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Category: Projects

Unknown Armies Online?

Unknown Armies Online?

With all the (hopefully) useful information on this blog do you know what the most viewed article is? My Unknown Armies Online post. By far. I am talking by over 100% the views of my second place post. For years now.

It was just a thought. Just half a thought, really. Nothing was ever supposed to come of it unless I found the time. Perhaps there is a demand for it?

Raspberry Pi Uses?

Raspberry Pi Uses?

When the Raspberry Pi was announced I went and bought a pile of them. Now they sit in my apartment, unused. A long while back I got the hard floats working but now you can get that standard. I got it running videos pretty good but now there is an XMBC installation.

What to do, what to do? There is a pretty decent looking 3D-printed case with “LEGO feet” I really like the look of. Plus, the latest LEGO Mindstorm bricks are mostly unlocked– with USB and Bluetooth support– so those are potential resources for a project…

A while back I did make an automated paintball turret. It used a pretty dinky netbook as its brain so I am not too worried about the Raspberry Pi and its 700MHz ARM CPU. I am more familiar with the x86 mobobs so optimization may be a (fun) hassle. Also, since it generates so little heat, it will be a lot easier to build a case to protect it from enemy fire. Hell, if raw processing power does become an issue I can always throw in a tiny network switch and combine a few of the little guys (I was thinking USB-to-USB but, after thinking about it, USB 2.0 only does client/server so efficient polling may be an issue… I do not know).

Well, I have to decide. Perhaps it would be a good project to do with The Womantm

LEGO feet!

Update 2012.09.12
A team of people (including a 6-year-old) have clustered 64 of these bad boys. They were cool enough to include a really nice how-to so maybe I will take a crack at it over a weekend.

Update 2012.09.25
The Pi can now be clocked up to 1GHz plus it is officially supported. You can go higher but, according to the organization, you risk your hardware.

Update 2012.11.12
Been playing with some robotic and media center software a lot as of late which gave me a few ideas:

  1. The Raspbery Pi as a robotics platform/controller. Nothing new there but if I combine it with motion/depth detection (see OpenCV with stereo web cams) I could make an automated paintball sentry… or worse!
  2. A portable media center powered by the ‘Pi. With a decent battery (say, this happy ‘lil fellow), USB-powered HDMI projector, and some cheap speakers (if the projector does not provide them) I think you could have a decent setup. Well, decent enough for what it is to make me happy, any way.
  3. Control the LEGO Mindstorm from the thing. All the Mindstorms come with excellent hardware for their intended audiences/purposes. With that said, CPU and memory are limited. There are many ways to control your Mindstorm Brick via Bluetooth and/or USB. Since the ‘Pi is so light I see no issue with just sticking it on top of the whole assembly, with a battery, and using that to control the Brick, which controls everything else. Blam-O, instant my-first-programming and robotics project!
  4. Minority Report-style interface. Holographic technology– and price– are not there just yet but with a different display (say, projector with a large screen) this is very doable. There are even a lot of tutorial for similar projects out there already using OpenCV or the Microsoft Kinect.
Persistent Worlds and Their Storage

Persistent Worlds and Their Storage

Over the past few months I have been putting together an MMO-style bit of software. Since it is more of an experiment than anything else I did not start with a design plan. That is not to say that most things are not planned before hand but I have no idea what will work best so I am trying a number of things off the hip first.

Right now I am working on the basis of what will make it multiplayer. The decision I have to make now is how will the data be stored and how will the clients access it?

  • I could store everything in an SQL database. This is attractive for its persistence and accessibility across multiple platforms and languages. The down side is I can not control what is cached and what is on disk as much as I would like. Every now and again I may take a huge hit in performance as it was not designed for this task. I may hit a bottle neck much sooner in a high concurrency situation than I otherwise would.
  • I could use memcached. This is attractive for the obvious reason: blinding speed. The down side is I would have to do so much more work in code since it does not guarantee stored data would exist when I need it. This increased work could place my bottleneck on my CPU when it is already pretty high from other tasks. I would not know the full effects of this until after the project is mostly complete leaving me in a chicken or egg situation.

I am sure there are many other options. These are the two that seem the best suited for my task right now that I am aware of.

No matter what I do I will build a very light-weight abstraction layer as to switch between different designs quickly. This will save a lot of time later on so I do not have to reinvent the wheel over and over again with each test.

