Monday, 13 June 2016

An Alternate History of the United States

CC Photo courtesy JD Lamb
Imagine if, during WWI, the Ottoman Empire threw in with the Allies instead of the Central Powers and the United States did the reverse. The Sykes-Picot agreement isn't a secret agreement to dole out portions of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire but was about carving up the US. World leaders, fearful of growing US domination of global affairs, create a secret agreement to ensure that various European powers have control over parts of the former USA.

We have Cascadia in the northwest, created out of Washington, Oregon, northern California and Idaho. Southern California is tossed to Mexico to get Mexico's agreement with the deal. New England is literally "New England." Texas is dangerous, so it's split in half, with the eastern half joining the Confederate States of America (CSA), ruled over by their Baptist Minister dictator and ... well, you get the idea.

Now imagine that for the next century, Europe and the USSR are constantly invading the remnants of the US. The USSR, of course, is trying to undo Seward's Folly and take back Alaska, but the Alaskans prove surprisingly resilient and with plenty of covert aid from Cascadia and Germany, the Soviets keep getting bogged down in Alaska despite the rest of the world politely asking them to stop.

Eric Rudolph, Christian terrorist
The CSA, on the grounds that East Texas is part of them, has repeatedly tried to annex West Texas, leading to Europe repeatedly bombing the CSA and eventually, peacekeeping troops stationed along the (very long) West and East Texas border. The Wall dividing Texas in two is almost 800 miles long.

The Republic of the Great Plains, still the "breadbasket of the world," tired of the UK siphoning off all of the agricultural output, nationalizes the agricultural industry, promising to offer the UK a fair price for the lost farms. The UK, hampered by other international entanglements, enlists the aid of the USSR to orchestrate a coup, overthrowing the democratically elected government and the Democratic Republic of the Great Plains is born, with a charismatic Baptist preacher installed as the Supreme President for Life.  However, he's a Reformed Baptist, putting the RGP at odds with the Reconstructed Southern Baptist religion dominating the CSA. A cold war erupts between them, often turning hot.

Meanwhile, Southern California is trying to rejoin Northern California who, in turn, want to secede from Cascadia, leading to the Mexicans sending in troops, again.

The midwest, meanwhile, languishes in poverty as no continent-spanning infrastructure or free trade has been implemented, but with recent increased oil production from the province of Oklahoma, the Ottoman Empire agrees to a request for help from a local strongman and flies in Turkish troops to "keep the peace." They land in Kansas, but quickly establish themselves in Oklahoma, with the strongman's help, and secure the oilfields.

Later on the East coast ... more of the same. Death. War. Dictators. Much of it paid for by European and Asian countries. The former US has lost all sovereignty and after a century of this, a man rises up and simply starts saying "this is never going to end." And anyone who believes it's never going to end has a choice: they can accept it or fight back.

Many who fight back are proud of their Christian religion and will gladly cite their favorite bible passages from heart. These passages are often used to justify the Christian's attempt to "restore the United States":
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Deuteronomy 7:1-2
And also:
Paul Jennings Hill, Christian Terrorist
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. 
However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Deuteronomy 20:10-17
Sexual slavery, of course, is acceptable:
Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Numbers 31:17-18
As is beheading:
David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 1 Samuel 17:51
Some Christians, of course, preferred the kinder, gentler New Testament:
I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me. Luke 19:26-27
Or:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—Matthew 10:34-35
People around the world, of course, are condemning the Christians and pointing to the US as an example of just how primitive and cruel the belief system is. While newspaper publish op-eds about Christianity being a "religion of hate", Christian groups around the world protest terrorism done in the name of the Prince of Peace, but these protests don't make it into the mainstream media, leading many people to believe that the Christians are complacent.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The CIA Torture Report - Who Was Gul Rahman?

If you want, you can download the CIA Torture Report. However, if you don't want to read the 500 pages they declassified, here are the highlights, taken from the introduction:
  1. The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
  2. The CIA's justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.
  3. The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.
  4. The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.
  5. The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department ofJustice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  6. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  7. The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
  8. The CIA's operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
  9. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA's Office of Inspector General.
  10. The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
  11. The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
  12. The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.
  13. Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
  14. CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
  15. The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate.
  16. The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
  17. The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
  18. The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  19. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.
The classified version is 6,000 pages. Holy crap! What's in the 5,500 pages we're not allowed to read?

