Zen and the art of Ingress

Ingress is an augmented reality game from Google. It features portals, points of significance in people’s lives: statues, buildings etc. and two teams. The teams vie for control of portals by capturing them for their colour. They then form links between three portals in a triangle to colour it as a field for their team.

This article is a light hearted look at the philosophy of the game. Just like the game it shouldn’t be taken too seriously :-).

Ingress has to be played by going to places so is intended to promote exercise. It is like a mix of geo-caching, orienteering and a social network since the game rules promote cooperative play. Google are experimenting with technology here and maybe people too. There will be more that a few sociology papers on it, no doubt.

In Zen, one is taught among other things to eschew attachments to things, and live in the transience of life.

This is good advice for Ingress. Portals can change hands many times a day and perceiving them as belonging to you is likely to lead to psychological distress. Some players live or work within range of a portal and this can lead to strong feelings of possessiveness. In turn this can lead to serious resentment when the portal is captured, especially repeatedly.

This leads to an interesting conflict. A player having access to a portal can use it to “farm” lots of resources for the game. If the portal is well established and several team members have helped they can often get much more valuable resources.

As Ingress is a game all about resources one can rapidly see that such a portal becomes an important target for the other team. But when they destroy it are they attacking the resource or the player? And what is the perception of the current owner, who may believe they have a right to this portal.

The two teams are reminiscent of the residents of Swift’s Lilliput and Blegescu, trapped in a struggle over something of uncertain consequence. But the division is even more arbitrary. The two factions live among each other and come from an almost identical demographic.

And yet it takes little time for a bias of perception to creep in between the teams. All human life is here, the good, bad and ugly, with some of the latter reminiscent of the Stanford prison experiment in a darkly comic way.

It is good to, as in all things, try not to offend, and try not to be offended.

The Tao of Ingress

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Ingress is really like the Tao, the symbol of Yin and Yang that represents a dynamic equilibrium between two halves.

This is what it should be, one team rises and the other falls but for the pattern to reverse the next day.

The other thing the Tao reminds is that both halves are essential and complimentary. Each half is meaningless on its own.

In Ingress this is literally true. A static tableau of one team is dull and destroys gameplay which is about creation and destruction in a cycle. There will be islands that are habitually one colour or the other and this must also be in approximate balance so that both teams can resource themselves somewhat. But these will also rise and fall.

An attempt at outright dominance from either team is futile for gameplay, but if semi-successful will perturb the balance of the game to deprive the other side of resource so that equilibrium is slow in returning. Of course if players on the other side become frustrated and bored they are likely to stop play leading to a Pyrrhic victory for the first side. It’s not dissimilar to the Fox / Rabbit population problem, populations will recover from extreme predation, but slowly.

Even the most Enlightened players need to work hard on their Resistance against possessiveness. It is ultimately an illusion that they own a portal, an area or a given place. Feeling this way will bring misery and frustration. On the other hand it’s hard not to feel fed up of being deliberately lorded over by the other faction on your home turf if that becomes excessive.

An exercise in training for players: walk fully armed with your scanner open through your own “enemy” occupied area. Don’t destroy anything, just for one walk. Not as a tactic against “them” but to see how it makes you feel to tolerate this. Trash the place another day once you have learned about yourself.

On the flip side, as you enter territory in an area normally occupied by the other side or where you know one of them lives. A useful exercise might be to destroy and build but still leave something. Not because you have to but because you can and because it will let the opposition player more quickly provide a new canvas for you.

Ingress is above all a game of time. The person who can throw the most time at it can win nine times out of ten, but if there isn’t an approximate balance between the factions and the time they are willing to throw at it locally the game play will come to a halt soon enough.

If you (perhaps because you are starved of action) leap on everything that appears from the other faction within minutes, don’t be surprised if they get bored and play somewhere else or not at all. If you keep doing that over and over, you might actually “win”. But it’s not total war. It’s a game.

If you respect the Tao of Ingress it is more likely to remain fun for everyone. Have fun and obey Wheaton’s Law :-).

Of Wired, Wireless, Sky+ and 5GHz, and the Linksys ea6300 router

This is partly a ramble, partly a product review, and partly a howto, and mainly an aide memoire. It will naturally therefore be unlikely to succeed perfectly at any of those, but if you have questions, place them in a comment.

We moved into this house just under two years ago, and when we moved in there was no network. Yes, I know – in this day and age.

So we had a Sky+ bundle installed, slightly sadly because I always got broadband from Zen Internet previously, and I have to say I just love them, but the price for the bundle was simply too much below what was possible from Zen.

