8-Bit Google Maps

It’s like stepping back in time through videogaming history. And also sideways, into a parallel universe of knights and dragons.

8-bit Google Maps. At different view levels, you'll see mountainous areas (Wales is worth looking at) and sprites for cities of different sizes.

It’s like Google Maps, but in the style of retro top-down, turn-based RPGs. It’s really quite impressive: it’s presumably being generated at least semi-dynamically (as it covers the whole world), but it’s more than a little impressive. It sometimes makes mistakes with rivers – perhaps where their visibility from the air is low – but nonetheless an interesting feat from a technical perspective.

There’s “8-bit Street View”, too.

Nice one, Google. Go take a look.

Apples To Alternative Vote

The other Earthlings, Statto, and I this week came up with a fun and topical variant of hit social board game Apples To Apples (which you might well have played with us at some point or another: if not, come over and we’ll show you). We call it AAV, or Apples To Alternative Vote, and it goes a little like this:

How'dya like them apples? An Applies to Apples (British Isles Edition) set and a sense of humour are all you need to play this game.
  1. Each player draws a hand of seven red cards, as usual. A deck of green cards is built to represent the voting populace. We used 9 green cards for 5 players, and I reckon that was too few: try doubling or tripling the number of players to get a green deck size. Round up to ensure you have an odd number.
  2. In turn, each player (or “candidate”) draws a green card from the constructed deck and explains: “Opinion polls show that voters in this constituency desire things which are…”, and then read out the card as normal. Play about with the language! “I represent the interests of voters who demand…”, etc.
  3. As usual, the other candidates play face-down red cards (policies) that will attract those voters, and the judge flips them over and chooses the one which best-reflects the interests of their constituents. The winning candidate wins their vote, and takes the green card as a prize.
  4. Play until one candidate holds the majority of the green cards. If you run out of green cards before this happens, eliminate the player(s) with the fewest votes (green cards): then they act as judge for these green cards among the remaining candidates. Continue eliminating and redistributing in this fashion until one candidate has a majority. This player is the winner.
  5. If this is all somehow too challenging for you, then declare that AV actually is too complicated, like the No-to-AV people say it is, and give up. Also: you should probably buy yourself some simpler board games, thicko.
An explanation of what all those complicated numbers mean for those too stupid to get their head around Alternative Vote.

We have in mind a possible variant in which different voting issue (green cards) represent different numbers of voters (perhaps using the “values” deck from For Sale), and the aim is to have a majority of voters, not issues, won over by your policies. “12,000 voters desire things which are… scary!” Give it a go, and let us know how you get on. And don’t forget to vote on Thursday!

Easter Egg Hunting, Gravity Hooking, and Geocachers You Might Know

This afternoon, like last year, we took the opportunity to spend Easter Sunday hiding one another’s Easter eggs in the woods and then running around looking for them.

Paul & Rory

For some reason, this year Rory didn’t want me to be responsible for hiding his egg (something to do with his eventually being found up a tree, last year), so I ended up hiding Adam‘s, instead. I didn’t even put much effort into it: just propped it on a branch. This turned out to be a bad hiding place because Adam walked right back past it on his way back from hiding JTA‘s egg.

Adam's egg

Paul, meanwhile, hid my egg. He did a pretty good job of it, too, and eventually had to give me a couple of clues. “It’s near Barking Up The Wrong Tree,” he said, knowing perfectly well that this was a geocache that I hadn’t yet hunted for. I pulled out my GPSr and found the cache, and then started looking for my egg in the vicinity.

Adam in a Forest

In a particularly special bit of hiding, Rory managed to hide Matt P‘s egg so well that he himself couldn’t find it again. Eventually we all had to help hunt for Matt’s lost egg. Rory had helpfully taken a photo of the egg in it’s hiding place, but this photo was ultimately useless because it depicted nothing more distinctive than “a wood”, which we were unable to see for all of the trees. I suppose that if we were trying to get to a particular spot and then ascertain that we were in the right place, it would be useful, except for that fact that being in the exact right place would probably have been pretty obvious by the time we were standing on top of an Easter egg.

Hunting for Matt's egg

Finally, Adam basically “tripped over” the hidden egg, and all was well.

Matt finds his egg!

All in all, it was a fabulous afternoon out, and a great way to work off all the calories of Ruth‘s most-excellent Easter lunch (and just in time to be able to scoff down cakes and chocolate later in the afternoon).

Ruth, JTA, and Paul near the edge of the woods

In other news:

Dan’s April Fools’ Jokes This Year

After JTA and I’s monster plan for a great April Fools’ joke got rained-off this year (maybe another year), I just had to go ahead with two smaller April Fools’ gags this year.

