Facebook Location Spam

facebook-location-spam

If you check in at a location on Facebook or enter the location for a photo, there is a chance that you will end up linking to spam.

The main reason for this is that Facebook is crap and the people who make Facebook are idiots, but I say this after hacking spam out of my photo albums for 2 hours straight, so I will acknowledge that this is perhaps not the most constructive of explanations. Let me elucidate.

When you try and enter a location in Facebook, the site helpfully offers you a number of suggestions based on the part of the location name you have entered so far. This is not an exhaustive list, i.e. Facebook makes a selection of locations it is going to suggest. If the name of the location is not in the list, you get the option to ‘Just use’ the name you just entered.

In some of Facebooks forms, you get the option to Add Place. This takes you to a new form in which you can enter some information about the place you just added, including its address. Facebook does not remember what you added last time, so if you have to fix hundreds of photos, you have to fill out thousands of fields (hence me just wasting two hours).

But suppose you are a spamming low-life piece of scum (watch your contaminations, Branko!) and you have somehow managed to automate part of this process, you now have found yourself a way to storm the top of the list of location suggestions. At least, that is how I assume this works. It would make little sense for Facebook to suggest obscure locations, so I assume they automatically suggest popular locations, opening them up to attacks by spammers who have the time, the energy and the tools to game this system.

Presumably, the more people like and check in at these scam locations, the more popular these false locations get.

The screenshot illustrates how I have started typing ‘Sporthal’ – Dutch for sports venue – and as you see, Facebook suggests 8 locations. Of those, 3 have been hijacked by spammers, all of which show up in the top 4 (you can tell by the fact they share the same logo).

I have no idea how these scammers manage to hijack locations so completely. They take over both the profile photo and the cover photo and manage to be the only ones to have posting rights. The cover photo seems to be something that a person can suggest for a location, but the other two items aren’t.

I know of at least one location (Sporthal Oranjeplein in The Hague) where there was a somewhat well used, somewhat maintained real location page that was then ‘merged’ with the spam location. Meaning, if you somehow managed to find a link to the original location page and clicked it, Facebook would automatically redirect you to the spam page. In those cases Facebook will helpfully tell you it has merged pages and offer you a way to report an incorrect merge.

This is also useful in cases where locations have been merged with automatically created pages – case in point, links in photo albums leading to Utrecht Disaster (a roller skating hall) now all lead to an auto-generated page about the Heysel Stadium disaster. You can report the mismerge – as useful as pressing a pedestrian crossing call button I imagine.

So what is the problem? Is there a problem? I mean, I hate spammers and all that, but in the end it is my choice to add a location to my photos, and it is my fault if I don’t properly look at the location I add.

The mismerges are problematic in this respect, because I could link to a proper location only to find out years later that the link is now redirecting to spam.

I also imagine that if locations can be hijacked by spammers, they can be hijacked by phishers and other criminals with more insidious designs.

I don’t know of a way to fix this. Facebook does not want to hire people to add and manage locations, so this is always going to be a problem. It could disable locations altogether, but having people share where they have been and what they have done together, happens to be one of its most attractive qualities. Adding the ability to report spam, assuming Facebook would actually follow up on such reports, might help, but I can think of several drawbacks. For one, Facebook (and similar social media services) is known for selectively listening to its users. Why would I report something if I believe they wont listen anyway. The other problem is that this turns the whole battle over locations in one between two powerful factions (Facebook on the one hand, spammers on the other) in which the regular user is less and less likely to be heard.

Facebook’s problem is a conceptual one. It wants locations to be somewhat community managed, but ignores the fact that the community contains many bad actors.

There is a very simple thing they could have done for my specific problem, though. As I am typing the name of the venue where I have taken my photos, progressively less and less suggestions appear. This makes sense in a world where there is only one location called Sporthal Oranjeplein (staying with my previous example), but Facebook knows of several. Would it be too confusing to show more than one?

