Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Disappointed in Netflix

Me: Opens help chat with Netflix (there is no email option).
Chatbot: Title?
Me: Accessibility options for choosing shows

Chatbot: Sends links to irrelevant articles I already had to click past to get to the contact link.
Me: Clicks "chat with an agent".

(Opening handshake.)

Agent: Can you elaborate the issue that you are facing?

Me: When browsing shows, either on my TV or on your web site, you only show graphics for the shows. I don't see very well and the art is often hard to see, particularly if the show uses small or fancy fonts. Is there a way to see a text list? You used to have that for the web site (but not the TV) but that's been gone for a while. I do not want to have to hover over or navigate into each thing when browsing -- too many to do that. I'm looking for a way to scan a list of titles I can actually see.

Agent: The list is not available anymore

Me: Is there some accessibility setting I can change? It's really frustrating to not be able to navigate your offerings.

Agent: I understand, but there is no setting

Me: Thank you. I understand. How can I escalate my concern? I know that you cannot fix it but somebody at Netflix should be concerned about ADA/accessibility. How do I reach that person?

Agent: There is no one that can resolve it. I can pass on the suggestion and the feedback to our team. And they will look into it.

I suspect I know how that will go. I have the impression that all the streaming services are anti-accessible like this, though I've only done cursory browsing. They probably all think it's ok because everybody else does it. Netflix has had this problem for a while; I don't often use the service because of that, and every time I go to watch something I am reminded of how hostile it is. (In case you're wondering, my Netflix subscription comes bundled with something else; otherwise I probably would have dropped it by now because of this.)

First looks at three new games

Last month a friend brought over a copy of Flamecraft, which I recognized from our Origins A-list but it was sold out before we could register. The game is set in a town with a collection of shops, each of which natively has one good type that you can acquire there. You can play cards to expand a shop. If you gather the right combinations of goods, you can enchant shops to make them even better (and earn points). Shops have capacity limits, and as they fill up new shops come out so there's always stuff to do. It's a cute game with (mostly) good production values, and I'm glad we got to play it. One thing that I found suboptimal is that the layout is long and skinny, so no matter where you sit, you can't see everything without getting up and looming over the table. Maybe some people don't have that problem, but several of us did.

At Pennsic our camp has a gameroom (look, have you met us?), and somebody brought a copy of Equinox. This is a card game with betting and attempting to manipulate the outcome. There are eight magical creatures, one of which will be eliminated each round. You can place betting tokens on creatures; earlier bets pay off more, but if a creature you bet on gets eliminated before the end, you get nothing for that bet. For each creature there are cards numbered 0 through 9, plus there are chameleon cards (also 0 through 9) that can be played anywhere. On your turn you play a card from your hand into the corresponding "slot" for the current round. You can play over existing cards -- so if someone played an 8 on that creature you want to eliminate, you can play a "0" there. Turns continue until every creature has something for that round (so at least eight turns but it could be a lot more), and then the lowest-valued creature is eliminated and you go to the next round. Each creature also has a special power, which you can use if you play on it and you're the majority better. I played this a few times throughout the week and enjoyed it. I expect we'll buy a copy.

Yesterday two friends joined us for games and food and we played Point City, which they had just gotten from Kickstarter. (General release is next month.) This is from the same folks who made Point Salad and the style is similar, though Point City has more strategy. Two-sided cards are dealt out into a market; one side shows one of five resources (or a wildcard) and the other side shows a building. Buildings require specified resources and produce some value -- usually they give you permanent resources, but they might also give you victory points or "civics" points, which are variable scoring rewards. In a manner similar to Splendor, you're trying to build up permanent resources so that you can build other cards without first needing to get and spend the one-shot resource cards. On your turn you take two adjacent cards from the market, and if you take a building you must be able to build it immediately (you do not have a hand of cards). If you don't have a valid play, you draw two resources from the deck.

We played this a few times and liked it -- it's a nice, tight game that doesn't take a long time to play (though I disbelieve the claimed lower bound of 15 minutes, even for experienced players). We plan to buy this when it's available.

Today's news

The person who murdered my friends at Tree of Life has just been sentenced to death. There will presumably be years of appeals, but it still feels like there's some closure. I mean, as much as there can be when people we cared about are gone and obviously aren't coming back.

I have complicated feelings about the death penalty. In this case I found the defense's arguments wholly unconvincing. We're supposed to believe that someone who spent months planning an attack, who talked coherently about it on social media, who carried it out methodically, and who showed no remorse -- should get a pass because he had a difficult childhood? Lots of people have difficult childhoods but don't turn into bigoted murderers, y'know? I'm no expert, but it seems to me that he was clearly capable of forming intent, and did. I guess the defense made the best arguments they could; they just didn't have much to work with.