The Photocopier Prank (click for full-size)

The Photocopier Prank

A nice simple joke at the expense of the people in the office building I work in (and far less complex than last year’s prank against the same): I found a document online, printed it out, and stuck it to the photocopiers.

It instructs users that the photocopier has been upgraded with voice controls, so you can just “tell it” to copy, collate, staple etc. and it’ll follow your instructions. The document goes on to explain that it’s in “learning mode” right now and it might not get everything right while it learns your voice, so be patient and take the time to repeat yourself slowly and carefully.

I haven’t got eyes on the copier, so I’ve no idea how many – if any – people it caught.

The Abnib Announce/Joke Of The Week Prank

For the last few years, I’ve run two a text-message based mailing lists (I’ve got unlimited texts as part of my mobile contract, so it’s as-good-as free for me to do this). The first, Abnib Announce, lets people in Aber know about Troma Night, Geek Night, and similar events. The second, Joke of the Week, goes to a far wider audience and shares, every Friday, the best (by a loose and arguable definition of the word) of the jokes I’ve heard over the previous seven days.

This morning I sent out the following message to both lists:

Abnib Announce/Joke of the Week Update:

Bad news, everyone. My network has been in touch to say that running these regular bulk SMS lists is a violation of their Fair Use agreement, so I can’t run them from my “free texts” package any more. The good news is they’ve offered an alternative. These lists will now become subscription-based SMS services. This will cost you no more than 15p per message received, and a maximum of £1 per week (so £2 per week if you’re on both lists). I’m supposed to ask for your permission before subscribing your number, but I know you’ll all agree anyway. If for some reason you DON’T want to continue receiving Joke of the Week or Abnib Announce at 15p per message, please text me back BEFORE the first message, this afternoon. Ta!

I’ve had a handful of great responses, so far, including:

  • Nice try.x
  • Them: The rotters, what a bargain, keep the jokes coming please sir
    Me: Seriously? When I made up those prices this April Fools’ Day I should have put them higher!
    Them: Hahaha, got me, first one too. Love to the crew
  • Halfway through a serious response to this i remembered what day it is…
  • April fool?
  • Totally not falling for that, sorry! Happy April Fools
  • Them: Hey dan. Sorry i cant do that on my phone as my mum Pays my contract
    Me: Happy April Fools’!
    Them: Hee.very good
  • Them: I dont want to pay thanks. I have enough problems with arguing with orange over my phone bill at the minute, thanks. Hope you are good.
    Me: April Fools’!
    Them: Is it april already?! Damn i fell for it again! Nice one :-)
  • Them: Take me off the lists please! Ill get info from [other subscriber] and jokes from sickipedia
    Me: Tell you what: because it’s you I’ll negotiate with your network: you’re on Orange, right? I’ve kidnapped the dog of the CEO of Orange; I’m pretty sure I can get him to waive the charges in your case.
    Them: Is vodaphone, and their ceo only has a parrot and 5 fish.
    Me: =op
  • Them: Im confused, if its 15p per message why is it £2 a week?
    Me: NO MORE THAN £2 a week (well, £1 per week per list). So 4 Joke Of The Week messages would be 60p, 8 would be £1, 20 would be £1. Remember that it’s usually a multipart message spanning 4/5 messages each week. Full terms and conditions apply.
    Them: Lol, sounds confusing, being a poor student i’ll have to pass i think, though i’ll miss moaning at your messages ;-)
    Me: Really? You’re actually going? And, even more unbelievably, you’re actually falling for this obvious April Fools’ gag?
    Me: Gotcha ;-)
    Them: Yup and yup lol :-P
  • Happy April Fools day!
  • Them: oh arse, i can’t as i don’t pay the phone bill. is it possible for you to put them online?
    Me: April Fools’, dummy!
  • Lol, good one. Did you manage to snare anyone?
  • Them: Textin back.no joke
    Me: Gotcha! April Fools’.

Man, I love this day of the year.

Violet (Interactive Fiction)

It’s been a long while, but I’ve got some more interactive fiction to recommend: Violet, by Jeremy Freese. It’s got all of the usual things I like in a modern piece of interactive fiction: a believable, detailed world that you can really feel like you’re a part of, and which “carries on” around you; a beginning that doesn’t need to explain itself (you can pick it up as you go along); an enthusiastic thoroughness as far as anticipating what a player might try (many of the “unusual” things you can try to do have been anticipated and have specific flavour text); and a story that’s emotive and clever. So far, so good.

