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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.

Re: deja vu, all over again

New_public published a post, Déjà Vu, All Over Again, about the evolution of the web and the early days when people made stuff for fun instead of companies making stuff for brand impact and algorithms, and it struck a chord. The author invited comments, so here's what I posted:

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I've been feeling that deja vu too. I was on Usenet before the great renaming, and much later when I joined LiveJournal and this "blogging" thing (pulled in by friends), I remember thinking that a blog or LJ was basically alt.fan.me and would people really care about what I, a nobody, wrote? I expected to read and be read by about a dozen people who were already friends, but things have a way of spreading. And I knew that from Usenet, where I built friendships with people I've never met and sometimes didn't know "real" names for, and it was all very cool and friendly and broadening.

The net, when freed from algorithms and branding and bubbles so that ordinary people can interact with other ordinary people without barriers, is a remarkable way to learn about people and places and subcultures very different from my own. I've formed friendships from people halfway around the world walking very different paths in life from mine. There's a whole big world out there, and the last thing I want is to be trapped in a bubble of people just like me, or as close as Twitter et al think they can come to that.

The revival -- I hope it's a revival and not just a blip on the way to the next corporate thing -- of decentralized, direct, person-to-person online interaction excites me. Coincidentally, I've been working my way through my older posts on LiveJournal and then Dreamwidth, pulling together stuff on my own domain now that I have one, and I'm realizing how much more I used to write and share. I don't know how much of the change in my behavior has been due to people moving from blogs to social media and the vibe changing, how much has been due to modern social censors who retcon what's acceptable and what's offensive, and how much is me being more lazy or distracted or busy or whatever. But, facing the stark contrast to "online me 15 years ago" and "today", I'm motivated to try to get more of the old, personal, human writing back, somehow.

Sad tidings

I have just learned that Eftychia (Daphne) has passed unexpectedly, way too soon.

I met Daphne at an SF con, probably Darkover, about 35 years ago. She was already a capable musician then and was an outstanding one later in Homespun Ceilidh Band. We enjoyed playing together for some balls at cons, and she was often on the Pennsic bandstand when I was more active there. She encouraged others, drew shy musicians in, and had a welcoming smile. In all of these places, it was obvious that making music was her happy place. I know she struggled with chronic pain, but when she was making music, that all seemed to fade away.

I haven't seen her since before the pandemic, alas. I had been looking forward to catching up with her at Pennsic this year. I am reminded that sometimes when we say "next time" there isn't going to be one. The world is a little darker and more dissonant tonight. :-(

SCA evolution: from re-creation to SIG?

I was at an event this weekend, my first since Pennsic. Pennsic, in turn, was my first event since before the pandemic. I think this infrequency of exposure has made me really notice some things that have been gradually changing for decades. Herewith a long ramble that could definitely use more thought (and probably editing), but this is where I am now. Read more…

Review: desk lamp

Why no, I never expected to review a desk lamp, but here we are.

My father, from whom I inherited my vision problems, got a lamp for himself that he really likes, and so he bought me one. The "Yeslights Business Desk Lamp" is a small desk lamp that fits nicely amongst the three computers, two sets of monitor/keyboard/mouse, assorted external hard drives, tablets, and charging cables, and other tech necessities on my desk. The base is about the size of my Kindle, and the light is on a folding, rotating arm that sits flush against a vertical support when not in use. The base has a USB port because of course it does, and a wireless phone charger that I can't evaluate because my phone charges the old-fashioned way, with a cable. The wireless charger has a red indicator light (I assume red because it doesn't detect a phone) that I've found no way to turn off; it's not bright, but it's an unnecessary light in my field of vision and I'd prefer to not see it.

The LED light (a bar, not a bulb) has adjustable brightness and adjustable color temperature; the first I'm used to, but the second I haven't seen in a conventional lamp before. Color temperature matters a lot to me, so this is a delightful surprise. The controls are easy to use (no finicky touchscreens or the like), and very sensitive. Mine's in a space where I don't expect to accidentally brush it much, but depending on where you put it, you could surprise yourself with unexpected lighting changes. If you have cats that jump up on your desk, this could be an issue.

