Monday, April 30, 2007

A busy week

This week is going to be very busy for me due to a lot of stuff going on at work, so I don't expect I'll be posting much to my blog. Right now I'm feeling a little dry of topics anyway.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Paying people to do your homework

Every day when I skim through the RSS feed of new jobs at RentACoder, it's amazing how many of them are very obviously, even openly admittedly, people hiring people to do their homework. There's often ones saying that a job must be done urgently because the homework is due.

I find this infuriating. What are these people going to do when they get jobs, hire those out too? I can't help notice that if I were willing to take these jobs I could make a mint on very easy work. But I would never do it. Sometimes I want to make a fake account so I can bid on these, then never do the job, just to sabotage their efforts or at least slow them down. In any case, I find it frustrating I even have to see them. They should be in their own category (rather than combined with "Personal project") so I could filter it out -- though even if RentACoder had that category, I bet half the time the jobs wouldn't end up in it.

I'm not even in the education field. Why does this infuriate me so much?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coding in my head

Sometimes, as now, when I get working on a coding project that grabs my enthusiasm right, I can get to a stage where working on the code feels like a compulsion. At times when I'm not coding and my mind isn't 100% occupied I'll find the code uncoiling itself in my head, ideas about what needs to be done next and how it should work, even bits of code. I'll come out of the shower with ideas that need to be captured and be tempted to run dripping to my computer to write them down.

I am so ready for an implant computer. If I could be recording my thoughts while in the shower, and able to see my screen there (on a portable display I could set down outside it, on HUD glasses, or better yet, on corneal implants), I could get so much done.

Sure, people worry that if you had that, you'd never be able to relax, or get away from work. Poppycock. The ability to leave work at work depends on your conviction to do so, which I've never had a problem with, even as I play with my laptop at home night after night. Gadgets may make it harder, but it's still up to you to get the kind of job that lets you go home at the end of the day, if it is important enough to you; and then to stand by that principle.

Meanwhile, while I was writing this I had to pause to make a note about that code I'm working on.

Monday, April 23, 2007

History threshholds

It was many years ago when I first had this moment. Someone I knew, I realized, had been born after Star Wars had come out. He had never lived in a world that didn't have Star Wars indelibly stamped upon its culture. The idea that the movie was once something that people figured wouldn't even succeed or make a profit. let alone become iconic, was alien to him.

As time goes by, different events serve as that boundary point of my advancing age: something which is an event to me, but "merely" a part of history to someone else. For my parents' generation, it was the moon landing, or JFK's assassination. For their parents it was Pearl Harbor, or D-Day, or VJ-Day. After Star Wars the next one for me is probably the fall of the Berlin Wall -- that one's coming up hard now -- or the Challenger disaster. It will be 9/11 all too soon.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Note to self: notes to self are to self.

How many times have you heard someone say "Note to self:" out loud to you? Or "mental note" equivalently. Do you think they know what those phrases mean? Clearly not, if they're always doing them out loud to others. Wait, is this some of that "irony" stuff I hear about? I thought that was about flies in your chardonnay. I don't even like chardonnay; it might be better with flies in it, come to think of it. Or maybe all the chardonnay I've tried in the past already had flies in it, and that's why it was so yucky? Note to self: try strained chardonnay some time. Hey, you, what are you doing reading my private notes to myself?

Spring? Is that you? I thought you'd never come.

We've been wondering up here in Vermont whether that damned groundhog didn't see two shadows, because it's been ten more weeks of winter already. But this week's weather forecast is glory in liquid form.


Hi 56°F


Lo 26°F


Hi 64°F


Lo 31°F


Hi 67°F


Lo 31°F

Mostly Sunny
Hi 70°F

Mostly Clear
Lo 39°F

Chance Showers. Chance for Measurable Precipitation 30%
Hi 74°F

If I didn't know better, I'd think that was spring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I got the power!

Sunday's unseasonable blizzard knocked out our Internet in the evening. The power flickered all night long, and then Monday morning just after we woke up at 6:10am it went out. We went to work on Monday without proper showers, but hoping the power would be back by time we got home. It wasn't, and WEC said if it wasn't by 9pm it wouldn't be. Cell service as also out, probably because they didn't have power to the towers.

About 8pm we decided to make for a motel for the night. It's not the heat, our house was warm enough and if it weren't we could set a fire in the woodstove. It's not the lights, lanterns and candles are fine. It's not the electronics, though I did have a lot to get done after being away for the weekend at the con. It's the water pressure. You can only stay so long in a house without being able to flush the toilets.

