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User Journal

Journal: Is it time for data-storage devices to archive changed blocks?

SSDs already use wear-leveling technology that effectively turn all file-updates into copy-on-write operations.

If SSD devices would keep track of the old copies so that an operating system or SSD-vendor-supplied data-rescue-utility could easily treat non-overwritten data as if it were a "shadow copy"
AND
if the SSD would hide that data from the host computer unless a particular switch or jumper was set,
THEN
it would aide in data recovery after a ransomware attack.

Why hide it from the host when the switch is not set? If the "shadow copy" IS visible to the OS, all the ransomware has to do is write to the disk until the data it wants to erase is no longer there in the "shadow copy." If it is invisible to the host, the ransomware has to write enough data to overwrite all existing "shadow copies" to guarantee success.

Why would a user have the switch on all the time? Backups.
Having a hardware-based "shadow copy" mechanism that the backup software or host OS understood would make backups easier without the necessity of the host OS or filesystem having to implement a shadow-copy system of its own.

User Journal

Journal: Games of the Year 2014 (and some general musings/rants)

So that's 2014 nearly over - and I found it a pretty interesting year in gaming terms. The first half of the year was pretty slow for games, with the only titles of real note until the early summer being last-generation holdouts which had missed the boat on the PS4 and Xbox One. But things picked up once the summer arrived, with some extremely good titles in the second half of the year. For me, there were three big points of interest about gaming in 2014.

First, this was the year that AAA gaming got smart and indie gaming got dumb. Yeah, that's a pretty sweeping pair of statements (and I'm sure you can find plenty of exceptions), but I think the story more or less holds up. For quite a few years now, the complaint has been that AAA games were stale, formulaic and dumbed-down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I've never quite bought that story (not every AAA game is Call of Duty), but even if there was a touch of truth to it, 2014 is the year that it went away. We've seen a lot of innovative and risky AAA titles this year; games which seek to challenge as much as they do to please. At the same time, indie gaming really does seem to have fallen into a rut. The number of "retro style pseudo-8-bit roguelikes" on the Steam store is really starting to take the piss now; so many of these games are cut from the same template and trying to prove themselves different - in exactly the same way. There have also been some outright howlers, such as Gone Home and Depression Quest, which sought to "redefine our understanding of games" or whatever, but which those of us who aren't intellectually insecure hipsters can admit weren't actually very good. Oh, and then there was Gamergate. If there's one aspect of that whole sorry saga (from which nobody emerged well) that didn't get reported widely, it was that the whole shitstorm- in-a-teacup originated in the indie gaming scene and largely stayed there. Most AAA developers quite sensibly either said nothing or put out carefully worded statements distancing themselves from the whole thing (the only sensible thing to do).

Second, the next-gen consoles have yet to prove what they are actually for. I own a PS4, an Xbox One and a Wii-U but, to be quite honest, I'm still not 100% sure why. Don't get me wrong, the PS4 and Xb-One are nice enough machines and, as games consoles (but definitely not yet as media players) they are a big step up on their predecessors. But with almost all multi-platform games coming out on PC these days (and PC versions almost inevitably being technically superior), it's hard to justify buying an (often much more expensive) console version. Single-platform exclusives have become few and far between and some of those have underwhelmed. And then there's the Wii-U, which must now surely be dead in every meaningful sense of the word. Never a great console to begin with, its releases have slowed to a crawl of almost entirely single-style platform-exclusives (fine if you like said style, not so fine if you don't - and I don't). Bayonetta 2 is fun, sure, but one game cannot justify a platform's existence. I think I've done a much larger proportion of my gaming on PC in 2014 than in any year since 2001 (the year I first got a console and became a multi-platform gamer).

And third, the industry really needs to get serious about quality assurance for big releases. It's not unusual to have one or two big releases in any given year which are horribly buggy at launch - but in 2014 it has been far more than one or two major titles which have ranged from the "unpleasant to play" to the "downright unplayable" at launch. Some of the games in question have been patched and have gone on to be very good - but that doesn't justify unfinished products being pushed out the door. It can't be coincidence that many of these games came out in the pre-Christmas rush. Yet another sign that the annual death march to get games released in that holiday window does nobody (developers, publishers or customers) any favours at all.

Anyway, with that out of the way, on to my top 10 games of 2014 (excluding remakes, ports, expansions and DLCs), in descending order:

10) Bayonetta 2 - (Wii-U) - The only game on the Wii-U that I've actually liked this year. It's basically more of the same from the first game, but that's no bad thing at all. Stylish, fast-paced precision brawling, with a decent upgrade system and lots of optional stuff to do along the way. Could do without the irritating kid, though. Would be interesting to see what this would have looked like on more capable hardware, though as the game wouldn't have happened without Nintendo's cash, I guess we can't complain.

9) South Park - The Stick of Truth - - (PC, also 360 and PS3) I confess I hadn't realised that South Park was still airing. I used to love the show - about a decade ago - but fell out of the habit of watching it. So this was a pleasant surprise. A remarkably well-done semi-open-world RPG, whose humour is far more "hit" than "miss". Gave me possibly the only boss battle ever which I've had to pause because I was laughing too hard to play. It's short for an RPG, probably because the developers knew that their gameplay mechanics weren't deep enough to support a longer game, but nevertheless provides good value for money.

8) Danganronpa - Trigger Happy Havoc - - (Vita) I'm not normally the biggest fan of visual novels, but this strange game nevertheless kept me glued to the Vita's screen for longer than anything else bar Persona 4 has managed. It's not even quite a proper visual novel. You spend a lot of time walking around in 3d-exploration mode and some of the key conversations depend as much on rhythm game mechanics as on dialogue choices. There's nothing else really like it (other than its sequel, I guess, which I own but haven't played yet).

7) Far Cry 4 - (PC, also PS4, Xb-One, PS3 and 360) - Basically Far Cry 3 done a bit better in every respect. Intelligent open-world shooter which looks and feels right in so many respects. The over-the-top animal life makes for much hilarity. Plot strikes an interesting balance between "thoughtful", "uncomfortable" and "YAY EXPLOSIONS". Some have reported stuttering issues with the PC version, but I seem to have dodged them.

6) Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - - (PC, also PS4 and Xb-One, with greatly diminished versions on PS3 and 360) - One of those risky, intelligent AAA games I was talking about above. A smart, well executed open-world game that takes on Assassin's Creed on its own turf and kicks its arse (having combat that isn't a painful chore helps immensely). Widely dismissed as a gimmick when first announced, the Nemesis System really is a game-changer, which does a fantastic job of putting a human (well, orcish) face onto procedural content. Also the game that convinced me to upgrade my graphics card - the visuals are seriously impressive if you have the hardware to do it justice.

5) Forza Horizon 2 - (Xb-One) - Goes a long way to restore the reputation of the Forza brand after the disappointing (though eventually patched to the point of bearability) Forza 5. Beautifully put together open-world driving game, which wisely pares back the dudebro trimmings of its predecessor in favour of a purer driving experience. I've slightly mixed feelings about the off-road races (which feel less polished than the on-road equivalents), but overall, this is pretty awesome.

4) Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns - (PS3, also 360 and PC soon) - Ok, this one is going to need a bit of explanation. See, Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty bad game. The gameplay was shallow and repetitive, the characters were thin and, after a promising start, the story wrote itself into a corner and ended up being resolved with a cheap and cheaty deus ex machina. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was somewhat better. The plot was still mostly incomprehensible and the characters were still shallow (though at least a bit more upbeat), but there was some semblance of gameplay this time. And then Lightning Returns comes along.

