Shadowrun Returns

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2013 by Bradley Hall

Image

A long time ago, sometime before 1997, I encountered a SNES game called Shadowrun. It was based on a pen and paper RPG (like Dungeons & Dragons), but since I had never encountered the p&p version, I didn’t really care about that.

What did interest me was the game. It was a free-roaming Action-RPG that mixed guns and magic and a real world setting (Seattle of the 2050s) and computers. This was pre-Matrix stuff. But it was great.

Experience was earned through a system called “Karma” – gained through killing enemies. If you had a few hours to kill, you could actually earn enough Karma to level your character to super-powered status in the first area in the game. Then just blow through the game and grab new weapons as they came available to help out with killing everything.

The ending of the game is whacked out crazy, I have no idea what happened, Jake goes to meet his girlfriend and then has to re-fight all the game’s bosses. If I recall, one such boss says, “Jake, did you guess or did you just know?”

And then there’s this:

Image

 

So, now the question is, “Is Shadowrun Returns the Shadowrun II we were promised twenty years ago?”

In a word, no.

While the SNES game’s Jake Armitage is a minor character in this game, it doesn’t do anything to explain what happened at the end of the original game. So Jake’s alive and it’s 2054, which means that the original game took place some time between 2050 and some time before the beginning of this game. (Though I’m thinking the original game took place in 2050 exactly, so it’s most likely been four years).

Returns doesn’t have a free-roaming aspect like the SNES game did. The entire story is on rails. There is one part where you can accept an actual Shadowrun job from a Mr. Johnson.

It would have been nice to have been able to hire Hamfist or Frogtongue or Norbert or any of the other Runners from the original game too. 

I still want to know what happened at the end of Shadowrun. I guess we know Jake lived somehow and that’s good.

There’s still the Berlin campaign to look forward to.

 

The Wily Policeman

Posted in Commentary, Intellectual Property, Uncategorized on June 21, 2013 by Bradley Hall

Japanish Marchen ebook cover

This isn’t a review, I wouldn’t be that self serving, but, I did want to make it known on this site why I seem to have abandoned it as of late.

I’ve not abandoned it, it’s just been that I have been focusing my time on a wide array of things, of which this site has become one of many things I spend time doing.

Last year, I tried to translate an official German-language Final Fantasy XI novel in hopes being able to finagle a deal to translate the books officially for Square-Enix. They passed on the deal, even though it would have most likely done nothing but print them money.

I realized I enjoyed the job of translating, so I wanted to do more, more that I could then sell, legally.

I happened across gutenberg.net and found it had a large collection of German language books. I looked through their collections and found a few that were not only in public domain, but had also never been translated into English.

The one I first decided to translate was called “Japanische Marchen” – Japanese Fairy Tales. While the tales themselves were Japanese in origin, they were written down in this book for a German audience.

There are 24 stories in the collection. I believe two can be read via the sample on Amazon.com, and part of one can be read on the Barnes & Noble site (so if you want to read more of a sample than this one story, head to Amazon).

The book can be found for the Kindle at, well, the link is huge, but if you go to amazon.com and type in B00DGYKEOE in the search field, it will come up. There will soon be a print version of the book available there as well.

For Nook, you can find it at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/japanische-m-auml-rchen-bradley-hall/1115772053?ean=2940016450643

Unfortunately, B&N nor Amazon allows authors to pick what becomes the sample of a book, so here you go, my favorite short story from this collection. I hope you like it.

The Wily Policeman

The former Emperor of Korea had set up a secret police, which had to maintain peace and order in the city that should have prevented robberies and theft. But as so often happens the crime did not end and the Emperor was quite annoyed. He sent for the chief of police and began to rebuke him. The chief of police, however, defended his policemen and said they were all efficient and skillful.

The Emperor was clever and knew all the tricks that thieves can use, so he would put his police force to the test. He asked the chief to have them all arrive in the palace the next morning.

In the morning, the police were all gathered in the hall of the palace, the Emperor appeared holding a silk bag in his hand. This bag was filled with gold and the Emperor had someone hang it from the ceiling in the middle of the hall, so high that no one could reach it with his hand.