But the way in which it really furthers the genre is in it’s presentation format. The narrator of the story – Violet – is the girlfriend of the protagonist, who – through a series of encouragements and discouragements, as well as ocassional asides and additional commentary – helps lead you through your adventure: it is, if you like, a second-person perspective text-based adventure. But it doesn’t take long to realise that she isn’t actually there at all: all of her dialogue is in your head – it’s what your character thinks she would say in response to everything you’re doing.

I thoroughly explored the game in about an hour, and I highly recommend that you do, too: it’s a fabulous piece of interactive fiction, wrapped around a reasonably good bit of fiction.

Fully expect your feedback on this one, JTA.

Update, 19th October 2008, 14:20: Fixed the link to Windows Frotz (previously pointed at WinFrotz, which – while a fabulous Z-Code interpeter, can’t cope with ZBlorb files like the one this game is packaged in). Sorry, Binky.

BiCon Fun And Games

It’s been hard to find time to post a blog entry here, with everything that’s been going on. Here’s the quick rundown so far:

Thursday. Arrived. Checked in. Accommodation is a lot like Penbryn, for those who know what I mean, although with bigger (but more sterile-feeling) bedrooms. Caught up with loads of folks from last year. Drinks at the bar. Board game (Apples To Apples) with friends. Fab.

Friday. Quick trip to Sainsbury’s (we were looking for Asda but got lost) for food supplies. Bacon sandwiches for breakfast. Opening plenary. Bigging Up The B In LGBT (which turned out to be about how trade unions can better represent their bisexual members). Being Bisexual In The Workplace. Then clothes off for the Naked Lunch. Chilled out for a bit. Solving Conflict In Poly Families (met some people with fascinating poly-backrounds). Dinner of pasta. Self-Harm: How We Cope With Stress (some fascinating perspectives expressed there). Missed out on Naked Twister. Drinks on the grass. Ran a Purity Test Party. Fell into bed at about 2am, but some folks were partying all night (none of this “bed at dawn” nonsense: ACTUALLY partying all night).

Saturday morning. Flapjack for breakfast. Juggling workshop (fun ball-tossing fun and perving at hot poi-people). Non-Traditional Families (lots of interesting child-raising ideas). And now I’m making a packed lunch to take to today’s Naked Lunch, then time for a few more workshops before driving up North to Penny and Gareth’s party, picking up passengers on the way.

All in all, having a fab time. Wish you all were here.

Enter The Ninja

So, like a handful of others, I’ll be participating in Andy‘s Ninja Burger game tonight. He’s asked us each to throw together a character – or at least to look at character generation – so here’s mine:

Ninja with a Rubix CubeName: Ava Kurosawa
Job Title: Driver
Qualities:

  • Average [+0] Ninja
  • Average [+0] Driver (just because he does it doesn’t mean he’s particularly good at it)
  • Good [+2] at Bojitsu (staff/club fighting)
  • Good [+2] at Problem Solving (years of training in the Zen arts; also one-handed Rubix cube solving)
  • Good [+2] at Reading Minds (a natural instinct for understanding what people want)
  • Poor [-2] at Acting Impulsively (his clan history forbids rash thinking, and this has rubbed off on him, making him indecisive)

Background: Ava is descended from a long history of Ninja drivers. Despite only being an average driver, he seeks to gain the respect and honour of his family through his work with Ninja Burger, and by practicing the calm, collected, enlightened path of his clan. He prefers blunt weapons and particularly the bo staff.

Element: Air
Clan: Mysterious Clan Of The Gazebo Slayers
Matter of Honour: “I will never attack without provocation.”
Honour Score: TBC

If you haven’t put together a character yet because you haven’t seen the rules, there’s a copy here. Just make sure you use the 2nd edition ones!

I gather we’ll be meeting in #ninjaburger on Freenode at 7:30ish. If you’re confused as to how to do that, just use Abnib Chat and ask for help.

My April Fools

I’ve always had a thing for big, overcomplicated April Fools’ gags. Traditionally, we’d always play pranks on Penbryn Halls at the University, but it’s not so easy these days to gain access to halls of residence, now that they’ve installed door locks that don’t open by themselves when you so much as breathe hard on them, so I thought it was time to broaden my sights.

I work for a company based in the Aberystwyth Technium on the marina. A few weeks ago, the Technium management had arranged for the installation of a new fence and automatic car park barriers, to allow the building to better control who has access to the offices’ car parking spaces (car parking spaces being a particularly valuable commodity in Aberystwyth). These barriers haven’t come online yet, but apparently they will “soon” (which is regional-government-speak for “someday, maybe”).

