Monthly Archives: September 2015

Open letter to Verizon: It’s *my* phone

Dear Verizon

I have had a love-hate relationship with you for well over a decade.#In that time I have gone through several varieties of flip phones and two smart phones — and am about to move to my third. I have found your service to be first-rate — I can drive from my house to Florida, a journey of nearly a thousand miles — without losing voice or data connectivity. Bravo.

When I started with you many years ago, I found you to be both reasonable and proactive. Your Customer Service was matchless; when you made a billing error on your favor, you refunded me twice the difference. I have not seen that before or since. Bravo.

However, my recent experiences with you have left me wondering if you are suffering from some form of corporate form of megalomania.

My first Smartphone was a Motorola Droid X2. I had opted for an Android-powered phone as I knew that Android was an “open” system. Unlike most others, which are shrouded in secrecy, the Android Operating System is “open-source” which means that the source code for the operating system was freely available for download, which means that members of the public can access the source code and “roll their own” operating systems — and before long, communities of folks appeared on the internet who love to do just that. As a tinkerer, this appealed to me. As a consumer, I saw that this made it possible to extend the life of a phone beyond the date at which the manufacturer will support it.

This was particularly important in the case of the Droid X2: while on paper, this was an excellent piece of kit (it was one of the earliest phones to have a dual-core processor), it suffered from reliability/heat problems. One of its favorite party pieces was to freeze/lock-up/reboot while on the road while I was using it for navigation.#Being the adventurous type, I looked around for the solution to this problem, and I found it in the form of “rooting”. I have already written on this subject of rooting, so I will not bore you with the details. Any road up, with a little research, a lot of reading and a bit of work, I was able to “root” the phone and disable or remove unnecessary software. This made the phone run faster, more reliably and with less overheating and fewer freezes.

But time marches on, and so does Android; The phone went through several updates, from Android version 2.2 (“Froyo”) to 2.3.5 (“Gingerbred). Like all Android updated, these changes originated from Google, but went through you before they got to your phone. And you could not resist the temptation to add little “gifts” in the form of “security enhancements” — and it seems that the removal of root access was always at the top of your list. As a result, every time an Over-The-Air update (“OTA”) became available, I had to avoid, delay or turn off the update mechanism until some bright spark could figure out if this update broke root, and how to get the useful Android updates that I wanted without losing the control of the phone that I had worked so hard to obtain.

Time went by, and I outgrew the DX2; it was no longer man enough for some of the tasks that it was being called upon to perform. So I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S3. This one started at Android 4.0.4 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”), and this time you saw fit to “lock” the bootloader in an attempt to prevent S3 owners like me from actually doing what they wanted with their phones. But thanks to some innovative hackery, the bootloader was speedily unlocked, and the phone was liberated from your shackles. Naturally, I rooted it right out of the box. Further updates came — Android 4.3 (“Jellybean”) and 4.4 (“Kitkat”), and at every turn you kept finding new and innovative ways to lock down my phone and make it ever more unhackable — all in the name of “security”.

Eventually I tired of fighting with your destructive updates and installed a Custom ROM. Yes, you don’t approve. I get that. Yes, that means that you won’t support it; I guess that’s the price of freedom.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is now three years old, and one of the best-selling Android phones in history. But time marches on, and newer, faster phones have become available. I just purchased a used S4, and this will be my third smartphone. It will be placed into service in a few weeks, as soon as:

  1. I have a case for it, and
  2. I have found way to root it and remove all of your shovelware.

I am not your typical user. I understand that 99% of your user base neither need nor want rooted phones; I get that. For the majority of users, rooting is giving them more power than they need. And I understand that your Customer Support folks do not want to deal with a thousand hacked variants of every phone on the market. It is not unrealistic to insist that these phones be tamper-proofed while under warranty, and it is not unreasonable to deny support for tampered phones if the tampering is the cause of the problem. I get that. But this is a problem that can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

This is not without precedent. Until recently, you, like all cell phone carriers, locked your phones to prevent them from being connected to other carriers; nobody wanted to be the first to find their phones being connected to competing services. But Congress has recently ruled that all cell phone companies should unlock phones on demand. This has the effect of making phones more useful and extending their lives, rather then becoming expensive doorstops.

