September 2017

Crybullies on strike


I hate to break it to them, but a day without the Tumblr Social Justice Vortex is like a day with sunshine…

If they were self-aware, they’d realize that “removing hate speech from Tumblr” would wipe them out as well, leaving nothing but cat gifs and naked asian models.

So, win-win scenario here.

Indoor kitty


Hopefully this kitten is less skittish than the ones who’ve adopted my front porch. Probably needs more than Meow Mix and a water dish to keep it happy, though.

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Endless Sky: The Bus Driver


I’ve played through all the story content of the free, open source game Endless Sky, much of it more than once. It’s a fun little time-waster whose replay value lies largely in non-story content. Instead of worrying about the fate of the Free Worlds, the secrets of the Alphas, or the future of the Wanderers, you can just go off and become a pirate hunter. Or a pirate king. Or a merchant prince.

Or, in my latest run, a bus driver.

Step one was buying a Shuttle and paying off the mortgage as fast as possible. I paid it down at every opportunity, and didn’t worry about trashing my credit rating with missed payments.

Step two was making enough cash to buy a Bounder outright (1.6 million credits), using the profit from the used Shuttle to finance its renovation (ditch the useless turrets, convert the cargo space to bunks, and add a fuel pod).

Step three was heading into Hai space to make enough cash to sell off the Bounder and buy a Blackbird, outfitting it as the nimblest, leggiest bus in Human space (total cost ~6 million):

  • no weapons
  • Pebble Core reactor
  • LP036a Battery Pack
  • Biroo Atomic Thruster engine
  • Bondir Atomic Steering engine
  • Hai Corundum Regenerator shields
  • Hyperdrive
  • 3x Outfits Expansion
  • 3x Fuel Pod
  • 10x Bunk Room

Expected payment from a single mission is between 250,000 and 1.25 million credits, with total expenses under 3,000 credits (200 credits/jump). I’ve yet to jump into a system where I couldn’t outrun pirates long enough to jump back out before they took my shields down.

If you have room for 21+ passengers, you get offered Strike Breaker missions occasionally. They’re lucrative, but only offered 10% of the time, and often at sizes you can’t fit into a Bounder, so transporting families in Hai space is more practical in step two. In the Paradise Worlds, there’s a 10% chance of finding rich tourists, but usually heading to places where there’s not much chance of a decent return mission.

The real money is in Colonists, who show up in certain systems 20-30% of the time, but only if your ship has room for 31+ passengers. The 65-passenger capacity of the Blackbird is large enough for most of these, but some are so large (with a payout of over 2 million credits…) that I needed a second ship. Not a problem with 30 million in the bank.

Now, if I had Jump Drives, I’d build a fleet of Blackbirds and take them into Coalition space, where the passenger transport jobs get ridiculously large and profitable (400+ for some jobs, thanks to the long tail of negative binomial distributions).

Amusing random mission:

Bring 22 wealthy tourists on a fabulous journey to the wild and exotic world of Freedom in the Almaaz system. Payment is 416,000 credits.

Freedom is a pirate world. I think I just sold them all into slavery. 😄

Update

For fun, I hacked in a Jump Drive and did enough Coalition and Wanderers missions to gain access to their ships and outfits. Sad thing is, the Blackbird config above is still the winner. There just aren’t any better low-crew, long-distance people-movers out there, and the Hai outfits I bought for it are better than the gear offered by the higher-tech civs.

Some of the ships you unlock through the story missions might be an improvement, but right now I’d rather have a fleet of Blackbirds than anything else.

Pruning the family tree


I’m a bit surprised ancestry.com doesn’t draw this correctly.

It’s a functional pedigree chart, at least. The vertical family-tree view is completely busted, with two copies of Rachel and her parents.

Cousin marriage isn’t particularly rare, so you think they’d at least mark the duplicate family members with a little icon:

Jerry Pournelle, RIP


It is reported that Jerry Pournelle has passed.

Dear Amazon Japan,


I wonder if I can get these shipped to the nearest Whole Foods now…

50,000 Rubber Ducks, ¥2,500,000

500-gram gold bar, ¥3,230,238

472cm brachiosaurus figure, ¥2,268,000

What’s Happening?


A lot of people are drinking Schadenfreude by the gallon today, as they parse the words written for the new book about how Hillary Clinton lost again. No need to link to anyone in particular, it’s everywhere.

Looking at the quotations, large and small, hilarious and pathetic, I think I’ve identified the one thing all her excuses have in common:

there were other names on the ballot

“Mr. Trump, Tear Down That Wall!”


Metaphor alert: each book on display is held upright by the spine of another.

(via)

Things that are not fun, #90


Not fun: starting your second vacation day the same way you started the first one, by connecting to the office and trying to debug a firewall performance issue through a VPN connection that’s affected by it.

Yesterday it mysteriously vanished while we were looking at it, so I didn’t have the opportunity to try a few things. Today, I was able to mitigate the problem by disabling the HFSC queues in PF, reducing the interrupt overhead just enough to compensate for the attack.

The downside to shutting off the throttling is that we risk being DDoS’d by syslog traffic from our products out in the field.

In completely unrelated news, there cannot be any symlinks in the path to a GitLab install, or it goes all wonky.

