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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.

2019-08-23 Invisible Ticks

I’ve had a red spot for a few days on my left leg. I had scratched myself there a few days ago and so at first I thought it was just a minor irritation. It was never a problem but it also didn’t go away. But yesterday it started to develop into a ring and my wife told me to go and see a doctor. Now I’m on 10 days of antibiotics. Fucking invisible ticks. Keep an eye on those red spots.

Lyme disease is apparently not too hard to treat if you get started early, i.e. when you can still see the spot.

A friend we have suffered from non-diagnosed Lyme disease and fought against it for months. Wrong treatments, long treatments... It’s just a very long hassle.


Comments on 2019-08-23 Invisible Ticks

Jesus! Take care, Alex. I hope you get well soon.

– Enzo 2019-08-23 12:48 UTC

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2019-08-23 Gridmapper inside Text Mapper

Gridmapper is an interactive web application. You can use it to draw multi-level dungeon maps. The drawback is that you cannot use it to generate images in order to use them elsewhere.

A while ago I write a Megadungeon Generator which generates a random dungeon and allows you to open it in Gridmapper. That’s pretty cool, but I was still unhappy. The preview images I generated as part of it seemed to be on the right track: these were images, but much to small, and they didn’t use the Gridmapper tiles.

Recently, I added the ability to generate square maps the Text Mapper. Now all I was missing was the Gridmapper tiles and some encouragement.

The last few days, as I was talking with Brian Green, J. Alan Henning, and ktrey parker on Diaspora the topic turned to mapping again. ktrey parker suggested using the Face Generator or something similar for dungeon maps. Something smaller, combining geomorphs, something like the five room dungeon, not something big like Dave’s Mapper. Robin Green linked to The Nine Forms of the Five Room Dungeon | Gnome Stew, and started drawing sketches of the kinds of geomorphs we could use, how they’d fit together, and so on.

And suddenly... that was the kind of social enthusiasm I needed and I started writing code...

This is a new mapping algorithm for Text Mapper based on all of the above. It doesn’t do the special rooms Brian had sketched, yet; and it doesn’t always place the initial stairs correctly; and there are no “extras” such as pillars, chests, pits, and so on. But all of this can still be added.

As always with these algorithms, you can use them to generate a new text description for you to edit, or you can just keep reloading this link.


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2019-08-23 Bees

When people talk about the bees dying they usually mean honey bees. Those are the animals we have tamed, bred, optimized, industrialized, and on it depends the US food business (almonds, all sorts of fruit and berries). Is it pesticides? The mites? Who cares because nobody is talking about all the other bees, wasps, and bumblebees disappearing because they’re not worth any money. 20 years ago our prof at the uni said that we had a 25-fold overpopulation of honey bees.

And what’s also weird: the colonizers brought the honey to the US. It’s probably an important proxy for the health of our environment. It’s cute. But in a bigger sense, honey bees are part of the agro industrial complex just like farting cows. We need them, our life style depends on them, but I feel very little for honey bees. I’m a bumblebee person.

These thoughts brought to you by a recent episode of 99% Invisible.

Every winter, beekeepers from every corner of the United States descend on California to pollinate almonds. Almonds have a window of about two weeks for pollination to occur. Otherwise, the blossoms won’t turn into fruit. The demand is so high it takes upwards of two million hives, almost every commercial beehive in the country to do the job. “This is the largest managed pollination event on earth,” explains John Miller … .

Full transcript available.


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2019-08-23 Albums

A few years ago I sold two minidisc devices and about 200 empty discs. I was astonished how eager some people were to buy the empty discs (the devices not so much) and recently I was remembering how people would take one tape, one CD or one minidisc and listen to the same album over and over again. Something that seems so strange these days. I feel strange for having just a few albums on my phone instead of streaming. I prefer podcasts to music these days.

And now I’m listening to an Elvis Presley collection with about 150 albums and singles and I wonder how to best listen to the singles: play the “album” of two songs on repeat? To think that this is how people used to listen to music. The same two songs, over and over. I’ve played this single twice and already my wife is telling me that we just heard the same tracks!

And what happened to mixtapes? You can still make them with files – except people are afraid of copyright and so we can’t do it for many people, but we can do it for friends. But nobody does. Somehow the physical artifact is important. And back when I was young and recorded tapes for my now wife music was – rare? I didn’t have all The Door CDs but a neighbor did…

These days you can’t even share a playlist unless you both have the same streaming service. Blearg!


