General interests that may or may not fit anywhere else.

Nostalgia and Perspective: Arcades, Books and Record Stores

I’m not one to dwell on the past; I don’t find it healthy at all. It is a powerful coping mechanism for me. I can generally control my thoughts, in that I can empty my mind of all thoughts, at will, and I can focus on something specific, if necessary (the latter is perhaps somewhat fraught with peril because I’m unfortunately most familiar with negative thoughts and emotions). I can’t generally filter out other distractions but I can filter thoughts. But while I don’t dwell on the past, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss certain things. I’m just writing about some things I miss from the past, because one of those things is on my mind, and I have nothing else better to do. Some friends miss these things, too, as do people I don’t know, but this is – like always – first and foremost for me.

I’ll go in the order of the title, but I’ll also throw in some other things.

Video Games and the Arcades

I’ll not get in to my favourite type of game of all time (text adventures) because these still exist and arcades don’t (and I have no idea what happened to some of the old video game consoles I had).

The first video game console I played was the Atari 2600. I have many fond memories of the console and its games from Breakout to River Raid, to Outlaw to Adventure, and everything in between (Donkey Kong, Pac-man, Space Invaders, Frogger? Hell yes!). Next I went to the Nintendo Entertainment System, where perhaps my favourite game there would be Ninja Gaiden. That game is a true classic; it was the first game to introduce cinematic cut-scenes to progress the story. I loved the music of the game and I found it a lot of fun. Many seem to think the old games were hard but I never thought that; sure, there were some games that were harder (Ninja Gaiden wasn’t hard for me except the very end, right outside of the final boss The Jacquio; Ninja Gaiden II I beat and Ninja Gaiden III I won’t even discuss) than others, but I beat almost every game I played, repeatedly. Indeed, I knew some games better than the back of my hand (including the puzzles, mazes or whatever they might be). I spent many hours playing video games (more than the two consoles listed) at home, over the years (the last console I owned was the Sony Playstation 1), and also at what is mostly an artefact from the past: the arcades. I spent hours and hours at the arcades, and I have nothing but fond memories of the games I played, among them: Mario Brothers (note: what is on the gaming consoles is Super Mario Brothers; Mario Brothers was an arcade game!), Street Fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Mortal Kombat (all of them), Pac-man, and perhaps especially pinball (and its Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff Sonic Spinball, although that was for the Sega Genesis/Mega game drive). There were many more I thoroughly enjoyed, far too many to mention (let alone remember). But I’ve not played a single arcade game in years. I miss that a lot. Nowadays games are connected to the Internet somehow (which I have no problem with, in fact, multi-user dungeons, aka MUDs – predecessors to the MMORPGs of today – are very much a part of me to this day) and otherwise are far superior in graphics (yet I’ve always felt that with all the hardware advances, the effects are far less impressive exactly because the hardware is so advanced; there isn’t nearly as many limitations to the hardware, and some games had rather decent graphics when you consider 8-bit versus what they have nowadays).

Book and Record Stores.

This is what inspired me to write this, actually. This past week I went to a real bookshop, something I hadn’t been in in far too long. It was wonderful. I always loved (even when I buy online I do, but it is different at a bookshop, at least for me and those whom I have talked about this) the smell of the books, the feel of the cover, the binding, the pages, everything about bookshops. You could sit down and read a book (or part of), you could browse different types of books (and genres) whether fiction, non-fiction (whether textbook or something else), and lose track of time (the same was true for record stores except there you might listen to some of the music and you would be browsing records, tapes and eventually CDs; I’ll return to this later). But mostly they are gone today. However, I want to point something out. Something I’ve long believed and now I have proof. See, many people (including employees and owners of book and record stores) believe that the world wide web (or as they would erroneously call ‘the Internet’) is the reason these stores have either gone out of business or have had to change their business model (or otherwise have drastically reduced profit). There is just one little problem with that theory. sells books for cheaper, even if you combine shipping costs. Meanwhile, when you buy in person, you don’t have shipping costs (which means you have less to spend). For instance, I finally got around to buying The Silmarillion (of course by J.R.R Tolkien). I buy hardcover where possible and it was possible for The Silmarillion, too. I spent 40 USD. However, earlier today I saw it at Amazon for 22.66 USD. That is a 43% difference! So here it is: if bookshops would actually change their pricing, they would be able to more easily compete (granted some don’t have the memories of going to an actual shop, but those who do, I know many miss them). Do I mind that I spent 43% more? No. But that is because it was an enjoyable day and I miss the older days here. Otherwise, yes, yes I would mind it.

