Boldly going… nowhere

Star Trek: Beyond Review

I am an old-time star Trek fan. My childhood was filled with re-runs of the original series (Kirk, Spock, Bones and the ever–replaceable Ensign Ricky Redshirt), and I grew up “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. So I decided to pay out good money to see “Star Trek Beyond” (shouldn’t there be a semi-colon in there somewhere?) in the theater.

Beyond Star Trek

I can’t say that I was that impressed. Star Trek was all about the future of humanity. About Optimism. About where we are headed. And if this is where we are headed, then the future looks disappointing indeed. The Star Trek universe used to be filled with adventurers, and explorers, and feats of derring-do. Aside from the few “hero” characters in the movie, most of the crew and almost all civilians have become hedonistic sheep, wandering about, having a good time, and doing the 24th-century equivalent of staring at their iPhones every thirty seconds. It is no surprise that the Bridge of the Enterprise looks a lot like an Apple store.

Having said all that, this is a great action movie, and a fun enough romp for grown-ups. But it is not really a Star Trek movie: there are more fistfights than starship battles, and the philosophical moments resemble an infomercial for a “let’s-all-be-friends” brand of pacifistic globalism. The stunts are “oh-come-on” unrealistic, and the characters are “oh-come-on” invincible. And Dr McCoy still has a potty mouth. Physician, heal thyself.

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was right at the end. This movie was dedicated to Leonard Nimoy – the original Spock – who passed away earlier this year, and “For Anton“, which I later found out was Anton Yelchin, the actor who played Ensign Pavel “Wictor-Wictor” Chekhov, who died in an accident shortly after the movie was completed. Chekhov, the word is given. Warp Speed.

The Final Final Frontier

The Star Trek reboot has been a jolly enough jape, but at fifty years of age, it is time to put the franchise out to pasture. I don’t think that I will be seeing another Star Trek movie, and I will be avoiding Paramount in future. Not only because this movie fails to live up to the true spirit of Star Trek, but because the Executives at Paramount have gone back on the creator’s word. Gene Roddenberry used to say that “Star Trek belongs to the fans“; he welcomed Fan fiction. But Paramount recently issued a directive that said, among other things, that Fan films should not be more than fifteen minutes in length, and cannot include any known Star Trek actors), and their suing of the creators of the fan film “Star Trek: Axanar” has left a bad taste in my mouth.

And for that reason, if nothing else, I regret seeing “Star Trek Beyond”

 

 

 

Vega Conflict: Finding the Pattern

For the past week or so I have been farming the new Level-60 Iron Star Deserter Supply Run fleets. They come in 5 flavors that yield boxes for Iron Star ships: Hunters (Python Cutter), Raiders (Heretic Cruiser), Battalion (Vigilante Battleship), Artillery (Machete Destroyer) and Scouts (Hurricane Frigate).

Although the fleets are technically different, they are actually precisely the same, consisting of four Python Cutters, Two Vigilante Battleships, Two Machete Destroyers and one Freyja Carrier. Various strategies exist to crush these fleets, and I have my own; you are welcome to peek into my battles and see how I do it. I can usually farm an entire hour-long supply run usually without losing a ship (the Cutters are the only real challenge, the rest is easy to kite), followed by a 1-6 hour repair cycle.

Any road up, the subject of this post is neither the makeup of the enemy fleet nor the strategy required to defeat it; my purpose here is to examine the “prizes” contained in the boxes.

Screenshot_2016-08-25-19-08-37Each box contains:

  1. Either a Tier-5 core, a Tier-4 core (I wish Kixeye wouldn’t give out sub-standard cores!) or a pattern (Mk II, III, IV or V)
  2. Ship Parts
  3. Iron Star Armaments

To mark up a single Hurricane Frigate to Mk V, you need:

  • 2048-2560+3200+4000=6688 Iron Star Armaments
  • 10+30+90+270=400 Hurricane Frigate Parts
  • 5+5+5+5=20 Tier-5 Frigate Cores
  • One each of Mk II, Mk III, Mk IV and Mk V Patterns

So, how much farming would that entail?

