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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

2021-09-17 Writing to learn

The sun is shining but the air is cooler. Autumn has come. I feel anxious because I should be doing taxes.

I’ve been using the phrase “writing to learn” a few times and what I mean by it is that the simple act of writing things down by hand is helping me to remember things. I’m not sure of there’s a scientific basis to this.

This article talks about the various scripts people use. I was mostly interested because the old cursive script is no longer being taught in Swiss schools. We’re now teaching a “basic” script and the kids then slowly learn how to connect the letters. The focus seems to be on learning to read and write, however, not on retaining other information.

Mit der Hand zu schreiben, nutzt Motorik, Rechtschreibung, Merkfähigkeit und Kreativität. Doch nicht jede Schrift ist dafür geeignet, das erfolgreiche Lernen zu unterstützen. – Von Hand gelernt, von Stefanie Reinberger, für Spektrum der Wissenschaft

One of the links leads me to an article that’s more to the point. The key seems to be a study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from 2014. I really need to find it. Apparently the study participants were better able to recall complex issues if they used pen and paper instead of typing up their notes.

Bei Verständnisfragen zu komplizierteren Zusammenhängen jedoch schnitten diejenigen deutlich besser ab, die Block und Stift benutzt hatten. – Merken wir uns von Hand notierte Dinge besser als getippte?

That paper is 10 pages.

Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning. – The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (2014), in Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581

But! But! If you look for the article on PubMed, you’ll find others that cite it. Including this one, which doesn’t confirm the finding.

In this direct replication of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) Study 1, participants watched a lecture while taking notes with a laptop (n = 74) or longhand (n = 68). After a brief distraction and without the opportunity to study, they took a quiz. As in the original study, laptop participants took notes containing more words spoken verbatim by the lecturer and more words overall than did longhand participants. However, laptop participants did not perform better than longhand participants on the quiz. Exploratory meta-analyses of eight similar studies echoed this pattern. In addition, in both the original study and our replication, higher word count was associated with better quiz performance, and higher verbatim overlap was associated with worse quiz performance, but the latter finding was not robust in our replication. Overall, results do not support the idea that longhand note taking improves immediate learning via better encoding of information. – Don’t Ditch the Laptop Just Yet: A Direct Replication of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) Study 1 Plus Mini Meta-Analyses Across Similar Studies, by Heather L. Urry et al, Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797620965541

So perhaps it’s all in my imagination.

I still think that the intent do something with whatever you’re seeing or hearing changes our stance from passive receiving to active digesting. We need to look for and extract the things that are valuable to us, right here, right now. In a comment on photography I said something similar:

I definitely agree with the eye of a photographer changing the experience. It’s like writing as learning: taking pictures puts us in a particular frame of mind when looking at things; it changes everything. Structure, colors, subjects, lines, horizon, colors, the sky, reflections – everything is interesting and different if you are thinking about taking pictures. – 2021-06-17 The Smartphone Camera

Anyway, all of that because I read a blog post about writing, and it offered a different point: instead of arguing that it was easier to retain information, the argument was that picking up a pen forces you to slow down, and that helps against anxiety.

Going first to paper helps me slow, to treat the information I’m working with as something more sacred. To seek out the details. Then, because many times that information is something I must share, I can then use my hand-written notes to capture a digital version, and share that version. The paper notes, at this point, become disposable. They are an incarnation of my process of synthesizing, but that synthesis now exists in me and in the shared digital version. – Writing it Down to Quell Anxiety, by Jeremy Friesen

Inspired by this post:

“Calm down, breathe, and write something, Arit” I told myself. – Handling Anxiety’s Destabilizing Impositions, by Arit Amana

Ah… Perhaps I had trouble doing my taxes when I was younger because I could fill in some paper forms with a pen instead of filling in forms online. Or perhaps there simply was less to fill in. 😼

Comments on 2021-09-17 Writing to learn

Makes me think a lot, thanks for sharing! - eaplmx

– 2021-09-17 23:23 UTC

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2021-09-15 Lagrange does Titan!

The night is quiet now. I watched a movie about people after a breakup, meeting other people, and about how hard it is to let yourself fall in love again, or to admit to the dream of being in love. It’s hard to describe.

