Saturday, May 9, 2015

Gamerscore Discrimination

While there are a lot of ways in which other players will judge (and even discriminate) each other in the world of online gaming, perhaps one of the most egregious and objectionable is to judge a gamer  by nothing more than their Gamerscore - or lack thereof...

Due to recent events - specifically one of our very good mates was recently married (well, technically they were re-married) and as they now have a brand new family complete with teenage daughter and two not-identical teenage sons --  they have recently purchased a brand spanking new Xbox One console for their new family. 

Now I am not going to even bother with pointing out that the reason for the purchase was so that the boys will not want or need to play on my mates personal Xbox One.  I totally understand not wanting strange paws on your consoles!

My mate happens to be a games journalist who makes his nut each week by previewing and reviewing games, and covering game events for a major newspaper.  So naturally he has pretty much unfettered access to the studio and PR system and, as a result, a very impressive games library for all of the major console systems.

I actually think that what he has done is pretty cool - it is not like he took the boys to the end of the dock and threw them in the water and said "Sink or Swim BudEEE!"

Instead what he did was hook up the new console in the den, attaching it to the massive 56" flatscreen and its theater sound system there - and then tell the boys:

"You can check out games from my game library as long as they are NOT rated M (for Mature) or above. 

"If you want to play a game that is rated M or above you need to get your Mum's permission - which means SHE needs to come and discuss the game with ME.

"Fail to do that and you will be cut off from access to the games library totally."

Naturally both of the boys instantly agreed to these conditions.

So he walked them through creating their own Gamertags - and he even created a Gamertag for their Mum and made it the primary on the new XBone - giving it 12 months of Gold so basically ALL of the accounts on that XBone have gold.  How cool is that?!

So the boys began playing - naturally enough most of the games that they played were ones that they could both play at the same time and with each other.  They very quickly began to rack up what I consider to be respectable gamerscores - they have only been playing on their new Gamertags for like six or so weeks and they are already each above 4K in gamerscore!

To clarify this I know gamers - in fact I have FRIENDS in my followers list - who have been playing for YEARS and have less than 5K Gamerscores1

So it is pretty understandable how the boys ended up getting upset when some loser in a COD lobby told them that their low Gamerscores clearly revealed that they are totally lame newbs not worthy to play with.

Okay, ignoring for the moment that these are two preteens (they are both 12) whose new dad is pretty hip and cool, and they are not playing lame games mind you, standing over them and totally judging them by having less than a five-digit Gamerscore when they have only been gaming for six weeks?!  That is sooooo lame!

What is Gamerscore?

If you do not happen to be a gamer you may be confused right about now by my use of words like Gamertag, Gamerscore, and the like.  So I thought I would quickly if briefly explain that so that we are all on the same page here.

Gamertags: A Gamertag is the account name - and the actual name - by which you, a gamer, are known on the LIVE Network.

A Gamertag includes a surprising amount of information about the person to whom it belongs, including:
  • Their real name (though it is usually concealed)
  • Geographical Location - where in the world they are and whether they have seen Waldo?
  • Gamer Icon / Picture - an image that they picked to represent themselves 
  • Reputation Score (which by default as long as they have had no complaints lodged against them should be three out of five stars) 
  • Gaming Zone - the self-proclaimed zone in which they think they belong... There are four of them: Recreational / Family / Pro / and Underground.
  • Motto - a motto or phrase that they can add to their profile to express their gaming attitude
  • Bio - a short paragraph or two that they can use to say things about themselves...
In addition to the above the Gamertag also displays the last four Achievements that they have unlocked in the games that they play, as well as a list of their friends and followers.

On the new Xbox One a LOT more information and a deeper examination of their Achievements and actual online activities on LIVE is readily available - but the one other thing that is displayed here that is important in terms of this post is the Gamerscore that they have earned.

Gamerscore: This is a number that represents the cumulative total score that all of the Achievements that the gamer has unlocked is worth.

Every game for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and even certain mobile phones that can access the Games for Windows (mobile) LIVE are required to have a set number of Gamerscore spanning the various Achievements that they are also required to have.