Lightning Returns is a very different beast to its predecessors; as much action/adventure game as RPG (Dark Souls features heavily in its inspirations), and with the entire game subject to a constantly-ticking countdown clock to the end of the world (and the game). If there's one big problem with Lightning Returns, it is that you really do need to have played both of its predecessors (the first of which is a chore). Other than that, I found this a really powerful game that left a strong impression on me. The characters suffer slightly from being imported from those predecessors, but they're only really there as foils for the plot and themes anyway.

Because what Lightning Returns really wants to do is provide an outside perspective and commentary on fundamentalist Christian salvation theology. This is the Book of Revelations with chocobos (or the Left Behind series for non-Christians), where Lightning (as a thinly-veiled Christ-figure, very much bringing not peace but the sword) returns to a dying world in its final days to lead souls to salvation, acting ostensibly in accordance with the will of an Abrahamic god who combines all the harshest elements of the Old and New Testament versions. It's very much the outside view and has some wild tonal inconsistencies - you can dress your Jesus-substitute up as a bikini-clad catgirl if you want - but it is smart and does work in a curiously powerful way. Not necessarily and easy or fun game to play (the ticking clock makes it intensely stressful), but definitely one of the most striking of the year.

3) Dragon Age: Inquisition - (PC, also PS4, PS3, Xb-One and 360) - Feels a bit risky putting a Bioware game that I haven't actually finished yet at number 3, after the clusterfuck that was the Mass Effect 3 ending, but I'm at around the 20 hour point and the game has already done enough to earn its spot. Effectively a grand apology for Dragon Age 2, this is a vast, deep and sprawling game. With its large wilderness areas and well-hidden sidequests, it feels somewhat like a hybrid of World of Warcraft with the original Baldur's Gate. Bioware definitely seem to be back on form.

2) Wolfenstein: The New Order - (PC, also PS4, PS3, Xb-One and 360) - After the really disappointing reboot a few years ago, I had low expectations for this. Fortunately, it defied them and is one of my favorite games of the year. Very much a traditional (and intelligent) shooter, with non-linear maps, no regenerating health or two-weapon limits and actual tactical decisions to make, this is a fantastic antidote to years of bland, generic spunkgargleweewee. The plot is also much better than I'd expected - don't expect Schindler's List so much as Inglorious Bastards - and manages to go some uncomfortable places without ever feeling either po-faced or crass.

1) Alien: Isolation - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - Despite many other very good games this year, this was the only real candidate for my top pick. For many years, mainstream survival horror games have become more and more action focussed; Resident Evil became a shooter series, Dead Space was always a shooter series to begin with and only the low-budget indie sector was producing actually scary games (and having to do so on a shoestring). Isolation takes smart survival horror, in which the player is a perpetually frightened and disempowered entity, and throws a huge budget at it, with spectacular results. This isn't a game that's been designed to go down the easy route to audience-pleasing; it's brutally difficult, requires constant thought and planning ahead and viciously punishes almost every "normal" fps behaviour. It's also, largely thanks to the amazing AI powering the alien (as well as the visual designs which emphasise the alien's sheer physical power and horror) an intensely scary game. Just as South Park was the first game I've ever had to pause because I was laughing too hard to play, so Alien: Isolation is the first game I've ever had to take a 30 minute break from because I was too scared to press on. And to top it all off, rather than putting together a simple 6 hour campaign and being content to run quickly through a bag of tricks without outstaying its welcome, the game actually includes a massive and well-plotted 15-ish hour campaign, which can be extended further through Metroidvania-style exploration. Astounding stuff.

And now, in alphabetical order, the games I liked this year but which, for one reason or another, don't make the cut for the top 10:

Akiba's Trip - Undead and Undressed - (PS4, also PS3 and Vita) - Oh dear, the game that puts the "guilty" in "guilty pleasure". Technically, it's a complete mess; areas can be run across in just a few seconds, with interminable loading screens between them, the graphics would just about have passed muster in a PS2 launch title and the less said about the animation the better. I did triy the PS3 version, but it's unplayable due to NPC pop-in issues that make fighting quest NPCs a nightmare and framerates that drop to low single figures during combat. The PS4 version remedies these issues, though not some of the lesser ones (and is still butt-ugly). Get past those, however - and past the fact that this is a game about pulling peoples' clothes off in public and the game becomes curiously likeable. Its rendition of Tokyo's Akiba district is painstakingly detailed and feels like a real labour of love, the dialogue can be hilarious in places (thanks in part to a fantastic English translation) and even the combat system is deeper than it first appears.

Among the Sleep - (PC) In a generally poor year for indie gaming, this stood out as one of the few bright spots for me. Short but well-put together psychological horror game, with a unique perspective-character. Charming and scary in equal measures.

Atelier Escha and Logy - (PS3) - This series is basically a big JRPG comfort blanket; cute, upbeat, slightly grindy, never too taxing. The latest installment neither disappoints nor pushes the envelope particularly. Its anime adaptation was better than expected to boot.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - This year's crop of spunkgargleweewee is one of the better vintages. That said, after Ghosts, even a blank screen would have been an improvement. Still, Advanced Warfare benefits from having some fairly snazzy technology under the hood, as well as a focus on faster-paced free-flowing gunplay, at the expense of the cover-based mechanics that usually dominate the series. The story is a pile of arse on a stick as usual, but is at least less offensive than some other installments in the series.

Civilisation: Beyond Earth - (PC) Atmospheric (though ultimately perhaps slightly short-lived) "sequel" to Civilisation V. Makes an enjoyable change of pace from its predecessor, though the mechanics start to get a bit thin rather faster than I would have liked.

Dark Souls 2 - (PC, also 360 and PS3, PS4 and XB-One coming next year) - Ooooh, so conflicted. Almost put this in the "disappointing category". It's not a patch on the first Dark Souls. For the most part, it is content to be a simple (and slightly flat) retread of its predecessor. Where it does depart from the older formula, for example through its health penatly on death, all of its changes are for the worst. In addition, the best content is locked away in paid DLCs, which is a pretty shitty practice. On the other hand, it is still miles better than most other games.

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - I played Diablo 3 at launch (in the rare intervals where I could connect to battle.net) and really didn't like it. I did a playthrough of the campaign and then stopped. Coming back to the game for its expansion, I was gobsmacked by just how much it has been improved since then. The loot system works now. There is an actual end-game now. A totally different, and much better experience. Plus the expansion content is good as well.

Divinity: Original Sin - (PC) - I'm still not all that far into this, because to be honest, I find it a bit intimidating. Still, it's an amazingly well put together traditional RPG, in the mould of Ultima VII and the original Baldur's Gate. More games like this would be no bad thing.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD - (PS3 and Vita, PS4 coming next year) - Remastered version of one of my favorite installments in the Final Fantasy series, plus the generally- underrated Final Fantasy X-2. Not much more to say about it, really.

Goat Simulator - (PC) - Because who doesn't want to be a goat and run around messing shit up?

Halo - The Master Chief Collection - (XB-One) - Another one I'm conflicted on. Historically, I don't much like the Halo series. In fact, I hold it directly responsible for some appalling tropes that ruined fpses for the better part of a decade (2 weapon limits, regenerating health, checkpoint-only saves). However, there's no denying that this is an interesting package and a well presented slice of gaming history. I gather it has some issues with its online modes, but the chances of me playing a Halo game online are only slightly higher than those of me playing a Call of Duty online (ie. practically non-existant).

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F Second - (PS3, also Vita) - Highly polished, immensely difficult but surprisingly deep rhythm game. Probably represents the state of the art within its genre outside of the arcades at the moment. To be honest, it's kinda worth playing just for the fact they use Ievan Polkka for the tutorial song.

Hyperdimension Neptunia: Rebirth - (Vita) Possibly the worst game released for the PS3 gets totally remade into a... fairly good Vita RPG. Seriously, the improvement is shocking. It does help that the TV series actually got me to like the characters.

