Programming is a Joy

"Programming is a joy. That's why people do it. No one should spend hours in front of a computer terminal out of some dreary sense of duty, or because they have some vague notion of becoming "computer literate". That's not the point. Programming ought to be fun—and if you're not having fun, you shouldn't waste your time."
—Michael Eisenberg, "Programming in Scheme"

What I'm Watching: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

This is weird. A series based very loosely on Shirley Jackson's great book (more likely for the writers, the 1963 movie The Haunting or the shitty '90s remake).

The builders/founders of the house, the Crains, and the scientist ghost-hunters of the book, are here replaced by house-flippers with five children in flashback to the '80s(?). In middle flashbacks of the '00s, one boy becomes a ghost-hunter, one a junkie, one girl a mortician, one girl is useless, one a mousy little housewife. In present day, the plot moves forward. Sometimes the time is obvious from the characters in a scene, sometimes it's hard to tell which flashback is which, and the characters' clothing and accessories are not distinctive (fashion died in the '90s and never recovered). It's good that they have iPhones and iPads in the present, because those make it possible to date the scene.

Everyone seems pretty resigned to seeing ghosts or at least having hallucinations on a regular basis. OH NO the walls are banging in an old house, must be ghosts. OH NO my dead SPOILER is here where they were expected and now ghosts.

Long tracts of "dramatic" footage which aren't good enough for "reality" TV are painfully uncut here, I'm 2 eps in and it feels like it's been 12. The movie was so much better at getting to the point (that secrets and madness will make you see anything, even/especially if there's something to be seen). But there's scenes which are effective, where the oppression of Hill House works, where it actually creeped me out. The actors range from reasonably good (Stephen, Shirley), to stiff and unlikable ("Dad", and whoever the middle daughter is, I keep forgetting that she's even in this and then I go "wait, who's the other brunette?"), to bland caricature (the Dudleys).


Software Tools Quote

"Finally, it is a pleasure to acknowledge our debt to the Unix operating system, developed at Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie. We wrote the text, tested the programs, and typeset the manuscript, all within Unix. Many of the tools we describe are based on Unix models. Most important, the ideas and philosophy are based on our experience as Unix users. Of all the operating systems we have used, Unix is the only one that has been a positive help in getting a job done instead of an obstacle to be overcome. The world-wide acceptance of Unix indicates that we are not the only ones who feel this way."
"Software Tools in Pascal", 1981, by Brian W. Kernighan, P.J. Plauger

As every neckbearded n-gate reader will now rush to well-actually at me, BWK's experience writing this book led to Why Pascal Is Not My Favorite Programming Language, but note this rant is about "standard" ANSI Pascal, not the somewhat improved P-Code Pascal of the '70s or the free-wheeling super-powered Turbo Pascal of the early '80s, and nothing like modern FreePascal. Standard Pascal was a deliberately simplified pedagogical language, not a systems programming language, which the later ones are.

Anyway, the book's interesting as a problem-solving exercise, but the Unix part amused me. And no, Linux is Not Unix. Buy a Mac or install BSD if you want UNIX®.

Warhammer 40K

Hot take (about 30 years after release): In Warhammer 40K, the Emperor is THE existential threat to the Universe, the cause of Chaos invading reality. The Empire is absolutely evil, destroys any human hope, and blatantly uses Nazi iconography. It's a crapsack universe, but even for that, the Empire is the worst.

So it creeps me the fuck out when I see people using WH40K Marine or especially Inquisition stuff for their art, and making them "heroic". It's the same as back in the day with sandbox wargames, that one guy who always played the Nazis, and sometimes cosplayed. Sure, he had a big set of Tractics minis and was a good opponent, but mayyyyybe we shouldn't encourage him.

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Matt Finch's Swords of Jordoba youtubes, which have been hilarious and accurate to how we played/still play original games. Except the minis, which I'm not really into, but it makes for better youtubes.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

I liked my simple Rules for the OSR.