I read through some gemlogs (blogs published via Gemini). Most of them are probably also available via the web. I enjoy the dream of a parallel world, where text rules and browsers are not these huge virtual machine behemoths that they are now. I’m reading about Lagrange, a fancy GUI browser for Gemini. It’s not yet a behemoth…

And, I’m writing this text in Lagrange! This is amazing! Posting to the wiki. 😃🚀🚀🎉

Pick the menu item to create a new page:

New page

The new page is empty, click “Uploage Page with Titan” from the context menu:

Uploage Page with Titan

Start typing your text and provide the token of universal welcoming:


This is amazing to see! Tears of joy. 😍

@jk is working on the iOS port:

I’m typing this post on my phone and will publish it via Lagrange on iOS. There is definitely a certain charm in being able to draft a longer post without being tied to a desk or lugging around a laptop! – Hello from iOS

Yeah. I posted the original message via Lagrange in my laptop, but then I edited the page via Firefox…

More about Lagrange itself:

Lagrange is a desktop GUI client for browsing Geminispace. It offers modern conveniences familiar from web browsers, such as smooth scrolling, inline image viewing, multiple tabs, visual themes, Unicode fonts, bookmarks, history, and page outlines. – Lagrange

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2021-09-13 How to love

It’s dark outside. We’re sitting on the red couch. She’s reading a book. I’m typing on the laptop. Somewhere outside, cars growl. The city is falling asleep.

I’m reading replies to a post about work and love and people not talking to each other.

In the evenings, I’m usually watching TV in the background with a laptop on my lap as I start off some tasks for tomorrow and wrap up the days events with a nice typed up reflection of what was done and what needs to be. My partner chats with me, draws out some sketches on her pad, and we mumble about the program we’re currently watching and I’m silently tapping away at the same time basking in the her warmth as well as the glow of the TV. – Work, Life, and Love, by ~tetris

It’s not working out. They fight. It breaks my heart. There are good replies to this post, on the same page, and elsewhere on the net. I wish programmer person tetris all the best. This is not easy. I think everything I could have said has been said in one of the replies.

The post did make me think about me and my wife and how we spend time together, and the things we want from a relationship, a life together.

Claudia and I have been together nearly 30 years. We met in high school. We grew up into adults together, adapted ourselves to each other. It wasn’t easy at first. I’d say the first two years were the hardest. We had to let go of ideas we had brought into the relationship from our families and the stories we read, the movies we watched. There is no telepathy; communication requires words. How to talk, how to argue, how to express feelings. Nothing came naturally.

I remember her calling me after school, wanting to talk for an hour. I couldn’t understand it. Hadn’t we seen each other in school? What was there to talk about? I understood so little.

We lived apart from each other for the first fifteen years. We liked our independence. We spent a day or two per week together; that was enough. I thought of it as spending “quality time” together. We would not spend time with each other unless spending time with each other was the entire point. There was no “let’s each do our separate thing in the same room”.

When we moved in with each other, that was something we had to learn. One of us was restless. What’s the plan, she’d ask? One of us was happy with books and computers. I need some time for myself, I’d say. We had to learn to spend time alone, together.

As I’m typing this, she sits next to me, reading her book.

We need both quality time together, and time alone together. We need to talk about work. It’s not quality time, but this is how we know each other. We need to know what worries the other; the people they spend so many hours with at work; the things they are doing. We need to talk about the news. If we don’t, I fear we’d drift apart. Sometimes we talk while we cook; sometimes we talk while we eat; sometimes we talk while we water our plants. We have a lot of plants.

I often think about the end. When the end comes, will I go in peace? The list of the top 5 regrets of the dying keeps haunting me.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish I had let myself be happier. – The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

To be true to myself. To not work so hard. To express my feelings. To stay in touch with my friends. To let myself be happy. I’m working on it. I’m doing pretty good on the first half, I’m struggling with the second half. Let’s talk about the middle part: love.

For me, love is everything. Without love, I don’t know what I’d do. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. All I know is that I’m prepared to struggle for our love. It feels strange to say this because we have been so extraordinarily lucky, I haven’t had to actually struggle for love. Perhaps it’s an indication of my fear that all things must end. The number of couples we know that have managed to keep their love alive for decades is forever dwindling. We are surrounded by divorce and separation, and in my bones I feel that this is what I want to avoid at all costs – without actually knowing how to do it. So I focus on the small everyday things. I tell my wife that I love her, that I love to hold her. If there is a simple way to make her happy, I do it: I prepare breakfast for her, I walk her to the station in the early morning hours. I listen to the things she tells even though I might not care too much for the topics because I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to listen to what she tells me no matter what it is. And when she asks me what’s on my mind, I tell her, knowing that she doesn’t actually care about programming and computers, but trying to convey a picture of the things that trouble me, the things I’m trying to do.

I often feel our relationship is a careful dance on eggshells. We are both easily hurt by careless words, easy to anger. Therefore we are always careful when we speak. We avoid shouting and fighting because we are both so touchy. It works out to our advantage, I guess.

As you can tell, I’m not great at giving relationship advice. I hardly know what I’m doing myself. Perhaps the most important point is that I care, even if I don’t know what I’m doing. When the going is easy, when things are coasting along, I sense the fear inside me, and I try to make sure that we’re good. I don’t want to be caught in stormy waters unprepared.

