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We have just completed a new web site for Steve Keeping at IllustratorsPlace.co.uk. The new site features a really fun Joomla CMS front-end using a funky and fun template. LightQuick will be providing the hosting and Steve's Illustrator's workshop will be providing the images.
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World of Tanks - Is The Matchmaker Rigged? PDF Print
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So to answer that question, World of Tanks - is the matchmaker rigged? Well, I can't answer that question as I have no access to Wargaming.net's code that defines what the MatchMaker does and how it does it. There is no published and impartial definition of what the MatchMaker is actually doing. Wargaming has given out ideas as to how it operates (RNG, random) but if you've played the game for several thousand games (and you are an observant person) it should start to become clear as to how the matchmaker achieves its aims.

join-the-tank-corps-128.png I maintain that the Matchmaker is consistent. It consistently controls your win rate by the simple expedient of dropping you into games with more noobs (noob = new player), placing your tank in a non-preferential side of the map or alternatively by placing your tank in a game with more highly skilled opponents. This is all conjecture until you use one or more of the statistical analysis sites that have sprung up with World of Tanks that have access to WoT's historical data. These sites allow you to view graphs based upon various performance metrics and it will soon become apparent that your win rate is controlled.

Who am I to propose this analysis of World of Tanks? I am neither a noob or a unicum (expert player). I have played 12,000 or so battles in exclusively low tier (sub tier 6) light and heavy tanks. Unlike most WoT players I play one type of tank consistently, I don't jump from nation to nation, tank to tank and I do not play the best, most highly successful tanks. My overall win rate is 55.5% and climbing (over time) consistently but slowly. My win rate fluctuates from 65-70% to 45%.  I play WoT on an 6 year old laptop with a 2.5ghz core2duo cpu and an Nvida 8400m GPU. It maintains a frame rate of 19fps so it should be clear that I have limitations imposed upon me by playing on hardware that is far from being optimised. I am not a dedicated gamer but I enjoy playing WoT.

My analysis must be taken in this context.

-oOo-

Win Rate:

The first time you will start to ask yourself questions as to whether the MM is rigged is when you find yourself playing losing battles for extended periods of time - ask yourself these additional questions:

o  Why do you  lose consistently (for hundreds of games) at a rate that is the inverse of your previous winning rate (eg. 40%  vs 60%)
o  Why does this occur when you reach a win rate of 55% or some other arbitrary limit?
o  Why does win rate suppression stop suddenly and subsequently improve meteorically at 66% WR for an equal period?
o  Why are so many players experiencing this?
o  Why does this up/down oscillation in win rate occur against a measurable background using other metrics that improve gradually over time?
o  Why does Wargaming have a patent that describes exactly these sort of methods for "putting down" players that reach a pre-determined level of win rate?

If these questions seem familiar to your experience of playing the game then this articles serves the purpose of stating for the record what many have experienced.

-oOo-

My analysis:

For my analysis I used the website noobmeter.com to view the data provided by Wargaming.net. I played the British Cruiser MKIII and MkIV tanks consistently for approx 1,000 games each (I believe that playing lots of tanks of different types/nationalities as most people do, obscures the cycling effect from showing on a personal win rate graph). I switched between the two tanks almost consistently, when it seemed that my win rate was being suppressed I then abandoned one tank and switched to another to see if it would occur there too. I did this analysis specifically to see if these cycles of win/loss were consistent and were caused by something within or without of my control. When the downturn occurred I tried beating it with all the tricks at my disposal, using premium rounds and doing all I could to optimise my game play.

I chose low tier as I should be able to make a much bigger influence on the outcome given that my three skill crews in a couple of brawler tanks should be able to consistently cause more wins. It isn't what I found.

Regardless of any improvement in my own play (or changing between these two tanks)  I found I was bouncing between two win rate thresholds, the upper limit that I battled to break was 55.10%. I would be playing consistently at a current 65% WR for several hundred games and then as soon as the upper threshold was reached the suppression of my win rate would start. The drop in win rate could not be stopped, better gameplay on my part would simply slow or extend the drop for hundreds of games until the lower threshold was reached. During the period of downturn it seemed as if the majority of the teams were consistently a majority of losing teams. On the upward swing the opposite, all winning teams seemed to be on my side providing a consistent WR of 65%.

I could not account for this behaviour in my own mood swings, skill levels &c as my Win8/7 ratings all climbed consistently during the same period. It was only the win rate that swung wildly.

Result: My analysis of playing WoT in version 0.8.5 - 0.8.11 seemed to confirm that the MM has an arbitrary win 'limit' set in % that seems to be defined by tier or type of tank.  My win rate turned out to be 55.10%. When I reached that limit all subsequent teams were  losses until a lower threshold was reached. This caused a cycling effect of wins followed by losses. The aim seems to be to keep a player within a narrow win-ratio band.

Now imagine that my chosen tank(s) will  have lost consistently for eight hundred games in a row achieving a win rate of only 45% - As I am only one player in a team of fifteen I assumed that I personally cannot have had that much effect on the overall win rate of my teams, if I had been playing consistently badly I could have contributed to the loss of one or two games perhaps but not consistently for hundreds of games, my ego isn't that big - I am not that important in the scheme of things. To lose so consistently I have to assume it must be an external influence on the teams I have participated in.

My performance measured by win rate

Fig 1. The graph above showing the cycling effect on win rate.

