27 February 2008


I’m a Democrat.

I’ve always refused to join a party. It seemed important to remain independent.

But now I’ve voted in the Democratic primary. I’m officially a Democrat.

And why not? It’s a rare event that I actually like a Republican candidate. And the one’s I do like are typically the one’s that get the least support from their party.

I still think that the Democrats & the Republicans are too much alike. I think we really need reform—like instant run-off voting—that can weaken the hold those too parties have. I don’t necessarily think a two-party system is bad. I just think that third parties need to be able to better challenge the big two for their positions as the big two. The parties need too not be so comfortable.

Until that happens, I guess I might as well officially support the party I unofficially support.

19 February 2008

24/7 Wall St.: How To Get Apple (AAPL) Back To $200

24/7 Wall St.: How To Get Apple (AAPL) Back To $200: “If the iPhone has an Achilles heel it is that it runs on a slow data network which handicaps users.”

The edge network has not handicapped me. Internet access was nigh useless on my last two phones. Mobile Safari on the iPhone—even on the edge—is proving useful to me nigh everyday.

Customer relations(hips)

Coding Horror: Tivoization and the GPL:

The way Tivo built their business around the GPL and then completely subverted it with hardware protection does rankle. But I also wonder how a company like Tivo could make money if users could simply recompile the Tivo software to stop phoning home and billing them. Like consoles, the Tivo hardware is typically sold at a big loss to subsidize the platform. If that hardware could be easily formatted and the software rebuilt, you’ve created a permanent loss leader. So I can empathize with their desire to control the platform.

There are two ways to deal with this.

  1. Provide products and services so good that enough people are willing to pay for them to keep you in business. Don’t sweat the dishonest people.
  2. Find a better business model.

If you trust your customers, you draw loyal customers. If you don’t, you draw customers who will easily stop being your customer or even rip you off when they can.

Of course, the other answer for Tivo would have been to develop all their own software instead of using GPL software. If software companies are going to call subverting copy protection “stealing”, then they ought to call subverting the GPL that as well.

06 February 2008

Preemptive processes & cooperative threads

Some thoughts on concurrency in computing. First, some attempts at some definitions:

  • Task: a sequential execution context, often called a “process” or a “thread”
  • Process: a task that does not implicitly share resources (i.e. memory) with other processes
  • Thread: a task that does implicitly share resources with other threads
  • Preëmptive multitasking: the scheduler may interrupt a task in order to let another task run at any time
  • Coöperative multitasking: a running task must explicitly give the scheduler a chance to let another task run

The ideal, IMHO, is to have preëmptively scheduled processes but coöperatively scheduled threads within the processes. This is because preëmption means you have to be (extra) careful about sharing resources, so sharing resources should be explicit. Or—to put it another way—implicitly sharing resources should mean using coöperative scheduling.

I think this also means that the system should provide good support for bundling a group of processes together and treating them as a single application. Too often, I think we use threads only because we tend to think of an application as being a single process.

(There are ways to make coöperative multitasking look more like preëmptive multitasking to the programmer.)

Some people will, of course, point to some higher level abstraction—like that used by Erlang—as being the holy grail of concurrency. While Erlang’s approach is a good and widely used approach, it doesn’t replace the lower-level aspects of concurrency upon which it is built.

13 blog questions

I came across this list of 13 Questions to Ask Before Publishing a Post On Your Blog

It’s a really good list, but almost all rules I intentionally don’t follow for this blog. (^_^)

05 February 2008

Line width

Now that I have an iPhone I’m even more annoyed by sites that don’t set a reasonable max-width.

(Which would be ten words per line or less. Which’d be—what—about 25em? Seems like I’d calculated closer to 30 or 40em somehow.)

((Although, the importance of this has been seemingly completely ignored in the development of HTML and web browsers, so it’s no surprise that it is so rarely considered on the web.))


Lawrence Lessig has posted “20 minutes or so on why I am 4Barack

I’m not sure how persuasive I find Lessig’s arguments, but my own thoughts have been somewhat similar.

Policy-wise, Obama and Clinton just aren’t that far apart. It’s a close call. So, all other things being roughly equal, I think it comes down to charisma. Obama has the kind of charisma that I think can be very beneficial for a President of the United States, whether dealing with Congress or foreign leaders or just inspiring Americans.

03 February 2008

Three approaches to RPGs

Here’s an attempt to categorize some styles of play in role-playing games. Please note that these are stereotypes; they are charactitures. Real games and real gamers are going to have some mix of these approaches.

  • Adventure focused: The meat of the game is exploring, searching, and puzzle-solving. The combat system tends to be simple so that combat is over quickly and the game can get back to the adventuring. Discussions are for figuring out where to go to adventure or extracting clues to solve puzzles.
  • Combat focused: Adventuring and discussion are just filler between cool fights. The combat system is at least moderately complex, though it can be either abstract or simulationist.
  • Discussion focused: The players (and GM) are talking “in character” as much as possible. The game is about negotiation, diplomacy, politics, etc. Combat is for when negotiations break down. Adventuring is just for getting to the next discussion.

Contrary to the opinion I’ve often read—based both on my own experience and reading about the earliest role-playing sessions—the adventure focus was first. Although the earliest players were wargamers, they quickly dropped the more complex wargame combat systems for more simplified and abstract ones.

Then games like TFT came along that seemed to strike in a more combat focused direction. I suspect that as AD&D spread, many AD&D groups tended towards a more combat focused style, though TSR themselves were still playing more adventure focused. In GURPS, we see the combat system split into the basic (adventure focused) and advanced (combat focused) levels. I’ve definitely seen a number of D&D3e games that are more combat focused than any AD&D game I ever played. What I’ve read of Feng Shui, it seems to be very combat focused too, which seems appropriate for it.

