Robert’s blog (1.0)

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infogami (14 March 2006)

It's hard to update my blog while my workstation with my blog script is down. Of course, I finally got around to trying to repair it today, & it just decided to start working again. (>_<)

Anyway, I've been playing with infogami. In just a few weeks my infogami site has more content than I think this one ever had.

So, my blog there will probably see more updates than this one for a while.

My latest Apple gripe: QT & iTunes (3 January 2006)

Apple has decided that, in order to install Quicktime for Windows, you should have to install iTunes as well. This is extremely annoying.

For my wife's business, she often creates Quicktime movies because the results are better than creating Windows Media Player movies. (Which may be mostly due to the fact that she uses a Mac & the applications leverage Quicktime.) So, she asks customers to install Quicktime if they don't already have it installed. It works well.

But unexpectedly, when she suggests a customer to install Quicktime, they've had to unnecessarily install iTunes as well. Since we don't install Quicktime on Windows on a regular basis, this change caught us by complete surprise.

Of course, a bit of googling turned up that there is a way to install Quicktime without iTunes. (& although it isn't immediately obvious, you don't have to give them your email address if you uncheck the subscription check boxes.)

I shouldn't have to go searching for this, though. My wife shouldn't have to know about this stupidity in order to inform her customers about it.

So, I believe that makes the list:

  • Less than stellar user interface choices (worse than both pre-X Mac OS & NEXTSTEP)
  • Crapiness of AppleWorks (especially in comparison to OpenOffice/NeoOffice)
  • Bundling of iTunes with Quicktime for Windows (& hiding the Quicktime only installer)

Which, really, is pretty good.

Lejendary Adventures (3 December 2005)

In January, along with my C&C Players Handbook & the premier issue of The Crusader, I received the Lejendary Adventures Essentials box set.

I started this review of it in February, but never got around to posting it. So, here it is now.

How is LA different? LA, to my way of thinking, falls in a middle ground between class-based & skill-based systems. It's "abilities" are very broad. They are described as "skill bundles" rather than just "skills".

Beginning LA avatars (LA's word for PCs) are more competent than roughly equivalent 1st level (A)D&D PCs. Progression is likewise slower than (A)D&D.

What I like about LA: The abilities do a good job of giving more flexibility than classes without the complexities & problems of a typical skill-based game like GURPS. Also, there are synergies between abilities that encourage players to choose abilities that might otherwise be seldom picked. Even the most abusive power gamer will have a hard time not creating a well-rounded avatar.

(Players are also encouraged to choose an coherent set of abilities so that they may join an "order" & get some other boons.)

Secondly, I am very intested in the magic system. There are several different "Extraordinary Abilities" to choose from:

  • Divination (which is on the border between ordinary & extraordinary abilities)
  • Enchantment (most of the (A)D&D magic-user style magic ends up here)
  • Geourgy (elementalism)
  • Necromancy
  • Pychogenics (psionics)
  • Sorcery (demonology)
  • Theurgy (for ecclesiastics)

With Shamanism & Witchery still be be published.

Essentials only includes Enchantment & Theurgy, but from what I've read of the others, it sounds very much along lines similar to homebrew material I have tried to develop in the past.

What I don't like about LA: My one big complaint is Gary's choice to eschew so much of the standard jargon. "Abilities" is fine. "Order" is fine. "Avatar" is unnecessary. "NAC (Non-Avatar Character)" instead of NPC is just silly. "Activations" & "activator" instead of "spell" & "spellcaster" is...icky.

Gary says he did this to help players adjust from a (A)D&D mindset to a LA mindset. Well, many of us have played lots of games other than (A)D&D & find common jargon helpful touchstones when adjusting to the mindset of a new game. I think standard jargon is a boon for the novice as well. (It has proved to be in my industry.)

Still, LA is much better in this regard than Dangerous Journeys/Mythus.

The requirements for joining an order should be minimum ability scores rather than relative ability scores. e.g. To join the Noble order, an avatar's Chivalry score must be greater than his Weapons score. It makes more sense for the Noble order to list minimum scores for the abilities instead.