I suspect humans have a tendency to explain their luck with talent. The rich did something and now they’re rich, so obviously the thing they did has made them rich. They earned it. We made an effort to keep this relationship going, so obviously our efforts have made it possible. We earned it. Or perhaps it’s all about being lucky and there’s no explaining it.

I have no idea. I hope it all works out for you.

Comments on 2021-09-13 How to love

thank you for writing this post. these subjects are sometimes difficult to talk about, particularly for us computer types who like things to be properly specified. affairs of the human heart rarely are, but peering through the mist together, collectively, and with one’s other half can help us see what is there.

– luke 2021-09-14 06:13 UTC

Yes, indeed. I also appreciate reading diverse perspectives.

I sometimes feel that I might have benefited from talking to people half way between me and my parents, or maybe a more talking and listening culture for me and my parents. So that’s my contribution: approaching fifty, I speak with the benefit of hindsight. 😀

– Alex 2021-09-14 16:56 UTC

I found your post and it really ressonated with me. It made me reflect on my life, and the things I could to live it to its fullest — how can I be happier, how can I be a better friend and better partner? Thank you so much for writing it.

– Beto Dealmeida 2021-09-14 18:57 UTC

Thanks for sharing. You gather here a lot of what I feel during introspection. In my own experience I worry about “time alone together” being in effect too much time alone.

– anonyth 2021-09-19 05:28 UTC

Yeah, we need both time alone together, and quality time together. Generally speaking, I’d say worrying about is a good sign. It’s a sign that you care. And talking about it often helps. Perhaps your partner will say, “Hell no! I love this. What gave you this idea, have you been taking relationship advice from the Internet again?” Then you can both laugh and keep on doing the things you do. Or perhaps your partner will say, “Hum, yeah, maybe. I don’t know. I do sometimes feel like we’re both living alone together, each in their bubble.” And then you can make plans to set aside time for a trip, a concert, a hike, a game, some activity you both enjoy, give yourself the opportunity to spend quality time together.

– Alex 2021-09-19 10:53 UTC

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2021-09-06 Reading books

The window shutters are down and a yellow lamp is burning. The doorways lead into the dark, but here I am, reading a book. Somebody is moving around in the apartment. My eyes race across the lines; I need to finish this before bedtime!

This post is about reading books, growing old, and needing glasses.

One part of my brain is in charge of looking at the letters, figuring out what the words are, and sending them to the bit that handles meaning. But sometimes the meaning part loses interest, and I start thinking about something else. – I can't read 📚, by JBanana

In senior high I was reading a book a day most days, maybe not every day but say more than fifty books per year. Then years of screens and blogs happened and then I found myself being unable to read books, a few years back. – Sandra’s reply, on Idiomdrottning

I’m in a similar situation. When I was in high school, I read a ton of books. Not a book a day, but still. I did not know anybody who read as much as I did. Then years of screens and blogs happened and then I found myself being unable to read books, a few years back.

Now, it started slowly. In university, I had to read a lot of papers and non-fiction books. I learned about USENET. I read voraciously, online. I posted a lot of messages. Then I learned about wikis. I read voraciously, online. I edit a lot of wiki pages. I had a static one-person wiki that I wrote using an Emacs mode I had created some m4 macros to generate the web pages. I spent hours and days in multi-user text environments (Lochinver MUD and Elendor MUSH, mostly). I read a lot and I wrote a lot. Blogs happened and I used my wiki for blogging. I read even more, and wrote more. I re-discovered role-playing games and the Old School Renaissance and its blogs. I read a lot, I wrote a lot. Google+ came and went. More reading and writing.

But no reading of books. I grew old and didn’t notice. My ribs hurt if I read in bed, lying on my belly. My back hurt when I read at the table. Increasingly, my head hurt. I decided that I just didn’t like reading books. All the fantasy novels seemed to be pastiches of each other. The cyberpunk books seemed to be cool vignettes with barely any plot. I liked the Uplift novels. I liked the Malazan novels. Game of Thrones was cruel and I dropped it. The Witcher was bleak and I dropped it.

Increasingly, I bought books and didn’t finish them. Then my wife told me that perhaps I should finish the books I had rather than buy more. I stopped. I didn’t want to order books from Amazon any more. Plus, I was buying books because I imagined the reading to be great, but then the stories weren’t great, the plot elements seemed familiar, my mind started wandering, and I got a light headache.

It took me a few years to realise that perhaps the headache was due to my eyes deteriorating. I just needed some reading glasses! And no more reading in bed. No more reading on the floor. Just sit on the couch like other adults.

Wearing the glasses also gave me a headache, but it was a different kind of headache. I would get used to it.

And recently I decided to pick up and finish a series of books that I had on my bookshelf, largely unread. “The Black Company”, by Glen Cook. Four omnibus editions, about 2800 pages in total. I just finished them. Those were good books.

