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Delique’s Adventures In Wonderland Episode 1

Streaming attempt #2, I’m building a new TSW character and streaming my way through the game…

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Week Nine – Rebuilding Istic, Drinking Whisky, Playing Torment

So this week I’ve been mostly avoiding doing anything at all.

I took a week off between jobs, because I needed to reset my head a bit, I needed some holiday, and I had a small pile of admin to do before the new contract started. Mostly stuff like moving my PAYE status back to my own company, sorting out indemnity insurance. I also discovered the font I was using for the company stuff is either no longer commercially usable, or I got it from someone sublicensing it without permission, so a minor rebranding effort took place.

business in the left, party in the right

The most time-consuming bit of all of this was moving my home-office around a bit to provide some separation between at-work and screwing around, which I’ve done by adding a new desk for my work laptop to go on (Actually the dining table, but that was my desk before we moved here, all things in circles). In theory, this will help me maintain concentration while I’m supposed to be working, and also not drift towards work during evenings and weekends.

A defective bottle of Caol Ila, and a less defective baby brother.

Mostly this week I’ve been fairly non-social and introspective – recharge mode tends to do that to me – but earlier in the week ccooke and ruthi came up to play games, speak of things and for us to help consume a magnum of champagne they won. All these were pleasant things, along with some samples from Drinks by the Dram, a company I should take a look at after invoices start rolling in a bit. I also picked up a small custom bottle from the Whiskey shop for a date night last week, aged by them from spirit from the Caol Ila distillery – Caol Ila being my current preferred scotch. It’s certainly young, but also very clearly peaty and full of flavours. Together with my adventures in kinetic beer this week, it’s been a fortnight of interesting alcohol.

Game-wise I’ve mostly been working my way through the last levelling content of WoW’s Legion expansion with my panda, but last week the long awaited “Spiritual Sequel” to Planescape: Torment (one of my favourite RPG games), “Torment: Tides of Numenara” finally dropped.

Erritis is very enthusiastic about ADVENTURE. This is clearly fine, and not something to be worried about.

I love the Numenara setting, and its mix of sufficiently advanced science, fantasy elements and depth make it a really good replacement for the original’s Planescape location. The thing I like best about it, though, is that it shares with the original a policy that the combat mechanic is at least equal to – and in a lot of cases subservient to – the ability to complete objectives by stealth, conversation or trickery. It’s not a game without its flaws, there’s a section I’ve recently defeated which annoyed me a lot; the companions – while deep and with interesting backstories – don’t push the envelope in the same way that – for example – Morte, Nordom or Fall-from-Grace did; and the party management while being a lot simpler than other games in its class removes some options that would have been useful. But I’m enjoying swimming in the universe and lore they’re building. Might do a more full review later on.

 

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The Cloudflare Thing

Three parts: 1) Who are Cloudflare, 2) What Happened, 3) What Do You Need To Do?

1) Cloudflare is a service that large websites – including my former employer – use as a first-bastion protection against hackers. Basically you point your public website details at them, and they mostly just forward it on to your real servers, but if there’s an attack then they’ll work out which connections to block so your site stays up. Optionally, they’ll also do things like replace email addresses in your page with weird things that look the same but can’t be harvested by robots looking for people to spam.

2) It’s this last thing that got them into trouble. The bit of their system that rewrote webpages had a bug that, given badly-coded sites, some options turned on, and a couple of other variables – would dump into the non-visual bit of the page whatever the server was thinking about at the time. Because these servers are dealing with a lot of requests at the same instant, this could be the passwords of someone sending a login form to that site over there, or a token that would allow you to assume someone else’s shopping basket, or whatever.

Cloudflare are fairly switched on, and when notified immediately turned off the broken feature and managed to deploy a fix within a couple of hours, but by that time the bug had been around a couple of weeks, so the leaked data was cached in places like Google’s web cache. Google have purged all these now.

3) Cloudflare have over 5 million clients, ranging from me-as-Aquarion with my tinpot blog engine through to people like Elsevier, Patreon, Blizzard. Not all of them had their data leaked as part of this, and the ones who have, have been notified by Cloudflare. Those companies should be sending out notifications or password reset systems. To repeat: Just because the website was using Cloudflare’s services does not necessarily mean your password has been leaked, or their service was affected.

Full fallout from this will come in the form of security advisories in the next little while. It’s generally a good idea to rotate passwords occasionally (especially for high profile sites like Facebook, Amazon, Google) and to turn on Two Factor authentication for sites that enable it.

I use a password manager (Lastpass, Can also recommend OnePassword and Dashlane) and centralised 2FA system (Authy is mine, but Lasspass do one and Google’s own is the standard everyone else implements)

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Week Seven

Work

And, as if by magic, I have a new job. Less involved, less senior, and not entirely on-path; but better paid, more interesting and without any commute at all.