One complication that seems entirely pointless is that most abilities also grant a bonus to the avatar's base ratings. But since the player gets to set the base ratings within certain limits, & since the bonuses from the abilities are much smaller than those limits, you might as well just drop those bonuses. You end up eliminating a few extreme edge cases where an avatar could have an unusually high base rating, but at an extreme sacrifice.

Conclusion: Gary likes to call LA "rules light", but I think "rules medium" might be more accurate. (Especially considering that I haven't seen the "full" rules--just the Essentials box set.) I think I'll end up running a lighter version using mainly the abilities & magic. much as the game appeals to me, I don't have any strong ideas for what I want to do with it. I think I might use it to run The Abduction of Good King Despot sometime, but beyond that I have only vague ideas.

The Lejendary AsteRogues offshoot looks interesting as well...

Holiday Tree (2 December 2005)
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:36-40

If someone called a Christmas tree a "holiday tree", what would Jesus do? Would he sue them? Is bringing a legal suit over terminology--perfectly accurate terminology--showing love to neighbors? Is harrassing others about such trivialities the best way to witness to unbelievers? To reflect the spirit of our faith in general & the spirit of this season in particular?

NASA's New Plan (22 September 2005)

NASA has announced the future direction of the manned space program.

The Good

  • The manned space program will be doing something besides putting people in LEO.
  • A heavy lift vehicle won't be needed just to put people into LEO.
  • Putting the space craft on top of the stack with an escape tower will be safer to the health of the space craft & the crew than the shuttle.
  • The reëntry heat shieldwill be less exposed during launch & in space than the shuttle's.

The Bad

  • It seems very little except the capsule will be reusable.
  • The system is heavily based on shuttle elements of questionable reliability.

The 1 in 100 chance of the loss of the vehicle & human life that Feynman cited after the Challenger accident turned out to be quite accurate. If one believes Feynman's commentary, the SSME cannot be made sufficiently safer without effectively redesigning it from scratch in a bottom-up instead of top-down fashion. He doesn't make you feel warm & fuzzy about the SRBs either.

Of course the biggest question hanging over any NASA project, which grows in proportion to the price tag: How long before a future administration pulls support? How long before Congress pulls the funds?

& we still haven't sent a probe to Pluto yet...

Don't invest in DoubleClick! (3 July 2005)

Last month, Bennie Smith, the privacy chief of DoubleClick, claimed that ad blocking browsers will soon spell the end of free content on the Internet. Can you believe this guy works for a company that's trying to make money off the Internet? Has this guy seen the Internet? Let's see...

How about Wikipedia? Free content, no ads. How about the FSF? Free software, no ads. These kind of things aren't going away because the people & companies that make them available have never done so in order to sell ads.

How about Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Sun, Wizards of the Coast's D&D site? These sites have a tremendous & growing amount of free content. Now, arguably these sites are nothing but ads, but they aren't the kind of ads that ad blocking software is targeting. They are a way for those companies to communicate with present & future customers. Those companies are going to keep providing free content without DoubleClick's ads. This has been the answer to the question of how to make money off the Internet since day one! It's a communication medium just like mail or the telephone. So use it to communicate with your customers. The better you communicate with your customers, the more money you'll make selling the same goods & services you did before the Internet.

How about Google?

See, here's the real problem: Most people don't want to block ads. They want to block annoying ads. Heck, it isn't even about ads at all. I don't care whether the content that appears in a pop-up window is an ad or not, it's still annoying & rude.

(Granted, there are a few people who go out of their way to specifically block ads in any form, but they aren't a significantly large group.)

Why is Google, a company that provides a free service, doing so well? Because they figured out that building an advertising system that works for both the advertiser & the consumer is the way to build a successful advertising business. Abusing web technology to create rude ads is a way to build a failing advertising business.

Public Broadcasting could use less funding (21 June 2005)

Maybe public broadcasting, instead of complaining about getting less money from the government, should take this opportunity to refuse government funding. Sure, it would be painful, but wouldn't it be better to be independant from the government? I'd rather see Frontline, the News Hour, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, & all the other public broadcasting programming not have to answer to Congressional committees.

