March 2003 Archives

What do you do if you're a gun toting maniac, but the rest of the party are playing pool?

Some thoughts on how Gareth can have more fun playing Obsidian, a character of his who doesn't always get the limelight.

| No Comments

Gareth has been complaining that he didn't get to do much in yesterday's Golden Heroes session. Obsidian, Gareth's character, is, in a nutshell, a ninja with angst; he had hardly any sneaking around to do, and when combat finally started he got taken down almost immediately by two bad guys (that Peregrine, my character, promptly wiped the floor with). Gareth is a bit miffed, especially as his bad dice luck means he failed all three of the rolls that he had to do yesterday.

Now, Cleodhna has already replied in the comments to Gareth's entry, saying that she doesn't require to be active in a session to enjoy it. I'd like to make another suggestion. Being: make the character more versatile.

All characters have moments when there isn't much for them to do. I think Gareth's problem is that he doesn't have a back-up plan. If there isn't Obsidian-type stuff to do, Obsidian just fades out of view. (Not literally, though - see below.) When Peregrine doesn't have much to do in any given scene, you can nonetheless expect him to be aloof, superior and sarcastic. That reminds you that he's there. I've been developing this side of him recently precisely so there's something to do in the non-combat parts.

Obsidian needs quirks. He needs a character, and by that I mean being more than a broody goth angsty guy who just sits in a corner and doesn't say anything. Some possible angles:

  • He's stealthy, and he now has gymnastics. He might just naturally blend into shadows, without thinking about it, possibly by hopping up into the rafters or hiding behind a sofa. Then he's speak, and his voice would come from somewhere you didn't expect. (Our ninja did this in Feng Shui and it was great fun. "Where's the ninja?" became a running joke.)
  • He's good at spotting weaknesses in things, examining them carefully until he knows exactly how to destroy them with one carefully-aimed punch. What if that ability somehow bleeds into his everyday worldview? What if he always has Precision switched on, tuned to whatever he happens to be looking at, absent-mindedly thinking of ways he could destroy every single thing in a room, even fruit? I expect that would filter into his speech patterns as well; words like flaw, fault, weakness, structural and so on would be far more common that you'd expect.
  • He was raised by a secretive, shadowy evil cult, trained as a ninja, sent to steal an ancient artefact, and then rebelled, turning to good. (Well, MI7, anyway, which is at least on the path towards good...) What if he has second thoughts? What if he gets flashbacks, or brief moments of turning evil, maybe with a different speech pattern or different mannerisms?

Repeal of Section 28

Tories try to talk about banning gay sex in two years, BBC illustrates story with actors posing as photoshoppery.


Section 28 is a part of the 1988 (Thatcher-era) Local Government Act, which prohibits local councils - and therefore schools - from "promoting" homosexuality, especially in sex education classes. Gareth mentioned this BBC article about it;

The current Local Goverment Act(*) repeals this part of legislature. Labout MPs, some of which used to be Tories, have been queuing up to partake in the pleasure of being in power and being morally right - e.g. Shaun Woodward, ex-Tory, says "one of the finer things MPs will be doing this year in our legislation is ridding the Statute Book of this nasty, pernicious piece of legislation."

Swivel-eyed Tories, including Anne Widdicombe, tabled a motion asking for the repeal at least to be revisited every two years, probably on the grounds that they enjoy gay-bashing. In the mean time, the BBC illustrated the story with a picture of one person who looked like he'd been Photoshopped, and another who looked like he was just plain CG.

I was going to mention the number of Tory MPs who rebelled on a free vote (21%), but it's less than the number of Labour MPs who voted against a three-line whip (24%), so I won't.

*: Many Acts of Parliament are called the same in the UK, which can get

Tom DeLay puts the boot into Howard Dean

Exactly what the Dean campaign were waiting for - unless, for some reason, the Bush campaign fear Kerry, Gephardt or Lieberman more.

From the wire release:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugarland) today condemned the comments of presidential candidate and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who said, "John Ashcroft is not a patriot," in New Hampshire yesterday.

"Howard Dean is a cruel and extremist demagogue," DeLay said.

Eh? "Demagogue" is a standard term of random abuse in politics, and "extremist", from the right-wing Republicans that run the US these days, merely means "standardly left-wing, like, you know, all those people that run European countries". But "cruel"? Where the hell does that come from? What evidence does DeLay have that Dr Dean is cruel?