This week will be my last week at ELS, and I’m trying hard not to check out. I’m handing over projects, moving code out of my private area on our git servers, creating lists of accounts I have that need to be deactivated, attempting to empty my brain of Company Information into wiki form.

Three point five working days remaining.

Play

I’m now up to two tabletop games in active play. A D&D dungeon descent, and an arctic adventure of aberrant abominations. Both the same day alternate weeks, but fortunately tessellating ones. They’re both fun, though wildly different in style and play, and I keep meaning to write up a couple of diary entries. Partly to keep my characters’ state in my head, but also for fun.

I’ve not had much computer gaming time this last fortnight, the uptick in my sociality has put a dent in my dedication, but I’m still working through the most recent World of Warcraft expansion’s new areas. I fell out of Factorio shortly after that diary entry – as a friend predicted, the requirement to entirely rebuild large parts of my factory to keep up with new inventions got wearing. I need to ration new games for a little while – new job has a pay-cheque gap – so it may be a good time to go through my steam list and try to complete some things.

In LARP, Last weekend was Happily Ever After, a one-shot game about fairytales, where I was one of the NPC / “Monster” crew. I can’t think of anything better than what I said on Facebook about it, so some copypaste:

Me as Santa for Happily Ever After

So, this weekend I lived Happily Ever After, a larp based in a world where Fairytales come to the real world. Somewhere on the axis of Fables and Once Upon A Time.

I went in with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I had a long-running NPC role (Father Christmas) but didn’t really have a handle on how to play him, and was hoping it evolved in play (it didn’t, really, I got some lovely moments, but never really found a place. Still a fun role, and now I need to find another use for a bright red suit…). However, the bit I was more worried about – the kind of actual monstering respawning-gribbly roles I haven’t really done since CUTT – was far more fun than I ever hoped for. I’m massively out of practice in LARP fights, but even with three to five of us respawning against a 30+ character party we managed to cause enough chaos to keep it fun. Especially, I loved playing a Large Ham Grail Wizard, Declaiming every sentence and attempting to turn the quest for the holy grail into the Epic Tale it probably should be.

Plus, I very nearly killed Peter Pan as a protester, attempted to behead Rumplestiltskin as a Wonderland playing card, and got to – as Santa – tell Captain Hook there wasn’t enough coal in the world to get them a present. And what more can you ask from a weekend?

This weekend was the Durham Treasure Trap banquet. I’ve been wanting to attend this for a while, but the last couple of years had to pull out at the last minute. The event was a lot of fun, the banquet itself was amazing (The centrepiece – pictured below – was a giant worm filled with slow cooked pork was delicious, and the beer-baked salmon and armoured turnips were highlights) although the logistics, time and expense of getting up to Durham for an evening was somewhat excessive. I suspect that if I did it again, it would be part of a longer trip either to Durham or as some kind of Northern Invasion. It was nice to see people I only generally get to talk to in character or in passing for a more social event, though.

Rest

As alluded to above, this year – escalating the last six months – I’ve increased my actual non-work-based human contact significantly. The advantage of moving from London is that casual social has become a lot easier to arrange (the distances are smaller), but Oxford’s lesser status as a public transport nexus means it’s harder to go see friends who don’t live here. I’ve not managed a weekend this year without some kind of major social thing, which is mostly good, but somewhat exhausting. Next weekend is ring-fenced as “Do not schedule”, and I’ve got the week after that off to fix bits of my life that have been neglected this year, like my company and mountainous piles of post and pending laundry.

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Mad Engineering – Voice Activated Kettle

Over the christmas holidays, I generally attempt to do a technical project in something that’s new to me. I think I bit off more than I could chew with the main thing, which was a look at Amazon Lumberyard and Gamelift, so I went for something smaller scale that I was more likely to actually complete. So, the voice activated kettle:

(Yes, vertical video. Yes, I do know better. Yes, it was 4am)

I’ve previously mentioned that I own a Smarter.am wifi kettle. Well, this Christmas Santa brought me an Amazon Echo Dot, and so it’s only logical I try to join the things. (Caution: Logic is only theoretical, and can be dangerously subjective).

The Internet of Things has gained a reputation for poor security, and the iKettle specifically so a year and a bit back, but one of the advantages I’ve generally listed for the kettle is that it’s not on the public internet unless you’re stupid. If someone knows you have the kettle and can physically point a directional aerial at it, they knock it off your network, stand somewhere outside your window for four hours brute-forcing a randomised PIN, they can get your wifi password and be on your network. Also boil your kettle. I recognise it’s a flaw, but I count it an accepted risk. I believe it’s fixed in the new hardware revision anyway.