The Black Company is a series of dark fantasy books written by American author Glen Cook. The series combines elements of epic fantasy and dark fantasy as it follows an elite mercenary unit, The Black Company, through roughly forty years of its approximately four-hundred-year history. – The Black Company, on Wikipedia

Spoilers in this paragraph! ⚠ You start reading and think it’s a military fantasy but then you realise that it’s about growing old. What keeps it interesting is that story changes seem random and not dictated by traditional expectations, so at first you think: huh, random! But then it turns out the book is also about how to deal with the vagaries of life.

It ended up being a good read; a page turner to the very end.


Then again, if you want to read my current take on growing old, I have a blog post about that, too.

Hey, just wanted to let you know: If you’re around 30 right now, remember that this is as good as it gets as far as physical health is going. – 2018-01-30 To The Young Ones

Comments on 2021-09-06 Reading books

There’s also all the other stuff we read all the time nowadays. To quote my recent Teleread article:

Why it matters? Because, frankly, book publishing these days looks tired and adrift. Maybe people read more, assuming we can trust surveys, but I’m not sure they read books. Indies struggle to sell; big publishers report moving fewer units (yet making bigger profits, go figure); and don’t even get me started about what can be found in Romanian bookstores. Certainly most of my own reading time is spent online, jumping from blog to blog, going back, opening more tabs.

And like you, I’m conditioned to think we’re supposed to read Intellectual Stuff. But the world has changed and so have we. It’s time to stop feeling guilty.

Felix 2021-09-07 15:00 UTC

Working on it. I still feel guilty! 😂

– Alex 2021-09-07 15:31 UTC

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2021-09-06 Back in the Home Office

My summer break is over. I’m back at work. Luckily I can still work from home, away from the constant chatter of coworkers, project managers, sales people and cafeteria goers.

my desk my background

Comments on 2021-09-06 Back in the Home Office

I absolutely love the shelves! Did the place come with them or did you purchase/make them? I want the details!


presgas 2021-09-06 13:06 UTC

Haha, these are simple Ikea shelves with acorn veneer. There is no book list available, sadly.

In Switzerland, people rarely rent with furniture, you always bring your own, though it never includes kitchen or bathroom, everything in there is provided by the landlord. Thus, we brought the shelves and the books with us from the last apartment.

– Alex 2021-09-06 14:24 UTC

I know that view. That is not your home office; that’s your home playground!

– Björn Buckwalter 2021-09-06 18:40 UTC


– Alex 2021-09-06 19:11 UTC

So is Ikea huge over there? I really have never been to one, but you are the 2nd person I know where I found myself drooling over their cabinetry (the other person was over a visit here on this side of the pond...).

I have heard people poo poo Ikea, but I am starting to wonder if I need to go on a quest to find one and explore.

presgas 2021-09-07 13:15 UTC

Ikea is huge because it’s so cheap. I think the consensus is that it’s good enough. We usually say that you can move the furniture once, but after two moves it’ll start falling apart. We also like the thought of massive wood instead of the mix of glue and wooden chips coated with a veneer of wood, but optically, it doesn’t make too much difference. It really depends on whether you come at it with a long term perspective. All I can say is that buying a wooden table from Ikea would probably cost you 500.- where as a solid wooden table from a fancy small scale manufacturer that has a set of models and will adapt them to your specs will cost around 3000.- to 5000.- depending on the wood. I’d say Ikea is perfect for most people, which is why almost everybody I know starts out with Ikea furniture and then might start buying new things from other manufacturers slowly as they earn more money, a rare luxury.

This is where I got the table and benches:

– Alex 2021-09-07 14:51 UTC

Oh wow! I really like Reseda’s bedding options. Very simple. May have to find something similar over here.

presgas 2021-09-08 12:07 UTC

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2021-09-02 Playing face to face again?

Nightfall is far away and the glaring autumn sun rules the country side. I should be outside, running in the sunshine, but here I am, typing in front of a laughable little square of tiny glowing dots. This is insane, I tell myself. But then I keep typing.

Jeremy Friesen wrote a blog post about playing face to face, and about playing online, and about the things he started to like about it. This part in particular resonates with me:

At least three of us have often been GMs. There’s something fulfilling in finding fellow GMs who burn with that same intensity about games and systems. And I know for myself, there’s always that slight bit of separation between a traditional GM and the players. It’s been so rewarding finding a small cohort of fellow GMs who have played and ran games for three decades. – Do I Now Favor Online over Face to Face?

So true. So true…

Like Jeremy, I struggled with accepting online gaming. It looked so much like work in the home office. Yikes! And I hated Skype, and then Zoom, and Jitsi didn’t like Firefox at first and it still spins up the fans like crazy. But then Jitsi on the phone or tablet, using an app, started working just fine. And the one day when it didn’t, we did a group call using Signal, and it worked just fine. The longer I think about it, the more I start agreeing with Jeremy: perhaps video is overrated. Just use audio and some microphone discipline.