As an experiment, I collected a whole lot of Hurricane Boxes. When I opened them, I got the following results:

Screenshot_2016-08-25-19-09-08Screenshot_2016-08-26-04-10-12Screenshot_2016-08-26-22-07-48

This means that after after opening a total of 49 Hurricane boxes, I got:

  • Countless Iron Star Armaments (once so hard to find, now as common as muck)
  • 150+42+102=294 Hurricane Frigate Parts
  • 10+1=11 Tier-5 Frigate Cores
  • 13+4+12=29 Tier-4 Frigate Cores
  • 8 Mk II Hurricane Patterns
  • 1 Mk III Hurricane Patterns
  • NO Mk IV Hurricane Patterns
  • NO Mk V Hurricane Patterns

What does this tell us?

  • Tier-4 Cores (useless) outnumber Tier-5 (the ones you really want) by about six-to-one
  • Only one in four drops contain a Pattern.
  • Most of those patterns are Mk II.
  • You will have to farm fifty fleets to get one ship to Mk III
  • Mk IV and V? Forget it.
  • It is almost like Kixeye wants us to spend coins to get the pattern boxes ($4 per ship to get all four patterns)

Dear Kixeye, stop giving with one hand and taking with the other. Stop giving out sub-standard cores and stop playing silly buggers with the higher level patterns!

I’m Sick of Being Right

Some weeks ago, I posted on why the SSA’s multi-factor Authentication scheme was a bad idea.

This morning I got another message from them:

SSA SOL2TL;DR:

  1. It is no longer mandatory, but it is recommended.
  2. We are working on alternatives.

I’m glad that they see things my way, but I am a little disappointed that an organization this big can make such a huge blunder.

Hobson’s Choice

An oldie but a goodie: I no longer have the phone but I found this screenshot:

Screenshot_2014-01-07-07-39-47

So where’s the “Cancel” Button?

SSA? SOL!

Or: When Security Isn’t.

I recently got an email from the good folks at the Social Security Administration (SSA). They have added a feature that requires you to type in a Security code that they text to your phone every time you want to log in to your “My Social Security” account.

SSA SOL

On the face of it, this sounds like a good thing. But it isn’t. Let me count the ways…

  1. Texts are inherently insecure. They can be read by your network operator and phone provider. Due to the sheer number of texts passing through the system, this is not such a problem when a one-off secret is transmitted via text (say to validate a new device), but requiring this every time you want to log in is ridiculous.
  2. Not everyone has free texts. In order to keep my unlimited data plan (Thanks Verizon!) I have to pay for every text I send or receive. As a result I have texts disabled and use data-based chat apps (like Signal and Threema) to text with friends and family. This means that I cannot use any text-based system.
  3. It’s a cheap solution. Texting codes is not security done right, it is security done cheap. There are better ways to do this; one is to use a code generator like Google Authenticator. Another is to use a hardware token like a Yubikey.
  4. You have no choice: “If you do not have a text-enabled cell phone or you do not wish to provide your cell phone number, you will not be able to access your my Social Security account.” Translation: Do it our way or leave. Email or voice notification would work fine… but they aren’t offered.

Only the Government could get away with something like this; any private organization that had such a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude would soon find themselves shuttered. Some other options would be a good idea. Even the option to eschew two-factor authentication entirely is a valid choice if the user is advised of the risks.

Where’s the “Give-me-my-money-back” button?

Boldly Going… Nowhere.

I recently stumbled across a game called “Star Trek: Timelines:

Thanks to Q’s intervention, you have access to characters from all Star Trek series, from Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the original series, to Archer, Tucker, Reed and Maywether of “Enterprise”. It is an RPG, which means you have to equip and upgrade characters, as well as upgrading your ship. Upgrades and items can be earned by performing different types of missions, or they can be purchased at the time portal.

Unfortunately, this excellent idea was killed by a nasty, ugly little problem.

Star Trek Timelines Error
This error message makes it impossible to progress beyond “The Mad Vedek”, so my Captain is stuck at Level 9.

When I reported this problem to support, I got the following reply:

I’m sorry for this inconvenience in your gaming experience. We are aware of this issue and our technical team is working on a resolution.

In the meantime, I have added 100 Chronitons to your account to replay lost mission.

