An open letter to Ubisoft

Dear Ubisoft,

I was just in my local branch of Tesco and was delighted to see that Splinter Cell: Conviction had been released.  I can tell you, I have been a long-time fan of the Splinter Cell series and was looking forward to adding this title to my collection of Ubisoft games.

Alas my fears that you would have not learned from your previous failings with regards to what is reasonable copy protection for your software were entirely well founded.

Look at the stack of games in the picture above.  As I tend to buy games I want as soon as they come out, I usually pay a premium price. That stack of games represents something like £200 of hard-earned money that I was delighted to part with. I buy software, I don’t pirate it, I am not the person who you should be alienating with copy protection crap.

Some forms of copy protection are merely inconvenient, like requiring the CD or DVD to be physically in the drive.  I don’t want to load content off a slow CD or DVD.  I want to read it off the 10,000 rpm Raptor disk I have for exactly the purpose of making games load quickly.  I don’t want to have to keep a stack of game boxes lying around in case I need the activation key you so very expensively printed on each one.

For Assassin’s Creed 2 you decided that a standalone game would require an Internet connection to work.  I wrote at the time that I couldn’t countenance such stupidity and that I would, for the first time ever, not buy a Splinter Cell game if it was similarly protected.  It is, so I didn’t.

Let’s spell this out Ubisoft,  I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction.  You have stopped someone giving you money because you have this insane idea that one day you’re going to create some kind of copy protection that actually works (despite decades of evidence entirely to the contrary) and paying customers won’t mind the inconvenience of the ever-more-desperate ideas you come up with. Your system here has already failed, look here.

People who want to buy your games will do so anyway.  People who want to pirate your games will do so anyway, and are waaaay smarter than you.  I am reminded of this comparison from the world of movies.

So, tell me, Ubisoft, which game of yours would you like me not to buy next?

Please stop over-engineering your antispam system

I’m obviously entirely partisan here, having a significant interest in an antispam and antivirus email filtering service called antibodyMX.  That aside, can I please ask you mail administrators to stop making make filtering decisions based on really, really, shonky premises?  Thanks.

Today I responded to a posting on a mailing list for the MTA that antibodyMX is based on.  The point of the the post isn’t really relevant here, save that the sender was seriously suggesting that the list adopt a standards-breaking policy, but I responded citing a technical issue and was surprised when my email to the original poster was rejected.

The reason it was rejected was that the original poster had decided that the presence of the word “adsl” in the DNS-resolved name of the connecting host was an indication of a spam-sending host.  This is an interesting idea, and for the non-technical reader, it’s best summarised as being bollocks.

The reasoning behind this idea isn’t, well, unreasonable.  Most Internet users these days are on some kind of ADSL connection and most use the cheapest ISP they can find. Most forward/reverse DNS entries for IPs in these ranges look like “adsl-1.2.3.4.SomeISP.net/1.2.3.4”. Many of these users have simply no idea about sensible security so thousands of these home PCs are spam zombies. Is it so bad to assume that mail traffic from such ranges is bound to be spam?

Back to my rejected email.  The regular expression rule the mail system owner had decided to use was badly flawed. It decided that my mail server called “olga.hinterlands.org” looked so much like the word “adsl” that rejecting mail from it (hey! all the right letters are there!) was the sensible thing to do.  Subsquent emails went along the lines of “so what if I do <this>?”  “No, that’s broken, too”  “And how about _this_?” “Sorry”.

This worries me for lots of reasons.  Firstly, a lot of perfectly legitimate email comes out of ADSL ranges.  Small companies use these all the time.  Secondly if you must enforce this sort of thing, (your server, your rules after all), at least bother to test your filtering is doing what you expect.   Test the damn thing and don’t make other email administrators have to deal with the fallout from your local policy.

Why I won’t be voting BNP on May 6th

THINK; Do you really want to vote for despicable parasites who prey on the innocent people?”


