Tuesday, 27 September 2016

WoW Gold and Blizzard bank?

There have been some interesting stories of Bitcoin being declared a legal currency by some legislators / courts around the world. Wikipedia has an interesting page on the matter.

The problem is that Bitcoin is not like any conventional currency - it has no central bank or issuing or control authority in the same way as a "conventional" currency. It is not tied to one nation, like a "conventional" currency. That scares nations, obviously! It is pretty much anonymous. It works at a distance without needing any trust.

One of the classic issues though, if Bitcoin is to be treated as a legal currency, and the legal burdens that can imposed, is how you define it. You cannot have the law say "bitcoin" as there are already many other similar digital currencies like Bitcoin, so you need to be more general.

The danger with a more general definition is including something like World of Warcraft Gold in the definition, or points in any other sort of game. Some games have in-game currency which is directly bought and sold (exchanged) for "real" money and used to buy things in game. It could be used to launder money - buying virtual currency, passing it in game, and selling it, so legislators may consider it worthy of the same legal controls.

But in-game money, like WoW Gold, does not follow most of the rules of "real" currency. Making it subject to the legal controls of "real" currency would be a problem. In the game, vendors sell things for WoW Gold and that WoW Gold does not go to the vendor account or a "Blizzard account", it just goes. Similarly there are things in game the provide WoW Gold or goods that vendors will buy for WoW Gold and again that gold is just created by the game, it is just a number. Overall the game has some controls, and so there is an internal market for goods and gold (the action house). But most of the way WoW Gold works in-game would not be allowed if it was deemed a "real" currency, and Blizzard might have to become a formal bank even!

Until recently and buying or selling of WoW Gold for "real" money was not allowed in the terms, but even so there are web sites selling WoW Gold, and they still exist. Players using them could lose their account. But Blizzard actually created a real way to convert money to WoW Gold in the form of a WoW Token. It is purchasable in the UK for £15 and can provider 30 days game play. However, you can also buy and sell WoW Tokens on the auction house, and they currently go for around 68,000 WoW Gold, which is quite a lot. This means there is an exchange rate for WoW Gold in the real world. Blizzard have been cunning, the game rules don't really allow laundering money - one could put money in to buy WoW tokens, but one cannot get money out of the game - you can only sell for WoW Gold or use for game time, so hopefully WoW Gold would be kept out of legal currency legislation.

But it is a fine line for legislators to make a sensible definition.

On a side note, this did mean I could be slightly extravagant, and for two WoW Tokens I managed to buy a vanity mount, one of the most expensive in-game things, a Grand Expedition Yak at 120,000 gold.

P.S. my favourite comment...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Meeting a hero (@xkcd)

The comic xkcd has been a favourite of mine for many many years, and has a cult following especially amongst geeks. It is drawn by Randall Munroe, who used to make robots for NASA, and is apparently the second most famous physicist to move in to a cartoonist career who was born on October 17th.

As an ISP we immediately adopted that someone knowing the word "Shibboleet" had some clue, and that passwords should consider entropy as well as ease by which they can be remembered.

I had the pleasure of a talk from him yesterday at the New Scientist event at Excel London. Yes, he did indeed kill the laptop doing the presentation with a bottle of water during the talk - well done. I took my 8 year old grandson, Bobby, and I am so kicking myself that I failed to say "We call him Little Bobby Tables" when Randall signed his book "To Bobby". That is how much I was dumbstruck by meeting a hero.

For a change, when meeting a hero, he was pleasant, and actually took time to talk to everyone that was there for the book signing. He even spoke to Bobby, and me, and he says he too has constant arguments on passwords and entropy even now. And yes, as he says of those with which he has such arguments: "they are all wrong".

I also learned a lot about the practical aspects of making a ball-pen play area in your apartment. You would not believe how many subtle issues there are - a good presentation.

Unifi/Apple getting worse

Having made some major improvements in this problem, it seems now to be worse since iOS 10 on my iPhone.

The problem is that roaming between Unifi access points on same SSID (which IPv6 present, which may or may not be a factor) loses connectivity - a lot of the time. It happens even when using Fixed IP config, so is not related to DHCP server itself.

It had got to being rare after latest Unifi update, but since iOS 10 it is most of the time now.

Trying upgrading Unifi AP firmware from to now. We'll see.

P.S. It has not helped!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Timers and thermostats

So, we have an oven, it has a simple to use and set timer. When I cook something (rarely) I always set the timer. Why the hell would I not. Yes, often I will not forget ,and will go to the kitchen just before it goes beep and turns off. But there is no harm out cost in having set the timer. Sometime I'll go to the oven and press the button just to check how much time is left - it is a useful feature.

Some people (mentioning no names) refuse to EVER set a timer on the oven. And then, when they cook something and go out, and come back to charcoal, they say "I did not expect to be that long". That is fine, no problem, but why not set a timer. If you are not that long, no harm done. If, even if 1 in a 100 times, you are longer, the timer saves your bacon (or in this case lasagne).