See the massive troughs of thousands of games losing/winning, losing at 40% and winning at 60%. Statistically it does not make sense that I could lose consistently like that as my gameplay and style simply does not change. Since the final flattening out of the data (from 8,100 games onward - not visible on the graph) the changes have been:

1. I have added some mid-tier tanks to the list in my garage.
2. WoT 0.9 has been released.

In the next graph (not yet shown) you will note a change in the periodicity of the cycles at the point at which the 0.9.0 patch was released. Either of the above two changes could have had the effect of removing the pronounced 'cycling' previously experienced. What seems to be the case is that since 0.9 the upper threshold seemed marginally higher but once the upper threshold was reached gameplay became distinctly harder and losing teams were more regularly encountered just as in 0.8.nn.

Note:- In the graph above the peaks and troughs were originally much sharper and more defined. WoT has a habit of modifying the historical data, removing the peaks and troughs and smoothing out the graphs. If you analyse the same data from WoT in noobmeter today the peak that occurred at 4,400 games has been completely removed from the data... which makes no sense. The peak did occur and the only way to know it has occurred is for myself to retain the data or the graph for later analysis. I have maintained my own copies of the graph since I noted this medium-term smoothing of the data.

Look at the graphs in the two examples above and below, see the dramatic fall at approximately 4,400 battles, in the later version below that whole cycle has simply been removed.

Other Metrics

The analysis of win rate does not take into account other metrics that also indicate performance independently. WoT has a performance rating that is calculated according to an algorithm owned by Wargaming.net. Two independent metrics are also maintained that supposedly give a more accurate estimate of your performance, they are WN7 and WN8, the latter being the most up to date. 

My supposition is that if my win rate is controlled solely by my ability to play well within the game, then my other performance metrics (average damage, no of kills, experience &c) should all fluctuate in synchronisation with the cycling win rate. However, this does not occur showing the cycling is clearly artificial. My performance as measured by all metrics including WIN7/8 are consistently climbing despite all the win rate peaks and troughs. In fact my win rate consistently rose and rose until it reached 55.1% - then simply stopped climbing and stayed just below 55.1% cycling up and down. That isn't statistically possible if the MM is even-handed. It can only be achieved by the match maker putting me against tougher opponents or simply put, dropping me into loser teams or manipulating the outcome of the battle in some other way.

 My performance measured by other metrics

Fig 2. The other performance metrics showing a steady climb.

On average the win rate graph does show an average climb (the blue line on the win rate graph) that equates well to the other metrics showing that overall my win rate is improving consistently and inline with expectations. The trouble is the massive cycles up and down just should NOT be present unless they are artificially induced by the matchmaker. Remember, some of those troughs are six or seven hundred games long, that is far too long to play consistently losing matches. Conversely, in the upward climbs it seems as if I am playing like a 'god' with a 65-70% win rate, both are unbelievable.

This cycling only seems to show its head when you play one or two tanks consistently. With all statistical cycles if you have multiple sources it tends to flatten out to a curve when all the cycles they are all combined - as they occur at a different frequency. IF you want to replicate this, simply play two tanks of the same type consistently for thousands of games, the cycling effect will then show.

Wargaming's Intellectual Property.

Just as a reminder to all who see this thread, here's Wargaming's patent on the MatchMaker and how it operates, supporting observed behaviour:

"According to another aspect, the matchmaking server may store a win/loss percentage for each user (or vehicle) at a given battle level. As the player's win/loss ratio decreases, the player becomes more likely to be placed in battles having battle levels at the lower end of the allowable range, whereas as the player's win/loss ration increases, the player becomes more likely to be placed in battles having battle levels at the upper end of the allowable range. Thus, when a player has been repeatedly put into too many difficult battles, the balancing is done in favor of easier battle sessions, thereby encouraging the player by providing an easier game environment. Similarly, when the player has been repeatedly put into too many easy battles, the balancing is done in favor of harder battle sessions, thereby keeping the player challenged instead of letting the player become bored with easy games."

Link here: http://www.google.co...ved=0CDQQ6AEwAA

Note: You only patent your most precious intellectual resources. The work to patent something is not inconsiderable. Why does the patent match real-life observation? Well, I would suggest that it's in use - otherwise why bother to patent it?

tank.pngIf you mention any of this on the World of Tank's forums you will receive a lot of counter feedback, some of it rude and some of it very persistent. It seems that there are some that appear on every discussion of the matchmaker putting down any possibility that the matchmaker is 'rigged' in any sort of way. They appear to want to suppress discussion on the matter. Other posters on the forum have suggested that they are 'shills ' whose role it is to provide disinformation and to rubbish other's suggestions as to the extent of the rigging of the Matchmaker. I won't comment except to say that it does seem strange that they appear on every such thread where the Matchmaker is mentioned.

CONFIRMATION:

Confirmation that this cycling is artificially induced and is not attributable to your own state of mind, poor mental health or environmental factors (!) can be found by taking the following actions:

o Leaving the game unplayed for a period of at least two months
o Logging onto an alternative server, EU, SEA &c.

If you leave the game entirely and stop playing for three months, when you return you will find that the MM has forgotten about you, the suppression of your win rate has been curtailed and that your win rate will be back to the levels that is was pre-suppression. This indicates that the MM looks at your win rate values over a period of time to determine whether to suppress you or leave you alone. If the current win rates are low or non-existent then matchmaking is back to 'normal' or preferential. When your win rate rises consistently and surpasses the threshold then it switches the suppression back on.

When you log into another server (EU, SEA) you may find that your win rates are similar to what they were prior to the suppression. Give it a go and see if it helps and report back here please. I need to do more statistical analysis here to state that this latter course of action definitely works. It would not be hard for Wargaming to suppress win rate by IP address rather than by user account to prevent people from doing precisely this but regardless I need to test further.

