<![CDATA[Official Site of Author SJ Parkinson - BLOG]]>Sun, 21 Jan 2018 14:31:23 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[What everyone needs to know about Elite: Dangerous before they buy it.]]>Fri, 04 Mar 2016 18:10:59 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2016/03/what-everyone-needs-to-know-about-elite-dangerous-before-they-buy-it.htmlPicture

I've owned the Elite: Dangerous game since February 2015 and spent over 2,000 hours on it to date. I have three accounts for this game. This is the only game I've bought more than once and I play it every day. I'm not alone, Elite Dangerous has sold 1.45 million copies since it was released.

If you lack patience, if you want instant gratification, if you have no imagination, or if you expect to be a game god dominating everything and everyone around you within an hour, do not buy this game. You'll be disappointed. This is a game where you need to think and plan ahead in both the long and short term. Your decisions have consequences and responsibility for your success or failure is pretty much on your shoulders. This game gives you nothing, but a small starter ship and 1,000 credits. You have to earn everything from that point forward yourself. Disappointed players don't understand this simple point. If you want it, you need to go out and get it.

There's no getting around this. Elite: Dangerous is HARD; at least until you understand the many facets of game play. There is a steep learning curve. It does not hold your hand and explain every little thing as you go. You drive your own experience. The game is unforgiving. Mistakes, even small ones, can kill you. The game is real time. There is no pause, there is no save (except when you dock or log off), the game goes on no matter what you do.

When you start the game, you'll have the option to do tutorial missions. DO THE TUTORIALS. Make your mistakes there as you learn how to fly and fight. You may spend several hours in the tutorials adjusting controls, trying different throttle settings and getting comfortable. This is time well spent. Skip the tutorials and you will regret it.

Elite: Dangerous is immersive. The visuals and sound are like a hot bath you sink into. Weapon and engine noises differ with each ship model. You can modify your ships with more powerful engines, weapons, armor, shields and equipment. I play the game in 1080 resolution with 7.1 surround sound headphones and it is awe inspiring at times. The game can be used with most VR equipment. Oculus Rift and Vive are directly supported.

The game does not dictate morality. You play as friendly or vindictive as you like. You can be a white knight hero or despised despot with a hefty price on your head. Or you can act differently with every encounter. As long as it's within the Terms of Service for the game you choose how you play.

The Elite: Dangerous galaxy is the same one we live in today. There are 400 billion stars and 99% can be explored or visited. It is therefore a mind bogglingly massive game map where only 0.02% of the galaxy has been explored after a year of play. Planetary landings were introduced in the Horizons season expansion and you can drive around on the surfaces of literally billions of planets. The ability to land on atmospheric planets and Earth-like worlds is coming in future seasons.   

Comments that this is a simple space trucker sim are from people who rage quit when they were not perfect in the first half hour. As I said, it takes time to get the flight mechanics and game system under control. Once you "get it" you can pivot in space and fire behind you without losing forward momentum. True Newtonian physics, if you want it. 

The one word you are going to run into is "grind." Grind refers to improving your position by doing repetitive things to get money, rank and experience quickly. In my opinion, the players who grind are doing it wrong. There is no end game, there are no victory conditions and you don't "win" Elite: Dangerous.  People grind to get into the top end ships as quickly as possible and this usually ends up making them bitter about their game experience. That isn't the way to play. You have fun, do what you want to do and let the experience and credits come your way naturally. The best ship in the game, according to some players, is an Anaconda. It costs 147 million credits just to buy the base ship and you'll need twice that amount again to outfit it. I might be a third of the way to getting one, but I really don't care about that. The other ships (There are thirty vessels currently) are fun to fly and adventure with. I have a blast in whatever ship I pilot.

A full list of ships (with the ability to modify them into various configurations) can be found here:


In a traditional flight game, you set pitch, yaw, roll and throttle and away you go in seconds. Elite: Dangerous has several dozen controls you can adjust just for piloting your craft. Many of them are OFF by default, but as you grow more confident and daring you'll find those settings add a depth and sophistication all their own. You can use a mouse and keyboard, or game controller, but a joystick or HOTAS rig will give you the best experience IMHO.

You can choose to be a pirate, bounty hunter, miner, explorer, trader, smuggler or switch from one career to the other as you see fit. Many players have several ships they switch between.

Elite: Dangerous is a game of power management. When in game you only have a certain amount of power for your ship. You need to manage your shields, weapons and engine power to play effectively. In game, this is known as the SYS - ENG - WEP. Adding power to one takes it away from the others. Learn the implications of this in a safe environment (tutorials). You ship will need fuel to power internal systems. Run out of fuel and you will die. You ship also has limited life support if you suffer a hull breach. Run out of air and you will die.

Heat is your enemy. Weapons fire, silent running and flying too close to some planetary bodies or suns make your ship hot. You need to know what to do because extreme heat will damage your ship hull and internal components. If your hull falls to 0% you will die.

