Month: May 2017

The Giant Analog Stick

Posted on Updated on

Four years ago next month, I backed an omnidirectional treadmill through Kickstarter. I was lucky enough to actually get one through a myriad of shipping delays, eventual cancellations, and an extra $200 in shipping (!).

Despite all of these, mine actually shipped, arriving just two weeks ago. I’ve since posted progress photos of the build and the final setup on Twitter, as well as some of my initial impressions.

This post intends to list what I’ve discovered using this thing, for those that might eventually want to get an Omni or similar device into the future, and whom want a bit more than what tech journalists have to say from using a demo unit.

The Good: It’s a fantastic omnidirectional treadmill and joystick with most games

I’ve been taking daily walks in No Man’s Sky, which has been fantastic for the purpose. My current setup uses a monitor instead of a 3D head-mounted display, mostly to limit the number of wires and the overall cost of my setup.

Even in this limited setup, the Omni is still fantastic to use. To use it, you put on special shoes and walk — at full range of motion — on a low-friction dinner plate. It takes some getting used to, but once I got all the hardware together, it did not take long at all to get acquainted with running around and exercising on the thing daily.

The Omni itself is also, surprisingly, compatible with most Windows games — owing to input mapping with x360ce.* Despite how it markets itself as a “VR treadmill”, there’s no software interaction between the Omni unit and any VR setup. It instead acts as a form of joystick that you array peripherals around.

Surprisingly enough, the most fun I’ve had with this thing is with an inexpensive platforming game named Refunct. I mapped a Switch Pro controller and Omni into a single x360 pad using the correct settings in x360ce’s UI. After a brief bit of twiddling with dead zones to ensure my walking speed mapped well to the games I play, I got up and running — literally — and had a blast.

The Bad: So, about the setup difficulty

As you can probably tell from the nest of jargon and tooling above, the Omni does not work well out of the box. It took me approximately two days of twiddling with wires and software to arrive at a setup that works for me — and that’s without relying on the VR bits at all.

The library of supported Omni games is, at present, very small. Beyond the library of supported games, the “full VR experience” seems to involve elaborate wire-hanging setup and heavy configuration — including x360ce or some input mapper as above, and vorpX to add VR to older games.

The depth of configuration should be considered a barrier to anyone without time or technical expertise to play with Windows DLLs and input or 3D injection libraries. I suspect over time this will get easier, but don’t expect things to just work with this device as it currently exists.

Overall: Great exercise device for the current state of VR

However, this may not be too much of a barrier for people currently investing in VR. For those folks that have the time and money to burn on a full VR setup, or even a partial one like I describe here, the experience is very immersive and intuitive to use once you get it up and running.

As such, this solves a problem: it’s a great treadmill that helps the operator not be bored while exercising. It’s a step (ha!) beyond what one might typically have in a home setup, being about on par with gym or arcade equipment.

But for anyone looking for a simpler or less elaborate exercise setup, it’s probably better to try DDR, StepmaniaWii Fit U, take a jog around the block, or get a gym membership, depending on your exercise needs. All of these are excellent options, at least until you get bored after the hundredth run of the same song or Mii faces on Wuhu Island.

The Omni excels if you’d like to take a jog in a walking simulator and completely forget that you’re still getting aerobic exercise. I can see the Omni really catching on with better support and a hardware revision or two. But for now, unless you have a very specific need you’d like to solve — as I did — it’s possibly better to wait until then.

 


* I have not tested this setup under Wine, but owing to the fact the Omni maps as a PC joystick and connects to a PC via USB, it’s entirely possible this would work, too.

Advertisements

Fascism is a Political Rootkit

Posted on Updated on

CW: politics.

While performing my daily link roundup to personally research L’Affaire Russe (no affiliation, just being an informed citizen), I stumbled upon this interview on how to prevent Trump from consolidating authoritarian power. While incomplete and dedicated to hawking a book by its interviewee, its primary takeaway is that we are dealing with a fascistic grab for power and should act accordingly. At this point, I think more than sufficient evidence exists to make this claim.

That said, for modern audiences, it’s not entirely clear what a fascist grab for power looks like. Many are aware, for example, of the Reichstag Fire that predated Hitler’s rise to power prior to World War II. Many are similarly aware of what is happening in Turkey right now.

In fact, after World War II, the US War Department put out its own video detailing how Hitler rose to power. Despite its propagandistic nature, it provides a strong parallel to Trump today:

 

But amidst the disinformation, smoke, and mirrors thrown up by this administration, it’s still difficult to get a grasp from where the final blow will come to our democracy, or whether it will come at all. While considering how to answer this, I realized that ten years in computer security have given me a useful metaphor.

In security, the highest level of compromise of a system is called rooting, so called because of the name of the superuser account on Unix systems. Many applications known as rootkits exist to weaponize and automate this process, not just by gaining root access, but by persisting at this authority level for as long as possible, against the wishes of users of the machine.

This provides a good framework from which to understand fascism. Fascism itself is not just a debased method of government, but also an exploit framework to get there — by repeatedly weakening and exploiting vulnerabilities in a system’s protections against escalation of power, with the ultimate goal of persisting at the highest level of authority possible.

In this model, the damage to the underlying system is incidental to the goal of consolidating authority. It does not matter who or what is harmed, so long as the result is a marginal increase in power and weakening of protections against it.

 

In this framework, there is no singular deathblow to democracy. Instead, it is death by a thousand tiny cuts — be they calling the media “the enemy of the people”,  inciting violence to silence dissent of authority, or changing the rules of the Senate to chair a complicit judge to the highest court in the country.

The danger is not then the single death blow, but the phalanx of weaker erosions that slowly destabilize democracy and more fully install the fascist into power. And once there, it is the weakening of the system’s own protections to keep the fascist in power indefinitely.

Rootkits and fascists, by their very nature, are very difficult to remove once they have maximum authority. Because each erosion is used as a tool to accelerate future erosions, it is vital to start early, protect the system and fight every attempt to weaken the system’s protections. This means that we are all the blue team in this exercise to protect US democracy from those that would root it.

Of course, it is impossible to fight on all fronts simultaneously. This is why it’s important to specialize: to pick the battles you yourself are adept at fighting, and stick to them to the degree practicable. And remember, this is not a duty you can discharge once and go on your way: you must commit to continuing to protect these systems, as one compromise can mean their destruction.

The primary benefit of being the blue team is you have the system’s resources at your disposal — freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of speech, and the levers of democracy in calling and petitioning your representatives — until those resources are compromised. It is a fight that is predominantly on our side, unless complacency, complicity, or fear of the fascist’s own power take root to convince you otherwise.

 

So I will leave you with this: as with a rootkit virus aimed at obtaining full authority over our democracy, fight escalation and consolidation of power. Commit to it as often as is possible for you. Share the load. Organize. Resist. Rest. Repeat.

Together, we can protect this republic from those that would see it, and all of us, destroyed for their own power. Let’s do this together. For all our sakes.