CONCLUSION:

Looking at the extreme cycles that could be found in 0.8.nn. It seems obvious that the MM can only achieve this perceived threshold win rate throttling by placing artificial limitations upon a player. IF you agree that this is being done then you must ask yourself why do they do it? Well, one answer might be that Wargaming.net is a commercial organisation and it can make money by giving you the incentive to play using a premium, paid account or by using enhanced resources bought using real cash (in-game gold). I believe this win rate threshold limit is designed to encourage you to do exactly that.

Why is this important? It is important because it is a game that is designed to draw players in, it entices you to pay money to perform better, ie Wargaming.net's profits are tied to your ability/inability to win. The more you lose the more you will want to tip the balance in your favour by paying money for premium shells and accounts in the hope that you may find your win rate improves. That is their idea. It affects you as it extracts real cash from the wallet of many an unsuspecting player in the most devious manner - by manipulation.

What it has told me is that the only way to win at WoT is to follow the grind to the upper tanks. You can't build up your skill level at tiers 1-6 and expect to win more and more as you improve and become more efficient. At some point you will simply stop winning and find yourself on massive artificial losing streaks due to crumbling teams.

Once you know this is in place you can relax and enjoy the game, play to have fun but whatever you do don't follow win ratios. For me, it leads to some disenchantment, I know that other seasoned players are also disillusioned and look around hoping to find some reason to continue playing but not finding any. There are few alternatives, one was War Thunder another was Project Tank. The latter was quashed by Wargaming for being an intellectual copyright theft of World of Tanks. The former shows promise but it uses more GPU resources and so is unplayable on some lower performance laptops.

I hope this helps in what you are about to do in your search for a good unbiased tank game! Play on, play the game! (or not).

What did I do? - when I finally realised how rigged the game is I uninstalled the game, removed my account and started doing other things!

 

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 06 October 2014 )
 
Under the Iron Sky PDF Print
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If you are even slightly into the genre known as Steampunk then Iron Sky is definitely a film for you. This video has almost everything you need, steampunk, almost gothic technology, airships in space, Nazis in full uniform being very very nasty, hauntingly beautiful music. What's not to like?


Well, up to two minutes the song from the original Iron Sky film teaser is both haunting and beautiful, hinting at more deep and meaningful music yet to come. However, I was deeply disappointed in the unoriginality of the remaining three and a half minutes, merely a repetition of the main theme and discordant notes to deliberately alienate and disturb the listener. I had hoped for new music, a more lyrical theme with perhaps an occasional repetition of the first two minutes as some sort of chorus. An exploration of the original theme perhaps but what we finally received was a sort of padding-out to fill a five minute track. I really still do like the first two minutes but the rest... not really worth listening to. Disappointing.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 September 2014 )
 
The Thunderchild prior to battle. PDF Print
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Some more War of the worlds imagery, a render that was not shown here before: The Thunderchild prior to battle. Complete with music. Officionados of Jeff Wayne's War of the worlds music will appreciate this.

I don't think I ever managed to post this version here before, a reinterpretation of HG Wells/Jeff Wayne's thunderchild. Just a render of a scene with some animation tools used to make the scene come to life. No real animation yet of the Tripods nor the ship but some nicely performed music added to give the scene some depth and emotional appeal.

An image will do as a taster:

thunderchild-600.jpg

The video was a germ of an idea, a low res short period-shot movie based on 2D and 3D models. Note the low quality period-film effect is deliberate, there are a few errors, long range smoke visibility and the prow of the steam packet but please ignore these.

We were originally thinking about a kickstarter to get it off the ground. A very short film sequence, a couple of minutes long, Pathe-news style, sound effects, moody music, somewhat similar to the more moody bits in this Jeff Wayne reinterpretation. What do you think?

Whether or not it will develop is all down to time (and money) It is quite difficult to make progress on a project unofficially unless it is all done by one man and that simply takes a lot of time. If it was real project with defined goals, cash to spend &c it could be done relatively much quicker.

The idea was that it would start on a sailor's desktop with orders requiring his immediate return to ship for sailing, the scene would then zoom into the photo on the desktop and then it would come alive and open to the scene of the Thunderchild in action against the Martians.



The date was to be 1921-25, the time of the second Martian invasion where they come equipped with the same technology (realising the overwhelming superiority of their machinery) but fitted with bacteriological filters allowing them to survive in Earth's germ-laden atmosphere. This time they come in fewer numbers having almost exhausted their resources in the first invasion and of course, this time the human defences are better-prepared. In this timeline we get to see Thunderchild II in action. Anyhow, that was the vague idea.

We also had an idea of an old stamp album showing this stamp with the following description:

"This is a stamp created by Eric Gill in 1924 for the British Empire Exhibition with the emergency overprint "under martian rule" for a set of stamps which were produced in that portion of the British Isles still allowed to function - whilst operating under the yoke of the Martian Empire subsequent to the second Martian invasion in 1925.

Not many items survive from this period and this is reflected in the condition of the stamp. The bottom right hand corner is severely burnt as the stamp was recovered from the remains of Plymouth Post Office destroyed during the battle for the Tamar Bridge at Saltash. Approximate value £26 guineas."


Last Updated ( Saturday, 11 October 2014 )
 
Joomla 1.0 should be re-released as Joomla Lite PDF Print
(3 votes)

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I have been watching the progression of Joomla for years now and I am of the firm opinion that there is room for a CMS that Joomla used to be. I mean, of course, Joomla 1.0. A pretty, good-looking, easy to use, straightforward CMS with no frills, none of the later features that grown-up Joomla has today. Most of the core hacks have been discovered and locked-down. There are still a lot of extensions available that need no re-engineering to function.

It could suit the purpose well. It would have no overlap with the core mainstream Joomla, so no disturbance or friction would be caused between the two. JoomlaLite might require minimal development and simply just maintenance. It could become the feeder project to its bigger brother. As people require more functionality then they simply migrate upward.

