Teleglitch: Die More Edition

A few weeks ago, there was a Weekly Humble Bundle sale for Roguelike games. Roguelike games comprise one of my favorite genres. I like games that give you a lot of replayability, and nothing can truly offer that like a randomly generated game that’ll be different every time you play it. The bundle had a few titles I was interested in that may eventually get their own posts, like Hack, Slash, Loot and Paranautical Activity. I also got access to another copy of The Binding Of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb, despite already owning and having 200 hours invested in it. However, the game I was most interested in was Teleglitch: Die More Edition. Teleglitch is a top-down Roguelike shooter with survival horror elements. It features some very unique pixel art which, when combined with the top-down view, makes for a unique experience as far as perspective and visibility are concerned. The game’s trailer gives you a good feeling for what it’s like.

You start off each run in a small room where you’ve supposedly been hiding for a few weeks since everything went to shit and the people in the military complex with you turned into monsters. Having run out of food, you’re left with no choice but to venture forth. Right off the bat you have a pistol with a few clips, a couple of explosives, and you can pick up the empty food cans in your starting room. You also always have a knife if you want to get up close and personal. From there you have to travel through the level, making your way to a teleporter that’ll take you on to the next level with the end goal of eventually reaching safety.

Make no mistake, the game is brutally difficult right off the bat. There are some tricks you absolutely must learn in order to survive beyond the first couple of levels. As the game’s difficulty ramps up by the 3rd and 4th levels, you’ll quickly find yourself in a hopeless situation if you squandered health and ammo in the first couple of stages. For instance, there are “voids” throughout the levels, which the game explains are the result of anomalies with the teleportation experiments being carried out at the facility. Touching these voids will instantly lead to your death. However, if you can kite enemies into the void, it will also instantly kill them, allowing you to dispose of enemies in the early levels, which are slower than you and cannot attack from a distance, without having to either burn your precious ammunition or risk your health by stabbing them. Another useful trick early on is that there are frequently parts of the level into which your character can fit but the enemies cannot. Likewise, your knife has a longer range than the melee attacks of the enemies, allowing you to kite them to said location and stab them at will without risking yourself.

However, the game quickly switches gears by the 4th and 5th levels (I should mention that even after a few hours I’ve never survived beyond the 5th level) as you start getting into firefights with faster, stronger enemies who are able to shoot back. As if that’s not enough, you then begin to face mechanized War Walkers that are virtually impossible to take down without exhausting your ammunition supply if you don’t have either heavy explosives or armor piercing weaponry. Despite the difficulty, though, it makes for a really enjoyable experience because even within the span of the first five levels you have so many different styles of gameplay to master.

Similarly, the game also gives you a lot to learn with its crafting system. There isn’t a requirement for you to figure out which items to craft with which; simply hitting a button on your keyboard will bring up the “Combine” menu that will give you all of the options of items you can make given your current inventory. The trick comes from eventually figuring out which combinations are the most effective and in which situations. For instance, do you want to save your explosives and food for health, or do you want to combine them into a highly effective meat trap that could save your life against a swarm of enemies? Should you upgrade your shotgun to a double-barreled one for more stopping power at the risk of consuming twice the ammunition? They’re tricky decisions that’ll game a big difference in your likelihood to survive, and especially when you’re forced to make a choice because you’ve run out of inventory space to keep putting it off.

As part of the Die More Edition, which is an expansion to the original Teleglitch, you also occasionally get branching paths in the game that force you to choose where you will teleport to next. At the end of the first level, for instance, you must choose if you want to go to the military biology sector or to the plankton research sector. The plankton sector is likely to have easier enemies, but you also won’t acquire as much loot. The military sector is more likely to have weaponry for you, but at the cost of fighting military-grade bio-freaks, and you have to weigh which provides more benefit to you.

