Voxels ate my weekend

Sunrise
Sunrise

Last week Macsen expressed an interest in Minecraft. He has access to an old laptop of mine, so I spent an evening upgrading it from OpenSuse to Antergos and installing Voxelands1 on it, along with a number of other games. I also installed Voxelands on my own laptop so that I could understand the interface well enough to answer any questions that might crop up.

I didn’t intend to start playing the damn game.

I did, however, spend a bit of time poking around the wiki so that, on Friday, I was able to show Macsen how to make a crafting guide and set him going. And he was off, digging, crafting and building. So much so that we had to crowbar him away from the laptop when it was time to eat2.

On Saturday Macsen asked me how my house was going. So I opened up my laptop and showed him what I’d built while tinkering around. Macsen showed me how to build a furnace and went away to copy my house design.

The rest of the weekend was a bit of a blur of YouTubery, sharing of ideas (something in which the twins were able to become involved), digging, crafting and building. And I have to say that there is something quite magical about an eight-year-old enthusiastically describing what he’s discovered and planning his next project.

At present we are both playing in single player mode. We have talked about shared worlds and I am thinking of setting up a small local3 server, but that is a task for another weekend.

I’m not normally much of a gamer but Voxelands has me hooked. It’s immersive, expansive, endlessly entertaining and frighteningly addictive. Darkrose and the rest of the Voxelands team have done a fantastic job so far. Long may they continue.

Footnotes

1 Voxelands is a fork of Minetest which is an Open Source implementation of Minecraft. From my limited reading, my understanding is that the Minetest developers have emphasised their modding engine at the expense of playability. Voxelands has dropped the modding engine and seeks, instead, to deliver a game that is complete, playable and fun. And playable is what I was looking for.
2 Figuratively speaking, of course. But now I’m wondering if it’s possible to craft a crowbar.
3 As in local to my home network and not connected to the interwebs.

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Bad Facebook. No Cookie.

Facebook’s ongoing attempt to get around EU privacy legislation in Belgium has taken a turn for the semantic:

Facebook has appealed a ruling from the Court of First Instance that supported the Belgian data authority’s demand that the social media network stop tracking users.

The court’s ruling contained some English words — like cookie, homepage and browser — which could violate a Belgian law that says all rulings must be in the official languages of the country: French, Dutch and German. Facebook has said this means the whole ruling must be annulled.

Facebook’s lawyers need to get out more. They’re not fooling anyone with this.

Privacy lawyers not associated with the case told POLITICO this is a “desperate, petty and last-ditch” attempt to avoid Belgian justice.

And that’s putting it mildly.

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Ideological purity: It’s great when you can afford it

John Mann makes an interesting observation:

Hidden from the discussion of Labour’s big increase in membership is any analysis of who has joined as fee paying individual members, but a deeper examination will show that it is overwhelmingly the middle classes who are joining. One street in Islington North, with owner-occupiers living in multi-million pound properties, had 40 people over a 12 week period join the Party.

Allow me to refer you to something I linked to earlier.

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Quote of the day: The applause was for the man with principles

The applause was for a man who had been clear in his arguments. The applause was for a man who had never hidden from his colleagues in the PLP in the run up to the vote. The applause was for a man being true to Labour’s social democratic and internationalist traditions. The applause was for a man who demonstrated, not just during his speech but over the weeks that preceded it, what leadership should look like. For many, the applause was a response to an old feeling: that of being led. Hilary Benn made the Labour benches – for the most part – feel proud. As an accountable, honest, transparent medium, Hillary Benn amplified the power of his message.

Jamie Reed

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That facepalm moment

I’m not going to name any companies here but I recently cashed in an freebie. It was one of those introductory offers in which you get something for nothing and are then asked to sign up so you can use the (paid) service in future. As it happens, this piece of marketing worked and, having poked around the site for a bit, I decided I would create an account in order to order personalised presents in future.

So I opened KeePassX, generated a (very long, very random) password and pasted it into the sign-up form. This is where things started to go awry.

My sign-up password was rejected because it was too long. This is always a bit concerning. If a sign-up form tells you your password is too long, it’s a bit of a giveaway that they are not hashing passwords properly and are probably a bit ramshackle when it comes to security.

Still, they already have my address for the freebie so I shortened my password and pasted it in.

And then they emailed my (clearly unhashed) password back to me.

The company in question does not have my credit card details. This company will never have my credit card details.

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Quote of the day: This future is television

The stream, mobile applications, and moving images all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication – nodes and networks and links – toward one that is linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

Hossein Derakhshan on an internet stripped of its power to change the world and instead serving up a stream of pointless social trivia.

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Mongo only pawn… in game of life*

About a week ago, Ben Everard on Linux Voice posted an introduction to MongoDB from issue 11 of the magazine. So I thought that now would be a good time to go and see what all the cool database kids are talking about`.

One thing that isn’t mentioned, and which came to bite me, is that Mongo needs to have 3GB available for its journal and other data. This all goes into /var/lib/mongodb and, in my case, this is in my already undersized root partition. Thank you, GParted for digging me out of that particular hole.