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

There's a lot to choose from, but in no real order:

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):

Poison damage-over-time/effect rules in Judges' Guild Ready Ref Sheets (1978). Changed the game for me when I first read them (probably early '80s?); save or die poisons are boring, DOT poisons make the players panic and start counting rounds to escape.

Second favorite is "Orgies, Inc" in Dragon #10, which changed XP-for-gold (which ends up with giant piles of loot which is anti-genre) into XP-for-gold-spent-uselessly and created all these interesting side effects of blowing your gold.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I'd picked up the PDF of Holmes Basic from Paizo, and went looking for house rules to better hook it into OD&D than the hacks we'd used back in the day. Rules expansions were already starting to appear, and that led to a bunch of blogs.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:


7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

It's becoming MeWe's OSR group, but I'm not that social, I prefer to make things and release them, however infrequently.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

I'll talk about games as on Fediverse (Mastodon).

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

I prefer dark fantasy and swords & sorcery, not "high fantasy". I dislike Tolkien and his works, and I'm in the process of deleting such nonsense from my games and getting back to mythological roots, and in every way that makes them better. Ban elves, non-Wagnerian dwarfs, and fobbits (portmanteau "fucking hobbits").

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:

RoleMaster 2nd Ed or Space Master. I'm unlikely to play RM again soon, especially with "Iron Crown" (the company doing business in the name Iron Crown) taking so long on the "RoleMaster Unlimited" rewrite, which is weird since they already have RoleMaster Classic and should just support that. The fiasco of this company (or the people who bought its IP) with the best game ever made, dicking around with unplayable variants for decades, is just infuriating. Hi. I'm Mark, and I have opinions about RoleMaster.

And Stormbringer 1st Ed. Every later edition got less and less like the books of the black blade and his little albino buddy, and then Moorcock pulled the license, but Chaosium made a decent not-Elric game of it, Magic World. Then they ran out of money and Greg Stafford bought them and killed everything that wasn't Glorantha or Call of Cthulhu. And now RIP Greg Stafford, who knows what they're doing.

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

Simpler rules, and access to all the old dungeons and new dungeons in the style of the old ones. I've got plenty of games, almost always better ones, and written many myself, but it's the adventure support that makes OSR work for me.

But I also very much like Jeff Rients' answer:

Gygax and Arneson hit on something magical, but there's no good reason why that magical needs to be bottle and sold to us by a big corporation. There's no reason why a central committee needs to set an agenda for the hobby. As a kid new to the hobby I didn't understand how slavishly lapping up the offerings of TSR shaped my view of what D&D could be, what behaviors (good or ill) it reinforced, what doors it closed. Fantasy roleplaying is an open-ended, artistic, mythological activity between human beings. We don't need an official imprimatur to make that work, in fact such approval inevitable cuts us off from some avenues of exploration. Within the vague concept of "games like this," the OSR is a diffuse, non-centralized, network of individual exploration and group interchange, respecting the right of the individual soul to dream while keeping us connected to each other.
Also, I am not over wizards and dragons and never will be.
Jeff Rients

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

  • Delvers in Darkness, my new game which isn't out today but very soon (like, this week if I can get some art done and playtest the adventure).

15. I'm currently running/playing:

Not much, too much time developing software and writing the next game (see previous) which I will run, and it will be my standard "online chat RPG" from now on. I've played a few Tunnels & Trolls solos.

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

We're probably using AAC in my OSR games, but if not, you've got your to-hit-AC table on your charsheet and I've got a Referee screen/Wall of Fear & Ignorance with to-hit tables.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:


Keychain Access Regression

In OS X before Mojave, Keychain Access had a full Preferences screen, and let you put an icon in the menu bar. Most importantly, from that icon you could Lock Screen instantly and securely.

Well, here's the Preferences now:


And there's no way to restore this or get equivalent functionality.

