28 March 2008

Daring Fireball: On Top

Daring Fireball: On Top

There are four styles for replying to an e-mail.

  • Do not quote the original message
  • Top Put your reply above the quoted text of the original message
  • Bottom Put your reply below the quoted text of the original message
  • Quote relevant parts of the original message with your reply following each quote

I agree with John Gruber (Daring Fireball) that the last is the preferred method.

But some of my friends—for some reason—do not keep an archive of their e-mail messages. They rely on people who respond to not only quote the previous message, but the entire thread. In “top” fashion.

So, I try to oblige.

Housing/credit crises

Back when all these people were taking out these loans, perhaps Congress could have spent a little money on a campaign to educate people about why those loans were a bad idea. I mean, I saw them being offered. They looked like a bad idea to me, though I know little about such things. Surely your typical Senator/Senatrix/Congress(wo)man could see and know. Then maybe they wouldn’t be debating spending a lot of money to bail a lot of people out.

21 March 2008

My four-fold model of RPGs

There are four stereotypes of approaches to role-playing games.

These are just stereotypes. Nobody actually plays 100% by any of these.

Stereotype 1: Playing The character is a virtual playing piece. A pawn. A counter. An avatar of the player. The game world is a virtual board and framing story. Some effort is made to stay within the framework of the framing story, but generally players have their characters do whatever they (the players) want. Players are generally free to use personal, out-of-game knowledge and insights in deciding their characters’ actions. Likewise, the challenges which the GM presents may not be completely natural outside the context of the game.

Stereotype 2: Rule/roll playing The player builds the character. Since the player cannot know what the character knows and cannot act as the character would act—in play, the rules and mechanics determine what happens.

Stereotype 3: Role playing This is a mix of method acting and improvisational theatre. The player authors the character, but in play the player simply has the character act as that character’s goals, motivations, flaws, etc. dictate.

Stereotype 4: Story telling The players and the GM work together to tell a collaborative story. Decisions are made based on what makes the most interesting story.

Robust software

RFC: 793

TCP implementations will follow a general principle of robustness: be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

Martian Headsets—Joel on Software

Now there are all these web pages out there with errors, because all the early web browser developers made super-liberal, friendly, accommodating browsers that loved you for who you were and didn’t care if you made a mistake. And so there were lots of mistakes. And Postel’s “robustness” principle didn’t really work.

My expansion on Postel’s robustness principle: Even though you are liberal in what you accept, that doesn't mean you should do so silently.

Arthur C. Clarke

What to say...?

His short story, “Breaking Strain”, (if I’m remembering correctly) is a great example of how a science-fiction story can contain both good science and good fiction. How good science can even be an integral part of good fiction.

Rendezvous with Rama may be my favorite Clarke novel. A comparison (& particularly contrast) with Gentry Lee’s sequels really highlights the things I enjoy about Clarke’s writing.


Pathfinder RPG

Pathfinder RPG: “Today marks the beginning of a year-long Open Playtest of the new rules, which are based upon the popular 3.5 rules available under the Open Game License.”

The really odd thing here is that the company doing a minor revision to the D&D 3.5 rules are doing a year-long open playtest while the company that is doing a major revision did a six-month closed playtest.

(Yeah, yeah. Wizards of the Coast playtested 4e in-house longer than that. (In-house playtesting is not playtesting.) And they’re using concepts that were tested via 3.5e supplements. (Testing a concept is not the same as testing a specific implementation of that concept in the context of an entire system.))

I actually had a draft post about how, if I were Wizards, I would do inexpensive, low-production value preview versions of the rules and not put out a fancy hardback version until the system had been widely played and stablized.

20 March 2008

Tattooed turtle girl

I love my tattooed turtle girl & wife.

She’s beautiful. She’s sexy. She’s stylish. She’s smart. She’s fun. She’s crafty. She’s clever. She’s forgiving. She’s strong. She’s frugal (yet splurges). She’s generous. She’s a wonderful mother.

And so much more.

Jeff’s threefold model

Jeff’s Gameblog: I got your threefold model right here, buddy!

This is beautiful. One of the best pieces on RPG theory I’ve ever read.

Though I think he should rename “Retro” as “Obsolete” as he mentions in the comments.

I think this says something about the whole “worse is better” paradox. It’s not so much that worse is better, but that we tend to measure good and bad in ways that don’t jibe with where the rubber meets the road.

