Diary

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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.

2017-10-20 Australians

Our trip is ending. All the remains is the long flight home. Here’s what I learned about the Australians:

  1. They aren’t kidding about char grilled stuff—they really like their stuff burned! Yuck!
  2. They are very polite and upbeat. Everything is fantastic and beautiful, everybody is a honey and a darling.
  3. They really like their pork belly. I didn’t know people still ate that. In Switzerland it’s all entrecôte or sausages instead of bacon and pork belly.
  4. Outside of Sydney, all the portions where humongous, made for people thrice my weight

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Now that I’m back in Switzerland I tealized that they also don’t ring their church bells all the time like they do here in Switzerland.

– Alex 2017-10-21 17:03 UTC

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2017-10-15 Online Again

I was sitting in a very nice hotel on Lord Howe Island and wondering why my iPhone no longer connects to my homepage, alexschroeder.ch, where as all my other sites seem to be fine, eg. oddmuse.org loads just fine. I’m getting an error saying the connection is not private and that the certificate is wrong.

How is this possible? Apparently my site is being served with a different certificate? Where’s my Let’s Encrypt certificate? Both sites are hosted on the same machine, using the same Apache, the same config. Is this a man-in-the-middle attack by a “security” solution? But why doesn’t it affect any other site?

Image 1 for 2017-10-15 Online Again Image 2 for 2017-10-15 Online Again

I checked Qualis SSL Report and it still gives me a grade A. Thus it must be the hotel firewall, or a secret agency attacking the cable between Australia and Switzerland? 🤔

Other sites with a “ch” ending were not affected so it really looked targeted!

The thing I’m not doing is public key pinning, if I remember correctly.

Another thing I have noted: iMessage and WhatsApp are both refusing to send messages or are forever “connecting...” which makes me think that they are seeing spoofed certificates as well where as the Google+ app and Instagram app are still working as intended (either because they are not being spoofed or because they don’t check).

Back on the mainland, everything works again as intended. How strange.

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2017-10-10 Learning Japanese, Again

I don’t feel like reading Fantasy books or the newspapers while I’m traveling in Australia. And thus I’ve started practicing with the Kanji Teacher by Chris Rusche and the free PDF Japanese Grammar Guide by Tae Kim (2012), and the Anki App... Help! :)

This time I don’t want to spend time programming apps to learn Japanese instead of learning Japanese. I did this many years ago when I wrote Kanji Dictionary.

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Platform choice? I’ve gotten the most mileage with the iOS app Human Japanese (and the Intermediate follow up).

– Kristopher Browne 2017-10-10 15:57 UTC


Thank you for the recommendation. We will see how far I get with what I have and I’ll keep this in mind. The previews in the App Store look pretty good, though.

– Alex 2017-10-10 23:48 UTC


Wenn Du Idee fuer Kanji Teacher hast: bitte sehr gerne melden, bin gerade an Version 9... Sollte lieber lernen, ja! ٩(

Und: Japan, Fruehling 2018, vielleicht? Oder 2019?

– Chris 2017-10-12 19:51 UTC

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2017-09-13 Japanese

Every now and then I get the urge to start learning Japanese again—or Chinese.

Recently I saw Nate Cull talk about Chinese characters on Mastodon. He was looking at CC-CEDICT ( see dictionary) and CJK-DECOMP.

EDICT was the one I used ages ago, for Japanese.

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2017-09-08 The Wake

Still reading The Wake. I just read a review and another review.

This tale of the Norman conquest, told from the point of view of an English man, in an invented language that is readable but looks a bit like Old English, the “shadow tongue”, this tale makes me uneasy for all the nationalis it invokes, a kind of new-pagan ecofascism, too much Blut & Boden for my liking. As a perpetual foreigner, I question every mentioning of the “true” nationals, the “original” people, their “special” relationship with the land. If we learned anything from history, it should be that even if the first monkey that climbed down from tree and walked, even if that first human had stayed right there on that first piece of land, and their descendants had stayed there as well, making them the most original of the most true natives forever—I still don’t believe in a special relationship that cannot be gained in a few years of living somewhere, in a special property inherited from parents to children, in any sense of “belonging”. There are the things we do, the things we say, but the special connection to the land, a special property of the blood, this is one of the ingredients of fascism. Remember the essay on Urfascism. When you don’t have anything, when you can’t do anything, when you don’t know anything, at least you were born in a country and therefore it must be all to you. Fuck this.

Discussion on G+.

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2017-09-07 Politics and Entertainment

Recently, Scott Anderson wrote on G+ that Wizards of the Coast were “so stupid about injecting their own real-world politics into their games.” I wonder, is this a new thing? Or is this complaint new?