Design pattern: event calendar (focussing on WordPress)

Event calendars tell users about interesting events that are about to happen. They can also help create an impression of how busy the near future will be. Furthermore, calendars may double as a navigation or filter tool.

Events as blog posts in WordPress

I’ve helped build a number of event calendars for websites in the past, especially for websites based on the WordPress-CMS. For small businesses and organisations who mainly need a website for informational purposes, WordPress is a powerful choice because it is cheap, easy to install, easy to maintain and well supported.

A basic WordPress-based website shows information as a series of blog post abstracts on its homepage, the most recent one at the top and posts getting progressively older as the visitor scrolls down the web page.

A simple way to draw attention to events is to display them as blog posts. WordPress started out as a blogging platform so it’s well suited for this purpose. There are a number of problems with this approach:

  • Events don’t necessarily mix well with regular blog posts or news items.
  • Regular blog posts are best sorted by publication date, events are best sorted by event date.
  • If you wrote about an event early on, it would get pushed off the screen by more recent posts.

In short, people would have to start hunting for your events or your news or both. For that reason it is best if events and blog posts are separated. This is where event calendars come in.

Luckily WordPress offers a lot of plugins for event calendars. Searching for these plugins in the WordPress plugin directory yielded the following number of hits per search phrase: events (1,001), event calendar (314), event list (841) and so on.

Grid type event calendars

If you look at the screenshots from the top results for each search, you will see that most of the event calendars are displayed as classical calendars, that is to say a matrix in which each column presents a weekday and each row a week.

event-wordpress-plugins

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Making complex PHP arrays viewable

When you want to study the contents of PHP arrays, for example when you ask the API of your favourite PHP CMS a question and it returns an array in which the answer is somehow hidden, you can use PHP functions like print_r and var_dump to display the array in a way that makes it easy to study.

Let’s say you define the following array:

$foods = array('plants' => array('fruits', 'vegetables'), 'animals' => 'meat', 'mixed' => array('pies' => 'pies'));

then running print_r($foods) will give you the following result:

Array
(
    [plants] => Array
        (
            [0] => fruits
            [1] => vegetables
        )
    [animals] => meat
    [mixed] => Array
        (
            [pies] => pies
        )
)

This improves the readibility quite a bit, because the linebreaks, indentation and added information (brackets for keys, “Array” to indicate the type) all help you to visually parse the array.

When you have large arrays to study however, the usefulness of print_r or var_dump diminishes rapidly. It can get quite tricky to remember the indentation level of an array that spans more than a few screens.

This is where tools like Krumo come in; they will present (within a web page) an array or object (or any value really) within a collapsible format. Only when you click on a top element will it fold out to display its contents.

I needed something like Krumo, but since the latter clocks in at about 100 kilobytes, Krumo itself can become quite complex to work with if you want more than the basics. (Don’t worry if you were thinking about using Krumo, it is still unsurpassed at simply showing objects and arrays.)

Below, I present you what I came up with.

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Zakelijke bankrekeningen vergelijken in 2016 [NL/Dutch]

In 2011 betaalde je 7 tot 9 maal méér voor een zakelijke rekening dan voor een particuliere rekening.

Die verschillen zijn sterk teruggelopen – althans, als je een kleine, dienstverlenende ondernemer bent van het kaliber vertaler of adviseur. Zelfs dan betaal je nog steeds minimaal 2 tot 3 maal zoveel voor je zakelijke rekening dan voor je privérekening.

Het verschil wordt de laatste jaren gemaakt door bankrekeningen die speciaal op ondernemers met een kleine paymentservicesbehoefte zijn gericht. Hieronder een overzicht:

– Oogluikend privérekening (24 € p.j.)
Knab Zakelijk (60 € p.j.)
ASN Zakelijk (72 € p.j.)
Regiobank ZZP Rekening (75 € p.j.)
SNS ZZP (90 € p.j.)

