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Archive November 2004
Sunday 28 November 2004
Annoyingly ambiguous word for today - "prevent". How many arguments have there been about whether gun control 'prevents' gun crimes? And the arguments aren't because anyone has their facts wrong. Nobody who says gun control laws prevent gun crimes thinks that there are no gun crimes in places with gun control laws. Nobody who says gun control laws don't prevent gun crimes thinks that there have been no gun crimes averted by some nutbar somewhere not being legally allowed a gun. So when I say "X prevents Y", do I mean that in the presence of X there can be no Y ("X 100% prevents Y"), or do I mean that some instances of Y are prevented by X ("X prevents Y by more than 0%")? You don't know, and a lot of the time, if I'm a typical arguer, nor do I. Let's have an extended argument about whether the statement is right without figuring that out first! And, on the flip side, let's all let people say either of these unchallenged, when we know someone is going to interpret it as strict even though nobody ever means it that way!

To be fair to the language, it's not the word that causes problems - if people said "X prevents more than 0 instances of Y" and "X doesn't prevent all instances of Y" there would be no argument even though the word 'prevent' is used. So as always, people are to blame. Language doesn't cause stupid arguments, people cause stupid arguments. People using language. And sometimes language that's been left out with the safety off. [18:57] [5 comments]

Saturday 27 November 2004
Board game review - Blitz Und Donner, which is also Hera and Zeus, nothing to do with reindeer after all, is quite good. It's a bit similar to the ill-fated overcomplicated Magic-The-Gathering-like "Netrunner", but minus the annoying 'collectible' factor, and with most of the overcomplication removed. (Netrunner is better than Magic, by the way, if you can endure the initial learning curve. Much more of its strength is in the play, instead of in the deck-choice and luck of the shuffle.)

Unlike Netrunner, the game is symmetrical, in that both players have essentially the same deck (though with some cards having different names), so there's no concern that maybe one side has an advantage. I'm uncertain whether going first is an advantage; the designers seem to think so, since the rule is "whoever lost last time goes first, or whoever's playing Hera does if you've not played before". Sexism! Hera also has the advantage of having quite a nice face on the token, where Zeus has a stupid curmudgeonly face.

The game would be improved by having the special powers of cards printed on the cards instead of a lookup table - presumably this is not the case so as to make internationalisation of the game easier. Also, the rules have a tendency to be written more complicatedly than necessary - the victory conditions include four specific ways the 'hostage' card can be attacked, for example, instead of letting the 'hostage' card behave like any other card (which it does) and having the victory condition being simply "the hostage card is put in the discard pile". To show how much the rules are gibbery as a result of this, here is just one of the four unnecessary victory conditions: "When a player uses Pegasus to challenge a card from his opponent's hand, selects Pandora, and his opponent also has the hostage card (Io or Argus) in his hand, the player wins." (Pegasus challenging Pandora in-hand has already been explained to mean the whole hand is discarded.)

That said, the variety in the victory conditions is clever, similar to Magic - running out of valid actions, losing your last card-in-play, or losing your hostage, three things which balance nicely. Playing too forcefully is likely to mean you run out of cards; playing to minimise card-consumption will likely leave your hostage unprotected or leave you with too few cards in play. And the action limit victory condition (you only go through your deck once) nicely limits the length of the game to about half an hour, even for people new to the game looking up the rules for cards repeatedly. The biggest weakness in the game is that the hostage card is completely safe until you draw it, which puts a bit of a strong luck slant in - that one player might draw their hostage on the first turn, and the other player might have it safe in their deck right up until the end. [13:02] [2 comments]

Friday 26 November 2004
Lessons for the week

1. Don't say nice things about a game (such as Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War) in your blog, because if you do then the very next level you finish will be the end of the campaign, revealing that there is no campaign for the other races and the levels don't get more interesting, which will swing your opinion of the game firmly to the "oh, it's rubbish then, even if some of the concepts were good" camp.

