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Scott wrote another short story. As is usually the case, it's intriguing but there's also much to critique :) The aliens in the story develop great technology, and build an ansible out of negative average preference utilitarianism.

I have a lot of different thoughts inspired by this story. I don't think it's the sort of story where knowing what happens is a problem for reading it, but I will cut a detailed discussion just in case.

Spoilers )
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Playstyle mismatch


Other-player: My 2nd level Wizard casts a fireball, uses it as a rocket to propel themselves at the dragon and make a charge attack.

GM: That's so epic! Forget the dice roll! The charge rips right through the dragon's body, landing your wizard right next to the tied up princess.

Tactician: I take a defensive stance and ready an action to fire my bow.

GM: Ok. Now the dragon attacks you both.

Other Player: I swing my sword to cut a hole in the dragon's claw and then jump through at the last minute!

Tactician: My defensive stance gives me +2.

GM: Other player, you make it! Sorry Tact, your +2 doesn't cut it against the dragon.
This was an example of how, a player who's instinctive or most-enjoyed play style isn't matched by the GM's style, can get bored and lose interest.

But what I found interesting was that it wasn't a matter of one style being right and the other wrong. In this case, it was a tactician feeling neglected because the play only rewarded epic over-the-top-ness. But another game could have the exact reverse, the other player's gambit being met with "if you do that, the fireball just blows up in your face", and lots of detailed situations where mastery of your character's written abilities is rewarded.

The archetypes come from Robin Law's Good Gamemastering Guide (Power-gamer wants success; Butt-kicker wants to kick down the door and cut loose; the Tactician wants to do well on their own merit; the Method Actor, and a couple of others including a casual gamer who plays occasionally or for the first time and has different needs again.) It's interesting to see how those archetypes are similar to and different to other sets of archetypes often discussed.

But that it's definitely possible to have a game encompassing a fair breadth of different styles. But this example shows, sometimes people want things that are so different it's essentially impossible to cram in one without giving up the other (and that's fine if you recognise that).

The archetypal adventuring party


Q: An Ogre has over twice the HP of four goblins combined and can kill a 2nd-level character in a single blow. A 4-character party of 2nd-levelers could easily take out 4 goblins in a single round, while a 1-round defeat of an Ogre is highly unlikely. But the encounter multiplier table lists four goblins together as a slightly harder challenge, why?

A: With the ogre, although he's big and tough he's tactically easy: Bigpecs McFighter can beat on him up close while Pewpew Van Fireball blasts him from range.

With the goblins, while Bigpecs is beating one down, the rest come in from behind and play pin-the-kidney-on-the-wizard. Requires some more tactical smarts to deal with the goblins effectively. (And that more attacks can give a greater chance of killing one PC.)

B: Thanks for naming two of my NPC characters! Let's fill out the rest of the party then: Tippytoe O'Stab and Friar Bandaid.
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I've been browsing the alexandrian blog with various roleplaying reviews and advice. He periodically reposts reviews he made 15 years ago for rpg.net. A couple are funny.


A parody game, including cards such as "Wizards of the Coast. The publishers of a hot new card game. Though they have money, they aren't exactly in the same league as TSR. If they survive Magic The Gathering, look out!"

Which was a bit of a lame joke at the time, but after WotC became a fantasy roleplaying juggernaut buying most other related companies, is funny in retrospect.


Settlers of Catan: "hex-based maps from every wargame you’ve ever seen; combinations of resource cards are basically a mechanic from Risk; maintaining diplomatic relations from Diplomacy; variable board set-up from Chess variants; and trading resources from many variants of Monopoly), but the true aficionado will recognize a whole which is greater than the parts."

It's strange to read a review where Settles of Catan is new and no-one knew if it would be as promising as it seemed yet :)

And from rpg exchange: http://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/34825/whats-the-inspiration-for-the-owlbear

A question it hadn't occurred to me to ask, why does the rust monster look the way it does? Why the owlbear? Because the designer had a cereal-packet-style bag of mythical plastic monsters from japan that were supposed to be dinosaurs, but took their distinctive appearance for the new monsters :)
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)

For a while, my favourite cartoon article on procrastination was this quora answer by Oliver Emberton, describing the einstein-rational part of your brain and the impulsive-lizard part of your brain.


