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Comments

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The Android SDK Is No Longer Free Software

Short Circuit Re:But Android is open (535 comments)

If he was in a coma, I'd think that'd be the part he missed.

about 2 years ago
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Ouya Dev Consoles Ship, SDK Released

Short Circuit Re:USB? Excellent! (169 comments)

Looks like they added Ethernet. Doesn't say what speed, though.

about 2 years ago
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Ouya Dev Consoles Ship, SDK Released

Short Circuit Re:USB? Excellent! (169 comments)

You still can. Just use proper cable hiding tools and techniques. Like whatever they use to make power cables running across floors OSHA-safe. :)

about 2 years ago
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Ouya Dev Consoles Ship, SDK Released

Short Circuit Re:USB? Excellent! (169 comments)

My chief complaint was that in the original announcement, they were only going to support wifi for networking, yet it was supposed to be useful for gaming and streaming video.

The problem is that wifi is terrible for both of those use cases. It's bad on its own for latency purposes, and then there's spectrum contention. I raised these points in response to their Kickstarter drive, and it looks like they turned around and added those features. If I'd known they would, I would have donated on the Kickstarter.

about 2 years ago
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Ouya Dev Consoles Ship, SDK Released

Short Circuit Re:USB? Excellent! (169 comments)

Then they added both my suggestions. Rock on!

I'll definitely have to get one, now.

about 2 years ago
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Ouya Dev Consoles Ship, SDK Released

Short Circuit USB? Excellent! (169 comments)

When their Kickstarter began, I sent them a message (along with many other folks, I'm sure) that it needed _some_ means of getting a wired internet connection and/or access to by-wire accessories. USB was one of the possibilities I offered.

Now devs for Ouya can turn around and leverage that USB port to allow the Ouya device to latch on to a PC's network connection. Excellent.

(Page doesn't seem to show if it's USB2 or 3. At this point, I sure hope it's USB 3...)

about 2 years ago
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Half of GitHub Code Unsafe To Use (If You Want Open Source)

Short Circuit Re:Because (218 comments)

And now we're back to a familiar analogy: "The door was open, so anything inside should have been mine to take!"

about 2 years ago
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Half of GitHub Code Unsafe To Use (If You Want Open Source)

Short Circuit Re:Because (218 comments)

In other markets (including software), activities like that were called "anticompetitive."

Not that I really see a problem with it. Just making an observation that amuses me.

about 2 years ago
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Half of GitHub Code Unsafe To Use (If You Want Open Source)

Short Circuit Re:Because (218 comments)

If I understand what you're saying, you're expressing the same ignorance about downloadable material that people downloading warez and mp3s in the 90s had. "It's free, so it's probably legal, right?"

about 2 years ago
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App Developer: Android Designed For Piracy

Short Circuit Re:Sure but.. (596 comments)

Now how can we apply this to software. Well some precautions can be taken but they generally aren't very effective. It only takes one person out of billions to figure it out and share it. So you have to weigh the costs of implementing copy restrictions which includes the man-hours to develop that code and the inconvenience to paying customers. The shrinkage rate needs to be taken into consideration. Software shrinkage would be unsustainable if you actually lost product every time but you don't. There is opportunity costs but no costs associated with replacing the product.

I have three or four apps on my Android devices which implement DRM features. Some of them are 'phone home' features. Some of them are 'buy a crypto key to activate this app instance' features. You know what? That's fine. I like these apps enough that I'll pay for them. I also like Android's "broken" model enough that I'll stick with Android; Android's "broken" model let me root my phone, clean the ROM's crap out and integrate the Dalvik cache. I can't hope to explain how much this has improved the phone's performance for me.

Given the choice between something like Android and a feature phone, I'd probably go back to a feature phone. Thankfully, Google opened the barn door, and even if Android stops being produced, alternatives like Cyanogenmod and WebOS will take its place. Given the rate hardware's getting commoditized, we're not that far off from someone like BeagleBoards coming out with devices with CDMA, WiMax and GSM modems.

about 2 years ago
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Rob CmdrTaco Malda AMA On Reddit

Short Circuit Re:AMA? (101 comments)

"Ask Me Anything"

It's a recurring thing on Reddit for celebrities.

more than 2 years ago
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Torvalds Bemoans Size of RC7 For Linux Kernel 3.5

Short Circuit Re:wow (158 comments)

I doubt Linus is getting more bitchy than normal. He's just had more 'popular' exposure and attention of and to his rants than normal. It's easy to guess why: Google+ gives him a lot more exposure and spread. Prior to his posting the rant against the root password requirement on Google+, I don't think I'd seen any of his opinions outside of near-fluff interview pieces or, possibly, LKML emails.