I noticed this because the screen saver didn't engage in its hot corner, so went to look for a safe lock, and now… what am I supposed to do?

Goddamn it, Apple. Did you rewrite some shit in Swift and that's why nothing works and security has been job NaN since Leopard?

[Update: As noted by @tewha, There is now a lock screen entry under  menu, where nobody ever looks for anything, and it has a shortcut, which is an improvement. I take back nothing about Keychain Access being wrecked.]

Gamer Migration

As noted in Google Minus, G+ shutting down hurts a large RPG community. Over the last few days, most have settled on a startup called MeWe as a replacement. Couple videos on the topic:

I've been trying it out, and it's not bad, it's a functional forum, except for: No public posts (which they're working on), and the very annoying chat popups (which you can disable from notifying you, but can't hide entirely). I don't know if it's going to survive very long, but they're ideologically motivated to privacy and not being Facebook, which is good.

It's unnerving, though, how fast everyone coalesced on this obscure service. There weren't a lot of other good options, though. Facebook is evil, Diaspora doesn't really support the kind of sharing and consistent timeline people need, old-style forums are, as I noted, run by shitty people.

Some people made really weird suggestions, like Youtube or Twitch, posting everything as a video and comments on it? Oh hell no.

I Miss CoverSutra

My second-favorite Mac app ever (after BBEdit) was CoverSutra — MacWorld review, make sure you have ad-blocking. Alas, it didn't keep Soaps in silks and champagne as she deserved, and she shut down and went to work for Apple.

The key feature here is: It watches iTunes, and shows the cover art with artist/album/track name overlaid or under, small enough to fit in a corner of the screen. So I can unobtrusively see what's playing when I hit shuffle. There were some nice keyboard controls in CS, but I mostly just needed the labelled icon.

I've had some variation on this since the '90s, when xmms would sit in the bottom of my screen, often minimized to a 16x160 or some such tiny bar with track name.

iTunes itself has a "mini-player" with cover art, but it doesn't show the artist/album/track name at all, and it's hard to click on without hitting a forward/reverse button. You can turn on notifications, but then that's annoying, a popup every 3 minutes.

When CS finally broke in Sierra, I switched to TunesArt, which was a mediocre but functional equivalent. When I upgraded to Mojave, TunesArt broke, and the developer is absent.

I have found only two sorta-kinda CoverSutra replacements that are still working. The one I'm currently using is BarTunes (free on Mac App Store), which has a comically flyspeck-sized album preview in the menu bar, and I have to click on it to see the track name; but it seems to work. The flyspeck cover is sometimes identifiable, like Asobi Seksu's Citrus has this unmistakable tangerine cover, but in that case I'm probably familiar enough to not need a hint as to what's playing.

There's also SkipTunes ($2.99 on Mac App Store), which has a desktop preview that apparently doesn't show cover art or track name, so WHY? Haven't bought it yet.

I'd happily pay much more for a working app so I don't have to code this myself.

Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland Movies

No zombies or magic, just people in a plausible near future shithole like we'll have by 2100. Ordered by how much I like each film, not so much plausibility or rotten fruit reviews.

  1. Hardware
  2. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
  3. Waterworld (watch it for Dennis Hopper)
  4. A Boy and His Dog
  5. Blood of Heroes
  6. Tank Girl
  7. Steel Dawn
  8. Rick & Morty S3E2 "Rickmancing the Stone"
  9. Delicatessan
  10. Six-String Samurai
  11. The Quiet Earth
  12. Mad Max Fury Road (very silly)
  13. Mad Max
  14. Road Warrior
  15. It Comes at Night
  16. The Postman
  17. The Road
  18. City of Ember
  19. Snowpiercer
  20. Various Twilight Zone post-apocalypse episodes, never used for anything but a punchline.

Not Seen Yet:

  • The Bad Batch
  • The 5th Wave (may break the "no magic" rule)
  • The Rover
  • Man Down