Having a Quieter Summer After Shutting Microsoft Security Essentials the Heck Up

Here's the helpful little monster.
Here’s the helpful little monster.

So, summer’s back and with it are the case fans on my home PC. It’s by and large a quiet machine, mostly puttering softly to itself unless being made to run a game or, peculiarly, YouTube videos (because Adobe still doesn’t know how to make a video player that doesn’t consume 100% CPU time). Continue reading

AI War: Pocket Reference

So, AI War: Fleet Command is quite an intimidating game. You’re in control of a growing number of units (from a few hundred to many thousands), against a pair of unpredictable AI personalities with the power to overwhelm you at a misstep. All progressing in real time. Oh, dear.

The game mitigates this by giving you semi-autonomous units that don’t need babysitting, and an assortment of effective orders to give them. You mostly control the pace of the game through your offensive actions, so you also control how violent the AI becomes in response. It’s designed to get your mental gears moving, but luckily it doesn’t devolve into a click fest.

But it does kind of turn into a “what was that control again,” and “what the hell do I do now” fest. Instead of printing out the manual and hotkey guide (both of which are out of date), or playing the 4-hour tutorial again, or interrupting the game to check the controls, I made a short, economic reference for AI War. It’s 8 tiny pages and fits in a pocket. Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Decker, Part 3: Radio Shack Attack

Part 1 of this series introduces Decker and how it relates to the roguelike game genre.

Part 2 considers the part of the game the supports the action: character development, examining the cyberdeck, and obtaining or building new hardware and software.

In this post, we’ll carry out a typical cyberhit against a future version of Radio Shack, and snatch a little bit of something for ourselves in the process. First, however, let’s review our mission.

The Mission


We’ll rejoin our fledgling hacker at the hub. Click on “View Contracts” to review the mission.


When we’re looking for a mission, this shows a list of available missions. If we accept a mission (which we have), it shows the details for the current mission. Our contract states that all we have to do is break into the Radio Shack computer system, and disable the alarm systems. We’re probably facilitating a robbery or corporate espionage. Contracts can have more complex requirements, such as not setting off alarms, or even completely trashing a system. For now, we’ll be satisfied with something this simple, and the lousy payment of 105 credits.

Note that the deadline is in one day. If we disconnect for any reason, that’s a day’s work done. Reconnecting can only be done on the following day, so we better be done by the deadline, or our reputation will suffer.

Well, what are we waiting for, let’s indirectly hurt some people!

Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Decker, Part 2 (cyberpunk hacking roguelike)

In my previous post, I introduced the graphical roguelike Decker, and how to obtain it and soften the harsh graphics a bit. Here, we’ll get into Decker’s actual gameplay.

Next to the graphics, the toughest part about getting into Decker is figuring out how to make a living as a hacker in the cyberpunk world of the future. Fortunately, the game itself has a decent helpfile, though you’ll be using the search function quite a bit at first. As this introduction continues, we’ll familiarize ourselves with the interface, and go on a quick mission. Then, you’ll be on your own! Continue reading

Nerding Out: Watching Tron, Playing Decker (a cyberpunk hacking roguelike)


Acting like it’s a rainy day in 1986. Watching a young and smug Jeff Bridges in Disney’s Tron, and playing Decker, a roguelike game based roughly on an old tabletop RPG called Shadowrun. In Decker, you play a William Gibson-style hacker, taking illicit contracts to hack into corporate systems and steal data, fight intrusion countermeasures, and cause general havoc. More fun than it looks, and it looks terrible.

Privacy/Encryption Software, Lemons, and Economy

This started out as a simple link to an interesting article or two on security products, and somehow ballooned into needless ruminating over encryption tools. Ah well, but by bearing with this, you’ll get three solid recommendations for file encryption, and couple good reads besides.

Requisite image of an old lock of some sort.
Requisite image of an old lock of some sort to indicate the subject is, indeed, security.

Let’s start off with some good software recommends:

Like some, I’m a bit more concerned with my privacy than it is healthy, both on and off the net, in electronic forms and otherwise. In the electronic world, I do my best to use decent passwords, common sense, and at the file level, three free tools, based on their use cases:

  • TrueCrypt: best when it is useful or necessary to encrypt huge slabs of data, such as a file/folder hierarchy, a whole disk or partition, or a significant portion of a flash drive.
    • Pros: A highly scrutinized bit of software, and thus less likely to break its promise of security. Once an encrypted volume is mounted, it behaves just like a separate disk. Cross-platform. Can be run portably.
    • Cons: Complicated. A bit clumsy to use, even with knowledge of the command line switches and shortcuts. Portable use requires administrative rights. Encryption containers are basically unresizable, meaning you’ll need to over-estimate the container size, and live with it.
  • AxCrypt: good for encrypting individual or small groups of files seamlessly with Windows.
    • Pros: Supports near-invisible integration with Windows for painless use: once a file is encrypted, you can open, modify, and save it like any other file, prompted with a password at appropriate times. Small and tight, the install package is less than two megabytes.
    • Cons: requires installation, so rather limited in portable use. Doesn’t recurse subdirectories. No apparent cross-platform support.
  • dsCrypt: also good for encrypting individual or small groups of files, and has the added benefit of being portable and install-free.
    • Pros: Doesn’t require  installation or administration rights. It’s incredibly tiny and fast, and sports an easy drag-n-drop usage. One tiny executable does it all.
    • Cons: Doesn’t integrate with the OS, though this is a plus for its use case as a portable app. Encrypted files require the parent app decryption, whereas AxCrypt can create self-decrypting executables. Doesn’t recurse directories, and can only be operated by drag-n-drop, though this can arguably be part of its built-in anti-brute-force features. Not cross-platform, but its standalone nature should make it easy to use in Wine or similar.
  • fsekrit: an encrypted notepad replacement, for private notes or password storage. I’m not aware that it’s been designed with anti-brute-force measures in mind, so use long passwords with it.   Continue reading

Horrible Idea: fancy-pants Periodic Table from old Scrabble Sets


A few weeks ago, I was listening to a RadioLab podcast, and among the segments was a somewhat eccentric scientist who had a cabinet that he was slowly filling with every element on the periodic chart. The very idea is wonderful, whether you’re a chemist or not, and for someone like me, who never took chemistry (even in high school) it has a certain appeal. It’s a learning project, to be sure.

The idea is obvious enough for me not to trust myself to think it’s original, but why not take an old Scrabble set, and make a crafty little table of periodic elements myself? Hang it on the wall, look at it smugly, etc.  Continue reading

Stronghold is cheap, available, and runs great on the EEE 701

Medieval city and siege simulator Stronghold has arrived on DRM-free game service Good Old Games (GOG). It is an old game, and it is pretty good. However, rather than evaluate the game as a game, I’m going to take a look at it in a very specific techincal sense: how well it suits play on a low-level netbook.

Seen here: Asus EEE 701, Stronghold on attached USB drive, and tiny cramp-inducing notebook mouse.

Stronghold is a decent enough RTS with good character, low system requirements, and doesn’t require too much micromanagement, though it won’t change your life or addict you for hours on end (which can be seen as a good thing). It’s six bucks American, and yours forever. I’ve also found that it’s a good game to take on the go, especially if you’re an owner of the diminutive Asus EEE 701 series.   Continue reading