There are three game modes. You may log into or out of any of them without penalty. All of them require a constant Internet connection be active. They are:

Open - This is where many people start. You can interact with thousands of other Commanders (CMDR's). Many CMDR's are decent, helpful and friendly. Some keep to themselves and may not communicate. However, be aware that it's a dangerous galaxy with some CMDR's who will shoot you up without warning just to watch you burn. Open is for people who know what they are doing and can either defend themselves or know how to run. Both PC's and NPC's can be found in Open. Both can try to kill you or take your cargo. PC CMDR's can be identified by hollow triangles. Green are friends, yellow are unknown and red are hostile. Remember, just because someone is green does not mean you are safe from them.

Solo - This is the same as Open, but you are the only PC. You can learn game mechanics here without the danger of players shooting you up. Be warned, NPC's will still interdict and/or try to engage you.

Private Groups - This is for several players to either game privately or with like minded players. Not ready for Open? Then join a private group where you can learn the game in (relative) safety. Form your own group for you and your friends, or join an established one.

The largest private group is Mobius with over 20,000 players and more joining daily. Mobius is PVE where player versus player combat is only allowed under extremely limited conditions. Their discussion forum is here:


There are groups for various countries and languages as well. English, French, German and Russian languages are available in game. You can join other players in what are called Wings. A Wing can have up to four PC players together with in-game voice comms to coordinate activities.

Game missions involve retrieving rare or needed items, tracking down an enemy and destroying them, bounty hunting, mining, landing on planets, exploring, assassination missions, delivering messages or smuggling cargo. You can investigate unknown signals or if you are into the pew-pew, head into a combat zone. More content is planned over a total ten year development plan of which only a year has gone by. The game is being improved continuously.

There's an insurance scheme in the game where ship losses (NOT cargo) are covered. With proper insurance coverage you'll get your ship back as it was. If you fly without enough insurance and lose your ship, you'll end up with a basic Sidewinder and 1,000 credits which is what you start the game with. Do not fly without insurance unless you are willing to lose your ship and effectively start again. I repeat, do not fly without insurance unless you are willing to accept the consequences. Players have lost over 100,000,000 credits worth of ship and cargo in a heartbeat.

If you die, you lose any unclaimed bounties, combat bonds, cargo, and some missions.

Elite: Dangerous is very dangerous, but oh so rewarding once you get it right. The devs are working on more game content and improving things all the time. This is a game in progress and you can have input into how the future will look by participating in official discussion forums here:


I have made a series of videos on the various aspects of the game here:


I've only scratched the surface, there is so much more to discover. The game is not perfect. There are bugs and given the vastness of play, something will inevitably annoy you. However, if you can see past the issues (which are being fixed and improved by the devs constantly) and this style of game play appeals, then you'll have a great time.

Before you buy, watch my video series, read as many reviews as you can and educate yourself to the complexities of the game before plonking down any money. Elite: Dangerous is a great game for me, but that does not mean it will be for you.

The game is available for PC, XBox and Mac computers. More info at the link below.


Good luck CMDR. Hopefully, I'll see you in the big black at some point. Here is some video (watch full screen and on a decent sound system for full effect) and in-game screenshots I captured while playing.

<![CDATA[Taking Back The Hugo Awards]]>Thu, 09 Apr 2015 16:18:21 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2015/04/taking-back-the-hugo-awards.htmlThere has been a lot of vocal protest over the 2015 Hugo Award nominations.

Before I go further, I need to satisfy full disclosure by informing you that my science-fiction novel Twinkle was nominated for a Hugo in the best novel category and did not make the short list. I knew that winning a Hugo was a long shot from day one, but I do need to declare that fact up front to avoid any conflict. I'm also eligable to vote on the 2015 Hugo awards for what it's worth.

I won't go into the details of the Hugo controversy as they have been well represented by the press and other writers. However, in brief, two groups (Sad Puppies & Rabid Puppies) who have been linked to the GamerGate scandal have successfully had several sponsored works make it to the short list for the Hugo in several catagories. This was done within the stated rules and as far as I can see, not technically illegal. They simply played the system to get works they approve of to get onto the short list of nominations.   

While this has stirred up many vocal voices opposing their actions, hope is still alive for a fair, or at least a satisfactory, outcome.

First, not all of the Hugo nominations were supported by the 'puppy' groups. If you feel the 'puppy' group nominations are wrong, you can simply vote for one of the other candidates they had nothing to do with. Again, the works the puppies nominated are well documented and I will not list them here. If you are able to vote in the 2015 Hugo's I leave it to you to educate yourself and make up your own mind. However, I will tell you how to minimize their impact within the current voting rules of the Hugo Award.

There is a clause where a nominated work can be withdrawn voluntarily. If that happens, the next work with the next highest number of nomination votes is placed on the final ballot. One hopes that pressure can be brought to bear on the controversial authors with Hugo nominations, but being the cynic I am, I don't place much faith in this happening.

This brings me to another clause in the Hugo Award rules; the "No Award" vote. This little known rule can save the reputation of the Hugo Award process.  

If a voting member feels that none of the works presented are fit for a Hugo, they may vote "No Award" at the top of their ballot in any category. If the majority of people choose the "No Award" option, then no award is granted to any of the listed nominees in that category.

I enclosed the full rule quote below on exactly how this works, but it is essentially a veto over the nominations presented. If you truly feel that the 'puppy' groups have usurped the process then this is how you fight back. While the nominations can be massaged by a minority of people, the final vote is open to all members. 