For a while we had to have an extension cable trailing through the house to where the router had to be installed because the phone socket was in an odd place. Then I finally installed a double socket a bit closer. Then we had a tidier install, but WiFi only throughout. Somewhat to my surprise we got a reliable fast enough signal throughout the height of the (three storey) house. A bit slow, but everything worked.

Bringing gondolin (my main server) back here caused a bit of a headache, partly to due to the loss of a static IP address, and mainly because of a lack of wired network. Two old Ethernet over mains adaptors took care of that to some extent, but it was slow.

So probably about a year ago I finally installed a Cat 6 cable from the router up to the room housing the computer (and a Smart Switch). This was a BigDeal (TM), because now I finally had reliable and fast wired network where all my main IT infrastructure was.

However, we have a couple of smart TVs and a Sky+ box which were all running off the WiFi, and over the years this caused some problems. The TVs were generally OK, but occasionally the streaming quality of video just wasn’t very good and Skype was sometimes flaky (impossible to tell if the problem was our end). The Sky+ OnDemand service was much more of a problem. Hooked to a wireless to wired Access Point it would often drop a film in the middle of streaming and require a lot of intervention (and frustrated viewers) to resume the streaming. We also saw the WiFi space around us grow more crowded and performance at the top of the house became a problem.

So I needed to get a wired network to our living room, ideally with connections for four devices and preferably move the wireless upstairs.

The house is old and the floor boards brittle, so I decided to run the cable around the gable end of the house, alongside some coax cables already there. I hate ladders, but it turns out I hate flaky network connections more, so on Christmas Eve after a lot of hassle I finally squeezed a Cat 5e cable out of an existing but quite full cable hole, and around to the network switch.

I wired plugs on both ends and connected the switch at one end and Sky+ box at the other. Having got a successful wired connection, I then planned to move the Sky+ router to the living room. This would mean that essentially the BT OpenReach box would connect to the switch, and the switch to the router. For reasons that were just not clear to me I couldn’t get the router to connect to the internet in that position. You will see below that there may have been a prosaic reason but in any case the router would have only provided three spare ports and not quite the four I needed, and I found some hints online that the idea¬† of having a switch in the middle would not work.

So I had a rethink and bought a Linksys ea6300 router, it was on offer at a local supplier, and a check of the manual indicated it could be placed behind an existing router. It also has 5 RJ45 ports, one for the upstream link, and so the four remaining that I needed and offers dual band WiFi.

Installing the router was initially easy, it had good web based configuration behind a custom WiFi network out of the box. I did experience a few headaches on my first attempts at configurations but I find that pretty common with WiFi, especially when you want to do something unusual. I didn’t immediately go for bridge mode, but in the end found that in the IPv4 configuration and that sorted it.

One point to note, in bridge mode it wants to default to a dynamic IP but then can’t be configured (obviously) unless you know that IP. Fortunately I had configured by DHCPD to allocated it a specific IP, or I could easily have “lost” it. But in any case, my bench tests showed that in the study, it was connected to the Internet and working perfectly.

So I moved the box back into the living room, plugged in the network cable and awaited my triumphant success. In vain. Nothing was working. I plugged the cable back into the Sky+ box, it got a connection straight away. I tried flexing the cable to provoke a fault, nothing. I checked the cable (again) with a cable tester, all wire pairs reported as correct.

I went around in this circle for quite a while, messing around with settings on my Smart Switch and ports as you do when a red herring is about. I didn’t want to accept anything could be wrong with my new cable for two reasons; one was that it was working with the Sky+ box, but the other was I didn’t fancy another afternoon up ladders racing against the sunset.

I had visually inspected both plugs of course, but decided there was nothing for it but to try new plugs. I cut off the living room end and fitted a new plug. And it all worked… it seems my cable crimping skills and cable tester are both in some doubt.

I was able to plug four devices that could be networked into the back of the router, and got two new WiFi networks into the bargain. At the moment one has the same SSID and password as my old WiFi (and both are operating currently), a second 5GHz network is so labelled at least for now to help with testing.

I am getting excellent speeds from the WiFi now over the upper areas of house. I think occasionally there seems to be a connection hiccup and I may have to rename or disable the downstairs main router WiFi but I am leaving them both for now.

I can much more easily stream video at the top of the house, and the image quality is consistently much better.

The Linksys router is a nice, inexpensive device for this purpose, although that is obviously only a small amount of its functionality. It has no external antennae but as it is adding to coverage at the moment that is not a problem, it’s a visually neat box and the inbuilt web interface is slick and well designed. One very good feature is that it does not come with the usual “admin” or “password” preset but a randomly generated password on install (which you can edit). More devices should do this. The manual is not particularly clear about all questions one might have, but overall this is a good solution for my problem for now, at least at the low price I was able to obtain it.