There are some things that don’t quite work as well. If the group is large, it’s hard to joke with your table neighbour while somebody else is taking their turn. I’m easily bored and seeing human faces nearby keeps my monkey brain busy. But the more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to just play with fewer people and use rules that don’t have long fights, or don’t have a level up system that results in combat slowing down the longer we play.

Our Classic Traveller firefights are short: after the first round, half the participants are already lying on the floor, unconscious. And our characters never gain levels. It’s perfect.

Plus, we’re one referee and three players at most. That’s cool, too.

There are benefits I also enjoy: no more commuting to the game! I had it easy when I ran my games. People came to our place. I didn’t have to go anywhere. Now that I’m a player, I like the fact that I still don’t have to go anywhere because we’re playing online.

What about the excitement of dice rolling? It depends. In the games were a lot of dice get rolled, having Roll 20 with it’s silly animations is cool. For my own mid-level Halberds & Helmets games, I remember dice rolling being much less important. In my Classic Traveller game, dice rolling is extremely unimportant. A handful of skill checks or reaction rolls per session, no more.

In our Classic Traveller game, we just roll our own dice and moan and shout depending on the results. It works. 😆

Plus, even when vaccinated we’re supposed to maintain social distancing, wear masks, wash hands… This is not compatible with five or six people in a room, for hours, laughing and shouting.

Comments on 2021-09-02 Playing face to face again?

2021-09-02 A framing story for the blog?

When I look out of the window, I see other windows. But no people. The people are in their modern caverns, somewhere. Troglodytes of our own volition.

I am fascinated by blogs following a framing story, and keeping it up for years. Perhaps I shall start setting the mood for blog posts with a little fragment at the beginning of blog post. What is more appropriate for a blog that prides itself on being a wall of text? There are no images to set the mood, after all.

Instead, I’m modelling my writing on essay writing. The visual style I’m aiming for is what I’d expect for a short story or an essay. – Wall of Text

The small fragments I’m going to add will be inspired by the Nightfall City section called Dusk’s End. Think of it like a GeoCities wannabe blogging collective for Gemini and the web.

We can see it all from the top of the hills in Dusk’s End. It’s hard to tell apart the sky from the skyline, but locals enjoy the distance. The eerie city lights projected on the sky invite reverie and introspection. People from all over come watch the moment night falls from this scenic landmark. – Nightfall City

I mean, it’s not a new idea. I’ve been fascinated by this before.

I wondered about having some sort of “bar” on The Transjovian Council, modelled along the Midnight Pub. A cantina? Or some long range slow bulletin board system metaphor. But I like the Midnight. Why open an alternative if I enjoy the original is it is? – A sidenote as I talk about Gemini and Titan

My blog is just my blog. A wall of text, musing, mocking, meandering, melodramatic… There is no framing story, no spaceship connected with the rest of humanity by a thin thread (see cosmic.voyage), no strangers commiserating in a pub (see midnight.pub), no bread enthusiasts (see breadpunk.club). Using Nightfall City as a mood setter might work.

I mean, I’m not trying to write a book. Or an art project, like some Tumblers.

The Mystery Flesh Pit is the name given to a bizarre natural geobiological feature discovered in the permian basin region of west texas in the early 1970s. The pit is characterized as an enormous subterranean organism of indeterminate size and origin embedded deep within the earth, displaying a vast array of highly unusual and often disturbing phenomena within its vast internal anatomy. – Mystery Flesh Pit National Park F.A.Q.

I guess what I’m looking for is just a slight whiff or it. To embed the blog, which is a piece of art in a way, into a different kind of art – a baroque overextension! – is a small statement about the reality of blogging. The “real” person blogging is already replaced by the self-imagined alter ego on social media and the blog, but bloggers like me claim that the pretension is the real thing, giving it our name, lending it our voice. It’s weird! A framing story would reveal this weirdness: it reveals the imaginary aspect, it makes the unreliable narrator explicit. Maybe.

Perhaps the reason my thoughts are going there is that sometimes I look at my blog and wonder: who is this person thinking they speak for me? It’s a bit like me “writing notes to my future self” – except now I’m looking at these notes from my past self and wondering “who dis?” And I’m wondering whether there is some sort of flourish I could add to semi-divest myself from my blog. Keep the old pages with their old CSS, for example. Or a text-only framing story…

In a way, it does add a little theme, even if small. I don’t think it adds much for the readers of my blog. It would be too small an element. Like those books with quotes at the opening of every chapter. Nobody reads the books because of the quotes. But perhaps you’ll remember that there were quotes, and when you were reading the book, the quotes managed to set some sort of mood. Frank Herbert’s Dune books did that; Steven Erikson’s Malazan books did that.

