Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Internet Security Police State

It seems weird to me how much in the Internet has changed, for many people, over the past 10 years. It used to be that the end user was considered an innocent victim on the Internet, and that the network had to protect them against the attacks that they would find themselves under on an almost daily basis. What's happened, however, is that the average computer that the end user uses has become as much a part of the attacker's life as it is a part of the end user's life. Security used to be relatively easy - you keep the attackers out at your main entrance points, whether you call it your upstream peers or drains or "tubes"... okay - most actual professionals would never call it tubes. Now you have to take the security stand that every end user device is a zombie of a larger evil foe somewhere in the ether, and you need to protect yourself against everyone. It's sad that if you don't take this stance you are not only endangering your customers, but yourself to being subjected to denial of service attacks, or worse.

That said, now this great free open area to express new ideas and new concepts is quickly turning into a police state. Providers are frantically attempting to protect themselves, as well as their customers. The cost of this protection? Freedom on the 'web. Then here comes the US Government trying to make sure that the Internet stays "free" by the push of legislation for "net neutrality", the strong-arm tactic to say that internet providers should not restrict, limit, or prioritize the traffic coming into a cusotmers machine. So the attacker in the eastern block who has is zombie army trained on you, sending thousands of packets attempting to find a weakness in your defenses, is actually be helped by the federal government. Why? Because your best line of defense would be a Service Provider that could stand up and take actions to block the attacks for you.

Many providers have blocked ICMP for nearly a decade now. Since this is restricting information on the internet, would they have to open this up? Can you filter attacks before the attack's destination to mitigate effects?

I fear a landmark court case in the next 5 years where a major hacking organization somehow is able to sue because their packets are being blocked by a firewall not at the destination site. Until there are wholesale changes to how information is shared on the internet, it should be considered an inherently hostile environment. I know it's a cliche to say "just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get me". But man, it's true.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It Prints money...

This is going to be a rant outside of my normal, probably cross-linking to various comics that I feel are appropriate for the commentary if I feel I need to. Several of the gaming web-comics (go figure I read web comics about the game industry) have been using the phrase "it prints money" the last few weeks. That is a very interesting comment, and one that I think speaks volumes to the consumer brainwashing in this country.

Take this article from gamespot about a new Guitar Hero game - Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. I'm a huge Aerosmith fan, and have been for a quite a while now. Rockin' Rollercoaster is that much better because it has Aerosmith music playing as you are twirling through darkness. I've been to their concerts, I buy their albums. But this is taking it a stretch. To have an entire game in the "Guitar Hero" genre dedicated to Aerosmith is the epitome of exploitation of a franchise, and it's fan-base, to me. And I'm talking Aerosmith as much as Guitar Hero. In today's day and age there really isn't a reason to put out a disc like this. Rock Band has shown with a smaller customer base a take rate on Download Content of almost 3:1 versus the GH3 franchise. Why is that?

Why is there a need for a new "Mario Party" game every 12-18 months? Why do we need to be incessantly pushed on with a new Madden each year, that the value of plummets faster than the value of your new car as you drive it off the lot. I know this is a shock for many of the rabid gamers out there, but Microsoft really did do a lot of things right with the xbox and the 360. The concept of episodic content is becoming a reality now for console gamers, because they have a massive storage device on the unit. XBL and PSN (xbox live and playstation network) are competing because Microsoft starting using a hard drive to be able to use for content. Now the push needs to be on to stop having episodic content be delivered by a disc, but rather by digital download. And if they want to press a disc with the update and put it in GameStop for $10 as well, even better!

The need for gamers today to wake up and realize that they need to spend their money wisely on games that aren't just a rehash with one new widget every 12-18 months should be on the rise. I don't see it happening right now, rather I see a new breed of gamer getting inducted in the "exploitation of the consumer" plight that we've had for ages.

Hopefully the tide is turning...

for reference on how I feel the gaming companies think about their consumers, here is the Penny Arcade that fortells of the impending pillage of the Guitar Hero franchise:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crackdown review

At the behest of one of my best friends, I picked up the 360 game "CrackDown" last weekend. I had an additional 25% off coupon for used games at GameStop, and figured it was a good cheap title, worth giving a shot. This has to be the most under-rated "Platinum Hits" game that I've played in recent memory. I remember the "bleh" reviews it got, and the demo really doesn't give the game much of a chance to see just how much fun it is.

The aspect of the game is this - you are a super agent that is tasked with cleaning up Metropolis , er Pacific City, of the crime that fills the streets. As you go through the game, you not only can advance what weapons you have by taking them away from the bad guys, but your skills increase. Each skill requires a different set of tactics - Jumping, Driving, Strength, Explosives and Firearms. Some tactics, such as sniping from way up high to folks down low, give you bonuses to multiple skills at once.

