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The SS Cardif
“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced. He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly. With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side. “Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. “Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.” The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay. A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands. It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes. “Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,” M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off. “They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser. Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side. “There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side. “Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts. “Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser. “That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.” The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working. Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships. “They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.” Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human. Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.” Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued. “They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.” “Fuck.” “That was implied.” “You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.” “Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.” “I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops. “I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.” “I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face. “You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again. “And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.” He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked. “I will provide logs to prove these statements.” The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more. “So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head. “You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked. “The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable. “And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly. “Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious. At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed. Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.” Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.” As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them. * * * Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit. “Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of. “Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.” The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid. Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life. “We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence. While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields. The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space. Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.” “Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise. “The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.” The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point. “The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.” Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this. Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships. The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer. Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look. Drake just nodded once. This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there. The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion “Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.” The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked. “No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them. She nodded and carried on. “Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.” “As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther. Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy. “The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth. The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth. When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren. The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing. They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago. “This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live. “The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.” Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined. “The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems. “We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles. “There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix. “All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’. “Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?” “We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out. “Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?” “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.” “Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.” * * * A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine a field of human activity, in which, in one way or another, digital video has not entered. We watch it on TV, mobile devices, and stationary computers; we record it with digital cameras ourselves, or we encounter it on the roads (unpleasant, but true), in stores, hospitals, schools and universities, and in industrial enterprises of various profiles. As a consequence, words and terms that are directly related to the digital representation of video information are becoming more firmly and widely embedded in our lives. From time to time, questions arise in this area. What are the differences between various devices or programs that we use to encode/ decode digital video data, and what do they do? Which of these devices/ programs are better or worse, and in which aspects? What do all these endless MPEG-2, H.264 / AVC, VP9, H.265 / HEVC, etc. mean? Let’s try to understand.
A very brief historical reference
The first generally accepted video compression standard MPEG-2 was finally adopted in 1996, after which a rapid development of digital satellite television began. The next standard was MPEG-4 part 10 (H.264 / AVC), which provides twice the degree of video data compression. It was adopted in 2003, which led to the development of DVB-T/ C systems, Internet TV and the emergence of a variety of video sharing and video communication services. From 2010 to 2013, the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) was intensively working to create the next video compression standard, which was called High Efficient Video Coding (HEVC) by the developers; it ensured the following twofold increase in the compression ratio of digital video data. This standard was approved in 2013. That same year, the VP9 standard, developed by Google, was adopted, which was supposed to not yield to HEVC in its degree of video data compression.
Basic stages of video encoding
There are a few simple ideas at the core of algorithms for video data compression. If we take some part of an image (in the MPEG-2 and AVC standards this part is called a macroblock), then there is a big possibility that, near this segment in this frame or in neighboring frames, there will be a segment containing a similar image, which differs little in pixel intensity values. Thus, to transmit information about the image in the current segment, it is enough to only transfer its difference from the previously encoded similar segment. The process of finding similar segments among previously encoded images is called Prediction. A set of difference values that determine the difference between the current segment and the found prediction is called the Residual. Here we can distinguish two main types of prediction. In the first one, the Prediction values represent a set of linear combinations of pixels adjacent to the current image segment on the left and on the top. This type of prediction is called Intra Prediction. In the second one, linear combinations of pixels of similar image segments from previously encoded frames are used as prediction (these frames are called Reference). This type of prediction is called Inter Prediction. To restore the image of the current segment, encoded with Inter prediction, when decoding, it is necessary to have information about not only the Residual, but also the frame number, where a similar segment is located, and the coordinates of this segment. Residual values obtained during prediction obviously contain, on average, less information than the original image and, therefore, require a fewer quantity of bits for image transmission. To further increase the degree of compression of video data in video coding systems, some spectral transformation is used. Typically, this is Fourier cosine transform. Such transformation allows us to select the fundamental harmonics in two-dimensional Residual signal. Such a selection is made at the next stage of coding — quantization. The sequence of quantized spectral coefficients contains a small number of main, large values. The remaining values are very likely to be zero. As a result, the amount of information contained in quantized spectral coefficients is significantly (dozens of times) lower than in the original image. In the next stage of coding, the obtained set of quantized spectral coefficients, accompanied by the information necessary for performing prediction when decoding, is subjected to entropy coding. The bottom line here is to align the most common values of the encoded stream with the shortest codeword (containing the smallest number of bits). The best compression ratio (close to theoretically achievable) at this stage is provided by arithmetic coding algorithms, which are mainly used in modern video compression systems. From the above, the main factors affecting the effectiveness of a particular video compression system become apparent. First of all, these are, of course, the factors that determine the effectiveness of the Intra and Inter Predictions. The second set of factors is related to the orthogonal transformation and quantization, which selects the fundamental harmonics in the Residual signal. The third one is determined by the volume and compactness of the representation of additional information accompanying Residual and necessary for making predictions, that is, calculating Prediction, in the decoder. Finally, the fourth set has the factors that determine the effectiveness of the final stage- entropy coding. Let’s illustrate some possible options (far from all) of the implementation of the coding stages listed above, on the example of H.264 / AVC and HEVC.
In the AVC standard, the basic structural unit of the image is a macroblock — a square area of 16x16 pixels (Figure 1). When searching for the best possible prediction, the encoder can select one of several options of partitioning each macroblock. With Intra-prediction, there are three options: perform a prediction for the entire block as a whole, break the macroblock into four square blocks of 8x8 size, or into 16 blocks with a size of 4x4 pixels, and perform a prediction for each such block independently. The number of possible options of macroblock partitioning under Inter-prediction is much richer (Figure 1), which provides adaptation of the size and position of the predicted blocks to the position and shape of the object boundaries moving in the video frame. Fig 1. Macroblocks in AVC and possible partitioning when using Inter-Prediction. In AVC, pixel values from the column to the left of the predicted block and the row of pixels immediately above it are used for Intra prediction (Figure 2). For blocks of sizes 4x4 and 8x8, 9 methods of prediction are used. In a prediction called DC, all calculated pixels have a single value equal to the arithmetic average of the “neighbor pixels” highlighted in Fig. 2 with a bold line. In other modes, “angular” prediction is performed. In this case, the values of the “neighbor pixels” are placed inside the predicted block in the directions indicated in Fig. 2. In the event that the predicted pixel gets between “neighbor pixels”, when moving in a given direction, an interpolated value is used for the prediction. For blocks with a size of 16x16 pixels, 4 methods of prediction are used. One of them is the DC-prediction, which was already reviewed. The other two correspond to the “angular” methods, with the directions of prediction 0 and 1. Finally, the fourth — Plane-prediction: the values of the predicted pixels are determined by the equation of the plane. The angular coefficients of the equation are determined by the values of the “neighboring pixels”. Fig 2. “Neighboring pixels” and angular modes of Intra-Prediction in AVC Inter- Prediction in AVC can be implemented in one of two ways. Each of these options determines the type of macroblock (P or B). As a prediction of pixel values in P-blocks (Predictive-blocks), the values of pixels from the area located on the previously coded (reference) image, are used. Reference images are not deleted from the RAM buffer, containing decoded frames (decoded picture buffer, or DPB), as long as they are needed for Inter-prediction. A reference list is created in the DPB from the indexes of these images. The encoder signals to the decoder about the number of the reference image in the list and about the offset of the area used for prediction, with respect to the position of predicted block (this displacement is called motion vector). The offset can be determined with an accuracy of ¼ pixel. In case of prediction with non-integer offset, interpolation is performed. Different blocks in one image can be predicted by areas located on different reference images. In the second option of Inter Prediction, prediction of the B-block pixel values (bi-predictive block), two reference images are used; their indexes are placed in two lists (list0 and list1) in the DPB. The two indexes of reference images in the lists and two offsets, that determine positions of reference areas, are transmitted to the decoder. The B-block pixel values are calculated as a linear combination of pixel values from the reference areas. For non-integer offsets, interpolation of reference image is used. As already mentioned, after predicting the values of the encoded block and calculating the Residual signal, the next coding step is spectral transformation. In AVC, there are several options for orthogonal transformations of the Residual signal. When Intra-prediction of a whole macroblock with a size of 16x16 is implemented, the residual signal is divided into 4x4 pixel blocks; each of them is subjected to an integer analog of discrete two-dimensional 4x4 cosine Fourier transform. The resulting spectral components, corresponding to zero frequency (DC) in each block, are then subjected to additional orthogonal Walsh-Hadamard transform. With Inter-prediction, the Residual signal is divided into blocks of 4x4 pixels or 8x8 pixels. Each block is then subjected to a 4x4 or 8x8 (respectively) two-dimensional discrete cosine Fourier Transform (DCT, from Discrete Cosine Transform). In the next step, spectral coefficients are subjected to the quantization procedure. This leads to a decrease in bit capacity of digits representing the spectral sample values, and to a significant increase in the number of samples having zero values. These effects provide compression, i.e. reduce the number and bit capacity of digits representing the encoded image. The reverse side of quantization is the distortion of the encoded image. It is clear that the larger the quantization step, the greater is the compression ratio, but also the distortion is greater. The final stage of encoding in AVC is entropy coding, implemented by the algorithms of Context Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding. This stage provides additional compression of video data without distortion in the encoded image.
Ten years later. HEVC standard: what’s new?