"John Ashcroft loves America more than Howard Dean could ever know. John Ashcroft has sacrificed for his country, and devoted his life to serving it.

Or, "John Ashcroft is a nice guy, and he's had a lot of government jobs, and he cares." And Howard Dean doesn't have personal experience of that.

That's as may be. But that's not the point. What Dean is saying is that Ashcroft is wrong. Misguided, hasn't seen the entire picture, is blinded by partisan viewpoints; wrong. Answering policy objections on an emotive level is to insult the American public.

He is as kind, generous, and patriotic a man as I've ever met.

OK, here comes the partisan snide comment: that doesn't necessarily mean that he is in any way kind, generous and patriotic. Everyone else Tom DeLay has met may have been utter shits.

More seriously, it doesn't require that he is kind and generous to everyone (he may be only kind and generous to people he meets at the same time as he's with Tom DeLay, and those people are likely to be Republicans).

And Howard Dean is as ignorant on John Ashcroft as he is on national security."

Howard Dean is running for President. John Ashcroft is a Cabinet official for the President Dean hopes to defeat, and, should all go according to Dean's plan, will shortly be irrelevant. Why does it follow that, from Dean's point of view, intimate knowledge of Ashcroft should be held as important as knowledge of the issues of national security?

"Howard Dean's comments are an embarrassment to the democratic process and the Democrat Party.

Howard Dean is, depending on your mood, calling his opponents liars and scoundrels, or stealing their clothes and rebranding their rhetoric to suit his own purposes. These tactics are time-honoured democratic tools and should be expected in any serious political debate.

More seriously, calling for a debate on what "patriot" and "patriotic" mean is exactly what a democratic debate is about. Conversely, insisting that words should mean only what you desire them to mean is verging perilously on Orwellian doublespeak and fascism.

If this cruel, loudmouth extremist is the cream of the Democrat crop, next Novembers going to make the 1984 election look like a squeaker.

You can't have it both ways. Either Dean is convincing, but evil, in which case you need to persuade Americans not to vote for him, because he's wrong but could well hoodwink well-thinking Americans into voting for him for President, and denying Bush the second term he should have rightly won. Or Dean is fundamentally unconvincing and wrong, in which case you shouldn't be arguing against him, as your party will inevitably win against the feckless ultra-liberal candidate from Vermont, and you're better wasting your breath on Kerry or Lieberman or someone.

Tonight's links

Stuff I've read but don't feel deserves a great spiel.

Microsoft Web Services 1.0 - don't actually make it possible for you to access them, in any conceivable way, over the web.

Recent quality posts from jwz: You must be THIS TALL to touch the mailer (most of the spam he gets is from virus-checkers complaining that someone pretending to be him sent them a virus), "It's like morons have invaded your screensaver" (random livejournal feeds, because your computer has nothing better to do), and this bug report fills me with giddy joy (academic complaining about rude words).

Hally Suitt links to Adam Curry's The Big Lie, and says you should read it, and read it again. I agree. (Read the rest of her blog, while you're at it.)

People, stop thinking Bush is stupid. He's not. He's evil.

"Bush's political opponents are caught in a fantasy that they can win against him simply by proving the superiority of their ideas. However, people do not support Bush for the power of his ideas, but out of the despair and desperation in their hearts."

That quote was from A nation of victims (via Burningbird), an article in The Nation that examines Bush's "mastery of emotional language--especially negatively charged emotional language--as a political tool". It makes for grim, but intriguing, reading.

This man must be stopped.

Is this spam? If so, why?

Both why is it spam, and why have they sent it to me?

Received today:

To: (me)
Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2003 22:00:00 +0800
Subject: IBM. Microsoft, what experiment you have done on me ?

Dear, I no longer want to live in lies. Can you give me a favour ?
I will miss you forever.

Yours truly,
Bill's most wanted.

Sent from Hong Kong.

Is this a cunning attempt to work out whether my email address is genuine, by waiting to see if they get a reply from me along the lines of "What the hell are you on about?" If not, what is the point?

It's totally bizarre: it has all the hallmarks of spam (free throwaway email account, none of the standard email client headers), but none of the obvious evil. Yet.

I found a Halloween costume for my dog, but they don't make it in his size

They've got one that would fit Berkeley, though.