Generally speaking a game should have 1000 Gamerscore (usually written as "1000g" as well as a reasonable number of Achievements (an Achievement is a specific action, activity, or collection of items that the players try to complete in a game).

Rachel fainted when she learned Javier's Gamerscore was 448,545 - overwhelmed by its manly powers!
Despite the fact that Gamerscore really is only an indication of how much game play one has completed, it really is not a very good scheme for judging the merits of a gamer and their gaming skills.

Now the individual Achievements that a gamer has unlocked?  Well that is a different story, because that CAN tell you a lot about their skills.

Xbox LIVE: Xbox LIVE is the online gaming and partly social network to which Microsoft's gaming consoles are connected and to which those willing to pay for the privilege can connect. 

Back to the Post Now

D'accord we should be all on the same page now...

So the boys are out in the den playing some game and some jerk boots them out of the game play lobby for the game and tells them they suck.

Very upset, they pop into Dad's office where Dad and I are sitting chatting and they tell him what has happened.

That triggers one of the major talks that all Dads today have to have with their sons - and that is the "Son(s) the world is full of a mixture of people and some of them are Asshats."

In the end all that he can do is urge them to consider the source, give them hugs, and tell them that they are boss with him!  I of course tell them they are awesome and I will play with them any time they want and to pudding with that asshat!

My wife is constantly accusing me of speaking Eskimo -- when I say something off-color or outright profane she will chide me, saying "That is too Eskimo!" 

Now clearly she must know something about the indigenous people inhabiting northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland that I do not know...  But then she IS a Cultural Anthropologist, so yeah, that would make sense...

UPDATE: I have since learned that the phrase actually originates in a series of books that she read as a child and that she likes.  

The phrase and its explanation can be found in the book Belles on their Toes, by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (Harper Perennial, ISBN-13: 978-0060598235) which is the sequel to the book Cheaper by the Dozen (Martino Fine Books, ISBN-13: 978-1614275008)

""Don't be Eskimo," Mother warned.  "Eskimo" was Mother's word for anything that was deemed evil minded."
So anyway yeah, I try not to be so Eskimo...

The kind words and reassurance was too little to really blunt the pain that the harsh judgement by that asshat had caused but what else could we do?

What is YOUR Gamerscore?

I was more than a little miffed so I went to the den and used the gamepad to chat with the asshat, first checking HIS Gamerscore, which was 11,485.

"Why is a newbie like you judging a pair of 12-year-olds who have only been gaming for like two months?!" I asked.

His reply was "I'ma Pro daddie what is yer gamerscores?" he answered.

Now clearly he thought I was their dad.  I set that straight.

I am not their parent, I am sort of an uncle.  But since you asked, my Gamerscore is 150,855" I answered.

"You are a total liar!" they replied.

"Their dad's Gamerscore is 132,555" I added.

"Bullshit! They declared.

So I told him - "My Gamertag is Recnef look me up."

A few minutes go by and they finally send the following message: "Huh that is really impressive but you probably cheated."

Wow.  Nice.  Classic.

I then showed the boys how to set a Gamertag to Ignore, removing its ability to send you ANY sort of communication or message - and then showed them how to set it to be avoided, though I had to explain that this does not always work.

In practice the game servers will TRY to prevent them from being included in a multi-player game lobby you are in if it can but there is no guarantee.

Live is so short in terms of time and all, so why should we have to tolerate the asshats of the world?  Really!

And hey - Asshats?  No matter how cool and bad you think you are, there is ALWAYS going to be someone out there better than you...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

a Home Network Revival Story

Our home network was basically planned and created shortly after we purchased our current home in the Summer of 1995.  It was essentially a transplanted version of the network we had in the rental townhouse we lived in for a number of years before we bit the bullet and opted to make the transition from renter to home owner.

If you had seen our network in the old place you might have been rather well-impressed largely due to the number and diversity of servers that were piled around the basement of the townhouse.  Back then I was still able-bodied and working, and so I needed those servers to perform various tasks.

Today I couldn't justify the electricity bill from running a dozen high-powered servers, and even if I did need them, modern hardware pretty much shrinks those 11 physical servers down to two (2) boxes thanks to server visualization.

The important thing for you to take away from this story is that our network was planned and built around 1995/1997.  Naturally that means that its infrastructure dated to that era. 