Then the Emperor said:

“Here, the bag hangs with gold. It will hang for three days. A guard will always be there. If one of you manages to remove this bag in three days, without anyone noticing, and no one hearing you remove the bag and its contents, you all shall henceforth remain in my service. But if any of you fail the task, I’ll chase you all to hell!”

There was a general shaking of heads and saddened, they went home, because it seemed impossible to remove the bag, because the emperor had placed a guard of four men who had to guard the bag day and night. The guards were threatened with beheading if they were negligent.

Sun came on the third day, the bag was hanging from the ceiling, still untouched and the police expected their release. To the astonishment of all, one of the youngest policemen said he wanted to try it, but said he needed to have at least two more days.

He was taken to the Emperor who laughed at the young man and said, “Even if I give you ten weeks, you will not succeed!”

“That may be true,” he replied. “And I think even that only a miracle can help us, but perhaps such a miracle will occur in the two days.” The Emperor liked the bold response. “Well, so be it! These two days are granted to you,” he decided.

The young policeman looked at the bag in the hall very well, and then he went home and made ​​himself a very similar bag, which he filled with small stones.

On the second day he took this bag, put it in the sleeve of his jacket, and went to the Emperor. The Emperor received him and asked if the miracle had already happened.

The policeman asked the Emperor to be allowed to look at the bag again. The Emperor approved and the policeman was taken to where the bag was still hanging, guarded by four soldiers.

After he had looked at the bag for a while from all sides, he asked whether it would be permissible to take the bag in his hand. The Emperor approved this as well. Here, the policeman took a stool and stood upon it and took the bag from the hook, looked at the Emperor, and placed the bag in his sleeve, saying:

“This is how to remove the bag!”

The emperor replied, laughing: “Yes, but we are all looking at you, so you wouldn’t be able to get away with it. So hang it back on the ceiling and acknowledge that not even you can do it.”

The policeman showed an apparently sad face, pulled the bag out again with a sigh and hung it up. He had not taken out the bag of gold, but the bag he made himself and filled with stones. That bag he hung on the ceiling, while he kept the real bag in his sleeve. He then told left the Emperor, telling him he hoped to be able to perform the feat the next morning.

The emperor therefore doubled the guard for the night, and the hall had to be lit so brightly that the bag could always be seen.

The next day came and the Emperor ordered all of the policemen gather around in the hall, as the emperor intended to dismiss them from their service. The Emperor could be quite rude and turned to the young policeman, asking him scornfully if the miracle had happened.

“I think so,” he replied.

“He’s totally crazy or outrageously naughty!” cried the Emperor. “Does he believe, then, I can not see? The bag still hangs!”

“I see,” replied the young policeman.” That there hangs a bag, whether or not it is the real bag, I doubt it!”

“This is really too much,” cried the Emperor. “Bring down the bag and bring it here,” he ordered the guard.

The bag was removed and brought to the Emperor, who opened it, but made a very vulnerable face as he saw just bricks and rocks in the bag and then looked closer and realized it was not the same bag that was originally hung from the ceiling.

“How did you do it?” he asked the cunning policeman. The young policeman man told how he had made ​​an identical bag and then switched the bags in the presence of the emperor.

“We have a devilishly clever fellow,” said the Emperor. “And since you seem to me to be the wisest of all, you shall be the Chief and I will not dismiss your colleagues. See to it that your police force do their duty and emulate you!” And so it happened!

Translator’s Note (Karl Alberti): This story is of Korean origin. It was recorded in this collection since Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910 and is now known as “Chosen”. The above story is reminiscent of the “cunning thief” of “1001 Nights.

How to find out what the government knows about you

Posted in Privacy with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Bradley Hall

I wrote this article several years ago for 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. With the NSA spying on everyone being in the news recently, I figured I would revive this old guide and post it to the Internet for all to see. I also know that I’m effectively outing myself as the author of this piece as it appeared in 2600. No big deal. My nom de Hacker is the same as the name I use on every other website. I’m sure the NSA figured that out when they came across my Facebook page a few years ago.