By using the "No Award" vote you state your displeasure loud and clear and no one gets an award. While this may be a blow to the nominees who got onto the ballot fairly, I believe the long standing integrity of the Hugo Award must come first. 

No matter which way you feel on the subject, if you can vote in the 2015 Hugo Award ballot I urge you to review the list of works, understand the voting process and know the options available to you. Then please vote as your conscience dictates. The results will speak for themselves.

I've included the direct link to the voting system page of the Hugo Award site along with several excerpts from that page at the end of this article for your reference.

Please feel free to spread this article to any voting member of the 2015 Hugo Awards. I welcome your comments.

Excerpt from http://www.thehugoawards.org/the-voting-system/ (Go here for the full text)

No Award

Under each category you will also be given the choice of voting for No Award.

You should vote for No Award as your first choice if you believe that none of the nominees are worthy of the Award, or that the Award category should be abolished. If you vote for No Award in any other position it means that you believe the nominees you placed above No Award were worthy of a Hugo, but that those not placed above it were not worthy. However, as we shall see, it is possible to rank nominees below No Award and have an effect on the outcome.

The No Award Test

The final check before a winner can be determined is known as the No Award Test. The valid ballots are divided into three piles: those in which No Award is ranked higher than the prospective winner, those in which the prospective winner is ranked higher than No Award, and those in which neither No Award nor the prospective winner have preferences listed. Note that a ballot that contains a preference for the prospective winner but does not contain a preference for No Award goes into the “prospective winner higher than no award” pile. This is because lack of preference is, by definition, lower than any preference. Having got the three piles, the votes in the “prospective winner higher than No Award pile” and the votes in the “No Award higher than prospective winner” pile are counted. If the number of votes with the prospective winner placed higher is greater then the result is confirmed. If the pile with No Award placed higher is greater then no award is given in the category that year.]]>
<![CDATA[The Three Stages of Data Collection]]>Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:38:16 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2015/03/the-three-stages-of-data-collection.htmlMajor governments continue to press for more intensive surveillance and access to private or personal information. Their logic is simple; they want to protect us from evil doers and thwart terrorist plots before they can happen. Beyond the simple fact that no government can ever protect you from every threat all the time, there is a deeper and darker consequence to what they are doing.

Governments have always spied on other governments, but as technology has spread, their efforts have spread out to include individuals. The ongoing Snowden revelations of the NSA / GCHQ corrupting encryption systems, tapping data centers and accessing your personal meta data show just how deeply various government agencies have penetrated infrastructure world wide. This activity can be broken down into three distinct stages.

Stage One - Accessing Information:

This is fairly straightforward. Government departments access your Facebook, Twitter, phone, email, on-line banking, credit history, contact list, etc. They try to gain information about you, where you go and the people you associate / communicate with. Typically, this information is protected by privacy law or the Constitution in the US. If you live outside of the US then you are a viable target to US intelligence agencies. Traditionally in most countries, for law enforcement to access your private info, they need to go in front of a judge, present a prima facie case demonstrating your culpability in a crime and receive a court order allowing them to gather more evidence. It is a system that has worked for many decades.

However, recent changes to the law no longer involve a judge. Today, as one example, several major cities in the US have police cameras mounted on patrol cars to routinely record license plate information on the millions of people they pass on the road daily. The cars are photographed, their position and time / date noted along with the occupants. That information goes into massive databases to be used in the case of kidnapping, or some other form of crime. This warrant less surveillance monitors regular people who have not done anything wrong. They are being monitored, just in case something happens. The same collection is occurring with cell phones and their GPS locations. Facial recognition is being implemented in airports, public buildings and city streets to track people.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and many other public companies have been forced to reveal your personal information through secret government orders then been banned from speaking about it.

This began in the late 1990's and continues largely unchecked. Indeed the demand for this information is growing with billions of dollars being spent to collect and store more data annually.

Stage Two - Relating Information:

Everyone understand relationships in real life. By following your ancestors back in time you get an overall picture of your family, its history and origins. Relating data is no different. Individual databases such as your phones GPS location, email and contact list are related to build an overall picture of where you were, who you were with and when. Governments track your finances, stock holdings, credit score, and purchases. There are thousands of individual databases and relating them gives government bureaucracy unprecedented access to you and your life. Where you shop, where you go on vacation, what you write to your friends, what you watch on cable, who you date, your political views, etc. All of this is now available online at the press of a button. There have already been many abuses of this system as there are few checks and balances as most of this activity is classified.

Governments use security classifications to protect sensitive information. A militaries communication codes are top secret for good reason. However, making things secret is also the way bureaucracies cover over incompetence and abuses of the system. The Pentagon Papers, Sibel Edmonds, abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the killing of unarmed Reuters reporters by US troops in Iraq are a few examples of cover-up by security. This is where we are today.

"So what?" Many people object, "I've done nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide." I hear this from many people, but it's not the real issue.

