Technological Convergence

I was talking to a friend the other day and I completely forgot the word for a photo camera. Being bilingual, this is not uncommon for me. Every once in a while I experience a brain fart where I just completely blank on a word in one of the languages but not the other. Some people are surprised that this happens, but it is basically the neural consequence of linguistic fluency. You no longer need to maintain a one-to-one parity between words in both languages and so it unravels. The benefit of this loss of parity is that you can now internalize complex idioms without the need to translate and rationalize them in the other language. The drawback is that sometimes your brain will decide to think in a mixed language word salad and you get stuck grasping for a word in a middle of the sentence.

In this case my brain decided that “My cousin bought a really fancy aparat fotograficzny to take pictures of the baby…” was a perfectly valid English sentence and it wasn’t until my mouth tried to make the appropriate sounds that I realized I suddenly switched language contexts. I couldn’t find “camera” so I went the descriptive route and said “the, um… picture taking… thing”. My friend tried to guess what I had in mind and said: “Phone?”

It’s funny, but seeing how it’s almost 2015, yes phone is actually a pretty good guess. After all, the only people who bring dedicated photo camera devices to events are professional photographers and elderly grandparents. So it stands to reason that my friend, who happened to be slightly younger than me associated taking pictures with the exact device that is used for that purpose most often these days.

I remember that when I was an undergrad, we talked about technological convergence as a fairly abstract concept. It was something we presumed would happen, though we were not exactly sure how. We also thought that Neo’s flip phone in The Matrix matrix was like the coolest thing ever, and we would have never considered putting a computer onto it because that’s not what phones were for. Little did we know that this would be the device that technology would converge on.

Think about it, you phone has now replaced and superseded most of the electronic and non-electronic devices we have used in the 80’s and 90’s. Let me give you a few examples:

The 90’s Year 2014
Device you use to take pictures? Camera
Camera
Phone
Phone
Device you use to check the time? Watch
Watch
Phone
Phone
Device you use to take videos? Camcorder
Camcorder
Phone
Phone
Device you use to listen to music on the go? Walkman
Walkman
Phone
Phone
Device you use to blast loud music on the beach or at a party? Boombox
Boombox
Phone
Phone
Portable gaming device? Gameboy
Gameboy
Phone
Phone
Device you use to record your voice? Dictaphone
Dictaphone
Phone
Phone
Device you use to cheat in math class? TI-83 Calculator
TI-83 Calculator
Phone
Phone
Device for receiving text messages? Pager
Pager
Phone
Phone
Device you use to check your email? Computer
Computer
Phone
Phone
Device you use to watch movies? VHS Player
VHS Player
Phone
Phone
Device you use to connect to the internet? Modem
56k Modem
Phone
Phone
Device you use to organize addresses and phone numbers? Rolodex
Rolodex
Phone
Phone
What do you use to organize your schedule? Pocket Planner
Pocket Planner
Phone
Phone
What do you use to write quick notes and reminders? Notepad
Notepad
Phone
Phone
Device you use to keep track how many steps you take in a day? Pedometer
Pedometer
Phone
Phone
What do you use to find driving directions? GPS
GPS Unit
Phone
Phone
What do you read on the bus / plane? Camcorder
Paperback Novel
Phone
Phone
Place where you keep all the store loyalty cards? Key Chain
Key Chain
Phone
Phone
What do you use to pay for your coffee at Starbucks? Cash
Cash
Phone
Phone
What do you use to make long distance calls? Phone
Phone
Skype
Skype

Ok, that last item is a bit of a joke, but not really. I hardly ever use my phone to make actual phone calls. The other day I actually had to do a search for the phone app because I stuffed it in some folder to make space on the first few pages for the apps I actually use all the time.

Here is another interesting thought: a lot of people today are very skeptical of wearable technology. Devices such as smart watches or Google Glass type eye-wear may seem silly and gimmicky right now. But in 1999 this was exactly how I felt about smart phones – all I wanted back then was a cool, thin, switchblade style flip phone like Neo had. I could not have imagined that mere 15 years later my phone will be several times more powerful computing device than my Gaming PC was back then. But here we are.