Bij de vier zakelijke rekeningen zijn de eerste 1.000 reguliere transacties (het doen en ontvangen van overschrijvingen en het doen van PIN- en IDEAL-betalingen) gratis. Daarnaast ontvang je er een beetje creditrente, met uitzondering van (op dit moment) Regiobank.

Een winkelier daarentegen die wil dat zijn zakelijke bank alle paymentservices voor zijn rekening neemt, dus ook het storten van contant geld, het ontvangen van IDEAL-betalingen op zijn webwinkel en het ontvangen van automatische incasso, heeft weinig keus. Er zijn drie banken met uitgebreide opties, algemeen bekend:

ABN Amro MKB
ING Zakelijk
Rabobank Zakelijke Rekening

De vaste abonnementskosten hiervan beginnen rond de 120 euro per jaar. Daarnaast betaal je een klein bedrag per transactie.

Ten slotte heb je nog wat tussenvormen:

Regiobank MKB Rekening
SNS Zakenrekening
Triodos Internet Zakelijk
Van Lanschot Zakelijk

Hiervan is nuttig te weten dat de Regiobank- en SNS-rekeningen vrijwel dezelfde abonnementskosten hebben als hun ZZP-varianten (Regiobank is overigens net als ASN Bank een dochter van SNS), maar dat je daarnaast per transactie betaalt.

De Van Lanschot-rekening wordt niet prominent op hun website getoond. Ik vermoed dat deze vermogensbeheerder met name een zakelijke rekening aanbiedt, zodat hun klanten niet twee verschillende banken hoeven aan te houden. Hun jaarabonnement (rekening, bankpas en online bankieren) is dan ook het duurste van allemaal.

De vreemde eend in de bijt is daarmee Triodos: je betaalt hetzelfde tarief als de banken voor retailers terwijl je er een ZZP-rekening voor terugkrijgt. Misschien dat als iemand van Triodos dit leest, ze het me kunnen uitleggen.

In het bovenstaande heb ik waar ik prijzen heb genoemd, gekeken naar pakketten waarbij minimaal een bankrekening, een bankpas en online bankieren zijn inbegrepen. Bij de meeste banken kun je ook niet minder afnemen.

Kijk niet alleen naar de abonnementskosten

Wat mij bij mijn onderzoekje vooral opviel, is dat zakelijke rekeningen complexe producten zijn die niet makkelijk één op één te zijn te vergelijken. Dat is mede waarom ik niet overal de abonnementskosten noem. Als je een bankbehoefte hebt die ingewikkelder is dan het ontvangen en doen van hooguit enkele honderden overschrijvingen per jaar, dan ga je rekeningen al gauw vergelijken op het aanbod van overige diensten en de daarbij horende kosten.

Kijk dus niet alleen naar de prijs van een rekening, maar ook naar de omvang van het pakket. Producten die sommige banken goedkoop en andere banken duur of zelfs helemaal niet leveren, zijn: extra bankpassen, advies, transacties, automatisch overschrijven, zakelijk sparen, incasso, acceptgiro, gegevensexport voor je boekhoudpakket enzovoort.

Er is momenteel niemand die een goede vergelijking biedt tussen de verschillende diensten die een bank bij zijn zakelijke rekening aanbiedt. Vorig jaar vergeleek MoneyView de voorwaarden van zakelijke rekeningen, maar de resultaten zijn alleen in een heel summiere samenvatting te zien voordat je tegen de paywall opbotst. Hun document Criteria Product Rating Voorwaarden Betalingsverkeer is echter nuttig leesvoer voor wie wil zien waar je bij de keuze van een bank allemaal op kunt letten.