I've noticed that the local Jewish newspaper does not use his name, and neither shall I. We don't need to give him word-fame and help make him a martyr. He's a nobody, a murderous nobody -- Ploni.

Well hello there

With no prior expectations, this being my first year, I almost missed this in the pot:

pot on patio with full-size cucumber nestled under large leaves

And it turns out there's a second cucumber, almost full-grown, under those big wide leaves toward the left.

I dunno; I was expecting the fruits to appear where flowers had been, farther out from the base. I guess there was a flower under there. I haven't tasted my new produce yet, but soon!

This is, according to the tag from the seedling, a cucumber "bush". I expected a bush to be less vine-like, but fortunately I could move the pot near a trellis once I realized what I was dealing with. (I have another one that admitted to being viney and it has a tomato cage.)

Meanwhile, I have gotten exactly three small tomatoes off of that plant before the others started disappearing -- two that were almost ripe the previous day, gone when I went to harvest them, and today, many of the still-green ones are gone. This happened with a different variety in a different location last year, too. I might have to give up on tomatoes until I'm ready to build a greenhouse (ha, not going to happen on this property).

Bug triage as entry point

I'm the main person doing bug triage for Codidact, which means I go through bug reports and requests that our users have made on our sites and, for the ones that will require code changes, file and tag GitHub issues for our developers. I tend to do these in batches and, unless it's urgent, with a delay -- sometimes the community wants to discuss different solutions first, so we let that play out.

I've been doing a batch of triage over the last few days. Sometimes a bug looks small and easy and I think "you know, fixing that would be less effort than writing it up and tagging it". Sometimes that's actually right. (I have three small PRs open right now.) Other times my attempt to fix it is followed by me writing up the bug. :-) Either way I'm learning stuff, which is pretty cool. Mostly I've been learning about front-end stuff, focusing on the "V" in "MVC". I hope to advance to Ruby/Rails; there are features I want that we haven't gotten to yet and maybe some of them are small enough for a beginner.

Someone asked me if triage is a chore. It's not; I actually like doing what I'm doing, because it's not just copying but analysis and refinement. I'm finding that I can bring a fair bit of architectural knowledge and history to the process. A bug report is a symptom, and sometimes the issue I end up filing is different (with a paper trail). I might not write much code, but I'm pretty happy with my GitHub contributions. :-)

Origins 2023

We went to Origins Game Fair for the first time since before the pandemic. We played games.


  • Empire Builder "pot luck": this was a general sign-up, specific groups and games to be sorted out on arrival. We ended up in a four-player game of Eurorails, which I enjoyed. It took longer than usual; part of that was one player, but I think part of it was also some unfortunate card draws. (Fortunately, this was the only thing we signed up for Wednesday evening.) The game has gotten some usability upgrades since last I saw it: the goods chits are now colored with corresponding color-coding on the contract cards, and we played on a dry-erase map (single sheet). I asked about the map: that's something the folks running this did, not commercially available "but maybe later". (The organizers had a large art portfolio with all the maps.)


  • Hamburg: Nominally a city-building game (the veneer is kind of thin), the idea is that you have cards that can be used for different purposes: building (two stages), getting workers (needed for buildings), averting catastrophes, building walls, and (if I recall correctly) getting money. In each of eight rounds, the player with the most advanced position in each of five categories gets to check off an accomplishment (if not already met) for end-game points. There's not a lot of interaction among players. It was ok.

  • Fortune and Famine: You're playing leaders in a fantasy setting and your goal is to maximize the grain you have stored by the end of the game. Each round you can bid on new workers: the two fundamental ones are the farmer (pay coins, get grain) and the merchant (pay grain, get coins), and there are several others. In later phases there are upgraded versions of workers, like more lucrative merchants. There are also wizards who perform one-time actions, some of which are attacks on other players, and there are thieves. Sometimes when you draw workers you get famine cards instead and all players lose half their unprotected grain. You can protect (store) grain, so it's safe but no longer available for spending. Each leader has a special ability; mine was being able to protect three grain and/or coins without storing, another was being able to ignore famine effects three times during the game, and I forget what the others were. It's a pretty light, fast game -- I'm going to guess 45 minutes once you know the rules. I enjoyed it enough to buy a copy.

  • Familiars and Foes: A cooperative game in which you're playing low-powered familiars trying to rescue your witches and wizards from monsters. The session was led by the game designers, one of whom also played. It felt a little juvenile; I don't know how much of that was the game itself and how much was this particular session. (We were all adults, to be clear.) I felt it was trying too hard to be cute.

