What I'm Watching: Errementari: The Blacksmith & the Devil

What a charming film. Basque, with maybe the worst dubbing I've ever heard, so put it on English subtitles and Basque language. Lovely real-looking run-down sets, especially the forge, dark cinematography but not cyan/orange.

Set in early 19th C after the Basque lost their independence. Follows a blacksmith with a temper, a bizarrely fortified forge, and a deal with the Devil. The scarred, orphaned girl, Usue, is adorable, mean, and hilarious. The government fop isn't just there to rob the smith. The priest is a mean, conservative old bastard, the innkeeper and his grasping cronies deserve the bad ends they're all coming to, the town children other than Usue are brats. The demon Sartael is excellent, both makeup and mythical behaviors.

Cast, writing, and design are all perfect. The ending is very old-school D&D problem-solving.

Reminds me a lot of The Witch, or City of Lost Children, in this half-real, half-dreaming style and the grotesque people.

★★★★★

Chicken Soup

(a bunch of stuff in a pot)

REPL

The Chicken csi REPL is appalling after using some nice REPLs, it doesn't even have history by default. I couldn't reliably get non-GNU readline-likes to work, so:

% chicken-install -sudo readline
% cat >~/.csirc
(use readline)
(current-input-port (make-readline-port))
(install-history-file #f "/.csi_history")
^D

So at least now it has the usual up/down/emacs-like keys.

Long fucking ways from the old Symbolics LISP Machines. Why don't we have environments like that anymore? Why is everyone content to just use fucking emacs (I've never been emacsulated) or other editor, and a boring REPL? DrRacket is just a REPL that destroys its memory every time you edit code, and it's the most graphically advanced LISP-type environment. And this is why I still just use Atom with Symbols Tree View (even though it thinks variable definitions are functions), and copy-paste into iTerm if I want to test something.

Value Unpacking

Not having nice R6RS macros for this, and unwilling to fight with classic macros, I've been using values to unpack lists into variables, and because I can never remember the exact syntax, I made this cheat-sheet:

(define a '(1 2 3))
(define b '(4 5 6))
;; then one of these:
(define-values (x y z) (apply values a)) (printf "~s,~s,~s\n" x y z)
(set!-values (x y z) (apply values b)) (printf "~s,~s,~s\n" x y z)
(let-values [[(x y z) (apply values a)] [(q r s) (apply values b)]] (printf "qrs:~s,~s,~s xyz:~s,~s,~s\n" q r s x y z))

Probably not efficient, but better than car, cadr, caddr, etc. Maybe I should move all my list-structures into vectors, but then I'd still have to convert them to lists half the time. Here's where Python is the programmer's best friend, even if it is 10,000x slower:

a = (1, 2, 3)
x, y, z = a
print(f"{x},{y},{z}")

Why Did LISP Fail?

How did a more advanced language with better tools just die off commercially, and now if you want to work in it, you have to cobble together a bunch of half-broken shit?

I think there's 3 reasons:

  1. It's hard and ugly. It may be logically compelling, but when you see a page of parens your brain panics and looks for a place to hide.
  2. Companies value the fake productivity of thousands of lines of C, Java, or Swift (aka C++2020) code more than having safety, security, and correct reasoning. Who cares if millions of people will suffer and possibly die from your code, as long as you can ship TODAY?
  3. A lot of LISP "hackers" are insufferable douchebags, both old beardy fuckers who've been doing it for 50 years and mewling children who learned it last week. Every new variant makes the older contingent more angry at even seeing a mention of it, and the sneering fetuses think whatever variant they learned is Divine Wisdom, rather than just an engineering tool that may need to be improved.

Building a Binary with Chicken Scheme

So that was fucking fun. Seems Chicken's docs aren't correct on how to build with modules, because those were added after the dark-ages R5RS it was modelled on.