Infamous: Second Son - (PS4) - I might be going a bit soft on this - there's no denying it had some serious flaws. It was also, however, something passable to play on the PS4 during what has, frankly, been a slow year for the console as far as I'm concerned (most of its best games also being on PC).

Lords of the Fallen - (PC, also PS4 and XB-One) - A fairly mechanical attempt at making a Dark Souls contender, which slightly misses the whole point in a number of ways and falls short of both Dark Souls and its (inferior) sequel. It is still, however, a decent and generously-sized game, which goes some interesting places with its visuals. Wins a secondary award for "most irritating use of AlienFX lighting" this year, after making my study look briefly like an 80s themed discotheque.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - (XB-One, also PC and PS4) - I don't often play online shooters these days, but this one is curiously relaxing to play. Cute, cheerful and charming, with some surprisingly robust mechanics underpinning it.

Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit - (Vita) - The best Strip Cooking-Battle Rhythm Game I've played this year.

Sunset Overdrive - (PS4) - Self-consciously silly open-world action game. In some ways, quite run of the mill, but with Insomniac at the helm, it was always going to contain some ludicrous weapons to make the gunplay stupidly enjoyable. Delivers on that front and made me chuckle once or twice as well.

Tales from the Borderlands - (PC) - A cautious recommendation, as only the first episode is available so far. However, said episode appears to nail the tone and feel of the Borderlands universe pretty much perfectly - better, in fact, than 2k Australia's "Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel" (see below).

Theatrhythm: Curtain Call - (3DS) - Definitive version of the rather-spiffy Final Fantasy music game. It's like the previous version but better. Not much else to say, really. Amusingly, when I bought this in Game (the UK's largest specialist games-retailer), a staff member called security on me and accused me of sticking a false discount sticker on the box. Happily, security had the sense to check some of the other boxes. But... Customer Service Ho!

The Banner Saga - (PC) - The other indie bright-spot of the year. Wonderfully atmospheric (and occasionally punishingly hard) norse themed game. Gets a bit grindy in the later stages and I must object to the name. Everybody knows that "saga" refers to candy-matching games, not to vikings and giants and shit.

The Last of Us (Remastered) - (PS4) - I didn't like the PS3 version. In fact, I found it nigh on unplayable, due to its catastrophic levels of input lag. The PS4 version almost entirely fixes that and maintains the framerate at a silky 60fps, meaning that I could finally enjoy the game as it was intended. And yes, it's very good. I still don't quite find it the masterpiece that some people seemed to, but I did really enjoy this version.

Valkyria Chronicles - (PC) - Thank GOD this got a PC release. Of all the games of the PS3 generation that need to be preserved for posterity, this ranks top of the list. It's probably the best game ever released on the PS3 and now it's available on PC. And the port is actually pretty decent as well!

Xenonauts - (PC) - I played this through early access, but it had its 1.0 release this year. It's basically a rebuild of the original X-Com on modern technology. It improves the UI and adds higher resolution graphics and a few small pieces of streamlining, but at heart, it is the old X-Com, warts and all. Interesting counterpoint to the (excellent) Firaxis re-imagining.

And now the disappointments; the games which were either poor, or which might have been quite good but nevertheless fell far short of expectations:

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel - (PC, also PS3 and 360) - Sits alongside Dark Souls 2 in the camp of "disappointing follow-ups to my previous games of the year", eccept this one is worse.. Basically feels like an expansion pack for Borderlands 2. Except it's full price. And some of the level design is really, really bad. And the new NPCs don't particularly shine. And none of the new playable characters seem to be adding all that much. And it's buggy as hell.

Destiny - (PS4, also XB-One, PS3 and 360) - The supposed saviour of console gaming turns out to be... a flat, dull and soulless fps/rpg hybrid, which does a really bad job of incorporating basic MMO mechanics. At heart, the game is basically an always-online version of Borderlands 2 - only with less humour, worse area and mission design and weaker gunplay.

Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection - (Vita) - We finally get an idol game in the West, but it turns out that its game mechanics are so pared back that it's basically little more than a visual novel. Disappointing - I had curiously high hopes for this one. Can we have a Western release for IM@S2 now please?

Mario Kart 8 - (Wii-U) - Slightly better than Mario Kart Wii, which I hated, but doesn't solve the problem of having just too many racers and too many weapons on the track at the same time. Driving and skill once again take a back-seat to the slot-machine rolls on weapons.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment - (Vita) - The immensely popular and sometimes-entertaining anime series gets turned into a fairly sloppy by-the-numbers action RPG. Could have been so much better, but crippled by a lack of ambition around its gameplay and plot.

Super Smash Brothers - (Wii-U, also 3DS) - Takes away the story mode (by far my favorite part of Brawl) and crams too many characters onto the screen at a single time. Brawl was my favorite first-party game on the Wii. This, on the other hand, is just disappointing.

The Evil Within - (PC, also PS4 and XB-One) - Given its pedigree, this should have been much better. The opening level is promising, but the game quickly becomes "just another slightly dark action game". Had the horrible misfortune to launch almost simultaneous with Alien: Isolation.

And now for the obligatory bad games. Just two this year, thankfully - from very different ends of the commercial spectrum:

Gone Home - (PC) - I'm not going to try and argue it isn't a game. Rather, I'm just going to state that it's a very, very bad game. Walk around an empty house uncovering tedious domestic drama. Get undergraduate-level identity politics rammed down your throat. The entirely irrelevant and unnecessary survival horror trappings kept me hoping that maybe Pyramid Head was about to jump out and start cutting shit up, or that maybe the alien would drop down from the ceiling and do the whole face bitey thing. Even that zombie shark from the first Resident Evil would have done nicely. But no, it's just a very, very dull walking simulator. It's not big, it's not clever, it's just annoying. Please go away.

Watch;Dogs - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - A total mess of a game. Barely playable through the thick layer of technical glitches and bugs (I gather Assassin's Creed Unity was the same, but I'm not spending money on that). Even when it does work, it hardly seems worth it. The plot is nonsensical and it has the least interesting open world ever created. The sad thing is, there are one or two moments during the actual story missions when you can see glimpses of a better game, buried deep and struggling to get out. A smaller, more linear mission based game, with development resources diverted onto resolving technical issues and getting the whole thing to actually make sense, might have been pretty good. As it is, this is just a catastrophe.
User Journal

Journal: Three years after Steve died... 1 1

I don't think I've written this down anywhere before, so here's my story about the first time I had a face-to-face conversation with Steve Jobs.

I was working for Richard Kerris in Apple Worldwide Developer Relations, on a group called the SWAT team. I was the Cocoa expert on that team, and I had colleagues who had expertise in UNIX internals, Windows development, and the Metrowerks tools.

Our role was to help third-party developers bring their products to Mac OS X, whether they were coming from Windows, Solaris, Mac OS 9, etc. We would look over their code, and consult with them on how to go about porting and/or rewriting their products for the new platform.

I went to Fred Anderson's retirement party which was held at Cafe Macs in Building four of the Infinite Loop campus. I saw Steve there, and I went over to introduce myself. I said "Hi Steve, I'm John Randolph. You may or may not recognize my name, but I used to flame you from time to time before I worked here." He asked me "Why did you stop?" I told him "Well, I work here now, and I respect the chain of command."

At the time we had this conversation, there was a big fight going on between the foot-dragging laggards who wanted to keep using the old Mac Toolbox API (which had been cleaned up considerably and put into a framework we called "Carbon"), and those of us who wanted to get everyone using the NeXTStep-derived "Cocoa" frameworks,

At the previous WWDC, Steve had started the keynote with a bit of theater: a coffin had risen up through a trap door on the stage, in the midst of a cloud of dry ice fog. Steve had opened the coffin to show a big Mac OS 9 box, and he praised OS 9 in a eulogy, to make the point that Apple developers should consider it dead and gone.