The other bonus is that the developer of the game is relatively active in the Steam Forums. When I first installed the game there was a bug with Intel integrated graphics which prevented it from getting beyond the loading screen. I checked the forums and found plenty of others describing the same issue. The developer was in each thread to reassure everyone he was working on a patch and letting it be known when he had pushed it. You really couldn’t ask for better support. If you’re a fan of Roguelikes and don’t mind playing a game where, as the subtitle states, you’re going to die a lot, then it’s hard to not recommend Teleglitch: Die More Edition.

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Modern IE 11′s Reading View – Lacking In Images

Earlier this month Microsoft unveiled a new feature in the Modern (formerly Metro) version of Internet Explorer 11. Called Reading View, it has a goal of making text heavy web pages far easier to read and comprehend by giving the text more focus and cutting out all of the clutter. As described by Microsoft’s blog post, Reading View is able to heuristically determine which content is relevant to an article and give that the primary focus, complete with a highly readable font, and then re-flow the page’s content without including advertisements, banners, social media icons, etc. It’ll even take articles that span multiple pages and put the content together for you so that you can enjoy an uninterrupted reading experience. Microsoft definitely isn’t the first to do this — a coworker of mine mentioned that he loves this same feature in Safari on his iPhone — but it’s a nice addition regardless.

I gave the feature a spin a few times figuring that it would definitely come in handy for some of the articles I read off of Hacker News and Reddit. The text honestly just looks really nice, and the new Sitka font is serif font that’s easy on the eyes. I’m no typographer so someone with a far more creative, artistic eye may disagree; all I can say is that reading articles in it is strain-free for me. Viewing IE in landscape mode, as I normally do on my Surface RT, means that you get two columns of text that you can scroll through horizontally. If you use the browser in portrait mode or if you have IE snapped so that it can’t fit two columns of text on the screen at the same time, you instead get just one vertically scrolling column to read through. It’s a nice, dynamic setup that makes for a comfortable regarding experience relevant to your current context in the browser.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that all of the kinks have been worked out of the Reading View just yet. In particular, I’ve run into trouble with images that are actually related to the article, something that other browsers — such as the aforementioned Safari running on iOS — are able to do. As the obvious test, I had opened the Microsoft blog post above in the Reading View to see how well it worked. Here is the article as the desktop version of IE 11 renders it:

ie11_normal-viewThat seems about like what you’d expect from any browser. Now here’s the same section of text in the Modern version of IE 11 with Reading View enabled:

ie11_reading_view_failThe problem should be pretty apparent; the images are completely gone. This isn’t just annoying, either; it actually makes parts of the article useless since they’re referencing the missing images directly. It’s hard to get much value out of something when you can’t see the relevant information.

I really like this view, and while I never use the modern version of IE on my desktops or laptops, I could see it being extremely useful on tablets; I know I’d definitely like to make use of it on my Surface RT. However, until this problem with images is resolved I don’t think I’ll be able to trust it much. If the article I’m reading doesn’t explicitly mention an image, I may not even be aware that I’m missing out on something. Hopefully Microsoft will implement images a little better moving forward, and I’ll be able to update this post to say that the Reading View is nothing but immaculate; in the meantime I’ll be sticking to the standard, default setup for webpages.

 

 

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WordPress Pingback Used For DDoS

Almost exactly a year ago, I mentioned in a post that I wished it was possible for pingbacks to yourself to automatically be approved in WordPress. A year later and WordPress pingbacks are making much bigger news on sites far more prominent than mine. Despite being known since 2007, it appears that recently someone — or a group of someones – took advantage of the pingback functionality in XML-RPC (Extensible Markup Language Remote Procedure Call) to use floods of pingbacks in order to essentially DDoS another particular WordPress site. OpenDNS has a solid blog post on what they saw here. What’s truly interesting about this attack is that it isn’t something that requires the tools used, in this case all of the unwitting WordPress sites, to be compromised in any way. It’s all very possible against the default WordPress setup with curl.