Certainly, people didn't care as much until they saw him lambast OpenSuSE developers. That got their attention and interest, and so folks like Slashdot and NetworkWorld are more likely to cover it. Heck, this kind of story is even out of character for /..

Linus only seems more bitchy because people are looking at him more.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Who has a good VPS for $10/mo or less? (136 comments)

After trying for months to keep ahead of spam using a regex extension called AbuseFilter, I ended up realizing that Google's ReCAPTCHA was broken.

I'm still on top of SPAM, but mostly by requiring email confirmation, and by having three or four people who watch the RC feed, block bad users and delete bad content.

I switched my MediaWiki to QuestyCaptcha. Each of about a half dozen questions about classic literature links to a Wikipedia article that contains the answer.

I'll have to check out QuestyCaptcha, but I've got a lot of non-English users. Thanks for the tip!

Successful spammer registrations dropped to zero. Someone using a wiki farm wouldn't have this sort of story to tell to an interviewer.

Honestly, the story of managing load spikes and such in a VPS environment is a far, far more interesting story to tell than anti-spam techniques. Believe me, I've walked the entire path.

In other words, the "warn" method [pineight.com].

Sure.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Who has a good VPS for $10/mo or less? (136 comments)

SSL is considered a subscriber perk.

Ah. I thought I still had subscriber credit. I got one of those 'as thanks for...you can now use Slashdot without ads' emails. Only other time I'd seen that kind of behavior was when I was a subscriber.

For one thing, what sort of anti-spam mods and specialized markup mods do MediaWiki and phpBB farms offer?

Beyond captchas? Very probably things like mod_security, firewall rules blocking bad netblocks from accessing the server. (Doing this was the single most-effective anti-spam mechanism I ever saw.) Using DNSRBLs for realtime tracking of bad source IPs.

For another thing, it might be a custom web application, other than a popular blog, forum, or wiki, that still needs user accounts. Such an application might form part of a job seeker's portfolio to present to prospective employers who "don’t interview anyone who hasn’t accomplished anything" [techcrunch.com].

If you're building a site as part of an operating portfolio with a user base, you can certainly afford an extra IP if you need it. Right now, it doesn't cost very much. If you're merely showcasing a web application, you don't need SSL. If the potential employer is going to ding you for being vulnerable to Firesheep on a site where it doesn't matter, either you're applying for a security-related job, or the guy doing the analysis is a pedantic dick.

And if you do user accounts without TLS, you're vulnerable to Firesheep.

I've never argued otherwise. That said, there are ways to cope with things like Firesheep. Such as tying operating profiles to browser fingerprints. (There's a lot more identifying information in each HTTP request than just your User-Agent string.)

Most shared web hosts that I've looked at don't even offer SNI hosting because they cater to the IE-on-XP demographic.

Then either educate them, use a different provider, or school them by running a shared web host that does offer both SNI and IPv6, and advertise like crazy on Slashdot and Reddit.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Internet Explorer on Windows XP (136 comments)

The sad thing about those PCs is that they're not going to be able to keep up with the increasing JS loads on websites. Chrome on my "Intel(R) Pentium(R) CPU B940 @ 2.00GHz" occasionally has difficulty. They'll get replaced.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Who has a good VPS for $10/mo or less? (136 comments)

So in other words, IPv6 from the backbone to a home PC's 802.11g radio will be deployed around the time the last mainstream non-SNI PC operating system is scheduled to die anyway [microsoft.com].

Pretty much.

So how would you explain to the users that a blog, forum, or wiki is supposed to raise a serious certificate error after the user is logged in, and that HTTPS with such a serious error is safer for the user than an HTTP connection that can be Firesheeped?

Ask the gentoo guys behind bugs.gentoo.org, who use a CA whose cert isn't generally shipped, or anyone who's using a self-signed cert. I'm not here to get into an argument of over the weights, values and concerns of various degrees of encryption and authentication. For some, it's enough that passive sniffing isn't feasible. For some, that isn't enough, and you need to authenticate the server identity.

Don't ask me to make grand sweeping statements of 'X is enough security', because security is a case-by-case thing. Heck, I note that even Slashdot isn't defaulting to SSL.