Anyway, the kettle isn’t on the public internet. A lot of IoT devices are, since their apps connect to a publicly available API (either as a primary or secondary connection option) which then connect to the devices, providing a handy access route. Most of the time these use industry-standard access key systems, and are usually secure enough. A lot of the cheaper end of the market don’t, which is why you get the “DDoSed by my doorbell” stories.

Amazon Echo uses their Alexa APIs to provide custom skills, which are centralised and don’t work over local networks, so in order to make this work I needed to be stupid, and put my kettle on the public internet.

A noddy web interface. Yesterday.
A noddy web interface. Yesterday.

Fortunately, I’ve done most of the heavy lifting for that already. A while ago I stood on Mark J Cox’s shoulders to write Retort, A Flask (of course) based app that runs on my local network and provides a REST-based API to the socket-based kettle protocol. This has been quite happily running on my home server since I built it a year and a half ago with a noddy little javascript interface. It’s accessible over the internet via SSL and basic auth, which means I can turn on my kettle from the bus home if I like.

So when on Christmas Day (shudup) I went looking for how to build Alexa “Skills”, I found that all I needed to do was to write a new endpoint to that API and give Alexa a username and password.

Configuring the actual Skill was a little trickier. Alexa uses a lot of tricks to fake natural language parsing, but basically you provide a list of possible actions (“intents”) and then a set of sample ways to trigger those actions (“utterances”), but the closer you get to colloquial or natural commands, the harder things seem to get working. The documentation for designing these interfaces suggests the format should stick to “Alexa, <verb> the <noun> to <action>” formula, and as you can see from the video that works, but when designing text interfaces I prefer being able to provide colloquial aliases, and while “Alexa, Tell the kettle to start” works, even with it defined in the utterances file “Alexa, Put the kettle on” seems to match the internal guesswork as a Smart Home defined device (the reaction is “Can’t find a device called “kettle” in Aquarion’s account”). Maybe that’s a better model to use for the Skill, and I should refactor around that. I’m also having large problems around setting specific temperature, as the API seems to send things with “?” in the temperature slot, or send a SetTemperature intent but with no slots defined, so there’s still debug to do.

The Alexa Skill is, of course, not publically available. It’s tied to my kettle, and in order to set this up for someone else they’d need a new Skill App, a full Retort installation (and, of course, the kettle). I could set up a centralised app location where you put in your IP, username and password and it brokers Alexa calls to kettles, but I’m pretty sure the technical bar to installing this app puts it in the low tens, all of which can do all this themselves.

Side note: I recorded the video at 4am (It’s the holidays, my sleep schedule is shot to ribbons). I made the tea, then started writing this up. It’s now ten past five in the morning, and third time lucky I actually got all the way from boiling the water, putting it in the teapot, remembering all this five minutes later, and drinking the tea. Voice activated kettles cannot save you from chronic disorganisation, be warned.

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When I Fall

So yesterday, I was attempting to navigate home after the pub with my boss, and we’d basically lost London at this point. There were buildings, and people, and I could see a Pret and a Starbucks. So I dug out my phone and asked it where Moorgate was, and it said over there, and I walked a bit over there, and said “Hey look, Moorgate station”, while walking towards it.

Actually, what I said was, “Hey look, Moorg” and discovered that the road in front of me was, instead, air. Or stair.

One of the side effects of the events prior to finding Moorgate station, mostly involving some delightful beer, did not have a positive effect on my ability to coordinate a well-orchestrated landing.

Anyway, in the time following:

  • I wasn’t distracted by a nice pair of legs, a bag with olive oil in it, or relevant pseudopodia, so I did not master flight.
  • My phone flew off on its own adventures, where despite *many* Serious Talks, it decided to try crack.
  • My glasses, lacking a reasonable escape route from the ground, decided to investigate with tunneling through my brow. This is where most of the blood came from.
  • My knee decided that if anyone was going to win the race for the ground, it would be it, and fulfilled its wildest ambitions in that regard. Thankfully, it has not been swayed by the peer pressure of my phone, and did not also experiment with crack.
  • With the assistance of my boss – did I mention this is the first time I’ve gone out after work with my new colleagues? I’m doing well with impressions – I got back to Oxford and a lift home.
  • Having got home, the natural pain-killers wore off and my knee expressed its dissatisfaction with our collective life choices.
  • Today I am working from home, my knee now only hurts if I do something stupid, like move.
  • In conclusion, I believe that pavements in London should be better padded, and warning signs and possibly barriers should be placed before drops of up to six inches.

I am, or will be, fine.

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A witty retort

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Week 23 – Everything All At Once

[I left this in my out-tray. I’m an idiot]

One of those.

I learnt a new thing! I played with Aftereffects for several dozen hours, learning how enough bits of it work to make something, and produced a new video based on Secret Lore stuff, and got… five views, no comments, and a Like. Maybe it’d work better with a new audio track, rather than a reused one, but I’m not currently incentivised to try, or do anything ever again.