Mijn onderzoek werd bemoeilijkt doordat banken niet vermelden welke diensten ze niet aanbieden. Daardoor is het lastig uit te vinden of een dienst ontbreekt. ASN Bank en Knab zeggen bijvoorbeeld niets over periodieke overboekingen. Betekent dit dat ze die niet aanbieden? Of dat ze ze wel aanbieden, maar niet vermelden? Misschien vermelden ze ze wel, maar kan ik ze niet vinden, omdat ik de verkeerde zoektermen gebruik?

De zakelijke rekeningen heb ik vergeleken met het zakelijk gebruik van een (eventueel tweede) particuliere rekening. Deze heb ik Oogluikend Privérekening genoemd, omdat de banken weliswaar het zakelijk gebruik van privérekeningen verbieden, maar sommige banken het oogluikend lijken toe te staan.

Overduidelijk lokkertjes als starterspakketten heb ik uit mijn vergelijking weggelaten.

Wat nu als je eerst aan een goedkope rekening genoeg hebt, maar later meer payment services nodig hebt? Moet je dan overstappen? Knab wijst erop dat je aanvullende payment services bij derden kunt inkopen. Aangezien ik daar helemaal geen verstand van heb (ik voldoe zelf met gemak aan de ZZP-definitie), laat ik het aan anderen over daar iets over te zeggen. De naam Mollie hoor ik regelmatig voorbijkomen; via deze PSP kun je in elk geval online betalingen ontvangen.

De toekomst

Het landschap voor zakelijk bankieren zag er vijf jaar geleden heel anders uit. Vijftien jaar geleden was het wéér anders. Ik begon in 2000 voor mezelf, en toen kon je nog een gratis rekening bij de Postbank krijgen en waren de ING-rekeningen daarentegen (voor mijn gevoel althans) peperduur.

Het enige wat je daaruit over de toekomst kunt concluderen is dat die er heel anders kan uitzien. Dat kan een reden zijn om een bank met een uitgebreid dienstenpakket uit te kiezen of om juist om de zoveel tijd je bankierbehoefte opnieuw vast te stellen en tegen het aanbod van die tijd te houden.

Disclosure: als je zoals ik regelmatig voor reclame- en internetbureaus werkt, ligt er wel eens een bank op je bordje. Ik heb echter aan zoveel verschillende bankensites gewerkt, dat ik me niet kan voorstellen in dit artikel een bank al dan niet bewust te hebben bevoordeeld.

Meet the golden banana of discord

golden-banana

You know this graph, you have seen it before. It is a graph displaying a distribution.

If you squint, it resembles a golden banana.

In the text adventure world they hold yearly competitions. In fact, the largest of them, IFComp, is currently underway, and the way it works is that everybody who wants to can be a judge. You’re supposed to play a game for up to two hours, give it a score between 1 and 10 and move on to the next.

At the end the scores are tallied and the game with the highest average wins. Often, the way the scores are distributed per game is more or less according to a normal distribution. A game that gets mostly sixes will also get some 5s and 7s, almost no 4s and 8s and only rarely scores outside that range.

Other games work differently. Players either love them or hate them and the result is that scores will be distributed not around their averages, but along the edges. Being of a certain bent of mind, the text adventure community has embraced this occurrence and named an award after the shape and, I believe, the colour of the way these graphs were originally presented – the Golden Banana of Discord. The prize (a stuffed plush banana) has been awarded since the year 2000 and is actually given to the winner of the IFComp entry with the highest standard deviation—the distribution of scores doesn’t have to be banana shaped.

I have taken to calling every banana-shaped distribution The Golden Banana of Discord, because I believe the name serves its purpose well and deserves recognition outside the text adventure community.

I said that you know this distribution. Remember the last time you looked for hotel or restaurant reviews online? Check out a bunch of them and you will start seeing golden bananas all over the place. Had a pleasant evening? Here’s and 8, sir. Hair in your soup or your waitress didn’t smile at you? A 2! Giving low marks on online review sites is often the only way a patron can regain some control over their ruined evening, regardless of whether the restaurant is otherwise well liked or universally despised—in the latter case the owners have a dozen fake e-mail addresses which they use to write glowing reviews about their own restaurant.