The difference between $5 per month name-based shared hosting, which may put a thousand or more domains on one IPv4 address, and a VPS. You mention a $5 to $7 per month VPS plan; which provider do you recommend?

I use prgmr.com. I wouldn't put a full LAMP server on a $7/mo plan; the low-end plans wouldn't really be up to it. But, again, I could easily imagine paying that just so you can drop a squid proxy server on it listening on port 80. Have your domain point to that. Have squid serve as an accelerator proxy, pointing to your shared hosting provider. Squid can wrap your clients' connections with your SSL cert so they can't be firesheep'd on their local wireless or by their local malicious network. Granted, the connection between squid and your shared hosting provider is unencrypted, but the people on that route are far less likely to care. (so long as your VPS and shared hosting provider are in the same country).

Personal use SSL certificates have been free of charge from StartCom for some time now.

StartCom's free certs are only good for a year. You're far better spending off a dollar or two more per month than spending time every year coping with cert rollover headaches. If you can't afford that (after spending $7-10/yr for a domain), I have to wonder why you aren't using a wiki, forum or blog farm that handles these things centrally, and for free.

Is there a standard WordPress app, a standard phpBB 3 app, or a standard MediaWiki app?

There's a Wordpress app. I don't know if a MediaWiki app has cropped up, but I'd been considering writing one as an interface to my own site. I don't know if anyone's written a phpBB 3 app, but I can imagine some real benefits to it. (Imagine having your phone use the normal notification channel to inform you of PMs or replies.)

The market is in a crunch right now, with security concerns and IPv4 address depletion. It's not a pretty situation, and something has to give. Before anything else, that's going to be the IE-on-WinXP market. (IPv6 doesn't even solve the IE-on-WinXP issue, since you need to explicitly enable experimental IPv6 support to get it on WinXP)

According to Google Analytics, my site had 126,947 visits over the last month, and only 5,480 of those were from IE-on-WinXP. That's 4.3% of my traffic. I'd stop giving one whit once that's down to about IE-on-XP once it's down to about 5%, so IE-on-XP is no longer something I need to care about. Heck, I had 22,387 visits from WinXP during the same period, which tells me only one in four WinXP users are still using IE when they visit my site.

IE-on-XP is not a demographic most people need to be reaching for. And, really, if you need TLS, and you need a non-SNI circumstance, and you can't afford another $5/mo (heck, even Linode was only charging $1/IP more, last I checked), then you need to put up a donation link with something like PayPal, and get your users to help support a service you obviously can't afford to provide on your own. That's what carried my site for a couple years.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Internet Explorer on Windows XP (136 comments)

What is your plan to make it happen? Will you be breaking in to people's homes and replacing their PCs?

Nobody has to make anything happen that isn't already either planned (Microsoft will stop supporting it) or physically inevitable.

Hardware will die. Software will get screwed up. Installation media will be missing. It will become cheaper for the 'family tech guy' to get his parents something newer or different as a replacement. There will be die-hards who will want to stick with Windows who will refuse to change. Those die-hards are outside the demographic of the vast majority of website maintainers.

So it went with Amiga, Commodore64, DOS, Win3.1, OS/2, Win95, Win98, IPX, token ring, Linux ipchains, VAX. DEC Alpha. So it goes. So it shall go.

When you are done, you should make everyone stop smoking and end poverty.

Heh.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:Google only recommends SPDY with SSL/443 (136 comments)

Translation: SSL libraries are big and scary, SSL is big and confusing and I have no idea what the hell it does so it's bad.

Actually, the better argument I've heard is that it OpenSSL is very poorly documented. And I've heard this complaint from numerous people...to the point where some even started looking into fresh implementations.

more than 2 years ago
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Varnish Author Suggests SPDY Should Be Viewed As a Prototype

Short Circuit Re:IE on XP, and Android 2.x too (136 comments)

Comcast is deploying native. AT&T is deploying 6rd. I hear TWC is also deploying native. Also, someone on the east side of Michigan went live with IPv6 a couple months ago and asked some questions in one of the mailing lists I'm on. I can't find the message now, though.

more than 2 years ago

Submissions

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World IPv6 Launch Day

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 2 years ago

Short Circuit writes "As I write this, worldipv6launch.org is straining under load, but it looks like there's finally a date for permanent, widespread IPv6 rollout: June 6th, 2012. Participants include the likes of Bing, Yahoo, Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Akami, D-Link, Cisco..."
Link to Original Source

Journals

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Ask Slashdot: Where's the bugtracker?