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2019-08-20 Perlanet vs. Planet Venus

My Planets run on Planet Venus. It’s written in Python 2. Apparently it won’t disappear entirely, but I don’t have any other programs written in Python 2 so keeping that knowledge alive imposes a tiny burden on me.

I noticed that pl6anet.org (which is for Perl 6) runs Perlanet which is Perl 5 (oh the irony!) – but at least I use a lot of Perl 5.

When I tried to invest some time into making the switch, I noticed a few things:

  1. CSS works – no problem
  2. Template uses Template Toolkit – I can get used to it
  3. My template contains UTF8 and that doesn’t get rendered correctly – apparently there’s a way to change that but I don’t have access to it from Perlanet?
  4. It’s easy to loop over the entries, but not over the feeds – and if I loop over the config file where the feeds are listed, then the feed titles all need to be added manually?
  5. I want to serve extracts, not full articles. Is there a way to do this? How do I provide a plugin for Perlanet?

For the moment I’m not happy. This needs more thought. I think I would need to write my own Perlanet application.

  1. I used numbered entities instead of UTF-8 encoded files even though this makes me sad
  2. I was able to build the member list based on the data from the config file and was pleasantly surprised to find that the title had been filled in
  3. Strangely enough the OPML file isn’t being created
  4. I was able to build the day separators
  5. I still don’t know how to do extracts and how to parse special fields like Dublin Core contributes and the like. I guess that just won’t work.

I’m staying with Planet Venus for now!


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2019-08-17 Hong Kong

I never quote knew what to write about Hong Kong. I love Asian megacities. I loved Hong Kong when we stopped over on our flight to Australia. Spending a few days in Hong Kong was great. I took some pictures.

Today I started reading a blog post by Maciej Cegłowski. It’s about the protests in Hong Kong, and about seeing Hong Kong as an American tourist, but also about seeing America as a Polish immigrant. I like it so much.

With the police visible, there is a little bit of a hush in the crowd. The march continues in a direction parallel to the police line, to another major intersection. There, volunteers are yelling to offer marchers a choice. We can turn right and walk to a nearby train station. Or we can go left and confront the police. Most people choose to go left, and are handed surgical masks (to hide their faces) if they don’t already have them.

I don’t think I can add much. Maciej ends his blog post with: “… all our hearts will remain with you, and with Hong Kong, whatever comes next.”

I recently heard a re-run of an episode of Thinking Allowed about tear gas. They talked about how it’s effectively torture. To inflict humiliating pain so excruciating that it reduces them to an animal unable to resist, to reduce people to gagging and vomiting bags of meat, as if you kept beating them with sticks until they left, hammering their arms and legs with clubs and batons, as sometimes happens after a tear gas attack, to use chemical weapons developed for trench warfare in the first World War against civilians, to use weapons outlawed in wars against foreign nations against your own population – I for one would not be surprised to learn that once a lawful citizen is tortured like this one is never again willing to trust the state, to trust the police, and forever on the lookout for a weakness. To end this torture. To hit back when the torturers show a sign of weakness. How will this end? How will this ever end well?

This is a question that concerns us all. Hong Kong is simply at the vanguard of it all. They are fighting for us.

We use tear gas to demoralize an angry population, and then what? Drone warfare? Civil war? Assassinations and terrorism? What are the options? What are the options if we cannot demonstrate for change?

I don’t like violence. But in the name of reducing our costs, of reducing the risks for our diminished police forces, we have found a love for “non-lethal” weapons. People are tortured on the streets by tear gas, have lost their sight to rubber bullets, and we pat ourselves on the back because we aren’t shooting them. Yeah, right on. We’re using “non-lethal” weapons because the alternative is what, the use of lethal weapons? Is that the options we are given?

How will this end well? We all need to think about the kind of positive outcomes we want for our world.

In the podcast episode they were talking to Anna Feigenbaum who had written Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today. As I was looking for a good website I came across an episode of Forthright Radio with a ton of pictures on their site. I haven’t listen to the audio, though. I am afraid to do it. Tear gas and rubber bullets make me so angry.


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2019-08-15 Deep Carbon Observatory Day 1

I’ve started running Deep Carbon Observatory.

As soon as the party arrived in town, I described the town as recently flooded and started playing some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And I immediately had my doubts. The golems get weaker every day, but at the same time, people are suppose to be hungry, so they’ve been hungry for days? My players wanted to know why the water hadn’t drained?