Stage Three - Manipulating Information:

Today, governments are at the point where integration of databases is well along the road. This system is supposed to work in a read only mode. An analyst types in search criteria and out comes the subset of information he/she desires. However, at some point, someone in authority will want to modify information in those databases. The motivation will be chock full of good intentions I'm sure and the changes they want will be initially minor, but in doing so they are setting down a road that can only lead to terrible consequences; let me explain.

Consider a dollar bill in your pocket. When you received it, you trust that piece of paper had a value of one dollar. The actual physical value of that piece of paper is negligible. The bill is nothing but cellulose and ink, in and of itself it has little inherent value. Yet, you accepted it in the assumption that when you give it to someone they'll also accept it as being worth one dollar. That inherent trust is key to everyone's daily life in the modern world.

Most currency today exists purely in digital form. Your bank balance is not sitting on a shelf in the local branch vault in an equivalent amount in bills or gold. It is a simple number stored in a financial database. Your stock holdings, retirement funds, credit card balance, and savings are all just fields in databases. There is little physical money given our electronic society. We simply trust that when we go to the cash machine or online banking, the balance will be correct and available. We place trust into the database that holds our money.

Now we return to the people making changes to the databases. With all of these datastores being connected, someone can change data for either some sort of beneficial gain or to mitigate a perceived loss. It may be state sponsored, where an agency modifies financial information to mask (or expose) a countries weak currency position or undermine a corporation. It could be as simple as an intelligence analyst trying to wipe out his girlfriends college loans. Other possibilities include police officers amending data to reinforce otherwise weak evidence against a suspect.

I can imagine the roars of "That could never happen," but in today's world where government agencies both lie to each other and their oversight committees in Congress without any prosecution, I state it is not only possible, but inevitable. Twenty years ago this would be extremely difficult because of the supporting paper trail and legal protections, if not impossible. Today with classified intercept programs and secret backdoors into multiple data stores modifying information is a matter of a few keystrokes. In my opinion, it's not a matter of if, but when this will occur; if it has not already. Nor will it stop with just one occurrence and these changes will be classified to hide it from public view, of course.

When those modifications come to light, trust in all digital systems will be severely degraded. Not knowing what has been changed casts doubts over the entire infrastructure. We will no longer be able to trust any database's integrity. Stock prices, your bank balance, personal info, credit history, etc. will have huge question marks over them. It may trigger a financial meltdown as everyone tries to get their cash out of the corrupt system.    

Legal protections against unwarranted search and seizure are in effect in every major country on the face of the earth. They have been in place for decades and are proven to be effective against crime. This is part of a public system where the press and regular citizens can review individual cases and make informed political decisions. If they disagree with the process, the courts can be used to determine legal validity. New laws, often kept secret from the public, override this system of checks and balances. The government asks us to trust them as this is for our protection, but I don't agree.

The government works for us. We elect politicians, we pay the taxes that finance them and they are supposed to represent us. When someone does something wrong, we look to the government (the police) to arrest, charge and prosecute the law breaker. However, when government officials break the law and not are charged, who do we turn to? Director of National Intelligence - James Clapper lied during an open hearing of Congress. He subsequently admitted it, but will probably not face charges and indeed will probably get a high paying job when he leaves government service. The chances of anyone in government being prosecuted for rights and constitutional violations is slim because the same members of government decide who gets charged. Edward Snowden, who brought most of the crimes into the light, would spend the rest of his life in jail if he ever returned to the United States. The people who created the hidden surveillance and courts that breached the law in the first place will never even see the inside of a jail cell under current attitudes. They simply slap a security classification over the abuses and ignore them because they can do so with impunity.   

The words of William Binney, one of three whistleblowers, formerly of the NSA: "We tried to stay for the better part of seven years inside the government trying to get the government to recognize the unconstitutional, illegal activity that they were doing and openly admit that and devise certain ways that would be constitutionally and legally acceptable to achieve the ends they were really after. And that just failed totally because no one in Congress or — we couldn't get anybody in the courts, and certainly the Department of Justice and inspector general's office didn't pay any attention to it. And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All it did was continue to get worse and expand."

When we as citizens are denied access and can no longer monitor the inner workings of our own governments, then we are no longer an open democracy. When everyone in a country is monitored, surveilled and tracked, we typically think of places like East Germany or North Korea. Yet, with today's technology like smart phones, tablets and GPS enabled cars we are under a much higher level of scrutiny than even the Stasi could invent. The only thing keeping it from sliding into a police state is the freedoms and rights we have as individuals, but those rights are being trampled down every day in the rush for expediency.       

The US Constitution and Bill of Rights is one of the best written documents in the world. It contains a series of checks and balances that work in 2015 as well as they did when it was ratified in 1788. Classified Presidential Executive Orders combined with both secret legislation and closed courts have undermined those protections. The US is not the only country doing this and I don't wish to single them out, but they certainly take the prize for the largest effort in circumventing their own laws and unwillingness to curb their efforts. 

When governments enact secret legislation, use security classifications to cover abuses and exclude their own citizens from public debate, the outcome of degraded trust is inevitable. When government can literally rewrite history and the official record, only we as the citizens will suffer.