So getting back to our conversation.. I told Steve what I was doing on Richard's team, and I said "I know that you can't do this politically, but I wish you could have another coffin on the stage at the next WWDC...." and he said: "With Carbon in it?"

He was grinning. At that point, I realized that I could quit worrying about where Apple's development environment was heading. Steve knew what we needed to do, and in the years that followed, Apple has kept the best of NeXT's technology, and let go of what we didn't need.

We miss you Steve, but we're doing fine. Thanks for the things you made happen.

-jcr

User Journal

Journal: The tragedy of brain-dead apparatchiki entrusted with the care of children. 6 6

Earlier today, I read an account of a little girl getting a severe sunburn while on a school field trip, because of an unconscionable policy prohibiting children from possessing sunscreen while at school or on school activities. I looked up the name of the spokesman who had the nerve to try to defend this policy to the press, and wrote her the following e-mail:

Miss Chancellor, you and the pinheads you serve in the Northeast Indecent School District are a tragic example of the kind of abject incompetence that pervades American public schools in the past several decades.

I would urge you to resign and pursue employment in the janitorial services industry, but youâ(TM)re obviously too goddamned stupid to be trusted with cleaning supplies.

-jcr

Well, it would appear that Miss Chancellor was offended by my criticism, and she replied thusly:

Your comments do not warrant an intelligent response. Clearly - you do not have all the facts.

Now, it's rather unusual for an apparatchik in a shitstorm to bother to respond to any of the angry e-mails they get, so naturally I have replied:

On Jun 6, 2014, at 10:26 AM, Chancellor, Aubrey wrote:

>Your comments do not warrant an intelligent response.

Since youâ(TM)re entirely incapable of an intelligent response, that just works out fine and dandy now, doesnâ(TM)t it?

>Clearly - you do not have all the facts.

The fact is that when you screw up like this, the thing to do is apologize and promise the parents, the child, and the rest of the community that it will never happen again. You donâ(TM)t double down on your idiotic policy of depriving children of sunscreen.

When children are entrusted to you by their parents, your paramount duty is to ensure their safety and well being. it is NOT to sacrifice their welfare to your psychotic need for obedience.

-jcr

More on this as it develops. Start the popcorn.

User Journal

Journal: Throwing in the towel on Facebook. 7 7

Last post to FB:

In the time since I created this Facebook account in 2006, I found a bunch of old friends, met many new ones, wasted a whole lot of time, had some arguments that never would have happened in real life, and been frequently annoyed by the business decisions FB has made.

This post will be my last. I will delete this account 48 hours from now. Those of you who want to keep in touch can reach me as always at jcr@mac.com, which I've had for at least a decade.

All's well that ends. I wish you all peace, love and happiness.

It feels like leaving high school. There are people there that I will always care about, some that I love, some that I barely know, some that I have no idea how I met in the first place or why they're in my FB friends list.

A very smart friend of mine is working on changing social media from a site and a vendor that sells the users' info to advertisers, into a protocol that would operate on a peer-to-peer basis, with strong security to ensure that what we write goes to those we wish, and no one else. I hope he succeeds, and I look forward to making a fair bit of cash shorting FB when the writing appears on the wall.

  I will thank my friends who worked on FB, and every user there who ever shared a heartwarming, interesting, inspiring, or even outrageous bit of information that I wouldn't have found otherwise. Congrats to all the FB millionaires and worker bees, I wish them all the best.

I'll still be NSResponder here on /., on StackOverflow and Twitter. The internet is still a lot bigger than Facebook, and I'll see you all around.

User Journal

Journal: How to store your private key "in the cloud" safely

Storing a private key "in the cloud":

Key is K1. Key is thousands of seemingly-random bits, probably based on a pair of 1024-bit-or-larger prime numbers. You typically store K1 on your computer using a good encryption algorithm. Your password to decrypt the key is P1. P1 is typically tens of characters. Decrypting K1 with P1 is a fast (in human-time-scale) operation, under a second.

Although K1 is typically used to encrypt or decrypt data, for the purposes of this document, K1 is the thing to be encrypted. It will not be used to encrypt or decrypt anything.

Problem:

How to safely store a backup of key K1 online such that the end user can access it from any device if he has both the password P1 and something else that is not mathematically related to K1.

Method 1, the "something else" is a one-time pad:

Create a random one-time pad, R1, which is the same size as K1.
"Encrypt" (XOR) K1 with R1 then encrypt both with P1, creating the safe copy S1. Store S1 online.
Print off a copy of R1 such that it can be easily photographed and re-constructed. Store R1 or an encrypted version of it in a safe place, such as a safe-deposit box or distributed in parts to trusted secret-keepers.
Without R1 it is provably impossible to extract K1 from S1, so S1 is "safe."
R1 by itself is useless.
R1 with S1 constitutes a compromise but it will mean the attacker has to either guess P1 or exhaustively search for it.

If the person loses their local copy of K1, they can use R1, P1, and S1 to reconstruct K1.

Method 2, create a file S2 which from which is computationally hard to extract K1 without P1, acceptably moderately difficult to extract K1 with P1 and no other information, and easy to extract K1 with P1 and "something else" not related to K1.

For example, create a one-time pad R2 which consists of P1 combined with some random-ish filler-number B2 whose size is dependent on how "moderately difficult" it can be to extract K1 given only P1.

If this pad R2 is at least as long as K1, proceed on as in Method 1: "Encrypting" (XOR) K1 with R2 and encrypting both with P1, creating a safe copy S2. As neither P1 nor B2 are known or predicatble, S2 is safe.
The time to recover K from S2 with only P1 will be the time it takes to go through all (or, on average, half) of the possible values of B2. Since the length of B2 was chosen in advance based on how hard this decription should be, K1 will be recoverable in a predicable, acceptable amount of time. With B2 and P1 recovering K1 from S2 is quick.

If the pad R2 is not as long as K1, one option is to re-use the one-time pad and as such will not satisfy the goal o being "comptationally hard to extract K1 without P1," but it may be good enough for some applications.

A different solution is to encrypt K1 with P1 (the file that is normally stored on the person's local computer will qualify) then encrypt the result with either B2 or some combination of P1 and B2 to create S2. The difficulty of extracting K1 from S2 with only P1 depends on the time it takes to go through all (or, on average, half) of the possible values of B2. Depending on the lenghts of P1 and B2 and the encryption algorithms used, this may not be safe enough. With B2 and P1, recovery is quick.

This method has the advantage that the "something else," B2 in this case, need not be kept at all.

A typical scenario where the "B2" method would be preferred over the "R1" method is where it is acceptable if key K1 becomes unavailable for an extended period of time in exchange for a zero-risk that an adversary will acquire or discover R1.

User Journal

Journal: Reflections on the last generation's console games

We're now at the point, I think, where the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have ceased to be "next generation" consoles and become "current generation". Their predecessors aren't quite ready for retirement yet; the PS3, in particular, has a fairly impressive line-up of releases over the next few months, running all the way to Persona 5 early next year. But those late releases (and we did see a similar long-tail for the PS2 last time around) are outliers now; a by-product of the risk aversion which, following the terrible launches of the PS Vita and Wii-U, saw much of the industry assume that the PS4 and XB1 would fail even before their launches. With both consoles selling at an unprecedented rate, the focus of the industry will inevitably switch towards them.

And about time too. The previous console generation was the longest on record. If you take the longest possible metric - the launch of the Xbox 360 (Nov 2005) to the launch of the PS4 and XB1 (Nov 2013) - it was 8 years. Even if you say that the previous generation only really began properly with the launch of the PS3 (Nov 2006) it was 7 years.