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  about 4 years ago

Where's the bug tracker for Slashdot? I'd like to be able to file bugs and feature requests.

Bugs:

  1. Link to posting journals is difficult to find. At one time, it was nearly impossible to click, because it was part of a page footer that retreated every time you got near it. (The page body was getting filled with more content as one got closer to the bottom.)
  2. List of all my old Journal Entries is difficult to find without already knowing the URL.
  3. Enable SSL by default
  4. Enable "Public Terminal" checkbox by default, or replace with a "Remember me" checkbox like everyone else has.
  5. For some reason, <ul></ul> doesn't work, and I had to switch these lists to <ol></ol>

Feature requests:

  1. Offer an explicit programmatic API for managing my user settings, so I can crosspost my blogs to my /. journal, and my 'microblog' statuses to my /. signature.
  2. Support conveniently tying my account to major single-sign-on providers who use OpenID and OAuth. Most places will allow me to click a nice, big icon to automate filling in the needed details.
  3. Support post convenience features most other social networking sites (hey, remember zoo.pl? You were one of the first social networks on the market.) such as post-by-email, importing/exporting posts from/to some other popular sites/common APIs.

While some of the bugs have been fixed already, it'd have been a lot less grating if there was a good, visible way to report them and follow them as they got fixed.

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Hey, I found the "write in journal" link!

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Hey, for anyone who still reads this. Rosetta Code's doing awesome, content-wise, and we're starting to implement Semantic MediaWiki. (To what end? Not sure. I've got a couple ideas, but I'm more an opportunist than a front-end planner.) I've also been shooting a bunch of photos and putting them up online--even photos that aren't cosplay, if you can imagine that. (Which you probably can; I doubt many who read this were following me on Flickr back when I went to Anime Weekend Atlanta for the first time in 2007. If you want to read what I'm really thinking, either follow me on Multiply, or see the same stuff over on LiveJournal--but get your adblock armor up; it's a scary place. I'm also on Twitter, if you really care. I'm a minimal participant, really.

If I show up as a fan for you here, I do read your journals; the My Amigos RSS feed is still useful.

Why this collection of links to me at other places? Easy; I know there are still some of you here who never showed up in those other places, and I miss the interactions. I'd post my blogs here, too, but Slashdot has relegated itself to an incredible degree of backwater status. I was lucky to find the "Write in Journal" link. I'm tempted to find some Perl script to have it suck in blog posts via RSS, and post them to Slashdot. (That's how I'm inducting my blog posts into Facebook, too.)

I miss what this place used to be. I miss the people this place used to have. I still see some of them on two or three other social networks, and some of the bonds there are tighter than they ever were here, but there's still a bunch of you missing.

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Comcast trialling user usage statistic monitoring

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 4 years ago

In the final follow-up emails involved with fixing my Internet service, I asked for, and was provided with, specific references to usage caps and usage monitoring.

I have to say, with the addition of email and twitter support channels, their customer service has improved by leaps and bounds in the past three years I've been a customer.

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D&D, pics, inspiration and scheduling philosophy

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  about 5 years ago I happened across Pixdaus while following someone's friendfeed, and I subscribed to its RSS feed.

It's a fast, fast RSS feed, and it's difficult to keep up with. However, I've been trying...A lot of what I've been seeing in it has been giving me genuine inspiration for settings, encounters, props and even campaigns for D&D. That, along with a blog post I recently read where the DM's roleplaying the giggling of some minor monstors got her players greatly and emotionally engaged in the combat. Roleplaying monster sounds? Why didn't I think of that? That could give me something about the combat side of things that I could enjoy.

It's sparked my interest in DMing again, and I'm slowly assembling a campaign in my mind. The next step is finding players and a suitable environment; GrandLAN, for its rich perpetual presence of players, was normally too noisy or cramped for comfortable play. I'm tempted to do hold it in my basement, where I can use my TV and sound system for still imagery and auditory props, but then I've got to worry about who can make it and when.

I still think that a "regularly scheduled" game is a bad approach. You can either count on a schedule, or you can count on the presence of players. Not both. Also, having variable time between games offers more opportunity to prepare and ensure an enjoyable session. I don't have a need to kill time; Like anybody else, I have precious little of that already. I have a desire to enjoy the game.