As for other things, including the fact you don’t see records and tapes as much (I’m ignoring the revival of the vinyl scene because I’ve always thought records were better, more real and more collectible, than tapes and CDs, although nowadays tapes are far more collectible than CDs, DVDs and Audio DVDs; I’m deliberately ignoring bluray and other HD video and sound – I can’t see or hear the differences, anyway). There are many things I do miss. I have really old computer parts that I used years ago but I can’t throw out. The things that we had of yesteryear would surprise the youth of today. If they had any idea of how small hard drives were (in capacity) and how expensive they were (in comparison to what they are today, and considering the capacity differences), they would probably be floored. I still to this day have a hard drive less than 1GB. In this case it is at the ~540MB barrier (which some will remember it as that was as high as they could get it due to limitations that at the time they could not overcome). I also have a HDD that is ~2.5GB. I probably have other drives that are (guessing here) 20GB, 80GB, 120 or 200GB.

There is something else, here, though. It always greatly amuses me when kids tell adults things like “you don’t understand what it is like growing up these days .. it is so different now; we have social media, mobile phones, and we have the Internet!”. It amuses me because they wouldn’t really know anything else, so how would they know that it is so different? Of course, they wouldn’t. I’m going to elaborate just because I want to show how yes, things are different because of evolution (of technology and in general) but no, they aren’t any more complicated (with what we have and don’t have) than before. (Furthermore, things change for both better and worse. But realising this changes things significantly.) Indeed, the Internet is older than they are. For that matter, if you consider its predecessor (arpanet), it might be older than their parents (probably it is)! Certainly the arpanet is older than I am. Depending on what part of the Internet (it developed and extended itself over time) you think of, it is older than me; other parts of the Internet are younger than me. That brings me to social media and the Internet more generally: First, many erroneously believe that the World Wide Web IS the Internet but the Internet is much more than that. The WWW is a small part of the Internet, and without the lower layers, the WWW wouldn’t be ‘world wide’ at all (it might not even exist, we wouldn’t have email and we wouldn’t have many other things that people think of as a single technology). But no, the Internet isn’t new at all, and so this is not something that is all that different (the IoT – the Internet of Things – is another issue entirely, and one that has serious problems, but one that won’t be going away, unfortunately; still, this is technology evolving). As for social media: there were other ways of communicating with people. Let’s start with BBSes (bulletin board systems) and later on web based forums. Then you go to UNIX and you had the talkd (‘talk daemon’) which allowed to users (on the same system or different systems, as I recall) to ‘talk’ with each other (writing messages where one user was at the top and the other at the bottom; it showed characters as sent to the system, so you would see the actual sequences for backspace and the like but this was a matter of getting used to and then it wasn’t really a problem). Then there is IRC (‘internet relay chat’ which worked for the Internet and an internet; the latter simply being a network of networks but not necessarily connected to the global Internet). You also had (later on) ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Instant Message (and others). So no, social media isn’t all that new; it is only an extension of what we had before. I will point out some irony, though, something others have thought of individually, but something that I’ve thought of for a very long time:

Despite the ‘social media’ and the phenomenon of people looking at their bloody phone instead of where they are walking (or with whom they are eating with, sleep with, and who knows what else) and even more ‘connectivity’ (network connectivity only), we are more than ever disconnected. I’d like to say I was ahead of my time (because I wasn’t one who really socialised with peers) but I know I’m not in that way. I was (and am) just… different. I never identified with anyone (in person) and I never really associated with many people (and when I did it was only because of school; I didn’t spend time with them off campus).

Yes, I miss many things that are very different today (different is very loosely defined). But does that mean that I wish I lived in the past? No, absolutely not. It isn’t healthy to dwell on the past; you can’t change it either and the only way to stay somewhat sane (…if that is possible for me – but others can go mad by dwelling on the past, too) is to focus on right now. Even then, there are some things that are better; accept and learn from your mistakes and they aren’t mistakes. Continue to learn, evolve, grow, and you have more to experience, more to understand and more to appreciate. Similarly, if you look at what is here now, you can realise that while some things might be worse, other things are better. It can always be worse (this especially goes for your own health.. and yes, this is what it took for me to understand this though it took many years for me to do so). Always. It might not seem like it to some people but if they ever have long term hardships they will understand this (not to say you can’t understand it without hardships!). Not only will they understand this, they will be thankful for it, and it will give them strength and some sort of peace and acceptance of the world (and others).

Perspective is incredibly powerful; it changes everything!

The Facebook Law and Ethic

Fair warning: I’m in a mood and this is by its very nature going to be touchy (and there will be some bias but the points I’m trying to make are still valid). While I don’t at all find my points out of line, I know many would, especially with the amount of obsession if not outright lust for Facebook that many have. You could call this post somewhat unusual for here although I diverge slightly in to another issue – privacy. This post is motivated by something I saw yesterday, one of many other things I’ve read about before, that makes me think that Facebook truly believes that they can do whatever they want with impunity and no regard to any ethics that they clearly violate. I have a strong ethic, and while I am certainly not perfect, I find abuse and destruction unacceptable. But then there’s Facebook policies and what they allow.