Home Network 1.0
When we first built the home network in 1995 it was an industry-standard 10bT network.

The backbone was a pair of dumb 10bT Hubs connected together to serve the upstairs and downstairs as zones.  Hanging off of the hubs were the client systems - a collection of desktop PCs and a few odd ducks like our NeXT Station, a few Sun Sparc workstations upstairs, and eleven servers with a few Linux-based workstations downstairs.

The servers were pretty basic for the most part...  A primary DNS server (our secondary DNS was served from a mate's network, with us serving as THEIR secondary DNS.  We also ran a Mail Server with SMTP and POP, a Log Sever, and a web server.  

That accounts for four of the eleven.  The remaining seven systems were high-end, high-powered and were basically hooked together to form a crude homemade cluster for running a program called "Crack" that we used to decrypt password files.  That was part of the services that we offered as Cape & Islands NetSecurity Engineering, the consulting company we ran until I was crippled in an industrial accident.

So yeah, no joke, our basement looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise back in the day...  But today?  Not so much...

Home Network 2.0
I lost the ability to walk in 2001, and as a result our consulting company went away around then as you cannot function in the NetSec industry without a pair of fully functioning legs.

A consequence of this was our network slowly aging out, with its many bits and pieces eventually breaking and being replaced.

At some point around 2004 the physical network - the hubs - turned flaky and so decisions had to be made.  In the end, the turtle-slow speeds of 10bT were the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back...  Sure we could have simply bought a used 10bT hub and replaced the failing one with it, but the writing was on the wall - so we went in a different direction.

The two hubs were replaced with 100bT managed switches from 3Com that were picked up used at the MIT Flea, and the entire cable forest was torn out and thrown away, since it was pretty much all what would be considered low-grade CAT5 cable anyway.

Yvonne went out and bought me 1,000 feet of CAT5E cable in a box, a large bag of cable ends, and the tools required for making cable, and I proceeded to custom make all of the cables we required, being sure that they were fully compatible with 100bT spec.

It was around then that we retired our old (original) Internet connection as well.  That previously was a matched pair of ISDN lines that both plugged into a special router that combined the two lines into a single connection that delivered a massive 512K connection to the 'net!

No...  Seriously.  And let me tell you that 512K connection was way faster than anything our friends had at the time!

In place of the pair of ISDN lines we obtained a single DSL connection - which offered us a much faster (and easier to manage) that delivered an upload speed of around 768Kbit/ps and a download speed of very near 3Mbit/ps.

That was when we shut down the server cluster as well as the base services since we (a) no longer needed to provide our own DNS/Mail and Web, and (b) did not want to pay for the 16 IP address block via the Small Business Services because it was wicked expensive and it is one thing when you know, you have a business that can pay for it and then you don't.

From mid-2004 until last month that was the network we had, and with the exception of a few minor issues that required hardware replacement, that was the network environment we used.

History repeated itself, as the hardware that made up our network slowly aged out. 

When you reach the point where the WiFi router/switch you "added" tp your network in order to support wireless devices could overwhelm your entire network and its available bandwidth, you gotta know some things needed fixing!

Just the Facts, Ma'am!
Before we get to the gritty details about the new network - or what we logically think of as Home Network 3.0 - there are a few issues that we really want to address first.  

Mostly because we happen to know that more than a few of our regular readers are in the process of thinking through their own network improvements.  One thing we do not want to end up doing is causing you - any of you - to make a bad decision in planning out your network.

So with that in mind, please take notes as we describe for you the BARE MINIMUM resources and kit that should go in to ANY Home Network you are contemplating.

Bear in mind that what we are about to share with you is not just the bare minimum network kit and structure for YOU, it also happens to be the one we held ourselves to...

IF you are contemplating the creation of a Home Network - or even a Small Business Network - it should include the following kit and capabilities - in the form of a logical shopping list (with notes) that again, represents the bare minimum.  More - and better - is better!

