University of Brighton abandons Hastings campus

On Tuesday the University of Brighton released a statement about the future of it’s Hastings campus. In the vaguely worded message they spoke about how they would continue to “support the delivery of higher education in Hastings through an evolution of its current provision in the town”. In plain english, Brighton intend to back out of the project in the next two years, reverting the campus back to a University Centre run by the local college. This was finally clarified in an email to alumni today.

Q: Is it true that the Hastings Campus is going to close?

A: The current campus model is not sustainable. It will be phased out in favour of a new model that will continue to deliver higher and further education in Hastings in collaboration with Sussex Coast College Hastings with the longer term objective of establishing a University of Hastings.

I studied at University Centre Hastings, as it was previously called, many years ago and while I had a great experience it always felt like the long term goal was for Hastings to become equal with the other four campuses in Brighton and Eastbourne. This goal finally seemed to have been achieved in 2013 with the opening of the Priory Square building and the official adoption as a fifth campus of Brighton. This week's announcement is a complete step in the wrong direction and a sign that Brighton simply want a quick exit from the town.

The University has apparently made this decision on financial grounds, however in a meeting with Hastings students when Vice-Chancellor Professor Debra Humphris ridiculously generous salary was brought up, she made an immediate departure. The University also claims that the decision was made due to a forecasted decline in 16-17 year olds in the local area, completely ignoring the large population of mature students the campus attracts. Even if this is true and numbers will decline, an institution of this size should brave the storm and come out the other side, not return home at the first sign of rain.

The excuse that low student numbers are to blame is also complete nonsense when you consider the fact that the University controls how their student population is distributed. Instead they have moved many courses away from Hastings and failed to build student halls close by and then pointed at low numbers as the reason for the closure.

As someone who has studied at the campus, owes his job to it, and has friends who both work and study there, it deeply saddens me to see Brighton abandoning our town when things were just getting better. The Hastings campus is uniquely positioned to support single parents and mature students who simply can’t travel two hours to Brighton due to other commitments in their life. Pulling support now is simply abandoning us.

It might not mean very much, but there is a petition you can sign to show your support for the Hastings campus. The least we can do is let our voices be heard.

Apple's open letter on encryption

Big respect for Tim Cook and Apple for publishing this.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

This article breaks it down.

Again in plain English, the FBI wants Apple to create a special version of iOS that only works on the one iPhone they have recovered. This customized version of iOS (*ahem* FBiOS) will ignore passcode entry delays, will not erase the device after any number of incorrect attempts, and will allow the FBI to hook up an external device to facilitate guessing the passcode. The FBI will send Apple the recovered iPhone so that this customized version of iOS never physically leaves the Apple campus.

As many jailbreakers are familiar, firmware can be loaded via Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) Mode. Once an iPhone enters DFU mode, it will accept a new firmware image over a USB cable. Before any firmware image is loaded by an iPhone, the device first checks whether the firmware has a valid signature from Apple. This signature check is why the FBI cannot load new software onto an iPhone on their own — the FBI does not have the secret keys that Apple uses to sign firmware.

An interesting note is that devices with the secure enclave would not be susceptible to this back door.

At this point it is very important to mention that the recovered iPhone is a 5C. The 5C model iPhone lacks TouchID and, therefore, lacks the single most important security feature produced by Apple: the Secure Enclave.

If the San Bernardino gunmen had used an iPhone with the Secure Enclave, then there is little to nothing that Apple or the FBI could have done to guess the passcode. However, since the iPhone 5C lacks a Secure Enclave, nearly all of the passcode protections are implemented in software by the iOS operating system and, therefore, replaceable by a firmware update.

Update: Or not. Apple says all devices at risk.

And herein lies the rub. There has been some chatter about whether these kinds of changes would even be possible with Apple’s newer devices. Those devices come equipped with Apple’s proprietary Secure Enclave, a portion of the core processing chip where private encryption keys are stored and used to secure data and to enable features like TouchID. Apple says that the things that the FBI is asking for are also possible on newer devices with the Secure Enclave. The technical solutions to the asks would be different (no specifics were provided) than they are on the iPhone 5c (and other older iPhones), but not impossible.

The point is that the FBI is asking Apple to crack its own safe, it doesn’t matter how good the locks are if you modify them to be weak after installing them. And once the precedent is set then the opportunity is there for similar requests to be made of all billion or so active iOS devices. Hence the importance of this fight for Apple.

Firewatch

Firewatch is a cool game. You’re alone in the Wyoming wilderness working as a fire lookout whose only company is Delilah, another fire watcher you can speak to over the radio. Through the game you explore your surroundings using a pretty intuitive in-game map and try to solve the unfolding mystery of the forest. There is no real action or threat in the game; it's just a cool piece of interactive fiction. The Wyoming forest is absolutely gorgeous and the back and forth dialogue between Delilah and yourself keeps you invested in the narrative. It’s a little short for the price, but it's quite fun to complete in one sitting if you can.

My experience with Firewatch was going so well until I hit a game breaking bug. A core component of the game is selecting dialogue choices when responding to Delilah. There is an on screen timer and if you fail to select a reply she takes your silence as a response. Late in the game they have an argument and both characters refuse to speak to each other for a little bit of time. About five minutes later the game replayed this dialogue again by mistake, and the game got locked into thinking I didn’t want to speak with Delilah. Despite offering me responses I could no longer select any dialogue options.