Power came back on some time on Tuesday in the morning, and when we went home last night after work, it was very nice to have things back to normal. The lights flickered a few times, but they held up. Now if only the dishes would wash themselves.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The formula for humor-substitute

"Meme" used to mean a self-replicating idea, but it seems to have been diluted so much that all it means now is something that you repeat by rote as a substitute for wit or humor. The Internet is so choked with these meaningless, unamusing endless repetitions that one despairs of finding real humor anymore. Why be witty when you can just plug something into a formula instead? After all, everything is funny if you print it over a picture of a cat, or insert it between "1)" and "2) ??? 3) Profit". Did we learn nothing from "all your base are belong to us"?

Don't get me wrong: there is such a thing as a running joke. But to be a running joke, first of all, it has to be a joke.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lorecon post-con report

As I had worried in my previous post, Dead of Winter turned out to be not a great choice for a con. If I had run it before I could probably fix the timing better, but as it is, we ran out of time without a solution to the mystery. Characters had an idea who was responsible but did not have any proof or any ideas where to find proof; it didn't occur to them to interview the people of the abbey more to find out about them. However, so far as I could tell, a good time was had by all, and people did get into their characters and the setting.

As a whole the con was as expected, exhilirating, fun, and exhausting. The games I played were as good as or better than the ones I played last year. Joe's horror game Mud Season was a standout, mostly because the plan we came up with was so fun to see through. Had some fun playing a board game called Pirate's Cove, though in the end, the game has lots of interesting strategic issues that all get undermined by a heavy luck influence that can easily undo everything your carefully crafted tactics have accomplished in a moment. Siobhan's Paranoia game didn't go off, too few people. Towards the end, a wearing game of Munchkin: Impossible (due to a bunch of irrepressible ten-year-old boys with no sense of personal space or of quiet) had a few good moments, notably when I turned someone's sex-change card against them by forcing them to help me defeat a super-spy that boosted me from level 2 to level 7 in a single turn.

By the time we arrived home through an abysmally icky mid-April blizzard (that hit a few hours early, or we would have avoided it) I was exhausted and sore and very glad to be home. Even in spite of the storm threatening to take out the power (which it finally did first thing this morning), knock out my Internet (which it did last night), interrupt cell phone service (some time during the night), knock down trees on my property (while I was watching this morning), and block the roads with more fallen trees (took an hour to get to work after several attempts were blocked). What a day! What a weekend! Can I go back to bed now?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prepping for Lorecon

Tomorrow is Lorecon's first day. My slot GMing is Saturday morning, but once the con starts, it'll be too late to do any prep for it. I decided not to start the prep until this week, and I've found the adventure needs a bit more prep than I expected, so I'm a little hurried, but not too bad.

First, there's a lot of people and it's hard to keep them straight. The adventure could be better organized with more reference materials; I have to make the same cheat-sheet of NPCs that probably everyone who's ever run it has had to make, so why not include it in the adventure?

Also, its very non-linear plotline makes it hard to time to fit the slot. The trick of running a game at a con successfully is timing. You've got four hours and, of all the factors in your control, the single factor that will make the most impact on whether the players come away satisfied is whether the adventure concludes at 3 hours and 50 minutes in, or not. An adventure that ends too early is all right, but non-optimal; but an adventure that simply runs out of time (very, very common at cons) always comes off a lot worse for it.

To make your adventure fit a slot, use these two tricks.
  1. Figure out where in the adventure's story you should be at the quarter, halfway, and three-quarters points. Figure out what time that will be. When the game is running, if you're running behind, hurry the plot by dropping clues on the characters, or leaving out encounters or complications. If you're running ahead, make things take longer or throw in extra encounters.

  2. Write an adventure with several endings. That is, write it with one ending in mind, then figure out how some twist could make that not quite the ending, and put a few clues in pointing at that, and then write a second ending. Then if you're running behind, the earlier ending can be a satisfying conclusion and the remaining dangling threads will just be forgotten.
This adventure doesn't really lend itself to that. That's what I get for using a prefab, and at someone else's recommendation, but I am sure I can make it work. It'll just take a little more time, for me to work out a few extra complications I can throw in or take out as needed. Which is where I get stuck; I'm not sure if I'll have that time.

Now the good news. Columbia Games, having forgotten about me, decided to make it up to me by sending quite a generous packet. In addition to $5-off coupons and catalogs for everyone, I got two copies of HârnPlayer, second edition, which they're probably trying to get rid of since they have a third edition out now, but they're still great handouts and will be useful at the game. Plus a copy of Kanday, which will not only be useful for me in GMing but will be a nice perk for me. Plus a copy of the adventure, which I plan to also give out at the con. Very likely everyone who isn't already in my group will get a free book for attending, plus the coupon. Pretty nice haul.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One year later

Unnoticed, my blog's one-year anniversary just passed. Happy birthday to my blog! Still haven't quite run out of things to talk about; but the more serious and deep subjects of philosophy and transhumanism and such, I haven't found enough time to resume digging into. It's always easier to write a rant about something.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Extra-potent selfishness

This is something I've thought about writing in my blog many times, but I can never figure out how to say it so it doesn't seem petty. Part of it is being annoyed by selfish people, but part of it reflects my natural ability and propensity for looking at things systemically -- stepping out of my own perspective and thinking about what makes sense for the community as a whole.