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On syntax highlighting and artificial intelligence

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 4 years ago

So on Rosetta Code, we use GeSHi for syntax highlighting. The relationship between Rosetta Code, GeSHi, a programming language and the code written in that language is fairly simple. (The exact order of events inside GeSHi might be slightly different; I haven't delved deeply into its core)

Rosetta Code (by way of a MediaWiki parser extension) gives GeSHi a few pointers about how it wants the code formatted, the language the code sample will be in, and, finally, the code sample itself.

GeSHi takes the code example, and loads the language file named after the language in question. Each language file defines a PHP associative array that contains(among a couple other things) simple rules for how GeSHi can apply formatting to the code in a way that will clarify it to the viewer. These rules include lists of known keywords of various classifications, symbols used for normal commenting conventions and optional regex matching rules for each, among other things.

It's a perfectly reasonable, fairly static approach that allows syntax highlighting to cover a broad variety of languages without knowing how to parse that language's actual syntax, and so avoiding having a syntax error break the whole process.

Unfortunately, it requires Rosetta Code to be able to tell GeSHi what language a code sample is written in. It also leads to odd scenarios where a supported language and an unsupported language are so closely related that examples written for the unsupported language can be comfortably highlighted using the the rules for the supported language.

And I have yet to learn of a good way to do syntax highlighting for Forth. (The Forth developers appear to pretty much keep to their own community, and don't seem to do much in the way of outreach, which makes finding a solution relatively difficult, but I digress...)

So what does this have to do with artificial intelligence? Well, in identifying a language without being told what it is, of course!

A few solutions have been discussed. One approach that has been attempted had something to do with Markov Chains. The code is in the GeSHi repos, and I haven't looked at it.

One solution I suggested was to run the code example through all the supported languages (Yes, I know, that's expensive. Not something to be done in real time.), and select the ruleset based on how many rules(X) were matched for a language and how much of the code sample was identified(Y). Using a simple heuristic of (a*X)/(b*Y), you can account for a number of matched rules while hopefully accounting for an overly-greedy regex rule.

How can we take this a step farther? How about formatting languages we don't know about?

Well, many, many languages have rules in common. Common keywords, common code block identifiers, common symbols for comments, common symbols for quotation, etc. This tends to result from their being derived or inspired in some way by another language. For the sake of avoiding pedantry, I'll just say that C, C++, Perl, Python, PHP, Pascal and Java all have a few common ancestors.

One way would be to note the best N language matches, take an intersection of their common rules, and apply that intersection as its own ruleset. This would certainly work for many of the variants of BASIC out there, as well as specialized variants of common languages like C and low-level ISAs.

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Wanted: Crosspost to Slashdot

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago

I haven't regularly posted to my journal here on Slashdot in a couple years. Meanwhile, I've posted over 1000 blog posts elsewhere, and recently started using simulpost tools to post to several different SN sites I'm on. However, there are still folks here who aren't in those places, and, of course, there's the wonderful world of the Firehose and the exhilarating risk that some of my idle musings might hit the front page. (If I'm averaging almost three posts per day, there's bound to be something interesting in there...)

What I'd like is the ability to post to my Slashdot account using my own script. I remember the Early days of Slashdot where some folks were using third-party clients to participate in the commenting system. It'd be nice if it were possible for us to do that again today, but with journals. It'd be nice for me to be able to reconnect with old friends, and it'd definitely be nice to bring some of that hacker and DIY flavor back to Slashdot. With the exception of folks like Alioth, that piece of Slashdot seems to be all but gone.

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Feed happy

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago

So I threw together a few more feeds. Here's the list of all the ones I've got right now:

Bad English: Usages of the English language that annoy me. Currently aggregates searches for "begs the question" and "could care less". Feel free to suggest more; If I like them, I'll add them.

Facepalms and Headdesks: Aggregates searches for the unconventional emotiwords (I don't know a better term; I don't think onomatopoeia) terms "facepalm" and "headdesk". If you have any more along these lines, let me know...

Meme Happy: Currently aggregates "in im ur", "it's over 9000" and "do a barrel roll". I also added a search for '"ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or" -die' ... Need more memes.

Zero Wing: When I tried to come up with memes for "meme happy", I kept thinking of references to Zero Wing. So that got its own feed.

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This week's anecdote

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago

...Comes from the D&D game I'm *not* runing. My character (A wizard/cleric crossclass) had set alarm spells in case he was attacked in the middle of the night. (His party members didn't really care for him at this point.) When his alarm spells triggered, he discovered that nobody had entered his room. Rather, someone was trying to intrude into the building entrance. (He accidentally set the field of view of his "Eyes of Alarm" spell a bit to broad, I guess.)