The new H.265/HEVC standard is the development of methods and algorithms for compressing video data embedded in H.264/AVC. Let’s briefly review the main differences. An analog of a macroblock in HEVC is the Coding Unit (CU). Within each block, areas for calculation of Prediction are selected — Prediction Unit (PU). Each CU also specifies the limits within which the areas for calculating the discrete orthogonal transformation from the residual signal are selected. These areas are called the Transform Unit (TU). The main distinguishing feature of HEVC here is that the split of a video frame into CU is conducted adaptively, so that it is possible to adjust the CU boundaries to the boundaries of objects on the image (Figure 3). Such adaptability allows to achieve an exceptionally high quality of prediction and, as a consequence, a low level of the residual signal. An undoubted advantage of such an adaptive approach to frame division into blocks is also an extremely compact description of the partition structure. For the entire video sequence, the maximum and minimum possible CU sizes are set (for example, 64x64 is the maximum possible CU, 8x8 is the minimum). The entire frame is covered with the maximum possible CUs, left to right, top-to-bottom. It is obvious that, for such coverage, transmission of any information is not required. If partition is required within any CU, then this is indicated by a single flag (Split Flag). If this flag is set to 1, then this CU is divided into 4 CUs (with a maximum CU size of 64x64, after partitioning we get 4 CUs of size 32x32 each). For each of the CUs received, a Split Flag value of 0 or 1 can, in turn, be transmitted. In the latter case, this CU is again divided into 4 CUs of smaller size. The process continues recursively until the Split Flag of all received CUs is equal to 0 or until the minimum possible CU size is reached. Inserted CUs thus form a quad tree (Coding Tree Units, CTU). As already mentioned, within each CU, areas for calculating prediction- Prediction Units (PU) are selected. With Intra Prediction, the CU area can coincide with the PU (2Nx2N mode) or it can be divided into 4 square PUs of twice smaller size (NxN mode, available only for CU of minimum size). With Inter Prediction, there are eight possible options for partitioning each CU into PUs (Figure 3). Fig.3 Video frame partitioning into CUs is conducted adaptively The idea of spatial prediction in HEVC remained the same as in AVC. Linear combinations of neighboring pixel values, adjacent to the block on the left and above, are used as predicted sample values in the PU block. However, the set of methods for spatial prediction in HEVC has become significantly richer. In addition to Planar (analogue to Plane in AVC) and DC methods, each PU can be predicted by one of the 33 ways of “angular” prediction. That is, the number of ways, in which the values are calculated by “neighbor”-pixels, is increased by 4 times. Fig. 4. Possible partitioning of the Coding Unit into Prediction Units with the spatial (Intra) and temporary (Inter) CU prediction modes We can point out two main differences of Inter- prediction between HEVC and AVC. Firstly, HEVC uses better interpolation filters (with a longer impulse response) when calculating reference images with non-integer offset. The second difference concerns the way the information about the reference area, required by the decoder for performing the prediction, is presented. In HEVC, a “merge mode” is introduced, where different PUs, with the same offsets of reference areas, are combined. For the entire combined area, information about motion (motion vector) is transmitted in the stream once, which allows a significant reduction in the amount of information transmitted. In HEVC, the size of the discrete two-dimensional transformation, to which the Residual signal is subjected, is determined by the size of the square area called the Transform Unit (TU). Each CU is the root of the TU quad tree. Thus, the TU of the upper level coincides with the CU. The root TU can be divided into 4 parts of half the size, each of which, in turn, is a TU and can be further divided. The size of discrete transformation is determined by the TU size of the lower level. In HEVC, transforms for blocks of 4 sizes are defined: 4x4, 8x8, 16x16, and 32x32. These transformations are integer analogs of the discrete two-dimensional Fourier cosine transform of corresponding size. For size 4x4 TU with Intra-prediction, there is also a separate discrete transformation, which is an integer analogue of the discrete sine Fourier transform. The ideas of the procedure of quantizing spectral coefficients of Residual signal, and also entropy coding in AVC and in HEVC, are practically identical. Let’s note one more point which was not mentioned before. The quality of decoded images and the degree of video data compression are influenced significantly by post-filtering, which decoded images with Inter-prediction undergo before they are placed in the DPB. In AVC, there is one kind of such filtering — deblocking filter. Application of this filter reduces the block effect resulting from quantization of spectral coefficients after orthogonal transformation of Residual signal. In HEVC, a similar deblocking filter is used. Besides, an additional non-linear filtering procedure called the Sample Adaptive Offset (SAO) exists. Based on the analysis of pixel value distribution during encoding, a table of corrective offsets, added to the values of a part of CU pixels during decoding, is determined. In HEVC, the size of the discrete two-dimensional transformation, to which the Residual signal is subjected, is determined by the size of the square area called the Transform Unit (TU). Each CU is the quad-tree of TU’s. Thus, the TU of the upper level coincides with the CU. The root TU can be divided into 4 parts of half the size, each of which, in turn, is a TU and can be further divided. The size of discrete transformation is determined by the TU size of the lower level. There are four transform block sizes in HEVC: 4x4, 8x8, 16x16, and 32x32. These transforms are discrete two-dimensional Fourier cosine transform of corresponding size. For 4x4 Intra-predicted blocks, could be used another discrete transform — sine Fourier transform. The quantization of spectral coefficients of residual signal, and entropy coding in AVC and in HEVC, are almost identical. Let’s note one more point which was not mentioned before. The quality of decoded images, hence the degree of video data compression, is influenced significantly by post-filtering, which applied on decoded Inter-predicted images before they are placed in the DPB. In AVC, there is one kind of such filtering — deblocking filter. It masking blocking artifacts effect originating from spectral coefficients quantization after orthogonal transformation of residual signal. In HEVC, a similar deblocking filter is used. Besides, an additional non-linear filtering procedure called the Sample Adaptive Offset (SAO) exists. Sample level correction is based either on local neighborhood or on the intensity level of sample itself. Table of sample level corrections, added to the values of a part of CU pixels during decoding, is determined.
And what is the result?
Figures 4–7 show the results of encoding of several high-resolution (HD) video sequences by two encoders. One of the encoders compresses the video data in the H.265/HEVC standard (marked as HM on all the graphs), and the second one is in the H.264/AVC standard. Fig. 5. Encoding results of the video sequence Aspen (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Fig. 6. Encoding results of the video sequence BlueSky (1920x1080 25 frames per second) Fig. 7. Encoding results of the video sequence PeopleOnStreet (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Fig. 8. Encoding results of the video sequence Traffic (1920x1080 30 frames per second) Coding was performed at different quantization values of spectral coefficients, hence with different levels of video image distortion. The results are presented in Bitrate (mbps) — PSNR(dB) coordinates. PSNR values characterize the degree of distortion. On average, it can be stated that the PSNR range below 36 dB corresponds to a high level of distortion, i.e. low quality video images. The range of 36 to 40 dB corresponds to the average quality. With PSNR values above 40 dB, we can call it a high video quality. We can roughly estimate the compression ratio provided by the encoding systems. In the medium quality area, the bit rate provided by the HEVC encoder is about 1.5 times less than the bit rate of the AVC encoder. Bitrate of an uncompressed video stream is easily determined as the product of the number of pixels in each video frame (1920 x 1080) by the number of bits required to represent each pixel (8 + 2 + 2 = 12), and the number of frames per second (30). As a result, we get about 750 Mbps. It can be seen from the graphs that, in the area of average quality, the AVC encoder provides a bit rate of about 10–12 Mbit/s. Thus, the degree of video information compression is about 60–75 times. As already mentioned, the HEVC encoder provides compression ratio 1.5 times higher.
About the author
Oleg Ponomarev, 16 years in video encoding and signal digital processing, expert in Statistical Radiophysics, Radio waves propagation. Assistant Professor, PhD at Tomsk State University, Radiophysics department. Head of Elecard Research Lab.
First Chapter Previous Chapter The view of Sanctuary was made even more impressive as An’Ra and his team waited in the V-Lift. Through the window, they can see the ornate streets curving through resplendent pools underneath, dotted by the occasional fountain. “I hate this.” Vora groaned, dressed in a soldier’s standard battle uniform. “Why are we here, Commander?” “We were investigating genocide and possible use of bioweapons,” Sonak explained, “Even without the first part, Strain Y is going to scare a lot of people. I think it’s reasonable for the Council to take a personal interest in this. Besides, I think the real issue here is the fact you might actually have to speak to the Council.” “But...ugh, fine. Yes, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it when An’Ra came along and went, Party’s over, ass to the Council, now.” “Hey now.” An’Ra feigned offense, “I didn’t say it that way, did I?” “Kind of close, Commander.” Sonak chuckled. “But still, I think that this isn’t about keeping the galaxy safe.” Vora sighed. “I think the Council’s keeping an eye open for any opportunity to to convince the galaxy they’re still in charge.” “Or maybe they genuinely want to make sure that we’re not at risk of dying a horrible death by watching our own bodies melt.” Sonak shrugged. “Strain Y doesn’t care if you’re an officer or infantry.” “That assumes the Council cares about what’s going on outside of these walls.” Vora glanced over, wariness in her look. “Either way, we’re going to get our answer. Eyes open.” An’Ra said as the V-Lift doors parted ways, revealing the same ornate architecture within. Trees and grasses stole the eye as they walked through the hallways, various government officials from the myriad races conversing and conducting whatever business they were doing. After walking up some steps, they arrived at the large double-doors that lead to the Council Chambers. Standing on each side were the guards constantly on watch for any potential attack. Both of them Anaran, as expected. On approach, the guards opened up the doors to allow An’Ra and his team in. When they entered, the room was probably more magnificent than they expected. A grand, curved window dominated the view. An unintrusive look into the beautiful splendor of Sanctuary. Directly in front of An’Ra and his team was a pathway that led to a semi-circular desk, standing in front of the raised platform that the Council sat, who had just now noticed the arrivals and are settling themselves in. And it was there An’Ra got a good look at the Council. Four of them, half Esti, half Huak. An’Ra secretly never liked the Esti, the way he could see menacing fangs when their flat mouths opened, or those flaps of scale that expands outward into a hood. It just unnerved him, a reason he could never really find out. As soon as he sensed that they were ready, he walked up to the desk, wearing his officer’s dress uniform, comprised of a fine, smooth fabric shirt, adorned with a fluffy sash that went from his right shoulder down to his left side, shoulder pads accented with shining studs and finished with awards placed on his top-left chest, awards hard earned back in the Great War. “Commander An’Ra.” The Huak councilor on the far right side, Neual, began, thick fingers interlaced together as he rested his hands on the desk. “Thank you for agreeing to this unusual request, we are very appreciative.” “It’s no trouble, Councilor.” An’Ra gave a slight bow. “How can I help?” “We’ll start at the beginning.” The first Esti councilor, Zhur, stated, holding up a secure datapad to ensure the information is easily accessible. “Strain Y. Your report says that while there is confirmation it was used, it was not used in significant quantities. Can you elaborate on that for us?” “Previous uses of Strain Y all had one thing in common,” An’Ra began, “The amount deployed saturated the atmosphere of the planets they were used on. This is because, despite its lethality, is not actually that infectious. In order to guarantee the total elimination of a planet’s population, you will need to deploy it in such large numbers that everyone will be infected within minutes of deployment. In this case, for Planet 3, there simply wasn’t enough to reach that threshold.” “At which you go on to state that thermal weapons were used in a state of panic,” Yhiz, the second Esti councilor, added, “Can you explain your reasoning for us?” “As established before, Strain Y was used on the planet. My working theory is that, when they discovered