I suppose the World of Darkness games are the poster child for the discussion focus, but I haven't actually played them.

The discussion focus, perhaps, needs mechanical support the least. Though there can be mechanics to support discussion focus. And sometimes games have mechanics that can be used to minimize or replace the discussion aspects of the game.

01 February 2008

More iPhone wishes

OK, I’m finding the lack of cut/copy/paste really annoying. I also want Apple’s Keychain—a secure repository for usernames, passwords, and even general data—on my iPhone. Syncing with my desktop Mac, of course.

Why it’s hard for Safari to be my main browser

  • Blogger (a Google site)
  • Google Notebook (there is an iPhone version that works beautifully with mobile Safari, though)
  • Google Docs (the iPhone version appears to be read-only (u_u))
But there is that whole integrated with the rest of the system bit. Working with keychain. Working with the Services menu. Syncing bookmarks with my iPhone.


Those little “citation needed” and similar tags on Wikipedia articles can be pretty annoying. In real life, however, they’re hilarious.

This is open, but don’t share it

John Kim’s taking heat for freely tweaking and hosting open content. John Kim’s RPG Blog: The Ethics of Open Content: “However, they [Green Ronin] have stated that they are opposed to free sharing of their open content” “The response from Chris Pramas was no—they did not want any of their open material ever being shared.” While I generally like Green Ronin and Chris Pramas, I’m completely baffled by such a cognitively dissonant (...ouch—that adverbial phrase was pretty dissonant itself...) statement. Here’s a free tip: If you don’t want content shared, don’t share it! Don’t publish it. Don’t call it open. But most definitely don’t slap a license agreement on it that gives people the right to share it. John, you’ve done nothing wrong, & you shouldn’t waste your time defending yourself against such lunacy. Edit: I should be clear that neither GR or Chris are the ones giving John heat over this. The opinion they gave was only given when asked. (Although, honestly, this blog is just thinking out loud, and is clearly labeled as such. If someone reads too much into anything I write here or forms an opinion on an issue I write about without looking into it themselves, that’s their problem.) I still think it’s a silly opinion though. (^_^) Which is the real point. The stuff about Jim’s situation was just context for how it had come to my attention.

Expectations frame

Robin Laws: Expectations Frame: “We often fail to establish a clear expectations frame to tell players what sorts of actions are likely to succeed in the world, and which are likely to fail.” Very true. “A session can grind to a sudden halt when players run from an obstacle they’re meant to overcome, or when they rush headlong toward one they’re meant to tackle cautiously.” I’ve been trying to let the players set the expectation frame, at least partially. I have a tendency to set up obstacles without thinking about how the players will deal with it. I want to be surprised. Then I try to roll with their ideas. Even if those ideas don’t perfectly fit the expectations frame I’d built. I also think there needs to be more talk about these issues at the table. When one player’s action seems to conflict with another player’s expectations, talk about it. I’m reminded of the veto power everyone at the table has in Wushu.

Per encounter abilities

Listening to the D&D podcast, they talked about “per encounter” abilities in fourth edition. Abilities that can basically be used once-per-fight. It’s also something I’ve been experiencing in the Star Wars Saga Edition. On one level, “per encounter” abilities are very artificial or meta-game-ish. Put simply, there’s seldom a good “in character” explanation for such things. On the other hand, though, in movies, literature, real-life, etc., heroes don’t tend to have a signature move that they use almost to the exclusion of all else. In games, however, that’s an easy thing to fall into. Trying to make the rules emulate the real reason for this dichotomy—I think—is both hard and tends to led to unnecessary complication. So, I’m thinking that “per encounter” abilities can actually be a very abstract way to improve simulation (whether you’re simulating reality or fiction). Improving the simulation without overly complicating the rules. The difficulty may lie in figuring out how to not make them feel artificial “in character”.

MacWorld 2008

My belated MacWorld reaction... I’m going to take Job’s four things in reverse order. 4. MacBook Air All I can say is that it is “not for me”. I don’t want a no-compromises computer in an ultra-small but extra-expensive package. I’m looking for something between an palmtop and a laptop; something between an iPhone and a MacBook. In size, features, and price. The big, multi-touch touch-pad is cool. I expect to see that on future MacBook and MacBook Pro models. 3. iTunes Movie Rentals, Apple TV updates, and Digital Copy for iTunes The Apple TV updates look good, but it still has a long way to go to be a no-brainer purchase. The iTunes Movie Rentals seem interesting. We might try those out. The Digital Copy for iTunes on Fox DVDs is the most interesting part of this segment to me. It’s only a small step towards where the movie industry should be, but it does seem to be a positive step. 2. iPhone and iPod touch updates Good stuff here. The $20 cost of the iPod touch upgrade would be easy to rant about, but I honestly don’t think it’s that big a deal. While the iPhone updates don’t blow me away, they are important for two reasons. Firstly, they demonstrate Apple’s continued path of moving forward. They make me confident that I can buy an iPhone today and have good and useful updates. Secondly, it suggests that a second-generation iPhone isn’t just around the corner. 1. Time Capsule The thing Job’s started with is perhaps the thing I’m most excited about. Possibly my biggest worries for my family’s computers are that my NetGear Wi-fi router has issues and that we don’t back-up enough. An Airport Extreme with built-in backup storage that integrates with Time Machine...yeah, that’s not a hard-sell to me.