Again, thank you for reporting this and appreciate your patience as we resolve the issue.

That was two weeks ago. In spite of an upgrade of the client, There has been no resolution of this matter. This is unacceptable.

I’m done with this game

The Un-personing of Milo

Or: Twitter, your slip is showing

Milo

I discovered Milo Yiannopoulos online last year. He’s an irreverent, unflappable, vibrant contradiction in terms — a British Gay Conservative, who writes for Breitbart news, and speaks out on the stupidity of political correctness and the insanity of third-wave campus feminism. While I am sometimes concerned by his excessive swearing (it doesn’t bother me, but it makes it difficult for me to share his ideas with friends and family who may be easily offended) I enjoy his style of writing and unabashedly self-promoting YouTube videos highly enjoyable. I find his ability to state the blindingly-obvious-but-politically-incorrect quite refreshing, including:

In particular, I love his sense of fun, particularly the way he can poke fun at liberals while taking cover behind what he calls  “gay privilege”. This allows him to get away with many things that straight people would be pilloried for.

He is currently in the middle ot a series of speaking engagement at US universities, which he cheekily dubbed “The Dangerous Faggot Tour“, which clearly showed that too many of America’s Colleges, far from being bastions of free speech had an aversion to it when a Conservative speaker says something that challenged their preconceived beliefs — in particular, one rather obese young woman who had a meltdown at one of his talks, then when it went viral, tried to assert that she had a right to privacy after misbehaving in a public place. I will not link to her, just Google “Trigglypuff” if you want to know what I am talking about.

Naturally, his unique brand of mischief-making did not go unopposed. Twitter, in particular, has made it obvious that they’ve got it in for him. Some months ago, Twitter “unverified” him. Verification is a process by which a Celebrity can protect themselves from impersonators by having their “genuine” account identified by a blue checkmark. Milo’s response was to put a red cross where the blue checkmark used to be.

Twitter’s official story was that he was “harassing” other Twitter users. This was strange, as many far more offensive speakers remained verified; I am sure that the fact that all of these miscreants were liberals and Milo was a conservative had nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.

Any road up, the “unverification” did not hurt Milo; his following and his stock continued to go from strength to strength.

Ghost. Busted.

Things came to a head, however, when he wrote a bad review of the new old movie “Ghostbusters”. Like most, this one panned the movie, which has gone on to become an almighty flop. He did not attack any of the actors personally. However, others did so, and a series of vitriolic tweets aimed at Leslie Jones, resulted in her making a complaint to Twitter. She complained, and Milo was banned from Twitter.

Milo’s account was “permanently suspended”, and all of his tweets, past and present, have been removed. Leslie Jones has said that she is leaving Twitter, but thus far, her tweets are still up. To quote Ariana Rowlands: “Twitter will permanently ban popular conservatives for jokes but will leave up ISIS accounts actively recruiting terrorists, and does not equally apply its rules and their punishments” (Source)

The saddest thing about this whole mess is that Twitter loses, Leslie Jones loses, Sony pictures loses, and the only person who wins is… Milo.

And so I concluded with a couple of open letters: one to Leslie Jones, one to Twitter. Enjoy!


Dear Leslie

As Milo so eloquently put it. You are the star of a Hollywood Blockbuster movie. Act like one. You are now a public persona, and will reap the benefits – and the brickbats- that go with it. Some are warranted, some are not. It doesn’t matter. But getting upset about mean things that people say to and about you reeks of insecurity, not Star Quality. Free Speech requires a Thick Skin; “Mean Tweets” does not equate to Harassment. People have opinions. They will call you ugly. They will tell you that you look like a man.They may or may not be right. *It doesn’t matter*. You have a block and a report button; use them- or even better, you can retweet/repost them publicly for all the world to see. Sunlight, after all, is the best disinfectant.

Finally, I would advise you to observe the golden rule. Your tweets about white people are every bit as racist as the ones aimed at you. You don’t get to launch arrows at others and then go running to Mommy when a hail of arrows comes back at you.