that they grossly underestimated the amount needed, they panicked and used thermal weapons to both try and burn out the supplies used and finish the genocide they started.” “But if thermal weapons were indeed used, how did you confirm Strain Y was deployed?” Zhur spoke up. “We found pieces of Strain Y’s genetic material on the planet’s surface.” An’Ra glanced over to Zhur’s direction. “And as I arrived back in the system, I received a quantum packet from the expedition, stating that they have confirmed that Strain Y was indeed used. Adding that with the obvious use of thermal weaponry, I concluded that the attackers didn’t use enough of the weapon to guarantee extinction.” Zhur leaned back in her seat, scarlet eyes fixated on the desk. An’Ra couldn’t tell if she was trying to find a counter argument or just processing the information. “Have you found any evidence that can tell us if there’s more of the strain out in the galaxy?” Neual asked after giving a sigh through his wide nostrils. “I’m afraid not, sir. All I can definitively say is that this planet fell victim to a biological Cruel Weapon.” “I’m more concerned about the native life.” Ghala, the final and second Huak councilor, stated after being silent. “Are you absolutely certain that none of the planet’s indigenous life survived?” “The scientific team said that there’s a very low chance of that.” An’Ra’s ears flattened. “And after seeing the surface myself, I must agree. I don’t think we should wait for a miracle.” “Ah...I see.” Ghala leaned back in his chair, obviously disheartened. “Even if the planet is now incapable of supporting life, we still wish to move forward with a more symbolic gesture and statement by declaring Planet 3 of System AQ 115-4A illegal for colonization.” “But let’s move onto what I believe is the most pressing issue: the identity of the attackers.” Neual leaned forward. “Based on your report, you and the team have found nothing that neither confirms nor clears any potential suspect?” “That’s correct, Councilor.” An’Ra nodded. “We’ve found nothing, within the system and on the planet itself, that tells us anything about who did it.” “Are there any surviving infrastructure on the planet?” Ghala asked, straightening his posture. “Even if there isn’t much, maybe the natives’ equipment has something we can use?” “As established before, the planet was devastated terribly. There are indeed ruins of their civilization, but whether or not we can salvage anything from them is a different story.” An’Ra answered with a sigh. “So in that case, the Qu’Rathi are still the likely aggressors then.” Zhur stated. “I’m not convinced.” An’Ra shook his head. “Everything we have so far is just circumstantial, nothing solid.” “Yes, that proves they did it. But looking at it from a different perspective, nothing that proves they didn’t do it either.” Zhur countered, her eyes squinting some. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to press forward with what I think you’re planning, Councilor.” An’Ra leaned forward on the table, ears flattening back. “If you do, and we uncover evidence that clearly proves their innocence, you will be pushing an innocent race away.” “But if we uncover evidence that proves their guilt, then the trial will be much more expedient.” Yhiz joined in, his eyes also squinting slightly. “With respect Council, I still think that’s the worst decision you can make.” An’Ra’s teeth began to bare as he spoke. “We can’t make any decision until we acquire more evidence.” “Nothing we have proves that Strain Y is permanently removed as a future threat.” Zhur started, “Nothing we have proves that the Federation did not do anything. Right now, we have the threat of a Class 4 Cruel Weapon looming over everyone’s heads. People will start becoming scared, start wondering if their shadows will melt them at any time.” “I know that Councilors!” An’Ra raised his voice. “Give me time! I’m not saying this is over yet, just let me keep looking!” “We aren’t stopping your investigation, Commander.” Neual said, holding his hand up slightly. “We’re just informing you that you may not have the time you thought you had.” “What does that mean?” An’Ra’s ears stuck out at an angle, mixed between stiffening and anger. The councilors looked at each other for a few moments before Zhur stood up and took in a deep breath. “Commander, based on both the collected evidence so far, and lack of any other evidence, the Council has decided to proceed with charging the Qu’Rathi Federation on counts of Genocide, possession of a Cruel Weapon, and deployment of Cruel Weapons with intent for malicious harm. Out of respect for your efforts, Commander, we will give you eight months to continue your investigation. Beyond that, we will close your investigation to allow the courts time to process and review what has been collected.” “Are you insane?!” An’Ra shouted. “Do you even realize what would happen if you’re wrong?!” “We do, Commander.” Zhur nodded. “But the risk is just too high. The safety of the galaxy and justice for the inhabitants of System AQ 115-4A must be our top priority. This debrief is over.” An’Ra stood in complete and stunned silence, watching the Council casually get up from their seats and dispersing to their own private offices. It wasn’t until that they have fully left the chambers that An’Ra finally found the will to move and regroup with Sonak and Vora, both of whom are also equally stunned. “Those ekas!” Vora exclaimed. “It’s bad enough to be quick at accusing someone, but how dare they claim this is for those humans!” “And here I thought all those things the news were saying was just to get people to watch them.” Sonak muttered softly. “Commander, obviously this is bad.” “I know, Sonak.” An’Ra crossed his arms, ears now pointing straight back and teeth fully bared. “We can’t let them do this.” “But what can we do?” Sonak exclaimed. “What options do we have?” “Alliance Enforcement!” Vora declared. “Commander, what if you filed a complaint to the Lord-Enforcer? Tell him what’s going on?” “That’s a good idea actually.” Sonak nodded. “If we convince the Lord-Enforcer that the Council is being too hasty with our investigation, which shouldn’t be hard, he just might deny the Council’s request for prosecution!” “I can’t imagine the Lord-Enforcer approving this even without our complaint.” An’Ra replied. “Still, never hurts to be prepared. Come on, let’s get to it.” Jur’El leaned back in the puffy seat he was assigned to. The restaurant he entered had a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The lighting was dimmed, which complimented the dark but cozy ambiance of the room. The walls and floor each had a dark-themed color scheme, the seats were of a different scheme but not too different to oppose the goal set by the designer. And although the building was packed with customers, their conversations did not threaten to turn anyone deaf. It was a quiet and relaxed experience, something he needed desperately. Even now, as hard as he tried to focus on how delicious his food was, how balanced the flavor and texture of it was, he was still forced to relive what happened on Planet 3. He could hear the sudden screams of his colony group. The scientists who were first awoken that wanted to find out why their Life world was so different to the data they were given. To the families and menial workers who were just talking amongst themselves and organizing the supplies when those machines stormed the ship. And what still terrifies him, still sends his heart racing, was when that one machine entered the control room, blood drenching its chassis. Bits and pieces of Qu’Rathi innards on its cold mechanical manipulators. How it just stared at him, lifelessly, with a rifle aiming right at his chest. And those drills. Those ghenning drills. He was forced out of his torment by the rough poking of his shoulder. When he looked, it was another Qu’Rathi. “Captain Jur’El, right?” “Uh..yes, who are you?” He nodded in confusion. “Jhen.” She introduced herself, quickly taking a seat opposite from him. “I need to talk to you.” “About what?” “The expedition to that system deep in the Dead Zone.” She glared at him, mandibles tense. “The same system who’s Life world had a native population, the very same world being investigated as a genocide site, where your expedition went to settle.” “Jhen, please, we had no idea what was going on.” Jur’El leaned back, hands raised in a defensive posture. “All we were told was that this was the most pristine and beautiful Life world ever discovered in a system rich with stellar bodies.” “I don’t care about that. What I care is how you seem to be the only one who came back.” Jhen started raising herself from her seat. “I’m pretty sure that anyone who attempts to colonize a freshly cleansed world is forcibly removed from that planet and returned to their respective people. So where is everyone?” Jur’El’s eyes went wide. He knew exactly where this was going. “I...I can’t tell you.” “Don’t you dare.” Jhen snarled, now leaning over the table. “I’ve heard enough of that from the company, I’m not here to be force-fed more of it!” “Just...trust me,” Jur’El spoke softly, shakily leaving his seat, “You don’t want to know.” “Don’t you ghenning walk away from me!” Jhen shouted, grabbing Jur’El’s shoulder firmly, the other patrons now locking eyes to the two. “Two of my sons were on that mission! What happened to them?!” Jur’El clutched his head with a hand firmly, feeling tears exploding out of his eyes. His mind rushing back to those scenes. The sounds, the smell, the fear. Everything crashed into him all at once. And they’re not just memories now. They’re all coming back to him as if he was transported in time and placed back to the exact moment it started. Back to the moment where he was screaming for his wife and son to hide, to find a corner of the ship that was hard to see and to stay there until the shooting stopped. How he felt his heart give out when he heard them beg for their life when they were found, cut short by the merciless cracks of their alien weapons. How every possible feeling melted away when the clanking of the machine’s walking approached him, when he realized there was no nowhere in the control room to hide, not with how thorough those things were being. The frantic, mindless begging he got into when he saw the blood covered machine hold that weapon to him. “You’re safe!” A voice rang out. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him to come back. That scene melting away back into the restaurant. All those smells and sights to be gone. When he was certain that it was over, he looked around. There was Jhen, face beaten and currently being restrained by a blue-furred Anaran. And in front of him was another, gray-furred one. “You hear me? You’re safe now!” “I...wh-what happened?” “We saw what was going on. The Qu’Rathi over there? She was just screaming down your throat, all while you were just on the floor. Ken’A there nearly caved her face in by the time we got some distance between you two.” “Th...thank you.” Jur’El muttered, shakily getting himself back on his feet with the help of the gray Anaran. Jur’El was just about to walk away when the Anaran firmly, but not threateningly, gripped his shoulder. “I know the signs, friend.” He began softly. “Your soul is badly wounded and is bleeding heavily. Just like a doctor if you’re shot or cut, you need to find someone to talk to, get your soul back together.” “As long as I don’t run into another person like her, I’ll be fine.” Jur’El countered, trying to walk away still. “No, you won’t.” The Anaran still held his grip. “I need you to trust me. With how bad your soul is right now, doing anything other than talking to someone will just make it worse. And when your soul dies, well...believe me, it’s not a good experience, for anybody.” Jur’El stared into the gray Anaran’s orange eyes for a moment before he let out a sigh. “You’re not going to give up, are you?” “I’ve seen what happens too many times. Good Battle-Brothers, completely different people. Either they’re just shadows of themselves, or doomed to forever relive their horrors. If I have the chance to prevent it happening again, I’m giving it my all.” Jur’El looked aside for a few moments, internally fighting himself as to whether he should comply or keep resisting. He finally reached his decision when he became certain that the Anaran would most likely hunt him down as a life mission if he didn’t seek therapy. “Fine, I’ll do it. Got anyone in mind?” “A dear friend of mine. He’ll get you back on track, promise.” The Anaran patted Jur’El’s shoulder a few times before proceeding to lead him, motioning for Ken’A to let go of Jhen and follow. Michael, accompanied by his newly founded Praetorian Guard, continued his leisurely stroll down the surprisingly spacious corridor. The hallway itself was typical. All-metal construction with evenly spaced rows of blue-white lights. The Praetorian Guard themselves are comprised of those Servants who display both extreme scores in combat efficiency and effectiveness in defensive situations. Armed with the absolute best in magnetic-ballistics, the most impenetrable of armor designs and the highest optimized combat-frames, even a squad of these guards can hold off a virtual army, provided they aren’t subjected to bombardment or heavy ordinance. Just as Michael was about to enter the main command center of the station he was touring, Central contacted him on a private channel. “Master? Your new administration is ready.” He declared proudly. “Alright, let’s begin the introductions.” Michael replied, signaling the guardsmen that he’s about to enter a meeting. Although unneeded, the Guard promptly took up a defensive formation around him. He assumes this is mostly to keep unwelcome guests from interrupting him. The scenery of the tranquil design of the corridor melted away into the virtual world built by neon-blue blocks, the same visual that he witnessed when he first