Where to start? Right, we’ll start with what the BBC reported. It is a well known fact that child abuse is a huge problem in this world (much like abuse to the environment, to humans in general, to animals, even the air we breathe). It is also a well known fact that it unfortunately goes to the extreme cowardice (which is sadly cyclical – abuse leads to abuse, there’s some psychology behind it but I’ll not get in to that) of physical abuse including sexual abuse (and frankly it doesn’t matter what age but children is relevant to the discussion). It is also well known that it is illegal in many countries, definitely the country Facebook’s premise is (I’m not sure they live in it, though – some of them certainly don’t act as if they believe they do), to have videos, photos or any example of paedophilia (whether hard copy, on a computer or anything else) As it should be. But one would like to believe videos of child abuse in general is illegal. Let’s assume it isn’t though. What Facebook allows is unethical, it only adds to abuse and frankly it is an utter disgrace in general but especially when their age requirement is just 13. But how do they enforce that? Something like what year you were born in, probably (because it equates to less privacy and more ‘important’ information) your date of birth. Yes, that’s definitely going to be accurate, I’m sure of it. In any case, I dislike kids a lot. That is putting it quite nicely, to be blunt. But I dislike something more: abuse and neglect. Both neglect and abuse makes matters worse for everyone – the victim as well as the people the victim (when older) victimises because they are emotionally/ethically/morally damaged. But here it is, Facebook has what? A video of a baby being repeatedly dunked in to a bucket of water (upside down with arms twisted). Unsurprisingly the baby was crying and one would assume terrified. But what isn’t surprising, either, is that Facebook truly believes it doesn’t break any of their rules, and they only added a warning to the video after a complaint was escalated by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The following from the BBC:

“While the welfare of this child is naturally paramount we would also urge you to look at all available options which will ensure UK citizens, including millions of children, are no longer exposed to this kind of dreadful and disturbing content,” the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s chief executive Peter Wanless wrote.

“The NSPCC believes we have now reached the long overdue point where it is time for social networking sites to be held to account for the content on their sites and pay more attention to their safeguarding duties to protect children and young people, whether they are viewing the content or appearing in it.”

Facebook responded as such:

“In cases like these, we face a difficult choice: balancing people’s desire to raise awareness of behaviour like this against the disturbing nature of the video,” said a spokeswoman for the firm.

“In this case, we are removing any reported instances of the video from Facebook that are shared supporting or encouraging this behaviour.

“In cases where people are raising awareness or condemning the practice, we are marking reported videos as disturbing, which means they have a warning screen and are accessible only to people over the age of 18.”

Whether that means they allow referring to it to raise awareness but not allowing it when it is being encouraged, or if they removed this instance but generally feel that raising awareness is acceptable, I do not know. What I do know is that they often state that others should have the choice to watch it if they want, and especially because it will raise awareness (even though the videos they claim are for this go about it in the exact opposite of what would be done for awareness).

Yes, Facebook, because showing videos of atrocities, cruelty and who knows what else, will raise awareness (typically when you raise awareness for such things, there’s something of an explanation that goes along with it, and that includes warnings where relevant)? I imagine also that allowing the videos in some instances won’t actually encourage others to do similar under the guise that they’re raising awareness? I suppose, also, that having these videos won’t be harmful to those who unfortunately and unknowingly watch it without realising what it is they are to see (something I will return to)? That isn’t how you raise awareness: you’re raising awareness? Of what? Why? What should be learnt? What went wrong? Of course, your way will discourage others from these things, too, I’m sure (try telling that to victims of hate and see how far you get). Of course not, all of it is for the good of mankind. Except it isn’t – what you really mean is it is good for you because you have less responsibility to manage and less to worry about. Yet other organisations wouldn’t get away with this. It is only your user base and repeated lies and misdirection – both of which are very easy to sniff out – that allows you to worm your way out of trouble. Indeed, if I were to have such content on my server I could be in serious trouble – as it should be! This isn’t the first time and it isn’t the last time, that you have allowed things like this. Why is that? Because you don’t concern yourself with responsibility, ethics and even if you get away with it legally, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily legal: there’s a reason that child protection services exist and they will actually go after parents simply because their kids enjoyed having a lot of fun doing things that caused injuries needing emergency care (for instance, my brother, myself) fairly often. I’m sure the child in this video was asking for it too, though, so I suppose all is okay, right? Somewhat ironically, though, there’s also a link here – if that video was paedophilia, it would land you in serious legal trouble (as it should) and I would expect far more outrage (as there should be). When is abuse acceptable? It shouldn’t be. But there’s should/shoult not be, and there’s reality, I suppose. Yet there’s a huge problem with being too accepting of others, of things, of surroundings, something that many of your users don’t understand (and/or realise), and also do the same as you. It is even worse, for you, because of your mentality that the information is necessary, that privacy is a bad thing (even if this has lessened over time, it still exists) – you ignore the reality here in ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy. So here it is:

If you’re too trusting, too accepting, you leave yourself incredibly vulnerable to harm and that means off the Internet (or is that ‘Facebook’ ?) and on. But people are this way and it is often to their peril. Lack of awareness is a real problem (an unfortunate part of being unaware of something includes being oblivious to the lack of awareness in the first place). No matter how aware you are, there’s more you can be aware of (and just like time, things change). Since Facebook has this requirement that you use your real name (although funnily enough, I once had a fake account with the name of a Disney character, one with a nose that grows when they lie – of course it was deliberate on my part), and since the default of many settings – as I’ve read for many different issues; I can’t say from personal experience – are opt out (instead of opt in, as it should always be), including those revealing what should remain private, a scary amount of information can be revealed and mapped (in what I’m about to explain it is literally). While many have probably been more public, I would like to note one that is a plugin to the Chrome browser (I’ll leave Google out of this discussion) and was called by the author the Marauder’s Map which is indeed a reference to the artefact in Harry Potter. You can find more information on how and why this works, what it does, and everything else the author reveals by following the additional links here (the link here is to a brief write up with some additional thoughts). For those who don’t know, in Harry Potter, the map plots out every person in any form (by real name) on the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry grounds, even if they are invisible, by location, with the exception of a couple places (there’s more than one possible reason and I don’t believe there’s ever been a confirmation on which of the reasons were the case though I would certainly like to know), even as they are travelling through the grounds (so it moves the person’s location on the map). Instead this is real and based on a feature of Facebook, that allows mapping out users – including those you aren’t ‘friends’ with – over time, to discover where they tend to be including where they sleep (so not over a period of time but patterns can lead to fairly accurate results). The problem besides it being scary? They could plot an attack even through social engineering (but otherwise too). This might be to rob your flat, your car, physically assault you, or it might be a cyber attack.

All of the latter part could be somewhat summarised as: be very careful of who you trust, ask yourself why you trust them, and whether what you think is harmless is really harmless. The argument that Zuckerberg likes to throw – that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide – is a dangerous viewpoint that is both hiding true intent and ignoring the things they wouldn’t share to others (bank account, etc.), something I’ve explained before. As for ‘friends’ I have this to say: I once mocked a friend (which means in another country, one I’ve never met in person and probably won’t because that’s just part of my personality) about Facebook when he finally caved and joined. He knew I didn’t mean offence but in any case, it was about his so-called friends. Well, some time after that he told me of an occasion where he asked his ‘friends’ if any of them would want to spend time with him in person? Not one. Yes, folks, it is interesting, isn’t it, that the more connected we are too technology, the more aloof we are in person as a side effect, not much unlike how I choose to be.

The unethical issue is hard to summarise and it is rather hard to imagine that a corporation, especially a corporation that is about social networking, would accept it (even though it isn’t surprising).

70 Years Ago Today at the Battle in Berlin

This is clearly an off topic post but when I looked at the calendar today, it occurred to me that on this day in 1945, Berlin unconditionally surrendered to the Allies. It was a significant moment in the second world war, and it wasn’t long before all of Germany surrendered. This is something I felt inspired to write in light of such a dark chapter known to mankind.

70 Years Ago Today at the Battle in Berlin: A look in to the heart of mankind, its past, present and future

The Battle in Berlin ended on 1945 May 2. It was a glimmer of hope for many, and would be a day that would begin the ultimate surrender of Germany in World War 2. Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945), along with his newly wed wife Eva Braun, had committed suicide 10 days after Hitler’s 56th birthday – April 30, 1945; he knew the end was approaching and he was not one to surrender: he made sure he was not captured. Josef Goebbels[1], who stayed with Hitler to the very end, had also committed suicide – and forced his family, including his kids (the mother assured the kids everyone was using this drug – I believe morphine – and to not worry, therefore allowing them to be sedated while they’re poisoned) to do the same. Goebbels was, of course, the master propagandist of Nazi Germany, and this combined with Hitler being a very powerful speaker is a very dangerous combination (yet they weren’t the only powerful variables). Hitler of course was concerned that the cyanamide was not sufficiently potent, and despite him being close to his German Shepherd Blondi, a day before he committed suicide, he tested a dose of cyanamide[2] on Blondi; she would be buried and later excavated by the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Hitler ordered that his remains as well as Eva’s remains, to be burnt. I’ll return to the liberation of Berlin towards the end of this essay.