Onward, to the article…

First off, this article assumes that you are a dude or dudette living in the United States who wants to know what the US Government knows about you. This is actually a pretty easy endeavor, it is not, however, quick. It involves snail mail and is guaranteed to take at least three months to receive any results.

Why you want to know what the government knows about you is your own business. However, if you know that you have done something that could get you arrested if they knew where you are, you might not want to proceed. Also, this is not a primer on how to get your brother’s records, or your mother’s, or your great-grandfather’s, who you believe worked for Al Capone.

There’s also that rumor that if you ask the FBI to send you a copy of your file and they find you don’t have one, they start one on you right then because if you’re asking for a copy of your file, you must be doing something that necessitates them having a file on you. It’s like the one where if you buy a copy of 2600 the ever-present “they” start tracking you. I’m starting to wonder what happens when you write for 2600.

First, who do you think has a file on you? I’m talking about those (typically) three-letter-organizations, the FBI, NSA, CIA, DHS, etc. Since it’s so easy to write one letter and change it slightly for each organization, why not send a letter to all of them. Remember, the price of a stamp is currently 44 cents. The price is set to go up to 46 cents in January.

There are two Acts at work here. First there is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was signed into law by President Johnson in 1966. It is a law that promotes openness in government and allows members of the public to request documents from the various governmental entities. The second Act is the Privacy Act of 1974. This Act governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personally identifiable information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies. The Privacy Act also prohibits the disclosure of information from a system of records without the written consent of the subject individual.

In order to obtain any documents about yourself, you have to invoke both Acts in a letter to each organization you wish to contact about your records.

In your letter to each organization, it would help to follow proper letter writing protocols. That way whoever receives your letter will have an easier time reading it and figuring out what you want. The scope of this article does not include teaching you how to write a letter. If you would like a refresher course on how to write a letter, then type “proper letter writing format” into your search engine of choice. However, the CIA has a great sample FOIA/PA letter online at http://www.foia.cia.gov/sample_request_letter.asp.

Now that you are ready to write your letter, it should contain the following information: That you are seeking any records that organization has about you, make sure to explain that you are invoking both FOIA and the Privacy Act, your full name, any alias you may have used (if your name is William, but people call you Bill, this would fit, as would any screen name or “hacker name” you use or have used), date of birth, where you were born, social security number, phone number, current address, a fee you are willing to pay for this service (I recommend $25), note, that you do not have to send this money in unless they ask for it, and if they do ask for it, it means they must have quite a bit of files to send you. I have requested files from FOIA from several government organizations and none of them have ever charged me for the files they sent, though they did inform me that more information is available, at a price.

The Secret Service’s FOIA page states that you need to sign you letter and have a notary witness it or affix the following to your letter: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date].” You should also include a copy of your drivers license or other identification so that they can compare your actual identification to the information you have provided (and your signature on your license to the signature on your letter).

Now that your letter is written, below are the addresses of the various governmental agencies you may want to try contacting. I am only giving the address to the main FBI location, not the branch offices. You may want to check the FBI’s website to find out the nearest branch office to you and appeal to them as well. These are just a few of the organizations you can contact about records. If you were ever in the military there is a slew of resources online available to help you figure out where to send your inquiry as to your military records.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

Freedom of Information Operations Unit (SARO)
Drug Enforcement Administration
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202

Secret Service

Communications Center (FOI/PA)
245 Murray Lane
Building T-5
Washington, D.C. 20223

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

FOIA/PA
The Privacy Office
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive SW
STOP-0655
Washington, D.C. 20528-0655

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Attn: FOI/PA Request
Record/Information Dissemination Section
170 Marcel Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4843

National Security Agency

National Security Agency
Attn: FOIA/PA Office (DJP4)
9800 Savage Road, Suite 6248
Ft. George G. Meade, MD 20755-6248

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, D.C. 20505

INTERPOL (USNCB)

Office of the General Counsel
INTERPOL-U.S. National Central Bureau
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Defense Intelligence Agency

Defense Intelligence Agency
ATTN:  DAN-1A (FOIA)
200 MacDill Blvd
Washington, DC 20340-5100

Odds are that you should only try contacting agencies you believe would have information on you. If you’ve never robbed a bank or tried to kill a President, you might not want to bother the Secret Service. But, even if you haven’t, why send them a letter anyway, you never know what you’ll find.

