Games I Have Been Playing Recently

There’s a couple of computer games I’ve played recently that I thought I’d share with you so that you, too, can go play them and waste all your free time (hopefully you’ve got more free time than I do to be wasted!).


Free (as in beer) to download and play – download it here. Windows only (requires the .NET framework), although there’s talk of a Linux port using Mono.

A self-confessed “game for engineers.” If you ever played Uplink and thought “Hmm, this is good, but I’d rather be hacking hardware, not software,” then you really ought to give it a try. Ruckingenur II is a hardware hacking simulator: in it’s four missions you’ll be determining the code of an electronic door lock, reprogramming a thumbprint scanner to accept your print, breaking the code of a (rather trivial) radio scrambling system, and defusing a tamper-proof bomb. It’s all about interpreting the circuitry and analysing signals, rather than simply bridging circuits, as would be so much easier in so many of the missions. Presumably your boss spent all of the money on the universal combined multi-meter/serial port analyser/debugger and didn’t have any budget left to get you a soldering iron and a half-dozen lengths of wire. Ah well.

It’s only short. I got through all four missions in about 20 minutes, and I could probably have done it quicker if I hadn’t kept detonating the bomb at the end: the very first thing I did was to examine the circuit (while the clock is ticking), correctly analyse which wire carried the signal to the expolosive, and send a quick pulse down that line, confirming my suspicions by blowing my face off.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on, fellow geeks.


The other game that’s consumed any of my time of late – by which I mean, of course, all of the free time I can find – is Maxis’s hot new title Spore.

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, Spore is the result of a collaboration between Will Wright (co-founder of Maxis, inventor of SimCity, The Sims, etc.) and Soren Johnson (right-hand man to Sid Meier during the development of Civilization III and Civilization IV), it’s has been described as “the ultimate God game,” and as “SimEverything.”

During the game, you’ll help a species progress from being a tiny plankton-like creature living in a drop of water all the way up to being a galactic empire spanning many star systems. The concept of “evolution” touted in the game isn’t really accurate, though, and what you’re actually doing – tweaking your species a little each generation towards your own goals, rather than having the most successful genetic code reflected in the next generation – is closer to intelligent design than anything that any evolutionist would approve of.

Unfortunately, as its Zero Puncuation review gives away, most of the fun of the game is shunted towards the Space Phase, the last of the five phases of the game (the others being Cell, Creature, Tribal, and Civilization), and it makes the rest of the game seem a little short by comparison (note that I disagree with the statement in the Zero Puncuation review about carnivore-superiority: my first space-faring race had no problem with befriending and converting other creatures, tribes and civilizations all the way). The Space stage, however, really shines.

Spore is an amazing achievement, and it’s continues to be fresh and surprising to play (thanks, in part, to the enormous scope of it’s in-game galaxy, but more thanks to the fact that Spore “swaps” your creatures and other content with other players around the world), so I’d recommend you give it a go if you haven’t already. It’s a real shame that the DRM is so fucked-up, because Maxis have just set themselves up for Spore to be the most-pirated game in history (after all, the pirated copy is now better than the legitimate one). Nonetheless, it’s worth getting hold of a copy by one means or another just so you can see what the fuss is all about.

Oh, and here’s one of my species, a Gliblander, stood next to the species’ interstellar spacecraft, the Dirty Beast.

Pictures From PolyDay 2008

For the benefit of people I promised pictures to, here’s some of the photos I took at PolyDay 2008, the post-Dossie Poly Meal, and generally during Claire and I’s trip to London this weekend. There are more photos I’ll share in due course, little doubt, and my write-up of what PolyDay was like, which I may post if and when I get the time, too. But for now, photos – make up your own damn story.

Click for bigger pics.

Thanks to everybody who made it a fabulous weekend.

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SSL Client Certificate Authentication In Ruby On Rails

I’ve been playing with using client-side SSL certificates (installed into your web browser) as a means to authenticate against a Ruby on Rails-powered application. This subject is geeky and of limited interest even to the people who read this blog (with the possible exception of Ruth, who may find herself doing exactly this as part of her Masters dissertation), so rather than write about it all here, I’ve written a howto/article: SSL Client Certificate Authentication In Ruby On Rails. If you’re at all interested in the topic, you’re welcome to have a read and give me any feedback.

Ruth’s Blog Post

That one over there.

It fills me with warm fuzziness. After a weekend away doing all the things she mentioned (as well as a number of unmentionable things in The British Museum), I’ve got a pile of e-mail and blog entries to get through this lunchtime, so I shan’t waste time blogging myself. Instead, I’ll just point you at Ruth‘s blog entry and leave it at that. Oh; wait – I already did.

Pictures From The Weekend

I couldn’t (easily) post these pictures while out-and-about, so I thought I’d share them now:

The tailbackon the M6. That’s a serious amount of traffic at a complete standstill, and people million about on the carriageway. In the distance, in the first one, you can just about make out the tops of the emergency services vehicles, despite the low resolution of the picture.

Gareth and Penny’s birthday cakes. Gareth’s is decorated with a small place flying across a blue sky, while Penny’s is shaped like a fairytale castle.

This was the moment during their recollection of their boating holiday that Matt suddenly realised that what Liz was telling him about a “steaking incident” was actually true and not something he’d dreamt.

Claire, Jimmy, and Beth. I don’t think Beth approves of this photo being taken.

A fabulous example of BiCon’s non-assuming, gender-doesn’t-really-matter thinking, in the form of the signs on the toilet doors. Behind these, the secondary signs are the same, except the the “Toilets with urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay,” and the “Toilets without urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay, put you might end up pissing on the seat.”

Not only a transgender-friendly statement, these signs also function as a reminder that in an environment where your gender is one preferred by not 50% but closer to 95% of the people present, imposing privacy by something as arbitary as gender is even more pointless than it is in the rest of the world.

The organisers of BiCon run a census each year. I think this photograph of a small part of the survey really does reflect “BiCon thinking” when it comes to the definition of gender and sexuality. One question reads “What term(s) do you use to describe your gender?”, with the following options – female only, female mostly, female somewhat more, female/male equally, male somewhat more, male mostly, male only, none/no gender, androgynous, genderqueer, other (please specify). Where almost any other survey would provide in the region of two mutually-exclusive choices, BiCon’s survey provides 10, which can be used in combination, and the space to define an answer yourself if you’re not satisfied with those available.

BiCon attendees are encouraged to decorate their name badge with stickers showing their affiliation to various groups, causes, ideologies, relationship structures, fetishes, etc. These make really good conversation-starters, but the list on the first day – with about six different “codes” – tends to have no bearing on the final-day list, fully-expanded by people adding their own codes and encouraging one another to make use of them. Click on the list to zoom in.

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