Category Archives: comp/tech

DOS Games of My Youth

Once I learned about the Archive.org MS-DOS games collection on a recent episode of Mike’s Weekly Geek News Show, I knew what I had to do. I now present to you an idiosyncratic anthology of DOS games from my youth, mostly played on our trusty Tandy 1000 and Wyse computers. For each game, click on the image and you will be taken to an Archive.org page where the game can be played within your browser.

Bouncing Babies

Let’s begin where we ought to, with Bouncing Babies. A hospital is on fire and you must save babies being thrown out the windows. Such an outrageous premise for a game.

Bouncing Babies

David’s Kong

Being already familiar with Donkey Kong, I was deeply disappointed with this game. But it was named after my brother, which was cool.

David's Kong

Empire: Wargame of the Century

Many hours of my childhood were dedicated to world conquest in the form of “Empire”. The requisite manual can be downloaded here.

Empire

Frogger

I could get past the cars, but not the logs.

Frogger

Hard Hat Mack

OSHA lawyers are your foes!
Hard Hat Mack

Janitor Joe

janitor battles space robots!

Janitor Joe

Lemonade Stand

I actually only ever played this at school, and perhaps not even in DOS, but I remember loving it so I include it here. You start with $2 and a supply of sugar, and you try to run a lemonade stand at a profit. Each day you get a weather forecast and must make inventory and marketing decisions on that basis. A basic lesson in microeconomics.
Lemonade Stand

Mickey’s Jigsaw Puzzles

Playing this again brought back strangely poignant feelings for some reason. Based on how familiar the little animations were to me, I must have spent many hours playing this, though now it’s hard to understand why.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles

Midnight Rescue

Learn to read while battling evil robots!
Midnight Rescue

Moon Bugs

Defend a moon base against the titular moon bugs. Weird, weird game, but one I spent a lot of time on.
Moon Bugs

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Crashing into the Chicago skyline was never more fun. Which is good, because that’s how it always ended.
Microsoft Flight Simulator

Pitfall

You fall. Into a pit. Try not to die.
Pitfall

Qbert

Iconic.
Qbert

Scorched Earth

A game and an introductory ballistics course.
Scorched Earth

Sopwith

Soar like Snoopy in a trusty Sopwith biplane. Or just let it sit on the ground like in this screenshot.
Sopwith

Space Invaders

Kill the little bugs before they hit the bottom.

Space Invaders

Spacewar

Endless battles between David and me.
Spacwar

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Deluxe

I learned the name “Tegucigalpa” here and never forgot it.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Deluxe

Decentralizing the Web… Again

…cloud computing represents centralization of information and computing resources, which can be easily controlled by corporations and governments. [Jaeger, et al. Link]

In the wake of Prismgate or the Snowden Affair or whatever we’re going to call this kerfuffle, I’ve been struck by how the current centralized nature of the World Wide Web has facilitated the surveillance. While the Web’s technical architecture is distributed—no single server is essential for the continued functioning of the overall system—in practice the economic realities of web-scale computing have encouraged a centralization of user data in a relatively small number of providers. These are the Googles and Facebooks of the world. These kingpins of the Internet also happen, by and large, to be American corporations. What a windfall this provided the NSA!

This intense concentration of personal information is simply too valuable—for companies, governments, and individuals alike. It’s being abused, and will continue to be abused as long as it exists. But the Web and, more generally, the Internet are all about distributed systems. World Wide Web. Internetwork. It’s about lots of little nodes connected by the network. Would it be possible to reclaim the distributed heritage of the Web?

Companies like Google actually use huge datacenters powered internally by distributed computation to power your web requests. What if that computation was moved from its central location out to the nodes of the wider network? There are at least two obstacles to this happening: the first is technical, the second is economic.

Technical Requirements

How can you run a world-class web application like those provided by Google, with no central servers? Many others have thought about this and worked toward a solution. Here’s the sort of system I would like to see:

  • Globally Distributed. That’s the point—no single node contains all or even a substantial minority of the data. Nor does any single nation.
  • Redundant. The loss of individual nodes is extremely unlikely to lead to data loss due to redundant backups.
  • General. It can run an email app, a social networking app, a web search app, a calendar app, and so on.
  • Private. Users decide what data to share with whom and under what circumstances.
  • Anonymous. Participation on an anonymous basis is possible.
  • Secure. Replicas of data are encrypted so the compromise of a distant node does not reveal personal information to those not authorized to view it.

