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

25-Jan-18 11:31 pm EST 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!

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Elite Dangerous Universe: Calendar dates?

24-Jan-18 10:39 am EST 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 EST 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 EST 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 EST 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 EST 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.

Police Requests for New Internet Powers Could Cost You Big

19-Nov-16 07:29 pm EST Leave a comment

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anada’s CBC (a leading media and news organization in the country) promoted a story this past week concerning a very public request to the senior politicians for greater investigative powers.  This was followed by a poll that showed a degree of support for the police requests – seemingly predicated on a desire to curb child pornography among other crimes.  While civil libertarians and technology professionals raised the alarm on hearing this request, there was only limited consideration given to the cost of granting powers of this sort to police – tied largely to the cost of potentially onerous data warehousing by ISPs.  (As a footnote here, I want to cite the case of the UK which, this past week, saw Parliament enact legislation that would be largely in-line with the kinds of legislative change the RCMP would like to see enacted here in Canada.)

“Two parliamentary committees examined this issue.  Then there was the unanimous Supreme Court [of Canada] decision.  What part of ‘unconstitutional’ doesn’t [RCMP] Commissioner Paulson understand?”

Michael Harris, iPolitics.ca, November 25, 2016

Privacy and Internet Commerce

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anadians (and people generally) can still be very reluctant to share their personal information online.  A recent website delivered by The AppRefactory — the Edgewater Tenants’ Community Website — has been off to something of a slow start with the administration fielding questions about why an end-user’s address is needed as part of the signup process.  This is done with the awareness and limited support from the property management company that acts as the landlord which has data about every tenant’s address, yet that same information is not so readily volunteered when it takes digital form.  The information in this case is used to simply verify that an end-user signup request is for a tenant as opposed to some random user from the Internet; in order to ensure that any information a tenant elects to access or share on the site is kept within the tenant community only.  As such it is a measure intended to protect tenant privacy, but there can still be reluctance about sharing it.

This is just an example of how users have adapted over the years to safeguard their privacy.  Yet now the police want measures taken by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to circumvent privacy to such a degree that they will never again be aware of who exactly has access to their information.  (We saw in another article posted this past week how police could access computer records without appropriate authorization or authority.)  And should police officers once again demonstrate how human they can be and make a mistake, suddenly the information they’ve been entrusted with is available to parties unknown.

Such cases, once known to the public (as they will tend to be, thanks to our free press), could easily put end-users further on the defensive about their information.  And, despite poll results suggesting some support for increased police powers, there remains the likelihood the average person in Canada (which, historically, tends to be a person that trusts police authority) hasn’t thought the issue through very thoroughly and certainly not technically.  The regime Canadians will be confronted with, whatever their decision about the powers police should have online, could easily be one business is less well-able to thrive in and would find it harder to operate in without being less able to solicit end-user consent and confidence meaningfully.

And they wouldn’t know it until it really was too late.

New Powers Add Onerous Burdens on All Business (Not Just ISPs)

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he legislation in the UK does not specifically distinguish nor give license to ISPs to operate or grant any special legal distinction to them apart from providers of Internet-facing services generally.  As such it would seem to stand as a matter of law that anyone providing Internet-facing services could be compelled to maintain logs concerning end-user activity.  From a technical perspective, the law wouldn’t be all that meaningful if it couldn’t extend, for example, to providers of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services which are frequently used to both secure corporate communications online as well as anonymize network access to  BitTorrent media sharing sites or “Deep Web” network traffic.

msazurelogoSo the law must apply to businesses using the Internet equally (or at least be seen to apply as such).  And how will the small business be impacted when they’re suddenly required to maintain a database documenting (as the RCMP want) up to two years of end-user activity?  One approach we could use would be to use Microsoft Azure’s service calculator to take a service that uses a very modest 5GB of data monthly to track data transfer activity for a service, numbering just 10,000 transactions.  Without any service connections, charging just for the storage of table-based data only, we get an added cost of $409.00 per month, including a $364.00 Standard Support feature on local redundancy only.  (Nothing could immediately be found on legislative requirements for backing up this data, but a vendor support feature seemed logical to imagine in this scenario.)  That’s a not-so-inconsiderable $4,900 per year and is getting pricey for the average small business.

Now if you run a big business, things get interesting: scaled up to 5TB of data and 1 million transactions, the costs at the same level of support (with local redundancy only) balloon out to $5,223.68 per month or a whopping $62,684.16 per year.

These costs are certainly something to consider when it comes to determining who is paying for all this extra monitoring.  One thing is clear, it won’t be coming out of the RCMP’s budget!

And although this is the costs according to one vendor, it is an industry leader in a space oft-credited with reducing the costs associated with maintaining large warehouses of data (a main selling point behind “the cloud” movement).  One shudders to think how much more onerous these costs could become if one is required by law to maintain hardware and software of their own, in a facility that is solely under their own control.

Final Analysis: Restrain Police Powers Online

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ith passage of the UK legislation this past week, the Government of Canada may be best-advised to stay the course for now and weigh its options again at a later date if it chooses.  While I suspect both in the wake of Brexit and their now police powers law (called the “Investigatory Powers Bill”) will lead the UK (and England in particular) into a self-made socio-economic crisis, there remains the question as to what exactly the impact of their measures will have.  The opportunity here isn’t to regulate early and hopefully stop child sexual abuse — a cause I’m very sympathetic to and have even had occasion to assist police with.  Rather, it’s to gain the wisdom about whether the impacts of these measures will simply drive it further underground or make a meaningful difference (as opposed to being an issue cited simply as a political red herring to grant powers that will be used for other purposes).  To discover whether the economic impact is too burdensome.  And to learn comprehensively if there will be the promised ‘greater good’ worthy of the limits a free and democratic society — a just society — places on itself and its citizens.

Terry Glavin

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