Yours is the only major cellphone company in the world that goes to such extraordinary lengths to lock down your phones. For the vast majority of your users, this is understandable, but for the 1% of technically competent users who wish to exercise control of their phones at the expense of warranty support, you should allow unlocking of bootloaders and allow those of us who wish to tinker with our phones the freedom to do so.

After all. It’s my phone.

Advertisements

Vega Conflict: Fleet Management

The art of using fleets is the key to winning ship-to-ship engagements. Ships are built and refitted at ship Factory; fleets are repaired by and launched from the Fleet Bay. You can build as many ships as you want; ships not assigned to fleets remain in the reserves.

A fleet is a collection of up to six ships. The number of fleets that you can field is dependent on your Bridge level, from 2 at level I to 7 at level IV. In a similar manner, the tonnage limit of each fleet is dependent on your Fleet Bay Level; from 700 tons at Level I to 34200 at Level X.

The key to fleet management is specialization. Fleets can be configured for a number of different scenarios; Attack, Base Attack, Base Defence, Cargo and other layouts. Within a fleet, different positions in the formation have different functions: In its default (“Wedge”) formation, the ship in the #1 position is the one that generally engages the enemy first; it will need additional shielding and/or armor plating to deal with this. Since the AI-controlled enemy generally puts their best ships on the right flank, your left flank tends to take more of a pounding than the right – so beef up the shielding on the #2 and #4 ships to compensate. Other formations – such as Box, Line and Chicane – can be unlocked by collecting Blueprints, and require different tactics and techniques.

Each fleet can be given a name, which you can change by selecting the fleet name and typing in a new one. Only you will see this name, others will just see your username and the level of the fleet. This is useful, as it stops you from engaging an enemy with the wrong fleet (for instance, sending your cargo fleet into battle, which I have accidentally done more than once). Such names may range from the sublime (“Cargo”, “Carrier”, “Basing”) to the ridiculous (“Expendable Rancs”, “Gladius Knights”, “Noooooo”), as long as they are meaningful to you. Sadly, special characters are not allowed – alphanumeric only.

These Hints and tips are taken from my Game Guide, over a hundred pages of hints, tips, tricks and tactics that will help you get to grips with the finer points of the game, all for a paltry $2.99. However, if you use this link, you can get it for $1 off.

The Smell of Desperation

I recently had occasion to rent a car at a nearby car rental establishment. I noticed something in a corner of the contract that I had never seen before:

20150807_142152

When I asked about this, I was told that this was new; they were instructed that if the customer had recently arrived by plane, they would have to charge them an airport tax, as if they had rented the car at the airport location. Since it is the state, not the rental company, that profits from these taxes, we can safely assume that this was the Government’s doing.

The logic behind this “new tax” is tenuous indeed. I had always thought that Airport taxes were charged at airport locations, and whether or not you just got off a plane was irrelevant. Apparently I was mistaken. So by this logic, if I drive to the airport and rent a car there, I should not have to pay airport taxes, since I did not just get off a plane. Somehow, I doubt that I would get out of paying that tax.

You can almost smell the State’s desperation to find some new untapped stream of revenue. I can just imagine some bright spark in Frankfort probably said something like “Hey, sometimes people fly in and rent cars elsewhere to get out of paying airport tax! We need to do something about this!“. Oh no you don’t: Last time I looked, tax avoidance was not the same as tax evasion, and it was completely legal.

So this is not an extension of an existing tax, this is a new tax – and one that the prospective purchaser can avoid paying by simply initialing “True“.

Given that this it a tax that can be easily avoided by lying, I wonder how much additional revenue it will generate?