Mambo and Joomla 1.0 were both good CMS and as simple website-building tools they are still unmatched. I recently visited a few of my old websites (totally secure and hosted under PHP 5.3) and was amazed at the speed and functionality of the things. The back end flies in comparison to the current Joomla offerings, the front end is practically instant, with no cacheing. All the tools work beautifully.

Big grown up Joomla is not a tool I would use now for small sites nor for bigger ecommerce sites. I would use a blogging tool or any smaller lightweight alternative for a simple site. For an ecommerce site the combination of VM and Joomla 3.0 is too risky due to potential unscalability and the slow running of Joomla. My experience of the new Joomla back end has been unsatisfactory (slow and weird-looking). For ecommerce Magento or OScommerce would be my target of choice.

Do you remember those days when you had a fairly simple shopping cart in a fairly simple CMS? It all ran quick and was easy to knock them out? I want something like that.

Resurrect Joomla 1.0, give it to a smaller team with a mandate to maintain, only develop within strict defined boundaries to avoid duplication of effort and competition (tools only) and call it JoomlaLite.

I know that others have tried and failed/succeeded in making a Joomal 1.0 clone (Joostina and Elxis) but that was due to them taking the wrong path (Russian language CMS rather than an International CMS) but the work they did on the improved tools proved that it can be done and their best work is available to port back. They also didn't have the Joomla name, a guarantee to success for a 'lite' version of Joomla.
 
The new Steampunk Orrery MkII PDF Print
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At last I've managed to get the steampunk orrery into a reasonable shape, good enough to release in any case. The memo taker which worked in the old version does not work in this one, it is still waiting for me to finish re-skinning that part of it. However, the animation and the general 'prettiness' of the thing have been enhanced somewhat to match the functionality that you will see  in this video :

 

This is the orrery plasmoid - The functionality isn't quite the same but it pretty much brings it up to scratch and it is now on par with the plasmoid. I will post a new video soon, same music but showing the enhance functionality in the yahoo/konfabulator version of this widget.

You need to have all three widgets installed:

1. The Steampunk Orrery Widget
2. The Steampunk Moon Phase III Widget
3. The Steampunk Underwidget

If you install all three of these they will work together and will allow you to look at the moon phases in an animated fashion, good grief the thing is actually useful! The Moon widget will automatically position itself on top of the orrery widget when it is called into operation. The Underwidget needs to be layered underneath the Orrery and then the Orrery's glass panel needs to be made translucent using the opacity slider.  You'll then be able to see the underwidget showing through the glass.

Please try them out and test them and if you have any problems do let me know. If you like them all working together do also let me know as this stuff has taken a long while to do. I've taught myself a lot in the process and I do love designing these steampunk thingummybobs.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 July 2014 )
 
New idea for a widget in place and ready to go PDF Print
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My collaborator, Harry Whitfield is like a Victorian steam-powered brass coding engine, you only have to feed him a good idea and a method of doing it then all of a sudden he's done it. The result is compact, perfectly ordered and logical code, beautifully done, no spaghetti, all created with years of experience and wisdom.

I had a simple magnifier widget that did nothing at all. I was disappointed with it as I could find no function for it other than to run a command to initiate a utility of some sort, a simple launcher, a big icon as it were. When I created the magnifying glass image I had intended to add code that would allow the widget to identify what was beneath it and give an enlarged version just as a real magnifying glass would do. However the widget engine does not give the widget the power to identify what is beneath it, it does not interact with the windows desktop in any way so that idea was gone. We cannot magnify the Windows desktop.

Another thought was to magnify the other widgets in the Konfabulator engine, However, the widget engine does not give the widget the power to identify any other widget above or below it so it cannot interact with or magnify any other widget in a graphical sense. There is some inter-widget communication allowed but it would not be fast enough to allow real-time magnification of another widget, it would also be horrendously complicated, so, that idea was gone too.

I sat on the idea and deliberated with Harry and he confirmed all the above, in fact he confirmed it several times but the idea would not leave my head. The magnifying glass sat there on my desk saying "use me, use me! but only for magnification purposes..." and I absorbed what it was saying but unable to do anything about it. It also said "Twiddle the basset pipes" - but I ignored that as it was rubbish.

So, the day before yesterday, a germ of a thought grew into an actual idea as to how to overcome this problem and then I had it. It could be done. Simply put, if the magnifying glass and the image it needs to magnify, sit within the same widget, they can find information about themselves, size, position &c and the therefore the magnification can be achieved. All that needs to be done is to drop an image into a window and then the magnifier can interact with it as they are all within the same widget.

This was the idea, I put it to Harry and a day later the widget was designed and coded and released for testing. Crikey he's fast. Using the graphics from my widget and the code from one of his previous image display widgets he banged in his new code and hey presto! we have a lightbox into which we can drag/drop any image. The magnifying glass is slidable and moves around the image by dragging the handle. The glass lens magnifies the image underneath! It is done, it works.

desktop-magnified-650.jpg


Testing it now. Adding some steampunk controls and completing the functionality. We have a new widget.

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 July 2014 )
 
New Steampunk Orrery Timekeeper Widget PDF Print
(4 votes)

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It is ready, I have coded it and I'm currently testing it on Vista, then Mac OS/X, then I will release it here and a few other places... if you have any suggestions as to good places to submit widgets and the like, to increase its profile, then I'd appreciate the suggestions. You lot always seem to know a thing or two.

new version here The new widget works in all respects except for the memo taker which, well frankly, doesn't work yet. It will do in the end but at the moment the memo taker is secondary functionality to me as the orrery is all about "steampunk eye candy". That means everything works, rotates, whistles, thumps, jangles and creaks &c. I think that the visual improvements are what it needed, the enhanced animation suits the style of the thing and it now has a real use beyond the note taker.

