Network Explosion

Wired router spontaneously bursts into flames.

Well, that is not entirely true.  There was, in fact, not even any smoke, but one of our wired routers got extremely hot and failed in a worse way.  Instead of a spectacular failure, one that would be immediately identifiable, this router simply began dropping packets randomly, but only on certain paths and for certain protocols.  A complete reboot of the entire network (all servers and equipment) had no effect on the problem.

The way the issue manifest was by almost completely cutting off my office machines from the internet.  I was not able to fetch my email or read web pages from my systems except (annoyingly) every once in a great while when the properly routed packets aligned correctly.  However, I have a rudimentary diagnostic script (pings from a batch file) that I use to identify the source of a failure, and it registered 100% success; I was able to ping to any reasonable internet address and get a proper response.  Likewise, I was able to connect directly to the servers without any difficulty; it was only when trying to use them normally (via the internet) that I got no response.

Finding the source of failure became a bit more difficult because of the particularly aberrant behavior of this router.  The servers that reside behind that router were able to access the internet without any signs of a problem.  Complicating the matter even more was my own failure to confirm the network topography and, instead, incorrectly assuming that the wireless router (which clients had no trouble, either) went through the same router.  Since my office seemed to be the only area affected, the obvious suspect was the local switch, or else the cable (or port) connecting it to the rest of the network.  I had, in fact, already sent out for replacements when I was able to determine (with about 80% certainty) that it was actually this odd failure of the router on the main network.

Replacement router serves its purpose, barely.

As usual, the router failure came at a very inopportune time, right in the middle of a big development push.  Instead of any network reconfiguration, I made the call to simply replace like for (almost) like.  In theory, I could just drop in the new router, configure it the same as the old router, and carry on.  The problem was that the old hardware was Linksys, of pre-Cisco vintage, and the available replacement was D-Link.  Most of the settings translated fairly directly, but differences in era and manufacturer meant that it took a little extra time to find everything and figure it all out.

The biggest issue, however, is that the new router has an apparent design problem not inherent in the old Linksys.  The replacement hardware cannot properly handle loopback connections.  The link explains this in detail, but the gist of a loopback connection error is that a router sends internal packets out to the internet even if they are destined for an address the router handles.  In other words, I can reach my servers behind the router using a private address, but if I try to use the public address (say, ‘sophsoft.com’), it sends my packets to Neverneverland.

Fortunately, the problem only impacts machines behind the same router as the servers, which in practical terms means that it only affects me and my development systems.  I reconfigured a few settings here to work around the limitation in the hardware, and everything seems to be working fine.  The weird thing is that the rest of the world could reach the servers fine, but it is hard to accept that when the closest systems to them (both physically and in network terms) could not.  I was able to test from other systems and from external services.  In particular, I found SuperTool from MxToolbox particularly helpful.

In the midst of this, I also dealt with a stupidity problem with Linux, but that tale will have to wait for another day…

Community Statement

Regarding Westboro Baptist Church Protest at East Lansing High School

[The following statement was recently approved by area community and religious leaders in response to an announced protest, scheduled to take place later today, directed at ELHS students, including my son, and their teachers and parents.  It is republished here as a show of support.]

The Greater Lansing Community stands unified in opposition to the message of hate brought to our community by the Westboro Baptist Church. We know that as a community our strength lies in our diversity – religious, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, race, social, political and more. This diversity is what creates a healthy thriving community. And such communities foster and participate in a market place of ideas.

We understand that the diversity of our community also allows for a diversity of ideas and that is part of our strength.  This also means that we may not all agree on the best way to respond to WBC on Thursday.  We  ask that each participant, in planning their role in the response to WBC, consider that Westboro  is only able to fund these trips by suing the people that respond to their provocations in confrontational or violent ways. If you feel inspired to join our efforts please help the rest of us respond to their hate with more dignity than they are showing us and our youth.

We are appalled that Westboro Baptist Church has decided to direct its vitriol at the students of East Lansing High School. Their hate stands in direct opposition to the values of our community and is an attempt to unfairly bully our youth into silence.