But it was displaced by the wait-but-why article and sequel.

All the wait-but-why articles were funny, but seemed to be trying to be a bit too clever, so I had to come back to them to decide if I liked them or not. I wasn't sure how much this article added over what I already knew. But when I came back to it, I decided it was actually really good.

I think the most valuable thing is having a name for the "dark playground" -- the metaphorical place where you know you need to get something important done, but put it off, but you can't do anything *really* fun while you wait, because you'd feel guilty and because you can't really concentrate, so you do lots of things that used to be a bit fun, but now are just a mess of bad habits and impulsive reward-seeking like checking email again and again and reading websites you don't really like.

I was always aware of that phenomenon, but I didn't realise how fuzzy my concept was until having a name for it brought it into sharp focus. Having a name for it meant firstly that it was immediately easy to describe to anyone else familiar with procrastination -- even if they knew I was wrong, they knew what I was experiencing and what might help a little and what wasn't. And that I could tell other people and myself that I wasn't really enjoying what I was doing -- the problem was literally "putting things off", not "wanting to do something else more".

And secondly, recognising easily that was what I was doing helped me eliminate the lies I told myself. No, I'm not going to check my email "one more time", each time I do that I get more exhausted and get less willpower. Instead, I have to choose between (a) reducing the fear of starting to the point where I can do SOMETHING right now or (b) taking a real break or (c) checking my email HARDER and HARDER until I suddenly snap in panic and force myself to work as hard as I can for about three seconds before I collapse (this doesn't help).
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Every so often, I repost some links that most people have seen before, but are still some of the best things ever. This time:

FAQ: The snake fight portion of your thesis defense

Q: Does my thesis adviser pick the snake?
A: No. Your adviser just tells the guy who picks the snakes how good your thesis was.

I've never done a PhD, but from what I hear, this FAQ is much, much more true than many descriptions of the PhD process which are "actually" true.

100 Movie Spoilers in 5 Minutes

Exactly what it says. I especially like the minute in the middle of movies where the spoiler for each is "Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks get together at the end".

Note, they're not kidding about spoilers. Most of them are not really spoilers, just endings you'd know, but a few are famous twist endings. You probably know all of these already, or don't know enough about the film to remember the twist even if you hear it, or don't care, but if not, don't watch.

A conversation with a dog about eating a sweet potato

Dog: I am starving.
Me: Actually, no. You aren't starving. You get two very good meals a day. And treats. And Best Beloved fed you extra food while I was gone.
Me: I saw you get fed not four hours ago! You are not starving.
Dog: Pity me, a sad and tragic creature, for I can barely walk, I am so starving. WOE.
Me: I am now ignoring you.

[There is a pause, during which the dog exits the room in a pointed manner.]

[From the kitchen, there comes a noise like someone is eating a baseball bat.]
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Liv also made a post about controversial things at http://liv.dreamwidth.org/407101.html, if your appetite for controversy isn't satisfied yet.

(Although I would have been careful to make it clear where between "fewer people should have an abortion" and "fewer people should need to have an abortion" people's opinion lies, to avoid being even more controversial than necessary.)
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If you saw a mainstream link to "How to write like Dan Brown" would you expect it was sarcasm, or serious?

Mid Staffs

Apr. 25th, 2013 01:16 pm
jack: (Default)

A couple of people shared a link talking about the controversy about mid staffs hospital. The gist is that the entire thing was a combination of (a) cherry-picking data that happened to look bad (b) repurposing data that's not supposed to reflect hospital performance (c) finding scandals when you look hard enough for them (d) a self-perpetuating media myth.