Installing MongoDB on my Antergos box is easy:

# pacman -S mongodb mongodb-tools

The mongodb-tools provides import, export and diagnostic capabilities and become useful later.

And then the thing that I always forget. Start the daemon:

$ systemctl start mongodb.service

After this, you can launch the MongDB shell with the mongo command, and you’re in.

Ben’s article is certainly an interesting introduction, but what I found more useful was this article: Getting Started with MongoDB (MongoDB Shell Edition). The guide provides installation instructions for various operating systems, which you can skip past by clicking here. This guide also provides a database that can be downloaded, imported and played around with.

It’s surprisingly easy to get a handle on the basics of MongoDB, and I can certainly see how the objects and methods approach to building and managing data provides a lot more flexibility than traditional relational databases. Now I just need to come up with a project to justify seeing just how much I can get out of this.

* Because whenever I see the name Mongo, I think of this guy.

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Facebook and the droppings of a male cow

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Facebook had reacted to a Belgian privacy ruling by blocking access to any Facebook page to anyone in Belgium who isn’t signed in to their Facebook account. And now I have actually been affected by this.

We decided, for various reasons, that a takeaway would be a good idea and agreed on which takeaway to go to. Not being particularly familliar with the restaurant in question, I looked them up on Resto and clicked through to their website to see if I could find a menu.

Their “website” turned out to be a Facebook page, so what I was presented with was this.

Sorry, this content isn’t available right now. We have implemented additional security features that require you to log in to Facebook to view this page from Belgium. Learn why.

Being curious, I clicked on the Learn Why link. And here’s what I learned:

Keeping your account secure is extremely important to us.

But I don’t have a Facebook account. And the reason my access is blocked is because I don’t have a Facebook account. So to claim that this is to keep my account secure seems disingenuous at best.

Because of demands made by the Belgian Privacy Commission, we recently had to limit our use of one important security tool, the datr cookie. Please read on to learn how this tool works and why we’re no longer showing public Facebook pages and other content in Belgium to people who don’t have Facebook accounts.

I’m reading…

This cookie is a security tool we’ve used for more than 5 years around the world to help us tell the difference between legitimate visits to Facebook by real people and illegitimate ones (by spammers, hackers trying to access other people’s accounts, or other bad actors).

This cookie can help us secure Facebook by providing statistical information about a web browser’s activities, such as the volume and frequency of requests. Our security systems analyze this browser data to help us tell the difference between regular people logging into their accounts and potential attackers.

So what Facebook appears to be telling me is that they need to suck up my browser history in order to work out whether or not I’m a legitimate visitor.

And, it turns out that this is exactly what they are saying.

The Belgian Privacy Commission, however, has required that we stop using the datr cookie when people without Facebook accounts in Belgium interact with Facebook. In the absence of this tool, we have to treat any visit to our service from an unrecognized browser in Belgium as potentially dangerous and take additional steps to help keep you and other people secure on Facebook.

Really? You can’t just serve up a static page?

I believe that Facebook is written in PHP, in which case the pages are generated on the server and served as HTML. If I’m not logged in, I can’t — and wouldn’t expect to be able to — access any dynamic content and a plain old HTML file is about as secure as you can get.

We recognize that these measures unfortunately may limit and interrupt your experience on Facebook.

I’m sure you do.

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Search suggestions in Firefox

Firefox 43 was recently released. Once installed I noticed that when I start to type a url into the Awesome Bar it asks me if I want to improve my experience with Search Suggestions.

Many search engines (including Yahoo, Google, Bing and others) provide search suggestions, which are based on popular searches other people make that are related to a word or words that you enter. When Search Suggestions are enabled, the text you type into the search box is sent to the search engine, which analyzes the words and displays a list of related searches.

This is one of these things that is useful on a phone but probably more trouble than it’s worth on the laptop. I tend to use the Awesome Bar to quickly search my browser history (to the point that I no longer bother bookmarking anything), so adding search suggestions would probably be more confusing that enlightening for me.

Still, it’s easy enough to switch it on and off again, so there will be no problem if I change my mind.

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Shane Richmond on copyright

An idea is not property, which is why the term “intellectual property” is so insidious. If I have a car and you take it then I don’t have a car anymore. If I have an idea and you take it, then we both have that idea. Thinking of cultural products as property only helps the companies that have built their business on accumulating rights.

Of course, if you take my idea and use it to make money then my business will suffer and I will have less incentive to have ideas in the future. We need a period of protection for ideas to ensure that creators keep coming up with them because they are vital to our culture. It is, more than anything, part of what makes use human.

But for exactly that reason protection periods should also be kept as short as possible. Once that period has expired, others should be free to reuse, rethink and remix those concepts and incorporate them into their own ideas. That is how every art form has evolved and stayed vibrant. Now more than ever, with the speed of culture accelerated by digital technology, it is imperative that protection periods be shortened.

Read the rest

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