received the interface. After a few moments, several other Servants materialized and stood attention in a semi-circle in front of him. “My Lord.” The first Servant bowed, its voice deep, if gruff. “I’m Supreme Commander Schwarzkopf, in charge of managing our armed forces and overseeing the grand strategy of the Imperium.” “I am Secretary Elizabeth.” The second spoke with a calming, soothing feminine voice. “I’m responsible for ensuring our economy runs perfectly. In short, I make sure every project gets the hammers and resources it needs.” “I’m Foreign Minister Edward, at your service m’Lord.” The third, with a distinct British accent and of a composed, controlled voice. “While regretfully I’m useless at this stage, the moment we initiate contact with xeno species, I’ll handle diplomatic affairs and achieving our goals through negotiations when possible.” “No offense, but I thought every Servant wants to see aliens dead?” Michael spoke up with slight confusion. “Oh, of course. The very idea of ripping out the entrails of a xeno and suffocating them with it brings such joy it’s therapeutic.” Benjamin replied. Michael was unsure if he was joking or not. “I was appointed because I displayed the most effective ability at hiding such feelings.” “Ah...good to know.” Michael nodded dryly, not exactly assured. “Back to where we were?” “Yes, Lord. I’m Director Mansfield.” The fourth spoke with an eloquent-sounding voice. “I’m in charge of Imperial Intelligence, running operations abroad and managing counter-intelligence on the homefront. I give you my word that we will know everything about the aliens and they will know nothing about us.” “And that leaves me, Master.” Central began. “As a result of this delegation, I now possess more processing cycles towards research and development. That means that I’ll be in charge of ensuring Imperial dominance in technology. I will also act as your adjutant, filtering out information that does not need your attention.” “Well...shit, this sounds like an actual government I’m in charge of.” Michael gave out a nervous chuckle. “All the more reason to get down to business though. Let’s start with the first matter. Schwarzkopf, how’s our military coming along?” “It’s growing rapidly, your majesty.” He answered with distinct pride. “Already we have several hundred frigates, fifty light cruisers and twenty heavy cruisers, with the first wave of battleships due to exit the drydocks within a few days. Additionally, we have established four different army groups with fifty divisions each.” “I thought we’d take a lot longer.” Michael stated with no hidden amazement. “There’s great benefit in our workforce able to operate at a hundred percent every hour of the day.” Elizabeth commented, her emotion-flags also indicating pride. “And speaking of which, our population of Servants grows geometrically. That benefits both our economy and the military. Our economy by providing more workers in skilled and unskilled labor, and the military by providing more crew members and soldiers.” “So in short, it won’t be long before we become a virtual powerhouse.” Michael said, arms crossed. “Especially if we continue expanding.” Elizabeth nodded. “On that note, we have already claimed several dozen more systems.” “With Rigel and Betelgeuse selected as naval bases.” Schwarzkopf chimed in. “So we’re expanding in all the ways, got it.” Michael nodded. “Now the second matter. Terraforming Mars.” “At present, there are two issues that must be resolved.” Central answered. “The first problem is the planet’s lack of a magnetosphere. Without that, any and all organic life would perish under lethal bombardment of the Sun’s solar wind, in addition to any sustainable atmosphere being lost to space. The second problem is Mars’ inability to retain heat, the cause for it’s known low planetary temperature.” “And knowing you, you already have possible answers?” Mansfield shrugged. “Correct. The heat issue is rather trivial to solve. Mars already has an abundant amount of carbon-dioxide within the atmosphere, a well known greenhouse gas. Combined with even more of the gas locked planet side, once temperatures begin to rise, we will set off a snowball effect. However, that is all for naught if the atmosphere is allowed to escape into space by solar wind.” “So basically the key here is the magnetosphere.” Michael added. “Build that and everything becomes simple.” “Exactly.” Central affirmed. “Already there are two main methods. One is to build superconducting rings around the planet and drive them with direct current. With enough power, we can generate magnetic fields strong enough to form a virtual magnetosphere.” “And what’s the second?” Elizabeth said. “The second is to construct a station at the L1 Lagrange Point that will generate a dipole magnetic field, diverting the solar wind around the planet instead of into it. Although it was simulated using slower, binary processing, the results indicate that Mars would gain half the atmospheric pressure of Earth’s within a few years.” “So then, the main focus is building that magnetic shield.” Michael spoke firmly. “Elizabeth? Let’s get the ball rolling. Coordinate with Central as needed.” “At once, my Lord.” Elizabeth bowed. Unlike the Council chambers, the office of the Lord-Enforcer was much less opulent and more pragmatic. After going through the receptionist area, An’Ra and his team were escorted into the main office itself. However, just like the chambers, a large window dominated the view on entry, granting another view of a city district on Sanctuary. And sitting in the more rectangular desk was the Lord-Enforcer himself, Dura. Blue eyed, with a fur of dull-orange it reminds of a sunset. As soon as An’Ra and his team walked into the office, the Enforcer sat up, tail wagging. “Commander An’Ra, in my office!” He exclaimed, arms out to his sides. “Forgive me sir, but I never thought I’d see the day!” “A pleasure to meet you, sir.” An’Ra replied warmly, greeting the Enforcer with their fists clasped together and pulling themselves inward, shoulder to shoulder. “Please, no need to be formal with me.” Dura chuckled. “Sit down, what brings you here?” After taking their respective seats, An’Ra looked at Dura grimly. “I’m here to file a delay on a request for prosecution against the Federation.” Dura’s ears angled themselves in a mixture of stiffening and lowering. “I just got the paperwork from the Council. And I can tell you that won’t be needed. I’ve already submitted my rejection.” “With respect, sir.” Sonak spoke up. “I get the feeling that the Council might fight that.” “Don’t worry, I’m not going to present my back to them just because they ask.” Dura gave off a grin. “I might be some paper-tosser now, but that just means the battlefield is different. Don’t worry Commander, as long as I’m here, you’ll get the chance to finish this investigation properly.” “Thank you, Enforcer.” An’Ra smiled as he got up from his seat. “With any luck, you won’t have to fight long.” “Oh, take your time!” Dura replied with an inflection of humor. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve had in years. Was just about to smash my head on this desk any day now actually.” “Wait, really?” Vora asked, ears stiffened. “It’s just a joke, Vora.” Sonak assured dryly. “Oh...” Her ears flattened as the team exited the office. When they arrived in the main plaza where the Enforcer’s office is located, they congregated in a small collection of benches nearby an ornate fountain that commemorated the Anaran defense of Felaal IV, largely considered the turning point of the Great War, which further enhanced the beauty of the surrounding scenery of floating walkways above crystal-clear waters. “Well, that’s a relief, hopefully.” An’Ra began, letting out a decompressing sigh. “I meant what I said earlier, An’Ra.” Sonak said. “If the Council are determined to charge the Federation, which I’m sure they made abundantly clear, they’re not going to let the Enforcer drop mines in their path just like that.” “Which just means we can’t lose our focus.” Vora replied sternly. “So, what are our options? We can’t exactly go back to Planet 3, there’s really no leads there.” “What about that Detective we met when we arrived?” Sonak suggested. “He was handling that whistle blower. Maybe that’s something worth looking into?” “There’s also the Nav-Net.” Vora said. “All we got right now is that the Feds were at that location, but what if we look at the rest of the network? Try and trace their path?” “The network doesn’t extend into the Dead Zone.” Sonak countered. “No, not like that. We look at the network across Alliance space. We start with the logs that end at the Dead Zone, and we try to backtrack their route.” “We’ll need to obtain legal authorization for that, Vora.” An’Ra stated. “Actually, if I could add something.” Sonak said with his arms crossed. “If the Federation didn’t actually do it, then that questions the credibility of those codes. I think there’s a question that hasn’t been asked yet. And that is, are those codes faked?” “That’s...a good point actually.” Vora acceded. “If we get the legal permission to examine the NavNet logs, then if the Federation didn’t do it, the logs across the network won’t support it. Think about it. You need a big fleet to do what just happened, and that fleet has to come from somewhere.” “And that would mean if this was a frame job, they need a way to account for that.” An’Ra continued, confidence flaring. “It’s one thing to trick a single Nav-Buoy, but I really doubt anyone is capable enough of affecting the network itself.” “We still need the Enforcer’s help to get access to the network.” Sonak reminded. “Let’s go get it then.” An’Ra stated firmly. With that, the team left their meeting spot and began returning to the Enforcer’s office. With confidence in their step, the walk back to the office was much shorter compared to before. However, things took a turn when An’Ra and the team noticed a large gathering of officers around the office entrance. They didn’t have to time to wonder when a group exited the office, dragging a combative Dura out with them. “Commander, this isn’t good.” Sonak growled under his breath. An’Ra simply stepped forward and grabbed one of the arresting officers. “What in Arenar’s Sword is going on here?” “Dura’s under arrest on suspicion of corruption.” The officer replied flatly. “Lil’Al has been appointed as acting Lord-Enforcer.” “The Council’s behind this, Commander!” Dura shouted, his feet literally dragging along the floor as four officers were taking him away. “Don’t believe a word they say about me!” An’Ra and his team just stood there in stunned silence, watching and hearing the Anaran official being dragged virtually kicking and screaming. By the time they returned to their senses, hushed conversations was populating both the room and outside. “We’re not going to get in the network, are we?” Sonak asked, still recovering. “We still have to try, come on.” An’Ra said, already moving. When the team returned to the office, standing next to the desk was a slender Esti. No doubt Lil’al. She was looking out the window when she turned around upon hearing the encroaching footsteps. “Yes, may I help you?” She began. “Acting Lord-Enforcer Lil’Al?” An’Ra began, trying the diplomatic route first. “I’m Commander An’Ra, investigating the genocide by use of Strain Y. We’d like to request legal authorization to examine the logs of the Nav-Net.” “For what purpose?” She replied, taking her seat. “We believe that it may hold evidence that either confirms or disproves the Federation’s alleged involvement in the attack.” Lil’Al leaned back in her seat, staring at them. “The Nav-Net is the lifeblood of, well, everything. Commerce, tourism, law enforcement. It holds great information about who has gone where, and in what ship, Commander. You realize that, don’t you?” “I do, and what you’ve said precisely states how important that is, how important the potential evidence is.” Lil’Al stayed motionless for a few moments, her long, lithe fingers twiddling about that indicates her thought. “Very well, I’ll start the paperwork to get you authorization, just be mindful of what you’re about to analyze.” “Thank you.” An’Ra gave a slight bow. “In addition, I’m not sure if it’s been passed along, but Dura has rejected the Council’s request for prosecuting the Federation. Can I assume you’ll uphold that?” “I’m afraid not, Commander.” Lil’Al replied flatly. “The galaxy has suffered a great loss through the genocide of a race who’ve suffered the universe’s cruel sense of humor by being placed both far away from us and deep within an almost uninhabitable region. I have overturned Dura’s rash decision and accepted the Council’s request.” “Then I’d like to file a delay on that decision, immediately.” An’Ra replied, ears flattened back. “On what grounds?” “Lack of decisive evidence, to start.” “Same could be said on your side, Commander.” Lil’Al let out a sigh. “Yes, all the evidence collected thus far is not...ideal. However, the most significant points at this time are that a young race who was just about to leave their homeworld was exterminated through the most horrible of all options. We cannot ignore that.” “But we also can’t rush to conclusions. We need to continue investigating and only go after someone if we have at least one crucial piece of information.” An’Ra countered, arms crossed and his teeth starting to bare. “And I agree, that’s how it should be done.” Lil’Al replied. “But if we do, we risk dragging out an investigation to such a length we may end up forgetting this tragedy. We cannot allow such an insult to Planet 3’s memory. I’m sorry, but I must reject your petition for judiciary delay.” Next Chapter AN: Every single time I paste this in, Reddit is just determined to put it in some code block. Anyways, As of now, I've finally completely locked in the plot for this story, just one major question that could've changed a lot was on my mind for a while. Enjoy!