That sounded plausible to me, but I don't know enough to judge it. Does anyone know if that's actually accurate?
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In my previous post, I described some of the bookmarks I keep around because I keep thinking they're awesome, even if I don't need them for anything http://cartesiandaemon.livejournal.com/797921.html

Here are some more:

100 Movie spoilers in 5 minutes


If you're bored of all classic and not-so-classic movies having their endings spoiled in casual conversation and want to get it all out of the way at once, here is one of the most efficient movie-ending spoilers. It's really funny :)

This is another recent entry into the group that's not an internet classic yet, I just happened to really like it myself.

Also see http://xkcd.com/109/

Geek hierarchy


Here is a helpful schematic illustrating which groups of internet users consider themselves less geekier that which other groups of internet users, starting with "published science fiction authors" and working its way down through many different groups.

Read more... )
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Bookmark organising

When I organised my bookmarks, I realised that most fell into the categories of

  • Stuff I use every day and want quickly accessible. Eg. email, social networking homepages, the wikipedia page on the unicode checkmark, etc.
  • Something to read later. Eg. links that seem interesting, computer games, books and films to consider buying or renting, etc.
  • Something to read periodically, eg. news sites, social networking friends pages, feeds, blogs I follow, many webcomics divided into "daily", "bi/triweekly" etc.
  • Something I may occasionally want as a reference. Eg. step-by-step instructions for stuff I do occasionally.
  • Stuff that's useless, doesn't update, but I just keep coming back to because it's so awesome, such as The world flag rating page (do not make your country's flag in photoshop, tricolors are overused), The Evil Overlord List of movie-stereotypical mistakes I will not do if I'm ever an evil overload, and the Earth destruction advisory board FAQ on non-dilettante ways to destroy the earth

    The last category was a minor surprise to me, as I'd not realised in advance it was a category I'd need. But I really do need it, because even if I don't need those links, if I don't have it, my mind keeps saying "don't forget the earth destruction advisory board, what it if updates the earth destruction status[1]" so I need a place to put them, just to get them out of the way in all the other categories!

    I do the same with physical objects too: if I want to keep it and it doesn't have a place, make a place for things I keep for that reason however stupid. Then, if I decide it's stupid and I don't need to keep it, I can throw it out later, having already separated it from stuff I'm keeping for a more useful reason.

    The reason I mention this now is that last night several of us were talking about an answer on stack overflow that is incredibly awesome and made the rounds several times recently, but some less-programmer-y people hadn't seen, which is one of the most recent links promoted to my list of "stuff on the internet I personally find most awesome".

    Link for khalinche and ceb from last night, how do I use a regex to detect certain sorts of tag in HTML text


    There is a question on Stack Overflow asking how to use a regex to detect certain sorts of tag in HTML text and the first answer (link) is a work of genius, as the answerer gets more and more emphatic about his opinion, it's really funny and accurate (even if you don't know what the words mean, it's still funny and you can get a gist of the answer if you scroll through slowly to the end). :)


    [1] On 10 September, 2008, it did, advancing the "Earth destruction advisory count" from 0 to 1. There is a supplementary FAQ on the event at http://qntm.org/board, starting with "The Earth hasn't been destroyed! What are you talking about?"
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Someone linked to this a couple of months ago, but it really resonated with me. It's from the Lean into the Pain entry in Aaron Swartz's Raw Nerve series.

My interpretation wasn't quite the same, but the way I put it was an analogy to an occasional trope in fantasy or sci-fi novels, where something is psychically exerting a feeling of fear or pain onto the protagonist to drive them away from something, who realises what's happening, and that by moving towards where the pain is greatest, they can actually use the pain as a compass to tell them where to go.

Similarly, my brain often generates a "don't think about this, it'll be scary!" feeling about something I need to do but have been putting off. If I listen to the scary voice, I can end up not doing it.

But the voice is actually really, really useful as a way of highlighting those things you need to do, and once you've learned that most of the time, the things you've been putting off are not that bad (or at least, it's a relief to start dealing with them rather than let them get worse), that feeling is a really useful guide to what I should try to do next.
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via fanf's dotaturls, http://i.imgur.com/xFB4G.jpg, at the olympics, chips may only be served with fish, not without.