  • Wingspan: I've been hearing good things about this game, and it did not disappoint! (We bought a copy on the way home.) Your goal is to attract birds to your habitat; each bird type contributes to your score and might have special powers that help either the game engine or your final score. Birds can lay eggs (usually needed to get more birds), and birds require the right food to be brought into play. On your turn you can draw bird cards into your hand, play birds, lay eggs, or collect food. Each round has an additional goal (like "birds in trees" or "eggs in box nests") that awards extra points. The game is well-designed (except for storage), well-made, pretty, and fun.

Having two "F-something and F-something" games on the same day was tripping us up all day.


  • La Familia Hort: Players are competing to inherit granny's farm by building the most profitable plot. Each turn you can buy crops or farm animals, water and fertilize (limited options so you have to choose), and -- when a crop is ready -- either sell it or use it to feed livestock for income. There are also some tools that help you enhance the value of other tiles. You can only have six tiles at a time, though, so you're giving up substantial space to play a tool. The game was light, cute, and pretty forgettable, and did not consume more than half of its two-hour slot.

  • Final Strike: Players are gladiators competing for glory points by killing monsters and their sidekicks. You have a hand of weapons (everyone starts with the same hand), which deal varying amounts of damage and can be upgraded for better weapons that sometimes have special powers. You're trying to deal damage but not so much that someone else can "scoop" you for the kill; the killing shot brings a lot more glory. This game was run by the designer.

  • Gempire: Zarmund's Demands The novelty of this game is simultaneous play with actions recorded on dry-erase boards for simultaneous reveal. The boards were laid out well so you could easily see what your options are. I am now out of positive things to say about this game.

  • New York Pizza Delivery Lightweight resource-allocation game. You're building pizzerias in different NYC neighborhoods to meet delivery orders and collect victory points and maybe tips. Ingredient cards in your hand can be used to match delivery orders, or you can use them to add permanent ingredients to one of your pizzerias (can satisfy an order without more cards), or you can discard them to improve your range. There is a "marketplace" of ingredient cards that, in our game, grew quite large and unmanageable. There are also event cards and other special abilities. I came away thinking "meh", though possibly with a better playing space and fewer players it could be fun.


Origins has activities other than board games too. Saturday morning we went to a lecture called something like "why you don't want too much realism in your game". This was put on by a wargaming group, so this realism was about battle plans and stuff. The presenter was an Army logistics officer who talked a lot about the stuff that needs to go onto the map that isn't "pieces shooting or blowing things up" -- stuff that's essential to an army actually functioning, but not very much fun for most people to play out. I wasn't the target audience but I still found it interesting. Apparently it was immediately followed by a presentation about making games more realistic (drawing from experience in Desert Storm, it sounded like), but we had somewhere else to be.

  • Mistwind (not published; that's a Kickstarter link): Players are competing to deliver goods to places where they're in demand, using flying whales (if there's a reference here I missed it) to navigate from place to place and building outposts to reduce costs. On each round you will play four of your five numbered tokens, discarding one at the beginning of each round. Each token can, in turn, be played in one of four places: a row of options that give you resources in different combinations, a row of cards that let you build outposts in specific locations, a row of action options (like building whales and outposts or taking the first-player position), and a row of cards giving special abilities or end-game scoring. The trick here is that each of these four areas has five numbered positions, and you have to play your corresponding numbered token. So you can only play one "3" position, for instance, among those four choices. That all sounds complicated and there was definitely a learning curve, but I was getting it by the end of the game and the next one would be smoother. We were playing a prototype and the session was run by the designer, who was taking detailed notes and asked us for feedback. I like what I saw and expect to back the Kickstarter when it goes live.

  • Railways of the World: Rail-building and goods delivery. We've played this successor to Steam twice at past Origins conventions and had one good and one terrible experience (which seemed to be players not the game itself). This time was a good experience; the map for the six-player game is huge and the convention gave them a big round table, which leads to visibility problems for me. The bad experience (last time) was other players basically saying "you'll have to cope"; this time, in contrast, the other players were willing to move the map toward an edge and let me choose my seat to maximize what I could see, at the cost of others having to work harder, and people were happy to help with reading things I couldn't see, and it was all very friendly and positive. With six players there's a lot of contention for routes; each player also has a secret goal that encourages building in different places, which helps mitigate that. You have to look at where the goods come out at the beginning of the game and think ahead to where you might be able to deliver them and what track you'll need to build to do that. It's more forgiving than Steam and we now own a copy (which we will not play on a big round table).