EDIT: Just as I was about to post this, I found a reference to New York City police officers, using official computers and Internet, editing and deleting Wikipedia entries concerning police brutality cases to place the NYPD in a better light. The officers involved will not face any severe disciplinary measures according to the NYPD police commisioner. They will receive a slap on the wrist, but more for getting caught than anything else. Expect more instances like this in the future.
<![CDATA[The True North, Strong and Free. ]]>Fri, 24 Oct 2014 17:37:31 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2014/10/the-long-term-view.htmlAs many of you know a shooting occurred in Ottawa on Parliament Hill recently. A young father of one was killed by a gunman as he stood guard over the memorial cenotaph. The assailant was subsequently shot and killed inside the Parliament building after numerous shots were exchanged. The Prime Minister of Canada called it a terrorist incident.

In August of this year in Moncton, New Brunswick another man killed three police officers and wounded two others during a shooting spree. He surrendered and plead guilty to the crime.

These two events are seen by the Canadian government (and others) as being diametrically different; not for the crimes themselves, but because of what the shooters were thinking.

In the Parliament Hill shooting the suspect was labeled as a Jihadi sympathizer. He'd recently had his passport taken away as he was seen as a potential threat, but as he hadn't broken any laws the police could do nothing further.

Treating a murder case differently because of a suspects religious, political, or personal beliefs is a slippery slope. When someone today is convicted of a murder, the circumstances of the crime are taken into account and that is where the judge can increase the sentence based on the nature or severity of the offence. It's a system that has served Canada well; up to and including the aforementioned man who shot multiple police officers in Moncton.

Murder is a crime in Canada and has been for some time. First-degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter cover the various kinds of adult homicide in Canada with many cases successfully tried under those statutes. Now there is a call from those in government wanting tougher statutes. New laws restricting freedoms and giving police wider powers typically follow tragic circumstances. Yet, none of these new laws could have stopped the original (or any subsequent) crime. Laws are only respected by honest people and enacting new law to cover crimes that are already illegal is simply a "feel good" exercise.

Today, the word terrorism is being thrown around by those who want more police and government power. They want more surveillance, more tracking, more search and seizure, etc. They want to know who you are, where you are, who you are talking to, your political affiliations, and the resulting information will go into monstrous databases. They want to be able to search anyone at anytime, listen in on your phone calls, read your emails, and do all of that without warrants. They will say it is necessary to fight terrorists and protect the citizens of Canada. What they fail to mention is that Canada has experienced a long string of "terrorism" since 1692. The more recent examples include:

1963-1969 The FLQ performs a six year long bomb campaign. Six people died with dozens being injured.
1965 Croatians set several bombs in Yugoslavian buildings in Toronto and Ottawa.
1966 The Cuban embassy in Ottawa is attacked by bazooka.
1966 A man bombs Parliament in Ottawa by blowing up a bomb in a bathroom.
1970 The FLQ kidnaps two diplomats. War Measures Act enabled. 465 people are detained without charge.
1985 Sikh militants bomb Air India Flight 182 killing 329 people.
2006 "The Toronto 18" are arrested after plotting a bombing and terror campaign.

Suffice to say the new laws introduced after these incidents didn't stop the next. Murder (by bomb, knife, gun, or whatever) is already illegal. Adding new laws so a politician looks tough on terrorism while degrading a citizens freedoms accomplishes nothing.

It's time for me to voice an uncomfortable truth. No law can protect 100% of people, 100% of the time. Otherwise it would already be in place. You can put a police officer with a machine gun on every street corner in the country and there will be further violence or bloodshed. A person who is willing to sacrifice their own life to kill others (for whatever reason) cannot be stopped by additional laws or protective measures. There will be more incidents in the future with every occurrence followed by podium pounding politicians demanding more restrictions on your freedoms. These politicians are not afraid of the terrorists, they simply want to be seen to be doing something to deflect criticism so they can get re-elected.  

Parliament Hill has always been an open place. Citizens are free to walk in and ask to see their elected representative. Additional security to detect weapons will probably be added along with other less obvious measures. That's a common sense solution to having an armed man storm into a government building. Restricting everyone's freedoms throughout the country due to the actions of one man is not.

Canada has generally taken a fairly middle-of-the-road position in dealing with terrorist acts. After the imposition of the War Measures Act during the FLQ crisis, that draconian legislation was replaced with a much less invasive Emergencies Act which was subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Balancing a citizens rights and privacy against the need for effective policing is a debate that has raged for years. That debate should continue. BUT... The government of Canada works for its citizens and not the other way around. Government should not dictate to us. We tell them what to do and how we want it done. Other countries have adopted paranoid policies and severely curtailed freedoms of speech and action to counter terrorism. I simply hope Canada can find a sane path to navigate through this and subsequent crisis.

That's my opinion. What's yours?]]>
<![CDATA[Effectiveness of “Strong” Passwords]]>Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:55:28 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2014/09/effectiveness-of-strong-passwords.html

Last week, I signed up on a new web forum. On registration, the following text popped up:

To enhance our site security, your password must be a minimum of eight characters long, contain one upper case letter, a number and a special character.

I signed up for the site, but wondered later just how much more effective this style of password was. I’ve seen that same text on multiple sites and where I work, we have the same password policy in place. I simply wanted to see how much more effective that enforced password policy was. Plus, I wanted to confirm that we were taking proper steps to protect our users.