If you told me one of my students will bang out a the assigned essay an hour before the deadline on their phone while sitting in the quad, I’d probably be skeptical. Bu that happened, and mad props to that student because there is no way I could ever type that fast on a touch-screen. I guess what I’m saying is – right now our technology is converging on the phone. Younger generations are fully embracing the mobile lifestyle, and many use their phones as their main computing platforms(which does explain the surge of popularity for the large screen devices). But it is silly to think that phones is where it will end. This is just a stage in a much larger process. At the moment we don’t know where it will go, but we do know that screen size is a limiting factor. Decoupling computing from a touch screen and expanding the display into your entire field of vision does offer many interesting new possibilities. Especially considering that we are already getting pretty good at the augmented reality thing.

So wrist mounted computation brick, coupled with Bluetooth connected eye-wear as a primary display is not necessarily a far fetched idea…

Posted in futuristic musings | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Skaven: Clan Skryre Army

I have been playing Warhammer and collecting miniatures for close to two decades now. I got into the hobby somewhere around 1995 and have been in and out of it since then. I currently play three Warhammer Fantasy armies, and Skaven are my latest and ironically the most complete one. I have started it when me and my brother went halfsies on the Island of Blood box set. He took the High Elf minis, and I took the Skaven. Initially I figured I will just put them together and use them as a small 500-1,000 point force for pick-up games. The goal was to make it playable without spending any money.

Of course, as it always happens with Warhammer money got spent and I ended up with a 2,000 points. The good news is that this army is more or less complete. Unlike my ever-expanding Dwarf Throng, I don’t actually see it ever growing beyond this size. It’s compact, flavorful and diverse enough to handle most situations. It has all the unit types I like, and none of the stuff I don’t. I’ve been told it is a pretty fun list, so I figured I would share it here along with some pictures.

Please note that I am not what you would call a “competitive player”. When I design an army I usually pick units that fit a theme I like, and which seem characterful and appropriate for the army, rather than the stuff that will guarantee me a win due to a rule loophole. I tend to play with like minded people and we usually have a lot of fun with troop heavy, low powered pitched battles without any meta-gaming or dirty tricks.

Theme: Clan Skryre Field Research Team

The Skaven Clan Skryre is known for their Warlock Engineers which are essentially mad scientists who are also wizards. Skaven have a surprisingly advanced steam-punk style technology which is mostly powered by magic. Their main energy source is Warpstone which is magically “radioactive” substance – a crystallized magic that warps and mutates everything it touches. The instability of magic, and Skaven shoddy workmanship makes their technology highly unstable. Their war machines tend to kill as many allies as they kill enemies. But it works out in the end because Skaven life is cheep and plentiful.

Clan Skryre

Clan Skryre is known for unreliable, unstable, explody technology.

My army is a Clan Skryre Field Research Team whose primary task is to “peer review” the technological achievements of other races or factions. The review is of course done whether without the subjects consent and frequently over their dead bodies. To achieve this task, the Field Unit has been equipped with a lot of advanced Clan Skryre weapons. The secondary mission is to field test these weapons, figure out how they behave in extreme condition, note how often they explode, and how many friendly deaths they cause on a monthly basis.

Core

Let’s start with the core, which is the heart of every army. In case you’re interested, 48% of the total cost (points wise, not dollar wise) is spent on core troops.

Primary Field Research Unit

The unit consists of 36 Clanrats armed with spears and shields accompanied by a Poisoned Wind Mortar.

Skaven Clanrats

36 Skaven Clanrats with full Command Group

The models are the plastic Clanrats from the Island of Blood set. I specifically picked the models that had a lot of armor to represent their status and fighting capability. I painted them red and yellow which are the twp primary colors I picked for my army. This is partly because they are considered Skryre appropriate, and partly because I like how they look. I knew I would be painting a lot of brown, gray and black fur so I wanted their clothes to be distinct, and also to stand out on the table.

In most cases, this is the actual core of my army and this unit is typically joined by the Warchief making it quite capable in combat.

Unpaid Interns

They are also known as Skavenslaves but I don’t like to call them that. The unit is 60 model strong and contains a musician and a Paw Leader. It looks really, really intimidating when I put it on the table.