Quotes Every Man Should Know

Posted in Book Reviews on June 18, 2013 by Bradley Hall

quotes_EMSK_final_72dpi

“Over the past few years,” I thought while typing this review. “I have reviewed many books. One thing I have never reviewed, though, is a book of quotations.”

“How do you review a book of quotations?” I asked myself. “Even if there’s two or three quotations you don’t care about, there’s bound to be many more that you do.”

Well, as Bruce Lee says on page 42, “Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

“That gave me an idea, how about using quotes to review a book of quotes? As Julio Cortázar said, ‘In quoting others, we cite ourselves.’”

“A good day is one where I can not just read a book, but write a review of it. Maybe today I’ll be able to do that. I get for some reason somewhat stronger when the sun starts to go down. Dusk is a good time for me. I’m crepuscular.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

“Two thumbs up.” ~ Roger Ebert

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” ~ Ray Bradbury

“Books of quotations are always a fun read. Old quotes are like tweets before Twitter. ~ Bradley Hall

http://quirkbooks.com/book/quotes-every-man-should-know

Back To Work

Posted in Book Reviews with tags on June 14, 2013 by Bradley Hall

back-to-work

I recently went to a massive book sale. Over the course of the Summer, the books I obtained that day (and a few others) will be reviewed here.

The first book to be reviewed is this book, Back to Work by former US President, Bill Clinton.

It’s pretty short at around 200 pages.

Inside, Mr. Clinton talks about how great the country was when he was President and that we were on track to pay off the national debt in the foreseeable future.

Then during the eight years after he left office, something happened, and that isn’t going to happen anymore. He’s not blaming anyone, things happen. But, he’s got a plan.

Mr. Clinton has a few items that, if the country does them, will come out of the recession and be back on top soon. Of course, Mr. Clinton is a realist. He knows that the country isn’t going to do everything he’s asking, and he can’t run for a third term. But, just putting the ideas out there he calls on the citizens of this nation to help get these programs and other ideas started. Whether by fronting the money for an XPRIZE-like thing, or possibly talking to your senator or congressman or governor (or President).

All of the ideas he lists are feasible and could quickly put people back to work, which is one thing sorely needed in this country. Quite a few of his ideas are about clean energy initiatives. Whether you believe in global warming or not, clean energy would definitely be a good thing for the planet. If we can build sustainable hydro-electric plants, wind power turbines, and solar panels, and figure out a way to power cars and things with them, we could cut our dependence on foreign oil.

In the end, this was a great book. I liked Mr. Clinton more after reading it.

One plan I’ve always thought that would increase jobs would be to digitize the national archives. It would put many people to work in nearly every state, and, because digital archives are easily saved and copied, we could have a safety net against fire, which is paper’s greatest enemy. Even if one archives place burned down, as long as we have those archives saved digitally, we’d still have those archives.

The Resurrectionist

Posted in Book Reviews on April 25, 2013 by Bradley Hall

Resurrectionist_final_72_0

The Resurrectionist, by E.B. Hudspeth, is a false document. That is, a story claims to be a biography of fictional character. In this case, Dr. Spencer Black.

Dr. Black’s father was a famous resurrectionist, that is, grave robber. He and his sons would venture to fresh graves and dig up corpses for use in anatomy lessons and such.

With time, the young Spencer Black would engage on his own medical career in the late 1800s. At first he became famous for fixing anomalies and birth defects. But, soon, he started thinking that some of these abnormalities were latent genetical traits trying to come back to the surface. For example, the doctor believed that a person that was born without arms was made that way because their body was trying to grow wings.

He then tries to create fantastical creatures by grafting pieces of existing creatures together and shows them off in an entirely macbre travelling show.