Emeline Shaw, the leader of the Outcasts, has fallen back from her defeat on Roosevelt Island and barricaded herself deep in the Manning National Zoo. To get to her, you will need to fight through the blockades and the Outcasts who protect her to put an end to her violence.
New Main Mission: Camp White Oak
The Black Tusks and their leader have set up a strategic position close to an estate nestled deep in the woodlands, and your assignment is to take them down and capture him in the new Camp White Oak mission.
New Feature: Expeditions
Expeditions are free events that bring players to unexplored locations around D.C. to discover new narrative and gameplay opportunities. These sites offer unique challenges and lore not found anywhere else: new collectibles, treasure rooms, environmental puzzles, unique boss mechanics, and more await every Agent who embarks on our Expeditions! New Classified Assignment: Central AquariumNew Classified Assignment: NSA Site B13
Shepherd Reward System – Call for Backup
Added the ability to earn the “Shepherd” title by responding to call for backups and earning endorsements. An agent who received help will be able to endorse the helping agent.
Added Discovery Mode difficulty for the Operation Dark Hours raid.
Added Raid Completion Time to Clan Leaderboards. This leaderboard ranks clans based on how quickly they were able to complete the raid as a clan-only party.
New Exotic: Diamondback Exotic Rifle
Lever action rifle
5 round magazine
Diamondback randomly marks an enemy. Hitting that enemy consumes the mark, guaranteeing a critical hit with +20% total damage. A new random enemy is marked afterwards, and whenever you reload.
After hitting 5 marked enemies, gain +50% reload speed, +20% total damage and all shots fired are guaranteed critical hits for 10s.
While drawn, each time a round is loaded, gain +20% bonus armor for 3s. While holstered, each time you reload or cycle your current weapon, gain +8% bonus armor for 2s
New Exotic: BTSU Exotic Gloves
Black Tusk gloves
Skills that apply status effects gain +50% status effect duration and +50% skill haste
Whenever you apply a status effect, your gloves become infused with that for 60s. While infused, you gain +10% skill damage, +10% skill healing and repair and +10% skill duration for each Utility (yellow battery) on your gear.
Whenever you throw a skill, 1.25s after landing, it creates an explosion applying the infused status effect to all enemies within 6m. Enemies affected by the infused status effect take 50% more damage from your skills.
Heroic Bosses now drop Exotics
Only exotics that the player is qualified for.
For world drop exotics it requires that the player has the drop previously
For crafted exotics, it requires that the player has the blueprint
Eagle Bearer remains exclusive to the Operation Dark Hours Raid
The purpose of dropping these is to allow a chance to get GS 500 variants without upgrading, or get materials to upgrade other exotics
These exotics can be team shared to other players.
Exotic items no longer have a random range on their damage/armor roll. All exotics are set to the previous highest possible value. This also affects existing exotic items.
New Assault Rifle: Carbine 7
30 round mag
By default rolls with a new talent:
Every 3 reloads from empty increases your magazine capacity by 100%
New Light Machine Gun: Stoner LMG
200 Mag capacity
By default rolls with a new talent:
Suppressing an enemy, that is not currently suppressed, grants +5% weapon damage for 10 seconds. Max stack is 5.
Increased the base damage of Shotguns in PvE.
M870: +36% damage
AA12: +29% damage
Super 90: +33% damage
SASG-12: +33% damage
SPAS12 +8% damage
Added Flashlight attachments for pistols
Developer Comments: We took a hard look at the current meta. The builds that are fun, effective and popular. We knew that skill builds, while it being something people want to play with, was nowhere near competitive. We knew there was an explosives damage build that was on the fringe of popularity, but none that actually relied on really good skill mods driven by skill power. We analyzed the best damage builds and survivability builds out there and looked at their efficiency - how fast they kill, how fast they can clear content, how fast they can take down enemies - and mapped that to our skills. How much more power do skills need to get from 3K skill power (our current maximum requirement on skill power mods) to compensate for all the damage bonuses the player is "giving up" on gear to reach that skill power? Then we looked at each skill and what it should be good at (burst, sustain, single target damage, survivability etc) and went to work tuning the mods to make a skill build approach the efficiency of a "red" damage build or a "blue" tank build. To that effect, here are the current changes to skill mods power levels, and in some cases base numbers, on skills.
Cooldown Reduction has been replaced with skill haste. Skill haste works equivalent to speed. So 100% skill haste reduces cooldown by 50%, like a car speeding up by 100% getting to it's destination in half the time. This means that the player can invest in more than 100% Haste and still get something back. It also means there's a diminishing return to Skill Haste, as opposed to cooldown reduction where each point was actually worth more than the last one. This allows us to have a good amount of Skill Haste possible from gear, but even larger amounts granted by high skill power Skill Mods, granting skill builds more frequent access to their souped up skills. To that effect, these are the changes to Haste (formerly Cooldown Reduction)
Removed the 90% Cooldown Reduction hard cap
Lowered the minimum Cooldown cap for all skills from 10 seconds to 3, except for the Chem Launcher which is now 8
Renamed all instances of Cooldown Reduction on existing gear to Skill Haste, with a 50% increase to their base values
Eg: +10% Cooldown Reduction will become +15% Skill Haste
Increased Surge talent Skill Haste bonus from +10% to +20%
Increased Alps Summit Armament 1-piece Skill Haste bonus from +10% to +20%
Increased China Light Industries Corporation 3-piece Skill Haste bonus from +10% to +30%
Increased Petrov Defense Group 3-piece Skill Haste bonus from +10% to +30%
Increased Tip of the Spear 3-piece Skill Haste bonus from +20% to +40%
Specialization Skill Mods (granted from each spec tree)
Removed all Skill Power requirements
Bonuses greatly improved to provide a strong initial boost to the skill platform
Cyclone Magazine - Extra Mortar Ammo bonus increased from +1 to +3
SHD CPU V.2 - Damage increased from +7% to +100%
Magnetic Disc - Skill Haste increased from +9.7% to +80%
Larrea Tridenta Infusion - Healing bonus increased from +14.5% to +50%
Graphene Battery - Duration increased from +14.5% to +80%
Carbon Fiber Frame - Skill Haste increased from +9.7% to +80%
Adaptive Insulation Foam - Skill Haste bonus increased from 60% to 100%
Synthetic Mineral Frame - Skill Haste bonus increased from 60% to 100%
Titanium Reinforcement - Health bonus increased from +45% to +100%
Shape-memory Alloy - Deflected Damage bonus increased from +20% to +100%
Cementitious Material - Holstered Regeneration bonus increased from +60% to +100%
Weaved Aramid Fiber - Health bonus increased from +45% to +100%
Supramolecular Networks - Active Regeneration bonus increased from +20% to +100%
Liquid Metal Microdroplets - Holstered Regeneration bonus increased from +60% to +100%
Thermoresponsive Polymer - Deflected Damage bonus increased from +20% to +100%
Smart UHMWPE Lexicon - Active Regeneration bonus increased from +20% to +100%
Smart UHMWPE Lexicon - Ballistic Shield Health +100% variant added
Alignment Valve - Damage +100% variant added
Tungsten Compound - Damage +100% variant added
Propantriol Adhesive - Skill Haste bonus increased from +40% to +200%
Microfiller Resin - Skill Haste bonus increased from +40% to +200%
Hardened Casing - Health bonus lowered from 60% to 50%
Tungsten Compound - Max Targets bonus increased from +3 to +5
Guiding System - Max Targets bonus increased from +3 to +5
Added a crafting bench upgrade in World Tier 5 that allows players to craft at Gear Score 500. The items crafted are gear score 500, there will be no random range in terms of gear score/power. The bench upgrade is given to players when they complete the “Enter WT5”-project (same as all the other bench upgrades in endgame, the upgrade will be available at the bench once the bench is upgraded to World Tier 5). Players already in WT5 will automatic get it as they log in, The upgrade requires 1 weapon and 1 gear piece of Gear Score 490+, and some of each Specialized (blue) material Crafted items can be used in recalibration, both as materials and to be improved
Deconstructing High-End gear now guarantees a brand material (increased from 50% drop chance). Named branded items also award the brand mat on deconstruction
Deconstructing gear set items awards 4 of each Specialized (blue) material
Added an opt-in perk for the player to share blueprints and materials between characters in endgame. Some Blueprints and mats are excluded to not break game logic/progression, such as the specific exotic materials. This perk can be crafted and the blueprint is available at Inaya, the Crafting vendor.
The blueprints awarded from control points, vendors and projects are merged into one pool of rewards. Players can get all these blueprints from all three sources. Once the pools has been exhausted, none of the sources will give more blueprints.
Increased the radius of the Gunner's Riot Foam Grenade from 2m to 3m
Changed shotgun PvP modifier to 1.0 (was 1.65)
Net result in PvP with revised normalization modifiers:
M870: -14% damage
AA12: -21% damage
Super90: -17% damage
SASG-12: -17% damage
SPAS12: -42% damage
Changed the general PvP modifier to 0.55 (was 0.40)
Reduced the TAC-50 signature weapon’s damage per shot
Calculated Talent reduced to 20% from 10%. Now works off any kill from cover instead of weapon kills.