Also, I don’t think the audience is the reason I write since I don’t really write “for” anybody except for myself and some strange urge to overshare. So how do I tie together those thoughts on copyright, patents, role playing games, programming, maps, random tables, and system administration? And it’s not even the whole me, as comparing my Mastodon posts and my blog posts alone already show big differences. Would a theme tie it all together? Would slow theme changes over time allow me to divest myself of my past self? Does the introduction of a fictional point of view, a mood, help erect a fourth wall between author and reader?

Perhaps. We’ll see.

Comments on 2021-09-02 A framing story for the blog?

It invokes feelings, and we humans are emotional creatures, rather we’d like to admit it or not. – Humans and Personality in Technical Blogs, by JTR, on The Art of Not Asking Why

Yes! In RPGs, I like to read how other referees run their game, not see their finished products. And where as in tech it is true that when I look for the answer to something that’s bothering me, I just want the answer, on a deeper level I also want to know that I’m not alone, that other people struggle like I do, and I like to see that they too did not have an epiphany but had to do the legwork to get to wherever they are.

Which is why I like to log my sysadmin struggles, I guess. 😆

In RPG books this is a criticism I often heard. If they are dry and precise like a tech manual, nobody wants to read them. I’d say this is true for all texts.

– Alex 2021-09-03 19:38 UTC

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2021-09-01 Hex Describe and Text Mapper get their own repositories

It’s dark outside, clouds prevent the moon from reaching me. I sit in front of the glowing laptop and type and type and type. Bad posture. Bad posture.

I’m excited. I tried to explain to somebody how to run their own instances of Hex Describe and Text Mapper, and it got so complicated that I realized: this is not good. Both are part of a repository called Hex Mapping. It contains many of my earlier experiments. It’s a mess. It grew over time. It grew over a long time. A really long time. Yikes!

So I’ve started moving both of them to separate repositories, with infrastructure that makes it possible to submit them to CPAN. This means that installing them will install all their dependencies, too. They have separate README files explaining the dependencies and the config file.

I feel better already. 😁

The Face Generator already has its own repository.

Comments on 2021-09-01 Hex Describe and Text Mapper get their own repositories

I think I fixed the last few issues for the new Hex Describe and Text Mapper applications – and I deployed them on my server. If you notice anything that’s wrong, let me know.

– Alex 2021-09-02 14:49 UTC

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2021-08-31 To get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated?

Everybody in Switzerland appears to focus on the high number of people with Covid returning from abroad. At the same time, our vaccination rate is one of the lowest in Europe.

Fully vaccinated: 51.57% – Vaccinated people, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 21.12.2020 to 29.08.2021

Clearly, the vaccine is not 100% effective, but it’s still very good! Since you can get Long Covid even if you don’t go through the hospital, I’m still trying to keep my distance, wear my mask, and wash my hands, of course.

All laboratory confirmed hospitalisations despite full vaccination: 151. Total hospitalisations: 8537. – Cases despite full vaccination, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 27.01.2021 to 29.08.2021

And yes, the vaccines are probably not harmless. The problem is called adverse vaccination reaction (AVR) and can mean many things, all of them horrible.

Serious adverse vaccination reactions are those that are fatal or life-⁠threatening, require hospitalisation or the extension of hospitalisation, lead to permanent or serious disability or incapacity or manifest in a congenital malformation/birth defect. They also include reactions that are judged to be medically important because they acutely endanger patients or require treatment to prevent a serious outcome. All other side effects are deemed to be non-⁠serious side effects. – Reports of suspected adverse vaccination reactions (AVR)

Keep in mind that this data comes with uncertainty. Here’s from the introduction on the same page.

Swissmedic gathers, verifies and evaluates reports of side effects. To capture this data, Swissmedic operates a so-⁠called spontaneous reporting system. This means that Swissmedic relies on cases of suspected adverse reactions being reported.

This spontaneous reporting system does add a lot of questions!

Qualification of primary reporter: physician 54.8%, pharmacist 9.9%, other health professional 4.9%, lawyer 0.0%, consumer or other non health professional 30.4% – Reports of suspected adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines in Switzerland – update

Let’s look at the numbers nonetheless, on that previous page. Knowing about suspected adverse reactions is better than not knowing anything.

Total AVRs: 5,304. Serious: 1838. Total administered vaccine doses: 9,219,373. – Reports of suspected adverse vaccination reactions (AVR)

1 in 1738 cases is not very cool odds, to be sure. My arm hurt for days after the second shot. This is a non-serious AVR. So perhaps we should only be looking at serious AVRs? That would be 1 in 5016 cases. Still bad!