That vertical support has an embedded clock; I discovered this when I plugged the lamp in for the first time and it started playing Auld Lang Syne at me. I was not expecting that. I set the time and date (doing so emits loudish beeps) and I hope it won't play music again. (There's a button battery, so I assume it will retain these settings during power outages.) It also reports temperature, though I'm not sure how accurate that'll be when sitting on a desk with computers and monitors. It currently thinks it's a couple degrees warmer than the thermostat in the hall thinks it is. The clock has an alarm and a snooze setting, so even though it's billed as a desk lamp, they seem to have also had the "bedside table" use case in mind.

The lamp does very well with its primary function, to produce light at the desired brightness and color temperature. It's got a good range from "bright enough to easily read by" to "a little supplemental illumination". The head rotates in two of the three dimensions: up/down and left/right, but you can't change the angle of the head. So far that hasn't prevented me from getting light where I need it.

New game: Guild of Merchant Explorers

We had friends over Saturday afternoon/evening and one of the games they brought, unopened, was The Guild of Merchant Explorers. Players (up to four) have individual copies of a map for exploration. You start in a central city and explore from there. When you explore all of the hexes of the same terrain type in a cluster, you get to establish a settlement there. In future rounds, you can explore from the city or from any of your settlements. Some hexes contain riches (coins), and some of the sea hexes contain ruins (shipwrecks) that hold treasure. There are three randomly-chosen objectives that score extra points; these are things like "have settlements on three continents" or "explore three ruins at the edges of the map". In the remote corners of the map there are towers that you get more points for exploring.

The game mechanic is interesting: in each of four rounds players simultaneously take the same actions (plus one per), which are known in advance but come out in a random order. Actions are things like "explore two grassland spaces" or "explore three sea hexes but they have to be in a straight line". In-progress explorers are cleared at the end of each round, so one of your goals is to complete exploring regions so you can build the settlement. You know what's coming, so you can look ahead and see that you'll be able to fill those last two desert hexes or whatever -- but sometimes you're not yet in position when the card comes out, so you have to plan for that. I can see how you could get mired in analysis paralysis, but it's not a long, complex game -- box says 45 minutes, which feels about right after you learn it. (I didn't time our first game, but I know it was longer than that.)

There's one unpredictable element in each round: a special card that means you draw two cards with more powerful actions, keep one, and use it. You then keep that card for the rest of the game, so the one you chose in round 1 will come out again at least two more times. (In the fourth round, instead of drawing a new card you choose one of your existing ones to use again.) These cards usually let you explore more spaces or more kinds of spaces, like "explore one grassland and all the hexes around it" or "explore one of each type plus two sea" or "explore five contiguous desert hexes".

There are several ways to earn victory points that are always available. The three special goals add more. And the treasures you find can award victory points based on conditions, like "one per mountain settlement". You don't have enough actions to do everything, of course, so you'll choose which paths to pursue based on all of those and perhaps by what your special action cards enable you (alone) to do. The game comes with four maps, some of which have special rules we haven't explored yet, so there is additional variability. I assume this means there will be expansion sets in the future.

The game is not very interactive; what you do does not affect other players and vice versa, aside from the races to the special goals (first person to do it gets more points) and competition for treasures. This won't be enough interaction for some, but it works for me.

We all liked the game a lot. After we'd played twice one of them asked "do you like this game?" and we both said "yes, very much". He then asked "would you like this copy?" -- turns out they'd both been at the same playtesting or preview event and thus each got a copy of the game, so they were happy to pass along a gift. Nice!

On Sunday we got together with different friends to play games and took this along. We played a few times with different people throughout the day, and everyone we introduced it to liked it a lot too.

Online payments and credit cards

As I make the rounds doing year-end donations, I'm reminded of two things that have long puzzled me:

  1. Some web sites auto-detect the type of credit card based on the number. Apparently all credit-card numbers that begin with "4" are Visa. (I don't know if the reverse is true: do all Visa numbers start with 4?) Being me, I've cycled through the other nine digits and nothing else produces a match based on a single digit. What are the patterns for other providers? And are all these sites using some standard library for this, or are programmers really coding that by hand?