9/21 Update

So it looks like someone is trying to DDoS our office network. Since the previous attack didn’t keep us offline, they switched to an NTP amplification attack on a machine that had been misconfigured. It was actually kind of pathetic as attacks go; it chewed up some bandwidth (and the incoming packets are still bouncing off my firewall at 1.1 mb/s), but had zero impact on the network.

Duck Soap


A little something we stumbled across while heading for the Terry Fator show at The Mirage.

Great show, by the way.

And if you want some really good Italian food in Vegas, go to Nora’s.

The slow death of Garrett P.I.


Anticipating some downtime during my recent vacation (stopping for lunch on the road to Vegas, waiting for the folks to show up a few days later, etc), I decided to catch up on Glen Cook’s Garrett novels, which I’d left off around book 9. I quickly reread those before starting the next five.

I think I should have stopped after book 11. I definitely should have stopped before book 14. Angry Lead Skies (10) and Whispering Nickel Idols (11) are “Garrett Lite”, suffering mostly from a lack of good plot ideas. Good for revisiting the setting and the characters, but a big step down from the earlier books.

Taken together, Cruel Zinc Melodies (12), Gilded Latten Bones (13), and Wicked Bronze Ambition (14) feel like a contractual-obligation trilogy designed to put an end to the series forever, with little regard for dangling plot threads and series continuity. I’m honestly surprised that he didn’t finish off the Dead Man to drive the final nail into the coffin.

The last one is the worst. I can’t decide who was doing more sleepwalking, Garrett or Cook. Lots of continuity and character errors, and in a series that’s always been built around Western fantasy tropes, suddenly we have a character named Hagekagome, and Garrett is glibly tossing off terms like shinagami and shinobi, and demonstrating a familiarity with Japanese folklore. Utter crap.

R.I.B., Hugh Hefner


Hugh Hefner has died at age 91. I saw him a lot at shows, of course, but the only time I ever really talked to him was when the PML was touring the grounds of the mansion, and he came out and took over for our stunned tour guide (“he never does this!​”).

It was a unique experience, which ended with a poolside breakfast where I accidentally picked the same table that he did, so I had a ringside seat while Peggy, Wil, and the others made the most of the opportunity.

(R.I.B.? Rest In Bunnies, naturally)

Rocketbook Isometric Grid Paper


Last week I took another look at the various “digital pen” products, and once again couldn’t find one that was worth buying. I like the idea of the Livescribe, etc, but none of them seem to actually work very well, with poor ergonomics, poor performance, poor support, or “all of the above”.

So I took a look at Rocketbook, which is a series of notebooks with custom paper, marked up to be scanned in with an iPhone/Android app and sent to your email account and/or various cloud services. OCR is not handled by Rocketbook, so unless you send it to a cloud service that does that, you get the image only.

If you use any of the upload options, you can’t really rely on confidentiality, of course, but you can always leave the destination checkboxes blank, and uses your phone’s native sharing services to store the scans. (note that the email goes through a third-party service, then to Rocketbook’s server, then to your email provider, rather than just using the phone’s API)

It looked straightforward, and since the app is free and there are sample PDFs available for download, I could try it out before buying. It recognized their markup quickly and reliably, and produced a decent image, so I went ahead and ordered the Everlast notebook, which has a special paper that turns FriXion erasable pens into wet-erase markers. In theory, the Everlast pages can be reused forever, unlike the 5-6 times their heat-erasable product claims.

I’ve had it for a few days now, and after adding a pen loop to keep the supplied FriXion pen handy (3” strip of gaffer tape, with a 1.75” strip stuck across the middle of the sticky side, leaving room at both ends to attach it to the sturdy edge of the cover), I quite like it. I have some color FriXion pens as well, and it captures them nicely.

But of course I want to print my own, and not just the dot-grid they supply. The first hurdle was that the PDF that works just fine on my office color laser printer is unscannable when printed on my home inkjet. Seriously, if I place two printouts side by side, the laser-printed one is recognized instantly, while the inkjet version leaves the app fumbling for several minutes before it figures out that it’s a black box with a QR code in the lower right corner.

I’ve ripped the PDF apart in Illustrator, so I know there’s no hidden magic that’s not reproducing correctly on the inkjet, but somehow it makes a difference. The ink is just as black, the paper is just as white, the resolution is just fine. One thing I did discover is that there are several different versions of the free PDFs, and the one I originally tested with has a relatively narrow black border. The most recent one has a wider border that works better on an inkjet, but someone at the company hacked it together, so it isn’t really an 8.5x11 page, and the destination icons are bitmaps.

My first attempt at a custom Rocketbook PDF is here, and replaces their dot-grid with an isometric grid. This one’s still a bit finicky on the inkjet, but a lot better than their original PDF.

I did it in Perl with PDF::API2::Lite, so I can tweak it until I figure out exactly what their app is looking for. My guess is that the “V” section in the QR code indicates paper type, and the app has a lookup table containing the aspect ratio and relative location of the destination icons, but that by itself can’t explain the difference between inkjet and laser printouts.

11/29 Update

Just tested with the new version of the app, and it’s much more reliable at scanning inkjet prints of both their PDFs and mine.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”