2. After chopping up high-end-spicy peppers such as habaneros or serranos into very small pieces, don't throw those very small pieces into a hot frying pan, unless you want your sinuses (and the sinuses of everyone in rooms sharing air with the kitchen) violently cleared. I wonder whether a process similar to this is used in the collection of pepper-spray. Combine this effect with doing the same thing to onions, for a laughing, crying, coughing festival of goo coming out of your face.

3. Dell laptop keyboards are bad for your wrists, especially if you use shortcut key-combinations a lot. While you rest your pain-wracked left wrist after using such a keyboard for a while, you probably shouldn't just type everything with your right hand alone, since one-handed typing even on a good keyboard is not very good for the wrist of that hand.

Safetype Keyboard
On the subject of keyboards, I want to combine several keyboard types into something that would be comfortable for me to use, for both laptop and desktop. This site shows the ergonomic keyboards of today, of which the Safetype looks like it would be pretty good for me, and a nice idea for a laptop - that you could pop up the two keyboard halves and have other input devices such as a tablet underneath the keyboard - but of course, such a thing doesn't exist for laptops, and I don't like using desktop machines, so that's out until I'm rich enough to commission a laptop to my own design.

Ergoflex Keyboard

The ErgoFlex looks pretty much like what I want, but given the ability to separate a keyboard into three pieces I want even more flexibility than that - I want each part to be part of a Roll-up Keyboard. The three parts as they are are no use at all for laptop usage because there's nowhere to put them, but if they were soft and curvy, I could happily type with the left half of the keyboard mounted on the right of my waist and vice-versa, in arms-folded position, maybe occasionally shifting the parts onto my shoulders so as to be able to type in cliché vampire position for variety. I'm pretty sure I'd get used to the weirdness of crossed-over typing, and for wrist and arm comfort purposes, such positions would be ideal. But having blocks of hard plastic mounted around your torso just doesn't seem quite so good. Also, all the split keyboards seem to put the arrow keys with the numeric keypad, rather than near the right hand, which might be a bit suboptimal for programming. Not sure about that though - arrow keys are awkwardly placed normally, so it wouldn't really be any loss to have to move the arm for them. Also, having soft keyboards mounted on your torso would be cool and cyberpunk, though that would also have the disadvantage of meaning I'd want to get glasses-mounted screens and eyeball controlled mouse pointers and sharks with lasers on their heads. [05:40] [1 comment]

Wednesday 24 November 2004
I played the World of Warcraft beta. It was essentially Everquest with nicer graphics. The real Warcraft people, the ones responsible for Warcraft 2, Diablo, and Battle.net, left Blizzard and went and made Guild Wars instead. Blizzard are now "the people who make money off the good name of Warcraft 2".

The upcoming game from Blizzard looks fantastic, though. It's named Warcraft Warcraft: Warcrafty Warcraft, and has such a great opening video that it can't possibly fail to be the best game this century, because opening videos reveal everything about a game's quality, as all true gamers know. I'm on the secret beta team for it, and have sneaked a screenshot:
And when you get a power-pill, the cutscene is awesome. It's the best Warcraft game yet! Blizzard have done it again! Also, the death cutscene is so realistic - there's little yellow sparkles and everything, just like when a yellow circle dies in real life. But you can turn off the yellow sparkles with the anti-gore setting, for children.

You will probably need a new graphics card when it comes out, as most graphics cards of today don't support the innovative required "tall-screen" setting, which is much better than wide-screen. They might be adding an option for playing it on a wide-screen turned sideways (or tilting your head), if the ATI-TS doesn't take off.

Level 5 has Night Elves!