The fact Hitler was never one to surrender is quite obvious when you consider the end of the first world war – the war to end all wars: he felt it was an utter betrayal to surrender and was in disbelief that the war was finished; he truly wanted to continue after recovering from temporary blindness (from a mustard gas attack). The Germans (Hitler was born in Austria and was very much Austrian: indeed, over the years, as I recall more than once, many cities in Austria have rushed to make sure that he was not still an honorary citizen, after it was made known that a city still declared him exactly that) told him they no longer needed his service. This of course, was not the end: The Treaty of Versailles left Germany a disaster.

Germany lost a lot of land; the Rhineland was to be demilitarised; their military was limited to no more than 100,000 men; they were not allowed an air force; were to give up military air craft; they were not allowed to import or build air power for six months among other air warfare restrictions (yet ironically, despite all this, the Luftwaffe would later literally flatten areas in the UK during The Blitz, which caused many in England to use the tube stations as bombing shelters and led to utter devastation in areas – like North Ireland – that did not prepare if not outright ignore warnings); prohibition in the arms trade; limitations as to what the navy was allowed (battleships as well as number of men); they were to pay billions (marks) in reparations, something I believe they’ve yet to pay off (I would be surprised if they ever do, assuming that indeed they have not yet); and much more. Germany was not invited to the discussions. All of this paved the way for Hitler to eventually take over what would later become the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (abbreviated as NSDAP), more commonly known as the Nazi Party. It was originally the National Socialists party. It was Hitler who decided to rename it to what it is known as today. His idea was it would appease to the masses, essentially everyone but the communists and the Jews[3]. In addition, the victors also largely ignored the Japanese, despite Japan being a victor.

When you think of all this, it would be absurd to even dream of there not being another major conflict. As far as I am aware, the Americans tried to some time later get some of these limitations removed, because of this fear. But they were too late and/or not successful. Essentially, the treaty would be to the victors’ – and indeed the entire world – peril.

Yet despite the terror of the time, despite the atrocities, mankind has not taken to heart all the lessons. There is no such thing as tolerance if it is not respected and considered 100%; therefore, tolerance is a dangerous lie: selective tolerance still discriminates and that is exactly what happened so many years ago and to this day still occurs. It is true that there were horrible atrocities with terrible consequences and to this day there still is. But war is war. While that does not justify what was done, it should always be kept in mind. The last remaining body guard of Hitler once said something that should be remembered because it is completely honest and 100% valid: there’s never been a war without war crime. I would extend this, and perhaps he meant this too, by adding: war itself is a crime.

Yet despite the Soviet Union liberating Berlin (and other Nazi occupied land), they were not above being horrendous, either. The Red Army looted, committed mass rape and mass murder. This affected many more people: rape and in general sexual – which is also physical, mental and emotional – abuse ruins lives (and a close friend of mine can attest to that, even though it should be obvious). Then there’s the murders. Is that better than the Nazis? The effect would not happen if it wasn’t for the cause; the cause is the lack of tolerance, the hate, vengeful, discriminatory and oppressive behaviour and mentality. Yet many Soviets earned medals for liberating Berlin. One hopes that none that participated in the deplorable actions were also rewarded, but as I’ve already noted – war is a criminal act, and it is inevitable that these things will happen, and in all likelihood many perpetrators were indeed rewarded.

It is interesting to note that two very significant things changed the war outlook (of course there’s others, including some that are because of these). First, Hitler regretted his pact with the Soviet Union, and he decided to break it by invasion. With the Soviet’s scorched earth tactic, combined with the climate and temperatures there, the German army suffered terribly. This also meant that the Soviets would fight the Nazis and ultimately would liberate much of Europe (it is also worth noting that other neutral countries – Sweden, for example – would not only remain unoccupied but also gain the Nazis trust and as such, many Jews were able to flee to Sweden). The other is that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and this, combined with Hitler shortly thereafter declaring war on the United States of America, would bring the US in to the war. The Americans were an important part of the victory, from D-Day (Normandy) and through the Pacific.

70 years ago today began the first part of a transition to the end of a very dark chapter in mankind. Never forget what happened, how many lives were lost, how many lost family, how many suffered. Never forget it could have been worse. But do not forget either that it could have been better if only there was tolerance, more peaceful cooperation (instead of aggressive competition) and if only more people remembered how their actions affect others. Ultimately, World War Two could have been avoided as could many other wars, including wars after World War Two. But they aren’t avoided. 70 years have gone by and mankind has still not acknowledged these things; there is nothing darker than this realisation.