  • Obelisk: Cooperative puzzle-style game. You have a 5x5 grid of tiles, each with an exit arrow on one side, one of which is the monster-spewing portal. During the players' phase you can rotate tiles to build a path (one rotation per tile ever), build towers at intersections to capture monsters from the adjacent four tiles, mine resources needed to upgrade towers, and do those upgrades. During the monsters' phase, a random assortment of monsters (three different types, varying in speed and strength) emerge on the portal and start to move along the path. If you have a strong-enough tower when a monster passes by, you can capture it (one capture per tower per phase). If a monster escapes the board or visits a tile for a second time, the players lose. It's a quick game, maybe 20 minutes; we lost our first game, declared the second layout untenable from the start, and won a third game with effort. We bought a copy. This game, too, was run by the designer.


We had more gaps in our schedule than in past years, some by design and some by games running short. We planned for some of that and got a hotel room across the street from the convention center. That location turned out to be noisy, but the convenience of being able to go back to the room for an hour instead of finding a place in the convention center to sit and read was a big win. And the hotel room didn't have annoying fluorescent lights.

In the past there have been some "general game-store" vendors, but this year we didn't see that -- general vendors for trading-card games and lots of individual publishers, along with the usual assortment of auxiliary vendors (dice, art, t-shirts, special-purpose gaming tables, costumes, etc), but no general stores for board games. Fortunately, we have a local game store we can support, and they even had Wingspan in stock so we didn't have to wait.

We were on the fence about True Dungeons this year, and then learned they wouldn't be there -- dilemma solved. :-)

Attendance was a lot lower than what I remember from 2019 (and some vendors commented on this too). I'm guessing half?

Three weeks into the Stack Overflow strike

I still don't have time for deep commentary (just got back from Origins; post about games to come), but there have been some developments since the Stack Overflow moderation strike began on June 5:

Data dumps

From very early on, Stack Overflow Inc. has published a quarterly data dump of all of the content (with attributions etc) from all network sites. This was the explicit insurance in case Stack Overflow turned evil in the future, like Experts Exchange, the company that led to SO being created, did. That stuff all uses the Creative Commons license and is meant to remain available.

Someone noticed that the June dump had not been posted on schedule, and asked a question about it. One of the people who was part of the 10% layoff in April replied, saying that the dumps had been disabled at the end of March with an annotation that they were only to be restored at the direction of the "Senior Leadership Team" (this usually means C-level executives). That drew some attention.

The company spent several days ignoring, then brushing off, then making excuses for this unannounced change. Nothing they said was credible. The strikers added "restore the data dumps" to their list of demands. After almost a week, the June dump was posted. No public promises have been made about the future yet as far as I know (though, see "was away for several days" above).

Spam overflow

With about 1500 curators (including about a quarter of moderators network-wide) on strike, and more importantly with the volunteer-run anti-spam automation turned off, the junk's been piling up. Reportedly, employees are now spending time handling spam, cutting into their day jobs.

While we're told that discussions are happening between representatives from the moderators and the company, they don't seem to have made much progress. A moderator told me that the company committed to keeping the data dumps coming, but it sounded like it was specific employees making the commitment, so the promise might not outlast their employment.

Rules for thee but not for me

In addition to violating the moderator agreement in a few ways (leading to the strike), the gen-AI-hype-chasing company recently announced that they are going to launch a site for "prompt design" (I am not making this up), but they're not going to use their existing process for creating communities because it doesn't work well, so instead they're looking for people to be part of a behind-closed-doors steering committee or some such, with the goal of launching the site by July 26.

The CEO is giving a talk about gen-AI hype at some conference on July 27.

Meanwhile, people who are trying to launch communities using the current process would like a word.

Meanwhile, over at Codidact...

Stack Overflow Inc. has given us a gift. We have lots of new participants and new activity, and some active efforts to build new communities here. Nice! We've gotten some questions about differences and was starting to think that we need an "immigration guide" and then someone reminded me of this early post asking about differences -- with a new answer from one of our new users. Nice.

It sounds like we might also attract some contributors on GitHub, which would be great. We have many things we want to do and not very many people.

Stack Overflow is alienating its community again

I don't have time for a full writeup of this right now, but here are the "highlights" of Stack Overflow Inc.'s latest community-affecting actions.

The CEO has recently gone all-in on generative AI and LLMs, the technology used by ChatGPT. He allocated 10% of the company to work on unspecified ways to use LLMs in their platform, and he's made some incoherent blog posts that scream "chasing the hype train". He also laid off 10% of the company including 30% of engineering and two community managers.