Being naturally curious – and of occasionally questionable intelligence :-) — I ran a couple of curl commands just to see what type of results I would get in my shell. In particular, I was curious if there would be a difference between self-hosted WordPress sites and WordPress.com sites. Being a relative curl newbie (I’ve only used it a handful of times in the past, though running it against icanhazip.com is a very handy way to get your public IP address) I wasn’t sure exactly what results I should get, though in every instance I got back XML saying;

parse error. not well formed

This happened regardless of whether the site was self-hosted or not. Interestingly enough, though, using a WordPress.com site did include the following line in the header, which I found fairly amusing:

X-hacker: If you’re reading this, you should visit automattic.com/jobs and apply to join the fun, mention this header.

The downside of the situation is that XML-RPC has legitimate uses in WordPress. Obviously it allows for pingbacks which, while hardly a necessity for the platform, are nice to have. Likewise, it also is the foundation of the API used by blogging clients if you prefer to write your content outside of the web interface. The full reference to the API is available here. Given how useful it is, it’s no wonder that this functionality is enabled by default. It’ll be curious to see if, after the publicity this latest attack seems to have received, WordPress will attempt to find some way of mitigating the issue without hampering the functionality of the platform.

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Windows Server 2012 R2 Core – Set WINS Servers On NIC With Netsh

Windows Server Core is a very interesting, if sometimes daunting, idea. It gives you better stability, a smaller attack surface, fewer patches, and a smaller footprint on your hardware by limiting the components which are installed to a bare minimum. For users and administrators, this translates into just command line access; if you try to log into the server either locally or via RDP you’ll be presented with a Command Prompt and nothing else.

The point of Core is to do nearly everything you need via remote management snap-ins and PowerShell. To make life slightly easier, with Windows Server 2012 R2 you even get a more mid-range option which will remove explorer.exe while still giving you access to Server Manager and mmc.exe for local management. That’s usually enough to do most anything you need except for a rare few tasks. Unfortunately, changing some of the settings on the machine’s NIC is one of those situations.

If you’re in an environment that still makes use of WINS (Windows Internet Name Service) — and I  share your pain in being forced to support this antiquated protocol — then setting primary and secondary WINS servers on your NIC then you’ll need to break out the command line-fu. You have two options: netsh and WMI. Being that WINS is a legacy protocol, there really isn’t good PowerShell access to it. PowerShell necessitates calling WMI. In light of that I feel a bit more comfortable using netsh. The commands are long, but they’re also verbose enough to make it pretty clear what you’re doing and (somewhat) easy to remember. If you’d prefer to use WMI there is a good article on it here.

In order to make any changes to your NIC, you’ll first need to know how to reference it. You can see this by running the following command to list all NICs on the machine:

netsh interface ipv4 show interfaces

For this example we’ll say that my NIC was actually named “NIC.” To set the primary server, run the following command. Note that it will overwrite any existing WINS settings on your NIC. I’ll pretend that my desired primary server has an IP address of 192.168.1.3.

netsh interface ipv4 set winsserver “NIC” static 192.168.1.3

You can verify this by running the following:

ipconfig /all | find /I “WINS”

You can also add a secondary WINS server if you want. Note that you should only do this on client machines. When configuring the WINS settings on the NIC of a WINS server there are a couple of rules to remember. First, you should only give it a primary server; don’t specify a secondary server. Secondly, the primary server should be the WINS server itself. The reason for this is that you don’t want your server to end up with split registration. When you reboot that server, it will try to do some registrations in WINS prior to its own WINS service restarting. So if a secondary server is given, it will begin its registrations on that machine instead. However, once its own WINS service starts, the server will switch to doing registrations with itself. Thus you could end up with a situation where some of a server’s registrations are owned by itself while others are owned by a different server, and that’s just messy.

That being said, if you’re just doing this on a member server that isn’t running WINS, you can add a secondary server with the following, assuming my secondary server has an IP of 192.168.1.4:

netsh interface ipv4 add winsserver “NIC” 192.168.1.4 2

The number “2″ is specified at the end of the command because that is the index of the WINS server; you use “2″ because this is the secondary server.