Dear Twitter

One of the reasons that I am on Twitter but not on FakesBook Stalkbook Facebook is because of your transparency. But that transparency is disappearing; lately I have seen more and more left-leaning bias creeping into the platform. Conservatives are censured in a way that liberals are not. Hashtags like #KillAllWhiteMen are considered acceptable, while #KillAllBlackMen would not be. To most well-balanced minds, both are equally racist and should be treated the same way.

The reason for this is simple: A lack of clear bright-line rules that apply to all people, all the time.

  • No Direct Physical Threats. Insults whether warranted or not, are not threats or harassment.
  • A clear reporting, complaints. grievance and sanctioning procedure.
  • Clear definitions for what sanctions will be employed and under what circumstances.
  • Sanctions for those who mis-use the complaints procedure for nuisance and censorship purposes.
  • A mechanism for warning sanctioned users as to exactly what they did wrong, as opposed to the usual woolly statement like “you breached our community guidelines”.
  • A clear explanation as to why someone was sanctioned and a clear and transparent presentation of the evidence.

Clarity and transparency are crucial here; anything less will be rightly perceived as editorial bias. When you removed Milo’s checkmark, others whose transgressions were far more egregious remained unpunished. This kind of bias is becoming obvious; it has already led yo your demise, and if left unchecked, it will lead to your eventual demise as a platform and as a commercial enterprise.

Holding Milo responsible for what others have done is wrong on so many levels. Hold people responsible for what they say, but is is wrong to hold them responsible for the actions of others. We have seen some of the vehemence and death threats that angry people (mostly feminists and liberals) have aimed at him; they remain unpunished while he is banned. Please explain this discrepancy.

Your shabby treatment of Milo has done you no favors and won you no fans, while his following has gone from strength to strength. When you ban someone like him, you deprive us of the diversity that we find most enjoyable about your product. It you want to know the real reason why your stock price is taking a dump, that’s it. Remember, Conservatives are wealthier and more generous than liberals. And when they leave, they take that money with them.

The Price of Freedom

or: The Politics of Fear

Last week I wrote about Brexit, that I opined that Britain should leave the EU, and that they probably wouldn’t.

I have never been so delighted to be so wrong. Britain delivered a shocker verdict, and the vote says LEAVE.

Waah!

The initial fallout can be summoned up in one word: Waah! Calls for a recount abound, including petitions and protests. It appears that some people were so convinced of the rectitude of their cause and the moral superiority of the “Remain” vote that they didn’t bother to vote at all, and now they want a do-over.

Too late.

The votes have been cast and counted, and the johnny-come-latelies do not deserve a do-over. Democracy does not work that way. If you can’t be bothered to vote, you don’t get to bleat about the results when they don’t go your way.

This battle has been fought between Globalists and. Nationalists.

Globalists believe in all that “one world” stuff, and think that everyone should look after everyone else. They want to see a European Superstate without borders; one people, one nation, one language, one currency. They believe in the rights of the collective, that we are all one big happy family, and that we are all our brother’s — or sister’s, let’s not be sexist here — keeper. They usually collectivists, are often Trade Unionists, socialists, and in extreme cases, communists. In generally, they believe that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, and must be silenced, censored, isolated or removed.

On the other side are the nationalists; they believe in competition, in the rights of the individual. They believe that good fences make good neighbors — that people can agree to disagree — and that while it is good to help others, one’s first duty is to tend to one’s own. They tend to believe in the rights of the individual over the rights of the state.

The most extreme case of this is the United States of America, which, coincidentally, has the distinction of being the most spectacularly successful nation in the history of the world.

The reason that I thought that the vote would go “remain” was that I believed that Britain had gone globalist. I was wrong. Older and wiser heads have prevailed, and there were enough of them to make a difference.

One thing that I have noticed is that people have voted along generational lines. The vast majority of younger folks are “Remain” voters. This is hardy surprising; Britain has been in the EU since 1973, so anyone under 40 years old has no memory of an independent Britain. In other words, they don’t know any better. And yet they are the ones who assume that those same elders who voted to remain must be mentally or morally deficient. I call this…

The “you must be stupid” defense: I have noticed that some people — mostly of the leftist persuasion — tend to assume that anyone who disagrees with them are stupid. This is particularly true when it comes to gun control; people who want weapons to protect themselves against bad guys are often portrayed as retarded rednecks. Some of the most sane and well-balanced people I know carry concealed weapons and have done so for many years. So it is with Brexit; those in the “Remain” camp — including, unfortunately, most of the media — seem to assume that those who voted to leave are mentally incompetent. This is particularly egregious in the case of the media, who really should know better, but then I suppose Freedom of the Press really is confined to those who own one; we have always been at war with Oceania.