Stack Overflow the site does not allow answers written by ChatGPT. They worked together with community managers to develop that policy. Their moderators are seeing an increased workload because there's so much machine-generated crap showing up now, but the moderation tools and processes in place are handling it.

Or were. On Monday the company announced a policy that basically bars moderators from moderating this content. For further complication, the public announcement does not match what moderators say they were told privately -- they were actually told to start enforcing a strict hands-off policy without letting users know.

(The public post kind of back-handedly called moderators bigots, too. I guess at least this time they didn't smear anyone by name. But still... ick.)

People are, naturally, upset, both by a policy that invites non-vetted machine-generated "answers", and by the way it was done. Moderators' attempts to discuss these issues with the company have been rebuffed. One popular theory is that the CEO, having gone publicly all-in on LLMs, was embarrassed to find out that his flagship site deletes that stuff.

So there's going to be a strike. More than half of the Stack Overflow mods, many other mods across the network, non-moderator users who do the important curation tasks, and the user-run tools that detect spam and other problems across the network -- all shutting down. These people are all unpaid volunteers who are realizing that the company that relies on their free labor doesn't actually care about them.

Noticed in passing: there are a bunch of userscripts that power users use to make the site easier to maintain. These scripts are very popular. One of them now adds a banner to the top of the site that says:

We are calling for solidarity against actions taken by Stack Overflow Inc, which is posing a major threat to the integrity and trustworthiness of the platform and its content.


For more detailed background and why this matters so much to the people involved, I recommend this post from a former community manager.


Update, 2023-06-05: From Meta.SE: Moderation Strike: Stack Overflow, Inc. cannot consistently ignore, mistreat, and malign its volunteers (includes demands), mirrored on Stack Overflow Meta.

Magic: The Gathering card prices?

Dear Brain Trust,

I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering when the game was new, and through the first several expansion sets, before eventually drifting away for various reasons. At one point I sold a few valuable cards individually on eBay, and gave most of the rest away to young friends who were just getting into the game. I held back a few cards that I had a nagging feeling were or would be valuable, or that I just had sentimental attachment to, and that weren't going to make a difference to my friends anyway.

I got email from Origins (a gaming convention we'll be attending next month) that, among things, highlighted a dealer specializing in collectible card games (CCGs) who will have buyers at the con -- so, the email says, bring your cards if you're interested in selling, either individual cards or collections.

So hey, I said to myself, what are these cards actually worth? I looked up some of them on that dealer's site -- that is, what they are currently selling these cards for -- and my jaw dropped a little. But that's sale pricing.

What is a typical range for the difference between buying and selling prices? What should one reasonably expect a dealer to pay, as a fraction of the selling price?

I would have thought this would be something I could answer with a web search, but either it's not or, more likely, I'm not formulating my queries well, this not being the sort of thing I generally do.

Anybody have any advice that will help me evaluate price offers from a dealer?

(I know about grading as a concept, but I think that's orthogonal. Dealers sell cards that are near-mint and cards that are well-played and everything in between. The buy/sell ratios would be about the same across the board, wouldn't they?)

Sneaky malware vector

Huh, this is interesting. There are many top-level domains these days; we're way past the days when the world consisted of .com, .edu, .org, and .gov. I hadn't realized that one of those TLDs is .zip.

Yeah, really. That seems like asking for trouble. People sometimes do legitimately download ZIP files from sites they trust, like GitHub. But maybe you're not really talking to GitHub...

This post does a good job of explaining how a stray @ in a URL might ruin your whole day:

Can you quickly tell which of the URLs below is legitimate and which one is a malicious phish that drops evil.exe?∕kubernetes∕kubernetes∕archive∕refs∕tags∕

[...] As you can see in the breakdown of a URL below, everything between the scheme https:// and the @ operator is treated as user info, and everything after the @ operator is immediately treated as a hostname. However modern browsers such as Chrome, Safari, and Edge don’t want users authenticating to websites accidentally with a single click, so they will ignore all the data in the user info section, and simply direct the user to the hostname portion of the URL.

For example, the URL, will actually take the user to

I didn't know that part about user info. Combined with Unicode fakes of characters you expect in URLs, this can send you somewhere very different from where you thought you were going.

We all know not to trust links or attachments from unverified sources (right?). But stealth URLs add extra risk; you might eyeball the URL in that email and decide "yeah, I trust GitHub/Dreamwidth/Google/whatever". Be careful out there.

Edit for info provided in a comment (thanks!): Also .mov. This post does a good job of demonstrating how this can be exploited and catch even people who are careful.

I might just edit my hosts file to wholesale block these domains.