The same happens with TV shows. I have seen many minutes of agonising decision "shall I set this to record or not?" before going out, and considering if back in time to watch live or if not back in time.

The decision needs no time, press the fucking record button and if you are back in time, one button to delete it (or leave the Sky box to delete by itself so no effort at all). Seriously, why the decision? Why the dilemma?

When you have two choices, and neither have any "cost" but one has some saving if an unlikely event happens, then spend the "zero cost" option. Set the timer! Press record!

The other pet hate is that the same person does not understand how a thermostat works, and will set the car to cool to 16C and then when it is too cold, turn off the air-con. Only then to turn back on when too hot. Why the fuck not set the temperature at something with which you are comfortable, adjust to taste on the day, but set it, and leave it, please. What is worse is when the passenger (me) has sensibly done this on one side of the car and has to endure the air-con turned off for ages while the other side of the car warms up again.

Sorry, just general rant, somewhat hungry and really was looking forward to that lasagne.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Live TV interviews (Using DSLR with Skype on a Mac)

I have done quite a lot of live TV interviews on BBC, Sky News, and RT (Russia Today). If you want me to do a TV interview on anything Internet related contact the AAISP press office.

The first interview was with Sky News, and was in a studio. I had a few days notice. It was all very scary and new, but one can get used to anything. These days it is much more relaxed. RT tend to give a couple of hours notice.

Interviews with BBC were also in a studio. I have been in three different studios now. When RT called for an interview, with only a few hours notice, they suggested a studio, but then said "or we could use Skype". Well, I am not a Skype user, but a choice of install Skype or spend all evening travelling to and from a stupid for 3 minutes on air - I chose Skype.

It was pretty simple - install Skype, wait for a "call", and live TV interview.
  • I used the apple headphones as they avoid any issue with feedback or noise cancelling.
    • The mic is not that good, but was OK - probably better than the one in the screen/Mac.
    • Later interviews I had grown a beard and so the mic would make a scraping noise, not good
  • I used the in build camera in my Mac
    • It claims to be HD - I am not sure of the spec, could just be 720, and does not look that good
    • It is a tiny camera, so never going to be brilliant
    • It points at an odd angle, so I either had to tilt up the Mac (which showed all my ceiling lights behind me) to lower my chair stupidly low. I chose the latter.
After many RT interviews like this, for the latest (a couple of days ago) I thought I would try something better. We have some good audio/video kit now at work, and so I plugged in the Zoom H4n Pro via USB. It is obviously much better quality than the inbuilt mic or the headphone mic. When you connect USB it prompts for mass storage or audio, and so I picked the latter - as if by magic I now have H4 as a new audio input (and output) on my Mac, and Skype can see that.

Whilst waiting for the call on Skype I googled a bit to see if I could use the Canon DSLR camera as a web cam. I found a solution, which was very clunky, but worked. I have since seen some other s/w that supposedly works more directly with the camera, but not tried that.

The process is pretty simple though...
  • Install CamTwist
    • This creates a new web cam that can be used as video input on the Mac
    • It actually does (in this case) screen grab of the desktop - you pick a rectangle
    • Beware - it has settings for the web cam size that default to something tiny - you go in to a menu to set those (I picked 1920x1080) and restarted it and the apps using it
  • Run the EOS utility for "live view" on Mac screen
  • Point the CamTwist virtual webcam input window to the EOS live view window
    • This means a 4k video camera displayed on a scaled window on a small part of a 5k Mac screen, captured and called to present to be a 1920x1080 webcam. Messy, or what.
    • Be careful no other windows pop up over the live view at all as they will appear!
This is the end result (this was recorded using a camera pointed at a TV so is not that good).

As you can see, the video is not that bad, but something horrible has happened with the audio! I sound a lot more Micky Mouse than usual and I seem to be stuttering!

From what we can tell, when I plugged in the H4n it offered 44.1kHz or 48kHz. I just picked the default (44.1kHz). I can only assume something (maybe Skype) assumed it was 48kHz, and so processed the audio as higher pitched, but then kept running out of audio and so repeated a fraction of a second hence making me stutter.

So, I am trying to do better! I ordered a Blackmagic design Ultra Studio Mini Recorder which does HDMI or SDI to Thunderbolt. This is not that expensive but it is important to realise that it does not do HDCP so cannot capture from Sky, etc. It is find for a DSLR that has HDMI output though. It is worth getting a thunderbolt cable too and I had to get a mini HDMI to full HDMI cable to work with the camera.

This is not the end of the fun and games though.