Seriously though, World of Warcraft is a bag of arse. Like most such games, it's a fetch-and-carry chore-fest. On the up-side, you don't have to spend a lot of time killing rabbits to level up - there is always a quest you can be trying to do. On the down-side, the quest is always "kill ten rabbits". No, wait, it's worse than that - it's "run over there for five minutes, then kill ten rabbits, then run back again for five minutes to get a prize of a piece of paper armour or something. Ooh, now that you've done that, actually, could you run all the way over there again and kill ten slightly bigger rabbits and bring me their feet? Cheers. Oh, by the way, I say ten, but most of the rabbits won't actually have feet so you'll need to kill about a hundred, okay? Great." The one thing I enjoyed about it was the ridiculous inventory system, which had me happily fighting tigers while carrying 6 rotting bear carcasses in my backpack. And those weren't small bears.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War, on the other hand, despite the excess of war in its title, is quite fun. I'm still not sure whether it's actually good, but it's enough fun to begin with that it kicks the pants off Warcraft Warcraft: Warcrafty Warcraft And Friends (note: still not as good as Warcraft 2 though). Pleasingly it sticks to the proper Warhammer 40000 character archetypes - the space marines are the insane religious zealots they're supposed to be, and so forth. Insanely, the game has a cut scene at the beginning and end of every level, as well as the mission briefing between levels (which is to say, between level 1 and 2 you get a cut scene, a briefing, then another cut-scene). The opening video is excellent quality, in contrast to the between-level cutscenes which are fantastically atrocious, akin to Thunderbirds in the animation quality, which if anything makes the game better. What they've done in game-design to minimise resource-gathering is quite good - you essentially just 'claim' a resource-spot, and then get resources from it. No 'worker-units' required, thus reducing some of the irritating micro-management common to many wargames. It also seems unlikely, as a result, to have an "optimum upgrade curve", so it won't just be a game of who can click the fastest. Good stuff. [09:28] [6 comments]

Tuesday 23 November 2004
Canticle claims that this billboard:

is a genuine item on the I4 near Orlando, paid for by Clear Channel communication in Florida. Fantastically akin to the inspiring sort of publicity you'd expect for the leader of small despotic nations. But also fantastically crying out to be defaced. Since I'm not one to leave the house, nor to be in America, I opted for virtual defacement, thus:

Why not play along? On the real poster, even, if you're nearby and don't mind being incarcerated as a terrorist. [13:45] [11 comments]

Monday 22 November 2004
Wargames all have the same archetypical things you play as or fight against. First, common to all, is the race of "normal". Most often this is humans, except in historical-setting wargames where it's generally English-speaking nation X. After that, common to most, is the race of "jocks". You'll always play as normals first if there's a plot, and you'll always be against the jocks first. This might be a reflection of the attitudes of game players. The jocks are the stronger, less technical races - your orcs, zerg, Space Orks, and so forth. The meat aliens. If there's more than two, the third sort is always the race of "nerds", generally with insane nonsense-technology and/or psychic powers, and a weak physique. Your elves, protoss, Eldar, etc. The brain aliens. Sometimes, but significantly less often, there is a fourth genre, which is the worst of both worlds. Stupid like jocks, weak like nerds. These are your zombies or robots. Their redeeming feature tends to be numbers. Notably, there is extremely rarely a fifth genre, one which is stronger and smarter, but fewer, than 'normals'.

I was fairly pleased by this train of thought, wondering why it is that the archetypes don't get innovated. Then I thought about it and realised the answer - what else would you change? There isn't a lot of scope. Then a few hours later I realised that my own wargame (still in "design in my brain" stage) already has a race which differs from all of these significantly, so obviously it can be done after all. Perhaps we shall see, when I finish it, whether deviating from established archetypes is a good idea or not. [18:18] [2 comments]

Thursday 18 November 2004
Today I was brought a can of freakish food, from a chinese market. "Vegetarian Steak and Vegetable". The more accurate description is "fried gluten and a whole crapload of bamboo", but it was quite nice all the same. The thing I really enjoyed about it, though, was the best-before markings on the bottom of the can.
25/06/2004 US
25/06/2007 TAIWAN
I figure Australia is probably about half way between Taiwan and the US with regard to being really wimpy about food being a little bit old, and thus I won't have been poisoned by it. [14:02] [13 comments]

Wednesday 17 November 2004
I recently bumped into a Code of Ethics based on Bushido, which opened with Loyalty. Though the rest of the code seemed fair enough, the mere presence of Loyalty in a code makes me wince, and its presence in first place would absolutely rule out my joining an organisation. Any code of ethics which places loyalty first is immediately open to being in tumultuous conflict with itself, if the entity to which you are loyal itself acts in breach of the given code of ethics. Hence rogue Samurai.