….screams the headline of the HAVERING PATRIOT, the local BNP party’s leaflet stuffed through my door.  “Of which despicable parasites do you speak?”, I ask.  Luckily the leaflet provides examples.  Reading though, and  roughly checking the allegations presented, I would broadly have to agree with them that, no, I am unlikely to want to vote for any of them. Of the 17 people listed:

Three I will not vote for because:

  • They are Conservative candidates.
  • They are not standing in my constituency, I couldn’t vote for them if I wanted to.

Thirteen I will not vote for because:

  • They are Labour candidates.
  • They are not standing in my constituency, I couldn’t vote for them if I wanted to.

The remaining candidate is Frank Beck, (actually, they say Becks), a Liberal Democrat and thus escaping the first sorting, but I still won’t be voting for him for three compelling reasons.

  1. He’s not standing in my constituency, I couldn’t vote for him even if I wanted to.
  2. He’s not standing for election at all, this makes voting for him tricky.
  3. He’s dead.  The final and most fatal nail in the coffin.

I read the leaflets, 3 of them, quite carefully.  (Often painfully, as it seems spell checking and basic grammar were clearly less important than wiping all the rabid foam off). Some of the new words and phrases invented are quite good,  though I think they’ll have trouble with “tri-axis of treason”, quite a few people nouned that before them. The presentation is a confusing mix of random italics, bits in bold for no `real` good reason, odd font sizes, varieties of quotes in which the most mundane axioms are headlined at you. “Vote BNP, The party made of real Men and Women.”  Well, err, yes, I accept you’re probably real, can’t fault you on that one.

They have a picture of some kind of machine pistol on the leaflet.  None of the text in any way refers to this picture.

One of the leaflets states two alledged facts.

“Fact #1: The Conservative Party, the Labour party and the Liberal-Democrats all want Turkey to join the EU.”

On the face of it, this seems broadly true.

“Fact #2: The BNP is the only party which opposes Turkish membership of the EU and the Islamification of Britain.”

Oh really?  (Emphasis mine).  I confess I’m struggling to find a link between Turkey joining the EU and the  likelyhood of Britain being swayed en masse to convert to Islamic culture.  I like bacon, sorry.

Please do vote on May 6th, please don’t vote for the BNP.

Please vote on May 6th

I don’t often make public political statements, and saying “please vote on may 6th” probably isn’t one really.   However, it is vitally important that you, the enfranchised public, get off your apathetic arses and make it to the polling station this coming May 6th.

According to this information almost 4 people in 10 eligible to vote chose not to bother to do so. Oh there will be a few spoiled ballots in there but most of that 40% will simply have not bothered.  That’s shocking.

I do feel Australia has this nearly right.  It’s compulsory to vote there.  You can turn up and spoil your ballot, I understand drawing pictures of penises on the form is common, but the point is that you do show up, or you get a fine.  It’s not much, personally I’d be quite happy with the penalty for not voting without good reason is having your right to vote removed thus making my vote worth that tiny bit more, but it’s better than what we have now.

Why turn up just to spoil your ballot?  Well if the result of the election show that 40% voted “none of the above” then that’s a clear message to the politicians that their policies and performance are not appealing to a significant proportion of voters. Maybe it’ll make them wonder why we’re not interested in supporting them.

Another reason you should vote is not to get a candidate in, but to keep a candidate out.  The BNP got power not so much because people voted them in, but because people didn’t vote against them.  We do not need the BNP in this country. Where you have a BNP candidate standing, and you have no preference, voting for anyone else is better than you not voting at all.

Me?  I’ll be voting Liberal Democrat this year, as I have done in every election I have been able to take part in.  I don’t think Nick Clegg is the best LibDem leader ever, I also do think him doing well in the leadership debate was nearly inevitable.  Only a complete cock-up could have done anything but boost the LibDem’s cause.  If I felt either a Labour or Conservative government were really able to sort things out, I’d be voting them in.  I have lived my entire life under either a Conservative or Labour government, things are not going all that well.  No-one voted for our current Prime Minister. Can the LibDems really do any worse?

You may not think it matters who you vote for, I would disagree. But really, really, it does matter that you do vote.

Please vote on May 6th.