Restarting both the game and the PS4 failed to fix this, so I decided to continue on, settling for the game selecting the “silence” option. This backfired very close to the conclusion of the story when I needed to speak to Delilah to advance the plot and couldn’t. I was so annoyed at this point that I ended up watching the conclusion on YouTube, as I had no desire to replay a broken game.

The conclusion itself was also fairly anticlimactic, which put an additional downer on a game I was really enjoying. Hopefully the game will be patched, but for now I would give the game a fairly hesitant recommendation.

My favourite games of 2015

It’s a new year and I’m at this blogging thing again. I know, I know. I never commit to it. But that’s what New Year's resolutions are for right? No one ever fails to keep those up. This year I’m committing myself to doing more writing, and considering it’s only February I’d say I’ve started off pretty damn well. To get this blog kick started, I thought I would compile a list of some of my favourite games from the past year.

I hear numbered lists are the in thing. Way cooler than bullet points anyway.

10. Puyo Puyo Tetris

I love me some Tetris. It’s probably the perfect puzzle game, although I am on the side that thinks infinite spin is pretty lame. I had no idea what Puyo Puyo was until I realised I had been tricked into playing it many years ago under the guise of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. The combination of both games, played competitively against each other makes this an incredible package, and the high spirit anime dressing gives it a lot more character than recent Tetris titles.

What I didn’t like

They never released Puyo Puyo Tetris in English, so I had to import it in Japanese. This makes the menus and the plot entirely incomprehensible.

9. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad is a fun reuse of a puzzle design from Super Mario 3D World. It’s a simple, short little game, but a fun distraction from 100 hour RPGs. It’s cute, colourful and the puzzles are surprisingly challenging, especially if you aim to collect everything.

What I didn’t like

I know it's a mechanic of the game, but the lack of a jump button is simply infuriating.

8. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Theatrhythm was a great game, despite it’s ridiculous title, but there was very little to do after you had played all the songs. Curtain Call fills that void, adding a quest mode that keeps you coming back. This game might be just pure nostalgia, but the rhythm game play is incredibly solid.

What I didn't like

Compared to field and battle, there are incredibly few event levels.

7. Starbound

As a kid I loved going to the sandy beach. I would ignore all this “sea” business and dig a twelve year old sized hole straight down into the dunes. I would never get to China before we had to go home, but the sense of adventure and exploration was always there. It was also funny to imagine people falling down the hole after I left it. This is also what it was like to play Starbound for 30 hours.

What I didn’t like

You get to a point where the progression just drops off.

6. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

The small amount of Ground Zeroes that exists is probably better than any single part of Phantom Pain. The base you infiltrate is incredibly detailed and packed with character, something I feel Phantom Pain lost by trying to be so expansive and big. The opening gave me the chills of how it felt to play MGS for the first time, and there is a constant fear of being spotted by a patrolling guard.

What I didn’t like

We all know we paid for a demo.

5. Sonic Shuffle

Both the best Sonic and the best Mario Party game ever made. The added strategy of selecting from a deck of cards and the ability to hide your cards on the VMU puts it leagues ahead of the random dice rolls in Mario Party.

What I didn’t like

It only has five maps and they never made a sequel.

4. Rocket League

I played football at school. Most of the time they would put be in goal because I would be less of a nuisance there. I was still a nuisance. Rocket League adds cars to football. It’s amazingly simple, but so perfectly executed. The feeling when you score a goal is the greatest and it never goes away.

What I didn’t like

The game has a fantastic soundtrack that only plays in the menus.

3. Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is the game I always wanted. Every kid wants to make his own games. I used to draw them on paper with cut out characters. The level editor in Mario Maker is ingenious, and Nintendo almost got the online stuff right. The community that has arisen around Mario Maker has been amazing to watch, and challenging your friends to complete your latest masterpiece is a blast.

What I didn’t like

Nintendo almost got the online stuff right.

2. Persona 4 Golden

I’ve been playing this game on and off for the past year and I’ve loved every minute of it. Best described as a crossover between Japanese teenage dating simulator and turn based RPG, it has a great story and a killer soundtrack. There is even an anime which is pretty darn good! The Golden remaster and a PlayStation TV are going incredibly cheap these days, so don’t miss out on this.

What I didn’t like

A lot of scenes in the core plot don’t change to reflect the relationship you’re currently in, making them a little jarring.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I love so much about The Phantom Pain. Open world Metal Gear doesn’t sound like something that should work, but it really does. From a gameplay perspective, this is the perfect Metal Gear game, and it still maintains its ridiculous nature, such as cardboard boxes, fulton recovery balloons and rocket arms. I played the game for over 100 hours and could still play more if I really wanted to. It’s a gameplay loop that just never gets tiring.

What I didn’t like

The plot and pacing of Phantom Pain however, is a mess. There are some fantastic individual moments, but the entire thing doesn’t gel together as cohesively as Metal Gear has in the past. It is almost certainly the weakest story of the series, and even its most interesting new character (Quiet) is ruined by some fairly disgusting sexism.