  2. Years ago, a three-digit code ("CCV") was added to cards to mitigate fraud. On a physical credit card, this number is stamped rather than embossed, so those old-style manual credit-card gadgets that took an imprint of your card (on actual paper, with a carbon!) couldn't record it. Um, that's fine I guess, but online, that number isn't any more secure than the card number itself. And someone who steals your physical card has the number; it's not a password. Does that number have another purpose?

Adventures in cat-sitting

A friend is traveling (with her housemate) and I offered to go feed her cat and give him some people-time each day. Her original flight was delayed to Sunday, so I made my first visit Monday morning.

It was 39 degrees in her house. The thermostat said it was holding at 60, but...no. I walked around the house checking for open or broken windows (none found). I went down to the basement and stared at the furnace -- no error codes or blinking lights, one steady light (so it had power), and that exhausted my knowledge of furnaces. I fed the cat, cycled through the thermostat programming to double-check things, reset the hold, built up some warm places to burrow, and tried to reach my friend (who was several timezones west of me, so I didn't expect an immediate response). I asked if she minded if I brought her cat to my house if we couldn't figure out the problem.

When she got my message she asked if the power was out (no, there were lights), and we speculated about whether power had gone out and come back on. I said I'd look for blinking or wrong clocks when I went back. Offhandedly, she wondered if a power outage would have somehow turned the thermostat off -- had I noticed if it was on? Um, I assumed it was because it showed me programming and let me set a hold temperature, and my thermostat doesn't let you do that if it's not on, and also it would be dangerously bad design if a power outage killed your post-power-resumption heat. So I went back later, and sure enough, the three-way toggle (cold - off - heat) was in the "off" position.

It's a physical switch, so I suspect my friend and the other person living in that house are going to have Conversations. Ouch. (Also, no blinking or very-wrong clocks.)

I turned on the heat and waited for the temperature to rise several degrees to make sure everything was on track. When I left last night the house was up to 45 degrees and the cat was very friendly. This morning everything was fine -- up to 65. (Yeah, maybe I overshot a little on that hold, but...)

Here's the scary part: originally they were going to leave on Friday, when the daytime high was 3F and the temperature was sub-zero before Shabbat started. When we were making the original plans, she'd said she'd feed the cat Friday so I didn't need to come until Saturday, and I said I wouldn't be able to come until Saturday night and that was fine with her. Friday night was frigid-cold here. I shudder to think what temperature the house would have been on my first visit if her flight hadn't been cancelled.

Standup meeting

Product manager: this resolved bug needs a severity.

Me (scrum master): would the product owner (that's a scrum role) and the developer who fixed it please handle that?

Developer: I am the product owner.

Me: I know. I assume it won't take the two of you(r roles) long to reach consensus.

Am I doing it right? :-)

Office check-in

Before the pandemic, I went to the office every day, as one does. Our office manager did what he could to make it an ok environment, but it has the usual pathologies. Pandemic-induced working from home has been good for me in oh so many ways. I'm fortunate to be at a point in my career where I am quite comfortable telling my employer "I really do insist". (There's some pressure, mild so far.) I'll go to the office if there's a specific reason to, like the group outing we had a few months ago, but most of the people I work with aren't local, so going to the office is social, not productive.

On the day of that outing, I learned -- via a coworker finding out the hard way -- that corporate security disables badges that haven't been used in 90 days. That makes sense, though doing it silently isn't so great. Fortunately for me, I last changed my domain password around the time of that outing, so the "time to change your password" reminder serves double duty.

A few days ago I changed my password, and today I went to the office to wave a badge at a sensor. While I was there I cleared out the last of my personal belongings; demonstrably, I no longer need to keep an umbrella or a spare USB charging cable in my desk drawer there.

Order matters

"I put the lemonade and limeade on the door next to the Coke."

"Is it Coke or Pepsi?"

"Uh, Pepsi."

"Ok, then that's the correct order."

Look, they're in unmarked bottles and almost the same color so I needed a way to tell, and alphabetical order is obviously the way to solve that problem, and why are you looking at me like that?

(If it had been Coke, I'd've asked him to swap; reverse-alphabetical would also be fine.)