Sadly, we cannot compare this number to happy days when nothing happens. We need to compare this to the adverse Covid reactions…

Cases: 233,432 – Laboratory-⁠confirmed cases, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 15.02.2021 to 29.08.2021, Absolute numbers

Cases: 7518 – Laboratory-⁠confirmed hospitalisations, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 15.02.2021 to 29.08.2021, Absolute numbers

Cases: 980 – Laboratory-⁠confirmed deaths, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 15.02.2021 to 29.08.2021, Absolute numbers

So, we can talk about age groups, and predispositions, but then again I’m approaching fifty and my dad had asthma, so what does that mean… It seems to me that about 1 in 31 cases end up in the hospital, and 1 in 238 cases die. This is what we need to compare to the 1 in 1738 cases for adverse vaccination reactions, and more importantly to the 1 in 5016 cases for serious adverse vaccination reactions.

I prefer the vaccine!

And we didn’t even talk about Long Covid. As anybody with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or some other debilitating but invisible disease will tell you, this means a constant struggle: to remain employed, for understanding from friends and family, with the insurance companies and the state… It’s terrible. And if it’s not an invisible disease then it’s something else that’s terrible like loosing 20% of your lung volume and other things, preventing you from the physical exercise you used to do in your free time, or strenuous work you used to do to make money, or the holiday activities you used to enjoy. Nope. Don’t want that, either.

Comments on 2021-08-31 To get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated?

Excellent analysis! I wanted to write a comment, but as usual it grew big enough to turn into a reaction on my own blog. Hope you’ll find it palatable enough: It's not how safe the vaccines are (rather, it’s about breaking trust by not telling people what the risks are). Thanks for inspiring me.

Felix 2021-08-31 14:49 UTC

Well, then there’s also this:

Hi, if you are reading this essay then congratulations, you are still alive. And if you are alive, then you have either gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, or you still have the opportunity to get the vaccine against COVID-19. And holy fuck, if you aren’t fucking vaccinated against COVID-19, then you need to get fucking vaccinated right now. I mean, what the fuck? Fuck you. Get vaccinated. Fuck. – Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks, by Wendy Molyneux, for McSweeney’s

It maintains that tone throughout the article. When I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of being surrounded by people that can’t wear masks, and I wonder how they do their taxes, I sometimes think that perhaps rational arguments just don’t cut it and that Word Magic might be quicker and more effective.

– Alex 2021-09-03 22:42 UTC

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2021-08-30 Upgrading Debian Buster (10) to Bullseye (11)

I’m reading the release notes, and following the instructions. I started reading at 14:20, and I logged into the server at 14:34.

# looking for outdate stuff
apt-forktracer | sort
# found 35 packages but I’m afraid to touch them
# (not removing them)
# looking for old old conflicts
find /etc -name '*.dpkg-*' -o -name '*.ucf-*' -o -name '*.merge-error'
# nothing suspicious, trash them all
trash $(find /etc -name '*.dpkg-*' -o -name '*.ucf-*' -o -name '*.merge-error')
# double check
find /etc -name '*.dpkg-*' -o -name '*.ucf-*' -o -name '*.merge-error'
# find borked stuff
dpkg --audit
# saving the state of all my packages
dpkg --get-selections "*" > packages.list
# making sure none are held back
grep hold packages.list
# updating /etc/apt/sources.list
# (replacing buster with bullseye and taking security layout changes into account)
# Therefore:
# deb http://deb.debian.org/debian bullseye main non-free contrib
# deb https://deb.debian.org/debian-security bullseye-security main non-free contrib
# recording it all
script -t 2>~/upgrade-bullseye-1.time -a ~/upgrade-bullseye-1.script
# update
apt update
# check space requirements
apt -o APT::Get::Trivial-Only=true full-upgrade
# compare with space available
df -h
# first upgrade step
apt upgrade --without-new-pkgs
# paying the price for not moving stuff into the *.d subdirectories
# and editing the config files directly…
# resolve conflict in /etc/fail2ban/fail2ban.conf
# resolve conflict in /etc/logrotate.conf
# resolve conflict in /etc/munin/munin.conf
# cgit problem: keep a copy of these two files:
# /etc/cgitrc
# /usr/lib/cgit/filters/syntax-highlighting-or-markdown.py
# then purge cgit
apt purge cgit
# and reinstall, and restore the two files
apt install cgit
# the release note tell me to install a kernel
# how strange, what did I use before?
uname -r
# 4.9.0-3-amd64
# oh well, following orders:
apt install linux-image-amd64
# not sure whether I should reboot now or do the full upgrade now?
apt full-upgrade
# manually trashing some directories that could not be removed:
trash /etc/calendar
trash /usr/lib/python3.7/tkinter
# continuing to pay the price for not moving stuff into the *.d subdirectories
# resolve conflict in /etc/monit/monitrc
# resolve conflict in /etc/ssh/sshd_config
# resolve conflict in /etc/logrotate.d/apache2
# resolve conflict in /etc/radicale/config
# and now…



And we’re back up! It’s now 16:40. Let’s start checking services.