Vega Conflict: Advice for beginners

  • Don’t worry too much about your base in the early stages – low-level bases heal quickly and for free.
  • Take advantage of the early free ships and the $1.99 and $4.99 offers – they will never come again.
  • When laying out your base, separate out your modules as much as possible, particularly high-collateral-damage items such as the Bridge and Combat modules.
  • Always be building, upgrading and researching.
  • Try not to leave labs unused overnight.
  • Build big ships overnight.
  • Build more ships than you need. Reserves are useful when the going gets hot and heavy.
  • Shields are generally more important than hull.
  • Tougher hull plating takes longer to repair.
  • Assemble a cargo fleet; start with a few spare gens with cargo hold upgrades.
  • Lurk and learn – don’t shoot your mouth off in sector chat. At best you will look like an idiot. At worst you will make more enemies than you need to.
  • Join an alliance.
  • Don’t pick fights for no reason.
  • If you need to steal or raid for a mission, use alliance buddies wherever possible.
  • Guard your bases at night. It won’t stop determined medal-hunters, but a bunch of fleets may encourage them to look for easier targets.
  • If you can afford it, buy a commerce module. It will pay off in the long run, particularly if you are in an alliance.
  • Once you can kill level 20s, auto like crazy for resources and blueprints.
  • Hydra Rancs FTW.

These Hints and tips are taken from my Game Guide, over a hundred pages of hints, tips, tricks and tactics that will help you get to grips with the finer points of the game, all for a paltry $2.99. However, if you use this link, you can get it for $1 off.

Careless Talk Costs Lives

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Ashley Madison hack, here are the details:

  • Ashley Madison (“A-M”) is a dating website that specializes in extra-marital affairs.
  • Their business model is likely aimed at men, who are willing to pay for access to available – and presumably attractive – females.
  • Personal Data from A-M was exfiltrated, apparently by an insider who no longer works there according to AM executives.
  • This data includes personal email addresses, names and credit card details of millions of A-M members.
  • A group calling themselves the “Impact Team” have threatened to publish this data unless A-M ceases operations.
  • A-M have not ceased operations.

I am not going to moralize, criticize or look for someone to blame; that’s above my pay grade. I am not going to say how stupid these folks were (they were) or how easy it would have been to avoid giving out personal information (it is). What I will say is that given the number of high-level people who are likely current of former customers of A-M, this information represents the greatest vehicle for extortion that has ever existed in the history of the world.

  • Not every person who signed up for an account with A-M has availed themselves of their services.
  • Not everyone who has paid them money got anything in return.
  • It would be relatively easy to ruin a completely innocent person by inserting their details into the published information.
  • Anyone who pays money to a blackmailer to suppress publication of their information will likely face repeated demands for payment from them or others who happen upon that information in the future.

Like so many of the portents of our time, the existence and success of A-M not the problem. Just like pornography, promiscuity, the marriage strike, or “herbivore culture”, it is but a symptom of the world that we have created for ourselves. We can choose to attack A-M, but they are evidently meeting a need that millions appear to have.It would be easy to dismiss every husband with a wandering eye as a “cheater”, but there are at least two sides to every story – three if you count the truth. Incidentally, why is it that a philandering husband is always vilified and castigated, but the behavior of a cuckolding wife is so often pinned on him as well? But I digress…

When the A-M hack was announced a few weeks ago, it was greeted with much cackling and merriment, mostly from the distaff side. I was a little more sanguine, and opined that the cost of such a disclosure would be measured in lives. So imagine my surprise when I hear that there have been at least two suicides because of the A-M hack…

I’m sick of being right.

Full disclosure: While I am aware of A-M, and have a superficial understanding of how their business works, I have never been a member or signed up for any of their services. Even if I were inclined, their premise – that there are attractive married women who are itching to get a little action on the side with little old me – sounds to good to be true.

And if there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that if is something is to good to be true, it probably is.