Cassie Now sells GS 500 items. She sells normal gear, some exotics and named weapons
Improved player feedback when trying to pick up ammo with maximum signature weapon ammo
Inspecting a player now allows inspection of weapons, grenades and skills
Intercepted projectile by the deflector drone now do a % damage, rather than binary be dropped or not
Return player control quicker after dropping down
Reduced Depth of Field strength when aiming
Improved reload + interaction prioritization (if you hold down the interact, it will cancel the reload and start the interaction)
Improved player replication for players with widely different quality connections, should reduce inconsistent speedup/freezing of remote players
Slapback System enabled: The gunshot echo system that was featured briefly in the private beta prior to launch has been re-enabled
Improved Arabic voice-over localization
Added missing lore description for Dodge Citys Gunslinger Holster
Cyclone Magazine +Extra Sniper Ammo variant added to all loot list quality tiers
Unstable Oscillator and Atmosperic Analyzer Pulse Mods now properly reference the correct Effect Duration platform modifier
Vac Pack and Guiding System Firefly mods now correctly increase Max Targets by the amount listed on the tooltip
Distributed Architecture and Super Glue Pulse mods no longer affect the radius/range of the Banshee Pulse
Explosive Seeker Mine radius now correctly says 5m in the Skills UI
Cluster Seeker Mine radius is now displayed in the Skills UI
Explosive and Cluster Seeker Mines now show the correct explosion radius before detonating
Incinerator Turret burn damage is now affected by all increases to Skill Damage from geatalents
Firestarter Chem Launcher burn damage is now affected by all increases to Skill Damage from geatalents
Firestarter Chem Launcher now correctly states that it inflicts fire damage.
The spam filter really didn't like me this week. This is my fourthfifth attempt to make a post that won't get removed immediately upon submission. This was entirely written by yesterday afternoon, and I'm still confused as to why it's not live, so I'm reposting it. Outside of Hunt-land, next week, Syntax is going to have finals and a busy work schedule. Not only that, but the plug separated from the cord on his laptop charger yesterday. We soldered it, but we don't know how long that'll hold up or how long it'll take for a new one to be shipped. While there isn't much that will prevent me from solving things personally, I likely will not be able to keep up on my own (especially since we're down to only the stuckest things.) The title might be a bit weird this week, but I didn't have a pun or a pop culture reference in my head. That's because I spent most of the weekend playing Magic: The Gathering like the nerd I am. I realized that my favorite Magic card would be doubly (if not triply) relevant to the puzzles in this update, so it sort of became the name of the post. Anyway, here it goes again.
Usually, I put questions about the rules in the "final notes" section, but this is important enough to go in the header. We finally unlocked Your Birthday Town this week (party on!) It's been unclear whether there's any non-trivial way for us to interact with it-- the answers I've heard have consistently varied between "no" and "maybe". If there were spoiler-tastic behind-the-scenes discussions about what would happen when we got here, we obviously haven't heard the results of them. It was suggested at some point that we could just view the answer to see what the puzzle should have been, then move on with our lives. That feels kind of unsatisfying, but since we have no way to know what the difficult-to-replicate part of the puzzle could be, we'll do it if we have no other options by the time of the next write-up (even if it's another announcement that says the Hunt didn't move far enough.) Incidentally, that will be a week from tomorrow, which is Syntax's actual birthday.
Tales of a Magic: The Gathering-Crazed Shire
A Tiny Note About Rose Garden
While it was fairly obvious that something was missing from the clues, I'm surprised that we didn't use the years or realize that team names could be important until now. Sometimes, we completely miss the intent of a puzzle when we go through it. This puzzle's design was a lot more clever than we were.
A Tiny Note About I AM GROOT
People still ask me about this one-- it happened at least once at Magic this weekend. I told a lot of people about this before I knew how to get the answer, and I still get asked if I've solved it. They're amazed that people actually figured out what to do and were able to do it, and are generally surprised that the answer doesn't have a lot to do with Groot.
A Tiny Note About Something In Common
I've had some problems explaining what this puzzle was to outsiders. I've had some success, though, mostly by singing the House of the Rising Sun melody with the lyrics "I wanna be the very best / That saved a wretch like me / Remember Christ our savior was / United States Marines".
A Tiny Note About No Shirt
One of the most surprising moments in this entire journey was when I found out that the solution page to this puzzle was entirely clean.
Puzzle-Specific Notes (Solved)
A Bunch Of Ripoffs
"I would say that's a novel approach, except that it's exactly not as novel as other teams." - the puzzle creator Identify, sort, index, solve. It's been a common enough archetype in Hunt history to get a name. There were a few of them near the beginning of the Hunt this year-- mostly about weird pop-culture topics for comic relief-- but the formula has rarely been played straight in the later rounds. There have been a couple of puzzles (IN SYNdiCation, for example) where we got stuck because we incorrectly assumed that they would play the formula straight. I've sort of come to expect puzzles that start with "identify, sort" to end with "sort again, index, task" or "do something completely unrelated to the rest of the puzzle, solve". This one was the former. Syntax tackled everything on the puzzle page fairly quickly, so I didn't have a lot to do with identifying the books. One thing that he realized very quickly was that people avoid naming the villain in a whodunit when they give a short synopsis of it. Between the obscurity of some of the books and the amount of Google hits that we found to be completely unhelpful, the identification here was actually fairly difficult. The phrase "TEAR US A NEW ONE" came out of it all. We thought that making a new mystery novel cover would be easy but potentially time-consuming, so we worked on other things until we hit a slow week. Then, last week was so slow that we barely got to averaging one solve a day. I was at the point where we had six solves and I wanted one more before I wrote anything, and decided to complete this. As it turns out, I'm really bad at using image manipulation tools to recreate the images in the puzzle with different text. As it also turns out, I didn't have a disposable mystery novel to tear up. (Something about tearing up books makes me feel a little uncomfortable, as well.) Then I remembered that the context in which the phrase "tear us a new one" comes up is rarely about literally tearing something. "I'll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals..." - a great sage, probably I needed a long insult-laced tirade to submit in lieu of a novel cover, and the Navy Seal copypasta was the first thing that came to my head. Of course, I did edit it so that it was a lot more relevant to the puzzle and to our team in general. I have to say that I really enjoyed this one. That being said, as our Hunt is slow and unofficial, the various task submissions can have wildly varying response times. While waiting for a response, we'd managed to solve Split Seven Ways, and I proceeded to post the write-up for the week. Even though the delay sort of implied that something was happening in the background, I was surprised when the response that I got back was a continuation of the puzzle. It was a great twist, and it didn't take too long for me to find out what was missing from the cover to solve it.
Most of the puzzles that played the "identify-sort-index-solve" formula entirely straight this year have had at least one step that was about a completely different topic from the rest of the puzzle. This was no exception. A lot of effort on my part was put into dissecting the seemingly-irrelevant changes to the original books' text ("Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. Patty.") Travelogue has had more extraneous information presented on the puzzle page than almost anything else this year, all things considered, and it definitely obfuscated the correct path to the answer even with the blatant flavor text. I had the three-letter abbreviations and authors listed from before we took any of the puzzles seriously for some reason. "Are these airport codes?" gets suggested nearly as often as "is this Caressing?", and we asked that question multiple times before I got anything out of it. Syntax and I had both thought that airports weren't relevant to the puzzle for some time; we knew that most or all of the TLAs were real airport codes, but they were usually for tiny airports, and it isn't too unlikely that it could happen with completely random letters. This week, I decided to list them all out anyway. At a certain point last year, Syntax and I had a discussion about how difficult it would be for someone to visit every time zone. Even disregarding the fact that repeatedly flying overseas to different countries would be prohibitively expensive for almost everyone, there are still a lot of time zones that are just plain hard to get to. Several countries which are very questionable tourist desinations have unique time zones. There are also a few time zones which don't have a lot of land in them. UTC-12 only has two uninhabited islands in it, for example, and UTC+14 isn't much better. At first, we thought that UTC-2 would also be very difficult to visit, with its landmasses only consisting of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but then we realized that Fernando de Noronha, a small archipelago off the coast of Brazil, was much more accessible and just so happened to use that time zone. That last bit of information ended up being extremely relevant here. I ended up listing out the airports on the spreadsheet this week, despite them not having any apparent pattern, hit the one in Fernando de Noronha, and correctly assumed that it was only included because of the severe lack of airports in UTC-2. Even though the stretch of time zones was apparent, my chart was reversed, and it took a couple of minutes to figure out how to properly index. I don't know whether the last letters of the codes running from UTC-1 to UTC-7 were meant to spell out "on a card", but I took it as a clue. Since I completely failed to think of a non-numerical playing card that was three letters long, I had to figure out how to properly index into the authors' names and then feel really stupid after looking up the code for Lanzarote. I'd guess that this would be among the hardest non-technical puzzles in Bloomsday, except that three-letter answers are typically pretty easy to backsolve.
The main obstacle to completing this was getting enough people that were willing to be guinea pigs. Thankfully, I still know a lot of people at my former college's board gaming club, and this wasn't too different from a normal game of charades with us. We had two friends on one side of a large room there, me and a friend on the other side, and Syntax moderating. Syntax assumed that we couldn't both participate without spoiling the puzzle. Because Syntax was moderating, he also made decks of cards with the words on them so we could send them back and forth in a random order. The first couple of messages were rocky, but after a certain point, doing the correct motions got to be fairly simple (though it distracted a lot of people walking by.) At some point, my partner left to go play another game, so I had to signal to the other team by myself. Letters like "T" and "Y" suddenly got really hard. Since I had a complete team sending things to me, and I only needed to receive four messages, I quickly figured out the puzzle, and got to the answer without the other side. But, apparently, it couldn't end until the other team could recognize all of the correct codes. "GOLD INLAY" was not something that they were picking up on, and even with me sending the message repeatedly, it didn't get communicated very clearly. To whoever helped us with our semaphore, thank you for the 20 solvent.
In Holi Town, a certain Mr. Chand tells you a colorful story about three members of the Indian Resistance and their journeys throughout the subcontinent. - flavor text, emphasis mine "That's so stupid if it's actually the answer." - Syntax I looked at this for a while during a break between rounds of a Magic tournament and realized that I probably had to index into the cities by color somehow. While the Ticket to Ride map was fairly obvious to us, and identifying the cities wasn't too difficult, we somehow forgot about resistor color codes existing. Oops. I like how the character names both were color words and were colored in properly. There was no confusion there. We also thought that it was supposed to be more of a logic puzzle than what it actually was. This is where I mention that we only got one Holi solve this week. Also, this is where I talk about not being able to say a lot about certain puzzles. Did I mention that Holi is hard and stuck to the point of being unreasonable? I kind of have to do that.