[1] Just like it is commonly spelt Adolf Hitler (when his birth certificate actually shows Adolphus) it is often Joseph instead of Josef. One of the books I have on Hitler (as below) spells it Josef. Probably the common spellings are English.
[2] I always remembered cyanide. However, because I wanted to cite references to some of this, I looked at one of the books I have on Hitler. While some other Nazis did use cyanide, apparently Blondi was given cyanamide (and it seems that it was initially Hitler’s doctor that suggested this be the way to test it). Ironically, despite Hitler’s fear (he shared the fear with someone who had relayed the fear to Hitler although they had different reasons as to believe it) it was Eva Braun who took the cyanamide (although she tried to use something else; the name fails to come to mind). Hitler shot himself instead.
[3] There was no place for Jews as far as he was concerned. What made him hate Jews so much is likely a combination of factors but one theory is something the Nazis used themselves – spreading fear and hate by words and actions; certainly he mirrored some beliefs as others had already made public, and certainly he was influenced by others. I’m not certain why he hated the communists so much except that he supposedly railed against them in Mein Kampf in addition to the Jews.

While I have more books on Hitler, the one I have actually read (albeit a long time ago until some brief checks earlier today) is below.

Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography by John Toland (Anchor, 1992)

The Consequences of the Sony Attack

While this should maybe be under security, I want to highlight some other things, too. It is rather interesting to me, but so many people, every year around this time, talk about resolutions. While I’m going to get to the issue the title refers to, I actually think security (and therefore that issue) is a perfect thing to discuss with resolutions. Indeed, I find this interesting yet also something of a farce. I call New Years Resolution what they are: nonsense.

Why on Earth do people think that a certain time is any better than another, to be better about (or accomplish, or… ) something? Is that not absurd? If the idea is to improve yourself, why not always do so? If you can only improve yourself when you’re ‘supposed’ to, you’re not actually improving yourself: you’re actually sealing your fate in a vicious cycle of only do something (that supposedly is better for you) for a short time in the year and then  wait until next year. What is so special about this time of year, and why does it happen every year? The answer to the rhetorical question is, of course: because (they) only last a few weeks before giving up which really means they only pretend to care – you want to improve or you don’t, it is that simple. The only other part of it is that some people believe they want to change in some way but they actually don’t want to (which conveniently fits in ‘or you don’t’) – they try to convince themselves of it but they don’t really want to. I’m a perfect example, actually, but not in the sense of New Years and not actually bettering myself (but it indeed is cyclical). I often try to tell myself I need to be more social (I am incredibly asocial – I’m essentially a hermit that has Internet access and will go to doctors but aside from that I tend to shy away from gatherings). But it doesn’t last and I then come to the conclusion (in a repeated cycle like I described New Years Resolutions) that no, I was only thinking I wanted to change this. In reality I was lying to myself (something I admit I do probably far more often than I’d like to – wait for it – believe) about it.

Where does this go with security then? Correct: you should always be improving your standards (just like everything else, if you truly do want to improve) and this goes for security in normal cases but it goes double (if not triple or quadruple or…) after an attack. It is most interesting that those in to security (I’m not even going to include myself here simply because I don’t – as I suggested moments ago – generally like to be included in a group) are calling the claim that North Korea is the sole responsibility, nonsense. Yet at the same time, those who should be paying attention to them, are just pointing the finger (perhaps figuratively and literally pointing the finger!). I find it rather sad that even despite two groups admitting their role in the attack, the authorities then decide to re-frame it to… North Korea decided to contract the work out. Why not admit to a lost cause? Not only is it impossible to verify (let’s also remember justice is a farce (and unfair first impressions does not help here) and people actually admit to committing crimes they were wrongly accused of (and then they are serving time for a crime they didn’t commit and in fact someone else is free – justice indeed)), it isn’t as if no other country would do similar. That includes the United States of America. So what does this equate to? Instead of trying to figure out what can be learned from the attack, it is playing the game of victim only – a victim of the same thing in the past (and in the past…) and not changing because of it. While I don’t know Sony’s point of view is now what I do know is there was a leaked email from Sony and if I recall, it was the CEO himself. And what was included but the idea that there was nothing they could have done (and the so-called security experts they called in (as if security is only once in a while!) made the claim to Sony!), it was unprecedented and nothing like it has been seen before (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard/read/been told/etc. that, I would be filthy rich…). They’re wrong though. This isn’t the first time Sony has been subjected to serious attacks. I doubt it’ll be the last. The last one was not the first, either, as I recall.

The fact is: attacks happen and more attempts happen. Sony is not the only victim. I see a lot of attempts on my (low profile) server. They’re a huge, international company. Of course they’re going to see attacks. Make the best of old news or repeat history (we already know where much of society fits in this selection). It is expected and here is the brutal truth, folks, and this is something Sony (and others) would do well to understand (because the mentality that there was nothing that could be done is actually exactly what I’m going to describe): if you want a sure fire way to get breached, all you need to do is not care about it, tell yourself there is nothing that can be done and just accept the future. In short, do nothing but admit defeat, even before it happened. Ironically, by doing this you’ve actually already lost (yet if you don’t go this route you haven’t lost). Indeed this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you so wish to meet this fate, by all means, don’t learn from it. If that makes you feel better then  who is anyone to judge you over it? Certainly I won’t. But I also won’t feel sympathy (for those who won’t change – the fact others are affected is another issue entirely).