Last year's Golden Banana winner, SPY INTRIGUE, with its none-EU-approved banana shape among two games with beautifully normally distributed scores. Source: IFComp.

Last year’s Golden Banana winner, SPY INTRIGUE, with its none-EU-approved banana shape among two games with beautifully normally distributed scores. Source: IFComp.

Completely useless overview of mobile phone brands in the Netherlands, May 2016

An obscure need to know led me to create the following overview of mobile phone brands in the Netherlands. Since I got relatively little use out of it, I figured I’d share it here. Maybe it will find some use after all.

Caveat: I didn’t need a very precise list, so please don’t use this is as the basis for your hostile take-over or master’s paper.

By way of summary introduction (TL/DR: TL/DR) I will note that there are four-and-a-half network operators in the Netherlands who all have their own brands of mobile phone providers. T-Mobile (German), KPN (Dutch), Vodafone (British) and Tele2 (Swedish) have their own network. The half-network provider is Liberty Global plc, who do own their own frequency, but need to cooperate with Vodafone to make it work. (Things got too technical for me after this.)

Then there is a whole raft of companies and brands that provide mobile telephony and that use the networks of others. I did some quick Googling but found no indication that the network quality is any less if your company has to rent their access.

The list is not complete by any stretch; it is simply based on brands that sounded familiar to me. As it turns out, all the companies large enough to own a slice of the network spectrum sounded familiar to me, so at least there’s that.

T-Mobile brands:
– T-Mobile
– Ben
[- own network]

KPN brands:
– KPN
– Simyo
– Telfort
– Hi
[- own netwerk]

Vodafone brands:
– Vodafone
– Blyk
– Hollandse Nieuwe
– Sizz
[- former brand: Libertel]
[- also owns the Belcompany chain of mobile phone shops]
[- own network]

Tele2 AB brands:
– Tele2
[- since 2015 own 4G network]

Liberty Global plc brands:
– Ziggo
[- formerly UPC]
[- uses the Vodafone network]
[- has a 4G license]

Youfone brands:
– Youfone
[- owned by the same people that own NL Energie]
[- uses the KPN network]

Simpel brands:
– Simpel
[- founded by former T-Mobile employees]
[- uses the T-mobile network]

Note that I assigned nationalities to various companies, but the global trend is to have different headquarters depending on where the legal, financial, fiscal and labour environments are the most profitable. If a large company waves a national flag these days, you must start from the assumption that this is a branding exercise, not a heart-felt statement of loyalty.

Romerhuis, Venlo

I was born in one of the oldest surviving houses in Venlo, the Romerhuis, which also happens to be the first house in the oldest street of the city, the Jodenstraat.

The Romerhuis was built around 1490 in late Gothic style. By the 20th century the building had lost lots of its charm. The step gable had been removed, white gunk had been smeared on the front and the sides, and windows and doors had been changed.

romerhuis-190x-author-unknown

In 1939 city architect Jules Kayser started the two-year restoration of the building, and then the war happened. Allied troops kept trying to bomb the bridges over the river Meuse, but missed time and again. All the buildings around Romer House were flattened and the building itself took severe damage.

The allied managed to destroy most of Venlo, including many historical buildings, but they had to leave the destruction of the bridges to retreating Nazis.

romerhuis-1945-author-unknown

In 1950 the house was restored again, and this time the restoration took.

romerhuis-2011-branko-collin

More photos, see here.

(Photos: Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, CC-BY-SA; Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, CC-BY-SA; Branko Collin, CC-BY-SA; respectively.)

Game guide: playing Bruce Lee II on the Commodore 64

In 2015 Jonas Hultén released his Commodore 64 port of the MS Windows game Bruce Lee II, which itself was a public domain sequel to the Commodore 64 original Bruce Lee (and which was visually very similar to the original 8-bit style).