Torture doesn't work. We knew it didn't work. We tortured innocent people. We didn't even gain useful intelligence from those we tortured who probably were guilty. We then lied, covered it up, and tried repeatedly 

The report also talks about Gul Rahman, a man who was subjected to total darkness, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, cold showers, beatings, and had his mobility limited by his short shackles. He was stripped from the waist down, thrown into an unheated cell in near freezing temperatures. Dehydration and starvation combined with hypothermia lead to his death that night. Gul Rahman had never been charged with a crime. Neither were the people who murdered him.

And from page 56 of that report:
"According to [DUNBAR], there were approximately five CIA officers from the renditions team. Each one had a role during the takedown and it was thoroughly planned and rehearsed. They opened the door of Rahman's cell and rushed in screaming and yelling for him to 'get down.' They dragged him outside, cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape. They covered his head with a hood and ran him up and down a long corridor adjacent to his cell. They slapped him and punched him several times. [DUNBAR] stated that although it was obvious they were not trying to hit him as hard as they could, a couple of times the punches were forceful. As they ran him along the corridor, a couple of times he fell and they dragged him through the dirt (the floor outside of the cells is dirt). Rahman did acquire a number of abrasions on his face, legs, and hands, but nothing that required medical attention. (This may account for the abrasions found on Rahman's body after his death. Rahman had a number of surface abrasions on his shoulders,pelvis, arms, legs, and face.) At this point, Rahman was returned to his cell and secured. [DUNBAR] stated that [[CIA OFFICER 1]] [the CIA officer in charge of DETENTION SITE COBALT] may have spoken to Rahman for a few moments, but he did not know what [[CIA OFFICER 1]] said. [DUNBAR] stated that after sometliing like this is done, interrogators should speak to the prisoner to give them something to think about.'"
Did you catch that bit about the CIA officers trying not to hit Gul Rahman as hard as they could as they dragged him through the dirt? How sweet and thoughtful.
Even though Gul Rahman was the only person known to have died as a result of the CIA's programs, many things you'll read in that report are far worse.

The above details a rogue agency, completely out of control. If, however, you don't want to read the report and you simply reject the findings out of hand, then I guess you follow the motto "be the evil you want to see in the world."

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How to be a jerk

Photo courtesy EveryCarListed
When I lived in the US, I quit a job I enjoyed and took a job I hated because that hated job – car salesman – offered health insurance. Keep in mind that I had something called a cholesteatoma and in the worst-case scenario, you can die from this relatively easy to treat condition. I had bloody pus running out of my ear for well over a year until the pre-existing medical clause expired and I could get my surgery. Not having medical care was not an option.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Veure - Turning Bugs Into Features

Published by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Despite the post title, I'll cover a number of areas as I continue to document my (initially) one-man quest to write a text-based MMORPG. What follows is mostly me rambling and isn't trying to be overly coherent.

I've already written combat in Veure (side note: we think we have a real name for it now) and frankly, I like some of the features it has, but recently I hit a snag when I was rewriting the item system (guns, medkits, and so on). I had put a stub item system in place originally, just to have something there, but now I needed to make it more robust. However, in rerunning my combat simulator (which generates a 16M spreadsheet and takes hours to complete), I discovered that for one of the combat stats, if you increased the stat, you decreased your odds of winning a fight. Oops.

Now if you're curious about how combat in a text-based MMORPG works, I recommend checking out torn.com. In fact, if you're curious about text-based MMORPGs at all, check out that game (it's free). It's huge, has been running for over a decade and just released a major update to its interface. It's a fun game, but it's exactly the sort of game I don't want: there's no story, no immersion.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Wizpert Spam

Fair use photo by Sreejithk2000
Dear Wizpert,

You're spamming me. And you know what? I get it; I really do. I also have my own company and from what I can see, you're likely a small, New York-based startup with limited funding and high overhead. You have a dream and you want to keep it afloat.

