Friday, 19 December 2014

Peer-to-peer MMOs

Since City of Heroes shut down - or even since the announcement, really - I've wondered about how to make MMO games robust against that kind of existential threat. When such games become unprofitable, development ceases and the servers are shut down. That's just business. The obvious answer to that problem is to host the game itself on a peer-to-peer network of player machines. Then, no matter how much the game grows or shrinks, there's always enough server capacity.

However, running a game like that on a peer-to-peer network raises some other challenges. For one, there's the matter of trusting the server code and preventing cheating. If the players, technically, have access to all the server code running on their own machines for each other, there's no central, trusted arbitrator for tasks like random number generation and application of the rules. I've outlined before how some trust can be established between peers for generating random numbers, so it's possible it could be worked around, but it requires a lot more communication than an implicitly-trusted server does. It's also probably not the full story for everything that's needed for a trusted peer network of this type.

Still, I'd like to see it attempted, if only to know that, in the future, there's a definite way to save these games from destruction when they become unprofitable, or for smaller, niche games to get a leg up when they're starting out and can't afford dedicated server hardware.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - On the City of Heroes front, a new game called Valiance Online has started open public testing.
PPS - Which is a long way from a complete game, but more than I've seen in a while.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Snowdrift could fund free software

I really like the idea put forward by snowdrift.coop, encouraging people to set aside some money to fund beneficial open-source projects so that everyone can benefit. The more people pledge to support a given project, the more funding that project gets, growing exponentially. On the receiving end, it seems like a great way to get this kind of project funded, since the people - particularly big companies - each give a little money to build up the common goods in software.

On the other hand, it still relies on charitable giving. Yes, if you fund the development of, say, OpenSSL, which almost everyone uses, then you get active development and the benefits of a well-supported library with motivated developers and proper funding instead of a library casually (but passionately) developed by volunteers in their spare time. But if everyone else funds the project and you don't, you still get that benefit. I'm not clear how Snowdrift solves that problem, except that witholding your funding means a greater chance that the development will stall and you won't get the benefits at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which is just a statement of the snowdrift problem, I realise.
PPS - I'm not quite sure if that counts as circular.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Smart furniture meets sloppy housekeeping

I've seen occasional videos and concept drawings of small living spaces made more functional with fold-away furniture or reconfigurable room dividers. The thing that always strikes me about such concepts is how tidy the whole place needs to be, and how that compares to my house. If my kitchen table had to be bare to fold it away to get out the TV, well, we would have it forever folded away and would eat on the couch all the time. Or if the ground had to be clear to pull out the bed, we'd probably end up with a half-usable bed and a growing pile of life's detritus in the corner of the room. We just have a tendency for things - the stuff of life - to pile up in the corners, out of the way, and get forgotten for two or three years.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not as bad as that sounds.
PPS - Except in some areas.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The redundant beverage dispenser

Did it bother anyone else that the Heart of Gold ship in the most recent Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie contained a weirdly imperfect beverage dispenser (as per the joke in the books) but also a perfect food replicator hooked up to a mind-reading device designed to detect cravings? I mean, if Arthur craved a cup of tea, why go to the machine that produces something that merely resembles tea instead of the much better machine that would do a perfect job? Why have the beverage dispenser on the ship at all?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's assuming the craving-machine does work any better than the beverage dispenser.
PPS - The craving-detector would be a very useful thing in our house, even without the food replicator part.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Preventing monopolies

Monopolies are bad. We know that. Oligopolies, where a few big businesses control most of the market, are also bad. So what factors make an acceptable level of competition, or what features flag an unacceptable level of complacent non-competition? It's tricky. I think it's more complicated than realising how much of the market is controlled by how many companies. Presumably, though, there's some number of companies required to make conspiracy untenable. I'd guess it's about twelve, the number of people we put on a jury in the understanding that such a group is too hard to sway as a whole. Whatever the number is, we need at least that many companies competing in every market to prevent monopolistic practices.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Making sure that happens is going to be crazy-difficult.
PPS - Especially when someone creates a brand new product.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Personal space on planes

When I read opinion pieces about air travel and leg room, reclining chairs and all things related to personal space, I think of the current designs for car trailers on trucks. See, when I was a kid, if a truck was hauling cars, they would be lined up in two layers of three, nose to tail. Then someone designed this nifty new way of cramming more cars onto a trailer at a lot of weird angles including one hanging over the truck cabin and hauling cars by truck became a lot more efficient with a lot less wasted space.

My point is this: you might think that your current personal space and comfort woes are about as bad as they can get on a plane right now, but just wait until someone clever figures out how to stack human beings in weird and interesting patterns to fit twice as many into the space as currently fit and you'll wish you lived back in the good old days when our only concern was having barely enough room for our knees and people reclining their seats at us, all facing forwards and upright.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Almost nothing is as completely bad as it could be.
PPS - We humans are great at making things worse for each other.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Quitting anything will bring cravings

I can't say that I've ever had to quit smoking or drinking, having never done either of those things at all, let alone enough to be addicted. I am aware, however, that a lot of people approach the Big Quit by looking for an external force that's going to make it happen, whether that's hypnotherapy, acupuncture, the patch, nicotine gum or inhalers to "handle the cravings". And before I get going, I need to stress again that I literally have no first-hand experience with how intense those cravings can be. Still, here it goes.

There are going to be cravings. Lots of them, strong, hard and frequent. That's how you know you're getting over an addiction. The craving is a withdrawal symptom, and you're not going to be able to quit without getting them. What you need to do, however, is to recognise, anticipate and accept that these cravings will happen, and let them pass without satisfying them. Then do it again and again, as long as they come, for the rest of your life, because that's what quitting means.

By all means, get support, call people, talk to your doctor, read about it, substitute better behaviours, but for goodness' sake, don't keep taking in exactly as much nicotine as before. You don't expect someone who has "quit drinking" to take a little nip every now and then to get over their cravings, do you? If you quit sugar you don't have a little chocolate now and then just to keep the edge off. If you quit, then you quit. Don't half-ass this. It's your life and you're going to be the one making the change.

"But," you say, "it's really hard!" Yes. Yes it is. Of course it is. If it weren't, then they wouldn't bother putting the addictive stuff into cigarettes in the first place, and there wouldn't be a whole industry also built around helping you quit smoking, would there? If it were easy, you'd just decide to quit and then there'd be no step 2. So prepare yourself for a hard job and stick to it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if losing weight were easy, we'd have an epidemic of skinniness on our hands.
PPS - Which would be very strange.