But this isn't a post about the state of the console business. Rather, it's a reflection on some of the more curious aspects of the games lineup of the last-gen consoles. More specifically, it's a reflection on two particular aspects of those games; the newcomers that came out of nowhere and the no-shows.

Some of the major console gaming franchises behaved more or less as you would expect them to during the last generation. Stalwart series such as Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, Mario, Zelda, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil and God of War all put out major new installments in accordance with their developers' normal timescales (perhaps ever so slightly slower, reflecting the increasing development times needed for games). But a curiously large proportion of the biggest franchises in console gaming right now hadn't even been heard of (outside, perhaps, of the odd preview event) when the Xbox 360 first launched. The other curious category are those franchises which felt like major fixtures of the industry during the previous generation, which inexplicably failed to show up at all for the PS3, 360 or Wii.

The new entrants

Assassin's Creed - There have, to date, been six major installments in the Assassin's Creed series, plus a couple of handheld spin-offs and home-console ports of those console spin-offs. The sixth installment, as well as being released for the last-gen consoles (and PC, of course) was also a launch-window title for the PS4 and XB1. There is probably no franchise that has been milked more relentlessly over the course of the last console generation than this one. But it's easy to forget that this was a franchise that was born on that generation and which had a difficult genesis. An early-cycle game for the PS3 (Nov 2007), the original Assassin's Creed was an odd, awkward stealth game, noted at the time chiefly for its repetitive side-missions and finger-sprainingly awkward controls. It was only with the second game (November 2009), marketed more heavily and with the emphasis shifted towards open-world exploration, that the series gained a genuinely mainstream profile. Since then, the games have come at a rate of around one per year.

Dead Rising - Less prolific than Assassin's Creed in terms of main games, but nevertheless a franchise which, counting spin-offs and major DLC packs, has seen a large number of installments. The series has a curious on-off flirtation with Microsoft exclusivity. The first game, launching mid-2006, was a very early-cycle 360 exclusive. Its vast hordes of zombies served as a useful technological showcase for the new console's capabilities. The second game shed its exclusivity, releasing for PC, PS3 and 360. The third main installment in the series is an XB1 launch exclusive where - quel surprise - its vast hordes of zombies serve as a useful technological showcase for the new console's capabilities. Most people I know who've played this series have a love/hate relationship with it. They love the concept and the slightly surreal sense of humour, but hate many of the gameplay conventions (particularly the save-restrictions and the brutally unforgiving difficulty curve and time-limits).

Dead Space - Now here's a series that tends to divide opinion. It has seen three main installments over the last console generation (each releasing on PC, PS3 and 360), a lightgun rail-shooter for the Wii-U and PS3 (where it remains one of the few things worth buying a PS Move for) and a couple of dreadful downloadable puzzle games. The first game was criticised for being less horror-oriented than advertised and being at heart an action game. The second game was criticised for being less horror-oriented than advertised and being at heart an action game. The third game was criticised for being less horror-oriented than the first two installments and being at heart an action game. If you sense a pattern there, it's because the series has never really been what a lot of people wanted it to be, but memories of the older installments tend to mellow over time. The third game was also hamstrung by a pointless pay-to-win controversy (the microtransactions weren't even vaguely necessary to play the game, but put a lot of people off regardless) and allegedly suffered disappointing sales. The future of the series is uncertain at present (unlike most of the others I'm listing under this category).

Gears of War - An iconic Microsoft exclusive, every bit as linked to their platforms as Halo. This went through four major installments over the course of the last generation (though many people, self included, apparently skipped the final one - a prequel generally felt to be unnecessary). The original game, launched in November 2007, around a year after the launch of the 360, was graphically jaw-dropping compared to other console games available at the time. It's also easy to forget now just how many gameplay conventions that dominate modern shooters were pioneered by Gears of War. The cover mechanic - far more sophisciated than anything that has come before it - and the use of a single generic "action" button for many commands - have both inspired a generation of rip-offs (some of which, in fairness, have been quite good - such as Binary Domain). Some people object to the series's hypermasculine aesthetic, but I've always suspected a strong touch of parody to it.

Hyperdimension Neptunia - Oh I have such a love/hate relationship with this series. The first game, a mid-cycle PS3 exclusive launching in 2010, deserves to be counted as among the worst games of its generation. Pushing graphics that would have disgraced a PS1 game on at framerates that were generally in the single-figures and possessed of a fundamentally broken battle system, a non-existent plot and humour that failed to work on every level, it was utterly terrible. Inexplicably, it got a sequel. And the sequel was a bit better. And then it got another sequel, which was significantly better. And then it got an anime-spinoff, which was genuinely amusing and actually pretty good in a braindead sort of way. And then it started getting hand-held spinoffs and remakes. And, for some reason, I keep buying them. And horribly, with the exception of the first game, I actually quite enjoy them. Yeah...

Mass Effect - Originally a 360 exclusive, this was one of the most exciting early-cycle titles. A swashbuckling sci-fi adventure from Bioware, based on their own IP, it was always inevitable that sequels would follow. A confident, ethically nuanced second game boded well. But then the third game happened. With its combination of clunky exposition, magical deus ex machinas and probably the worst ending ever written, it did a lot of harm to the franchise's reputation. A fourth game is apparently in development, but details are sparse.

Modern Warfare - Ok, ok, Call of Duty as a franchise predates this console generation. The inexplicably popular PC original (a dumbed down version of Medal of Honour) dates from 2003 and the second game in the series was a 360 launch-title in 2005. However, the Call of Duty we are burdened with today, which has had more installments than should exist in a sane world essentially traces its origins to 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Now Call of Duty 4 was an excellent game. Early modern-era-setting shooters had either been ludicrous cartoony affairs (Soldier of Fortune) or dry, dusty technical jobs (SWAT, anything Tom Clancy branded). Call of Duty 4, by contrast, was slickly produced, fast paced and had a plot which managed to walk a careful line between the requirements of taste and excitement. That it had some of the cleanest, sharpest shooter mechanics around also didn't hurt. Almost immediately, the series began to descent into accidental self-parody with its sequels and inspired a staggering number of hateful spunkgargleweewee rip-offs (the rebooted Medal of Honour series possibly the worst offenders). I had hoped that Spec Ops: The Line, an excellent and thoughtful deconstruction of the genre might kill it off, but sadly that hasn't happened. There are some signs that the cow might have been over-milked - last year's Call of Duty: Ghosts - had generally poor reviews and managed only staggering - rather than stupendous - sales. But this is one series that's not going anywhere soon. As much as we might like it to.

Resistance - The original Resistance: Fall of Man was a PS3 launch title and was, for a long time, the only thing worth playing on the system. A strange but wonderful game, combining a somber tone and setting with some of the most inventive weapon and enemy designs ever seen in a shooter. Its sequel took a more cautious approach, borrowing hateful 2-weapon limits and regeneration health from Halo. The third installment, however, went back to its roots and remains, to my mind, the best console shooter of the last generation. After a poorly-received Vita port, the future of the series is unclear. Sadly, it never seems to have had the same kind of traction as the Killzone series, despite Killzone being far duller to play and having a loathesome setting and chatacters.

Souls - By which I mean Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. When Demon's Souls launched in 2009, it attracted very little notice (a belated US release and a very belated European release didn't help). An odd - and extremely difficult - dark third person action RPG, it was well outside the spectrum of what people expected to see coming out of Japan. However, it got a cult following and managed to get a sequel. And somehow that sequel managed to get some proper marketing behind it - and went on to become one of the best games - and most unexpected successes - of its generation, inspiring another sequel in the process.