Should you ever need to remove a WINS server from the NIC it can easily be done through:

netsh interface ipv4 delete winsserver “NIC” 192.168.1.4

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Connecting To A Windows SMB File Share From A Linux Terminal

Recently I had written a short Bash script on a Linux machine I have SSH access to. After I used the script, I decided that I wanted to copy it over to my main Windows machine just so I could keep a copy of it in my SkyDrive OneDrive. Since my machine has a C$ share configured, I knew I should be able to connect to it; I just wasn’t positive on how. I had done similar things before via the GUI in Linux, but never from just the command line. I ended up having to go through two pieces. First I had to figure out how to make the connection. Afterward, I had to figure out how to actually move the file I wanted.

The connection piece is handled via the smbclient command. The format you’ll need to use for the command is:

smbclient -U “domain\username” //machineName.domainName.com/C$

The issue I ran into with this part is that I couldn’t use a CNAME I had created in DNS for my machine; I had to use the actual FQDN. Doing this should prompt you for your password, which you can then enter to access the share. Once you do this, you should be sitting at the SMB file share you specified — obviously you’ll want to change the C$ above to something else if your share is named differently. You can use cd to navigate through your directories, but if you try to use the Linux cp command you’ll get an error message that the command is not found. Instead you have to use some FTP-esque commands with smbclient to move your files. In this case the command you need is put.

put linuxFile.txt subfolder\linuxFileOnWindows.txt

After you run that you’ll see a quick display of the bitrate of the transfer, which may or may not be useful depending on the size of the file and how disparate the networks are for the two machines.

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Using GIMP To Turn A Series Of Photos Into A GIF

For those of us who aren’t doing professional-grade work with images, GIMP is one of the best tools ever created. It may not be as polished as Photoshop or have quite as many capabilities — or at least so I’ve been told since I’ve never actually used Photoshop — but for the low cost of free GIMP is an incredible tool for anyone needing capabilities a little better than what is offered by the likes of MS Paint. Recently, I wanted to use GIMP to take a series of photos and turn them into an animated GIF. I knew that GIMP had the ability to achieve this, but it was surprisingly difficult to find straightforward instructions online. That being said, I figured I would write my own since I’m sure it would be beneficial to someone else.

Note that at the time of this writing GIMP is at version 2.8.8. The steps could change a little bit in the future after upgrades to the software. I’m also doing this with GIMP installed on Windows 8.1, though I couldn’t see the steps being different on other platforms. Lastly, I’m going through this with the goal of posting the final GIF to Tumblr. This imposes some extra steps due to Tumblr’s size and dimension limitations (under 1 MB, no more than 500 pixels on the longest edge.) You could skip some of the optimization pieces if you’re unconcerned about the final size.

The first thing to do is to open your series of images in GIMP as different layers. It should be obvious, but having the images you’re using set aside in their own folder makes it easier. Opening them as layers is easily done by going to File > Open as Layers. Navigate to your images and use Shift + click to select them all. You will see new layers added on the right side of GIMP. Next, click the lock symbol next to the eye icon to lock all of the layers together. This will allow you to bulk re-size the pictures, as the longest edges of mine are 640 pixels.

gimp_lockNow you’ll want to actually resize them. Right-click on the image currently being displayed, go to Image and then select Scale Image. In the new window that pops up, make sure the lock icon isn’t broken between the Width and Height values so that GIMP will automatically keep the current aspect ratio. Change the longest edge to 500 and hit Enter so that the other value automatically changes as well. Then click the Scale button.

gimp_scale_imageNow we need to do a few things to reduce the size of the files so that the GIF isn’t huge. First, go to Image menu at the top of the screen. Select Mode and then click Indexed – it will likely be on RGB by default. In the Index window you get a few options for how GIMP should handle the colors used. I like to use the Use web-optimized palette option, but that can sometimes cause issues with lowering the quality a bit too much, especially if you’re using photos with a lot of dark colors. In that case, you may just need to use the Generate optimum palette option and play around with how many colors you can get away with having. Once you’re done, click the Convert button.

