Wednesday 21 November 2012


Who are TFT?

So far, I've tried to use a contemplative tone for this blog, examining the circumstances we find ourselves in and looking at what hidden meanings we can find in it. I therefore ask that you note the change in tone I'm going to use for this post in order to appreciate the full impact of my words:

Shit just got real.

I was on assignment to meet an agent, once again at the Derby QUAD, and receive an item of high importance. This time I was accompanied by Agent Veronica. We did not anticipate a lengthy or difficult situation; we met the agent, noticed an individual taking pictures (who I later found was Agent G-Dog), and received the package. Our contact told us that he believed the area had been compromised, and was arranging transport to a safe location off site. We scouted out the area, all seemed clear, and he called his contact for the pickup. We went out the front door.

Immediately, a marked TFT car pulled up. Men in merc-style outfits called my name, grabbed me, and demanded I get in the car. Agent Veronica stayed away, and I was bundled into the car between the men. They placed a blindfold on me, and drove a short distance away; they demanded my real name, and I refused to give it, stating only my codename; I was taken by surprise, and hadn't noticed they had said my name before.

They hadn't placed the blindfold in place completely, and while I couldn't see anything, I was able to tell I was being taken to a building near the bus station; shortly after entry they adjusted the blindfold, so I don't know where inside I was taken. I do know we took an elevator to a higher floor; if I hadn't been so shaken up, I would have attempted to count the floors. My phone rang; I went to answer it. They told me to stop.

I was led along dark corridors, marched into a room, and told to step back until I felt a chair, then sit. My hat and bags were taken, and then the blindfold was removed. I was sat in a square room with 5 men; behind me to my left was a tall guy, one of the people who had taken me. Ahead to the left was a younger man in a suit; he said nothing during this. Behind a table in front of me was an older man, perhaps in his 50's, with white hair; he said nothing, but I am certain he was the most senior member. To his other side was a dark-haired man with a moustache, and a white earpiece in his left ear. He would do most of the talking. Finally, to my right was another tall imposing man.

I was interrogated. There are honestly only really 4 ways to deal with such a situation; tell them everything, tell them nothing, tell them plenty but lie about everything, or act stupid and say just enough to be believably useless. I decided to do the latter, with added snark. They asked if I was a member of AMBER, if I knew Alex or Rachel, what the Nodes and PDTs were, what I knew about the Yellow Series, how AMBER communicates, and so on.

Where I could be truthful without compromising, I did so; no, I don't know where Rachel is. No, I wasn't at the Who's Holy Grail talk. I wasn't at the protest. Where information would be compromising, I lied or acted dumb; I don't know what the nodes are. Sure, I joined AMBER, but I haven't really followed it. You have photos of me with Rachel? It's just a big hairy guy, there's plenty of people around who look like that.

They pulled up a flipchart with printouts; each had a photo of a member of the AMBER Facebook group. They asked if I recognised them. To most, I said now. To some, I snarked; if there was a pop culture icon in the picture, I gave their name. Some pictures were indistinct, so I complained I couldn't identify them even if I knew them. A picture of me came up. "It's me," I said, and gestured behind me, "in my hat."

I don't doubt they knew it was bull, but at least I was believably, consistently, unhelpful and annoying. I sincerely hope I bugged the hell out of them by refusing to take it seriously, but please let me be clear; it was an act. My heart was racing, my throat was dry, I was fumbling my words, and I just wanted to let Agent Veronica know I was OK. A gun was pulled, and placed on the table. It was a threat. They started repeating the questions. I repeated my answers. All they got were things they already knew.

I got a little more.

They asked me what I knew about Yellow Snow. The truthful answer is, nothing... But now we know there's something to know. I made a quip about piss.

They asked me who I thought had set me up. I didn't think anyone had. Now I know otherwise... And the list of suspects is small. In fact, I'm fairly sure I already know who it is... But that's for another time.

The man with the white hair evidently figured out I wasn't going to help. The blindfold was replaced, I was passed my hat and bags, and escorted from the building. We drove back, they took off my blindfold, and dumped me out at the QUAD.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Who do you serve, and who do you trust?

Who do you serve, and who do you trust?

On Wednesday, I took part in a mission for AMBER. The details are pretty much out there now, although some secrecy was required at the time. For those who don't know, agents were tasked with contacting undercover operatives, and retrieving sensitive information. I did the task and pieces together the clues (literally, in fact) that same night, but was requested to maintain secrecy until Sunday.

One aspect of this that strayed from expectations was a visit from an unexpected element; another agent whose recent actions have been... questionable, but who is apparently still regarded as a trusted member. More has come to light about him, he has even apparently been masquerading as a member of the BBC to gain information on AMBER before the kidnapping that started all this took place. I was fortunate enough to identify him in advance, but unfortunately wasn't able to take as much advantage of this as I'd hoped, only managing to get a short video showing as he passed me a disc.