It now acts as a moon phase calculator for those of us who like to know the phases of the moon (werewolves, astrologers, astronomers, abducting aliens and the like). All that needs to be done is to set the date using the date ring and click on the moon. The moon phase will be viewable to the hour and it is quite accurate too.

The new orrery uses two additional widgets to provide 'extra' functionality. It uses an under-widget to provide some background cogs visible through the now semi-opaque glass. The second is the moon phase widget originally created by Mark Crossley and steampunked/amended by me.

I'll test the three new widgets on Vista (NT6) and Mac OS/X and then I'll submit it here. The memo taker changes will come a little later. Frankly, I've been working on this long enough now and if I continued to be a complete perfectionist the release might take months more.

If anyone wants the new graphics for their own version of the orrery (rainmeter &c) I'd be happy to provide.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 July 2014 )
 
How to secure windows XP for the future PDF Print
(2 votes)

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If you are running Windows XP for any reason then please don't be shy - just let us know here. It could be on a secondary machine or as your main machine. Please tell us what you plan to do to secure that system for the future.

The reason being that I will post here the tasks that I intend to perform to secure any XP systems that I run and I'd be happy to post your own suggestions here too and create an 'Deviant XP protection blog' that will be useful in the war against malware and the nastiness that is out there. Excuse any typos.

2nd-tabulator.pngI'll start listing the software that I run to secure that XP system and the mindset that you need to continue to successfully run an operating system like XP. I'll also add some facts/opinions as to why running an 'older' o/s might be a good or bad idea with regard to security or functionality. We won't be arguing as to why you should run this o/s or that, all are useful in some regard. This is meant to be a helpful post for XP users rather than being a rant as to why you should run 'this' rather than 'that'.

If this might be useful to you then please feel free to comment, if you just want to add your penn'orth then please do. If you just want to repeat what you've said elsewhere then please do too! Your opinions are sought and I will personally find them useful and interesting. They may well be good grist to the mill in this continuing battle against the barstewards that daily try to infect our systems.

-oOo-

Access to the internet - PULL the internet cable - No seriously, the first thing to do is to determine whether you need to be connected to the internet. If you don't then life is a lot more simple for you. You can run without the daily/weekly/continuous testing for malware and only need to perform any security checks around the time when you are installing new software or letting anyone near the system with a USB stick, SD card, CD or floppy. If you can transfer your browsing habits onto a cheap tablet device then you are 80% of your way into securing your XP system. This latter point is a really important recommendation and I strongly suggest a table for any potentially 'dodgy' browsing. The majority of vulnerabilities are from remote attackers that require access to your machine, if you don't have a server then you don't need to give them access. Just enable/disable the network as required and keep it disabled by default.
-oOo-

Internet Explorer - If you are committed to the internet then an obvious improvement to security is to simply NEVER use Internet Explorer except for when you are visiting the Microsoft Windows Update site. IE in any form is a route directly into the operating system. IE is integrated into the core of Windows and as a result the o/s is even more susceptible to IE hacks. IE has proven itself to be Internet Explorerthe most insecure of the major browsers and a major target for hackers to infect your PC. Run Firefox as your default browser as all the tools exist to secure, monitor and analyse the sites you are visiting. Chrome is an decent browser but I avoid it as it reports back all your browsing habits to Google.

IE has so many vulnerabilities that you really should NOT use it all but if you do have to use it from time to time one thing you can do is to  fix a vulnerability in an unused bit of IE functionality - VML (vector markup language. The commands to do so are executed in a CMD window (DOS box)

32-bit systems only require the first command. But since 64-bit systems have both a 32-bit and 64-bit version of the vulnerable file, both commands must be used with them:

regsvr32 -u "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll"
regsvr32 -u "%CommonProgramFiles(x86)%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll


-oOo-

Recommended Software - to run to secure your XP system:

These are all streamlined services that run with the minimum of intrusion. Unlike some security solutions (Norton, Mcafee) that slow your system drastically. The following are tried and tested solutions to help you keep your system safe.

1. Sygate Personal Firewall download: http://www.tucows.com/preview/213160
2. Malwarebytes anti-malware download: http://www.malwarebytes.org/mwb-download/
3. Clamwin Anti-virus download: http://www.clamwin.com/content/view/18/46/
4. Adblock Plus for Firefox download: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/adblock-plus/
5. Noscript for Firefox download https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/noscript/
6. Device Doctor http://devicedoctor.com/
7. Avast antivirus http://www.avast.com/en-gb/index



firewall.pngSome words on the above: Sygate is supposedly obsolete software but it does the job on XP. It is stll a good firewall with a useful interface and it works. All firewalls needs to be trained to block/allow apps that you want to be enabled to access the internet. The efficacy of all firewalls are down to you and how you train the one you have installed.

Malwarebytes sits in the background and just runs. The free version must be run manually to provide protection, the paid-for version starts automatically. A scan significantly slows the system during the duration of the scan.

Clamwin needs to be scheduled to run at a frequency that is suitable to you, a scan slows the system during the duration of the scan. It also needs to be enabled to scan your browser downloads as they occur.

Adblock will block malicious pop-up ads and noscript is another Firefox plugin that should prevent malicious scripts from affecting your system. Noscript is a bit harsh though and needs to be trained to block/allow certain sites from running any scripts at all. Initially, it may stop the prettier sites from displaying correctly but it will protect you though, a confirmation being required to run any scripts that exist on the page.

In addition to this you may need a general purpose anti-virus tool such as Avast. It will provide you with extra protection but it will slightly slow down your browsing, watching online videos &c. It is easy to switch on and off again.