Not wanting to spend the five minutes to don his leather armor, I simply said "OK, I put on my robe and wizard hat, and head out into the hall."

At this point, one of the other players started laughing uncontrollably. He and I were apparently the only two who were familiar with the Legend of Bloodninja.

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Rosetta Code live lists of unimplemented tasks.

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago Rosetta Code's lists of unimplemented tasks in a given language are now updated daily at 00:00 UTC by a bot on a cron job. As part of its duties, the bot uploads a copy of itself, too. And you can probably guess what language I wrote it in.

But don't you dare let this hit the front page around here; I don't have the money to pay for better than a bottom-level Slicehost VPS. (Though that's a far sight better than the Dreamhost shared hosting account RC was on when it made its debut around here...)

So tell your friends, fellow coder geeks and language enthusiasts.


And before you say anything, yes, I know there are sites that do similar things. When we hit the front page of Slashdot two years ago, I put all the ones people mentioned into one page.

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Joe the Zombie

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago

So in the D&D 4e game I ran last Saturday, the PCs had knocked an NPC (who'd earlier been flippantly addressed by another NPC as "Joe", because he was a spontaneous tavern patron bit character who I didn't intend or expect to be important.) unconscious (0 hp) and laid him on a table. Then they tried blasting open a door, triggering a level 7 Necrotic damage trap. (This is the D&D 4e equivalent to 3e's negative energy.)

The unconscious NPC was within range of the blast, was killed by the necrotic blast...and was pumped sufficiently full of necrotic energy to be brought back as a zombie. Checked the rules on zombies, and discovered they follow the orders of whoever "created" them. Which I ruled to be the PC that blasted the door.

So now that PC has a pet Zombie named Joe, which we're handling as though it were a Ranger's animal companion. He told me the first thing he's going to do is find a way to get the zombie to stop rotting...

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Perl Meme

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago

#!/usr/bin/perl
# Take this perl script and modify its behavior by adding or inserting up to three lines.
# You may jump over or skip existing lines, but do not remove or modify them.
# Once you've modified it, post your version somewhere.

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Group imagination in an RPG

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 5 years ago In my first (and most recent) major campaign as DM ( Which lasted about 7 months until several adjacent working weekends completely broke our scheduling.), I started off by designing a setting, filling a three-ring binder with a couple hundred primary and incidental NPCs (Bulk NPC generators are handy!), and then hitting the ground with the players, a few character concepts and a party concept that made it easy for players to drift in and out.

During the course of play, I discovered that actually planning plot and organization relationships outside of session time was, more often than not, a waste of time. I discovered that players wouldn't pick up plot hints if they were too subtle, and would feel like they were being led around by the nose if the hints were highly visible. Character motivations often led to the PCs behaving in a manner opposite the planned storyline, and they subtly flipped back and forth between good and evil. (Sure, they'll save the community from the evil bad boss. But if a mook in a group they were fighting tries to flee, he'd be killed while he was running away. Prisoners were for interrogation or to be sent back as messengers.) Worst of all, I discovered my players were smarter than I was; I'd think I had all of a character's motivations and connections planned out, and somebody would say at some point, "Wait. That doesn't make sense. If that's the case, then why didn't x do y?" And they'd have a very good point, and I didn't always have an answer in mind.

Eventually, I stopped planning outside the sessions. Heck, for the most part, I stopped planning altogether; The world became whatever the players saw in it. I might listen to the players talk to each other about the NPCs they'd encountered and their suspicions of NPC and in-game organizational activities, and I'd take their concepts, apply them, twist them or subvert them, and have pieces of them slowly appear as the characters investigated further. Or I might listen to a player mutter to themselves about an NPC or scenario, and take a piece of what they're saying and use it. Or I might just watch the characters play out their current situation and think, "Hey, it'd be pretty cool if that [otherwise mundane element] was important," and give it a little extra flavor text; The players' subsequent debate over the element would paint a rough picture of what I could do with it. Within the first couple months of that campaign, I'd largely exhausted the resources in my binder and was laying plot, NPCs and encounters out on an as-needed basis in-session. And it was a lot of fun.