Car Parking Gates at the Aberystwyth Technium

Early on the morning of 1st April, I put out an e-mail to all resident companies at the Technium, spoofed so that it appeared to come from Technium management and emulating their writing style and the way that they typically send out bulk messages to the tenants.

Annwyl pawb ,

The key fobs for the new car park barrier system need to be ordered via an online application form . The application needs to be filled in as your key fobs will be uniquely linked to your vehicle.

The application form is only available online at http://www.techniumnetwork.info/aberystwyth/carparking/

Once you have applied, central office will send out the key fobs to us in a week or two. Please fill in the form as soon as possible so that the key fobs all arrive at the same time.

Diolch

Sion

Sion Meredith
Gweithredydd Technium Aberystwyth
Technium Aberystwyth Executive

<snip>

The techniumnetwork.info domain name is one that I’d picked up the day before for the best part of 49p on a special offer with a registrar – the real Technium website is at www.technium.co.uk, but I figured that people wouldn’t pay attention to the domain name: even the tenants here probably don’t spend much time, if any at all, on the Technium website. I stole the stylesheet and layout for the official website and adapted it to my purposes: there’s a mirror up now at http://techniumnetwork.scatmania.org/aberystwyth/carparking/ if you want to see for yourself.

Spoof website for the car parking key fob scam

The site begins by looking like a genuine application form, asking for all of the key details – your personal and company information, basic details of your car – and slowly starts over many, many pages of forms to ask sillier and sillier questions. “What colour is your car?” is a drop-down with “Red” and “Other” as the only options. “What noise does your car make?” is accompanied by options like “Vroom!” and “Brum-brum.” Later questions ask whether or not your car is capable of transforming into a giant robot and challenge you to correctly identify road signs that have been altered in comedic ways.

The trick worked, and many of the tenants were fooled… some of them well-past the point at which they should have thought the form was genuine; and almost all of them believed, even when they realised that the form was a joke, that it had been set up by the Technium themselves. It was only when one tenant decided to pass a copy of the e-mail on to the real Sion Meredith that the building management heard anything about it, and, sadly, put a stop to it by sending out an e-mail to say that it was all a joke, and not one by them.

After he’d worked out it was me that was behind it… I’d taken steps to make it obvious to anybody who bothered to check up on it, so as to maximise the understanding that it was, in the end, just a joke: the last thing I wanted was some humourless bureaucrat to see this gag (which did, of course, involve feigning the identity of a government employee) as a terrorist threat or something …he got his own back, though. He came up to my office at a few minutes to midday to inform me that he’s had to pass on my details to the Technium legal team, and he managed to make my heart skip a beat before I realised that he, too, was just having a joke.

A selection of feedback so far on the gag after I sent out a “gotcha” e-mail to everybody affected:

  • “Way too much time on your hands………” – Aled, thinkplay.tv
  • “You have far too much time on your hands but it was very amusing!!” – Kayt, MapAnalysis

  • “When I realised it was an April Fool I did look at the email address and questioned it but didn’t think [it could be spoofed]! Must be because I’m a technical dumb ass!” – George, MapAnalysis

  • “Dan, Sion was serious [about the legal team], when he popped his head round the door at 11.45 he had some documents in his hand.” – Nic, Angle Technology

  • “When did you find time to make this, then?” – Simon, SmartData

I had to leave the room when it first started to catch Simon out: I heard him phoning his wife to ask for a reminder of their cars’ number plates and had to excuse myself so as not to give the game away with my girlish giggling.

So, that was all good, and far more successful than my backup plan which involved passing on missed call messages to co-workers to ask them to return a call to Rory Lyons at Captive Audience on 01244 380280. The number is actually the number for Chester Zoo: I so very nearly made some of the people I work with unwittingly call up Chester Zoo on the morning of April 1st and ask, “Can I speak to Rory Lyons, please?” It’s a good prank, anyway – I’ll save it for another time: or if you want to give it a go (it doesn’t even have to be April Fools’ Day, with a great joke like that), let me know how you get on!

Self-Harm Awareness Day

There’s a mailing list I’m on that just got a message that started as follows:

Subject: March 1st – Self-Harm Awareness Day

Just curious…

a) How many of you knew it was self-harm awareness day on March 1st and

b) Are you doing anything to mark it?
<snip>

It’s pretty bad that the first response I thought of was “Yeah, I’ll scratch that date into my arm to make sure I remember it.” Bad, but funny, in a sick and twisted way.

There’s a reason I’m a lurker.