The Basic Shopping List

The following kit should be on your shopping list - should be part of your network design - and really REALLY should be implemented on your network if, you know, you are planning on the deployment of a new network (or refurbishing an old one).
  1. Broadband Modem / Switch (provided by your Internet Service Provider aka ISP)
  2. Firewall Router (it can double as a WiFi Router -- See 'Note A' below)
  3. Managed Gigabyte Ethernet Switch (Actually two - See 'Note B' below)
  4. Network Accessible Storage Device -- NAS (See 'Note C' below)
  5. A Network Connectible Printer
Note A: A firewall router can actually serve several functions on your network if you like, but we prefer it NOT to.  The more jobs you give it, the more likely it will end up in a misconfiguration or outright compromised.

The model(s) we recommend differ based on your technical needs...  Here are some examples though to get you started and get you thinking...

If you need a VPN connection: Netgear ProSAFE 8 port Gigabit VPN Firewall
If you want WiFi combined with your firewall: AC1750 Smart WiFi Router
If you want NAS combined with your firewall: Netgear Centria WNDR4700

Remember the old saying: Just because you CAN does not mean you SHOULD.  Just saying...

Note B: You can easily and cheaply pick up last gen managed or partly managed switches for cheap on eBay these days.  

Ideally what you want to do is have two switches, one for each end of the network.  Meaning one wherever your Internet Connection comes into the house, and then the second that you connect to the first with just one cable to serve the part of the house with the most devices near at hand.

The following are common - and good - choices:
  • Dell PowerConnect 2324 Gigabit 24-Port Fast Ethernet Switch
  • Linkskey 9-port 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet 
  • Netgear ProSafe 24 Port 1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet Switch
Note C: NAS devices are a great idea and alternative to re purposing an old PC as there is a lot less to go wrong with them, a lot less hassle, and they are easier to maintain and upgrade.  That said, the following are pretty good choices for a home network environment:
  • D-Link DNS-213 Network / USB NAS device
  • Seagate STCR4000101 Personal Cloud 4TB NAS
 Those are two suggestions - in the world of NAS and/or USB based network storage there is literally a sea of different devices - which you choose will more likely be down to how much you have to spend than any other factor.

In an ideal world you choose a firewall router that JUST serves as your firewall router.  You put that between your broadband modem/router and your network.  You pick a WiFi Router that is just a WiFi Router, an NAS that is just an NAS and so on.  You do that because it is a lot safer to do it that way.

But you also do that because you can AFFORD to do that!  If you cannot afford to build a home network without some devices doubling - or even tripling - their duty, then so be it.

Of course you don't have to buy and build the whole enchilada in one go mates.  You could just do the minimum and then budget in the extras over time.  That is what we did...  But YMMV.

Home Network 3.0
Originally the upgrades that made up Home Network 2.0 consisted of a firewall router, two 100bT Ethernet Switches, and the various client systems and utility based devices that we needed on our network.

That worked fine for a very long time - then one of the switches up and died on us.  So we ended up concentrating ALL of the networked devices onto the single still functional switch - but that was our wake-up call that we needed to either update or replace the network. 

Considering how cheap you can get used Gigabyte (1000bT) switches these days - even name brand fully managed ones with very slick web interfaces - the obvious solution was to build a brand new home network using the best hardware we could find and afford over time.

If we had been forced to immediately seek out kit to replace our current network this would be a very different narrative.  Fortunately we paid attention to the signs and began to accumulate the bits and pieces that we needed - taking care to keep an eye out for sales.

So instead of a forced march as it were, we were able to take a measured stroll on our terms.

The first part of the build for Network 3.0 consists of a robust 1000bT Firewall Router, a pair of fully managed 1000bT Switches, a new CAT6 Panel, and CAT6 Keystones -- most of which is installed in a 19" equipment rack moved upstairs for that purpose.

We also have a list of other things we want to add...  A new KVM console that will be paired with our existing KVM Switch.  Some new rack-mount cases for the two servers we want on the net - a Virtual Server to handle basic network services and a second server to handle web and wiki services.

Ultimately when all is said and done we will have obtained all of the services we wanted and all of the service quality we wanted not because we could spend the money now, but because we realized what would be needed and began to accumulate the kit before it was actually needed...

For the first time in a long time we planned out a project that was not in critical path.

The big question is can we find an economical way to incorporate VOIP into this setup?