Uncharted - Launching in late 2007, the first Uncharted game was an early-cycle PS3 exclusive, arriving at a time when the platform was desperately starved for games. Inspired by Tomb Raider, it combined combat with environmental puzzles and exploration. While the original game was a fairly low-key release, the marketing machine swung into overdrive for its sequels. These abandoned much of the exploration and problem-solving gameplay of the original, becoming pretty-but-shallow corridor-shooters. A spinoff for the Vita Launch brought the series back in a more thoughtful direction. The jury is still out on which direction future installments might take.

The Nearly But Not Quites - For all the successful new mega-franchises that came out of the last generation, there were also a few clear attempts to launch new brands that never quite worked out. In some cases, this was due to insufficient quality (such as The Force Unleashed, which crashed and burned after its second game, taking quality Star Wars game development with it). In other cases, however, genuinely exciting games never managed the sales they deserved and promising franchises died stillborn. Bulletstorm and Vanquish both deserved sequels they never got. Perhaps the biggest crime was Sega's treatment of Valkyria Chronicles. The original - a mid-cycle PS3 exclusive, remains, for my money, the best game of its console generation. However, it had no marketing push and when it managed only "ok" sales, Sega shunted its sequels onto the PSP - a platform which was, by that time, dead outside of Japan. Indeed, "death by handheld" has been a consistent feature of Japanese gaming over the course of the last generation, which brings me neatly onto...

The No-Shows

Kingdom Hearts - Kingdom Hearts 2 was one of the last really big releases for the PS2. Launching in the window when the PS3 hype-machine was already activated, it nevertheless managed strong sales. Putting out what were probably the finest graphics ever seen on the PS2 and with finely honed action-RPG gameplay (no Zelda game has ever held a candle to Kingdom Hearts 2) it felt like a confident installment in a strong and growing franchise. A franchise which has - since then - been entirely unrepresented on the home consoles until a couple of HD-remakes came out last year. There have been handheld games. Oh, there have been so many handheld games. But they've not moved the series's main plot forward at all (instead, they've just further complicated its already ludicrous backstory) and none of them have been a patch on the ambition or quality of Kingdom Hearts 2. There is talk, now, of Kingdom Hearts 3 being in the early stages of development - but our only clue as to a release date is "2016 at the earliest, probably later.

Shin Megami Tensei - This is a series which is, in effect, an umbrella under which a number of other series sit. In the PS2 days, those all co-existed on the same platform. For the most part, they were niche-titles, but then Persona 3, a late-cycle PS2 game, found genuine mainstream success with its blend of dungeon crawling and relationship building. Persona 4, an ultra-late-cycle game that was arguably the last release for the PS2 actually worth playing, managed to better its predecessor. The future for the series looked bright on the home consoles. But since then, nothing but handheld titles - mostly for the DS, indeed - as Atlus took fright at PS3 development costs and ran screaming to a handheld comfort zone. A very solid remake of Persona 4 remains arguably the best reason to own a Vita (a much under-appreciated platform), but it's still just a remake. Persona 5 is, of course, now announced and will be coming out next year - for the PS3. Atlus therefore look set to avoid a complete no-show on that generation - but only by arriving after everybody else had already moved on.

Starfox - You'd have thought that the Wiimote's IR-pointer and motion sensing would have made it a good fit for Starfox's rail-shooting action. Nintendo, for whatever reason, seems to disagree. In fairness, they also abused this franchise horribly on the Gamecube, where of its two installments, one was a shitty third-person platformer and the other was a shitty third-person platformer with a couple of great but blink-and-you-miss-them rail-shooter levels.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - The original game, during its window as an Xbox exclusive (a PC release eventually followed) was instrumental in building the Xbox's credibility and Microsoft's marketshare. This is the game I bought my Xbox to play - and I wasn't alone. A reasonably good (if buggy) sequel followed and further installments felt, at the start of the generation, almost inevitable. Since then, of course, Bioware moved on to work on its own IP (Mass Effect and Dragon Age) and then went down a disastrous Rabbit Hole with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now, you could argue that The Old Republic is, despite being a MMORPG, KOTOR3. However, it's a PC exclusive and hence doesn't count for these purposes. With Star Wars game development now in the hands of EA, a high quality new KOTOR now feels a remote prospect; expect more microtransaction laden mobile games instead.
User Journal

Journal: A self-proving identification card:

A self-proving identification card:

Display in human-readable and computer-readable form:
Identifying information such as name, card number, issuer/certifying agent, expiration date, face or thumbprint, signature, etc.

Display the same in a computer-readable form. For easy-to-scan things like letters and numbers that are on the card in a pre-defined layout, the human-readable form and computer-readable form may be identical.

For things like a photo, the computer-readable form may be a simpler version, such as an 8- or 16-color 64x64 bitmap.

Have the comptuter-readable form be digitally signed by the issuer/certifying agent and have the signature on the card in both a computer- and human-readable form.

Have the scanning device display the computer-read data in a human-readable form so that a human being can compare what is on the screen with what is on the card.

The same human being would compare what is on the card with either another form of ID or, if the card had a picture or thumbprint, with that of the person presenting the card.

OPTIONAL:
Some information on the card could be encrypted and require a password or other authentication token to decrypt.

Other than this optional part, the card would be "self proving" provided that the public key of the issuer/certifying agent was available to the authentication terminal.

User Journal

Journal: Games of the year 2013 1 1

And it's that time of year again...

I haven't actually played quite as many games this year; busy time at work and the financial constraints imposed by a brand new mortgage. I also don't yet own an XBOne (may pick one up in the new year) and while I do own a PS4, I haven't had it for long enough to do much with it, thanks to delivery delays. So my listings this year may be a little less comprehensive than they have been in the past.

The big trend this year has been an almost total cessation of use of my 360. While, for most of the cycle, this has been my main gaming platform, it has felt pretty much dead this year. I've spent almost all of my time on the PC, with a few detours over to the PS3 for some late exclusives that landed there. The Vita has also had substantially more use this year than last. Anyway, let's start with the top 10.

10) Killzone: Mercenary (Vita) - I've never liked the Killzone series much, so this was a bit of a shock. Not only is it a genuinely good Vita fps, it's also a genuinely good fps, with a well put together campaign and decent, flowing shooter mechanics. Hopefully we'll see more Vita games of this callibre in 2014.

9) Crysis 3 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Still not a patch on the original Crysis in gameplay terms, but much better than the second game (and one hell of a tech demo on the PC). A few more open sections near the end of the game hint at the more ambitious game that could have been.

8) Metro: Last Light (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Tense and atmospheric first person shooter with some role playing games. Has a notably low-key approach to storytelling that makes a pleasant contrast with the usual more bombastic offerings in the genre.

7) Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm (PC) - Apparently some people play this for the multiplayer. I don't - but it doesn't matter for me as the main campaign was excellent, with plenty of replay value and lots of nice new additions over Wings of Liberty.

6) Bioshock Infinite (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Solid and thought provoking shooter, albeit one that isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is. Has perhaps the most striking visual aesthetic of any game this year. Might have done better if it didn't try to cram in quite so many different themes within a single game.

5) Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3) - One of those late exclusives that kept the PS3 alive this year. Wonderfully put together (and very traditional JRPG), showing that there's life still left in the genre on the home consoles. Would have placed higher on the list if it wasn't quite so grindy.

4) Tomb Raider (PC, also 360 and PS3) - A startlingly good reboot of a franchise that many (including me!) had given up on years ago. I'm happy for them to give the franchise another milking, provided they can maintain this quality.

3) XCom: Enemy Within (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Ridiculously comprehensive expansion for last year's successful XCom reboot. Even after several playthroughs, I'm still finding new bits and pieces that were added.

2) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, also PS3) - I can't believe they actually did this. FF14 was, when it first launched, so utterly and horribly broken that I thought it was beyond redemption. However, I guess the prospect of a "failed" main-series Final Fantasy game was more than Square-Enix could stomach, because they've invested a vast amount into rebuilding it from the ground up. The result is the most exciting MMO launch since World of Warcraft.