I think this has been true, always. Politics has always found a way into books and games. Maybe some issues don’t seem political to us now, but they are about what people feel they ought to be doing, they wished to be doing, be it performing masculinity, feminism, taming frontiers, spreading freedom (the freedom that is different from the freedom on the other side of the iron curtain), a message of rugged individualism, of caring and sharing, of power, of war, of misery, all the messages are political because humans are political animals.

And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well (for their nature has been developed so far as to have sensations of what is painful and pleasant and to indicate those sensations to one another), but speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state.

Aristot. Pol. 1.1253a

And all the books and all the stories have alienated some part of the population but they didn’t speak up because they didn’t share the ideas that were coming, the mainstream, and not every underdog makes it big. Perhaps they did speak up, hated on The Lord of the Rings, on Star Wars, on Star Trek, on War and Peace, on Plato, on Goethe, but their point of view did not prevail. And now we look back and think the old days had less politics and I think we are wrong.

That is why the complaint seems new: previous complaints didn’t make across the gulf of time and space. Sure, people objected to Henry Miller’s books, some of them were banned, even. And yet these days we don’t blink and it’s OK. These complaints are old. At the same time, some complaints are new because the issues we complain about today were simply too far fetched in the past. Back when The Lord of the Rings was written, the people who had anything to say didn’t complain about a lack of representation. These days, however, our attitudes have changed.

I’d like to go further than just claiming that the complaints have always been there, or that the things we complain about just keep changing. I believe that a book or a game that teaches us nothing about the human condition, speaks not of feelings, makes no judgements, such a thing is as shallow and flaccid as pop songs about love. Everybody understands them and nothing else needs to be said. In fact, anything that goes beyond the simple feeling is already political. You might think that we can talk about more than love and be unpolitical but faithfulness, polyamory, homosexuality, marriage, equal pay, equal say, everything is political and if you think it is not then that’s because you think the issues are so obvious it isn’t a contest. But it is. Somewhere, it is. When we think it’s unpolitical we are simply in such an agreement we don’t even notice.

The division we experience these days is simply the division that has always been there but we didn’t talk about it. One side was without a voice, but just as the spread of new media caused war and strife in past, so does social media serve politics now. The printing press allowed the church schism to spin out of control and lead to the thirty years war and more. Radio and TV was used for propaganda on a populace that did not have the media savviness to ignore it. The Internet is used to drown us because we have yet to find a way to filter it appropriately.

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In an answer to further comments I wrote: I always found the argument very convincing that unless you are in a minority, you just don’t see it. So when we don’t see it, some will feel excluded. When they feel included, we feel it’s political. But since I don’t belong to any obvious minorities (perpetual foreigner, maybe?) I can’t provide examples from my own life. I do remember reading the account of a black girl liking science fiction and her parents asking her why she liked it because that was for whites (don’t remember the details). Until then I had simply never thought about it. And I can always spot the American ads here in Switzerland: so many people of color! So all I can say is that I’m noticing the politics more these days, but it seems to me more like an eye opening, not a politicization.

– Alex 2017-09-07 20:59 UTC

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2017-09-06 PDF File Size

My Halberds and Helmets Referee Guide PDF is 40MB. If you open the PDF using Preview, you can use Export... and specify the Filter Reduce File Size. The resulting file is 2.9MB! That is so much more reasonable. Apparently, Ghostscript can do it, too. Let’s look at the result.

First, we need to pick a reference. Let’s take the giant crab’s pincer.

Image 1

Enhance! Enhance! Notice the details.

Image 2

Open the new file and find the same spot.

Image 3

I think this is good enough.

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2017-09-05 Monster Manual Finished

I can’t believe it. I feel like singing it from mountain tops. My project is done!

  • Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide, where monsters are a large part of the book
  • they are also on a wiki, but I didn’t always update the wiki pages once I had entries in the Ref Guide
  • discussions on Google+, which are great for all the ideas that didn’t make it into the book

A year ago I started with an annotated monster list, based on the Labyrinth Lord monster list. I basically wanted to highlight the monsters I like to use. I was encouraged by the long comment Brian left on that blog post. Thanks!

At the same time, I had bought an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil and I was enjoying the Zen Brush 2 app, and I needed a project that would keep me drawing stuff, for practice. And I drew a lot of monsters. Check out the monster gallery. The humans, dwarves, elves and halflings are from my face generator. The rest was all drawn on the iPad.

The year before, James V West had posted the BX 64 challenge on Google+: “to create a 64 page saddle stitched book that fits with BX. A setting, for example.” I had plans for a setting. I wanted to write about the Planescape/Spelljammer campaign I had been running for a while. I started posting in the B/X Campaign Challenge Google+ Community. But the campaign changed. It was hard to remove the proprietary bits from the campaign setting and just leave the original stuff. I just felt tired whenever I thought of it.

