Fed2 Star - the newsletter for the space trading game Federation 2

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: January 12, 2014

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An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week’s net, technology and science news

by Alan Lenton

Well, Winding Down is back, and it feels like a long time since it was 2013! This week I’ve culled a few stories from the multitude of stories arising in the last few weeks, including material on UK internet censorship, time travellers, Lacie’s spherical hard drive, politicians and email, CSI with dolls, a bookless library, pneumatic transport, HELMD, and a maker of beer for gods of the dead. If that doesn’t leave you drunk on info, there are also URLs to stories on Federation 2, loony ideas from Silicon Valley, E-ZPass, Inkjet-Printed eye cells, and AT&T’s Sponsored Data.

My multi-player game, Federation 2, was 26 years old this last week – it first went live online on 10 Jan 1988. It wasn’t the first multi-player online game – that award belongs to Richard Bartle’s MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) – but it is, as far as I’m aware, the longest continuously running online game there is. I suspect that some of its original players are now grandparents! If you’d like to read a little about its first year from the perspective of one of the original players, there is a URL in the Scanner section.

In the meantime...


This month saw the formal introduction of censorship on large chunks of the UK’s internet, as the biggest ISPs buckled under to demands from ignorant politicians and agreed to put in ‘porn’ filters – ostensibly to stop children watching the stuff – into their networks. There is of course no legal definition of porn. And, needless to say, following the lead of loud mouthed politicians, the big operators took the opportunity to block other sites they disagreed with. One such site was the Torrent Freak, a provider of breaking news about file sharing, copyright and privacy.

Murdoch’s Sky network banned Torrent Freak. When contacted Sky told Torrent Freak that the ban would remain. It was only after their case was publicized in a number of national newspapers that the ban was rescinded. The press release on the issue from Sky included the statement, “If at any time a website owner believes they have been unfairly filtered or miscategorised by Sky Broadband Shield, they can contact Sky and we will look into it as soon as we can”.

“...as soon as they can...” What breath-taking arrogance. When you screw over someone’s livelihood you need to fix the problem immediately, not when it’s convenient for you. Consider this a taste of the future.

I see that the search for time travellers continues on the internet. The latest is a paper on Arxiv relating an experiment that failed to elicit any evidence of time travellers. I’m not surprised – why would time travellers bother with the internet as it is today? I’m sure there are a lot more interesting things around. The only reason I can think of for a time traveller bothering to look at today’s internet is that time travellers are cats researching their history – cats having completely taken over while humans have become extinct...

I rather like the style of the new hard disk Lacie showed at the CES last week. Shiny and spherical. Well nearly spherical, the bottom is flat so the it won’t roll around. It’s one TB and USB3, with a steel casing, silver plated and highly polished. It’s not cheap at US$490, but think of the cachet you will get from owning one!

Without wishing to comment on the specific issues of the New Jersey/Fort Lee/Christie/Washington Bridge scandal, I must say just how amazed I am at the electronic ineptitude of the people involved. I can’t believe that people plotting political mayhem could be stupid enough to communicate the plot through emails! I thought political aides and analysts were supposed to be bright – the crème de la crème, so to speak. I do wonder how much wider involvement, and what other plays the resulting investigation is going to reveal?


Years of watching CSI have convinced people that crime scene reproductions are made possible only by the use of modern hi tech. That’s not the case. More than 50 years ago the police were using doll houses and miniature dolls to recreate murder scenes! Now a documentary, ‘Of Dolls & Murder’ has been released about this technique, and the trailer for it is at the URL. Take a look and get a taste of CSI, 1930s style.

The bibliophiles among you might like to take a look at a piece on the first completely e-book library. It’s in Texas, and it’s an interesting idea. My personal experience of e-books is that they are fine for novels and the like, but not too hot for technical books, where diagrams and tables suffer from the restricted viewing area.

Despite that, I confess to being fascinated by the experiment. I can see that there would be massive gains on the architecture front, if you didn’t need to carry physical tomes. Most people just don’t realize how heavy books can get when you have more than a few of them. (As an aside we have a lot of books, and when we moved apartment a few years ago we discovered most removals companies won’t take on job if there are more than a couple of boxes of books, because of the weight.)

I will be watching this experiment with interest, and, much as I like physical books, I wish it well.

For Geeks:

Those of you who read Winding Down regularly know that I love the idea of pneumatic transport of goods, money, meals, etc. A couple of you wrote asking if I knew of any other references to past, current, or possible future uses of the idea, so here are a few URLs to get you started:
and also take a look at:
for a selection of pictures. (Quite a URL, isn’t it!)

It’s the stuff of science fiction no longer. The US army has a new toy – it’s called HELMD, which stands for High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, and it’s successfully blown up 90 incoming mortar rounds and several aerial drones, using a 10kW laser mounted on an armoured vehicle. The setup is rather large, and would be an obvious target on the battlefield, but it’s an interesting start, and no doubt miniaturization will take place over the next few years.

I strongly suspect that the first place we will actually see it in use is fitted to nuclear powered surface ships, where there is plenty of electrical power available and space to install all the electronics needed for targeting.

And for something a little more peaceful, I note that the archaeologists have discovered the 3,000 year old tomb of a brewer in Egypt. The tomb dates from the Ramesside period and the colourful wall paintings describe the occupant as the chief “maker of beer for gods of the dead”. Must have been a pretty potent brew!

Scanner: Other stories

Federation 2 – the first year

Big brains, small minds: The troubling vision of Silicon Valley’s elites

Hack your E-ZPass so it alerts you whenever it’s scanned

Eye cells inkjet-printed for the first time

AT&T’s Sponsored Data is bad for the internet, the economy, and you


Thanks to readers Asti, Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material for Winding Down.

Please send suggestions for stories to alan@ibgames.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Thunderbird spam filter...

Alan Lenton
12 January 2014

Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist, the order of which depends on what he is currently working on! His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan.

Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.

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