Beyond the Mac

Command-S has to go!—O’Reilly Digital Media Blog

The Mac took computing to a new level of abstraction. There is farther to go, however. The time for “beyond the Mac” has been here for a while.

In fact, many of us have already seen and used it: The Palm OS. The Palm OS hid so much of the boot, launch, save, quit, etc. machinery of computing. (And the iPhone seems to be building on that legacy.)

It’s long past time that these concepts came to the average workstation.

Too bad I was never the entrepreneurial type.

The Ministry of Type

The Ministry of Type: Quote/Unquote

The Mac is not a typewriter

One of the mistakes of the Macintosh (and MacWrite and Microsoft Word): It gave people typographic tools without training them to be typographers. What should’ve happened:

1. The applications should have taken up more of the slack. They should have had many of the rules of good typography built-in. (e.g. hanging punctuation, orphan elimination)

2. There was virtually no serious effort to educate users about the differences between the typewriters or word processors they were used to using and the Mac, MacWrite, and Microsoft Word. There was the book referenced above, but you shouldn’t have had to seek out and buy a separate book to learn how to properly use your ground-breaking computer and its applications.

Amatuers v. professionals

there he goes again (Lessig Blog)

It’s an odd situation. The difference between the professional and the amateur: The professional wants to make the most money with the least effort. The amateur wants to say/create something worthwhile despite not being paid for it.

When the amateur gets the opportunity to get paid for his work, he ecstatically agrees. Soon, however, he must compromise to survive in his new career.

(Though some of us strive for the middle ground.)


I think “jailbreaking” the iPhone is something Apple secretly supports. I think it’s a good thing that those who are willing to take the risks can do interesting things with the platform. I think it’s good that it looks very risky too.

19 March 2008


This is an interesting article that explains the appeal of Lost, Star Trek, and Pride & Prejudice as being the same.

Rands In Repose: Nerdfotainment

Nerds are systematic thinkers, which means, for entertainment, we want to exercise our systemic comprehension muscles. We want to stare at a thing and figure out what rules define it. In the case of Lost, Abrams get this. He sprinkles hints of systems within the system of the show. He tinkers with time and with personalities to paint brief glimpses of clues. And then he changes everything because he knows that if we ever feel we’ve figured it out, we’ll bail.

The danger for Lost, however, is that things may get so convoluted we stop believing that he does have a way it all makes sense rather than just making up random things as he goes.


a sociological, economic, or political subdivision of society

When young science-fiction fans get to the study of geometry, they are often bothered by how the use of the word “sector” in science-fiction doesn’t match the technical use of the term in geometry.

In fact, people generally seem to have a problem that when they learn the technical meaning of a term in a particular field of study, they have trouble with the plain use of the term.

18 March 2008

Mearls plays original D&D

Mike Mearls—lead developer of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons—posted about his experience playing the original D&D recently.

OD&D and D&D 4 are such different games that they cater to very different needs.

Original D&D Discussion - Kardallin's Palace, Session 1, 2/15/08

See! Those of us who think they are different games are not insane, overly nostalgic, crotchety grognards, or such.

Well...OK...we may be all of those things, but that’s not why we think the ancient and modern editions are different enough to be considered different games. We think that because it’s true!

A lot of the fun parts of the session (the talking skull; the undead and their bargain) were possible under any edition of D&D. However, I think that OD&D’s open nature makes the players more likely to accept things in the game as elements of fiction, rather than as game elements. The players reacted more by thinking “What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?” rather than “What’s the logical thing to do according to the rules?”

Exactly! This is the thing I’ve been trying to get at myself. As much as I enjoy mastering a complex set of rules, that’s not what I want in a role-playing game. Besides, when it’s about playing the rules, most people at the table end up not having as much fun—in my experience—as a few people at the table. When it’s about playing the role rather than playing the rules, the game becomes more enjoyable for everyone at the table.

13 March 2008

The real internet

Daring Fireball: Just the Internet

Apple has been getting some heat for saying the iPhone gives you “the real internet” since it lacks Flash or Java.

Well, first off, they really mean “the real world wide web”. Although “e-mail and the web” comes pretty close for me. (Well, have IM in June it seems.)

What constitutes the real web?

