Goodbye, .xyz... hello Twitter bots!

2021-11-29 - Reading time: 2 minutes

It's mostly done.

Almost all references to "Network47.xyz" are replaced with "Network47.org". Most things should forward appropriately, including email. I'll have the domain for years to come, so it'll never truly be gone...

As much as my beloved ".xyz" domain made me happy (I do love me some X's and Z's), it has an unfortunate stigma of being from the wrong side of the digital tracks. Prone to `*.xyz` being blacklisted, and so forth.

It was never a HUGE deal, but I might as well rip the bandage off sooner than later.

Meanwhile, I've also taken the time to make some revisions to site layout. Kind of surprised at how slow Bludit releases are, and the current 4.x that's just going into beta didn't seem to have features I'm interested in.

Maybe I'll just fork it for personal use? 🤔

Also meanwhile, over the Thanksgiving week, I launched my first two Twitter bots: @20MinutesBot and @TheShermometer. The former for Max Headroom, and the latter for The Critic. Both of which are instances of a Python script pumped out on Tuesday that uses the Twitter API to posts random images from a folder of images and metadata every 30 minutes.

It's simple, but boy is it fun. Like me!

Eeh, I'm not really that fun.


Gonna skip Windows 11

2021-11-01 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Not going to lie: Windows 11 is giving off some major Windows Vista vibes. But I've been working hard on not being one of these "it's different, so I hate it" guys. So I loaded up a copy of it in a VM and gave it a go.

I'll skip the details, but: holy shit. What a mess. Lots of little issues. The Start menu has been bombed back to the stone age. There's no organization. It's simplistic. Too simplistic.

Frankly, I'm not sure where Windows is headed, but as an OS it feels like all they do is constantly layer new things on top of legacy things and never get around to cleaning up the old stuff. And when they do update something, it's often missing functionality. (We see this behavior in stuff from Google, as well.)

I've described the whole sudden push to 11 as feeling like some higher-up guy at Microsoft got fired or quit, and his replacement is trying to make a name for himself, rushing a new product out the door that he can call his own.

I'm sure I could use Windows 11 and adapt to it... but I'm kind of tired of playing this game.

So I'll keep my Windows partition on Windows 10. It's good for a couple more years. Maybe Win11 will get it's act together by then. Maybe in 2025 I'll be able to organize my apps again instead of just lumping them into a list and being able to 'favorite' a couple things.

Meanwhile, I've decided to explore Linux again. A large part of what kept me away from full-timing Linux is that I'm a gamer. It's a large part of my world. And, well, if you play games: you run Windows.

But the Steam Deck kind of changed everything. I'd learned about all the amazing work Valve did with Proton, and a plan started to formulate.

So I grabbed a fresh 1TB SSD and took the plunge on Friday night.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

...it's Monday now. And other than some rough edges here and there, I'm missing... nothing? Or damned well close to it.

I installed Steam and enabled the Proton stuff. So far both Quake and Borderlands: Pre-Sequel all ran fluidly.

Quake is not the most convincing thing, I admit, considering there are native ports easily within reach, but the new update on Steam is only officially for Windows (maybe Mac?). But it ran without complaint.

I'll try some more later, but if the Steam Deck compatibility rate is to be believed, very little will NOT run.

Crazy.

Even just plain Wine is doing great -- Photoshop is working mostly without a hitch. There's a couple trivial UI things but it otherwise started up out of the box without any tweaks. Literally wine Photoshop.exe on my mounted Windows drive.

That leaves almost nothing to be desired. Though I did have to reboot to play Far Cry 6, but even that's just because it was running through the Ubisoft launcher -- maybe there's a way around it. And at this point, I believe it.

...

My prior attempts at running Linux as a daily driver have been met with frustration and sacrifice, but in 2021? I'm not feeling that anymore. I feel like the Linux desktop has finally arrived. For me, at least.


Zyxx Transmissions Decoded

2021-10-02 - Reading time: 9 minutes

A friend introduced me to Mission to Zyxx -- an absolutely hysterical improvised sci-fi comedy podcast. It's in it's fifth season, currently, as we close in on the end of 2021. I've JUST hit the second season finale as I play catch up.

One of the many (many!) charms of Zyxx is how it weaves the show's sponsors into the actual story, however lightly. I tend to find pretty much any advertising incredibly abrasive, even at the best of times. But hawking junk in-universe as various character's "side hustles"... well, it had me in awe of just how brilliant that was.

One of the advertisers is a sponsor not uncommon to internet media: Squarespace. And to promote them, the folks behind the show created a website -- therebellion.space -- filled with various bits of propaganda related to The Rebellion -- currently the good guys (...?) in a Star Wars "Rebel vs. The Empire"-style dichotomy. (The idea being to show how easy it was to setup a site through them, of course.)

On that site are a number of "intercepted transmissions"... I searched around a bit and was very surprised to see nobody really digging into them. That seems unlikely to me, but here we are.