Turn On A Dime
Meanwhile, a lot of the puzzles in Bloomsday were decidedly quick, and they also had some of the flashiest presentation. I don't know how you all find out everything that has ever been alphabetized. While Syntax was busy matching the front of the coins, I was identifying the images on the back and lucked into finding the design of the ten pence coins before I realized that there were multiple designs that went from A to Z. We still don't know how there were so many near-identical fronts or backs of US coins with different values. Several of the coins' differences came down to the mintmarks; meanwhile, a few of them we had to disambiguate by seeing what would make a correctly-spelled clue phrase. We realized that the mintage numbers mattered, and we started to work on opposite ends of the line. Syntax found the letter "B" to be the first thing in the message, and I expressed concern. "It's a 26-letter clue phrase. That isn't an A for "answer." That isn't a C for 'call in X'. That isn't a T for 'the solution to all of your problems is the name of this coin.' It's a B for 'bring us something'. Probably a coin. Hopefully not a past Mystery Hunt coin, because I don't think we have any of those." - my feelings, paraphrased We learned that the expression started with "bring" and ended with "coin", and things got worse. It didn't help that this process was pretty slow-- there wasn't one convenient source we could use for the number of every coin in existence. The gap being filled in with "HQ any real Canadian" was honestly a relief. I kind of assumed that you'd normally keep the coin, but just like with our joker, I decided to use our inability to give you all an object could be an opportunity to be creative. Here are the pictures of a Canadian $25 coin that got submitted. We have one laying around because at one point, our family drove to Winnipeg because it was close and we hadn't ever seen it before. That happens to be where the Canadian mint is; they sell a lot of souvenir coins and things, and they really like to talk about Canada having painted circulation coins in full color. (Oddly, the Winnipeg mint doesn't typically make collector coins; that's usually reserved for the other mint in Ottawa that makes nothing but collector coins. They do, however, make all of the coins that are intended to go into circulation. Maybe a regular coin would have been more fitting.) After Travel Planning had the hardest part of the puzzle on the flyer, I've been cautious about assuming that whatever we get back from calling into Setec will be either a direct answer line or a puzzle with a trivial solution. The final step ended up looking hard. It looked a lot harder than it was, though. I'd stopped thinking about those ten pence coins a while back, but Syntax didn't, and we got to the answer right away.
Yesterday, Syntax said that the worst kind of mistake is when you dismiss the right answer while chasing something else. This was in reference to a different puzzle that's a couple of entries below this. I'd beg to disagree, though. To me, the second-worst kind of mistake is thinking of the right answer and throwing it out. The worst kind of mistake is when you end up with a wrong answer that doesn't have any apparent differences from what the right answer should be. While the presentation was cool and answering the clues was fun, we got through that part fast enough to not have a story. (The inclusion of a list of Chinese names and a patent number in the puzzle was pure evil, however.) We had the right mechanics for getting digits out of the clues, too. I called the number we had, which I will not mention because it might be the thing that's causing my posts to disappear, and this is where the fun began. "Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or dial 611 for customer service. Message G A zero zero one fifty-one." Before I could dial again, another message played: "Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or dial 611 for customer service. Message M N one eight four fifty-one." Dialing 611 did nothing, and having the "51" at the end of both messages didn't help, either. The call disconnected itself. I called the number again. "Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or dial 611 for customer service. Message I L zero zero two fifty-one." "Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or dial 611 for customer service. Message M N one eight three fifty-one." That's it! Every time I call, I get some random other state's number, and a message telling me where I am with a random number, and I need to figure out how they relate to each other. There's no way that there would just be random message numbers from our service provider when it's sending out the same message every time. I kept getting the same two responses when I called, though. Syntax could only manage to get Texas, 006. (I managed to get Michigan, 201, as well when I transcribed the message for the write-up.) This was stuck unless we could find enough different phones to collect close to every state's number. Syntax suggested that we did something wrong after about 45 minutes of trying to solve this, and I dialed a 555 number to test it. I got the same response back. Oops. We couldn't find where we made our mistake, though, and we had to verify that the number still was live. This was stuck for several days. We ended up making the assumption that one of the digits in the number was supposed to be a 0, 4, or 7, and that only one segment could be wrong. Then, I found out that 683 wasn't a real area code, which was enough to uniquely identify the mistake. We had "Murder on the Orient Express" listed as our Kenneth Branagh movie, when we really should have had something with "off" in it. I don't think we could have resolved that one by just checking if we'd correctly answered the clues. The answer checker to this was apparently broken when we unlocked this, but we were reassured that it would be fixed, and that the answer would be obvious even if it wasn't fixed. Then, we got told that it was fixed. Then, we got told that the number was supposed to work correctly. The number we dialed explicitly said that the answer was "MINI USB". That's a useful phrase for the Bloomsday-Arbor Day wheel, but the answer checker still didn't accept it. Not because it's still broken-- because I didn't clear my cache before trying it again. Sometimes, the silliest things can make a puzzle go off the rails.
Good news! It isn't impossible! We had a fair bit of work put into this puzzle, almost all of which was entirely unhelpful. The most helpful thing we did, oddly enough, was make printed copies of the puzzle so that our mom could think about "the sheet music puzzle" to get a nonexistent star. Thinking that a puzzle is hard definitely changes the way we approach it. The 2011 hunt was the first one that I saw, and it had things like this IN THE FIRST ROUND. Meanwhile, the 2015 hunt was the first one where I'd put in effort to solving puzzles at random. The objectively hardest and also least-solved puzzles were things that took a lot of technical knowledge to even approach. Sometimes, this was extremely obvious, particularly in the case of Practice in Theory. It probably wasn't too much of a stretch to assume that this had two solves because it took graduate-level something. Realizing that the rhythm of both lines could be interpreted as Morse Code was painfully obvious in hindsight, even if it wasn't that obvious at all. I'd mentioned earlier this week that we thought we'd made headway on a Pi Day or Bloomsday puzzle by trying to guess who the author was. As a response to that, I was also given a generic yet cryptic piece of advice: "think about what information you haven't used yet". The odds that method gets us unstuck varies heavily from puzzle to puzzle, and certain authors tend to use every scrap of information on the page more than others. It felt like we were talking about different events. When I found out what a harmonic table was, that tidbit came with a good number of progressive rock musicians that had used a keyboard in that configuration. That's when I realized that this was probably by the author of IN SYNdiCation, Turtle Power!, and (of course) Caressing, who is vaguely associated with a specific progressive-rock musician in a way that I will not describe because I want my post to still be readable. Nearly all of their puzzles have taken the form of figuring out what to do with a large amount of given information. The advice finally clicked with me. Oddly enough, though, that conversation happened before I figured out what this puzzle was about; it was actually about a completely different puzzle, and an author who wrote a lot of puzzles where that piece of advice is completely irrelevant. Not only that, but I'm not sure if trying to guess who the author was ended up being helpful at all, because that one's going to be found in the "unsolved" section today. When I went to draw out the harmonic table, I found out that I had accidentally invented my own. At some point, I tried to fill in the hexagons with notes so that all the chords would be covered, but couldn't quite get the right orientation, even though I found out that there was a consistent way to put notes on a hexagonal grid so that every corner would be a major or minor chord. This is mostly because I thought that the octaves mattered. That idea continued to bother me even when I had the correct harmonic table, and it took me about half an hour to figure out what to do with it. I'm honestly surprised that I was able to get stuck because nobody had asked if a puzzle was Caressing. Not only does that get asked a lot, but it's unlikely to be the answer. The "connect-the-dots" tag in devjoe's index is criminally underused; while "drawing letters and numbers" lists a few more puzzles that are Caressing, it adds a lot that aren't. The fact that it was actually relevant in both Running for Office and Travel Planning feels really weird in hindsight. (There were links in this paragraph, but I took them out because they might have been causing my post to be filtered.) This did go fast after that point, and we didn't even need to fold up the soccer ball. Using everything that we hadn't used-- the rests and the pitches-- was enough to get us to the answer. As usual, the challenge wasn't so much in translating the Morse or connecting or grouping the dots as much as figuring out that there was Morse and dots that could be connected. One final note about this: Originally, we thought that all of the hard puzzles in Pi Day started with the letter P, and grouped them together as the "puh-puzzles". That really messed with us on Protection Plan. Once we realized that Protection Plan wasn't a difficult puzzle, we thought that this was the only impossible thing and that Playing A Round was supposed to be easy. Then, we got told that Playing A Round was the star after we solved it, which carried the implication that this wasn't that hard. This is a prime example about how thinking about the difficulty of a puzzle before we actually attempt to solve it is sometimes very counterproductive.
Valentine's Day-Presidents' Day Meta
A meta?!? I thought that we couldn't do these at all! They'd survive until every normal puzzle had been solved, and then we'd have to give up on them. Initially, we had no idea what went here, while we thought all the answers with food went to Thanksgiving. We had to get to 11 solves in Presidents' Day to prove that there wasn't enough food there to save us. We had to spend 40 solvent on Presidents' Day to figure out what was going on. We needed exclusively two-word answers for this meta, and we couldn't tell what went to the other one at all. This was, of course, the puzzle where Syntax suggested the worst type of mistake is when you throw out the correct answer. I joked about inserting "IM" into Francis Bacon to make Simba a couple of times, and then we moved on. Syntax was pretty vehement about the two-letter "couple" hearts going to Valentine's Day, as well, and making Simba would go against that. Well, we needed Simba. And a lot of other characters, too. While the actual puzzle went fast after we figured it out, we still needed to backsolve to figure out that "CLEAN ROOM" went here. That's because Running For Office explicitly presented it as a single word, and we were very much unsure if it could be separated.
Thanksgiving-Presidents' Day Meta
We'd always said that clearing one side of Presidents' Day would cause us to clear the other side. In this case, we were doing everything correctly by using each column of presidents as indices by their succession order. That being said, we didn't know how to sort the answers at all, and consistently stumbled because we couldn't identify what answers fed this meta. At first, we kept throwing things from the Thanksgiving-New Year's meta into this because we didn't know how to place words into the grid there, and because we didn't have two things long enough to fit in the fourth and fifth columns. Of course, we had no idea how to divide the Presidents' Day answers, either. Even though we'd assumed that the grid would give us a message starting with "they", there were lots of ways to do that which didn't work. There are still lots of wrong ways to do that even if you know exactly what goes to the meta. I still haven't bothered to check whether there was actually a way to sort the answers-- we're too excited to have finally gotten beyond the Presidents' Day meta wall.
"There's only one common English phrase that fits that pattern?!?" - Syntax This was straight-up backsolved. Apparently, three letters out of 20 is enough to do that. Since we don't know if we were close to solving this or not, we haven't looked at how to get "MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU" yet. That being said, this probably was a relatively simple puzzle that we kept doing the wrong things on. I don't have much more to say here, but this probably will end up in Tales someday.
Puzzle-Specific Notes (Unsolved)
Syntax told me that he found a way to prove whether we know about everything that passes the filter. Today, he actually coded something to test it-- we now know that we have the complete word list. Beyond that tidbit, this is still practically stuck in the same place it was when we unlocked it.