Working Around JavaScript Shortcomings

Working Around JavaScript Shortcomings

I am working on a real-time, JavaScript only project. I do not want to give too much away right now but I will say this: JavaScript was not designed for what I want it to do. The timers are not accurate enough and relying solely on synchronous or asynchronous communication between components simply will not work at all. What it comes down to is this is what C or C++ was meant for.

I have spend hours, today alone and not mentioning yesterday, just reading. Reading on tricks to make your own timers, how Internet Explorer on Windows or Firefox on Linux might react or whatever and how reliably. But I am determined; I am determined to make what I envision work as I envision it with nothing more than what everyones browsers already have. A friend just suggested I use Flash but Flash has way too many issues with performance and cross-compatibility (say what you want I am sticking to that). In two words? Fuck. Flash.

I have written about how anal I am in the past. Especially when it comes to things like this. I refuse to be beaten by a scripting language never-the-less a scripting language built into a God damned web browser. If I may bring my ego into this– too late– it would also be great to be “the guy” who pulled this off. The guy who people copy. The guy who starts a bunch of copycat projects.

I have learned a lot thus far. I am convinced this is very doable. It is all just going to require some research, cursing, work, and cursing. This is going to be great.

Automatic Games

Automatic Games

I have always loved games that masterba… er, play themselves out. In such games the player sets the initial conditions– perhaps even writes a little code or designs something– and then lets it all hit the fan.

As of late I have been staring at Gratuitous Space Battles. In this one you design a small fleet of space ships, complete with hulls, engines, weapons, shields, and the like, and then set them against waves of enemies. The beauty of the game is no setup will work equally well against every enemy (at least once you are past the first few levels, that is).

This has re-sparked interest in my idea for something I am currently calling Evolution Battle (yes, yes, it is a dumb name). I envision it as SimLife mixed with something similar to Gratuitous Space Battles. Players would create the “life” with its basic attributes and then stick them in the world with other “life” to compete for resources. I think it would be a great project for me since it would involve a few technical challenges I am not sure I have encountered before.

Just an honorable mention for a few of my other favorites: Crazy Machines (a near-clone of The Incredible Machine), the classic Conway’s Game of Life, Robocode, Bloons Tower Defense 3, and Lemmings (sort of).

SmoothWall Express

SmoothWall Express

I have recently stumbled upon SmoothWall Express 3.0 SP1. I am getting down-right giddy thinking about all the neat things I can do at home with this thing.

SmoothWall Express is a stand-alone, open-source firewall project. It has a large, active community full of helpful people. Some of these helpful people create mods to extend the functionality such as the ultra useful Full Firewall Control mod.

In my experiments I was able to create a very tiny box with two NICs, little RAM (256MB), a spare Pentium 4 I had laying around, and a 2GB Compact Flash card as the local storage. This poor excuse for a machine was able to stand up to some pretty heavy traffic– without ever passing .25 load, mind you– including a few test torrents totaling over 1,000 connected peers.

My ultimate goal is the separation of all traffic according to use. I might have one public, outward-facing interface for the Internet connection and three inward-facing interfaces for the local traffic (private wired, private wireless, and an internal DMZ). I also plan to build a beefy VMware ESXi box so I can sandbox each of my services (vpn, web, SQL, e-mail, ect) and do nearly all of the networking within virtual hardware.

Nick’s Choose Your Own Adventure

Nick’s Choose Your Own Adventure

There has been a surprising amount of activity in my Choose Your Own Adventure game. The most popular page? The one where a robot “looks at you… [and] beeps in an obnoxious manner…”

This activity makes me want to reboot the project while keeping the already-created user data. The project was never finished and still lacks a decent user management system and proper linking facilities (IE linking to other, already created pages). Plus once it is finished I will feel comfortable releasing the code and whoever wants to will be able to host their own version.

One-Man Wrecking Ball

One-Man Wrecking Ball

I have been working from when I wake up into the late hours of the night every day. For weeks I have designed, built, and tweaked. My projects and visions for them are coming closer and closer to completion. Most of my work has been secret and the information I have shared with the few has been intentionally sparse. It has been a long time since I have felt such pride and worked so hard for it.

If I can keep up this pace up for a few more weeks big things for everyone who wants them are coming.