I started my players with three disaster vignettes. One player wanted to do this, the others left to handle the others, I kept introducing new disasters and NPCs and there was much sighing. Kids, teachers, priests and magic-users were saved, cannibals were ignored, the rich guy was also brought back, a fire got started, a palisade was built, a camp got started. When they boy with the stolen scrolls showed up, they decided to track him and free his sister because the cannibal who had tried to lure one of the kids away from the fire had freaked out my players, I think.

I didn’t like how the module says that if you pass dozens of tests, the boy just gets shot. The boy was cooperating, the halfling was well hidden, the thief had a ring of invisibility, I didn’t think that’d be fair, and so I improvised some safety measures: the boy hands the scroll case to a waiting zombie, the zombie takes it to remote ruin, the girl is released from a different ruin, the ranger comes and takes the scroll... and then my players strike, of course. An invisible thief with a good weapon, and the halfling, with surprise and winning initiative is good enough to down the ranger before he gets to react, and as per my house rules if you bring an opponent to zero hit-points with a melee weapon that could conceivably be used to deal non-lethal damage, then the opponent is at your mercy.

He was a tough one, knew exactly that they were do-gooders and played it well, I think. They took his bow and his poisons and traps and let him go.

Thus, we got through a bit more than half the encounters in Carrowmore in the first session. There was no abandoning of people, my players were willing to split up and split again but as my players always have a few henchmen at hand, splitting the party is no big deal.

I had imagined there being a stronger sense of loss and despair as players have to abandon people to their fate but that didn’t happen. Good or bad? I don’t know.

I was able to bring the Crows across as mean bastards who know how to control zombies, but their ranger is now diminished. The consecutive INT tests to discover how the bow works are weird. Also, you need to pass 1d6 tests – I wonder what that is for? How about ignoring this and just saying that the character discovers how to use the bow after a while and that’s it? The INT test rolling isn’t very exciting, I think.

Anyway, not sure what to make of it. Drowning lands sounds interesting.

The two hooks I used to invite the party to Carrowmore was that some rebels they wanted to support needed a magic user and these rebels had heard that Koolhaus (which I misread as Koolmore because it was too close to Carrowmore, haha) was sympathetic to the rebel cause. So the party went to Carrowmore to find Koolhaus/Koolmore. At the same time, the rebel leader told them about the legend of an old kingdom hiding their treasures beneath a lake in the mountains nearby so while they’re in the area, why not investigate?

The magic user the players met in Carrowmore knew Koolmore, of course, and said that he had gone upriver to investigate the broken dam, so now the party is feeling the pull of both hooks. This seems to be working. 👍


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2019-08-14 The kind of RPG podcast I miss

You probably know that I have a podcast, the Halberds and Helmets Podcast. Recently on Reddit somebody said they loved it and asked for recommendations. If only I knew!

My favourite RPG podcast is Judd Karlman’s podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons. I like how he just picks up the phone and starts talking.

I think what I like about Judd’s podcast is that he talks about technique and inspiration – not about the actual things. It’s hard to put into words. I once said the following about Judd’s podcast on Mastodon:

What is it about the exact things he talks about that keeps me listening? I think it’s because I can imagine myself in the conversation I can’t have in my face-to-face games: referees talking to each other about their games, about what works and what inspired them and what didn’t work. I even listen to the call-ins because they’re not about praising each other or the products made. Just GM-to-GM talk.

And that’s it, I think. I feel like I’m having a Referee-to-Referee talk when I listen to the podcast, which is something I don’t get at my table with my players. We play on weekdays, people come late because they come from work and they leave early because they have to work the next day. We talk about parents, injuries, jobs, relationships, life. Somehow we don’t talk about running games.

I think other podcasts often fall into author-to-reader talk. It’s still hard to put into words. Judd talks about why and how he does things and doesn’t talk about the things themselves. He talks about why random tables are great and maybe what effect it had that one time he used a random table, but he doesn’t provide listeners with actual random tables, nor does he pontificate about random tables. It’s conversational. I love it.

If you know other podcasts like that, I’d love to know about them! Perhaps Fear of a Black Dragon comes close because the two hosts talk about how they run games, how they use the material, and that’s great, except I’m usually not too interested in the actual material they use to anchor the conversation.


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2019-08-14 Pirates

One thing I always admired about pirates was the pirate code. The part I care about the most is how booty is shared. For example:

The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.

Just think about this! What if a CEO only ever got twice as much as everybody else? Twice as much was good enough for Captain Bartholomew Roberts!