The thing that always reminds me of it is when I go to get a glass of water from my office's bottled water dispenser. The office follows the obvious and unspoken rule: if you're the one who takes the last of a bottle, it's your job to switch to a new bottle. And this is a remarkably equitable rule. The odds of you being the one to change a bottle are exactly proportional to how much you use the bottled water compared to everyone else. If Bob uses twice as much water as Jane, today Jane might happen to be the one to hit the bottom of a bottle, but over the long term, Bob should be the one to hit that point exactly twice as much as Jane, and that's perfectly fair.

But suppose that Jane happens to be a selfish moron. In that case, when she hits the bottom of the bottle, she just walks away. Bob gets there to find an empty bottle, and now he has to do Jane's share. He grumbles about the selfish people who won't do their share and force him to do it. So far, what we have is a zero-sum game: for every bit of bad Jane avoids, exactly that same amount of bad gets dumped on Bob.

But now consider the fact that the bottled water dispenser includes a system to heat or cool the water so you don't get lukewarm room temperature water. This only works if there's water in the system, though. Not only does Bob have to suffer doing Jane's share of the bottle swapping, his reward for this is to get stuck with lukewarm water.

For some reason the systemic inefficiency of this offends me almost as much as Jane's root selfishness. Jane isn't just making things worse for Bob, she's also making things worse for the entire system. This is what I find myself thinking: "If Jane is going to be a selfish [word omitted], at least she could do so honestly. She should tell Bob, 'Because I'm selfish I left you to change the bottle. You might as well do it now so you'll at least have cold water later.'"

There are plenty of situations like this. A similar office-related one: I have a few cans of soda in the fridge and a 12-pack of soda next to it; when I take one can I replace it so I always have some cold. When people steal my soda it irks me, but it's less than 25¢. However, finding I don't have a cold soda when I want one makes me fume. Why can't they at least put another can in after stealing one of mine?

If someone steals your wallet, they don't really want the wallet itself, or your library cards. Probably they don't even want your driver's license and social security card. They might even have no interest in your credit cards; many muggers are just out for cash. But are they going to give that stuff back? Unlikely, even in situations where it adds no significant risk for them. So you're out the cash they gained (zero-sum), but you're also out a bunch of time and money to replace all those things. You may well find yourself thinking, who cares about the $50 I was carrying, compared to the day off I'm going to have to spend at the DMV office!

It would be nice if things could be arranged in such a way that the selfish people only stole what they took from us, not something extra robbed from everyone, too.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

You'd like this.

Consider these two scenarios, similar in intent, representing opposite points in a spectrum.
  1. Hey, I was thinking about movies I like, and based on what I know about your tastes and preferences, I picked out these few that I think you would also like. Let me tell you a little about them so you can decide if you would, since of course you know your own tastes better than I do. If you want, ask me questions about them to help you decide if you'd like them. If you don't think you'd like them, no problem.

  2. - lol!
I always hate when I get the latter kind. Generally speaking if someone gives me a link with no further information at all, I won't even consider following it, unless I already know that they're thinking of my tastes and they know me pretty well. The rest of the time, the fact that they like something is really only a very tiny factor in deciding if I would, most likely.

What's even worse is when I'm then grilled for a reaction. There's no tactful way to say "I didn't watch it -- why should I? I know nothing about it." Worse yet, there's no tactful way to say "I watched it, and I want those five minutes back, preferably extracted painfully from the still-beating heart of whoever is responsible for that." People tend to react badly to things like that said about something they enjoyed and "recommended".

I wish people would take a few steps towards Option #1. At very least give some nominal description of the book, movie, webcomic, YouTube clip, etc. you're recommending. Better yet, remember to think of the other person's tastes, not solely your own. Above all don't be offended if they don't choose to watch, or don't like, something that you liked.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Have you (been) saved?

There's a hardware store on a major road near me which has one of those signs out front where they can put letters up to spell out messages, you know the kind. Probably 95% of the time, rather than having something about whatever sale they're currently running, they have a Bible quote or something exceedingly preachy. Even more likely so when a religious holiday is approaching.

This week, with Easter coming up, the sign only says that they're having a sale on nails. (Nothing about crosses though.)