Creating is Hard

Creating is Hard

I was working on a combat-based board game for a number of months. I started off with some ideas I thought were unique and built from there. After a lot of work and begging threatening bribing asking people to help me play test I was slowly forced to either modify or remove my unique ideas (it turns out that it is difficult to be objective in these situations). It became clear that no matter how cool my ideas were they may simply not work. It seems, in retrospect, that these ideas were never all that unique in the first place but were absent from the market place because of the same problems I ran into.

I grew up playing video games a lot more than playing board games. As such while designing board games I brought to the table a lot of odd things; Some were good, some were bad. One of my biggest problem to this day is the limitation of the human brain for computation vs a computer. When I think of the gears of gameplay I think in numbers. Numbers, however useful, are not fun. I need a way to mix these two worlds.

One idea that comes to mind is the web as a gaming platform. I am not necessarily talking about Web 2.0 or AJAX. I am talking about a technology that even mobile phones have access to. The World Wide Web is so ubiquitous and easy to script for that I would be dumb not to at least consider it. A lot of my ideas transfer very well to this platform and I think I may give an old, failed idea a shot in this medium.

OpenVPN Woes: The Revenege of Nick

OpenVPN Woes: The Revenege of Nick

After one week of struggle, head ache, and a very patient girlfriend I have OpenVPN running in a bridged configuration! What follows are the steps that I had taken (minus the blood, sweat, and tears):

  • Read the OpenVPN HOWTO! Nothing will replace the knowledge of how this beast works.
  • Bridge your OpenVPN virtual network adapter with your local LAN-side adapter. Make sure to set your bridge adapter network information (IP, netmask, ect) to what your local LAN adapter information was set to. I did come across a decent guide with images in my travels for Windows.
  • Generate the certificates. Do not forget to generate the Generate Diffie Hellman keys as this was a small road block for me. (I am just going to link this one since this step is easy and is explained very well in the HOWTO.) Copy the ca.crt, client1.crt, and client1.key files to your clients. It is also a good idea to read the section on Hardening OpenVPN Security and generating a ta.key.
  • Create your configuration files using the samples as a base making sure to use your new bridge adapters IP and netmask as your server configurations IP and netmask. These samples are also included in the OpenVPN distribution. (I am including my working configurations below.)
  • Fire up the server and then the client.
  • Read the OpenVPN HOWTO!

My Configurations


port 1194
proto udp
dev tap
ca ca.crt
cert server.crt
key server.key
dh dh2048.pem
ifconfig-pool-persist ipp.txt
server-bridge [Server IP] [Server Netmask] [OpenVPN DHCP Range Start] [OpenVPN DHCP Range End]
client-config-dir ccd
keepalive 10 120
tls-auth ta.key 0
tls-cipher DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA
replay-persist persist.txt
cipher AES-256-CBC
max-clients 16
status openvpn-status.log
log openvpn.log
verb 4
mute 20


dev tap
proto udp
remote [VPN IP] [VPN Port]
resolv-retry infinite
ca ca.crt
cert client1.crt
key client1.key
ns-cert-type server
tls-remote [Server Common Name]
tls-auth ta.key 1
cipher AES-256-CBC
verb 4
mute 20


  • All my testing was done with OpenVPN v2.1.1.
  • A bridge configuration will give your VPN clients IPs on your local LAN. Make sure you choose a free range of IPs that does not conflict with anything (including an existing DHCP server).
  • Make sure to disable any firewalls on the bridged adapter if you can. If that is a problem– say your bridged adapter is plugged directly into a WAN connection– you will need to experiment since I did not have to go that far in my setup.
  • I have done most of my testing on Windows XP Professional SP3 and Ubuntu 9.10. These configurations should work for any support platform.
  • I have chosen to allow OpenVPN to dish out the IPs instead of my local DHCP server. The reason for this is some clients will not allow this functionally based on client OS. Since I was already using most of my IPs for DHCP I just lowered the number of available DHCP addresses and set OpenVPN to use those as it wished.
  • Some versions of Windows have an issue bridging the adapter properly. It will say it worked but there is still another step you need to take. Check out this article for more information.
  • If you are unfamiliar with networking and subnetting Wikipedia may be a good place to start.

With the OpenVPN HOWTO and this information you should be able to avoid the headache I went through.

I would very, very, very much like to thank #openvpn on the freenode IRC servers! Without them I would still be at this thing. You guys helped me so much and I appreciate it so much.

Edit 2010.12.23
I have done a lot of experimentation since I originally wrote this. I have updated this article with my current configs.