As for the United States, I find this rather amusing. I know I’ve explained this before, that I think (because it is the case) the idea of freedom of expression is often taken too far (“kids will be kids – yes, kids will be kids until, that is, they get revenge on bullies, and then how dare them, how dare their parents for not teaching them right from wrong… “). But then since many in the United States are champions of this idea, that freedom of expression (the problem is taking it to the extreme – the problem is not the idea itself: all good comes with bad and all bad comes with good (the two are subtle but it is different: it means even bad people have some good even if it is hard to see for most people)) is ever important, I have to ask: why can’t other countries, other people, also express things that they find important to them (no matter what it is)? I’m not suggesting any one who sees this is not following this, but nevertheless, some do. So to elaborate on the rhetorical question: If someone (or some country, or…) attacks someone, regardless of the legalities, regardless of the ethics, morals, whatever else (that comes to the mind of the ones judging), they are technically expressing themselves. To express something is to convey a thought or feeling through words, gestures or conduct. If they were responsible for the attack, and for the reasons given, then they are by definition expressing themselves! Call it a paradox if you want (but being a paradox does not mean it isn’t valid, remember that) but the reality is the anger they had (and how they display it) is expressing; you might not like how they do it or in what way but they could say the same about you, couldn’t they? It is a healthy thing to believe strongly in something. I feel strongly about some things (but arguably less than I should). But I would like to believe that those who do feel strongly about something do not let it cloud their judgement and that they don’t let it apply to only them (or someone/something they agree with (I already gave an example of this)). Yes, I’m pointing the meaning of expression out because it is true and something that really should be considered. I do look at things from a lot of angles and if you will excuse me, I feel strongly that it is a good thing to do (and yes, I am conveniently expressing myself on the whole issue (see how I did that?)).


The Art of Easter Eggs

This is obviously something that is best classified in the general topic, simply because the software I write about is Unix and its derivatives (primarily Linux). What inspired this is two things in particular:

  • I discovered an easter egg in the editor vim earlier this year (which is to say, late September, early October).
  • Besides fond memories of easter eggs I discovered over the years, I enjoy designing them myself, for programs I write (or at least one that others will see, i.e., a specific MUD).

This is just for fun (which is expected with a topic about easter eggs) and basically a list of easter eggs that are memorable to me, that either I discovered on my own or remember reading about them at some point over the years (I’ll specify which is which). I won’t list any I have implemented any where at all and I never will. These easter eggs, mind you, are all old with perhaps the exception of the vim one (which I suspect has been there for quite some time but it is new to me). Therefore I don’t think this is harmful. If however you enjoy finding them on your own, don’t read this. That is my warning.

  • Colossal Cave Adventure, also known as Advent, is an old text based game, somewhat like a MUD only single player. You interact with objects, open/close doors, you can get lost, you can die, and you gain points, too. While the version I am looking at now (version 4, one I fixed a segfault in, for a friend and therefore have it locally) is not the one I played years ago (it was an earlier version that I played), it is still fun and absolutely has easter eggs. The narrator (I guess you could call it) doesn’t take to swearing kindly. There are many responses to swearing and there are many words it sees as swearing. I’ll leave it to your imagination except for the one I find most amusing (at least, literally it is amusing – it contradicts itself):

    ? screw you

    I trust you know what “you” might be, ’cause I don’t.

    Interestingly, when said friend referred to a crash, and they didn’t know exactly what triggered it (it was for her friend who has a Mac and first it failed to compile to which i fixed that) except that it occurred after a command was typed. What that command in question was, I don’t remember (they didn’t know and in fact it wasn’t a specific command and not only that command – it happened more than once) but I had the idea to play with exactly the above: as I was swearing at the computer, it gave me the information I needed; it was a segfault and I recompiled (with debugging symbols – the source is actually obfuscated and I didn’t think of running it through a beautifier and the programmer in me thought to make it drop a core), removed the limit on core size, caused it to crash (therefore dumping core) and found that there was a dereference on a NULL pointer (which, as I’ve discussed before, is much preferable than a pointer that was never assigned to anything – at all – or otherwise pointing to garbage). Added an if, recompiled and it was all fine.