Dressing cats up in stupid costumes is so passé these days. What you really want to do is buy your dog a skeleton costume (via Boing Boing).


The costume also comes in medium and small. The web site doesn't mention what that actually means, and unhelpfully uses the same dog to model all three, which to me is an opportunity wasted. I'd really like to compare a great dane, a labrador and a yorkshire terrier, all wearing the same outfit, to see which looked scarier.

I'm betting on the terrier.

How to stop the spam arms race

Cringeley gets me thinking about spam again.

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

I've written before about how anti-spammers, no matter how effective they attempt to be, are always fundamentally fighting the last war. For those who are interested, my client-side spam filter currently has a success rate of 96.6% - good, but if a hosting company were to offer that sort of uptime guarantee, they'd be a laughing stock. You need at least 99% uptime guarantees if you're going to be taken seriously, and ideally 99.9% or even 99.99% (although that one is pushing it a bit).

Well, here's Cringely's take on spam:

Spam has become so pervasive because it works.  If it didn't work, people wouldn't do it.  If other forms of Internet advertising were equally effective, spam wouldn't be so popular.  So spam proves by its own success that most other forms of Internet advertising are ineffective.

I think he's got a point. People like Egg and Freeserve have dabbled in spam in the past; they got a right royal roasting, and I for one stopped using my Egg card as a result, but you can see why they did it - the temptation of the cheapness and apparent efficiency of spam can be overwhelming, if you're not aware of the potential PR disaster of being a known spammer. I think that's why spam mostly comes from disreputable companies selling viagra, Nigerian 419 scammers, or, for some reason, people selling septic tanks.

But spam exists, and Cringeley goes on to talk about how, for instance, his email alert mails are being bounced by spam-filters. Well, that's a problem of how you configure spam-filters: spam-filters should never bounce emails, unless they're absolutely sure that the email is spam (like, say, it scores a bazillion out of 10 on the spam-ometer). And even then I'm not sure bouncing is a good idea; I expect that the spammers may treat bounce messages as signs that an email address actually works, but is spam-protected. If they know that, they can then store that email address for later, and when they think they've got round the anti-spam software that email account is using, they'll try again.

(Another problem for hosting companies is that if they bounce spam, they've got to pay for the bandwidth used by the bounce message. Suddenly their bandwidth bill for handling spam doubles. That can't be right.)

The proper way to deal with spam is for it to be automatically tagged / moved into a separate folder. You never throw it away. You leave it down to the user to decide what to do, so they can delete everything sight unseen, or they can go through looking for subject headings or senders that they recognise, and pluck emails misidentified as spam out of the pile. We're still in the early days of spam-tagging and -filtering, but I think if we can educate users - and make it easy for them - we can beat the spammers, without poisoning people's life too much.

Incidentally, Cringeley reckons that the solution is to make it easier and more cost-effective for spammers to target just the people who would be interested in their product. Well, this would have to be pretty damn cheap, given how cheap it is to send normal spam at the moment, and I don't see how you could possibly fund such a scheme. It also doesn't tackle Nigerian 419 scams; almost by definition, nobody wants those.


Song lyrics

Paul Simon is a great musician, and he writes great lyrics. I have discovered this recently.

I've always been bad at making out song lyrics. I realised tonight that I'm also bad at making out what football supporters are chanting (62nd minute especially).

Yet, I can compensate for this in certain respects, by listening to music while I play computer games. For some reason, I pay far more attention to song lyrics when playing a simple, desktop-based computer game (not something like Baldur's Gate or Warcraft). And I've come to appreciate far more Paul Simon's lyrics on You're The One as a result.

Which doesn't always mean I particularly understand what they're supposed to mean. Nonetheless, I do particularly like lyrics like:

Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same

This is from Paul Simon's Train in a Distance, and the live version from the Central Park concert album is far better than the original.

As per title. Found on uknot.

Give me the source data, damnit

| No Comments

I read that Glasgow is the "safest city in the UK". I hear this from the BBC, from The Herald, the Daily Record and, of course, the Guardian (which, interestingly, actually tries to draw a conclusion from the figures rather than randomly quoting them.)

None of these websites can point me to the original figures, so that I might peruse them at my leisure. I can, presumably, work out the salient points by cross-referencing each newspaper report, but, frankly, life is too short. Annoyingly, even the people who produced the report don't mention it on their website. Grrr.