We disagree, so you must be wrong

This attitude has permeated all the way up to the highest level; in the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker turned to Nigel Farage and asked “Why are you here?“. That is cheap rhetoric which only goes to prove that Democrats don’t really like Democracy, particularly when it disagrees with their own entrenched values.  But as the old saying goes, it is impossible to make someone believe in something if their paycheck depends upon them not believing it.

The Problem with Scotland

Scotland is in a particularly precarious position. A couple of years ago they narrowly voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. But they also voted in favor of remaining in Europe. From what I have seen in the news, Scotland is something of an Economic basket case, as not only do they want to remain in Europe, but they also want Britain to pay the bill — a clear case of wanting to have their cake and eat somebody else’s.

So where does this leave Britain?

The results of the referendum do not actually change anything. All they do is give the Government a clear idea of what the voters want. Nothing changes until Article 50 has been invoked, at which point Britain has two years to negotiate terms with the nations that form the European Union before they leave. At the end of those two years, they are out of the EU, ready or not.

In the meantime, the Swiss (who seem to be experts in getting the benefits of Europe without actually being part of it), have gotten it all beautifully in perspectiveSwitzerland gets itMeanwhile in the Fatherland, Germany seems hell-bent on making an example of Britain. This has, of course, happened before, and which just goes to show who is really in charge of Europe.

Will Britain be better off? I am not sure, and I don’t think it is relevant. What matters to me is the difference between dying on your feet and living on your knees.

I close with a quote from one Briton (Winston Churchill) to a German (Adolf Hitler)

You do your worst, and we will do our best

Vega Conflict – What’s Wrong, and How to Fix it

Five things Kixeye can do to fix the game

  1. Quit playing silly buggers with Core Boxes. I just defeated a Level 45 fleet, and the Tier-4 Core box that it dropped contained a Tier-2 Core. We are sick of hitting powerful fleets and getting pitiful cores. It is bad enough not knowing whether you will be getting a Carrier, Battleship, Destroyer, Frigate, Cruiser or Cutter Core without also having to deal with the frustration of three difference tiers as well.
  2. Add a Refit Bay. Currently, all ship fittings and refits are handled by the Ship Factory, which also builds ships. So once you have started building a carrier you cannot refit any ship for a week, This is ridiculous. Allow users to add a Refit bay that does refits only. Kixeye’s excuse is that this would change the balance of the game. I say BULL — you had no problem rebalancing up the game when it served your purposes. Adjust build and refit times if you can, but do this. Most of us would pay 1000 coins to build and refit separately, do this and consider it a bargain.
  3. Pick on someone your own size. The game was originally designed so that you could only engage fleets whose level is within five fleets within yours, with the gloves coming off at 35. Since then we have seen Carriers, Cutters, Iron Star, Marked-up ships and player fleets approaching level 60. It is no fun watching your Level-35 farming fleet cut to pieces by a vastly superior enemy fleet of Cutters (pun intended). This artificial limitation has resulted in players finding creative ways to keep their fleets under level 35. Simply extending fleet handicapping all the way up will solve this problem at a stroke.
  4. Are you sure? When I asked Kixeye to add a confirmation before a big coin spend, I was sent away with a flea in my ear. Since then, in spite of many promotions and offers, I have not put a penny into this game, even though I would like to. This is the main reason why I will not spend money on this game; it is too easy to waste it accidentally — and no, Kixeye, a “one-time courtesy” along with an exhortation to be cautious is simply not good enough.
  5. What about ship parts? Patterns can be converted into cores in the scrapyard, Cores can be fused into higher cores, Armaments can be used on any ship of that faction, but parts for ships you aren’t interested in building are useless. Give us some way to convert ship parts into something that we can use.

