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Humans control Machines control Humans

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mind control

I used to work for a company where IT issues could only be reported by email. No hotline: send an email, get a ticket number back, expect somebody to call you about the issue and negotiate a solution with them. This could have worked if the Help Desk reaction times stayed within reason but it sometimes took them days or even weeks before answering your request. One of the IT guys carelessly gave me a tip one day:

– Oh yeah, if your request is really urgent it should say so in the email you send.
– You mean in the Subject or the Body?
– Anywhere. The incoming filter puts it on top.

Gee… Let’s try:

“Dear HelpDesk. I need more quota on my Unix account. Nothing urgent”

Sure enough, I got a call within the next minute and was immediately granted more disk space.

I kept using this trick for a while and then somebody must have realized they were being cheated. When urgent stopped working I switched to this is not an emergency, which reached the expected result.

That is called gaming the system. Point is: once I knew my emails were first read by a robot, I could influence their priority by choosing my words accordingly. It got to a point where it would be pretty hard for a human to determine what the reported problem was, but my email kept popping up on top of the TODO list, which ensured a phone call from Help Desk within the next minute.

So there you go: a human controls a piece of software that controls how fast a human will respond to a human request. We are doomed.

Written by nicolas314

Friday 30 November 2012 at 11:16 am

Posted in fun, gaming

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Worst game eva

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Stay away from this game

Complete waste of time

Imagine you want to try Assassin’s Creed II on your quad-core PC equipped with 4 comfortable gigs of RAM and a decent gamer’s graphics card. Since you have an account on Steam and you trust them, you would purchase it on their site, start the download and expect to play in 1-2 hours.

The actual procedure is a tad more complicated than that, though.

Let me elaborate:

  • Open your Steam client, select Assassin’s Creed II for purchase
  • Your credit card payment is refused, start again
  • After 14 unsuccessful payment attempts, spend an hour on various forums
    to discover variations around “Have you tried turning it off and on?”.
  • Contact Steam support, let them know you cannot purchase on their site
  • Wait a couple of days
  • Get a helpful answer from Steam: “Have you tried turning it off and on?”
  • Wait a couple more days
  • Try purchasing again, just in case: this time your payment goes through
  • Click Install Game
  • Wait a complete night for the download to complete
  • Next day, start up Steam and select Play Game.
  • Wait through DirectX installation
  • Wait through VC++ 2005 re-distributable installation
  • Steam client halts. Re-start it, select Play Game
  • Witness “Startup client installation” for about 10 minutes. This time you get a progress bar.
  • Witness “Startup client installation” for another 5 minutes. Same progress bar, a bit faster this time
  • A login window appears, asking you for a username and password. What? Click “I do not have an account”. Your browser opens up onto the Ubisoft web site, asking you to create an account.
  • You painfully create an account on a page filled up with legalese. You provide your name, birthdate, postal address, email, and authorize Ubisoft to spam you forever.
  • Back to the Assassin’s Creed II login window. Enter the username and password you just created. Get a login error.
  • Open up your email: you see two new mails from Ubisoft. One contains a link to click to activate your account. Click the link. Your browser opens again on the very same account page.
  • Back to the Assassin’s Creed II login window. Enter the username and password you just activated.
  • The next window asks for an activation code that can be found in the box. What box?
  • Back to Steam FAQ: if you need an activation code it will be given to you upon startup.
  • Re-launch Assassin’s Creed II: notice the little window at the bottom of the screen. Copy the activation code to clipboard
  • Back to the Assassin’s Creed II login window. Enter the username and password you already entered twice. Now paste your activation code.
  • Switch to full black screen: admire Ubisoft animated logo
  • Switch to full white screen: an error message lets you know that Ubisoft servers cannot be reached, therefore your game will halt until this is corrected.
  • Follow the only option on screen and quit Assassin’s Creed II. Re-launch
  • Back to Assassin’s Creed II login window. Enter the username and password you already entered three times. This time, tick “Remember me”
  • Admire Ubisoft animated logo, then a couple more animated logos. Get a warning about the fact that people who worked on this game have different religions.
  • A game menu appears. Select “New Game”
  • Wait a couple of minutes for the game to start
  • Actually this is not the game yet. First you absolutely must watch 45 minutes of a bad movie that has nothing to do with a medieval assassin. You cannot leave the movie or skip scenes. You are also not allowed to leave the room during the movie, since you will be requested to press a button at random intervals to show you are still there.
  • You are still not allowed to play the role of a medieval assassin, you must follow a story about some guy who does not understand what is happening (neither do you) but is finally allowed to sit in a chair.
  • At that point you see your first glimpse of a medieval street. It would be tempting to play but keyboard and mouse controls are just impossible to use.
  • Quit the game, hook up an old game controller, let Windows find and install a driver for it, go through controller calibration.
  • Re-start Assassin’s Creed II
  • You notice the framerate is catastrophic. You lower down all graphical parameters until you get something half decent. On a quad-core. With 4 gigs of RAM.
  • You may now try to play Assassin’s Creed II. Pray your Internet connection does not stall, your local, single-player game will not function without it.