I really get that. However, if your dream requires you to constantly spam people like me, I have an issue with that. Amusingly, I am one of the world's best-known experts in my field, but from everything I've read, Wizpert is a waste of my time.

Best,
Curtis "Ovid" Poe

Dear everyone else,

If you're not familiar with wizpert, they're an online help desk. They get people to sign up as experts in a field and possibly earn money by answering questions for their customers. Not everyone's been thrilled with the experience, but the basic idea seems nice. That being said, I suspect they're struggling because they're spamming for experts. As it turns our, the spam is better than most and had they actually linked to my blog, I might have not realized it was spam (though I still wouldn't have signed up). However, they're clearly using software to "find" blogs on the Web and robomail people.

No names are redacted because there's no one innocent I'm protecting.
Hi Ovid, 
I was reading your blog https://metacpan.org/pod/Env::Export#AUTHOR and thought that your knowledge would be of great value to our users, who pay our experts a premium for advice. 
Our platform, called Wizpert, is a fast growing community of experts, where users seek advice and coaching on a wide range of topics, such as programming languages (PHP, C++, JavaScript, etc.), computers and more. 
If you decide to sign up, you will also get a customized Wizpert button to place on your blog - it will allow engaged readers to connect with you directly at your convenience for a live conversation. 
Please go to http://wizpert.com/register_expert?beta_key=computers  and create your quick profile - it doesn't cost you anything and takes just 2 minutes!  
For more information, pls see our FAQ section on the site, or feel free to contact me personally with any questions. 
All the best,
Michael
------------
Michael Weinberg
Founder, CEO
Wizpert - NY, NY
917-251-2445
The "blog" Weinberg refers to is actually software documentation (https://metacpan.org/pod/Env::Export#AUTHOR). Here's the text at that section (#AUTHOR) of the documentation:
AUTHOR 
Randy J. Ray <rjray at blackperl.com> 
Original idea from a journal posting by Curtis "Ovid" Poe (<ovid at cpan.org>), built on a sample implementation done by Steffen Mueller, <smueller at cpan.org>.
For those with a software background, you can see how this mistake could have been made. In fact, at no point in this software documentation are any of my blogs linked. Just one is mentioned. Nonetheless, Wizpert is spamming people trying to get more "experts" in their fold and this was a clumsy attempt. As it turns out, they've been doing this for quite some time and not bothering to try to hide it.

So, unethical behavior and crappy software. Nice.

Here's Wizpert:


And yes, there are plenty more out there. From what I understand, they were originally going with a hand-curated list, and then with a paid spam campaign, and then "word of mouth" would take over. Well, if they don't stop spamming, I'd certainly like a word of mouth campaign to begin ...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Thoughts on game design in MMORPGs

Back in 2006 I was living in the US and had accepted a programming job in the UK but had to wait several months for the paperwork to come through. My previous employment ended because the company was running out of money and since I knew that games are actually one of the most cost-effective forms of entertainment, I made the conscious decision to play World of Warcraft in an effort to deliberately save money and not go out so often to restaurants or clubs with friends. This was the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) I had ever played.

A new star map we're investigating using.

A good friend of mine (and then roommate), Michael Schwern, convinced me to try a PVP (player versus player) server instead of a PVE (player versus environment) server. The primary difference is that in PVP, enemy players can kill you. In PVE, they can't touch you and you just play against the game (yes, I'm oversimplifying). This was a huge eye opener for me because I thought I would prefer exploring the game rather than fighting other people. I was dead wrong. When you're trying to finish a particular quest and there are human bad guys all over the place, it makes the game much more challenging and that really pays off.

Over time, I had played enough games, both single player and multi-player that when I decided to create Veure I was pretty sure that I knew what I was doing. Once again, I was dead wrong.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Veure Update

Veure is coming along quite nicely. Just take a look at this screenshot (you can click on it for a larger image).

Your status page in Veure

Money, visas, stats building, education, space ships, clones, inventory, and more. But we still don't have a name. We have over 50% of the Alpha tasks finished and pushing further ahead, but that damned name is pesky. We actually thought we finally had one, but a double-check of the name revealed that someone else is using it. Damn, damn, damn. The name is rapidly becoming one of the biggest obstacles.