It has been reported the Westboro Baptist Church has targeted these youth because they have done that which we encourage as a community value – they’ve engaged in the civic dialog and expressed a view with which Westboro disagrees. Instead of dialoging with the youth, and participating in the marketplace of ideas, Westboro has instead decided to attack, bully and harass our youth. We stand with our youth and applaud this engagement by them. We value participatory citizenship in which ideas are challenged through dialog over demagoguery and bullying.

Sadly, the Westboro Baptist Church protest serves to remind us that bullying is not isolated to our school hallways, but permeates our culture. We whole-heartedly reject bullying as the violence it is—to individuals, to groups and to the community.

We believe the protest by Westboro Baptist Church shows our elected officials in the legislature that it is past time for them to lead and take action against bullying.

The irony that Westboro Baptist Church has come to divide us as a community, but has instead united us is not lost on this community.

Our faith leaders and community agree that the Westboro Baptist Church does not reflect our understanding of a place of worship. Houses of worship create, build, nurture and support community. Despite our diverse views of God, we are united in our belief that God is a loving creator.

We stand in opposition to Westboro Baptist Church’s intrusion into our community. At the same time, the tapestry of our community in all of its diversity are on full display, and demonstrates why the Greater Lansing Area is an amazing community in which to live, work and play.

Supreme Arguments

Video Games have their day before the Supreme Court.

On November 2, the case of “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, et al., Petitioners v. Entertainment Merchants Association, et al.” (docket # 08-1448) was argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oral arguments began at 10:04am and lasted exactly an hour (until 11:04am).  The format was an initial argument by the petitioners (California), followed by a response from the respondents (EMA), and then a rebuttal by the petitioners.  Each side is represented by one (speaking) attorney, and the Justices interrupt them (and each other) at whim with questions and arguments.

As discussed originally in my post, Video Games facing Supreme Court review, the case concerns the law passed in California that would prohibit sales of games with “deviant violence” to anyone under 18 years of age.  The law never went into effect and was ruled unconstitutional by two lower courts before being appealed to the Supreme Court.  Hopefully, as discussed at Meaningful Play 2010, this case will put the legal question to rest once and for all and allow the industry to have an open debate.

Surprisingly, the transcript of the oral arguments in the case (PDF) is actually fairly entertaining to read.  The Justices are nowhere near as dry as one might expect, and there were moments of actual laughter.  The case is also very interesting in the fact that the normal ideological lines of conservative versus liberal seem to break down, so there are no easy predictions as to how individual Justices may vote (and Clarence Thomas did not speak at all).  In fact, press reports differ on which way the Court may be leaning.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the oral arguments in this case:

“I’m concerned about the producer of the games who has to know what he has to do in order to comply with the law.  […]  But a law that has criminal penalties has to be clear.  And how is the manufacturer to know whether a particular violent game is covered or not?” — Justice Antonin Scalia

“Well, I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.” — Justice Samuel Alito

“Would a video game that portrayed a Vulcan as opposed to a human being, being maimed and tortured, would that be covered by the act?” [answer: “No, it wouldn’t…”]  “So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person, then all they have to do is put a little artificial feature on the creature and they could sell the video game?” [answer: “Under the act, yes…”] — Justice Sonia Sotomayor

For more coverage, you can listen to the story from National Public Radio (or read the NPR transcript) or see the associated stories in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, or read the story on Kotaku for a perspective from the game media.

A ruling on the case in expected by June, 2011.

Meaningful Play 2010, Day 0

This academic games conference prepares to start.

Today is the night before Meaningful Play 2010 gets underway.  This is an academic conference about, as the tag line says, “designing and studying games that matter.”   It takes place here in East Lansing, Michigan, on the campus of Michigan State University, over the next three days.  The sessions at this conference are less about implementation details (so no SRO technical sessions with Michael Abrash or John Carmack) and more about broader issues, such as how to make games more effective as learning tools, and what makes gameplay meaningful.