I composed the below Excel chart over a lunch break and the results shocked me. While a “perfect” password had over six quadrillion combinations, a policy enforced password of the type described above was actually less than half as good as a purely lower case one that we’d been warned against using.

As a simple example, the entirely lower case password robocat is more than twice as effective as $5Montyz

I ran a series of combinations and found overall that passwords where content was not dictated by policy were more effective than those that were.

I had a hard time seeing the overall impact, so I added a money column as everyone can relate to cash. If a perfect password was worth $100,000 then a policy enforced password was only valued at $1.62 where an entirely lower case password was equivalent to $3.43.

Random generation of a password is the typical way to get around this. However, a password of R#<,.mL6 will only result in it being written onto a sticky note then being placed on their monitor.

To generate a password of reasonable effectiveness (and also being user friendly) an upper and lower case password should be used in place of a policy dictated one. Plus, a longer password or passphrase would be much better than a short one.

Using the same logic as above, the passphrase    MyCatIsQuiteCute   a sixteen character upper and lower case password would be worth $46,884,649,035,711,300.

NOTE: This is by no means an exhaustive analysis. This is a oversimplified demonstration based purely on the mathematical number of possible combinations. Many other factors would come into play in real life.

(Click on below image to load larger version)

<![CDATA[Female Characters in Computer Gaming]]>Sun, 15 Jun 2014 16:54:46 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2014/06/female-characters-in-computer-gaming.htmlRecently Ubisoft technical director James Therien spoke about about creating female characters in computer games. Among other things he was quoted as saying: "It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it's a question of focus and production," They would have to, "redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes." and, "It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it's something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision... It's unfortunate, but it's a reality of game development." Which translated means there will not be any female characters created by Ubisoft in future games because to paraphrase, it's too hard, costly, and time consuming.

That got me thinking and I went through my (somewhat limited) video game collection and came up with the following screenshots in about ten minutes. It seems other computer gaming companies don't share Ubisoft's attitude and their results have been pretty good to date. 

Capcom's Resident Evil series not only has many female characters, but they are leaders in their own right. Much of the Resident Evil series has the ladies armed and up front, taking down mutant baddies by the score.

EA's Mass Effect trilogy let the player choose between a male or female character. I played both male and female versions completely through several times. Regardless of the gender of the Shepard character, the play was essentially the same (save the romance angles, obviously) and there was no "weaker" sex.  Of the two, I actually preferred FemShep.

Lara Croft has been a staple of the gaming world since her first video Tomb Raider game appearance in 1996. The latest reboot shows her as a young woman dealing with her first foray into the real world.

Then there's Alyx Vance from Half Life 2. Rampaging across City 17 with Gordon Freeman, her character was the perfect empathic foil for the non-speaking Freeman. She made Half Life 2 the mega-hit it became.

There are many more examples of women in computer games. The ones presented here were from my personal PC game collection.

So it seems Ubisoft has a minority opinion in the industry. If development of female characters were truly problematic, then wouldn't other companies have stopped also? Catwoman from the Batman Arkham City game is as good as I have ever seen a female character. Not only does she move naturally, but her fighting style is completely different from Batman and fits her character perfectly.

Perhaps developing a female character in a computer game is more challenging. However, I am glad to see the majority of computer gaming companies embracing that challenge and coming up with believable and effective characters instead of simply looking at an accounting spreadsheet and saying, "no, that's too expensive."

The thing that mystifies me though is that Ubisoft recently came out with a female assassin (Aveline de Grandpré) in Assassin's Creed Liberation. That shows that they CAN develop an effective and convincing female character; but it looks like they just don't want to.

<![CDATA[Edge of Tomorrow - Science Fiction, done right.]]>Mon, 09 Jun 2014 15:31:15 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2014/06/edge-of-tomorrow-science-fiction-done-right.htmlIt has been six months since my last blog post here. I should apologize for that, but I've been pretty busy both with the guest author blog at Wordhorse.co.uk and editing my latest sci-fi novel due out soon. As the weather was bad yesterday I went to the movies and thought I'd post my impressions on Edge of Tomorrow.
Under the current Hollywood system, it's hard to make a decent film. Tom Cruise's latest, the Edge of Tomorrow, beats the odds and succeeds brilliantly. I won't spoil the film for those who have not seen it, but it is essentially a cross of the good parts of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers. A man must relive the same horrible battle day after day to try and defeat an alien invasion.

The specials effects were very well done, but beyond that, the story worked on many levels. Without that decent plot, the movie would have fallen flat even with the combo of Tom Cruise - Emily Blunt.

Romance scenes between the lead characters were limited, thankfully. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-romance, but a love scene in an action movie is like a high speed car chase in The Piano. It adds nothing and distracts from the core purpose of the movie. Ben Affleck's Pearl Harbor being a perfect example of what not to do.

The supporting cast of the film (J Squad) was not your typical group. They were chosen to portray a group of misfits and that largely successed. The one disappointment was Bill Paxton playing a drill sergeant. I'm not sure if it was the make-up, uniform, or Paxton's portrayal of the character, but he didn't seem to execute the character very well. I kept seeing Bill Paxton in a fake mustache rather than a drill sergeant. However, that was the only miss in an otherwise excellent film.