-oOo-

Children - One important way of securing an XP system is to let your children NOWHERE near your desktop/laptop. Children are trojans that malware writers need to have in place in order to infect your PC. Children are intelligent bypassers of security that will take any chance to play any game that takes their fancy even if infected. If they can't read then all the better for the malware writers as it means they will bypass messages and install anyway! Keep your kiddies away. Give them a tablet instead.

-oOo-

General software  - Remove Dodgy software you already have on your system.  Many pieces of software act as trojans for hackers. Filezilla has unencrypted passwords in plain text and should NEVER be installed on a Windows system. Successful hackers check first of all whether programs such as Filezilla are installed, they home in on the plain text password file and steal all your site passwords in seconds. Solution - Uninstall Filezilla now!

It is really difficult to determine whether you have any other software that acts like this, vigilance and research is the only method of finding out whether you have crapware installed on your system. No a/v tool will single out Filezilla as a vulnerability but a large number of sites that are hacked have their passwords stolen through Filezilla.

-oOo-

Crapware - Remove anti-virus tools like Norton and Mcafee as they can be said to act like viruses themselves. They slow down your whole system, interfere with the core running of the o/s, slowing browsing and other operations right down, they can cause some functionality to simply stop working, are really difficult to remove and they nag you into continuously sending more money for updates... all this sounds like a virus. I prefer anti-malware tools that run at intervals and are controllable by the user, those that are recommended by a majority of users, those that run without crippling your system and nagging you for money.

Removing them will speed up your XP system considerably and as long as you replace them with the tools listed above you should be just as safe.

-oOo-

Password security - is a trouble to everyone and difficult to implement. The method I am going to suggest is reasonably secure, not impenetrable but an certainly an improvement on most people's complete lack of security. The idea is to increase the security of your passwords and then move your password storage to a secure location. The first step is to use secure passwords of the form "hk:FHK%@_$%67".

antiquesafe01.pngPassword generators are available to create these for you automatically. This form of password is much more secure than the usual "porsche71" and "pussycat" style passwords that most people use. Very hard to crack and impossible to remember, the only practical way of using these passwords is to let the computer manage them.

So, I let firefox remember all my passwords. In tools - options - security there is an option for "remember passwords for sites" - enable it. Then enable "use a master password". Firefox then stores all the passwords in a master password file which is encrypted to prevent access from anyone who does not know your  master password.  So, now all your sites can be secured by a complex password and you only have to remember ONE password. That's a lot easier.

Obviously, you must NEVER forget your master password. Firefox uses TripleDES as its encryption algorithm and is very hard to crack but the strength of encryption is entirely dependant upon the strength of the Master Password you choose. Something like "Tantivy_1357:-)" is a secure password - it mixes uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and characters and would be hard to guess. The word and numbers can be devised from things that are important to you. In the above case Tantivy is the name of a cottage and the number is the date it was built. The two are separated by an underscore and followed by a smile :). That is a secure and memorable password. (Note that DA converts the combination of the : and the ) into an emoticon here whether I like if or not.)

The following Firefox plugins are installed to supplement the password functionality:

Saved password Editor here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/saved-password-editor/
Startup Master here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/startupmaster/
Password Generator here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/secure-password-generator/

The password editor allows you to view all of your stored password so that you have access to all your centrally stored passwords - just in case you need to confirm or renew your memory.

The Startup Master requires the master password to be typed in only once and only at browser startup. Much more convenient.

The password generator is essential to generate secure passwords in the first place. Use it and Firefox's in built password memory to ensure that your passwords are all  made up of unintelligble alphanumeric character combinations.

There are other even more secure password options such as KeepPass. I'm not a user of KeepPass yet so I can't offer advice here other than to say it is an even more secure option.

-oOo-

Synchronising Tablets - The next step does not directly concern XP but is related to the extension of your system's security features to your tablet.  Don't synch. your browser passwords from your XP system to your tablet. The browser synching feature is incredibly convenient but as soon as you synchronise your secure passwords to a mobile device you are potentially distributing them to the outside world. Very few tablets are secured typewriter-with-screen2.pngsufficiently, the tools simply don't exist in the same number and quality as they do on the Windows platform. Android devices are inherently vulnerable to hacks and of course all tablet devices will at some time be dropped, lost, thrown away or stolen during their lifetimes. Once again, if you want to stay secure, don't synch. passwords to your tablet device. Use the tablet for casual browsing, porn &c but don't use it for serious work. Sounds counter intuitive doesn't it? The trouble is convenience does not often match well with security. If you have to use one of these devices ensure your android or ipad is fully encrypted and secured with a master password.

 

 

-oOo-

Yearly or Six-Monthly Backups - The correct mindset is an important condition in maintaining an older o/s. Time to take things seriously.

disc-read-icon.pngFirst of all, secure the system through backups. This means a full o/s backup followed by multiple backups of your data, whatever it is. A full system backup is best taken disc by disc as disc storage is as cheap as chips at the moment and getting cheaper and cheaper. Every few months I backup the boot drive, the windows o/s. I do this by buying a new drive every six months, each slightly faster or slightly bigger in capacity than the previous model. Therefore each backup is also an upgrade (this gives me an incentive to do the backup too). My laptop has two drive bays (the reason I bought it) and this means I can perform a disc duplication by simply plugging in the new drive and using some disc duplication software to transfer the whole contents of the old drive to the new. My first boot drive was 160gb 5400rpm unit, the current drive is a hybrid 7200 rpm model with 500gb and 8gb flash SSD memory. It runs 5-10 times faster than the original device. The old drive is simply taken out of the machine and placed on a shelf somewhere very safe.  It then acts as a backup for my newer device, all the data therein is safe and can be placed back into my machine at any time as a direct bootable replacement. The important thing is that you never use that drive. It seems terrible to take a recent-ish technology drive and not use it but you MUST resist the temptation. As a newish and relatively unused drive it will store the data safely for months and possibly years.