gimp_indexNext up, we can further optimize the set of images. For this go to the Filters menu at the top of the screen and then head to Animation. Then select Optimize (for GIF). That’s it for the optimization. Now you can just save the series of layers as a GIF and GIMP will do the rest. Head to the File menu and then select Export. Pick the location for your file, name it, and make sure you specify a .gif extension. Then click the Export button. A new window will appear with some final options. Make sure you check the As Animation box so your GIF will actually be animated. I also like them to loop forever. Specify the delay you want in your images; it’s usually something I have to play around with depending on what exactly I’m animating. I also like to check the Use delay entered above for all frames box so they have a uniform time. When you’re satisfied, click the Export button.

gimp_gifYou’ll now have a GIF file at the location you specified. For going through this blog post, below is the GIF I created. I started with 10 images, and I used a 250 color palette as web-optimized took away too many colors. The delay is 250 milliseconds for all frames, and the total size is 751 KB, meaning it could be posted to Tumblr without any issues.

wordpress

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Command Prompt – Run Batch File At Launch

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how to change your PowerShell home directory by modifying .ps1 for which your $profile was looking. In that same script you could do other things as well, such as writing output to the screen. For example, when I launch my PowerShell console I like for it to spit out the date and time for me. However, I don’t always live in PowerShell; some command line utilities I run are handled a little oddly by PowerShell (think repadmin) and so I stick to the Command Prompt for those. I was wondering how I could accomplish the same customization through the Command Prompt if I wanted it to go to a particular directory and write some text to the screen every time I launch a shell.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an elegant solution for it like there is in PowerShell. Instead, you have to add a new value to the registry. Note: I did this on 64-bit Windows 8.1. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work on previous versions of Windows as well, though. First launch regedit.exe via the Start Screen, Start Search, run dialog, Command Prompt, or whatever other means you prefer. We’ll be operating in the HKLM hive, and you’ll need to get to the following key:

Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Command Processor

You’ll see a handful of REG_DWORD values already there. Right-click in the right pane and create a new String (REG_SZ) value. Name it AutoRun. With the new value there, right-click on it and modify it to contain the path of a .cmd file you want to run automatically. You can see I just pointed it to one in my Documents folder:

cmd_reg_key

This batch file for me was pretty basic, though obviously you can get as complex as is necessary for your needs:

@echo off
echo.
echo %date% %time%
cd C:\Users\John

This is particularly handy because, even though a standard Command Prompt will open in my user profile by default (C:\Users\John), an admin Command Prompt will open in C:\Windows\System32. With the above batch file, now both open to the same location. Note that echo. will write a blank line. If you just use echo sans the period, it will print the current echo status — on or off — to the screen. Now when I launch a Command Prompt I see the following:

command_prompt_date_time

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Windows – Take Webcam Picture At Set Intervals

The other day I was playing some games and blogging on my computer when I thought it would be interesting if my webcam would periodically take a picture of what I looked like while doing those things. I did a few searches for applications which could accomplish this, but I had difficulty finding something that seemed reputable. I don’t really like just randomly downloading software from sites like Softpedia or Tucows; the anal, computer security site of me needs some software that has been vetted. Then I stumbled across a command line webcam tool called CommandCam. It’s written in C++ and hosted on GitHub, which is nice since you can actually look at the code and make sure it’s sound. Likewise, you’d have to figure that if there was something malicious, someone on GitHub would’ve called it out.

CommandCam is a great little utility that will take a picture through your webcam and save it as a 640 x 480 bitmap named image.bmp. Since it’s a command line tool, that means I could easy write a quick PowerShell script to make it repeat at some interval:

#Script to take a CommandCam shot every hour.

while($TRUE)
{
#Generate the name for the file.
$dateString = Get-Date -Format yyyyMMddhhmm

#Run the application.
.\CommandCam.exe /filename .\Pics\$dateString.bmp

#Sleep for 5 minutes.
Start-Sleep -Seconds 3600

}

I decided to use a set interval of time — in the instance above it takes a picture every hour — though it would be easy enough to generate a random number and take the images at different times. Since every picture is named image.bmp by default, I just made a new string each time by parsing out the date and time. I then moved each newly created image.bmp file to a subfolder with a new, unique name. Along with getting some interesting pictures, I was able to use this script to take a series of images that I could then turn into an animated GIF file, though that’s another post for another time.