I went on to compare the encountered code against the Ultima system of Virtues, which comparison showed significant overlap. The encountered code read Loyalty, Justice, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Truthfulness and Honor. There was no explicit order of precedence, except that Loyalty was stated to be paramount "even if it puts the adherent in a difficult position". Ultima has (in no order of precedence) Honesty, Justice, Humility, Spirituality, Sacrifice, Honor, Valor, Compassion. Previously I somewhat sneered at the presence of Humility, Spirituality and Sacrifice, but after I had considered what I would include in my own list of ethical virtue things I realised I should look up the intent behind the Ultima virtues, so now I only sneer at Sacrifice.

Which back-story leads me to the point - what would you consider to be the most important ethical precepts or virtues you try to live by? (I include the 'or' because my own answer somewhat leans away from conventional ethics.)

The top five, in order, for me would be something like this:
  • Adaptability - if something you are doing has negative consequences, stop doing it. If something you are not doing looks like it would have positive consequences, do it.
  • Humility - if someone does something better than you, let them do it, or learn from them. If you consistently are not good at something, get someone else to do it in exchange for something you are better at. Not to be mistaken for false modesty.
  • Confidence - on the flip-side of humility, if you are better at something, don't let someone else take over. When the situation warrants it, take control.
  • Honesty - most importantly with yourself, but also with others. While this is listed beneath Adaptability, that doesn't mean Adaptability takes precedence - the consequences of actions are usually unpredictable, whereas Honesty speaks to the actions not to the consequences and as such is much easier to make a judgement call on. I am largely convinced that in most situations, Honesty has much better long-term consequences than does deception.
  • Fairness - in a game-theory world, something approximating tit-for-tat. In any good deal, all involved parties should win or break even. Interactions are not Zero Sum - don't buy something if you don't value it more than what you're paying. Don't sell something for less than how much you value it. The other person's side of the deal is not your concern - it's up to them to select for fairness at their end. It's not just about exchanges with others - exchanging time spent doing one thing for time spent doing something else should also be a gain in value, for example.
I realise none of these speak of what it is that I consider to be 'value', or positive/negative consequences - that's because those things don't start appearing until around number 10 in the list, starting with "entertainment". [15:57] [17 comments]

Tuesday 16 November 2004
I am divorced. That was easy. I still won't marry you though. Eurgh. [10:12] [29 comments]

Tuesday 9 November 2004
If you're still busily moaning about the Bush seizure of the election, I recommend the book of short stories Armageddons. Some of the Ends of the World are comfortingly worse than what you expect from Bush. Some of them are a bit less bad. At least one so-called End of the World sounds like it'd be quite nice and a pretty good idea as far as I'm concerned.

There were two particularly, though, that brought Bush to mind - one tells of America being split down the middle, literally, by major tectonic activity and a relatively sudden influx of some sea. That one paints a fairly happy picture of how it settles out some twenty years later, which feels like an analogy for Bush as a horribly divisive and destructive force for unintentional good. The other one tells of a chemically induced religious insanity which insists that women are inferior and are all that holds us back from being brought into the presence of god. That one also seemed pretty Bushy, and went, as you'd expect, to a rather less happy ending. But who knows - that story didn't tell of twenty years later, so it might still have turned out to be a horribly destructive force for unintentional good. Optimism through Armageddon is the way forward. [17:05] [4 comments]

Monday 8 November 2004
On my way back through town today, the same way that last week contained the bus to MERRY CHRISTMAS, I suddenly realised that insects are scary. Not individual insects, which are mostly pathetic nonentities, but the insect mob. If they all got together on their insect radios and decided to stage an assault all at once we as a race would have no chance.

In the garden and paths of the house I live in, I'm pretty sure there are enough ants to completely cover both residents and the guest, and that's even without the mites and aphids and such joining in. One assumes that most similar-sized gardens are similarly infested with creatures, and thus that every suburb-dweller is doomed by just the contents of their own back yard. I'm assuming here that ants are poisonous enough that being completely covered in them all biting at once would be fatal, which I suppose might not be the case. But they could always just bite again. We have one can of insect spray, which is enough to get rid of maybe ten columns of ants, which is nothing in the big picture.