My current campaign, started six weeks ago (and running on an alternating-weekend schedule), began with a puzzle dungeon. I had a vague idea of some of the puzzles I wanted to use in it, including some flavor and concepts for the entrance. The entrance had a rune on it that I had intended as a non-lingual hint to how to solve the first puzzle they would face once they got in the door. Instead, one of the characters saw it, and cast a very expensive comprehend languages spell to understand its meaning. Well, crud; If I told him what it might mean in its original language, it would completely throw their attention in the wrong direction for the puzzle it was supposed to help with. I wanted to get them to use their brains, not frustrate them to boredom and tears.

So I threw out the planned puzzles, gave the rune a meaning, and applied it to opening the front door (Which, while entirely non-magical, and entirely non-mechanical, did require them to think before they got it open. Though one of the PCs nearly got himself crushed in the process.). As for the rest of the puzzles, I made them up on the fly, using the PC's comprehend languages to give one-word clues to how to solve them. And it significantly added to the dungeon, because I was able to tie together the religious themes of the PCs and the dungeon's background, while using the runes to give an atmosphere of religious test.

With these experiences, I've found I prefer this way of creating a campaign; The world and plot are almost as much a mystery to me as to my players, but it's continually revealed to be a rich one built from the fantasies of my players.

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D&D madness and logic

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 6 years ago

First the madness. We had nine people in my group tonight. And I got an unexpected PK.

I'm not going to try to explain the whole session...It was incredibly chaotic, the party split into four active units, and a town was left in ruins. I'll tell you how that went, though...

The first active unit basically waited outside the town. The characters stayed out of trouble, but it meant the players were pretty much sitting there doing nothing for most of the session.

The second active unit was a ghost PC that decided he was going to haunt the (quite occupied) jail. We use the damage-dealing variant for turn undead. He had 12 hit points. The cleric had extra turning. And he failed his check to regen at his body in 1d4 days...So I got a PK because the player was an idiot. (In his defense, he was a 13-year-old kid who'd only been playing for three weeks. But that doesn't mean he wasn't an idiot as a player.) He later told me that what he'd done was incredibly stupid...

The third active unit is a character played by a guy known around here as Jinto Linn (or kilocmdrlinn). He investigated the cliche mysterious old abandoned mansion and found some key plot/quest items, getting torched by a trapped chest in the process. Then he hung out with the first active unit.

The fourth active unit raided the magic/weapons/armor shop in town. They told one of the characters (who was a bit unstable) to set fire to a couple houses at the outside of town, so the police and the mage who ran the shop would get drawn into efforts to put out the fire. That character (controlled by me, because the player was rolling up a more mellow character) went on an arson spree which included burning down the jail. The rest of the unit broke into the shop, set off a couple traps, and made off with a coffin full of loot. So now I have to figure out how much they got away with. And how much of it is traceable.

Incidentally, the coffin was being carried on the back of the party tank. It held the corpse of the ghost (as a place for the ghost to return to after 1d4 days) until they dumped it out and left it in the shop.

Now the logic. The group is splitting. I'm getting at least five of the players, one of my former players is going to run a Shadowrun campaign with at least two of the players, and another player is on the fence as to which campaign he'll go to.

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Running an RPG campaign

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 6 years ago

I've got a dirty secret. I prefer playing as DM than as a player. The reason is simple...I don't like waiting.

When I'm a normal player, I have to wait for my turn. Depending on the number and quality of players (and I've been involved in an excessively large group with a few slowpokes in it.), that can be a lot of down time.

As a DM, every turn is my turn. Sure, it's harder; I've got to keep a bunch of people from getting bored, and I've got to fit a plot into the player chaos. I've got my faults as a DM, but I'm getting better at it. And I'm never bored. Frustrated and angry at times, but never bored. :-)

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Fepic Ale

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Fepic Ale was first brewed by a gnomish bard with a penchant for alcohol and pranks. His intent was to brew an unassuming alcohol that would reduce the stoutest of men into gibbering idiots. He used it to great effect in performances, daring anyone in his audience to take a pint and remain standing. If nobody took the dare, he would bring out his lovely assistant, who would offer to spend the evening with anyone who could take the pint and still talk intelligibly.

Some took the dare, but many jumped at the opportunity to prove themselves to the lovely assistant. For many years, nobody beat the drink.

However, one day the bard was introducing his new, beautiful and youthful--but legal--assistant to the crowd. Every man in town wanted to try for the young lady. The bard, making eight silver on every pint--and more than a little greedy--modified the wager. If, after two pints, the man was still standing, he would be allowed to spend the whole night with the assistant.