If you want to play his game—and you should, because it’s really good!—you can download it for free and play it both on the original computer or on a Commodore 64 emulator such as VICE.

This sequel follows the game play of the original version from 1984 faithfully—with a number of important deviations.

1. It’s harder.
2. No points.
3. A lot more extra lives (called Falls in the game).

bruce-lee-ii

The reason you can easily get extra lives is presumably because it is also very easy to lose them.

Is it wise to play the original first? I’d say yes, but that is because I liked version I a lot. It could be that you find the original too easy and that this would turn you off from the sequel. Note that Bruce Lee II is also very easy for a lot of its levels and to me that is part of the charm of the franchise—you get to properly explore stuff.

Part of the fun of the game is to figure out how everything works, but I decided to give those that are stuck in the first levels a leg up.

The best response to the previous paragraph is to stop reading here, because you know what follows, right? Spoilers! I will keep those to a minimum, though. I will explain the basic features of the game below and I cannot do that without spoiling some of the game for you. I will do this largely by discussing the first screen, meaning you still have dozens of screens to explore for yourself.

Is this a worthwhile trade-off? You have to decide for yourself.

Note that if you want to see more spoilers, you can find longplays on YouTube that show you how the entire game is played. These are important teaching tools for when you get stuck.

Bruce Lee II is a platform game in which you play the eponymous hero. Each room is a separate level where you need to locate and reach the exit, meaning there is no scrolling. Some rooms are reused. Some exits only open through actions taken in other rooms. Your goal is to play through all the rooms and destroy the wizard and in doing so free the princess.

bruce-lee-ii-doors

The first room, shown here, is simultaneously the first, sixth and twelfth level. As you can see, there are three exits (all to the right), with the exit for the first level closed by a door and that of the sixth and twelfth level currently unreachable.

Your character can duck, climb, run, jump, punch and kick. Duck: joystick down. Climb: joystick up or down when on a climbable surface, like a ladder or a vine. Run: joystick left or right. Jump: joystick left+up, up, right+up. Punch: fire. Kick: left+fire and right+fire.

There are three recurring items in the game that trigger a reward:

– Small lanterns.
– Big lanterns.
– Horizontal bars.

bruce-lee-ii-rewards

When you clear a certain amount of small lanterns on a level, doors will open. Here is my first spoiler: if you clear both small lanterns in the first screen, you will unlock the door to the right.

There is no specific order in which you need to clear lanterns, but each exit requires that a specific amount of lanterns are cleared. Sometimes lanterns reveal an exit that allows you to enter another part of the same room.

Big lanterns give you an extra life, one for each lantern. Generally they are located near where you need them most, sometimes they are located after that point (in which case they help you replenish).

Horizontal bars need to be jumped into: doing so will activate a hitherto hidden feature. My second spoiler: if you jump towards the horizontal bar in room one, a ladder will appear that allows you to get onto the top platform of this screen. Horizontal bars can only be reached using an upwards jump.

Sometimes horizontal bars and small lanterns activate doors and other features in other rooms.

The game has active and passive security to stop you from progressing. Active security are the guards who try and attack you. These are largely inconsequential, because they are easy to avoid, but a guard may shove you into a passive security feature such as a spike pit, which may lead to instant death. The solution is to not stand still for long in areas where there are guards.

In a departure from the previous game, guards won’t follow you onto platforms. They may however start on platforms. A simple method to ensure you’re left alone by the guards is to make your way to the lowest platform you can reach, let the guards follow you there and then climb back up. Even something as simple as dangling from a ladder may make you unreachable to a guard. Bruce Lee doesn’t tire and can jump from any height without hurting himself.

Guards die after a few punches or kicks and will respawn after a while. Speaking of guards and respawing: sometimes you will respawn in exactly the spot where the guards tend to hang out. This can be … unpleasant. The trick is to move away immediately upon respawning. Even though you are stronger than the guards, you will still die if you get enough hits.