If your system drive ever crashes you will have a bootable drive ready to go with your whole o/s and software already installed. If you keep a note of the software you have installed over the last six months it will be easy to bring the disc up to speed.

My data drive is a separate disc and is backed up the same way. My data drive started its life as a partition on the bootable disc and has now migrated to a separate hybrid drive of 1tb with 8gb RAM SSD. Each backup has meant the drive has improved in storage and speed. The price of a 1TB hybrid drive with 8gb SSD is now approx. £50 - that is £2 per week for a solid backup per disc.

The above approach is simple and makes running of an XP system easy to achieve, regardless of any threat that might be encountered, if you can restore the system easily then you are basically secure.

-oOo-

Daily, weekly and monthly backups - can be easily taken by purchasing USB RAM sticks of an appropriate size - they don't need to be big, 1-4gb may well do. Just name them: Mon, Tues, Wednes &c, Week 1, Week 2 &c, month 1,  month 2 &c. You'll need 18 in all, put a ring in each and hang them from hooks somewhere in your home. Backup all your personal data to your USB sticks. Use them on the correct day and only re-use them when that day re-occurs again.

-oOo-

photoshop.pngPhotos seem to take the majority of space on a user's disc these days, raw data photographs being anything up to 30-40mb in size, each. Cameras these days can take hundreds of images and there is a need to store and backup them all. The cost of backing up all these images can be prohibitive as a good and solid family album can easily use up 100gb of disc space. There are on-line solutions for backups but they are expensive, year on year and the transfer time can be very, very long. Discs have an MTBF (mean time between failure) measured in only thousands of hours, this means your family album will be completely lost every two/three years if you continue to store them on disc. There is a really simple solution that has been available for a hundred years, that is the traditional photo album. Filter all your photos and get the most important photos printed immediately. Don't print them on your own laserjet or on a poor quality book - However you choose to get them printed do insist on 100 year ink and 100 year paper, otherwise your images will decay in just a few years.

You wouldn't believe the number of heartbroken parents that have come to me asking to recover their lost photos from the last 4/5 years. To get a specialist to even look at recovering a severely damaged hard disc costs £400-£500, the recovery of those photos can cost the same again. An old-style photo album costs nothing to store and is proven to last at least a hundred years. No technology required and a hell of a lot cheaper.

The above approach to photos simplifies backup of an XP system enormously when you don't have to worry about the majority of the data.

-oOo-

Driver updates - Basically, keep your hardware drivers up to date. Some device drivers have vulnerabilities in older versions and you need to be sure you have the best and most secure version. Driver Doctor is a great tool for determining the latest version of driver for your system. Beware though - your laptop/desktop might have specific needs for particular drivers and the latest may not always work for you. In particular take great care when upgrading your graphic card drivers. Nvidia GPUs have been known to require older drivers and you may lose the ability to use your graphic display... keep the old drivers available just in case and upgrade selectively. The word here is RESEARCH. Don't just upgrade derivers until you have checked on the internet what the result is likely to be.

-oOo-

General software  - more information coming here shortly about tools used to identify old versions of software.

-oOo- 

Accessing the internet from a sandbox - information coming here shortlyabout running internet based browser apps in sandbox.

-oOo- 

Running using a non-administrator account - information coming here shortly on running more securely.

-oOo- 

Conclusion - No security is impenetrable but we are simply adding layer upon layer of improved security that will make it really difficult for any hacker to exploit us. When it becomes too difficult to hack your system, all but the most determined of hackers will simply give up. Remember not to be too paranoid, you and I are not the most important people in the world and so hackers won't spend all their time trying to hack us... we just need to make it difficult for them, to be secure, closing the doors whilst we are out, securing the windows and bricking up any holes in the walls.


Follow the procedures set out above and your XP system should be much more secure for the future.

 

 

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 30 September 2014 )
 
ReactOS Thorium - a kickstarter project to fund ReactOS PDF Print
(2 votes)

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It is URGENT - Reactos needs your pledge now - The only real alternative to the Windows operating system has a kickstarter project goal of $120,000 in donations that it needs to reach by Friday 21st Feb 2014. So far $11,000 dollars pledged and the kickstarter has only just started.

The idea is to raise enough money to allow development of Reactos as the force behind an iCloud solution for all our desktop and mobile needs. In short, your Windows desktop environment would sit on the internet running on ReactOS instead of locally on your old Windows PC. Your desktop would look like Windows, run like Windows, it would run all your Windows applications and it would be accessible on any device you choose. All your data and your operating system would sit on the net. This online project is known as 'Thorium'. The ReactOS team are going to develop this combined operating system and icloud solution and will need your donation to complete their goal.

 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thorium/thorium-core-cloud-desktop The ReactOS operating system is already in an alpha stage, it boots in seconds, runs and looks just like Windows, it runs Windows applications. Work is required to complete the memory manager, provide device and support for alternative file systems, in short, to finish the thing off.

The remote access to ReactOS also needs to be built in order to complete Thorium but the end result will be an open source Windows compatible operating system that is completely free for you to install on any device that currently runs Windows.

Why is this good? Well, Windows costs actual real money, every desktop or laptop PC that you buy costs an extra $50 because it has copy of OEM Windows on it. A real set of Windows Professional installation discs can cost hundreds. With a free Windows compatible o/s you can have as many windows PCs as you like. Every few years or so Microsoft makes your operating system obsolete just so they can charge you more money for the new version, plus all the new software you will need. That will not happen with ReactOS, it will just keep on working. All your old software will just keep working. All your new software will work too!