  • HTTP
  • HTML
  • JFIF (a.k.a. JPEG)
  • PNG (& GIF if you insist)
  • CSS
  • EcmaScript (a.k.a. JavaScript)

That might cover it for me. I’d be happy to leave Flash & Java out of it. Not that I don’t think both can be put to very good use, but I don’t think you should work on the assumption that they’re there.

For that matter, I think you should try to make things work reasonably without CSS or EcmaScript.

12 March 2008

Hackin' & slashin'

Let’s be clear about this:

1. People were having fun role-playing and doing many things besides hack & slash with D&D long before the knock-offs created to “fix” it appeared.

2. People have used just about any role-playing game produced for mindless hack & slash play.

The fault (if fault there is) is not in our rules, but in ourselves.

Besides, mindless (or mindful) hack & slash is a perfectly valid style of play if that’s what the people around the table enjoy.

Oh, and compare the “alternative” combat system in the original three little D&D booklets to Steve Jackson’s Melee and Wizard and then tell me which designer emphasized combat more. (Gygax has said many times that he always used the “alternative” system rather than Chainmail when playing D&D.)

The iPhone AppStore

I thought it was quite interesting and insightful the way Apple spoke of the iPhone AppStore.

“The developers are going to register with us if they want to distribute them. If they write a bad app, we can both track them down and we can turn off the app’s distribution.”

—from Gizmodo’s live blog

Apple isn’t going to try to fully vet every iPhone app up-front. That would be slow, expensive, and foolish. Instead, they want to be able to squash any problems as soon as they appear. (“Squashing the problem” may be notifying the developer of it so they can fix it. Having the ability to stop distribution of the bad app as a back-up solution, however, is nice to have as well.)

Of course, there are perfectly good arguments against this, but I think it is both smart and reasonable.

(Though I would still like to see riskier alternatives to the AppStore for those willing to accept the risk.)

06 March 2008

Time Capsule

I’ve had this draft sitting around since we got the Time Capsule. Might as well polish and post...

The NetGear wireless router we had—while fine feature-wise—had problems. Weekly, it would refuse wireless connections until you poked at it’s configuration. (You didn’t have to actually change the configuration.) It’d periodically just run slow until you power cycled it. I kept installing firmware updates, but the problems always remained.

We’d been needing a network disk to back-up our machines to as well. So, when the Time Capsule was announced, I wanted one. When I got some Apple Store credit as a work bonus, my beautiful—then Apple Store employed—wife brilliantly suggested that combined with her discount, we could afford one sooner than I’d expected.

When it arrived, setup was a very pleasant experience. Easier than any other wireless router I’ve setup. I soon had it up with the same network name and network password as I’d used with the NetGear. (Thus, no need to reconfigure the Macs or iPhones.) Even our USB printer—which never worked great with our Macs—was soon connected to the Time Capsule taking the “network print server” duties from my Mac mini. I was soon connected to the Time Capsule’s hard drive and backing up my Mac mini. (I was waiting until I could back it up before installing Leopard so that I could use Time Machine.) Setting up Time Machine on Andrea’s iBook to work with the Time Capsule went easy too.

OK, one little hiccup there. The initial Time Machine backup can take a long time. Probably the old iBook’s old AirPort card was a factor as well. I stopped it and connected it via ethernet instead. It still took a long time, but not as long as it would have. Still, that isn’t a fault in the product.

Ironically, Andrea told me that Time Capsule generated a lot of support calls. I have to assume that that is more due to the nature of the product—network, especially wireless networking, can be mysterious to a lot of users—than the product itself. If someone has trouble setting up a Time Capsule, they’d probably have even more trouble with...say...a NetGear one. (Not even considering the additional network disk and network printer features of the Time Capsule.)

So, I finally have a permanent fix for the problems with the my NetGear router. (^_^)


If superdelegates weren’t meant to be independent, why do they exist as independent delegates? If you don’t like independent delegates, then shouldn’t you be working to eliminate superdelegates rather than trying to tell them how they should vote?

Where are the stories?

I’ve written about this before, but it—unsurprisingly—comes to mind again.

Probably any more-than-casual D&D player has read a story from Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign. (Not the published setting, but the actual campaign run by Gygax and Kuntz.) One of the earliest magazine articles about the game included one. They were told in the pages of The Dragon magazine. They were told in modules. They were told even in relatively recent issues of Dragon magazine.

Do some searching, and you can find a few stories from Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.