First off, getting the camera to play ball...
  • I had to set the HDMI mode not to overlay the usual focus and settings controls. There is a menu for that.
  • The HDMI out is 1080, and can be 1080p or 1080i. I set 1080p (why not) and 50 fps.
  • The recording is separate. I did have set to 4k 25fps, but obviously that means some processing to get to the HDMI, and seemed to add a video lag compared to sound (even using cameras own mic). I changed to match HDMI 1080p/50fps. Seems better.
  • You still need the EOS utility to set live view - this allows you to lock the camera so it is actually mirror up and feeding video without timing out. Just setting video mode and not recoding soon stops. I could have recorded as well I guess. May be a nice idea next interview.
  • I may have to find a mains power adapter for camera to ensure the battery does not catch me out. Thankfully interviews are short, but sound/video checks first and so on can take time.
  • The EOS live view lets me play with focus and stuff as well, which is fun, so live I can change focus to another person - would be good if we had two people interviews and a camera operator.
So, with the camera working, I turn my attention back to audio. My plan was to either use the H4n via USB as before (but 48kHz this time) or use audio line out in to camera external mic. The idea of the latter is it means audio / video via HDMI so should avoid A/V sync issues.

Turns out A/V sync issues are a nightmare!
  • To start with, I was not sure how to test - I FaceTimed my son - he said sync was shit and audio like a second behind video.
  • Eventually I decided simpler to record using Photo Booth and play back to check.
  • I found audio ahead of video slightly in most cases, even when audio is direct in to external mic. I think I have managed to improve that a lot by changing video record mode to match the HDMI settings to minimise any processing being done.
  • It seems that actually the H4n on USB works just as well as via line out to camera, so USB will get better quality direct in to audio devices.
  • Unfortunately, at one point, I managed to create the huge lag with audio behind, but not quite work out how. So clearly, testing is needed before I go live.
I need a longer thunderbolt cable, and a USB extension lead. I am still using the Apple headphones for the audio output (talkback so I can hear interviewer). But I think I am ready for my next interview now - and I know to check my A/V sync before I start this time!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Sponsored schadenfreude?

I am slightly conflicted here...

A friend is doing something for charity. Man vs Hair II.

It basically boils down to him shaving if people sponsor him to do so.

This is what I do not understand in terms of the the psychology here.

If his friends wish to donate to charity, the do so, simple. He can quite sensibly encourage people to do so. For the record, and primarily so that I do not seem like an arse, I have donated to that charity today.

But I do not understand the "sponsorship" aspect. If it is a good cause, give some money. If not, do not. Why is it that some person doing something that they would perhaps rather not do (running a distance, pouring water over their head, shaving, whatever) a reason to give money?

It seems people want to pay for someone else to do something they would rather not, so hardship, or some challenge (shaving is not a challenge, climbing a mountain is a challenge).

It seems we are creating a culture of paying for hardship. Paying for schadenfreude in fact. That is basically it. You would not sponsor someone to eat a cheese sandwich, as that is not something that is negative or humiliating or a hardship or challenge for them (unless lactose intolerant). You may pay to see someone shave a beard that has taken time to grow. You may pay to see someone run a long way. But why?

So this is using schadenfreude to raise money for charity - using the human desire to see someone else suffer as a motivation. This is even though charity is usually about stopping suffering!

Is this really what charitable organisations want to do? Is that morally correct? Is it ethical?

Anyway, do donate to that cause - it seems a good one - if you also want to experience schadenfreude then so do via his promotion, but why do that when you can just donate anyway and not humiliate someone?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Numbering plan

Some decades ago I managed to extract a 1,000 number block out of BT.

The way I did it was simple. Having "The BT Price List" I could see that "reserving a block of numbers" was free, so I applied for, and got an order confirmation for, a block of 10,000 numbers on my ISDN2 lines. I did it twice, in fact.

Obviously the order did not happen, so I complained to chairman's office, as one could, at the time, and settled for a 1,000 number block as resolution if it was a "nice" one. Initially only 30 were "live" and so paid for.

We have been plagued with wrong numbers ever since, but have some cool numbers. Later, 10 of the numbers were sold by BT to an estate agent, and so I grabbed all 990 remaining and ported out. We still get bogus calls for the estate agent on numbers they don't have!

You will have seen we have 01344 400 xxx, or a least 990 of them, on the A&A site. I personally have a block of 100 of those routed to me. Once upon a time they went to ISDN2 lines in my garage (now man cave), but now are all VoIP.

So, a long time ago I set up some direct numbers for myself and my wife at home, and my kids. Back then the kids actually had analogue phones in their bedrooms on an ISDN (Avaya/Alchemy) system. It was pretty recently that the old 5 pair analogue cabling was pulled out from the house. So, yes, from birth (mostly), my kids had direct personal phone numbers (and email addresses) assigned.

Some still use them to this day, assigned to a mobile SIM card or VoIP phone as well as ringing other mobile devices.

But today I realised I needed a 2nd level of numbering, and started assigning a number scheme within the 100 numbers I have for grand kids. Yes, I have a scheme to allow for up to 9 kids for each of my kids in the numbering plan. I am assuming that by the time I have great grand kids phone numbers will really be obsolete.

The crazy thing is that the 8 year old grandchild has a mobile phone, and a number (albeit locked down on who he can call or from which he can receive calls, or texts), and I expect my 3 year old grandchild will have the same very soon.

I must admit that such a numbering scheme is something I never imagined when I started in telecoms. But now, why not. Why not have numbering the family can understand.

Next step, email addressing schemes :-)