  • I liked this one a lot although I admit I enjoyed more so figuring out how to defeat the boss (and therefore win the game) more than the easter egg (which I also discovered on my own, if memory serves me correctly). I played the game a lot and I beat it many times. The last area  – Icon of Sin – is one hell – indeed, it is intended – of a toxic dump full of demons and monsters alike… but very well worth playing through (unless you are very easily frustrated). This is one of the few computer games I played – most were console games. The game in question is DOOM 2. The easter egg is the severed head of one of the developers, John Romero’s. If you are curious, check as they have a picture and (for those wondering how it is found) how to find it. What that Wiki page informed me of, something I did not know, is at the beginning of the last area – Icon of Sin – the voice says something that explains – once you decipher it – how to defeat the last boss. I had (have is a much better word) a knack for figuring out how things work and how to solve things (puzzles, games, …) and so I beat it without the hint (there are quite a few things in the area that can make or break your success but I quite enjoy these things).
  • Mortal Kombat series is another game I really enjoyed for a lot of years. These features are more well known, perhaps, but there are hidden characters in the series. One character, named by the reversing the last name of the two developers (or two of, being Ed Boon and John Tobias) is Noob Saibot. He appeared at some points (don’t remember specifics) and says “Toasty”. While checking the Mortal Kombat Wiki, I saw two other names that ring a bell: Smoke and Jade. Looking further it seems that I did indeed go beyond seeing them in the background (definitely this) and in fact fought against them (whether I figured out how to do this on my own or anything else I really cannot remember – I suspect not by myself in full).

More generally, I know there are many others I discovered (or was told about and enjoyed) over the years. I’ll reflect on a theme, one I did not do at all but I remember reading way back when. Then I’ll get to the vim easter egg.

So if you search Google for ‘Bill Gates is the antichrist’. The entry on is much of what it used to be (if not all). It is unfortunate that it isn’t the original, the one I saw so long ago: the original was lost because it was on Geocities and that is long dead. There is an easter egg in one of Microsoft Office (Excel 95 maybe?) that is listed. There’s also some maths with Bill Gates name (think: decimal values being added up) and what it equates to. Funnily enough, among listed is (not so much related to Bill Gates but is is still relevant to the fact I mention the editor vim – though in this case it is vi more so):

Note that the internet is also commony known as the World Wide Web or WWW... One way to write WWW is V/ (VI):

WWW V/ V/ V/ 666
Something to ponder upon, right?

Why is that amusing? Because of the editor wars between vi and emacs. This is one of those wars that is not hell-bent (can’t help it) on flaming but rather wit and humour. Wikipedia has an entry on it but it is claimed vi is the editor of the devil for the above reason (‘vi’, Roman numeral for 6). (There were more examples in that Wikipedia article but that’s the relevant one).

As for the easter egg in Vim I will give an explanation of why and how I discovered it (because I found that more useful than the easter egg), allowing those who are curious, to try it themselves (tip: you can change it as well!). Of all the programs I use, the one I use the most (perhaps better stated is, of all the utilities), is the shell and in my case ‘konsole’ (at my server I don’t have a GUI and so I just use the console itself). I usually have 5-10 tabs (or more) which means 5-10+ shells open at any time. Since I use vim for my editor of choice (I used to use vi but years ago tried vim and I agree with the name: vim is indeed VI iMproved), and since it allows you to open one file and then switch to another file without exiting (you can also open more than one ‘window’, each with another file and this applies equally), the current task in the tab (of konsole) shows the original invocation. This was annoying for many reasons. Looking in to how to fix this, it would be something like putting this in your runtime file (per-user would be ~/.vimrc but you could also use system-wide but I tend to frown upon enforcing changes on all accounts, even if they can disable it):
:auto BufEnter * let &titlestring = hostname() . ":vim " . expand("%p")
:set title titlestring=%<%F%=%l/%L-%P titlelen=70

Now if you open vim with (example): ‘vim file1′ you would note as it is before (in konsole tab): ‘vim file1′ (it might show other information like the hostname or however you configure it but this is up to you, in the profile settings[1]). However, if you were to be in command mode and then use ‘:e file2′ you would now see the tab has been updated to show ‘vim file2′. Now if you quit vim (command mode): ‘:q’ you will see the tab title has changed again. “Thanks for flying vim!” As for how you can change it, I’ll leave that to you but it is noted in the help file (‘:help title’ and read that entry as well as the entries below it, about titles). As an interesting bit, because I wanted to confirm that indeed the two changes are exactly what is needed, I commented out (prepend with a double quote) the first line, saved and (in another shell) started vim. It then shows as the title the name of the file followed by much whitespace then what is usually in the status (bottom of screen by default): current line/line count % where current line is the line where the cursor is, the line count is how many lines total and % is what percentage of the file the cursor is at.

As a final note: Enjoy easter eggs, whether you find them on your own or not: we put them there for our own enjoyment as well as yours! Although I am obviously biased, I think it really shows how programmers are clever and how easily they are amused. It is a good thing, though, it is a good way to release frustrations and some of the time programmers are not really appreciated (or the amount of effort they can put in is not always respected) so these things just show that they too can have fun and when others find it, they hopefully enjoy it as much if not more than the actual program.