Despite a lot of searching, though, I haven’t found a story from Marc Miller’s personal Traveller campaign or Steve Jackson’s personal GURPS campaign.

(Interestingly, a pre-GURPS SJG game, Melee, did open with a story taken from actual play!)

Perhaps those designers feel it would be inappropriately vain to talk about their games and good enough to let people create their own stories.

But such stories are, I think, important to communicate aspects of the game—as played by its creators—that the rules and advice alone do not. They certainly help breathe a life into it. Not that we then have to play as the creators do, but I think there’s still a lot of value in such stories.

More recently it’s become popular to make up stories to try to give a game more life, but it doesn’t work for me the way the stories of Gygax and Kuntz and company do.


Note to self: If you need to say “monopoly” without saying “monopoly”, say “exclusive”. (^_^)

04 March 2008


He wrote some of the most influential books ([1][2][3] to cite a few) of my teenage years. (And was credited on others.)

There was a time (the Unearthed Arcana era) that I came to ridicule him.

I was very saddened the day I learned he’d been forced out of the company he’d built.

Then I came to respect him through his message board posts.

In the end, he was an interesting man and a vibrant spirit whose influence was great. (For it can be seen perhaps stronger in computer and console games than in the pen and paper games he created.) While he certainly achieved nothing single-handedly, I don’t think a knowledgeable observer can discount his contributions.

I am sad that I never got to meet him face-to-face or to game with him. I am grateful for his works that fill my shelves and for the conversations that he shared with me and others online. As just another gamer.

Good bye, Gary. You will be missed.

03 March 2008

The role of stats in RPGs

Heracles often completed his labors through his ingenuity rather than his great strength. Goliath’s great physical stature and strength didn’t prevent him from being defeated by a confident youngster. (And the story kind of loses its power if you read it as David just being lucky—rolling a critical hit.)

You see this kind of thing in comic books all the time. While the Fantastic Four have truly fantastic abilities, Lee and Kirby felt the need to create an enemy of cosmic proportions to pit them against. An enemy against whom their abilities meant very little.

In text adventures—or “interactive fiction”— the “player character” seldom has any stats.

While I can enjoy the numbers game part of role-playing games, I don’t think it’s crucial. (For me.) Ideally, I don’t think it’s the characters stats that should determine success but how the character is played. I suppose this is what we call “challenging the player” rather than “challenging the character”.

(Of course, it’s not an all-or-nothing affair. If the player is really “role playing”, then I suppose the two merge into “challenging the character as played by the player”. A player can play a character in a way that plays to their statistical advantages and minimizes their disadvantages. But I don’t think that makes much different to the point I’m trying to understand.)

During my Lord of the Rings campaign, I ran a solo play-by-e-mail bit for one of the players (Jax) whose character was doing some scouting alone. Never rolled a die. In the classic Traveller and Basic/Expert D&D games I ran, I tended to downplay the important of stats.

(Then there’s the whole stat advancement thing. If stats are downplayed, then isn’t stat advancement as well?)

Mouse buttons and iPhone apps

Macs come with a single-button mouse. If you upgrade to a two-button mouse, however, the system supports it just fine. Apple will even sell you a mouse that has a two-button mode.

It would be nice to see the same thing with third-party iPhone applications. If Apple—as is expected—will have a process for approving third-party applications to make sure they aren’t naughty, I think that will be a great thing.

But I also think that those of us willing to take more risk ought to have the option of installing unapproved applications.

A good argument against this, however, is that everybody will choose to take the risk without understanding it. The approval process will be pointless and chaos will ensue.

Take the Windows 95 logo. When Windows 95 came out, developers who went through an approval process could put a special Windows 95 logo on their product. End users, however, didn’t care, however, so it really didn’t mean anything.

(Aside: It probably didn’t really mean anything anyway.)

Did chaos ensue? I guess it depends on how you look at it. Things were no more chaotic than they had been under Windows 3.11.

Back to mouse buttons, though. It was a long time between the introduction of the Macintosh and Apple selling a mouse with two-button capabilities. It was also a long time before the system truly supported a two-button mouse without third-party enhancements. Perhaps that made it easier for the current situation to develop?

Well, it’s perhaps a strained analogy anyway, but this is a common situation that comes up in human-machine interaction: Balancing the machine’s interface between the needs of the “casual” and the “power” user and how much to allow it to adapt to both.