What's worse: that that's intentional, or that it isn't?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why be stressed?

Events like those in the last post tend to get me feeling stressed, and I always feel dumb when I realize this. Why should a mere game stress me? Doubly so, why should I let myself get stressed just because someone else is acting inappropriately? And finally, even if these things should cause stress, shouldn't this conclusion and closure resolve it?

Indeed, it does, just not immediately. For a while after, the "it's done" has to slowly soak in, and during this time, other matters are more likely to crank up my stress than they would be at other times.

Fortunately, I have some good destressors coming up. First, our roleplaying group is roleplaying again, and that's always a good step. Plus, and I wasn't expecting this when we started up again, it's good to be GMing after a while away from it. I usually do a tiny bit more of the group's GMing than I would in an ideal world, and after a while of GMing the ache to play is palpable. But the reverse, when I've been away from GMing a while, sneaks up on me unnoticed. It wasn't until a few hours into the game that I found myself thinking, "ah, I missed this".

Weekend after next is Lorecon, which should be an exhausting rush of games, including one I'm GMing which (to my surprise) a few people have actually signed up for. (Unfortunately, Columbia Games, which is supposed to support me with handouts and coupons and stuff since I'm pushing their product line, let me slip through the cracks and is now ignoring me.) Cons are always a good destressor; it doesn't just take you out of life for a weekend, it takes you out of your life about eight different ways in a single weekend. Half of them will probably be duds, but that's still four more escapes than you usually get in a weekend.

To round things out, next month we're planning a little seaside getaway in Salisbury, Massachusetts. The smell and sound of the sea have a literally legendary power to destress. We're still figuring out what we're going to be doing there, and it might be not much more than lying around doing nothing -- some vacations are busy ones where we bustle from museum to activity, and some much slower-paced, and both are good.

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea." - Isak Dinesen

Monday, April 02, 2007

And they all lived happily ever after.

I've logged off from Harshlands for the last time, at least under the current administration.

This "shutting down" process was taking way too long. But what set me off today was not that.

The admins run the forums in a very severely "locked down" state where they delete posts quite readily. They leave no sign behind that a post was deleted, too. In fact, the person whose post got deleted doesn't usually even get told their post was deleted.

Virtually everyone who reads the forums has the sense of a lot more consensus than there really is, because opinions that counter what the admins believe are ruthlessly and silently suppressed.

Those who are well-treated by the admins invariably conclude that any unhappy people are just natural troublemakers and malcontents; after all, there's nothing real to complain about, and they get treated wonderfully. "Some people just can't be happy," they must think.

Of course how would they know? They don't see how miserably unfairly some people who've gotten on the bad side of the admins are treated. And they never will, if every complaint and every contrary viewpoint is deleted to "avoid flame wars". (People can be as inflammatory and offensive as they like, as long as they only do it on one side -- their side.)

Why is it like this now and not before? That I'm not so sure. The most obvious answer is that I used to be on their good side so I, too, was blissfully unaware of how bad things can be, and then one day I got on their bad side.

But I think there's more to it. When I started, Revus was the head admin, but he was largely inactive, and Blackhorde and Millie were the de facto admins. While this didn't have any real impact on their authority or impact, I think it might have tempered their worst abuses of power. Revus eventually retired, and handed them the keys to the castle. Nothing really changed; Revus was around just as much as ever, and Blackhorde and Millie still did the same things they did. But I wonder if they didn't gradually get more and more comfortable with their position, and check themselves less and less.

I have little hope that anything could dislodge them. Their control over the viewpoints that people can present and complaints they can raise is almost entirely complete. No one is ever going to call for them to step down anywhere that anyone else can hear.

I flirted with the idea of crusading, trying to get word out to people about what they don't realize is going on. "If I don't do it, who will?" But that didn't last very long. First, it's just infeasible. It would take a remarkably strong group outcry to get Blackhorde and Millie to really take a hard look at themselves and how they run things. They're absolutely convinced, I'm sure, that they're being reasonable and fair, and that's why it's impossible to get them to give themselves a hard appraising look and realize what they're really doing. Anything less than a rousing consensus would be brushed off, but it'd be a miracle just to get people to be willing to listen, let alone to that level of outrage, after they've been couched in cozy sameness-of-opinions and preferential treatment for so long. Even if it were possible, though, it's just a lot of stress and aggravation I don't need. Far better for me to just close the door and move on.

So Reb and Merewyn have set out on their pilgrimage. Maybe someday if the Gentle Lady blesses them with new admins that still remember how to look at their own behavior, they'll return. But I really doubt that'll happen, even by accident. I've been down this road before: a corrupt administration may be removed, or retire of their own will, but the corruption usually remains.