When you buy a new o/s from microsoft do you really believe it is a brand new o/s? Of course not, it is the old o/s rehashed with a new GUI and some cosmetic changes. XP was NT, Vista was based upon XP with some additional junk and Windows 7 is Vista without all the Vista bad bits, you could call it XP+. Windows 8? well, at the moment it is a tablet o/s running on a desktop/laptop - which suggests it is an o/s to be avoided...

Windows is run by an organisation that needs to make money, that is why they make their o/s regularly obsolete. That is why they change the GUI mechanisms regularly so that everyone has to start from scratch and send lots of money to Microsoft for the privilege of doing so.

ReactOS won't do this - ReactOS could be the solution to all our o/s problems.  I cannot recommend more strongly that you contribute something, anything to this kickstarter project. Do it to help the ReactOS team, do it to help yourself to a free o/s. Do it to help break Microsoft's unhealthy stranglehold on the Windows o/s market. Just do it.

Contribute here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thorium/thorium-core-cloud-desktop

The Thorium Group's Website is here: http://www.thoriumgroup.com

ReactOS website is here: https://www.reactos.org/

reactos-screens.png

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 January 2014 )
 
Elxis 2009 CMS a review PDF Print
(5 votes)

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I'm not sure why someone would choose Elxis as their default CMS. At first glance it seems to have great potential, based on Mambo 4.5 you'd imagine some compatibility with Mambo and Joomla 1.0.15, after all why would you create a CMS that does not have compatibility with all those hundreds, nay thousands of Joomla 1.0 extensions, templates &c. If I were creating a Mambo based CMS it would surely be my most important aim. You could attract so many ex-joomla 1.0 users with ease if you could guarantee future compatibility of components, modules, mambots. Imagine a fully supported Joomla 1.0 compatible CMS, what's not to like?

steampunk-console.pngThe trouble is that although they have gone to great lengths to create a quick, elegant CMS that is incredibly familiar to Mambo/Joomla 1.0 users, is quicker than Joomla 2.5, it does NOT have the compatibility that you'd expect. I built an Elxis 2009 (Aphrodite) test site and attempted to installed a major SEF tool that is an essential component for all my Joomla 1.0 sites, I also installed one or two mambots that I have written myself and a template from Joomlart, featuring an elegant javascript menu. I built the site with the multi-language options enabled and test data.

The component failed to install at all, generating errors with regard to a tmpr folder and with relation to incorrect information within the component XML files, the mambots installed one generating XML compatibility errors but when the page was refreshed the site was broken. The mambots added JSDK code required by Facebook and added the FB like button to the content area on each page.

The template installation succeeded but having failed three other installations I decided to bypass Elxis installation and install usingsignal.png a method I knew would work, just by simply FTP'ing the appropriate files to the templates folder. The JA_Fagus template installed and looked good but the in-built horizontal menu just appeared to put junk on the screen. A bit of investigation showed that all code that refers to menus needed to be language aware, checking the menu items, extracting the language code and comparing that to the system wide setting for the default language. Once this understood then I was able to create a good looking page using the JA_Fagus template.

I knew I now needed to research why my mambots had failed to function but then I realised with the sheer amount of work it would take to test install, debug and fix all the components, modules and mambots that are on my site that the work involved would be greater than a Joomla 1.5 migration/site rebuild. There is simply no point.

What the Elxis developers have done is create a world-class CMS that only a few people will be able to use. Elxis has an advanced built-in directory encompassing components, templates, modules and mambots. Unfortanately, the number of these extensions is a mere fraction of those available to Joomla 1.0.15 so anyone looking for extensions will soon realise the paucity of choice and will be deterred straight away. None of my familiar tools was available, none of the extensions that would be essential for a site migration to Elxis were there.

At the end of my analysis I came away disappointed, what a chance had been lost! The possibility of keeping my Joomla 1.0 sites up and running on a supported multi-lingual platform all blown away. Elsewhere, the Russian based Joostina team had at least kept Joomla 1.0 compatibility as one of their main strengths but had failed at the last hurdle due to their Russian-centric support and development teams abandoning the English language community that might have helped them survive. In comparison the Elxis team seems to have it all, a massive technical improvement on Mambo/Joomla 1.0, English language forums, continued support for the Mambo based CMS, what's not to like?. Well, the total lack of Joomla 1.0.15 compatibility.

What's the reason to choose Elxis as your next CMS? Elxis is Mambo based so it will be familar territory to you, it has advanced features such as in-built SQL database viewing tool, an embedded version of the Elxis JED, multi language support, an auto updating tool. Anti SQL injections tools built in. The underlying code that accesses the databse is heavily optimised making Elxis very quick, even without advanced cacheing. It even has built in SEF. Sounds great.  

The trouble is that Elxis is not designed for Joomla 1.0 migration as nothing at all from Joomla is plug and play, significant effort is required to get each and every element of your site to work.

Conclusion - Elxis 2009 (Aphrodite) is a massive opportunity missed and is only useful as a new but familiar CMS. The developers have a new version of their CMS that is entirely new and has no Mambo compatibility whatsoever. What this shows me is where the developers hearts lie. I perceive they wish to abandon the Mambo legacy and work on newer more advanced CMS. This quite laudable but unfortunately it doesn't bode well for me and my Joomla 1.0 sites. Elxis just becomes another wannabee CMS and I have to say I wouldn't automatically jump into their camp. If Elxis had inherited Joomla 1.0.15 compatibility by default then I would have chosen it for any old Joomla 1.0 sites I would be asked to migrate.

For new sites, well it seems an interesting choice but due to the paucity of extensions and because the newer version is entirely unfamiliar to me it wouldn't be my first choice.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 December 2013 )
 
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