60 Unpaid Interns

60 Unpaid Interns

The models are also from the Island of Blood set, but hand picked for minimum armor. They all are equipped with spears and shields because I like to have an option to add these if I need them. In most cases I field them “naked” with just hand weapons to shave of few points. I pained their coats yellowish brown color to set them apart from the Clanrats. Their weapons and armor are old and rusted to indicate that unlike the paid researchers they get worst equipment available. The rust effects were done using Typhus Corrosion technical paint.

The open secret here is that this is actually the weakest unit in my army. These guys cost less, and perform worse than giant rats. But due to the unit size, the way Skaven add their rank bonus to their leadership and the “horde” rule they actually become somewhat formidable in combat. Opponents often get scared of this unit and try to thin it out from afar via shooting, which is great for me because it means they’re not shooting at units that actually count. The inters can soak up an incredible amount of damage without actually impacting their fighting ability (which is basically close to zero).

Senior Research Fellows

A unit of 30 Stormvermin with full command group. They are usually lead by Warlock Engineer Babag who typically carries Warp Musket, a Doom Rocket and sometimes some magic spells. They also have an attached Doom Flyer weapon team.

Stormvermin

30 Storm Vermin with Warlock Engineer.

The models are basic 8th edition Stormvermin plastics. They are armed with halberds and shields. The Doom Flayer attachment is a mini-chariot type thing which has impact hits and extra attacks. These are my heavy hitters and they are typically joined by a Chieftain with a Battle Standard for an extra “oomph”.

This unit is currently a work in progress. As you can see, I primed them but did not have a chance to paint them yet.

Stormvermin look imposing but not overwhelmingly so. They are only marginally scarier than the Clanrats and this is partly by design. I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket, and by presenting the enemy with two heavy hitting core combat units I force them to make hard decision. Ignoring either is perilous, and splitting fire between the two is ill advised because both units can soak up a lot of causalities due to their large size.

Lab Rats

A unit of 20 Giant Rats accompanied by 5 Packmasters on loan from Clan Moulder. The rats have been purchased on a Clan Moulder grant to research “better things to poke the rats with” technology.

20 Giant Rats

20 Giant Rats

The Packmasters are plastics from the Island of Blood set. You can actually buy them individually on eBay for almost nothing. The Giant Rats are actually vintage Marauder miniatures from the 80’s. The first rank with a lighter coat was actually painted by my brother ages ago when he was using them for Mordheim and I didn’t feel like re-painting them. I didn’t feel like repainting them so I just tried to match the color the best I could, though my rats are markedly darker. One of these days I will add some highlights that match the front rank.

Escaped Lab Rats

Four Rat Swarms on standard swarm bases. These are the smaller, inferior rats that are rejected from the grant program. The interns keep feeding them so they just follow the research teams wherever they go. Most of them think they are pets, though some actually think they are real Skaven and they even took to wearing tiny clothes and wielding tiny swords. This probably has nothing to do with the leak in the portable warpstone reactor under which they made their nest.

4 Rat Swarms

4 Rat Swarms

Some of these came in the Doomwheel set. I bought the rest on eBay in a bag. Someone was literally selling a bag of plastic rats for like a buck so I picked it up. They don’t look like much but they are unbreakable and can actually tie up the enemy units for a turn or two setting up some beautiful flank charges.

The Forward Recon Team

A group of 10 Night Runners armed with slings. Their task is gathering requirements for new projects, and also scouting ahead of the army.

10 Night Runners

10 Night Runners

They exist to annoy the enemy and take the heat of the core of the army. Their slings can do surprising amount of damage to lightly armored units, and they can easily block march moves or charges if they need to.

The models are old Gutter Runner plastics. My brother bought a box of them to use for Mordheim at one point and I inherited them later. He also managed to lose all the extra weapons that were in the set, which is why they have a mix and match type equipment.

Special

About 26% of my total point cost of the army is allocated into the special category. In most armies this is where all the cool stuff is, but with Skaven I did not actually feel the urge to max out this category.