So let's go through all five of them (as of this writing) and see what we've got...

** BIG SPOILERS AHEAD! **

The First Message

A misdirect right out of the gate -- below an inline audio clip lies a series of binary digits barely visible, but you can highlight them with your cursor... ("01010100 01101000...", etc)

Tools to convert binary into ASCII are a dime a dozen, of course, and inside the ones and zeroes lies the message...

This isn't the encrypted message. Of course we know how to translate binary; we have more droids here than we know what to do with. Honestly, if you're looking for a good B-Class recon unit, we'll give a price well below gray book.

...well, fair enough.

The REAL message, STA#_34R5-Transmission-Log-CYCLE11040499080899-4420-Ra, is an audio clip containing a curious series of blips and bleeps.

You'd be forgiven for thinking you can JUST make out something. But that's your brain jucking with you. Loading the audio up in Audacity and checking out the spectrogram view reveals...

...a secret message! The full text reads...

* * * RACHEL: WATCH YOUR CARAPACE, THERE IS A TRAITOR AMONGST US! I FEEL IT IN MY CLAWS. THEIR POWER IS GROWING. TRUST NO ONE. - CHANDLER * * *

The Second Message

This one might be my favorite -- it contains two different audio files.

Each one, by themselves, sounds like something screamed over a PA speaker in a robot's version of Hell...

BUT! If you play them both at the same time...

...a voice!

"Your Excellency, it is I, Lieutenant Bordoff. I bow, humbly, before Your Wackness with what I hope is most pleasing news. Zwog Tambouie reports that your order is ready: yes, the device is complete! And he assures us that no one else among The Council has an inkling of it's existence. Your servant, signing off. [...mumbling...]"

The Third Message

This time around, they've intercepted an image transmission. Initially, it looks like a bunch of noise...

However, if you bisect the image in half at the red line (A) and place that half OVER the top half (B) with -- I think it was a 'difference' filter -- you end up with a inverted image (C):

On it's "Print is the Future"-brand bonded stationary, it reads:

Beware! Red plus white equals destruction!

Ominous.

The Fourth Message

The next transmission looks simply like a star field. Maybe some poor jucker's vacation photo from Hendron IV and they lost their camera?

Not quite. ZOOM, ENHANCE:

There are several ways to draw out these hidden pixels, but just cranking the gamma is is enough. The hidden text reads:

Your Excellency: There are many in the rebellion who eagerly await your rise to power. I shall gladly come to your aid if ever the need arises. Yours, Grand Plutt Sunblighter.

The Fifth Message

The final message (as of October 2021 at least) has multiple steps.

First, an 8x22 monochrome image -- too small for Rebellion codebreakers to crack! But no match for our tools -- ZOOM BUT DON'T ENHANCE:

Beano LOVE base-2 encodings.

It's worth noting that these black and white pixels are 8 across -- a big clue that this is binary. (Hey wait a minute, weren't they just boasting about their binary cracking skills? 😏)

When we break it down into 22 binary groups:

01101000
01110100
01110100
01110000
01110011
00111010
00101111
00101111
01100010
01101001
01110100
00101110
01101100
01111001
00101111
00110010
01111000
01101110
00110011
01100001
01010111
01100101

...and then feed that into your favorite tool we get a bit.ly-shortened URL leading to a Dropbox account sharing an MP3 audio file...

The clip contains a voice that's clearly speaking in reverse, so let's load it into Audacity and spin that sucker around, and...

OH... OH CRAP:

Hey Bordoff!

Got the business cards and I got to say: I am pretty excited to see "Emperor" on them. Me! Little ol' me! Wow-ee! I can't wait to start handing 'em out.

Uh, oh, circling back onto kind of our master plan... I cannot wait to kill the rest of the Council of Seven and impose my will upon the entire galactic entity.

Anywho...i just want to say I'm so glad about your participation in this. I will not kill you unless you prove unuseful to me. And then, well, by golly, I probably will.

Oop! Okay, Linda is callin'. I have to get to dinner.

But uh, hey: great chattin' with ya, and uh, yeah, let's just touch base later. See how it all turns out.

Alrighty, bye bye.

As I sit here at the end of Season 2, not all of this clicks yet. So it doesn't feel like too huge a spoiler.

Besides, as they say, it's just a show. You should really just relax. 😉


Provide Your Own Jeopardy! Answers

2021-09-18 - Reading time: ~1 minute

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An exceedingly simple recreation of the answer cards seen on Jeopardy!. But it's worth noting that the modern answer cards aren't actually a simple blue background, but a surprisingly nuanced barely perceptible gradient. Without it, something looks 'off', so hopefully I've added just enough here to satisfy. ;)

This isn't the original font, either, but a recreation... supposedly...

Look, it goes down a weird hole and this is just a fun CSS exercise. 😉

Anyway, the 'editable' part of this is a cheat, using contenteditable attribute on the containing div tag.


Sadistic 80s Optimus

2021-09-16 - Reading time: ~1 minute

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