The cities probably have a better people-to-insects ratio, but once they're done in the suburbs the suburban insect commandos can move in, which would soon even the odds. And there's plenty of chitinous reserves in the rural areas. I'm pretty sure most cars and buildings are insufficiently sealed to protect against determined insects, even after applying your special anti-terrorist duct tape.

The only people who might survive beyond the first 24 hours are those in the icy places and those who are at sea. Until the crustaceans join in.

Chitter chitter. [17:03] [21 comments]

Sunday 7 November 2004
Amusing, though not good for me since my income is largely in US dollars and my outgo in Australian, thus this drop is mirrored in my buying power - see what happened to the US dollar's value since the election. The graph below is the value relative to Australian dollars, but the same pattern holds true for Euros and for Canadian dollars.

US dollar falls since the election

Everyone knows republican leadership is good for the US economy. [17:38] [9 comments]

Friday 5 November 2004
Perhaps the funniest non-comedy site I've seen this year - New Utopia, a proposed constructed Libertarian paradise island. "New Utopia will be managed by a Board of Governors; managing what we believe to be the most perfect city/state ever conceived, blending the philosophies of both Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein."

Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein? How could anyone possibly resist? Especially with realistic philosophy like this: "The Principality of New Utopia will be constructed in such a way that each platform, which makes up a city block, is surrounded by water. This will make the policing of it a much easier task. Crime should be virtually non-existent." Yes, that's right folks, you'll be protected from crime by the magical powers of water. Perhaps Prince Lazarus Long has become confused between criminals and vampires as to which can't cross running water. Or maybe it's me who doesn't realise that criminals, in fact, can't cross brine. Who knows? Maybe L Ron Hubbard. [10:33] [4 comments]

Wednesday 3 November 2004
On the first of November, I saw a time travel bus in town, destination: MERRY CHRISTMAS. As a card-carrying bah-humbugger, I didn't get on the bus, though in retrospect perhaps riding swiftly past all the November and December decorations and music would have been a good idea. [04:38] [25 comments]

Tuesday 2 November 2004
Also in the world of hatred, a comment which is not new at all - I hate Java. I haven't touched it in ages, until yesterday. The troubles began with installing the JDK and Netbeans, using Sun's installer. It didn't work. The JDK didn't install. "See install.log", I was told. So I did. It said:
Installing JDK
Finished installing JDK
So not really the most helpful of error messages. With the mighty power of my brain I decided to try uninstalling the Java runtime environment in case it was interfering. Some rebooting later, that was indeed the problem, and thus the JDK was up and running (and then I had to reinstall the runtime environment to get Java-in-browser working again). Pointless stupid hurdle one defeated! The people who wrote this installer are the people I'm trusting to make secure virtual machines. Gah.

So then I went on to the actual coding. Time taken figuring out the stupid unintuitive IDE - some. No points to Java. Time taken making a nice window layout for the application - very little, one or two points to Java. Time taken making it so I can connect to a socket on a remote machine for purposes of testing the applet during development - quite a lot. Minus several points. Time taken making it so that this applet-now-running-as-a-non-applet-for-testing can have its window closed when you click the close button - even more. Plus one stab in the face for Java. Time taken trying to figure out how to make Java do sensible event-based sockets - lots, with no success. Minus all points ever earned, and plus twenty kicks in the groin for Java. Event-based sockets are good. Linux has started doing them at last. Windows has been doing them for at least six years. Java, for some reason, doesn't. And what approximation it has is horrible and stupid, and doesn't interface to the existing event systems at all, which, even if it did, are stupid anyway so that wouldn't make it much better.

I conclude that Java is a programming language intended only for the use of non-programmers. Memorise these 2000 stupid libraries, and don't ever dare try writing some actual code. Unfortunately, there is no normal language for client-side web applications. [05:44] [4 comments]