Advanced Optics Research

Four Warplock Jezzail weapon teams. Their area of research is optics, and more specifically the “glass tubes what you put on guns so that you can shoot things far away”.

Four Warplock Jezzail Teams

Four Warplock Jezzail Teams

The models are vintage Marouder models that date back to (I believe) 4th edition. Back then the Jezzail teams had the pavis shields which is why they are not represented on these models.

Originally I have treated these models like a cheep version of the Dark Elf Reaper Bolt Trhower, but cheaper, stronger and less accurate. At short ranges this small unit is very deadly – especially to heavy cavalry. At long ranges however, their poor accuracy makes them rather ineffective. I’m currently working on obtaining models to double the size of the unit. Eight Jezzails should be a very formidable firing squad.

Maintenance Team

The field equipment maintenance team consists of four Rat Ogre janitors and two Clan Moulder Packmasters. They were brought on board in order to handle heavy equipment and carry heavy boxes, but they are also pretty formidable in combat.

4 Rat Ogres

4 Rat Ogres

Two of the Rat Ogre models (extreme left and right actually) are from the Island of Blood set, and so are the Packmasters. The second model from the left is an old metal Marauder cast from the 80’s, while the remaining one is from the last edition plastic set. I actually really like the miss-matched look this gives to the unit. I used my standard red and yellow color scheme on all the models. The Rat Ogres skin is painted with Bugman’s Glow and the scars and stitches are highlighted with Ratskin Flesh. I painted the Packmaster fur black to indicate their high status. I imagine the Clan Moulder only picks the largest and strongest Stormvermin for handling of large beasts such as Rat Ogres.

They are very intimidating on the field, that said they are a bit of glass cannons. They might look tough, but concentrated missile fire will cut them down real fast so they need to be deployed and moved carefully.

Meteorology Team

Ten Poisoned Wind Globardiers usually accompanied by a Warlock Engineer who study wind patterns. There have been some complaints that the chemical agents they use in their experiments are somewhat lethal if inhaled, so the entire unit was equipped with respirators just in case. They are sometimes accompanied by a Poisoned Wind Mortar

Poisoned Wind Globardiers

Poisoned Wind Globardiers

As you can see, the unit is still a work in progress.

The models are all current edition metal miniatures, with exception of the Warlock Engineer who was converted. The base model is a vintage Marauder death-globe warlock. I clipped his shoddy looking spear and replaced it with the high-tech looking Warlock weapon from the Island of Blood warlock. I also added the power-pack on his back from the same set.

This unit is rather versatile. Because their weapons ignore toughness they are excellent monster killers. I have also successfully used them to take down Imperial Steam Tank by simply drowning it in poison gas. The Warlock will sometimes have spells, but if I’m feeling especially nasty both him and the unit champion will be carrying a Death Globes.

Rare

Rare units compose 12% of my army.

Perpetual Movement Research

One Doomwheel used as a portable generator that also doubles as an excellent war machine.

Doomwheel

Doomwheel

The model is 8th edition plastic set, which in my opinion is the best looking incarnation of this model yet.

I have always loved the Doomwheel because it is basically the signature Skaven war machine, and the finest Clan Skryre invention. It is basically a giant hamster wheel used as a chariot. It has random movement, can easily spin out of control and it blasts warp lightnings at the nearest target (so usually a friendly unit) making it fun and hilarious addition to the army. Doomwheel related failures are always spectacular.

Advanced Ballistics Research

One Warp Lightning Cannon used as backup generator / heavy artillery.

As of writing of this post, I don’t actually have it put together yet, so no picture.

Similarly to the Doomwheel, I think the current edition plastic set is superior to previous incarnations, partly because of how intricate it is. This machine provides much needed long range support for my army.

Heroes

Heroic characters compose 15% of my army. You will probably note that all of my heroes are named after TV science personalities.

Project Leader, Chief Engineer Billnye

Billnye is a Warlord on foot.

Warlord

Warlord

The model is the Warlord from the Island of Blood set. I had to elevate him a bit by building up a pile of rubble on his base in order to make him fit neatly in the unit (his outstretched arms made it difficult to put him in a formation) so now he towers over his underlings. It is a really nice model, and it doesn’t really need much conversion work.