The game itself cost me 7 euros on Steam, which sounded like a fair price. On the other hand, waiting several days and spending a complete evening fighting my way through to get a right to play is a bit beyond what I can stand.

I knew I should have downloaded a cracked version. At least you do not need a constant Internet connection or a Ubisoft account, and you get better support from the forums.

Written by nicolas314

Thursday 5 January 2012 at 1:55 am

Posted in gaming, ripoff

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Programming for kids

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Interesting links for kids who want to learn programming:

Scratch from MIT
Scratch is meant just for that: provide a first approach to programming. Completely visual and exists in multiple (human) languages.
Processing a full-fledged language used to create beautiful visualizations, equally loved by scientists and artists. Very easy to learn and the results are executables that run everywhere.
Snake Wrangling for Kids
This book introduces Python programming for young readers through entertaining topics.

Written by nicolas314

Saturday 22 October 2011 at 12:22 am

Stormy Sunday

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Orcs vs Dwarves

Orc and dwarf fighting for gold

My kids were bored on one of these unkind-weathery Sundays so we decided to invent a new war game. Creating the game from scratch took us most of the afternoon and we had to modify rules several times to make it balanced. This is what we ended up with.


We picked a bunch of Lego characters, dwarves and orcs. I stumbled upon these in a toy store one day and got them for pretty much nothing, thinking they might be fun for the boys. Six dwarves will be fighting 12 orcs.

The proud dwarf team wants to get some gold

Proud dwarf team on the way to gold

Orc badasses

Orc are badasses

Game setup

Game setup

Game setup (2)

Game setup (2)

For the board itself we used our carpet: a blue background with yellow dots organized along an orthogonal grid, perfect to align pieces. Walls are delimited with Kapla pieces because they happen to have the correct length to align with the carpet dots, but we could have used books, rulers, or larger pieces of Lego.

We created a maze with the wooden blocks, with long narrow corridors, wide rooms, choke points and two entrances. This was a lot more difficult than initially expected as paths need to be created to avoid making an obvious, shorter route to treasures.


Time to make up rules: the dwarves ought to be much stronger than the orcs because they are the good guys. So the orcs should be in infinite numbers to compensate, which pushes for a mission-based game where the six dwarves have a goal to achieve and countless orcs are trying to prevent them. We distributed three gold gems on the board: the dwarves have to pick them up and bring them all back to their entrance to win the game.


Each player plays in turn. We have an orthogonal grid so movements should be in all directions but diagonals. Dwarves can use up to 6 movement points each turn, orcs can use up to 8. Once a player has moved all his pieces he can attack.


Orcs have 1 attack, 1 defense, and 1 hit point. Once an orc has been hit it is dead and removed from the game.

Dwarves have each 2 attack, 2 defense and 2 hit points. The first time a dwarf is hit it looses its helmet or shield and reduces to 1 attack, 1
defense and 1 hit point. Dwarves are killed on the second sucessful attack.

Attacks are solved using this table:

Lego battles resolution table

Combat Resolution Table

Att-Def is the total attack points minus the defense points for the attacked piece, the leftmost column is the result of a tossed six-sided dice.

  • A-1 means: attacker looses one hit point
  • D-1 means: defenser looses one hit point
  • AE means Attacker Eliminated, DE means Defender Eliminated

Each piece may only attack once during its turn.

Several pieces may attack the same one, cumulating their attack points. The player who receives hit points decides how to distribute them to his pieces.

Building the game turned out to be much more fun than actually playing it. The first few games had to be re-balanced with everybody contibuting new rules and the final result is quite simple and satisfactory.

Beyond Orcs and Dwarves

Starting from there we created more Lego-based games around the same set of rules: Jedi knights against stormtroopers and clones, with special rules for heroes, long-range weapons, line of sight and buildings. The same rules were then extended for space battles: ships have several weapons, shields, and hit points corresponding to various parts of their hulls.

Opening the game to three players was a bit more difficult: if the three have equal power two of them will unite against the third, who will be immediately overwhelmed. The poor third player has then the privilege of choosing who of the remaining two will win, by concentrating attacks on one of the two players before he gets eliminated from the board. Our best bet was to spread power as 2 vs 1+1: one player has as much power as the other two combined, which brings the game back to a classic 1vs1.

And then Spring started showing up and it was much more fun to go rollerskating around the neighbourhood with friends. Can’t say we miss stormy Sundays though.

Written by nicolas314

Monday 25 April 2011 at 5:56 pm

Posted in fun, gaming, lego

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