Many of these conditions are already met in cloud computing environments, but in controlled, centralized conditions. We should move distributed computing technologies out of the datacenter and onto the broader Internet.

Economic Implications

Now, the economics.

The current centralized model is supported almost entirely through the advertising revenues of the central provider. You don’t pay for a Gmail account—at least, not with money. You pay by being subjected to advertising. And, if you respond to that advertising, you pay by buying things from advertisers. If you think about it, in this model, you aren’t even the customer—you are the product. Google sells access to you to advertisers. But all of this advertising revenue pays for the infrastructure so you don’t have to—the hardware, the manpower, the electricity, etc. This arrangement is easy for the average guy or gal, but has some definite downsides. The immortal words of Jeff Hammerbacher come to mind:

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” [link]

How could the average web user be induced to pay for their own server in a distributed web application? It should be noted that web users already pay for their web access—$50+ dollars per month to the ISP. What if that fee included a server that was their home base on the web? A cheap, fault-tolerant photo storage service? A highly secure social networking endpoint? A super-fast email app, without the creepy targeted ads? I admit it’s a tough sell. I don’t know the whole answer. If it requires more than minimal additional work by users, the prospect is doomed. But if it provides a better, easier, safer experience—the premium web experience—then perhaps people will pay a little more? Dalton Caldwell’s App.net experiment is very relevant here.

But what if that’s the wrong question, and we should be asking, How could the average web user continue to receive free web applications without the support of advertising revenue? How could this possibly be done? By establishing a global-scale computation marketplace. So you buy a computer—tablet, phone, laptop, desktop, it doesn’t matter—and connect it to a distributed social network application. It contains your social network data and serves it to any requesting information about you (only giving out the information you want it to, of course.) You want your data to be available while you’re offline, though, so you offer payment (via Bitcoin or something similar) to any who will host your data, up to a limit of 5 copies, with payment depending on the historical uptime of each node. But others on the network also want backups, and you take payments in exchange for hosting their data. Want to search the social network? Provide micropayments to nodes to induce them to participate; receive micropayments for helping other nodes make their own searches.

Those who require more resources will spend money to facilitate searches, backups, etc. Those who require less resources may earn money by renting out their mostly-idle server. Perhaps the average user, by renting their computer out to users of various distributed applications earns as much as they spend. Thus the application is free and is not funded by advertisers but by power-users, whose interests are more aligned with the interests of the general userbase.

Re: Anonymous

So Anonymous (quintuple slogan: “We are Anonymous, We are legion, We never forgive, We never forget, Expect us.”) is at it again, defacing the DOJ sentencing website (including the above video) and threatening release of Justice Department secrets. Gotta say the production quality on the video is surprisingly good. The voice sounds like a synthesized version of Liam Neeson, which is funny—maybe they’re going for the “moral authority” thing that he’s often been associated with.

I never quite know what to make of Anonymous, though. On the one hand, they’re law-breaking hackers; on the other hand, some of the grievances listed in the video are actually reasonable critiques of the justice system. On the one hand, they’re practicing extortion on a grand scale, threatening destructive information release (they liken their files to atomic bombs) if their policy objectives aren’t met; on the other hand, I think it’s healthy for society to have influential non-governmental actors.

What if the individuals behind Anonymous (that assumes it isn’t some massive artificial intelligence floating around in the cloud somewhere) were to use their many skills and obvious passion to reform society through persuasion rather than extortion? Somebody in the organization has something of a rhetorical gift, if that video is any indication. Surely people so clever could find better ways of using their time. But those better ways wouldn’t be anything like as glorious and high-profile as the cyberterrorism thing.

Late 19th century Europe was the cradle of modern anarcho-terrorist philosophy, justifying violence as the only cry that would be heard by an oppressive state. For the most part, though, all those guys did was blow people up. It’s hard to say that the course of history was really swayed by them. Even Al Qaeda’s 9/11 achieved none of the change its planners had hoped. So who does change society? How is corruption and oppression really brought down?

Gorbachev could reform the Soviet Union because he was an influential insider. Hitler was brought down by a massive war machine, by strategic blunders, by “Aryan” arrogance. Yet influential insiders often perpetuate oppression (Kim Jong Il, anybody?) and massive war machines enforce it. The oppressor’s folly is the freeman’s hope; but foolish freemen cast their freedom away of their own choice.

My suggestion is for Anonymous to find some way to reform society and retain its flair for the dramatic that doesn’t hypocritically mock the rule of law they claim to seek. But I guess they didn’t ask me, did they?