I won’t say much about passive security, but you should know that there are a few traps that respond to your presence but that do not adapt their response to your actions.

Vines, ladders and grates can be climbed. You will learn to recognize the patterns that make these things (they are not meant to be hidden per se). There is no rhyme nor reason to what is a background, a wall or a ladder.

Backgrounds sometimes turn out to be platforms. This is enough of a departure from the first game that I will allow myself a third spoiler: the trees in the first room can be stepped upon from the ladder that will appear if you jump into the horizontal bar in that same room. The other ‘hidden’ platforms you will have to find yourself by jumping onto everything you come across. I wish you lots of falls.

bruce-lee-ii-platforms

There are three levels that I am not sure I should warn you about, but I am going to anyway.

1. There is a level where a ladder is revealed by jumping around in the space where the ladder is hidden. I think this may be a bug (there are other bugs on that screen). You can recognize the area because it is one of the few dead ends in the game. Just explore everything.

2. There is a level that everybody calls difficult. I can tell you that it is doable. I will admit though that I studied a longplay on Youtube a couple of times before I beat it. Today this level hardly makes a dent in my falls (lives).

3. There is a level that not everybody calls difficult, but that in my case proved almost impossible. When I checked the longplays on Youtube, I noticed that players could do things on that level that I could not. So there’s that. I played (and finished) the game on a certain system with a certain emulator using certain settings; it may be that you come across problems that nobody else has encountered. Peeking at a walkthrough or using a cheat may then be the only way to finish the game. (But I managed to finish that level without cheats.)

Retro computing scene alive and kicking

It started with this 2014 Commodore 64 demo music by Pex “Mahoney” Tufvesson. If you were to follow that link (please come back!), you would hear an indiscriminate collection of bleeps and grunts. You will have to take my word for it that these bleeps and grunts are in some ways better than any assortment of bleeps and grunts that came before on this machine.

It was a bit like coming across a band that you had thought had split up in the nineties, but not only were they still together, they were producing some of their best music ever. Stumbling upon the retro computing scene was a very pleasant surprise.

And it turned out there was a lot more to it than late advances in SID programming technology (SID is the name of the sound chip in the Commodore 64).

Until then—then being a few weeks back—I had thought the retro scene was mostly about looking back – like in 2008 when Martijn Koch built this interpretation of the 1971 arcade game Computer Space – or about carefully preserving a couple of machines while spare parts were slowly dying out.

Turns out there is quite a bit more to it.

  • New Amigas are being made, specifically the X1000 and the X5000.
  • You can now buy generic computers (so-called FPGAs) which can then become whichever machine you like.
  • And of course there are software emulators.
  • The Commodore 64 demo scene still turns out dozens of demos a year.
  • Fresh games are being made.
  • 8-bit hackers give hour long talks on the Commodore 64’s hardware to packed rooms.
  • There are several retrogamers vodcasting on YouTube.
  • Last year the party for the Commodore Amiga’s 30th birthday in Amsterdam drew 400 people.
  • People still use their 8-bit and 16-bit computers for proper gaming.
  • Some musicians use double, triple or even more SIDS to make their chiptunes with the original hardware. (Bonus link uses one SID.)
  • A variant of the CPU of the C64 is still being made by one of its original creators.

You could consider the FPGAs as blank silicon upon which you imprint the hardware from a long ‘dead’ 8-bit or 16-bit computer by loading that design from an SD card. The Mist FPGA even has two Atari joystick ports, as were used on Atari and Commodore computers in the 1980s, and a MIDI interface. Quite frankly at about 250 euro (300+ if you want your computer preloaded), that’s a sexy bit of kit if you don’t mind me saying so.

