What a month that was! Old-timers raided other old-timers in A Liberal Haven; there was a cards conspiracy; we played new games Repeal or No Repeal and Blankety Blank; and we discussed disgust: is it okay to pee in the shower?
But if you're just thinking, "I don't care about any of this. Why did I get a notification?", then this section is for you.
I don't often venture into the halls of the General Assembly, and I know very little about it's workings. But I have noticed that a lot of the legislation gets repealed. Which makes a good basis for this game: Repeal or No Repeal? The premise is pretty simple. A recently passed piece of legislation gets named, and you have to guess correctly as to whether it will be repealed before the end of the month.
This month's legislation was Tinhampton's LEO Force Restrictions. Separate repeals by Develevia and Vinicius Franco were marked illegal. One by Gabingston failed to get enough delegate approvals. Drafts by The Adeptorum and Bears Armed stayed in draft form. This month's surprise outcome - No Repeal.
Congratulations to Indusse and Charallia!
I plan to keep a league table of who gets these right and wrong. I'll need to figure out a good ranking scheme first though. And apologies in advance - players will likely get another notification when I set up the league table.
On 30 December, Altmoras reported slow webpage load times on a new Technical thread. This was rapidly followed by posts from Quebecshire , Refuge Isle, and later Merni noting that the twice-daily site updates were taking twice as long as normal. Anozia's card-farming puppet added that the lag was impacting them answering issues. 12 hours later, Altmoras advised that the problems persisted.
Conspiracy theories must have been breeding off-site - Tim-Opolis came on the thread to post:
"If this is related to Cards Season 3 like some people are conspiring to think, methinks we need to focus on site stability before rolling that out."
Was there indeed a Deep [Nation]State plan unfolding? The NS-verse held it's breath waiting for an official explanation.
A whole day passed before "Tech Modling" The Blaatschapen issued a statement that the allegation was just "unfounded speculation". But as a member of the Deep [Nation]State, they would say that, wouldn't they? Unless they'd had the wool pulled over their eyes, and sheeplike, were repeating what they had been told to say. But the statement silenced the doubters. For a while.
A day and a half later, Giraffeton stuck out their neck, suggesting again that there was manipulation going on in the international art markets:
"i tried opening a [card] pack and it wouldn't load and so i tried reloading the page and doing it again but when it finally all loaded i had 10 extra cards and i'm pretty sure i only had one unopened pack"
Was the market being flooded with low quality product? Fauzjhia thought so:
"I saw this on two puppets. this is certainly related to the server problem we see right now."
A suspicious silence reigned over the thread for the next three days. Finally [violet] herself laid her cards on the table.
"Should be fixed now. A player decided to rent some Amazon servers to send 50GB worth of bot requests to the Challenge page."
Huh. So nothing to do with cards. It had been Jeff Bezos all along, trying to profit by gaming the... erm... game. But he couldn't have made that much out of it - he's only worth ten cents.
There's a terrible UK gameshow called Blankety Blank. The host reads out an incomplete sentence. Then a panel of celebrities each has to write down what they think the missing word or phrase would be. Then the contestant says what they think it would be, and scores points based on how many celebrities had the same answer. I thought we could try something similar. Unfortunately, I'm lacking a panel of celebrities, so you'll have to make do with a panel of me.
My raider friend is so inactive. The last thing they raided was…
Well done Graag Brom and Turtle izland. A lot of players got caught out by a cultural difference - I live in the UK, and have a biscuit barrel instead of a cookie jar. And yes, it is where I keep my Bourbon.
Like with the Repeal or No Repeal game, I plan to keep a league table of who gets these right and wrong. So apologies in advance - players will likely get another notification when I set up the league table.
You'll likely know that something has been going down at A Liberal Haven. The story was top of the Dispatches screen for days, the subject of a Security Council Liberation resolution (with a repeal already drafted), a joke Declaration, subject of a Gameplay topic for Lone Wolves United, and made it's way into not one, but two Technical threads. Why the fuss? Well, with over 200 WA nations endorsing the raider delegate, this is probably the biggest UCR raider pile in NS history. And although enormous numbers of defenders turned out, they were foiled by crippling NS site issues.
On 7 February 2016, Vando0sa moved stoner-themed puppet Got the munchies real bad man into A Liberal Haven and promptly dozed off to sleep. Garchyland, who has been delegate for most of the past 12 and a half years, had gained more than enough influence to be able to add a secret password to the region. But instead Garchyland dopily left the password visible to all residents - including Vandoosa. The sleeping Vandoosa had also gained more than enough influence to add a secret password. Meaning that on 2 January 2022, Vandy could invite several friends round for a smoke, with the door safely locked against any defenders who might want to re-take the joint.
Emodea drew on a Security Council Liberation to blow back the new password. Given the huge defender turnouts for recent defences of Trovons and China (and if Reventus Koth was right in thinking that most of the original 20 residents were defender plants), it looked like this 26-strong joint raiding force from LWU and TBH would soon get roasted.
Pre-empting the Liberation, the raiders invited more people in. And they rolled up. A Bloodred Moon reported that their bud Vandoosa had 138 endorsements by the time defenders could take action. This later peaked at 208 as new players and old-timers such as Venico and King Nephmir II were dragged back in.
Over 100 defenders prepared for a hit post-Liberation, hoping to send raiders scattering like roaches. There must have been one hell of a buzz on Discord prior to the jump.
But their hopes of freeing A Liberal Haven rapidly went up in smoke. The NS server had gone to pot.