Every one of these changes is easier than the still-ongoing “Great Rebalance” that has caused so much consternation and heartache among the players.

Brexit Day

Why Britain should leave, why they probably won’t, and why it doesn’t matter.

When I were a wee lad, way back in 1973, Britain joined what was then called “The Common Market”. Over the years, it became the European Economic Community (“EEC”) and later the European Union (“EU”)

Today, Britain votes on whether we should leave.

Why Britain should leave.

I no longer live in the UK. I left in 1994, so I will not be voting. But if I was, my vote would be a firm unequivocal “NO”. Here’s why:

  • The EU is no longer an alliance of equals. It was actually founded in 1957. Britain was the 9th nation to join; when Britain joined in 1973, it consisted of France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark. Twice, in 1963 and again in 1967, Britain tried to join. Both times, the application was vetoed by Charles De Gaulle (now there’s gratitude for you). At this point in time (mid-2016), the European Union (“EU”) is composed of twenty-eight members, including Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Greece. A union of equals results in an equal sharing of blessings and resources. An unequal union results in the net transfer of resources from the richer nations to the poorer ones.
  • It Costs Britain. Britain pays over three hundred million pounds (about half a billion dollars) a week. Other figures say this is 250M a week, due to “rebates” won by Margaret Thatcher. Either way, with or without rebates, it’s bloody huge.
  • Sovereignty? What Sovereignty? In the 1970s, Britain fought to defend her fishing grounds in the North Sea. Europe has taken those from her. British fishermen are told to stay in port while other members overfish those grounds into oblivion.
  • Britain is not Europe: The British are an insular people. They are not “European”. They have more in common with countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even the United States.
  • The game is rigged: Britain joined late, and as a result, “…we were entering a club whose rules were set long before we joined, without our involvement, and not necessarily in our favour. The terms of British membership were particularly poor.” (Source)
  • Immigration: Every time a new member joins the EU, its poorest citizens head west. Germany sends them on to France. France sends them on to England — and Britain cannot refuse them entry. And once they arrive, they are quick to maximize the opportunities afforded by a socialist system — at the taxpayer’s expense.
  • We’re already half-way there: In spite of Euro entreaties, Britain has successfully fought to keep their national currency (the pound Sterling) and their admittedly-archaic system of weights and measures (also, ironically, call the pound). And the sky has not fallen in.

Why they probably won’t

  • Fear-mongering: There is a lot of FUD being spread in the news about how the economy will collapse if Britain leaves — and there are plenty of people who are gullible enough to believe it.
  • Entrenched Interests. There are literally thousands of well-paid Government jobs that will disappear if Britain leaves the EU. One can hardly expect those folks to enthusiastically vote to leave – after all, it is impossible to make someone believe something if their paycheck depends on them not believing it.
  • Britain has changed: The British people I left behind more than twenty years ago were a bloody-minded, stubborn, independent bunch. With the large number of immigrant Europeans, “timid” Indians, and an increasingly Socialist younger generation, I’m not sure that the country has a whole has the testicular fortitude to leave.
  • It’s never been done. Even if Britain votes to leave, there is no guarantee as to how they would do it or whether they could. No country has ever successfully left the EU. There is a good chance that both the British and European Governments will do their best to disregard the clearly-stated will of the people.
  • Logistics: The day that Britain leaves the EU, millions of European Citizens living and working in the UK will suddenly be “strangers in a strange land”. And what will happen if they have children who are born in the UK? That mess will take years to fix. When all is said and done, leaving the EU will look more like an amputation than a divorce.

Why it doesn’t matter

  • Brussels marches on: Unless Britain gets mean, the European Government will probably simply ignore Britain’s entreaties to leave, or spin it out for years.
  • Europe won’t listen: Ireland voted against the Nice Treaty in 2001. Europe demanded that they voted again (in 2008) and again (in 2012) before they finally gave the “right” answer.
  • The damage is already done. Even if Britain votes to leave, even if the British Government goes to bat for the country against their own interest (dubious), and even if the European Government allows them to leave (unlikely), they are still bound by too many one-sided treaties and trade agreements for it to make any real difference.

My personal opinion is that they should never have joined in the first place.