Director Doug Liman has a limited filmography, but has successfully knocked the ball out of the park with Edge of Tomorrow. If I needed a director for Predation, he'd be on the short list. I'll be looking out for future movies from this director.

I rate Edge of Towmorrow as 9 out of 10 on the Simon scale.

<![CDATA[Rome 2: Total War - And why you should avoid it...]]>Thu, 05 Dec 2013 18:41:32 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2013/12/rome-2-total-war-and-why-you-should-avoid-it.htmlI'll start by saying that if you are considering buying Rome 2: Total War, don't. Wait until it goes on sale for under $10 before you plunge in, if you choose to get it at all. Then the frustration may, repeat, may be tolerable.

I'm a gamer and a huge Total War fan. For those who don't know what that is, it is a series of games that let you fight battles through the centuries from Roman to Napoleonic times. When I'm not writing, I enjoy playing computer games to both relax, and work off the stresses of the day. However, when the game I'm playing causes more grief than what I started with, it's time to vent.

The original Total War: Rome game was brilliant. I have over ninety hours of play on that game and it is simply one of the best games ever made. I had high expectations for Rome 2, but it turns out to be one of the worse.

First, the good. Hi-res graphics, smooth multi-unit animations showing individual soldiers whacking at each other if you zoom in close enough. Great stuff, but I suspect they spent all their time making it look good rather than being playable, or even logical.

The bad: You are limited in the number of units you can field. In the original Rome: Total War, you could have as many units as you wanted, as long as you could pay for them. Rome 2 limits you in the initial campaign to two legions and two fleets. You cannot move those units unless there is a general/admiral in charge. You get more units as you pick up more provinces. I know it's only a game, but Augustus had 28 legions to control his empire.

To transport troops, you simply take your field army into the sea and boats magically appear to transport them. Huh? I know why they did that. With only two initial fleets, you have to have that functionality. However, the magicly appearing fleets are more powerful than the actual admiral led fleets you create. The computer generated forces can also use that  method to invade your homeland. You look up and see no fleets anywhere on the map, next turn you have two marauding armies sitting off your capital city. WTH?

Last night was the final straw. The game came up with an alert that said "Slave revolt imminent" in a province I owned. My strongest legion (16 units, fully manned) with my best general was in the area so I sent him in. Next turn, a fleet of "slaves" appears. Not only do they have much better ships than me, but their armed force (according to the in-game comparison) was three times better than mine. I lost, badly. Their fighters had full units (two chevron Italian swordsmen) of 120 men each, compared to my three chevron Hastati of 80 men each. Note, I mentioned chevrons. After fighting multiple battles the troops get better and earn chevrons. Mine, having been fighting from turn two were very experienced. The "slave" force appeared with each unit having two chevrons each. The battle took place on the bank of a river crossing. I placed my force on the riverbank and let them come to me. Defending troops broke formation all across the line allowing the attackers to go through my lines like a hot knife through butter. In Rome, I fought the same battle type and lost a tenth of my troops, while decimating the attackers. With Rome 2, I lost all 1500 defenders and the attackers lost just over 400 or so. Pretty good slaves, and completely unbelievable.  

Another nasty bug is the flag system. The flag of a unit indicates how powerful it is. The more bars, the more powerful. I seiged a city with troops inside with nothing on their flag telling me it was weak or a force limited in numbers. As soon as the battle started, I was outnumbered 2:1 with a massively better force than mine. Where the heck did they come from?

In the original Rome, I think I lost two battles out of seventy or so on a campaign. The two I did lose were ambushes by superior forces. I have no issue with that as I cannot be powerful everywhere. However, Caesar defeated Vercingetorix at Alesia when outnumbered four to one. The quality of roman troops was pretty damned high.

Several major gaming sites have rated Rome 2: total War at 80% or better. I have no idea why. The comments from actual gamers on the same articles hold stinging criticisms of those reviews. Suffice it to say I will not go back to those sites in the future. Nor will I be playing Rome 2. The irritation of having to deal with buggy AI and illogical game play is simply too frustrating. They say they are patching bugs, but honestly, there is too much broken and I suspect it will never get to being a decent game.

After writing the above, I found this YouTube review. For those of you that are not easily offended by strong language, see Angry Joes review of Rome 2 here:

Angry Joe - Rome 2 Review
<![CDATA[Raisin bran and Pluto]]>Sun, 27 Oct 2013 17:16:56 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2013/10/raisin-bran-and-pluto.htmlIt's been a while since I did a blog post (Hey, I've been writing!). I saw an online post recently from an indie writer who had just "published my first novel". They went on to say they were proud of being a novelist. Having been there myself, I knew what an accomplishment that was and decided to look the book up on Amazon. The page count looked low to me and I saw in their description that the "novel" was 42,000 words. Wait a sec, I thought, that can't be right; I've read previously that novels are 80K minimum. So I started looking up a word count definition for "novel". Short answer, there isn't one. At least, nothing consistent. 