I wonder, is that even legal, if it's equally easy to serve without, and not doing so even for the same price would disproportionately affect people who are vegetarian for religious reasons?

(I think the relevant questions are "are non-employers allowed to indirectly discriminate against protected classes" and "is this a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim"?)

(For that matter, is vegetarianism not a philosophical belief for the purposes of being a protected class?)
jack: (Default)

This is an urban legend I would have expected to be false, but apparently happened several times. Someone had a vanity license plate with "NO PLATE" on. Every traffic ticket issued to a car with no plate had "NO PLATE" written in the space for the license plate. Every (or many) tickets were sent to the holder of the "no plate" plate.

I realise, before databases were common, it was a lot more common to expect people reading a form to use common sense (whether or not that was justified or not, I don't know :)).

But if possible, when designing a form, have a SEPARATE way of marking exceptions. (See also "John No Middle Initial Smith") Also, when designing an automated database process, have some way of noticing when one entry suddenly spikes to thousands of times what the others get.

Conversely, recognise in advance when you're letting yourself in for a world of grief, and decide if this is the battle you want to dedicate your life to or not :)


Jun. 3rd, 2012 09:26 pm
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Oh, look, a new social networking platform that isn't facebook! I'd like any social networking platform that isn't facebook, but preferably a non-centralised one, to gain traction.

So far none seem to have managed the (to me obvious) idea that dreamwidth embraced, that the only way of gaining traction over a market leader with a significant network effect is to make it easy to inter-operate with them. (ie. You will not be the new facebook. Make cross-posting easy, and you may be A new facebook.)

Zurker (claims to) have the cool but somewhat surprising idea of being a co-op, ie. people are assigned virtual shares (later to theoretically be converted into actual shares in the company) if they refer people. I'm not sure if it'll actually go anywhere, but go ahead, sign up for as many non-facebook social networking platforms as possible and hope one reaches critical mass...

Link: http://www.zurker.co.uk/i-221963-lwrkovbvqn
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Shamus' completely hilarious description of someone watching people playing Magic:TG


Harry Potter sings the elements of rationality song (by Daniel Radcliffe, not Elizier Yudkowski :))


"German student attacks Hell's Angels with puppy" -- that headline really, really needs to be less ambiguous :) :



Mar. 17th, 2010 03:40 pm
jack: (webcomics/)
Report on the Cambridgeshire guided busway

Council report: http://www2.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/db/council2.nsf/c3cf865e3cc1131380256a6b0037e439/759179cacced8509802576e1003c7df2?OpenDocument
Response: http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/thebusway/

The council commissioned a report to describe exactly why the busway seemed to have just... not turned up. After all several years and late is a bit of a record for a bus, not to mention the eight-figure cost overrun.

The report is fairly short and surprisingly helpful and easy to read; if you're curious about the state of the busway I highly recommend skimming it.

In short the busway is behind schedule. The northern half is about finished, but with several major defects that don't really impede it opening, but are likely to go wrong several years down the line. The council claims that these are not up to spec, and Nuttal should fix them. Nuttal say they were perfectly reasonable. Neither side wants to accept liability for them.

Read more... )

Koch on The dutch parliament

I remember some friends talking about Dutch politics, but I didn't know anything about it at ALL tunil now.

Introduction to the history: http://www.quirksmode.org/politics/
Introduction to the blog: http://www.quirksmode.org/politics/blog/

Via Making-Light, Koch, known for work on browser compatibility, writes an introduction to the parties of the Dutch parliament. It's a marvellous example of making a topic most people didn't have a prior interest in entertaining and informative, and of describing what a foreigner needs to know, both the written rules, the unbreakable customs, and the different political axes the parties break down along, as compared to UK politics.

Read more... )

It's really interesting, you should go and read the introduction, even if you hadn't thought you would.