While fiction, this book totally seems plausible as the late 1800s was the time when strange touring shows tested the public’s imagination and sense of propriety. The book even pays homage to the famous Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in mentioning that Dr. Black came across an obviously faked specimen of a monkey’s head grafted to a fish’s body, purported to be some kind of tropical mermaid.

Once the biography is done, the rest of the book is Dr. Black’s unpublished master work, The Codex Extinct Animalia, which is an anatomical guide to various taxonomies of legendary creatures with commentary, such as stating that the minotaur is a creature with the worst possible traits of two animals, with none of gifts that the full bodies of those animals would provide. It has a human body with the head of a bull. It does not have a human mind to use the human body, and it doesn’t have a bull’s body to make use of its ability to charge or its strength.

It’s an awesomely macabre story as told via biography. Quite often I found myself wanting to hit up Wikipedia and read more about Dr. Black.

http://quirkbooks.com/TheResurrectionist

My piece about Bitcoin

Posted in Economy, Government with tags , , , on April 21, 2013 by Bradley Hall

As some of you know, Bitcoins are the new cryptocurrency currently sweeping the planet.

People are touting this as the end of government-controlled currencies, and yes, it does seem like something that’s really cool, but is it the end of money as we know it? That we have no need for government-controlled currencies?

No, I don’t think it’s the end of the Euro, Dollar, Yen, or whatever. An example of this can be found on Mt. Gox, the main Bitcoin exchange site. They list several currency exchange rates. Currently, the US Dollar is worth around $125 per bitcoin.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, but…

The Bitcoin isn’t like the US Dollar where you have two decimal places of currency, like $0.00.

The Bitcoin goes to eight decimal places, so it’s 0.00000000.

To make this explanation easy, let’s imagine that one bitcoin (1.00000000) is worth $100 USD. So then we can say with certainty that….

0.1 BTC is ten dollars
0.01 BTC is one dollar
0.001 BTC is ten cent
0.0001 is one cent

Anything beyond that is pretty hard to communicate in terms of USD.

Okay, so, now, I have 0.00369536 BTC.

In our example, that would be $0.37 cent.

Over the past few days, I’ve been working off and on on a few “get bitcoins here” sites, most of which give 0.00000020 or less.

Oddly, even Crowdflower has programs that pay in BTC, but not a whole lot, like above. And yes, most of the BTC I’ve earned came from a few things they offered. Now, what’s odd, is that Crowdflower also offers small assignments via Amazon’s Turk program, where some things might pay 1 to 8 cent or so per task.

That eight cent would be 0.0008 BTC. So compare that to the 37 cent I’ve earned so far, and you see that by using those programs is a humongous waste of time since the ability to get up to the top three rungs of BTC will take far longer than just earning regular money.

Crowdflower also gets to pay out far smaller amounts than if the payout was in a recognized currency, such as USD.

So then, how to get BTC?

Apparently you can mine for it using computer hardware, but of course, my computer is too old and slow to be able to mine, either solo or as a group mining effort. The “mining” is essentially making your computer crunch numbers in an effort to uncover and decode new blocks of BTC data.

There was an article on Boingboing a few days ago where a guy who joined a joint mining group wrote about it. He earned more money from ads attached to his blog post about mining than he did mining for the week after he wrote it.

Another way is to do work in exchange for BTC. But of course, the problem with that is you’re paid in BTC, not USD, and 99.9999999999% of companies only accept money in USD right now. And because of that, I can’t put gas in my car with BTC or buy groceries with it either.

I liken the Bitcoin as almost a real-world version of the Darknet Credits from Daemon and Freedom (books by Daniel Suarez), or even World of Warcraft Gold. They have their uses, but so far too few people use them. Of course, as I’ve read many times over, it’s still the early days and there’s still plenty of coins to mine.

Of course, who knows where BTC will go. The price jumps around so much. At one point, 1 BTC was worth $10, then it shot up to $240, and is now around $125.

Just looking at the exchanges and stuff on blockchain.info is enough to get anyone wanting to jump on the bandwagon.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 99 other followers