1) Rayman Legends (PC, also 360, PS3, Wii-U and Vita) - Wonderfully imaginative and inventive platform game. Rayman seems to have gone from one of those unloved also-ran corporate mascots to being the most exciting franchise around. There's a degree of fun in Rayman Legends that puts anything we've ever seen from a Mario or Sonic game to shame. The musical levels have to be seen to be believed. Absolutely stunning stuff.

And now the also-pretty-good-but-not-quite-top-10-material games, in alphabetical order:

Bad Piggies (iPad) - I know that admitting to liking a Rovio game is hardly fashionable, but I really enjoyed this invention/puzzler. It's also refreshing to see that it sticks to the traditional buy-to-own mechanic, which is becoming increasingly rare on iOS.

Battlefield 4 (PC, also 360, PS3, XBOne and PS4) - As a game, it's entirely forgettable, but as a next-gen tech demo and PC-benchmark, it's very impressive.

Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (PC, also 360 and PS3) - I couldn't quite justify putting a DLC pack (as opposed to a full expansion) in the top 10, but on every other metric this would deserve a slot there. Simply put, the best piece of DLC I've ever seen for a game. Startlingly good writing and some novel twists to the core Borderlands 2 gameplay.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Coming back to Counter-Strike after many years away was a bit of a shock to the system, but I actually quite enjoyed messing around with this very well-executed technological uplift.

Dead Space 3 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Probably the winner of the award for "game most crippled by pointless pre-launch controversies". The microtransactions are unnecessary (I beat the game on normal without them and never broke a sweat) and the pace and atmopshere are very similar to the second game. It did feel a bit of a rehash this time around, but the core of the game is still fun.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3) - The core Disgaea gameplay is seriously in need of a revamp these days. However, the joy of going back to the original (and best) cast for a new Disgaea game is enough to compensate on this occasion.

DMC: Devil May Cry (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Leaving aside the obnoxious naming conventions, I found this third person brawler a lot of fun. Slightly surprised at the levels of community-hatred it seems to have generated.

Dragon's Crown (Vita) - It was quite fashionable to criticise this over its art style. But I didn't mind the art style at all and, once I was past the slightly dull introductory levels, really enjoyed the gameplay. Only just sits outside my top 10.

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS) - Nothing particularly new or innovative, but still a superbly well executed handheld JRPG. Gran Turismo 6 (PS3) - A finely honed game in many respects, but some curiously obsolete elements (sound, AI and the lack of a rewind button) continue to hold the series back from greatness.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory (PS3) - I know, I've always hated this series. However, an anime adaptation which managed - against all the odds - to be genuinely amusing tipped me over into playing the third game in the series. And... while not great, it is certainly a lot more polished and playable than the earlier installments.

Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4) - I actually thought this was slightly less good than Mercenary on the Vita. However, it's still far better than Killzones 1-3 and a very good demonstration of the PS4's capabilities.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 (PS3) - A very well-done remake of Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories. Unfortunately, the quality of the face-lift can't disguise the fact that the first Kingdom Hearts is a rather rough game compared to its sequel and that Chain of Memories is, to be frank, a slightly boring grind-fest. Still decent, though.

Outlast (PC) - In many ways a very flawed game. But also one of the scariest games I've ever played.

Papers Please (PC) - Absolutely, definitely no fun at all. But a perfect demonstration of the fact that a game doesn't have to be fun to be really good.

Pikmin 3 (Wii-U) - Fun, if somewhat short lived, console RTS/action game. As with other Nintendo first-party titles, the production values feel a bit thin (PLEASE stop with the silly twerblenerping pseudo-speech), but there are enough inventive flourishes to make the game worthwhile.

Resogun (PS4) - The Geomety Wars of the new console generation. A lot of fun, but once again, it feels slightly odd to be using brand new console hardware to play a 2d twin-stick shooter.

Saint's Row 4 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Completely nuts and extremely funny. Occasionally, you get the sense that the humour is covering up a few rather untidy game mechanics, but I can live with that. Soul Sacrifice (Vita) - Decent Monster Hunter and Dark Souls inspired action title, slightly let down by an overly-obscure mission structure.

Xenonauts (PC) - Perhaps slightly unfair to include this as it's still in beta, but I've been playing via Steam early-access and have been impressed by what I've seen. It's a very, very traditional technical-remaster of the "old" X-Com (not a reimagining like the Firaxis version). The core gameplay is as compelling as ever. In the most recent version I played, a couple of months ago, the tactical side of the game felt close to launch-ready, while the Geoscape clearly still needed a lot of tuning. However, things look good for a decent launch in early 2014.

Next up, the games which, while not actively bad, were nevertheless not as good as I was expecting:

Aliens: Colonial Marines (PC, also PS3 and 360) - I didn't hate this as much as most people seemed to. The day 2 patch fixed a lot of the technical issues and decent multiplayer saved it from being a total waste of money. Still far less than what it should have been, however.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (PC) - Don't get me wrong, it's actually a good game. It's just that every substantial change from the original feels like it's actually made things worse rather than better. Baldur's Gate Enhnaced Edition (iPad) - The PC version of this remaster is reasonably good (if slightly unnecessary given the existing third-party facelift suites for the game). Unfortunately, the iPad version remains a mess, with barely function controls and interface.

Final Fantasy VII/VIII remasters (PC) - The games are great. Unfortunately, the PC remasters released earlier this year are pretty dreadful, being quick and dirty ports of the old (inferior) PC versions. The best way to play these games remains either the PSN versions (available on PSP, PS3 and Vita with a single purchase covering all 3 platforms) or the PS1 version emulated on PC.

Grand Theft Auto 5 (PS3, also 360) - Ok, ok, I know. It's a brilliant technical achievement. Unfortunately, as with every previous GTA game, I find it easier to admire than to like. I loathe the characters and the setting and a lot of the humour fell flat for me. Plus the world has that curiously sterile feel that goes with every open-world Rockstar game (except Bully).

Killer is Dead (PS3, also 360) - I liked Suda 51's previous game - Lolipop Chainsaw - quite a lot, which apparently put me in a pretty small minority. For Killer is Dead, however, I struggled to find much in the way of redeeming featues. I'm not upset about the lack of political correctness (see above remarks on Dragon's Crown), but the boring gameplay is not worth tolerating.

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii-U) - I got quite excited about having something decent to play on the Wii-U. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that Wind Waker bored me to tears the first time around. It's no better this time (and the ludicrous price for an HD remake just added insult to injury).

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii-U) - I almost demoted this to the ranks of the "outright bad", but will acknowledge that it does seem to (eventually) reward perseverence. Unfortunately, poor graphics, poor controls, terrible UI, dull combat and an utterly unintuitive introduction all serve to make this game into an absolute chore.

Spelunky (PC, also pretty much every other platform) - Everybody else seems to love it and I'm sure this is just a sign that there must be something wrong with me, but I couldn't see the attraction in this platforming Roguelike.

Time and Eternity (PS3) - This one makes me a bit sad. The idea and some of the early art for this game looked really good. Unfortunately, the execution of this anime-RPG falls on its face and, despite some occasional amusing moments, the game fails to take off.

The Last of Us (PS3) - Yes, I must be dead inside. Seriously, this seems to be the year when I found myself seriously out of whack with critical consensus. However, I found the story and characters in this to be fair to middling and the gameplay to be actively painful. Both combat and stealth felt utterly broken and particularly unsuited to controller play. It might have been a substantially better game with mouse and keyboard, but sadly, we shall never know for sure.