The last (and first) edition of this conference was held two years ago, and you can read my detailed information on that conference in my post Meaningful Play 2008, and in the next three entries for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.  Of course, I will be attending, and reporting from, the conference again this year.  In fact, I have already attended the first associated event (and picked up my badge).

This “pre-conference talk” was Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Connected Learning and Play in a Digital Age, presented by Mimi Ito of the Humanities Research Institute, University of California, Irvine.  In her presentation, she noted and illustrated these three main conflicts between traditional methods of education and learning via new media: originality versus sharing, stock versus flow of information, and top-down versus peer-to-peer.  She discussed and defined “connected learning”, involving three main elements: being interest-driven, involving peer interaction, and tying formal and informal methods together.  As much as I sometimes feel disconnected from the current social technologies, this definition clearly put my own educational experience at the forefront of the connected learning movement.

One piece of the presentation that clearly brought home the issues being discussed was a video, A Vision of Students Today, by Michael Wesch from Kansas State University.  It is particularly noteworthy that this video was created more than 3 years ago; think about how much things have changed even since it was produced.

After the talk (which was actually open to the general public), I skipped the reception for a personal errand, but I did return to (a different location in) East Lansing in time to pick up my badge at registration.  Of course, there was also a bit of swag, too, including a very nice zippered bag with pockets, the obligatory conference t-shirt, and other goodies.  Now I ask you:  How many professional/academic conferences provide a chocolate bar in the swag bag?  Great idea.

I will admit to being pleased to know the conference organizers and have them note that they were glad to have me attend again.  Now I just need to review the schedule book, highlight the interesting sessions and workshops (possibly all of them), and decide which portable electronic device to carry with me, or whether to go “old school” and take notes with a pen and paper.

… and I need to get some sleep.

I stand with Stan

A comic book legend weighs in on video games.

As we approach the upcoming arguments before the United States Supreme Court concerning video games and the protection of free speech in this country, legendary comic creator Stan Lee has contributed some historical perspective to the issue, finding a direct parallel with attacks upon the comic book industry half a century ago.  That is why Stan Lee supports the Video Game Voters Network.

If you prefer your commentary irreverent, fast-paced, and visual (or even if not), I recommend viewing this video by Zero Punctuation (a.k.a., Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw) explaining the importance of VGVN.

Our Games.  Our Rights.

Join Now.

When I testified before the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1995 in opposition to proposed game restrictions in Michigan, one Senator (while I was still on the stand) equated the game industry with prostitution and essentially implied that I was a whore. When our government makes judgments that some expressions (such as his) are more worthy of protection than others, such as those reflected in video games (or books, movies, newspapers, etc.), they dishonor the Constitution and a fundamental principle of the United States of America.

By the way, for those who did not follow (or do not remember) the story at that time, Michigan went on to pass the legislation (which was similar to the California law currently under review), it was signed into law, and then it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court and overturned. In addition to the immense waste of time (not to mention, good will), the State of Michigan was forced to pay an extra $182,349 to game industry groups in restitution for legal fees amassed while opposing this foolhardy bill.

The big legal event is scheduled.

Of course, the really major upcoming issue is Schwarzenegger, Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants Association (#08-1448) being reviewed by the Supreme Court.  The case is on the docket and arguments are scheduled to be heard on November 2, 2010.  It is supposed to be the first case (of three) presented on that day.

Ultimately, the ruling by the Court could have a substantial impact on the game industry, either by curtailing the repeated attempts by legislators to treat games as an unprotected form of expression and erode the concept of free speech, or (if they rule incorrectly) by opening the door to many more of such restrictions, leading us to war games where soldiers bleed green and mature games being banned from sale altogether.  Fortunately, every court so far has ruled against these kinds of laws, including against this particular law twice previously.

For more information, please see my previous posting, Video Games facing Supreme Court review.

“Why does this matter?  Because if you restrict sales of video games, you’re chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech.”Stan Lee