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CrunchBang Linux – Add New Applications To The Openbox Menu

If you’re using CrunchBang Linux with the default Openbox window manager, you may have noticed that newly installed applications don’t automatically get added to the menu. For example, I installed Pidgin the other day and noticed that it hadn’t been added to the Network section where I would expect it to be, right next to X-Chat. I could always run it just by typing pidgin & in the terminal, but on occasion I may want to use the GUI. Rather than risk bloating your menu, Openbox takes the opposite approach and won’t add anything for you; if you want something there you’ll need to add it yourself. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to do.

The first thing you’ll need is to open the menu and go through the following path:

Settings > Openbox > GUI Menu Editor

By default, you’ll see a mostly-blank window with one heading called Openbox 3. Click the arrow just to the left of it to expand the tree, and you’ll see your current menu setup. In this instance, I wanted to add something to the Network section of the menu, so I scrolled down to where I saw the Network subtree and clicked the arrow next to that to expand it as well.

When you add a new item to the menu, it will appear directly above whatever is currently highlighted. In this instance I wanted Pidgin to be between the browser sub-menu and gFTP, so I highlighted gFTP and clicked the New item button. Note that you can use the arrow buttons at the top of the screen to change the order later if necessary.

Your new entry will automatically be selected. At the bottom of the screen there will be a few fields for your to fill in. In the Label field you’ll want to enter the name of the application as it will be displayed to you in the menu — in this case I just chose Pidgin. The default Action should be Execute. If it isn’t already on Execute, click the drop-down menu and select it. Under the Execute field, just type the name of the executable for the application — again in this case it was just pidgin. You’ll have something which looks like the following:

pidgin_openbox_menu

After you’re done, be sure to either go to File > Save at the top of the screen or hit Ctrl + S on your keyboard to save the configuration. Much as was the case with Conky, you don’t need to reload Openbox. Your new menu item will automatically be displayed once you save your configuration. One really handy thing I’ve found with this is that you can easily add web pages to the menu for quick access to your favorite web apps. For example, I was able to add SkyDrive in the same way as above if I use the following in the Execute field:

x-www-browser https://skydrive.live.com/

Suffice to say, Openbox is fairly easy to tweak with a lot of granularity so that you can set it up to really meet your needs.

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CrunchBang Linux – Change System Info Font Color On Desktop

One of the nice parts about CrunchBang Linux is that it automatically throws some useful information on the desktop for you. In particular, when you first log in you’ll see two headings sitting at the right-hand side of your desktop. One is System Info and displays information such as your system’s uptime and RAM utilization. The other is Shortcut Keys, and it gives you some handy keyboard shortcuts for using Openbox.

One problem that I quickly ran into, though, was that this information, which I liked and wanted to keep on my desktop, was in a gray color that didn’t show up particularly well when I changed my wallpaper to something I liked a little more than CrunchBang’s default. To put it lightly, this wasn’t overly helpful for me:

conky_default

As was the case with changing the way time is displayed, modifying this was all about simply figuring out which application controls that particular panel and modifying its config file. In this instance, the application is Conky. You can find the config file for it at:

~/.conkyrc

If you open that in your text editor of choice, you should see an entry for the following:

default_color 656667

656667 is the hex value for the color Conky is using to display these panels. All you have to do is change this to the hex value for the color you want. I just wanted to use black, so I changed the value to:

default_color 000000

This was much better:

conky_black

Once you save your changes to .conkyrc, this panel should automatically update itself; you don’t need to reload Conky.

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