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2019-08-14 No meat

In Spectre at the Feast, George Monbiot talks about Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change by Timothy D. Searchinger, Stefan Wirsenius, Tim Beringer & Patrice Dumas, a paper which accounts for carbon costs by asking: “how does farming compare to the natural ecosystems that would otherwise have occupied the land?”

The astonishing quote that made me read the rest of Monbiot’s essay was this:

The Nature paper estimates the carbon cost of a kilo of soya protein at 17kg. The carbon cost of chicken is six times higher, while milk is 15 times higher, and beef 73 times. One kilogram of beef protein has a carbon opportunity cost of 1250kg. That’s roughly equal to one passenger flying from London to New York and back.

We really need to make an effort to live as vegan as possible, as vegetarian as possible. We really do.

And how much power we have! All we need to do is get rid of most of our meat eating. Here Monbiot talks about the UK only, Repurposing UK agricultural land to meet climate goals by Helen Harwatt and Matthew Hayek:

If our grazing land was allowed to revert to natural ecosystems, and the land currently used to grow feed for livestock was used to grow grains, beans, fruit, nuts and vegetables for humans, this switch would allow the UK to absorb an astonishing quantity of carbon: equivalent, the paper estimates, to 9 years of our total emissions. And farming in this country could then feed everyone, without the need for imports. A plant-based diet would make the difference between the UK’s current failure to meet its international commitments, and success.

Or here, talking about Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers by J. Poore and T. Nemecek:

A famous paper in Science shows that a plant-based diet would release 76% of the land currently used for farming. This land could then be used for the mass restoration of ecosystems and wildlife, pulling the living world back from the brink of ecological collapse and a sixth great extinction.

It boggles the mind.


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Unrelated: The Anthropocene Is a Joke: “On geological timescales, human civilization is an event, not an epoch.” Noooo!

If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselves—it would be virtually impossible to tell. All we do know is that an asteroid did hit, and that the fossils in the millions of years afterward look very different than in the millions of years prior.

It is this idea that Robert E. Howard’s Conan World, Hyperborea, might have been possible, that excites. Not possible possible, for sure, but “possible”. It would be virtually impossible to tell.

I do remember hearing that us digging up all the oil and all the coal and burning it would leave a lasting impression, making a future recovery based on fossil fuel impossible.

Ah, just the worlds. Fossil. Fuel. To run a ton of steel on exploding dinosaur corpses...

But then:

Fifty-six million years ago, the Earth belched 5,000 gigatons of carbon (the equivalent of burning all our fossil-fuel reserves) over roughly 5,000 years into the oceans and atmosphere, and the planet warmed 5 to 8 degrees Celsius. The warming set off megafloods and storms, and wiped out coral reefs globally. It took the planet more than 150,000 years to cool off.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-15 05:48 UTC

Sometimes I read things that just put me down. Today, for example, @The_ogier write the following, slightly edited:

We must de-grow now

The data shows there is no way to stay below even 2° (see sources below).

We have been missing every target catastrophically. And physical reality limits what we can do now.

But there is one obvious way to avoid catastrophe, drastically de-grow.

We are being sold false hope to keep the profits flowing.

Globally we must use significantly LESS total energy 2030 even as China’s & India’s economies of then ~3 billion are set to almost double.

This will not happen. Our current system cannot avoiding climate catastrophe.

It gets worse.

Just in regards to power-generation, the area we are doing “best” at: By 2030 we must double our current solar and wind power and we must have more exponential growth from there.

Instead renewable growth is stalling.

There is almost no chance that we will be able to have the factories and workforce online in time to cover the current massive shortfall.

Even if we do that means we must offset additional factories & mines.

And we need massive advances in batteries.

All of this was foreseeable and likely foreseen a decade ago or even longer.

And it is not clear that our current system ever had a chance. What little progress we’ve made is entirely based on technological advances that were not available a decade ago.

But the situation for our current system is actually far worse.

The above is based on the optimistic IPCC projections. And devestatinglyd the projections all absolutely require fracked natural gas to be a relatively clean transition fuel. It is not.

We do not need a WW2 style mobilization. We need a post-WW2 de-mobilization now or face a catastrophe that will devastate millions who did nothing to cause it.

Selected sources:

#climatechange #anticapitalism

And I’m sitting a restaurant after Aikido practice talking to somebody who claims that the CO2 concentration is a consequence of the temperature change, not a cause, and that global warming is not man-made.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-16 20:24 UTC

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