Monthly Archives: January 2016

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review

Feminist Frequency

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Reviewed by: Anita Sarkeesian

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the latest entry in Ubisoft’s long-running open-world franchise, and although the gameplay is exactly what you’d expect from an Assassin’s Creed game, Syndicate distinguishes itself from its predecessors. It stands apart not because of improved mechanics or visual design but because its developers have made noticeable attempts to portray a more inclusive cast of characters.

Syndicate follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye on their quest to liberate the oppressed working class of 19th century London from ruling class thug Crawford Starrick and free the city from the Templars’ control. It’s clear that Starrick is a monster from the first moment we see him because of his evil mustache and his penchant for punching desks.

Preceding the release of last year’s Unity, Ubisoft came under intense public criticism for its repeated lack of playable female characters in…

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GENE RODDENBERRY’S FLOPPIES

How Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s words were freed from old floppy disks

When Gene Roddenberry’s computer died, it took with it the only method of accessing some 200 floppy disks of his unpublished work. Here’s how this tech mystery was solved.

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While Gene Roddenberry is often associated with the Macintosh, he apparently did far more writing on this unknown-brand computer.

Call the engine room and get Scotty to the bridge: When the long-lost words of Star Trekcreator Gene Roddenberry were found on 5.25-inch floppies—yes, floppy disks—it would take a Starfleet-level engineering effort to recover them.

Roddenberry, who died in 1991, apparently left behind a couple of shoebox-sized containers of those big floppy disks.

The problem? As any techie knows, floppy drives went out off fashion around the turn of the 21st century. Even if you bought a used 5.25-inch floppy drive off of Cyrano Jones on space station K7, you wouldn’t be able to read the files on a modern computer, let alone plug in the drive.

Roddenberry’s estate knew of two possible computers the author had used to write those final words. One had been sold off in a charity auction and the second wouldn’t boot when plugged in.

floppy disk 2009 g1GEORGE CHERNILEVSKY
Most of Gene Roddenberry’s lost work was stored on the 1970s and 1980s era 5.25-inch disk, which here is flanked by the older 8-inch and newer 3.5-inch versions.

The computer’s dead Jim

Rather than accept that no-win scenario, Roddenberry’s estate turned to DriveSavers Data Recovery. The lack of an operative computer was less than ideal, but  Mike Cobb, director of engineering of DriveSavers, was optimistic, considering the company’s ability to recover data from most forms of computer media known today.

According to Cobb, the majority of the disks were 1980s-era 5.25-inch double-density disks capable of storing a whopping 160KB—that’s kilobytes—or about one-tenth the capacity you can get on a $1 USB thumb drive today. Cobb said a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M.

CP/M, or Control Program for Microcomputers, was a popular operating system of the 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately lost out to Microsoft’s DOS. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the wild west of disk formats and track layouts, Cobb said. The DOS recoveries were easy once a drive was located, but the CP/M disks were far more work.

“The older disks, we had to actually figure out how to physically read them,” Cobb told PCWorld. “The difficult part was CP/M and the file system itself and how it was written.”

As the data recovery firm couldn’t get Roddenberry’s old computer to power on, it had to sleuth the physical layout of the tracks on the disk. That alone took three months to reverse engineer; Cobb credits his own “Scotty,” Jim Wilhelmsen, with figuring it out.

drivesavers star trek recovery 1DRIVERSAVERS DATA RECOVERY
DriverSaver’s Mike Cobb and Jim Wilhelmsen with Gene Roddenberry’s dead computer and a pile of the floppy disks they helped recover.

To make matters worse, about 30 of the disks were damaged, with deep gouges in the magnetic surface. As luck would have it, Cobb said most of the physical damage was over empty portions of the disks and he believes about 95 percent of the data was recovered.

Besides seeking the technical expertise required for the task, the estate also wanted high security, according to Cobb. The estate wasn’t going to just drop all 200 disks in a FedEx box and pray to the shipping gods they wouldn’t get lost. No, only small batches of the disks were doled out at a time,  and each batch was hand-delivered to DriveSavers’ secure facility in Novato beginning in 2012.

Once DriveSavers had recovered the data, the data had to be converted into a format the estate could open. It’s not like you can feed a 1980s-era CP/M word processor format into Microsoft Word, so Cobb personally converted each file to a readable text file.

The big reveal

All told, Cobb said when the operating system files were excluded, about 2-3MB of data was recovered from the 200 floppies. That may seem like a minuscule amount by today’s standards, but in the 1980s, document files were small. Roddenberry’s lost words were substantial.

So what’s actually on the disks? Lost episodes of Star Trek? The secret script for a new show? Or as Popular Science once speculated, a patent for a transporter?

Unfortunately, we don’t know.

Cobb ain’t saying. Understandably, when DriverSavers is contracted to recover data, it’s also bound by rules of confidentiality. PCWorld reached out to the Roddenberry estate but was told it had no comment on the data or its plans for the newly discovered writing of Gene Roddenberry.

drivesavers star trek recovery 2DRIVERSAVERS DATA RECOVERY
For their work in recovering The Great Bird of the Galaxy’s lost writing, DriveSavers received a signed photo of the Star Trek creator in front of his computer from his son.

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Product Review: The Cloud Dungeon

Rolling Boxcars

The Cloud Dungeon
Author: Andrew J. Miller
Publisher:AndHeGames
Page Count: Not Relevant
Available Formats: PDF and Print
Cost: PDF – $7 or Print – $17

This game was printed and gifted by a close friend with the express purpose of writing this review.

PREMISE
“The Cloud Dungeon, a DIY Adventure Game with paper craft, coloring, co-op and competitive mini-games, and difficult decisions with permanent (often hilarious) consequences. It’s a creativity-inspiring co-op experience that’s fantastic to play as a family. It can be played in 90 min-120 min, or broken up into 30-45 minute sessions, as the book is divided into three chapters.”

QUALITY
I am only in possession of a printed out copy of the original PDFs, not the actual spiral bound printed edition. The overall quality of the PDF is very good with a very whimsical feel to the art, fonts and overarching presentation. Everything is clear and…

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The Romans and the Space Shuttle

dr dud's dicta

WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS DONE FOR … the Space Shuttle?  Well, does the statement, “We’ve always done it that way” ring any bells?

Back in the Victorian days in England, engineers built train tracks a standard 4 feet, 8.5 inches (143.5 centimetres) apart – called the gauge.  They were simply following the pattern of the previous tramway tracks, which, in turn, were following the old wagon width spacing between wheels. Why? Because they were all using the same old tooling that had existed back in the days of wagon transportation.

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Old British tram (on 4 ft 8.5 ins track)

Cornish_Riviera_Express

English railway track – 4 feet, 8.5 inches (143.5 centimetres) apart

So why were these wagon measurement so odd? Well, wagons used that particular wheel spacing because it fitted already existing ruts in the roads and any other size could cause damage to the wagons and discomfort to any passengers .

chassis

Wagon chassis (4 ft…

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