Restoring a teak garden table

Last weekend I started cleaning up the garden. First job was to break out the pressure washer and remove 6 months of bio-film from the patio, shed and fences. Then we unpacked the our large teak table and were dismayed to find that it had not fared well under cover.

The wood was covered with watermarks and had various genera of stuff living on it, including large areas of black mildew. This was not a cheap table, so I started researching about how to go about saving it.

Firstly, I just left it to dry out. After 3 to 4 days of airing I was relieved to see most of the watermarks had vanished. Next I took a small hand sander, found the finest grade sandpaper I could and went over the entire table lightly, taking off just the very top layer of the surface along with most of the crud that was clinging to it.

Next I washed the table down, removing as much of the dust as possible and left it to dry out completely.

Looking around the shelves at my local DIY store, I found this stuff which is apparently highly dangerous to just about everything living, if the dire warnings on the back of the pack are to be heeded. Sounded perfect 🙂

Painting this stuff onto the teak immediately brought back the colour and the grain of the wood and was soaked up like the table was a sponge. I kept repainting until the stuff stayed on the surface rather than being immediately absorbed.

Left overnight, all the excess was drawn into the wood, leaving it feeling slightly waxy and beautifully textured. Picture here.

Perhaps not the most interesting thing I’ve ever written here, but will hopefully be useful information for people with a similar problem.

Game review: Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 is a game that has been on my “buy it as soon as it’s released” list since its initial announcement.  Finally we were going to get the seamless large-area free-roaming game that developer after developer has promised and, usually, failed to deliver.  The last best attempt was perhaps Far Cry 2 which did an admirable job, but JC2 manages so much more.

Before I get into the praise-singing, could I take a moment of your time to tell you the one thing that has irritated me about JC2?  Thank you:  Steam’s pricing.  I like Steam, really.  JC2 on Steam retails for £29.99. A physical box containing JC2 costs £24.99 from Tesco.  Tell me, @steam_games, how can it possibly cost more to deliver a game over Steam online than to deal with a physical product?

So I did what I usually do, bought the box set and downloaded the “no DVD” crack.  When will you chimps learn?

If you liked Far Cry 2 at all then you are going to just love JC2.  It’s all that’s promised in terms of free roaming adventure and when you’re bored with exploring you can deign to follow the storyline.  Graphically it’s utterly beautiful though even my fairly high end games machine struggled when I ramped all the settings up to maximum.

The controls are a tiny bit fiddly and driving vehicles with the keyboard is very imprecise.  This is especially a problem when flying the jet aircraft.  There is support for using an Xbox controller but, crazily, there’s no support for using a regular joystick making a number of the aircraft-based missions decidedly tricky and much less fun than they could be.

Weapon choice is a bit limited and, teethgrindingly, there’s no ammo purchases.  You can pick up ammo from departed enemies, if they had the same weapon as you, but your black market dealer will only sell you a whole new weapon with ammo, not just the ammo itself.  For some of the missions this becomes expensive but is somewhat mitigated by you being able to pick up certain turret weapons which inherit infinite ammo.  The drawback here is that your movement is severely limited when wielding these puppies.

One of the touted features of the game is the double grapple: attach anything to anything.   This works less well than it seems it should.   Attempting to attach aircraft together seems to work poorly, for example.

Overall, you should buy this game.  It’s fun, it’s fast paced, it’s big and it’s beautiful. What are you waiting for?

I am so with this whole Web 2.0 thing

So after about 3 years of blogging, and nearly a year of being on Twitter, I thought I’d attempt to drag my blog kicking and screaming into 5 years ago.

My old Blosxom powered blog is still around for posterity, and because I’ve not yet figured out how to unscrew all the links after importing the whole lot into WordPress, will probably be around for a little while yet.

Welcome to the future!

Game review: Assassin’s Creed 2

Following my original review of the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was dearly looking forward to reviewing the new episode in the series. Alas Ubisoft have taken the skull-smackingly stupid decision of making a single-player game need access to the Internet to work.

Don’t buy this game, you will be funding idiocy if you do.

What next, Ubisoft, will you be making me not buy the upcoming Splinter Cell, too?