Sometimes games programmers use their skills (and our modern knowledge of old computers) to right old wrongs. The 1984 port of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins arcade game did not contain all the elements of the original, so last year somebody turned that old port into a version that appears to have everything from the arcade game (see screenshot).

g-and-g-c64

The Amiga’s birthday party wasn’t just held in Amsterdam, there were parties in Germany, the UK, Australia and USA (and more?).

So why are people still using these old machines and in some cases even returning to them? The reason is no doubt nostalgia. Computers back then were manageable. A single person could know what was going on in a MOS 6502 and share that information with others.

And also we now have the internet and we have development tools that we can use outside the target machine. I started coding a little in my Commodore 64 emulator, first using the slow BASIC language, then after I got frustrated switching to assembler (using JASM). If I were to do this programming on my old 64 (which is stashed away somewhere in the attic), that would be quite cumbersome. I’d have to save and load intermediate versions of my program from and to tape and that would take quite a while.

But I can now use my much faster Windows machine and the superior developer tools I have on it to do my coding; testing is just a matter of loading the result into my emulator.

What is more, groups of developers can use git repositories to share their code and chat rooms to talk to each other. Information not only gets stored inside programs, but gets shared between developers. (To be honest, both the 8-bit and the 16-bit computers had wonderful, dedicated magazines which also contained a lot of knowledge about how to develop for these devices, including the Dutch Amiga Magazine for which I wrote as a freelancer.)

Finally, knowledge gets added to. If you check the “8-bit hackers” link above, you can see at the start of the talk the difference between how well the Commodore 64 was understood at the beginning and at the end of its 10-year life (which, by the way, is an insanely long time for a single model to be produced).

First impressions of the Blackrapid Sport camera sling strap

There is a list of accessories that, when used properly, can easily lift your photography to a next level: tripods, flashes, reflectors and so on.

Having shot a 24-hours sports event twice and noticing how my wrists would hurt afterwards, I figured a sling strap might also be such an accessory. The regular straps that you get when you buy a DSLR work more like a necklace: they are too short to sling around your shoulder. Other roller derby photographers recommended the Blackrapid family of sling straps almost unanimously, so with two games coming up on Sunday, I bought one last Saturday.

Note that I hardly ever use the regular strap the way it was intended. Instead, I wrap it around the wrist and just carry my camera in the hand. Hence the wrist ache instead of a possible neck ache. The sling strap makes it so that you don’t have to hold the camera all of the time. You can just let it hang when you’re not using it.

The model I got was the Blackrapid Sports, but I can imagine my findings apply to most other brands and models of sling straps.

So here’s what I discovered in one day of shooting:

  • When you’re running, you still need to steady the camera with your hand to stop it from swinging about.
  • I’ve never heard the IS mechanism in my sports zoom make such a racket before when running with my camera.
  • The Blackrapid attaches to the tripod mount. This has a couple of disadvantages:
    • You can no longer set the camera down on its (flat) bottom plate (unless you detach the strap, which is admittedly easy enough, but … but … if you just want to change lenses or it just feels awkward even to have to think about this – OK, I admit, this isn’t really a huge issue).
    • The mount is unavailable for tripod use (see above for the seriousness of this issue).
    • The camera hangs upside down, which means that you lose fractions of seconds bringing it to up your face. This can be problematic when shooting events.
  • You need to be extra careful with your expensive lenses dangling out of sight.
  • Unlike regular straps, a sling strap with its padded shoulder band and its plastic bits is a comparatively unwieldy thing that takes some getting used to just being there, knocking over cups of coffee and what have you.

The best I can say about a sling strap so far is that most of the time, I did not notice it was there.

I guess what all this whining is supposed to say is that a) I still need to get used to the thing and b) I had no clear idea of what a sling strap was supposed to achieve. The latter is still an important point to make. Holding your camera in your hand may not be ideal, neither do the alternatives seem to be.

I can say this though: the day after, my wrists feel just fine. On the other hand, this is the first time every I had muscle pain in my upper legs after a shoot. Go figure.