Well, if you flip a coin enough times, it will eventually stop on its edge.

Out of the hundred men who drank Fepic Ale that night, twelve died, eight-seven passed out--and one bear of a man remained standing. True to his word, the bard left his assistant in the hands of the man, who enjoyed himself to no end that night. Meanwhile, the bard, being responsible for the poisoning death of twelve men, fled town.

The next day, the assistant, sore in many ways, but mostly sore at the bard, was arrested by the town's sherrif. In exchange for her freedom, she offered to lead a group of deputies to the bard who concocted Fepic Ale.

They traveled for several days, and eventually caught up with the bard. The young woman was bound to a tree while the deputies confronted the bard. The bard resisted, and was killed in the struggle. The deputies freed the young woman before returning to their own town, leaving her all of the bard's posessions, sans one piece of parchment that had a recipe for an ale on it, which they had burned on the spot.

While she said nothing at the time, the young woman recognized that what they burned wasn't the recipe for Fepic Ale, but for a milder drink the bard had picked up in another town. After searching her new posessions, she discovered the true recipe, hidden in a pouch in the dead bard's clothing.

While the deputies swear they killed the bard and destroyed the recipe, there are occasional rumors of a performer daring and teasing audiences with Fepic Ale in towns small and large alike.

FEPIC ALE: Alcoholic beverege. Fort save DC 25 or be intoxicated. Fort save DC 16 or take 2d4 INT and 2d4 WIS damage.

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I can has net neutrality?

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Twice tonight, Comcast has blocked *.google.com. "reader.google.com" redirects to an MSN Live Search for "reader google", while "mail.google.com" redirects to an MSN Live Search for "mail google".

I guess it's time to bite the bulllet and reboot my router[1], so I can switch to OpenDNS.

[1] Meaning at least five minutes of No Internet, as a consequence of Comcast's modem sucking so badly.

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Magic ants

Short Circuit Short Circuit writes  |  more than 6 years ago

So one of the PCs has the ability to detect magic at no expense. So
he tells me he's going to be continually casting detect magic.

Well, you know me, I don't plan details of my session far in advance.
So this poses a problem; It makes random generation of spoils after an
encounter impossible. And it raises questions of "well, he was in the
tavern with us, I should have detected it then" and other problems of
spontaneous backstory generation.

If he's going to poll continuously, I'll throw in some spam...

"Do I detect any magic?" "Yes."
"Where is it?" "On the ground below."
"What do I see there?" "A broken sword." (I think, "Hah! A useless
magic item. That's what you get.")
"Well, a sword loses its magic when broken, so it can't be the sword."
(Oh shit. Didn't know that. Ok...)

"I take the sword." "You find an anthill."
"Is the sword magic?" "No."
"Where do I detect magic?" "Where the sword was."
"The ants are magic?" "Yes."
"Cool! I bottle up some of the ants." "Alright..."

(Grr...I've greated something persistent. Maybe I can get him to drop it...)

Rest of the party continues on, starts leaving PC behind. PC leaves
to catch up. They take care of some business, get outside

The rest of the party members go on without them. PC fills his only
flask, and catches up with the other party members. Wizard fills a
flask, continues. Party beds down for the night, then they move on.
After a while, they come across the ant hole again.

PC starts collecting ants again. Wizard comes along, and asks what
he's doing. PC indicates that he found magic ants. Wizard goes,
"Cool!" and starts filling flasks with them.

PC fills his flask, moves on, and the ants start following him and the
wizard. PC catches up with the party, while the wizard obsesses with
filling all nine of his flasks, moving backwards ahead of the ants as
he does so.

Dusk falls, party beds down. Wizard fills all of his flasks, but
notices that the ants are moving toward him quicker, and, now that the
light has dimmed enough to see, are even glowing red. Wizard breaks
into a hustle in the direction the PCs went. PCs, in their last watch
for the night, see the approaching wizard and the red river catching
up to him (at almost ten feet per second...these ants get *fast* at
night.).

When they see the wizard, they bug out and cross a nearby river. The
ants pace them until dawn, when they slow down. Meanwhile, PC did a
couple tests and determined that it was the ant-filled flasks that
attracted the colony, not any of the PCs themselves.

Dawn breaks, the party reaches town, and the PC starts concocting a
plan where the town would become beset by raging magic fire ants that
only he knows how to remove. But first, he's going to check with the only magic user in town to see if he can use the lab to convert the ants into some sort of reagent....

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