There is an "egg" system which is used for building the libraries, but it's difficult to use for making binaries in your own destination dir, and fills your work dir with spam temp files. Unfortunately basically useless for work.

Finally got this working:

src/somelib.scm:

(declare (unit somelib))
(module somelib
    (hello)

(import scheme)

(define (hello) (display "Hello!\n"))
)

src/somemain.scm:

(import scheme
    (chicken load)
)

(cond-expand
    (compiling (declare (uses somelib)))
    (else (load-relative "somelib.scm")))
(import somelib)

(hello)

Don't you just love that muffin-man-muffin-man repetitious bullshit? declare is for the compiler, load is for the interpreter, then import for both. You import builtins like chicken, but use libraries (aforementioned sdl) without an import. Bizarre and contradictory.

build.zsh: [script updated 2019-06-08]

#!/bin/zsh

# EXE is binary filename
# MAIN is main script
# LIBS is space-delimited, must not include main script

function usage {
    echo "Usage: build.zsh PROJECT || MAIN.scm [LIBS] || ls || -?"
    exit 1
}

if [[ $# -eq 0 || "$1" == "-?" || "$1" == "--help" ]]; then
    usage
fi

case $1 in
    ls)
        echo "Known projects:"
        # Add known projects here
        echo "eldritch test"
        exit 0
    ;;
    eldritch)
        EXE=eldritch
        MAIN=eldritch.scm
        LIBS="marklib.scm marklib-geometry.scm marklib-ansi.scm"
    ;;
    test)
        EXE=marklib-test
        MAIN=marklib-test.scm
        LIBS="marklib.scm marklib-geometry.scm"
    ;;
    *)
        # command-line project: MAIN=$1, LIBS=$2...
        EXE=`basename $1 .scm`
        MAIN=$1
        shift
        LIBS="$*"
    ;;
esac

mkdir -p bin

cd src
for SF in ${=LIBS}; do
    SNAME=`basename $SF .scm`
    echo "Compiling $SF"
    csc -c -j $SNAME $SF -o $SNAME.o || exit 1
done
echo "Compiling $MAIN"
csc -c $MAIN -o `basename $MAIN .scm`.o || exit 1
echo "Linking..."
csc *.o -o ../bin/$EXE || exit 1
rm -f *.o
rm -f *.import.scm
cd ..

echo "Built bin/$EXE"
% ./build.zsh
Built bin/something
% ./bin/something
Hello!

Hello, working native binary! There's a bunch more stuff about making a deployable app, but I'll take this for now. My actual program can show a blank green graphics window!

More Fun and Swearing with Scheme

I have ideas for some little games, which aren't suitable as giant Electron-powered applications. My preference in language for this would be Objective-C, Scheme, Pascal, C if I absolutely had to. Obj-C's lack of portability rules it out for now, but if GNUstep gets their crap together it may go back in the running. Scheme looked promising, I've liked using Chez Scheme for some data processing.

So after 2 days of experimentation and abuse, and none of my tools working right in the process, I was unable to get thunderchez/sdl2 to link. I can explicitly load the dylib, and it doesn't find SDL_Init. I wrote a little C program to prove that SDL is reachable, and it is. Chez just won't load it.

Frustrated, I grabbed Chicken Scheme again, did a chicken-install -sudo sdl2, ran the sample code(!), and bam, it just worked. 15 minutes of effort at most, and I'm up and running.

Down side, Chicken compiles slow, and the interpreter is PAINFULLY slow; Chez "interprets" by compiling fast with low optimizations. And Chicken defaults to R5RS which is… 1990 called and wants me to watch MIT SICP lectures on VHS. It has some R7RS support, but I prefer the guarantees of portability, safety, and specified behavior in R6RS. Have to go looking thru SRFI docs to find any feature, it's not batteries-included. Oh well, I'll probably live just fine without ideological purity.

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" (1988)

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:

donjon

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 @mdhughes@cybre.space 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:

Elric-Ritual