Furthermore, public broadcasting needs to learn to refuse money from corporations that complain they don't get enough advertising in return. If a person or corporation doesn't want to donate to public broadcasting because they believe in its mission, then public broadcasting shouldn't take that money. Better to have a smaller budget than to morph into just another commercial broadcaster.

Kyoto (16 February 2005)

The "kyō" (きょう) in "Kyōto" (きょうと) is a single syllable.

There could be a three syllable Japanese word, "kiyōto" (きようと), but it would be spelled differently. Although, Jim Breen's WWWJDIC Server does not list such a word. Google does seem to get some hits both on the Romaji & hiragana spellings.

I'm typically not much of a pronunciation nazi. The amazing thing to me, with this city's name being read so often on radio & TV today, is the uniformity of its mispronunciation. You'd think you'd hear at least one reporter not say "kiyoto".

AppleWorks, vector graphics, & platform switching (10 February 2005)

One of my big problems with AppleWorks currently is it's seeming inability to import vector graphics. I had created a image with StarOffice's drawing application & saved it as EPS, PDF, WMF, & PICT formats. I then validated that the exports had preserved the vector data. The EPS, PDF, & WMF had. The PICT, unfortunately, had not. (I wonder if OpenOffice has fixed this?)

(I may have liked to use SVG, but neither my old version of StarOffice or AppleWorks support it.)

I needed to use that image in a drawing I was making with AppleWorks. So, I copied all versions of it to the Mac & tried importing them. The versions that did successfuly import, ended up printing as low res raster images. (It may be worth noting that I do not have a PostScript printer, which might change the equation.)

(Now, there is a workaround that should work, but which I didn't want to take the time to do. If I had exported the image as a very high res raster graphic, AppleWorks may have done a better job of printing it. Although, there are ways AppleWorks could mess that up as well. ☺)

Later, on a lark, I decided to drag & drop the PDF into a TextEdit document. A print preview & zoom proved that TextEdit could properly use the PDF!

So I tried the same thing in AppleWorks. The drag & drop worked! I zoomed in & it looked great. I did a print preview & zoomed in...& it had become a low res raster again! Argh!

This is good, because many of the things I might want to do with AppleWorks & this image can probably be done adequately in TextEdit, though I'd prefer to use AppleWork's drawing layer.

Apple has a new $79 word processing/page layout program called Pages that may be what I really want.

A friend, who used to be a Mac user, commented to me that he now had too much money invested in Microsoft Windows software to switch back. (Having switched platforms a number of times in my life, this is a topic I know well.) I happily pointed out that, what made it easy for my family, is that we hardly pay (directly) for software much anymore. Between open source & what comes with the Mac, there is little need. (A scary thought since I make my living writing software!) Plus, a lot of the stuff we do buy--like the kid's education programs--comes with both Microsoft Windows & Mac versions on the same disk.

Perhaps it shouldn't bother me to spend $79 because the (nearly) free AppleWorks doesn't do what the (truly) free but not-Mac-native OpenOffice can do. But it does.

If I do buy Pages, though, it will be because I believe the rest of the family will make good use of it. As much as I do enjoy using our Macs, I'm content with my Linux workstation. The Macs are for my wife & kids.

Google & Trademarks (9 February 2005)

Louis Vuitton has won a breach of trademark suit against Google. This is an ongoing battle for Google. They won a case against Geico in the US.

Geico, Vuitton, et al. need to compete in the marketplace instead of the courts.

If someone is searching for your trademark, you already have an advantage.

If Google ads work, you're free to buy a Google ad with your trademark as a keyword & pay enough to ensure that your ad appears above your competitors ads.

Why should a court tell Google--which is already providing you with implicit free advertising by showing you as a regular search result--to refuse advertising revenue from your competitors if you aren't willing to pay yourself?

The only real issue here is if the competitors specific ads are misleading. If that is the case, it is something that should be taken up with the advertisers themselves, not Google.

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