I typically field him on foot, with a halberd, tail weapon, poisoned attacks and sometimes a rat hound. I’m also considering building him a War Litter out of spare Skaven models.

Billnye usually hangs out in the Clanrat unit, and his sheer presence there is what makes people agonize as to whether shoot at him or the Stormvermin. He is pretty deadly in close combat against rank and file units, tough he usually struggles if challenged by tough heroes of other races.

Assistant Engineer Carrlsagan

A Chieftain upgraded to a Battle Standard Bearer with the Banner of the Underhive.

Battle Standard Bearer

Battle Standard Bearer

This is actually my most complex conversion in this army. I used a crouching body from a Night Runner set, and repositioned it so that it looks like he is resting his foot on a skull of a fallen enemy. The right hand is a banner staff from an old Mordheim set. The cross-bar with a rat perched on it and the tiny bell are from the Island of Blood Clanrat banners. The left hand and the shield on the back are spare parts from current edition Stormvermin box. The head was carefully clipped off a Clanrat unit champion from the Island of Blood set.

He is nowhere near as intimidating as Billnye, but then again he is not supposed to be. The Banner of the Underhive provides additional attacks to the already quite capable Stormvermin unit he usually joins.

Warlock Engineers Degrese and Tyson

You have seen them above in the Stormvermin and Poisoned Wind Globardier entries so I will not be re-posting pictures. Degrese is unmodified Island of Blood warlock, while Tyson is heavily converted (as described above).


This is my Skaven army. I don’t really have any more ideas for adding new units. Other than putting together one or two more large Clanrat units accompanied by weapon team attachments I don’t really see a point. And that in itself would be a bit boring. What do you think?

Army on the Table

Army on the Table

I will probably update this post at some point with pictures of painted and assembled models when I get them finished. As usual, questions and comments are appreciated. Do you play Warhammer? What armies? Do your armies have strong themes to them, or do you just pick whatever will win you games?

Let me know in the comments.

Posted in rpg and tabletop | Tagged | 4 Comments

Installing Arch Linux on the PogoPlug

Back in 2012 I wrote about how I set up a $30 linux server by installing Debian Squeze on a PogoPlug. I have been using the device for close to two years, but it died. I grabbed an identical replacement few days ago, but for some reason I was having trouble getting Debian working again, despite using identical device, similar thumb drive and following the same procedure. The truth is that Debian is not the best OS to run on this device. Pretty much everyone’s go-to system of choice for these devices is Arch linux which has excellent ARM support.

I’ve been itching to try Arch for a while not but I never really had an opportunity so I figured I might as well use it now. It worked amazingly well, so I figured it would be wroth while to document the procedure for future reference. Especially considering it is slightly different from the Debian procedure. I used this guide but with some significant alterations (see below).

Logging into the PogoPlug

First, you need to figure out the IP of your plug. Best way to do this is to log into your router and match it by name or Mac address. Once you know the IP address you can ssh into it using root as the username and ceadmin as password.

Preparing the Thumb Drive

The default OS on the PogoPlug is locked down pretty tight. Pretty much the only place with write access on the device is /tmp so you won’t be able to install to the internal drive (or rather it is fairly impractical to do). Instead you want to set up Arch on a thumb drive.

First, you will need to figure out which devices is the drive recognized as. I’m fairly sure the top-most USB port on the back of the device always registers as /dev/sda but you can easily check it by plugging it in and then running:

dmesg | tail

The last few lines should reveal which device the system thinks was plugged in. I’ll assume it was /dev/sda. First thing you want to do is to repartition it using fdisk:

/sbin/fdisk /dev/sda

Create two new partitions:

  • Press o to blow away all existing partitions on the drive.
  • Press n to create a partition, p to set it as “primary” and 1 to designate it as first
  • Hit Enter to accept the default starting point
  • Specify size using the format +[size]M where [size] is an actual value in MB. For example, I used +1536M designating majority of the space on my 2GB drive for my primary partition, and leaving 512MB for swap. If you have 4GB drive use +3582 and so on.
  • To set up second partition hit n, p, 2
  • Hit Enter to accept the default starting point
  • Hit Enter once again to use all the remaining space
  • Hit t then 2 to change the filesystem on partition 2 and use 82 (Linux Swap)
  • Hit a, 1 to make first partition bootable
  • Hit w to write changes to the disk