And this is what intrigues me; an enemy may have tailed me to see where I went, tried to convince me to hand over the package, made me question the validity of what went on, or simply threaten me to drop my involvement... But he passed me new material. This is someone who has been present at one kidnapping, and directly tried to begin another, and his only, premeditated act, faced with someone transporting important data... is to give them more data?

There's more going on here, I'm sure of it. I just wish I was sure what it was. This has seemed like a straightforward matter of AMBER being "good" and TFT being "bad", but perhaps it's not that simple. If nothing else, I'm starting to become convinced there is at least one more player in this game.

Saturday 3 November 2012

About me

Who is the pedant?

I've been a gamer all my life. People nowadays often think of "old-school" gaming as being the NES... hell, some people count the first Playstation that way... But I got started on a VIC-20 and a Grandstand home "Pong" TV game. I've always been fascinated by technology and how games use it. Luckily I grew up in a household that had home computers as much as home consoles, which leant itself to experimenting with how these things work; I often tell people that, at an age when other kids are usually reading about Spot the dog chasing the big red ball, I was reading books on ZX Spectrum machine code.

(Well, I don't *often* say that, it doesn't really come up in conversation all that much... But this is the "pedant" leaking through, and I'll get to that later.)

For most of gaming's history (but especially starting in the 90s), computing gaming had an image problem. In the 80s it was a simple time waster. It was pointless, and anti-social. Most people didn't play them; it was a bit weird if you did. Games consoles came along eventually and started a shift, but it was the 90s until it became accepted. Of course, then media concerns hit; as graphic fidelity increased and violent images became recognisable, suddenly it wasn't just useless, it was potentially monstrous. Computer games of the 90s were starting to get hit with the same kinds of accusations that followed tabletop games in the 70s and 80s; they turned your kids into killers.

I'm happy to say that, as of 2012, I've yet to turn into a rampaging murderer. The lessons I learned from games were rather different. The one common theme going through almost all games is one of empowerment; one person CAN make a difference. If you improve, keep track of your resources, plan ahead, react fast enough, make the right choices, you can succeed. With enough continues, anyway. But more than that, I learned that when you see something wrong, you should set it right. Almost every game has this; defeat the evil overlord, save the hostages, uncover the plot. The lesson I learnt is that you should be good, and active. Use your abilities to improve the world.

A lifetime of experimenting with technology has made me a jack-of-all trades. I can program a little, set up basic websites, all that good stuff. When I found AMBER, I figured I could help. When I play online, I'm not normally the one who rushes forwards to take the enemy head-on... I usually play a supportive role. I'm the medic, or the sniper. Hence the wiki; a couple of nights work, to make something that everyone could use to help us all.

Alas, there are side effects to everything. See, those 80s views on games were a little more accurate than I gave them credit for. Gaming nowadays is a very social thing, with ubiquitous online play, deep narratives to discuss, and a console in almost every home. It's very easy to make and keep friends through games. In the 80s though... Not so much. A childhood spent in computers instead of parks led to an appreciation for set rules and systems, for knowing the exact limitations and acting within them. This created one small (but significant) facet of my core personality; I am irrationally, uncontrollable, annoyingly, intolerably pedantic. It's kinda my anti-superpower. Umm. Sorry about that. :D

Tuesday 30 October 2012

The Malthusian Paradox

What is the paradox?

In the late 1700s, Thomas Malthus put forward a theory; with food production at best increasing at a linear rate, while population increases at an exponential rate, at some point there would simply be far too many people to feed. If we leave things uncontested this would be a certainty... and to avoid it, and therefore save people, the perceived solution is artificial population control.

This, then, is Malthus' paradox; in order to save lives, we have to end them. In theory, of course. In truth, there's really no proof of his claims, and 300 years later we still haven't reached a theoretical tipping point that, centuries ago, Malthus foresaw as inevitable. The reason is partly technological. As time has gone on, we've found ways to increase food production at rates he couldn't have foreseen. But how far can we, or should we, push this? Are there technologies we shouldn't employ?

Currently, if you head over to, you can sign up with AMBER, and take part in the search for Dr. Solomon Baxter, kidnapped by an evil bio-research corporation called TFT while giving a talk on genetically altered crops. You become part of a group working towards sets of assignments; clues come up and must be solved, awareness must be spread, and members are tasked with creating their own methods of communicating and working together. So far, it's a journey that's taken us through works of literature, famous board games, experimental art technology and server hacking.

What's not clear so far is how this fits in with the Malthusian paradox itself. Certainly, proponents of malthusianism itself would constitute genetically altered crops as a positive, increasing the food supply and pushing back the dangers of worldwide shortages. But by joining AMBER, your position stands directly opposite this; your role is that of an anti-establishment activist, standing opposed to dangerous genetic manipulation, and facing off against a big business in cahoots with the government to control the population. There's no question who the bad guy in this scenario is.

Time will tell where AMBER's path goes and where we follow, and how Thomas Malthus fits into the equation. In the meantime, if you'd like to see how this story goes on, head on over to the AMBER website and sign up.