The game truly shines when one of two things happen - you spend 800msp to get the expansion pack for it, or you get about 2/3 of the way through it and really start getting good weapons and your skills are high. The expansion probably isn't quite worth 800msp (or about $10), but it does add a lot of nice gameplay from what I can see.

One of the truly unique aspects of the game is that you can co-op the game, but not be forced to even play together! Thus you can be in completely different parts of the game world, and just be using the game as a way to chat with the other players, and ask for assistance at varying points.

The graphics are a bit on the "cartoony" side, but the engine is rather smooth. I've managed to get the game world to the point where it slows down from time to time, but in general even with lots of explosions and enemies everywhere the game run nicely. There are some control issues, especially while jumping, where I don't feel like I'm doing a great job of controlling the character, but they are minimal. And driving with a control pad is just not my favoritest thing in the universe, but I do okay with it.

Overall I would give this game at least a B+ for the first time through, with enough attainable extras in the achievements to really have fun with it. They set side things like climbing to the top of the main tower, a dizzying height, and then jumping off it safely to the ground, as a challenge to the player. They added a mind number amount of jump and drive challenges to the game for added bonus, and collection orbs all over the place. It does contain swear words, and some pretty graphic violence, body juggling honestly was fun to unlock, but nothing that a Teen really couldn't get over. This is a case where I think the M rating probably isn't justified, save for maybe the language that the NPC's spit out every now and again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Every so often I get into feelings where I remember specific poems or songs. Today this one is just clearly in my mind...

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fighting Technology

To say I'm a gadget geek is probably the understatement of the century. I love to play with new technology. The fact that it took nearly 5 years for me to finally break down and get a PDA phone is absolutely amazing. Of course, in the course of the last decade I've had 5 different PDA's - the original Palm Pilot, Palm III, Palm V, Palm Tungsten T, and a HP iPaq. None of them have been perfect, but the biggest problem with being a gadget geek is carry space. I'm not one that wants to carry a "man purse" around, but at one point to satisfy my various gadget geekiness I would have had to have a space for my PDA, a cell phone, a PSP, and an iPod. I would have looked like Luke after keeping the Stormtrooper utility belt...

So, I finally caught up with the SmartPhone age, and my phone isn't just my phone anymore. What I've found, as I find every time I get into my gadget geek mode, is that technology never quite works the way I really want it to. My first goal was to replace my phone and pda into a single device. That accomplishment went pretty flawlessly with the Samgsung SCH-i760 that I purchased. It's a really nice device, and everything I've actually gotten to work has done so with a high level of quality. The device feels nice on the hand, doesn't feel "plastic", connects to email easily and navigates nicely. So goal 1 is complete, 1 device removed from batman's utility belt.

Goal 2 should be just as simple - replace the iPod. Now, I have more than 12 gigs worth of music on my iPod, so I already know that I won't be 100% replacing the device. That said, I took a real hard look at my music usage and realized that a 4gig card would at least work for the time being, although an 8gig card would have been nice. Still, a 4gig card is about $50 over at Best Buy, so I go that route. What I found over the course of a day is that (from what I can gather) most WM6 devices currently cannot read the "MicroSDHC" standard by default. Luckily some blokes on the interwebs have come up with a patch that makes it work. Took a bit of work to get the file onto the phone, but once it was installed and I rebooted, voila! 4gig storage card works. I've put music to it, and it works well. Goal 2 (mostly) completed.

Goal 3 was to replace the PSP. Now I sold my PSP a while ago because I just didn't use it - it was the last thing that was just too much to carry around. Once I got the 4gig card installed technically I was done with this goal, but here's where the hitch really came in. Most of my video is on my Vista Home Premium machine - I use Windows Media Center to push videos to my 360, and it does an admirable job at that. So now I need to sync up my phone to Vista so I can transfer the videos. After 2 days of spare time used towards it, I think I'm almost as close to getting that to work as I was before I bought the device. Things just don't work right - the driver updates take 45 minutes or more to install. Once my PDA is connected I get "error" on the screen with no explanation of what happened. Trying to uninstall the PDA's device driver from the control panel greets me with a 12 hour "uninstalling" window.

So now I fight technology to do the geeky things I really want to do. It's the same fight I had with the iPod and the PSP, and the PDA over the years, just with a new device. There is a part of me that relishes the challenge, and a part of me that really gets discouraged that technology is never "all that and a bag of chips" for me - I always want things that do more than the designers intended, and end up finding the seedier side of the device.

It's what I'm good at.