose oneself.  Keybase itself claims it never advertises personal details, but if one connects to another user (say, for secure chat) and exchanges their public key; in such a case the potential would exist for that 3rd party to disclose your email at their discretion.  (This itself isn’t a security flaw, but it is something to be mindful of when exchanging data security regardless of the means used.)

Yelp E-Mails Rooking in Small Business!

18-Dec-16 10:47 am EDT Leave a comment
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perating as a small business owner, on a couple of occasions in the past I’ve encountered people that are something less than honest.  This is not the norm by any means — and yet one realizes early on to keep a wary eye for those few wolves who fashion themselves guardians of the hen house, so to speak….

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A bit of research can be an eye-opener too, which is why I’m kind of kicking myself for not seeing these folks coming from a mile off: Yelp.com

 

 

I recently received a $300 advertising coupon, alike the sort I’ve received from advertisers like Google.com in the mail.  You enter a coupon code somewhere and get to try out the service.  I took advantage of such an offer from Yelp in late October of this year — only to start getting transactions mysteriously showing up on my credit card earlier this month, contrary to expectations.

I had taken advantage of the coupon at the time, which did not explicitly advertise there would be debits automatically starting once the $300 had been used up.  Nor was I able to readily determine at any point how much of the credit was used.

Finally, when a December bill appeared, I immediately contacted Yelp to cancel any advertising services that might have been procured.  I was concerned that it wasn’t generating any business for me and that they were keeping records of user credit card numbers (a practice with which I have issues for both reasons of personal security and privacy).

Contact with Staff was Terse and Unhelpful

The amount of the bill wasn’t too substantial – less than $100 in Canadian funds.  However, despite taking this as an opportunity to build a positive customer experience, they responded to my concerns as “threatening” them (when I mentioned I would be describing my interactions with customer service here on my blog) and trying to get out of paying the bill, stopping short of calling me a thief outright.  This attitude was evident despite my attempts to voice my concerns to two different parties by phone – the only emails I could receive from them seemed to be automated messages aimed at billing.

After encountering two highly confrontational staff I thought it incumbent to characterize my experience as objectively as I could for the benefit of others seeking a review of the Yelp service.

 Doesn’t Follow its Own Advice on Handling Complaints

Yelp’s own advice on the subject of end-user reviews is as follows¹:

Either way, when responding to reviews it is important to have good practices established to make sure your organization and your [customer]’s privacy are protected. In both scenarios, the goal should be to take the conversation offline and to a private channel.

It’s my considered opinion Yelp did not follow it’s own advice in my particular case, nor does it do so when it comes to the privacy of others; whether they are customers or simply users of its service(s):

  • retaining credit card information can be a license for the unscrupulous to simply debit amounts indefinitely regardless of customer intent; such as when a company doesn’t bother to take the spending intentions of customers into account and charges for services they don’t want; effectively taking a nickel-and-dime approach to earning profit rather than promoting & selling services on the strength of their own merit, and
  • allowing customer service staff to become confrontational with customers is both unnecessary and inexcusable.  Worse still, Yelp made virtually no effort to “take the conversation offline”, instead calling my intention to review my interactions with them a “threat” and insisting they’d continue with the charges.

It’s certainly accurate to say I can’t describe my own experience with Yelp as necessarily representative of those one would have with the company and it does appear many have had positive experiences with them.  However, I can equally accurately say that my experience was anything but positive from the perspective of a customer and there are many on Facebook and other alternate online sources who report difficulties as well.  I can also state with certainty that given my concerns, treated as they were, will result in my never considering business with them again in the future.

Epilogue

My experience also left me with the impression that Yelp is a company governed less by technology innovation and more by a very single-minded focus on earnings from its advertising business.  (Although it was not necessarily my intention at the outset to demand no-cost settlement of the bill they sent me, this became an issue when they declined to discuss my concerns in good faith.)  In the future, I’m likely to seek out Microsoft, Google or WordPress when considering online advertising.  Even should this prove to be more expensive, both companies seem to be paying a lot greater attention to their advertising clientele.

Follow-ups to this story may appear here, should any occur.

¹ See https://www.yelpblog.com/2016/12/experts-guide-patient-privacy-online-reviews near the subheading “Example 1” for source.

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