But when I took the Swiss Referee Style Manual, added a bit about mass combat, added a bit about the cosmology I am using, and all the monsters, with their illustrations, I had something going. And as I posted about the monsters I was drawing on Google+ and had interesting discussions with other people, I was back in the groove. Thank you all.

The one person I remember most fondly for his long comments and insightful responses was Ian Borchardt. He is definitely not one for the TL;DR crowd. Thanks, Ian! Your replies kept me going!

And then there was Jennifer Hartogensis who I think I first saw in the King Arthur Pendragon Google+ Community with her Dutch session reports. Some of her comments will be hard to forget. Centaurs, unicorn names, with a sentence or two she always put the finger right where it hurt. I laughed!

I also want to thank those faithful followers of my Drawing Google+ Collection where they +1’d my sketches and pictures, encouraging me to keep at it, Christian Sturke, Tina Trillitzsch, Jensan Thuresson, Harald Wagener, Steve Sigety.

And there are more. The right comment at the right time by Aaron McLin. I just can’t remember you all. Thank you all, for keeping me going.

I know how hard it is to stay motivated because of the Free Software I write. I usually write it for myself, but when a random stranger sends me an email telling me they are using it, I love it. And I loved every single encouraging remark, every little +1, every discussion and every new angle.

So, what's next? I don’t feel like planning for a next project. As far as I am concerned, nothing comes next. Just play more games, run more games, and if new stuff comes up, maybe put it in a new document, who knows.

I sometimes feel like going back and fixing some of the drawings I no longer like. I think I got better over time, so I’m hoping that I might redo some things. I also know how these images look on the PDF pages, now. It just doesn’t look very good if the waves of the sea serpent are cut off, or the manticore wings, or if the shark background or the spectre background is totally black. I feel like these things need fixing.

I also started using these monsters in my games and sometimes I think they need fixing. The ghouls in my games didn’t run like I felt they should. Their aura of fear never gets used. Their paralysis is still coupled to the third attack. Something is wrong. But what is it? Some of these monsters need more playtesting, I guess. One would think that the established monsters need practically no playtesting, but I guess if you want to make them better, then you better playtest them all.

Perhaps I should go through the list of treasures again and add treasure types? I think at the beginning I was thinking more about the changes I wanted to see. Only ancient civilisations would have electrum or platinum pieces. Stuff like that. But towards the end of the book, I practically stuck to the Labyrinth Lord book. I’d like to have treasure types, with a treasure justification: “this is the hoard of a creature that attacks towns, or of creature that trades with towns”, “this is the hoard of a creature that kills lone adventurers and grave robbers”, “this is the hoard you’d find in a mausoleum”.

Oh, and I think I’d also like to write new lists of magic items.

I also worry about the file size. 50MB, really?

Frogling

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WOW! What a creative endeavor you’ve undertaken. I just downloaded it and was scrolling thru the Monsters section. I must say that the B&W line/brush art style is wonderful. It gives the art a simple elegance. I’ll be reading up on this RPG over the weekend. THANK YOU for making this.

marshomeworld 2017-09-06 03:22 UTC


👍🏾

– Alex 2017-09-06 05:19 UTC


I’m also looking forward to this monster manual by Sean McCoy.

– Alex 2017-09-08 09:54 UTC


٩(

– Chris 2017-09-21 18:27 UTC

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2017-09-04 Backup

I bought three new 4T disk drives for my backup needs! Two of these will be used in rotation, one of them always at my wife’s office. I’d like to encrypt them. Do I use the Apple tools to do it? Maybe I should.

I think this is what I want to do:

  1. I want to backup my laptop’s internal drive, of course.
  2. Use one of the 4T disks as the new external disk, replacing the 1T disk I currently use (called “Extern”).
  3. I also want to replace the other external disk we use for media (called “Movies”)
  4. Backup my websites using rsync.
  5. Use Time Machine for the two other 4T disks. This means that eventually, as the first disk starts to fill up, a complete backup will no longer be possible. But since all my backups are currently on 1T disks, this should be possible for quite a while.