A Liberal Haven In Numbers
392 nations in region vs 20 originally
209 endorsements of Vandoosa = 0.9% of all WA nations
Garchyland's most recent delegacy streak was 1974 days
Vandy slept 2156 days until the raid
29 days of occupation and counting
Tim complained on a Technical thread that the huge turnout of defenders got wasted:
"Still wildly unstable, [v]. [...] Server instability cost us a high-stakes liberation there."
Raider Harenhime ripped into that misrepresentation of events:
"For it to have "cost you" anything, you'd have to have had enough people jump in the first place".
Tim replied: "You're correct," but couldn't quite concede, continuing:
"we likely don't win that, but our beachhead is likely sitting at 110+ instead of ~70. That's absolutely enough of a difference to significantly cost us down the line."
"I'm just gonna be blunt," Tim posted, "the conclusion between myself and a few leaders across both sides of the faction is that it's not implausible that this is user generated. Personally, it's my main leading theory. It shouldn't be ignored that a supposed patch to the "DDOSing the site via Challenge" was mentioned, and yet after that we've seen things only get worse. Perhaps someone clued in and has been exploiting it worse?
For two majors straight, everything breaks right around/after The Rejected Realms updates, and starts running normally again after A Liberal Haven. Our two minute warning ran to almost seven minutes. Our estimated 12s trigger, which landed near-perfectly at 12s at minor update, ran seven minutes. This is well outside of usual server nonsense, someone is f*cking with the game."
This site behaviour was suspicious. A serious glitch that only corrected itself after A Liberal Haven updated? The region that was by now taking a blast from an all time high of over 200 raiders? Was someone acting maliciously to prevent a liberation?
Twice a day, NS updates. Major update occurs from 12am EST, and minor 12 hours later. Each region is considered in turn. Amongst other things, the delegate is decided at this time, based on the number of endorsements each nation has. Raiders and defenders try to jump into regions seconds before they update. That means that there is little chance to eject them before their endorsements get counted.
The order in which the regions update doesn't change. But the exact time of update does vary. So to figure out the best time to jump into the target region, raiders and defenders use a "trigger". A "trigger" nation is placed into a trigger region that is known to update shortly before the target region. When the "trigger" nation gets updated, it's time to jump into the target region.
Now back to the story...
This chart, courtesy of Budgie Snugglers, illustrates the issue beautifully. Each bar represents the number of nations being processed each minute during the update. You can see that the site can process thousands of nations per minute. 22 minutes into update, defenders call the "2 minute warning" (marked in red). So they're expecting the "trigger" to go off at 24 minutes. But you can see the processing has slowed right down, and so the trigger doesn't fire until minute 29. That's a lot of extra time to wait before jumping. But then it gets worse. For the next six minutes, the Update all but stops. Instead of the defenders arriving in A Liberal Haven with only split-seconds to spare, they arrive with minutes to go. Giving raiders plenty of time to eject as many defenders as possible.
When it comes to technical issues, there are lots of potential causes. Speculation as to the cause can be useful - it gives a list of potential areas of investigation. But of course, as evidenced in the "Jeff Bezos" article, speculation on the cause is a very different thing to proof of the cause.
[violet] and Eluvatar spent days trying to weed out the root cause of the problems. They'd already fixed the Jeff Bezos problem, so it shouldn't have been that. They did discover that some rookie programmers had made a hash of coding their bots. That meant the site was taking far more hits than it should, but didn't really explain why the slowdown would occur particularly around A Liberal Haven. Two weeks on, finally a likely cause was found.
It hasn't been proved as yet, but a possible cause of this storm was a browser extension called... "Storm". Storm allows users to use keyboard shortcuts rather than clicking on buttons in the main NS screen. A small number of defenders used the "cross-endorse" shortcut when preparing for the liberation. But there was a bug with the feature (fixed since). This bug was noticed by Eluvatar, then investigated by Zizou later. Zizou discovered that the tool could end up sending infinite requests to endorse non-existent nations. Which of course could break the site if this was in fact what was happening.
So it's possible that rather than a malicious actor, it was some well meaning defenders that got their liberation toasted.
Post-script, 3 February.
A good-natured Garchyland kindly got in touch with me by telegram, sharing some additional information:
"I did not “dopily” leave the password public, it was intentional. [...] Vando0sa had actually gone through a vetting process before “going to sleep” and since our resident numbers were low there was no reason to hide the password."
"just wanted to clarify that I didn’t consider that move to be have a lapse on my part - just a job well done by Vando0sa for the long term operation duping me well :)"
So how disgusting are you all? Is it okay to pee in the shower? Surely it's OK, because it all gets washed down the plughole? For my own part, no, I don't think it's okay. I remember doing it a couple of times as a teenager. But now that I occasionally have to clean the shower myself, and now that I realise my shampoo bottle might be sitting in someone else's pee, I think I changed my mind on that. Yuck.
It was a close call, but NationStates, you're disgusting.
If you're a data geek like me, then this dispatch by Refuge Isle will have you wetting your trendy pants. These graphs give a fantastic narrative of WA membership trends, and region voting power. Take a look, and give it an up-vote.
The North Pacific turned Defender. Maybe. I couldn't actually bring myself to read the whole of their announcement. I managed to read the first sentence of each paragraph, and the last paragraph began:
"Some might call this The North Pacific going defender, others will probably call it a particular kind of Independence. It doesn't matter."
That seems like a suitable TL;DR to me.
And talking of TLDR, there's a Gameplay thread that traces the very short history of a much-mocked new alliance. Enjoy!
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