Total War: Rome 2 (PC) - There's the core of an excellent game here, but unfortunately a huge mass of bugs means that drilling down to it is almost impossible. I'll come back to this in six months to see if they ever fix it.

And now - the genuinely bad. The rare games which lack any redeeming features and make you wonder how on earth they ever passed certification:

Rise of the Triad (PC) - A spectacularly bad remake of an old shooter which, to be frank, wasn't all that great to begin with. Even if you can overlook the crap graphics and gunplay, the autosave system is a crime against humanity.

All that Free-To-Play-Pay-To-Win Garbage (most platforms, but especially the mobile ones) - This needs to die. Now. There's only one thing worse:

All that Not-Even-Free-To-Play-But-You-Still-Have-To-Pay-To-Win Garbage - You know which titles I mean here.
User Journal

Journal: Well, that about wraps it up for e-trade. 2 2

E-mail to Neal Martin, E-trade's vice president of customer service:

Well Neal,

I doubt that this message will actually get to you personally, but what the hell.

After the fracas over the last few weeks in which e-trade failed to issue me a second ATM card, I finally got around to transferring the bulk of my shares to a competent broker.

The automatic mail from e-trade notifying me of the transfer included this paragraph:

E*TRADE strives to achieve best in class service and is focused on meeting all of your financial needs. We would like to understand your reason for your transfer out and see if there are any improvements we can make to serve you better in the future. If you have the time to discuss, please call us at 1-800-ETRADE -1 (1-800-387-2331).

The fact is, after going around with your underlings a few times on my requirement for a second card, and having told each of them several times that this was a deal breaker, I know that the claim that youâ(TM)re âoestriving to achieve best in class serviceâ is nothing but marketing drivel. Indeed, my direct, personal experience has shown me that my business isnâ(TM)t important enough to get on the radar of anyone who would actually solve the problem.

I had already planned to find another broker, but the thing that made me hurry up and do so was receiving your oh-so-thoughtful gift of an e-trade gym bag. So, after refusing my very simple request, you apparently assumed that Iâ(TM)d be satisfied if I just got a bag to advertise an incompetent financial institution to my friends.

Looking at the transaction log, I see that e-trade has charged me $25 for the privilege of taking my property elsewhere. Now, Iâ(TM)m sure you have something in your fine print that allows you to do that, but itâ(TM)s still kind of shitty on your part. Given that youâ(TM)re not even capable of issuing two cards on one account (as you had done for the previous decade or so), waiving that fee is probably entirely beyond the capabilities of the fifth-rate keyboard monkeys in your so-called âoeIT departmentâ, so you can go ahead and keep it. Iâ(TM)m getting a nice welcome gift from your competition, which I didnâ(TM)t even ask for.

Would you like the gym bag back?

-jcr

User Journal

Journal: Even less impressed with E-Trade. 3 3

Got this from some minion at E-trade, since the VP I wrote to was apparently too busy to answer a customer personally:

Good Morning Mr. Randolph,

We received your email inquiry to our VP of Customer Service, Neal Martin on 8/5/13. We regret that we are unable to accommodate your request for two ATM cards for your account. We appreciate your feedback and it has been shared with management and our product teams for review. If you have any additional questions or concerns feel free to contact me at [phone number deleted]

Thank You,

[Name redacted]
Corporate Support Manager
Alpharetta GA
E*TRADE Securities LLC
[phone number redacted]

Manager? Yeah, right. In a functioning company, a manager is someone who takes the initiative to solve a problem.

I left the VP's name because he fully deserves to have this come up when someone googles him in the future.

My response:

[redacted],

You might mention to Neal Martin that when a customer responds to an email message that has his name on it, itâ(TM)s rather poor form to pass the buck to someone else unless that other person is capable of solving the problem.

I was a more-or-less satisfied customer of E-trade for over a decade. I will be transferring my assets to another broker in the near future, as soon as I determine which of your competitors can demonstrate the competence that E-trade has abandoned.

-jcr

User Journal

Journal: Rather unimpressed with E-Trade today.

I've been a customer of theirs for over a decade, and I've had two ATM cards for the same account for many years. Recently, I needed to cancel one of the cards and instead of just replacing that card, they cancelled both of my cards. I just sent the following message to Neal Martin, VP of customer service at E-trade.

Neal,

I got a call from one of your employees this morning, Meagan something, who told me that after looking into it she wasnâ(TM)t able to find a way to issue a second card for my account. Her suggested workaround was that I should open another account, and get an ATM card for that account.

So, because of your IT departmentâ(TM)s refusal to fulfill a very simple request, E-tradeâ(TM)s âoesolutionâ is that I should give you MORE of my business, and incur whatever additional costs are associated with having a second account. Not to mention that using a second account means that if I lose a card while traveling, Iâ(TM)ll either be dead in the water for a day while funds get transferred to that second account, or Iâ(TM)d have to have money parked in that second account already.

Now, Iâ(TM)m a software engineer myself with a fair bit of experience in financial systems. In my Wall Street days, I worked at JP Morgan, Salomon Brothers, and UBS/Warburg. I know that there is indeed a way to solve the problem at hand, even if it requires manually editing a database to make it happen. If my business is important enough to you, youâ(TM)ll direct your IT department to do so.

In the meantime, I suggest your inform all of your employees in customer-facing roles that âoesecurity policy" is not an excuse for incompetence.

-jcr

The message above was a follow-up to this one:

Hello Neal,

I have been an E-Trade customer since 2002 or thereabouts, and I currently have about [redacted] in assets on deposit with e-trade.

Iâ(TM)ve got to say, Iâ(TM)m on the verge of taking my business elsewhere and itâ(TM)s because of something that should be trivial for you to solve.

Iâ(TM)ve had two debit cards for my account for a decade or more, and Iâ(TM)ve just been told that I can only have one now. This doesnâ(TM)t work for me, because I travel quite a bit, and I like to keep one card in the safe in my hotel room, and have the other one on me. If I lose a card while traveling, I do not want to be stranded without a way to access my funds.

Yesterday, I spoke with a representative who told me that he had figured it out and was sending me an additional card, but this morning he called me back and told me that he couldnâ(TM)t do it after all. Just now, I spoke with another representative from your âoeCorporate Relationship Managementâ team, and heâ(TM)s looking into it.

Iâ(TM)ve generally been happy with E-trade up to this point, but if you canâ(TM)t issue me two cards as before, itâ(TM)s a deal breaker. I hope you get this figured out.

Also, donâ(TM)t put your name on an e-mail address that doesnâ(TM)t go to you directly. Itâ(TM)s insulting.

-jcr

The upshot is I did some shopping around and found that Scottrade's fees are lower than E-trade's. The first brokerage company I find that can issue two cards on one account will get my business.

User Journal

Journal: Another interesting stint at Apple. 5 5

For the last two years (almost), I was back at Apple working on the UI frameworks that the ProApps and the iApps use to give them their distinctive look. Interesting work, nice people to work with, and now I can say that there's some of my code in most of Apple's Pro and consumer apps on the Mac.

To everyone in PhotoApps, ProApps, Frameworks, and Dev Tools, thanks much! I enjoyed working with you.

-jcr

User Journal

Journal: Quickly Mirandize arrested people no matter how serious the crime. 1 1

The surviving Boston Bombing suspect has not read his rights and as of Monday April 22, 2013, it's been several days since his arrest. Law enforcement has already said they believe the two bombers were acting alone. It would be one thing to press a suspect for information if you catch a guy and think an accomplice is about to set off another one within hours but anything after that is trampling on the Constitution. Therefore we petition the White House to only use the "imminent threat" exception to the Miranda warning when the threat really is imminent and getting information now is more important than preserving the Constitution.

White House Petition URL:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/quickly-mirandize-arrested-people-no-matter-how-serious-crime/DncN0Pm2

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

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