Google Streetview covers all of UK

Wow. Practically all the UK, including many tiny lanes, has been dropped into google streetview. I feel like I'm living in the future where cyberspace has a defined geography!
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URL/Search blindness


This website accidentally googlebombed facebook. That is, they published an article about facebook, including a now-removed imagining of a new facebook login box. And briefly became the top google hit for "facebook login". And apparently were deluged with comments along the lines of "cool, but why can't i log in?" and "i just got used to the last redesign, why did u change it again" and "very funny, fuck you" and so on.

Apparently what happened is that users type in "facebook login" to the address/search bar, and we have now reached the point where "the URL containing facebook.com" is as obscure a technical detail as "the IP address containing 131.111", so presumed that if what they saw wasn't the facebook login, it wasn't their fault, it was the INTERNET's fault.

Of course, I knew this blurring was happening, and making things easier for people is good (and I can't imagine living without google or without firefox autocomplete-from-history), but if people are truly going to do without URLs we maybe need some better way of mapping typing-to-domain, eg. to try and decide if they're looking for a specific domain or not and provide the options "here is the facebook main page, here is a google search for facebook, etc, etc" to click on.

Conversely, several people point out that people are trying to train users to use secure passwords and avoid phishing scams. But for users who have no reason to know what an URL is, this is uphill work.


I just noticed that how I typed those comments is a bit like how people portray regional accents: typing a massively toned down version as a shorthand to say "these are internet people, not grammar people"

Living in the future: Reverse image search

I was recently trying to do several friends' puzzles collected together on a website Puzzle Bunny. One of them was an image composed out of 10 small graphics, each with a number, and the answer may have been one of the numbers, or possibly the picture. But I wasn't sure what to call the picture: "chart" because that had the number on, "building site" because that was where they were, "construction worker", etc. Because I wasn't sure I should probably have realised that that ought not to be the solution, but I wanted to find the original pic which had been made used to make that part of the image.

And lo, I found http://www.tineye.com/ (but there are probably other websites which do the same thing). I cropped the picture to the sub-picture I was interested in, pasted a section of background over the numeral which had been inserted over it, uploaded it to the website, and it gave a list of websites which showed the original higher-resolution version of that image!

Now I see it, I can image how you'd do it, but if you'd asked me a year ago if you could "find where this image is used on the internet", even if it had been cropped, resized, and stored as jpeg, I would have said it was impossible, but no, it works. (Obviously it currently only works with modifications of the _same_ image. If you take a photo yourself, people can only relate it to modifications of that image, not to other photos of the same thing.)
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Q. What do you get if you cross:

* a musical
* a videoblog style format
* a league of supervillains
* writing by Joss Whedon
* Nathon Fillon (aka Malcolm Reynolds aka Caleb) playing a smug larger-than-life jerk, Captain Hammer

A. Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog

I didn't like it as much as most other people I know, but it's very much worth watching! I particularly like: the balanced characterisation of the "hero" and "villain"; and the most epic moments of solo singing.


Jul. 2nd, 2008 10:54 pm
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"A proof of the Riemann hypothesis"

Linked from God plays dice blog, a putative paper on the Riemann hypothesis. I can't read it, I never was plugged into the mathematical grapevine. But it would feel remiss in the extreme not to pass on the comment.

Read more... )

ETA: The result is from a stable that does work on the Riemann Hypothesis, but has had several flawed proofs published before. This was flawed, and maybe patched already.

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab

Evolution , with the magic of stop-motion fridges. (Also: Dumbasses put hands over their ears and say "la la la, can't hear you". Original scientist sends long, thoughtful reply saying "Pull your fucking heads out of your asses, already. Duh.") Disclaimer: people who believe in the absence of any sort of evolution are not automatically dumbasses. Really.

God hates FAQs

A friend recently linked to a service which, when you're raptured, can send a last message to a loved one. There are two basic approaches. You've been left behind .com is run by Christians, and employs an ingenious dead-man's-handle.

Post Rapture Post .com is run by atheists. Post Rapture Post is a lot funnier.

Read more... )