There are no standardized definitions for book lengths or word counts. Individuals, organizations, and businesses have set their own, but go somewhere else and variations appear. The entire publishing industry and raisin bran have the same issue; no one knows exactly what quantities lay within. Just how big is a scoop of raisins? I have three different sizes of scoops in my kitchen. I suppose it doesn't matter as we do get two scoops in every box, but I think my point is made.  

When I go to the gas station and buy a tank measured in gallons or liters, I know that quantity is consistent from station to station. When I purchase medication from my local pharmacist, I don't have to worry about overdosing because a milligram is a globally fixed value. Businesses today have standards so when you buy a pound or kilo of something, you get your money's worth. It's against the law to advertise a product or commodity and then sell less than the stated amount. Speaking for myself, if I bought a book advertised as a novel and it turned out to be only 172 pages, I'd feel ripped off and would never buy that persons work again. 

From research, I can see the 40K "novel" probably started with the Science Fiction Writers of America as a definition for their Nebula Awards somewhere around 1966 and has (to the best of my knowledge) never been updated. The SFWA says anything larger than 40K may be considered for their Novel Nebula Award. So people drew the inevitable conclusion that a novel can be as little as 40K words. Now in the 1960's, it was much harder to write. There were whacking great things called typewriters that had to be poked carefully or you needed to redo the entire page. Books from that time were smaller as a result. Computers have made it a lot easier to write, review, and amend text. Over the years, people started to put out larger books, in greater numbers. Yet, the standards have not been revised to reflect that. Go to a publisher today claiming to have a 40K novel and they'll probably laugh you out of their office. 

Frederick Forsyth is a novelist
John le Carré is a novelist
Frank Herbert is an epic novelist
Tom Clancy is an epic novelist
J. R. R. Tolkien is THE epic novelist
Someone who writes a nineteen page story about their cat is a novelist.

Wait a minute, you say; nineteen pages isn't a novel! Well, in a world without a hard and fast definition, it could be. Without a measurable standard, the word is meaningless and subject to abuse. Same goes for novellas and novelette's. 

The publishing industry (traditional and ebook) needs to set fixed standards for what word count constitutes a novel, novella, novelette, etc. Those labels should then be placed on all book and ebook advertising so people know what they are buying before money changes hands. It's the 21st Century and today you can't pick up an ebook to look how thick it is. You need a trustworthy indication of what lays within. It must be publicly stated, and agreed to by all the major players for consistency. 

I write novels and epic novels. Every book I have written to date is over 100K words and two are ~150K. So by any definition out there, I'm a novelist, and I'm damned proud of it. Yet someone who does a third of the work can also call themselves the same, and that's just wrong. I therefore ask that you consider the following.

The Parkinson Standards for Word Count in the 21st Century are proposed as:

Short Story = 1,000 - 10,000 words
Novelette = 10,000 - 30,000 words
Novella = 30,000 - 80,000 words
Novel = 80,000 - 150,000 words
Epic novels = >150,000 words 

I understand that these numbers mean a lot of older books fall in the novella category and that's going to tick some people off. As examples, The Great Gatsby is ~45,000 words. The Catcher in the Rye is ~38,000. This also affects my favorite book, Starship Troopers, which clocks in at around 66,000 words. There are all masterworks of fiction and I'm not suggesting we take anything away from them. We have revisited standards before. Indeed, we do it regularly. Pluto used to be a planet and became a dwarf planet in 2006. In 2008, it became a plutoid because we needed a better definition for trans-neptunian objects in or around the Kuiper belt. Pluto is still the same celestial body. Same mass, same atmosphere, same number of moons, but it is a plutoid today because the International Astronomical Union would have had issues with other objects, that were larger than Pluto. 

I don't care if you agree with this list or not, I just want you to get involved in the debate. What do you think ladies and gents?
<![CDATA[Support from the Home Country]]>Sun, 17 Mar 2013 21:07:54 GMThttp://sjparkinson.com/2/post/2013/03/support-from-the-home-country.htmlPicture
As a few of you know, I was born in the UK. My family left there in 1970 so my father could take a new job. Even though there was a separation, we always maintained close ties with family back home. The last few weeks have been seen some serious encouragement coming from the "other side of the pond". First, I get more email from fans in the UK than any other country. Predation, in particular, has stuck a chord and reception to that novel in the UK has been wonderful. 

I have been invited to be interviewed by a London based book blogger, so keep an eye open for that in the next month or so. I would like to explore more blog reviewers in the near future so please get in touch if you are interested. 

I also had a very nice email from a lady in Tufnell Park, thanking me for setting a portion of The Legionnaire: Origins there. She said my descriptions were dead on and from that she could tell I knew the area. Thank you Liz. 

To answer a few questions, yes, there will be a book three for the Legionnaire series. It is already being written and roughly a quarter done. Given the time spent on past projects, I think it will be October or November before it is out on the market. My goal is to get it out before Christmas. 

Once the Legionnaire trilogy is finished, there will also be more science fiction books produced. I currently have five sci-fi projects pending and hope to get a couple out soon. I am not prepared to release titles or descriptions yet, but stay tuned. 

Have a great week and thank you for the support.