The Traveller subsector generator needed a manual start.

# as user alex
cd farm
hypnotoad traveller2.pl

In fact, all the Monit configurations of my services needed a change from Perl 5.26.1 to 5.32.0.

The Oddmuse wikis seem to be up, Phoebe seems to be down. Sadly, Phoebe is no longer monitored via Monit but only watched over by systemd.

systemctl restart phoebe && journalctl --unit phoebe --follow

Everything else seems to be working.

# remove packages that are no longer required
apt auto-remove
# purge configs of packages that have been removed
apt purge $(dpkg -l | awk '/^rc/ { print $2 }')

Strangely enough, “apt install” by itself lists four packages not upgraded.

# let’s make sure we’re up to date
apt update
# this shows me 1 upgraded, 100 newly installed, 0 to remove and 3 not upgraded
apt upgrade
# the ones that have been kept back: guile-2.2-libs w3m w3m-img
apt purge guile-2.2-libs w3m w3m-img
# and again…
apt auto-remove

I think we’re good, now.

Find obsolete stuff:

# I do not use aptitude so will install something else (!?)
apt install apt-show-versions
# find obsolete, abandoned, local stuff
apt-show-versions | grep 'No available version'
# think carefully, then remove them all
apt remove $(apt-show-versions | grep 'No available version' | cut -d : -f 1)

Let’s hope I’m not going to regret this… 😅

It is now 17:35. This took a bit over three hours.

Comments on 2021-08-30 Upgrading Debian Buster (10) to Bullseye (11)

Today I looked at my mail on the server…

It turns out that all the packages I had installed using pip have somehow disappeared. I’m guessing that’s due to the change of making Python 3 the default? I have no idea.

pip install Mastodon.py
pip install html2text

And I had apparently installed two Perl libraries for my system Perl. Yikes! They had gotten converted to Debian packages, and those were still lying around, so I could simply reinstall them. No upgrades.

dpkg -i libmojo-useragent-role-queued-perl_1.15-1_all.deb
dpkg -i libtext-spanningtable-perl_1.000000-1_all.deb

In one of the bash scripts I had to replace tempfile with mktemp.

– Alex 2021-08-31 05:30 UTC

Firewall rules need to be reinstalled after a reboot:

# Set up iptables rules. Match with banlist and drop traffic
ipset create banlist hash:ip hashsize 4096
iptables -I INPUT -m set --match-set banlist src -j DROP
iptables -I FORWARD -m set --match-set banlist src -j DROP
# For IPv6
ipset create banlist6 hash:net hashsize 4096 family inet6
ip6tables -I INPUT -m set --match-set banlist6 src -j DROP
ip6tables -I FORWARD -m set --match-set banlist6 src -j DROP

The reason being some bot programmer who ignores the “slow down” error messages they are getting.

ipset add banlist
ipset add banlist6 2001:41d0:302:2200::180

Both belong to OVH France.

Hopefully getting all their packets dropped makes them think for a moment.

– Alex 2021-08-31 14:37 UTC

More packages missing.

pip install cairosvg

– Alex 2021-09-05 09:02 UTC

Something about Exim is also broken. I get mails from root saying “Tainted ’/var/mail/alex’ (file or directory name for mail_spool transport) not permitted” and chapter 5 of the release notes tells me that something has changed regarding taint checking. Gah!

Old Debian Exim configuration files also will not work unmodified; the new configuration needs to be installed with local modifications merged in. – 5.1.17. Exim 4.94, in chapter 5. Issues to be aware of for bullseye

OK. I don’t think I did much configuring of Exim, to be honest. I just need local delivery so that I can read the error messages by all the jobs that I run.

As root:

dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

Choose “local delivery only”, and then just use the defaults, I think.

– Alex 2021-09-05 09:22 UTC

Yikes. That didn’t solve it. I still don’t understand what I’m supposed to do after reading the Exim section in chapter 5, so now I’m doing it hardcore:

apt purge exim4-config
apt install bsd-mailx exim4

Beware, this nukes your config!

Anyway, with this I was able to send myself some local mail without receiving any warnings. Also, this purged exim4-daemon-heavy and installed exim4-daemon-light, with no config questions asked. I like it.

– Alex 2021-09-07 06:17 UTC

Looks like radicale did not get restarted after the update (self hosted calendars and contacts). On our phones, I saw that the calendars were not syncing.

service radicale start

That did not immediately help. It took a while. The log said “Malformed token” a few times… but without me changing anything, these messages disappeared after a few minutes and the phones say the calendars are OK, now.

journalctl --unit radicale --follow

– Alex 2021-09-10 09:10 UTC

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You probably want to contact me via one of the means listed on the Contact page. This is probably the wrong place to do it. 😄

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-22 12:19 UTC

Referrers: Algorithms