Chain of Commands
We've assumed that "ST" ENTER needs to be a valid command in whatever this puzzle is about. Syntax and I have tested a lot of options-- stage commands didn't work, we've found a lot of questionable digital topics that might work (mostly CAD and Stata-related things), Syntax found out that it could be crochet shorthand, and I found a lot of resources for learning Vim a couple of weeks too late. Most of the reason why this is stuck is because we have no idea what it's about, so I tried the novel approach of trying to guess at what topic would motivate the author to make this puzzle. Of course, I don't know who made this puzzle. After throwing out a few ideas for who could have written this, I came to the conclusion that, on its surface, Chain of Commands feels most similar to the work of the author behind Deep Blue and Poor Richard Goes to Sea. Going to devjoe's archives and reading what she wrote in the 2017 hunt, I found this massive chunk of knitting shorthand. Syntax thought that this could be crochet shorthand, so that's potentially helpful! (Or extremely unhelpful.) Unfortunately, none of the words look meaningful, whether they're crochet instructions or not, and we've failed to find any use for them no matter what the puzzle is about. Even though I thought that figuring out the topic of this puzzle would be a simple process, it's shown to be difficult, and even the most promising options aren't working. As weird as this feels to me, we probably need to figure out what the puzzle is about mechanically before we find the topic.
This is probably meant to be read row by row, since completely black squares don't seem to exist in horizontal blocks. We still haven't done a lot of work on this, and to some extent, we still don't really know what to do.
We haven't found the answer key that the tests were actually graded on yet. We also haven't found a way to read the bubbles as five-bit binary or as any other type of code, combined or uncombined.
Pi Day-Holi Meta
We used our first solvent in Holi on Chris Chros and found out that the answer went here. Of course, we still know very little about this meta. I'm guessing that we're still missing at least one and maybe two answers from the Pi Day side that feed this, which isn't helping us.
Both Bloomsday Metas
We have enough answers for both of these to be in really awkward positions. Either the Pi Day-Bloomsday meta doesn't alternate between holidays in its rows, or the Arbor Day-Bloomsday wheels aren't both meant to be filled in the same way. This is a situation where having more information has caused us to be more confused about what answers feed each meta.
New Year's-Holi Meta
If there's a meta that needs a buttload of really short answers, it has to be this one. That being said, we have no evidence for or against that idea other than us not understanding what could possibly take in "gut" or "oops".
I think that we actually solved most of the things we worked on at all this week. This was a surprisingly short "unsolved" section. (We did get another solve on a puzzle not listed here while I was trying to figure out how to get through the spam filter, though. That will be saved for the next update.)
Christmas: 6/6, ⭐ (Nobel Laureate) Halloween: 17/17, ⭐ (Starbucks Lover), proven anomaly (A Killer Party) Thanksgiving: 14/16 (missing Jukebox Hero and Your Wish is My Command), ⭐️ (Cross Campus), proven anomaly (Stuffing) Valentine's Day: 16/17 (missing The Treehouse of Crossed Destinies), ⭐ (Caressing), proven anomaly (Invisible Walls) President's Day: 12/12, ⭐ (State Machine), proven anomaly (The Bill) New Year's: 10/13 (missing Art Tours, First You Visit Burkina Faso, and Taskmaster), ⭐ (Display Case) Arbor Day: 18/18, ⭐ (Delightful), proven anomaly (Middle School of Mines) Pi Day: 16/18 (missing Clued Connections and Compass and Straightedge), ⭐️ (Playing a Round) Holi: 11/17 (missing Battle of the Network Stars, Bee Movies, Chicago Loop, Have You Seen Me?, Riding The Tube, and Would Not Make Again), ⭐️ (Something in Common) Bloomsday: 10/14 (missing Bloom Filter, Chain of Commands, Picture Book, and Standardized Mess) Path metas: 7/14 (CH-HA, HA-TH, HA-VA, TH-PR, VA-PR, VA-AR, and AR-PI) Events: 3/5 (missing Talk Like a Pirate Day and Date And Thyme/MLK Jr. Day) Solvent stored: 10
If you can see this post, and there are 10 complete write-ups about different puzzles that got solved this week, and there aren't yet comments, then please let me know that it's visible to you. Any input on Your Birthday Town is appreciated. We have unresolved solvent on The Bill and Middle School of Mines; the only logical option I can think of is that they go to one of the supermetas in the middle of the page. Do they feed Your Birthday Town? Otherwise, we have no further questions this week. Thank you all for reading these! -Cheshire Songchild
Part 2: Tools & Info for Sysadmins - Mega List of Tips, Tools, Books, Blogs & More
Win + Shift + S: Captures a user-selectable area of the screen to the clipboard (on Windows 10 Ver 1703+)
WIN + CTRL + F4: Close a virtual desktop
Here's a shortcut for a 4-pane explorer in Windows without installing 3rd-party software:
Win + E, win + left, up
Win + E, win + right, up
Win + E, win + left, down
Win + E, win + right, down
(Keep the win key down for the arrows, and no pauses.) Appreciation goes to ZAFJB for this one. Our recent tip for a shortcut to get a 4-pane explorer in Windows, triggered this suggestion from SevaraB: "You can do that for an even larger grid of Windows by right-clicking the clock in the taskbar, and clicking 'Show windows side by side' to arrange them neatly. Did this for 4 rows of 6 windows when I had to have a quick 'n' dirty "video wall" of windows monitoring servers at our branches." ZAFJB adds that it actually works when you right-click "anywhere on the taskbar, except application icons or start button." This tip comes courtesy of shipsass: "When I need to use Windows Explorer but I don't want to take my hands off the keyboard, I press Windows-E to launch Explorer and then Ctrl-L to jump to the address line and type my path. The Ctrl-L trick also works with any web browser, and it's an efficient way of talking less-technical people through instructions when 'browse to [location]' stumps them." Clear browser history/cookies by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-DELETE on most major browsers. Thanks go to synapticpanda, who adds that this "saves me so much time when troubleshooting web apps where I am playing with the cache and such." To rename a file with F2, while still editing the name of that file: Hit TAB to tab into the renaming of the next file. Thanks to abeeftaco for this one! Alt-D is a reliable alternative to Ctrl-L for jumping to the address line in a browser. Thanks for this one go to fencepost_ajm, who explains: "Ctrl-L comes from the browser side as a shortcut for Location, Alt-D from the Windows Explorer side for Directory." Browser shortcut: When typing a URL that ends with dot com, Ctrl + Enter will place the ".com" and take you to the page. Thanks to wpierre for this one! This tip comes from anynonus, as something that daily that saves a few clicks: "Running a program with ctrl + shift + enter from start menu will start it as administrator(alt + y will select YES to run as admin) ... my user account is local admin [so] I don't feel like that is unsafe" Building on our PowerShell resources, we received the following suggestion from halbaradkenafin: aka.ms/pskoans is "a way to learn PowerShell using PowerShell (and Pester). It's really cool and a bunch of folks have high praise for it (including a few teams within MSFT)." Keyboard shortcut: If you already have an application open, hold ctrl + shift and middle click on the application in your task bar to open another instance as admin. Thanks go to Polymira for this one. Remote Server Tip: "Critical advice. When testing out network configuration changes, prior to restarting the networking service or rebooting, always create a cron job that will restore your original network configuration and then reboot/restart networking on the machine after 5 minutes. If your config worked, you have enough time to remove it. If it didn't, it will fix itself. This is a beautifully simple solution that I learned from my old mentor at my very first job. I've held on to it for a long time." Thanks go to FrigidNox for the tip! Websites Deployment Research is the website of Johan Arwidmark, MS MVP in System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management. It is dedicated to sharing information and guidance around System Center, OS deployment, migration and more. The author shares tips and tricks to help improve the quality of IT Pros’ daily work. Next of Windows is a website on (mostly) Microsoft-related technology. It's the place where Kent Chen—a computer veteran with many years of field experience—and Jonathan Hu—a web/mobile app developer and self-described "cool geek"—share what they know, what they learn and what they find in the hope of helping others learn and benefit. High Scalability brings together all the relevant information about building scalable websites in one place. Because building a website with confidence requires a body of knowledge that can be slow to develop, the site focuses on moving visitors along the learning curve at a faster pace. Information Technology Research Library is a great resource for IT-related research, white papers, reports, case studies, magazines, and eBooks. This library is provided at no charge by TradePub.com. GullibleDetective tells us it offers "free PDF files from a WIIIIIIDE variety of topics, not even just IT. Only caveat: as its a vendor-supported publishing company, you will have to give them a bit of information such as name, email address and possibly a company name. You undoubtedly have the ability to create fake information on this, mind you. The articles range from Excel templates, learning python, powershell, nosql etc. to converged architecture." SS64 is a web-based reference guide for syntax and examples of the most-common database and OS computing commands. Recommended by Petti-The-Yeti, who adds, "I use this site all the time to look up commands and find examples while I'm building CMD and PS1 scripts." Phishing and Malware Reporting. This website helps you put a stop to scams by getting fraudulent pages blocked. Easily report phishing webpages so they can be added to blacklists in as little as 15 minutes of your report. "Player024 tells us, "I highly recommend anyone in the industry to bookmark this page...With an average of about 10 minutes of work, I'm usually able to take down the phishing pages we receive thanks to the links posted on that website." A Slack Channel Windows Admin Slack is a great drive-by resource for the Windows sysadmin. This team has 33 public channels in total that cover different areas of helpful content on Windows administration. Blogs KC's Blog is the place where Microsoft MVP and web developer Kent Chen shares his IT insights and discoveries. The rather large library of posts offer helpful hints, how-tos, resources and news of interest to those in the Windows world. The Windows Server Daily is the ever-current blog of technologist Katherine Moss, VP of open source & community engagement for StormlightTech. Offers brief daily posts on topics related to Windows server, Windows 10 and Administration. An Infosec Slideshow This security training slideshow was created for use during a quarterly infosec class. The content is offered generously by shalafi71, who adds, "Take this as a skeleton and flesh it out on your own. Take an hour or two and research the things I talk about. Tailor this to your own environment and users. Make it relevant to your people. Include corporate stories, include your audience, exclude yourself. This ain't about how smart you are at infosec, and I can't stress this enough, talk about how people can defend themselves. Give them things to look for and action they can take. No one gives a shit about your firewall rules." Tech Tutorials Tutorialspoint Library. This large collection of tech tutorials is a great resource for online learning. You'll find nearly 150 high-quality tutorials covering a wide array of languages and topics—from fundamentals to cutting-edge technologies. For example, this Powershell tutorial is designed for those with practical experience handling Windows-based Servers who want to learn how to install and use Windows Server 2012. The Python Tutorial is a nice introduction to many of Python’s best features, enabling you to read and write Python modules and programs. It offers an understanding of the language's style and prepares you to learn more about the various Python library modules described in 'The Python Standard Library.' Kindly suggested by sharjeelsayed. SysAdmin Humor Day in the Life of a SysAdmin Episode 5: Lunch Break is an amusing look at a SysAdmin's attempt to take a brief lunch break. We imagine many of you can relate! Have a fantastic week and as usual, let me know any comments or suggestions. u/crispyducks
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