It’s a month of finance stuff, as well. Corporation tax is due, so I’m checking the numbers on that before I send HMRC a moderately scary amount of money, Then my personal tax thing needed to be done as well, and then finally my landlord chimed in with another 10% rent increase. Rents are something like boiling a frog. So long as the increases are slow, the tenant will boil alive before they realise how fucked they are, but a notification of a heavy increase, and only a few months after the last one applied (It’s a warning of an increase in September) has given me the chance to take a step back and say “No, that is more than I’m willing to pay for this level of pokeyness in my accommodation”. It’s never been a great flat for the money, but with the perennially nearly-fixed boiler and now £1.5M new housing where our garden used to be, I’m getting out of the water.

Right now, we’re looking at Oxford, for reasons of London connections and existing support networks for both me and Fyr, and it’s a nice place I haven’t lived in yet. Its rental market seems sane when compared to London’s, which means its still overheated and crazy, but at a level I’m more comfortable with. Plan is to head up and blast though viewings mid-next-week, then go from there.

Empire’s this weekend, and it looks like my little world of the Senate’s going to be quite exciting. Went to a player event as my NPC last week, which was fun in its own way, but probably not something I’ll do again. The inability to push my own agendas (very much) made me miss playing a great deal, and I’m looking forward to my holiday away from it next year.

Mostly playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. I bought a subscription, which gives me an XP boost so I can level a character all the way without doing anything but the class story quests, and I’m using that to do them if I can. I finished off my Imperial Agent last week, and I’m working my way though the Jedi Knight quest line. As single-player quest lines, they remind me a lot of Knights of the Old Republic, not without good reason, and without the “Kill ten womp-rats” filler between the stories, it’s a lot nicer to experience. There are a lot of really good non-class-based questlines too – I’m particularly fond of the Gree “Black Bisector” set – but it’s nice to have a clear run though the story.

 

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Rocky Frisco

It’s weird to see someone you knew as a person revered as an icon, especially someone who I disagreed with as much as Rocky.

But he died last night, after a long life filled with music, and I’ll miss him being wrong on the internet.

He played with everyone from the likes of JJ Cale, Clapton, Mark Knopfler, down to The Beer Monsters and – once – me.  More recently, as many live gigs as he could fit in. The above is the best video on Youtube I could find of him.

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The Magic Circle

Not the band of wizards, the game.

The Magic Circle is the the closest thing to an advancement of whatever genre Portal is since… well, since Portal. It’s not Portal, though. It’s kind of an RPG in the same way that Portal is a First Person Shooter. The trappings of its mechanics are within the recognised mechanics from a million first-person RPG games, but that’s wrapped inside a well-devised universe with well-written characters, and the actual gameplay is spun out at 90 degrees from that. If I had to add another game’s influence to cite, The Stanley Parable is where I’d go next.

And I can’t say a lot more than that about it. The game is a metafiction, as you can see from the mostly-in-universe website. In-universe, The Magic Circle is the long awaited, long delayed sequel to a massively beloved twenty-year-old text-based adventure game (Real-world touchstones: Ultima, Bards Quest, Fool’s Errand). The author of that game is a classic games-autor white-bearded-male, who has taken on the avatar of the great God within the game – the Skyfather – but whose twenty-year promises of future games are starting to ring hollow. Veteran gamers will instantly recognise the heavy flavours of Richard Garriott in the character’s history, along with strong notes of Peter Molyneux and even to people like Cliff Johnson, and here you start, as a player given early access to this massively long awaited sequel to a hugely popular game. Except there are some assets which look… strange in context. Something isn’t quite right. The trailer hints at this fairly well.

The game plays a lot with concepts of game space, of being inside which game. It has a lot to say about narrative vs mechanics (coming from former Bioshock developers, there’s an air of critical catharsis which I would suspect more of being dirty laundry if they hadn’t got Ken Levine to voice a character), game development, fandom, actually getting things done and the sorrow of half finished universes.

It took me about 6 hours of playtime to get through it, and while that’s quite short, it’s fully formed and… complete, really. There’s a lot there, and a late twist that spins a lot of the game on its head.

It’s in early access at the moment, but as I say the game is complete. Early Access is an early release before they’ve got the translations down, which will take a while to finish and collate – there’s a lot of there there – and as far as I could tell all the glitches were intentional (it is, in part, a game about inserting your gameplay crowbar into the cracks of the world).

You should play this game. I hope they release a demo too, but don’t watch Lets Plays, don’t watch it streaming.

… And that’s it, really. There’s some deeper stuff about the mechanics, about juxtapositioning, about commentary that I’ll get into eventually, but so much of what’s cool is tied heavily narrative-based modification of the mechanics, and I like the story too much to spoil it for you without giving people a chance to buy it first.

Go buy it on Steam, it’s £13.49 for the next 5 days.