When you’re done the p command should return something like:

/dev/sda1   *           1         911     3501853  83 Linux
/dev/sda2             912        1018      411308  82 Linux swap

Since arch uses ext3 file system we will want to format the primary partition /dev/sda1 as such. Unfortunately the default OS on the PogoPlug does not ship with support for ext3 so we will need to download the mke2fs tool from the arch website and then use it to format the partition:

cd /tmp
wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/pogoplug/mke2fs
chmod +x mke2fs
./mke2fs -j /dev/sda1
mkdir alarm
mount /dev/sda1 alarm

Installing Arch

Now we are ready to download the Kirkwood Arch binaries. The latest builds are close to 200MB in size, which was too big to fit in on the PogoPlug system partition. I recommend downloading it it to the newly formatted drive instead:

cd alarm
wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/ArchLinuxARM-kirkwood-latest.tar.gz

The official PogoPlug write-up on the Arch website tells you to use bsdtar to extract this archive. This may or may not work for you. I had major issues unpacking that way due to a locale mismatch and the UTF-8 encoding being used for file paths within the compressed bundle. Extracting the file the old fashioned way however worked just fine which is what I recommend you do:

tar -xzvf ArchLinuxARM-kirkwood-latest.tar.gz
sync
cd ..
umount alarm

Finally, download the U-Boot installer which will flash the ROM memory of the PogoPlug and force it to boot off the USB drive. Note that this step can brick the device (though I’ve done it a dozen times by now and never had any issues):

wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/armv5te/boot/pogo_e02/pogo_e02.sh
chmod +x pogo_e02.sh
./pogo_e02.sh

Once this is done, reboot manually:

/sbin/reboot

If everything worked correctly the device should now boot into Arch. When the device reboots, log in with username root and password root.

Configuring Arch

First thing you will probably want to do is to update the system. You use the default Arch package manager pacman for that:

pacman -Syu

Next, you probably want to change a root password and add a new regular user for yourself (remember to add yourself to the wheel group):

passwd
useradd -m -g users -G wheel -s /bin/bash luke
passwd luke

The Kirkwood install is very bare bones and it does not ship with sudo so you will probably want to install it:

pacman -S sudo

Configure it with visudo and append the following to the end of the file:

%wheel      ALL=(ALL) ALL

This will give your regular user and all the other potential future members of the wheel group access to sudo command. At this point it may be a good idea to log out and log back in to make sure the user account you just created works, and that you can use su and sudo to elevate your privileges. If everything works, you may want to disable the remote access to the root account like this:

passwd -l root

You will probably want to change the devices hostname. On Arch this is done via the hostnamectl command:

hostnamectl set-hostname mypogoplug

If you’re on a Windows network and you want to be able to use the hostname instead of the ip address when you ssh you will need to install samba and give it a netbios name:

pacman -S samba
cp /etc/samba/smb.conf.default /etc/samba/smb.conf

Modify the smb.conf file to include:

workgroup = MYWORKGROUP
netbios name = mypogoplug

Now start samba and set it to start on boot:

systemctl start samba
systemctl enable samba

You should now be able to ssh into your plug using mypogoplug rather than the IP address from Windows machines. If you have Apple machines on the network and you want to be able to access them using mypogoplug.local then you will need to install two additional packages: avahi and nss-mdns:

pacman -S avahi nss-mdns

Now open the /etc/nsswitch.conf file and change the following line:

hosts: files dns myhostname

into:

hosts: files mdns4_minimal [NOTFOUND=return] dns myhostname

Finaly, start the avahi-daemon and set it to be run on boot:

systemctl start avahi-daemon
systemctl enable avahi-daemon

At this point your device should be discoverable on the network and more or less ready to go for whatever purpose you may want to use it.

Posted in sysadmin notes | Tagged | 2 Comments