And these are the steps I need to do:

  1. Pick a nice long password.
  2. Use Disk Utility to erase the first 4T disk and create a Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted) partition. Let’s call it “Data”.
  3. Copy all the data from “Extern” to “Data” in archive mode. Can I use cp -a for this? I think I’m better off using what I know: sudo rsync --archive --itemize-changes /Volumes/Extern/ /Volumes/Data
  4. Copy all the data from “Movies” to “Data” in archive mode. sudo rsync --archive --itemize-changes /Volumes/Movies/ /Volumes/Data should merge these without problems, as far as I can tell from the top level directories.
  5. Fix the existing backupscript such that it downloads the sites and /etc to the new “Data” drive; remove the rsync invocations for the local drives.
  6. Use Disk Utility to erase the second 4T disk and create a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition. Let’s call it “Time Machine 1”. Tell Time Machine to use it, and make sure the backup is encrypted. Send it off site.
  7. Use Disk Utility to erase the third 4T disk and create a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition. Let’s call it “Time Machine 2”. Tell Time Machine to use it, and make sure the backup is encrypted, too.

Done?

“About This Mac” reports:

  1. macOS Sierra, Version 10.12.6
  2. MacBooc Pro (13-inch, Mid 2010)

Disk Utility reports:

  1. Hitachi HTS545025B9SA02 Media (the internal disk, 250GB)
  2. TOSHIBA External USB 3.0 Media (”CANVIO for Desktop”, 4TB), twice

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Many hours later, I copied the contents of my old “Extern” disk and my old “Movies” disk (a hold over from the old sneaker net days when people would visit one another with hard disks in order to share) to the new “Data” disk.

So on to the next step: I plugged in the second disk, used Disk Utility to rename it to “Backup” and used Time Machine to set it up as an encrypted backup. I made sure to look at Options and removed the exclusion of the external “Data” disk. I want it included, after all.

I do wonder how good this Apple disk and backup encryption is.

– Alex 2017-09-05 13:28 UTC


Wow. Many hours later and we have 440GB of an estimated 1.8TB written. Time Machine is slooow.

– Alex 2017-09-05 19:38 UTC


OK, today I learned: one full backup takes more than 24h. The next laptop definitely needs USB 3.

– Alex 2017-09-06 13:29 UTC


Ok, disk “Backup” is done. Time Machine said “Encrypting Backup: 7%.” What is this? I thought it was all encrypted?

Oh well, since I was able to unmount it, I just went ahead and plugged in the third disk, erased it, called it “Backup 2”, and told Time Machine to use it without discarding the first Backup disk. So now it will backup to both. This is good.

And now that I have a new set of disks, I should definitely check the disks. But before doing all that, I will have to prepare:

  1. install the SMART driver, check all three disks
  2. much later, uninstall the SMART driver, mount all the old disks and wipe them
  3. install the SMART driver again

Gah!

– Alex 2017-09-06 14:44 UTC


OK, second backup done. When I ejected the disk it said “Encrypting Backup 6%”. I still wonder what that means.

Just to get a feeling for how things work, I decided to put the first backup disk back in and clicked “Backup Now” in the menu. To be honest, I thought Time Machine should detect the old backup disk immediately, notice that the last backup was older than one hour and immediately do another backup. Not so, unfortunately.

“Preparing Backup...”

– Alex 2017-09-07 12:36 UTC


I am happy to learn that this new backup is “490MB of 28.38GB” done.

– Alex 2017-09-07 12:39 UTC


Sadly, this is where it remains. Currently: 492MB. The estimate is: 2h remaining.

– Alex 2017-09-07 12:54 UTC


Ugh, status unchanged. This is not cool.

– Alex 2017-09-07 14:06 UTC


I was unsure of what to do and so I turned to the age old trick: I rebooted the system.

– Alex 2017-09-07 14:32 UTC


Rebooting with the drives connected left me with the grey apple screen and ventilators at 100%. I disconnected the new USB drives and held down the power button until it powered down. I am not liking this!

– Alex 2017-09-07 14:53 UTC


After rebooting and reconnecting the drives I was asked for the two passwords and the icon for the backup drive turned into the petrol colored backup icon. Good!

Picked “Backup Now” from the menu. Current status: “Preparing Backup...”

– Alex 2017-09-07 14:58 UTC


Status:”Encrypting Backup Disk: 9%”

– Alex 2017-09-07 19:04 UTC

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2017-08-31 How Wiki Works

How does a wiki work?

  • Easy linking: easy linking to other pages on the wiki and other resources on the web
  • Low barrier to entry: it is very easy to fix the smallest mistake
  • Editable organization: topics, categories, top-ten, see-also, forward indexes, it is all written by the community for the community
  • Peer review: the wiki allows others to see what happened via page history and the list of recent changes
  • Recent changes: as it lists the pages being edited it creates a shared awareness for all community members
  • Organic growth: small incremental changes as well as big reorganisations are possible

How wiki works diagram

Also on Campaign Wiki as an introduction for interested parties but it originated on Community Wiki. The image is also available as a PDF or as XFig.

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