Atheism Reading Assignment

The things that deconverted me as a child:

  • National Geographic Concise History of Religions: Either one of these is right, and it's not yours, or none of them are right. I'm particularly fond of the Aztecs, since they believed at a depth no rational person can comprehend… and were just totally wrong. Huitzilopochtli didn't end the world when the sacrifices stopped.
  • Carl Sagan's Cosmos, book (most importantly) and TV series (often streaming online, or get the boxed set). Explains the scientific method, and how we have learned what we know. I don't recommend Neil Degrasse Tyson's version, which is much more pop-culture.
  • Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Bible: Explains where the Bible came from and how it was written, and why.

Additional:

Twitter to Join Fediverse!

Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵

Which to me just sounds like ActivityPub with extra steps. My immediate shitpost reaction was "Twitter's new servers will only federate with Gab and 4chan."

But to be serious a second:

  1. Mastodon.social has 423K users; 10% are "active". M.s is a social mess, really an open sewer; reading the Federation timeline on it with a LOT of filtering is unpleasant or impossible. Much of the content there is kind of unpleasant; it's more left-wing but just as bad as Twitter is. For a while, I had the instance blocked, but it interfered with me following & being followed by friends who live there. I'd like them to leave for a nicer suburb, but they won't yet.
  2. Pawoo.net has 590K users, but it's on the fringes of Fediverse and gets blocked or silenced by a lot for porn publishing. shrug
  3. Twitter has 330M users; probably 1% are "active", but that's still 3.3M users, 6x more than the biggest Mastodons. Every social problem of M.s is going to be vastly worse, and it'll need a fairly different software architecture than Mastodon or even Pleroma (which is more efficient, but we haven't seen any big Pleroma instances).

I think if Twitter does adopt ActivityPub, they'll need to split into a bunch of servers. Ideally they'd take a cue from GeoCities and have regional or interest-based servers, so there'd be california.twitter.com, paris.twitter.com, hongkong.twitter.com, hiking.twitter.com, apple.twitter.com, etc., and on a big naming day they'd make everyone pick their new home. Cap them at 100K or something sane. Then they could participate in Fediverse like everyone else.

More likely Twitter will be intensely boring and character-less, and name them 1.twitter.com, 2.twitter.com, etc., and have some hack where the front end routes users to their shard, there won't be a Local or Federated timeline at all, and they'll just wreck the Federated timeline with the Twitter firehose of shit.

Machines Love Friday Music 2

(ha, realized on publish I've used this exact title before, for a very different set)

No Linux Platform

All about design & organization of the "OS". But this completely ignores the actual problem: There's no MONEY in Linux application development. So nobody makes any that are even minimally competent.

I would correct his post, though, Ubuntu had a design language and SDK, and was working on a universal desktop & phone UI… and then that collapsed because there was no money in it. Now they're just another GNOME desktop.

Elementary has their own language (Vala), and reasonable documentation and policies, and lets you ship through their "app store"… as long as you give away your source code, it's Pay What You Want, it's not enforced in any way. Anyone can just go to github and build your software for themselves, and then distribute it for free. Elementary also takes a 30% cut as if they were Apple!

Looking at the Elementary App Center, they have 160(!) mostly tiny utilities listed. A couple Sudoku games. A $25(!!!) single-site client for write.as. But there is Minder, a mind-mapper; Tootle, a Mastodon client; Notes-Up, an organized notes app. Unimpressive but not as awful as the usual Linux software. But in 3 years that's all they've made?

There's enough servers to keep Linus working on the kernel, and a lot of nerds employed in janitorial jobs, but they have no motivation to make end-user software that anyone wants to use.

Google may be the enemy of Humanity, incubator of SkyNet, a Terminator's metal foot stomping on a human face forever, but they sorta half-assed their way into making Linux usable with Android. 'droid has a ton of end-user software (if mostly terrible) because Google Pay works and isn't trivial to circumvent, or they can just shove ads in every screen. It's mostly sloppy seconds from iOS or the web, and the dev tools are awful, but it's software. So why can't those people make desktop software for Linux? Follow the money.

Open Cthulhu

And Chaosium's reaction to the threat to their cash cow:

"That is correct. We are releasing a BRP Open Game License and a BRP SRD. The SRD is a core BRP rules document that people are authorized to create derivative works from, including rules expansions, etc. But certain things are going to be off limits - you can't use the BRP rules to create your own game using the Cthulhu Mythos. Or your own version of Pendragon. Etc."
—Jeff at Chaosium

So, a little context. After H.P. Lovecraft's death, his friend and executor Professor Robert H. Barlow was cut out of control of the publishing estate by con man and hack writer August Derleth, who founded Arkham House to exploit Lovecraft's work. In the '70s, Sandy Petersen wrote RuneQuest for Greg Stafford's Glorantha setting, and founded Chaosium. In the early '80s, Sandy got a license from Arkham House (upstaging TSR which had a… looser arrangement… and had to remove Lovecraftiana from their books) and wrote Call of Cthulhu. And while everyone loves classic CoC, it never lent itself well to fan publishing or 3rd-party publishing because you had to deal with Chaosium for a license.

Chaosium has for 40 years asserted that they own Lovecraft, works, body, and soul. Well, with copyright expiration and his work being clearly in the public domain now, nobody really cares what Chaosium or Arkham House think about that anymore. It certainly doesn't help that the "7th Edition" Call of Cthulhu is incompatible with the 1st-6th Editions, so there's those of us with 40 years of playing this game, and the "official" game which nobody plays.

Mongoose Publishing had a license for RuneQuest in the 2000s, and then released a clean-room OGL book Legend, which is an excellent RuneQuest-minus-Glorantha system, cheap, and unambiguously clear of Chaosium's ownership.

There's a couple of other Lovecraftian RPGs:

  • De Profundis: Epistolary solo or play-by-mail… I'm not sure it's an RPG, so much as a psychedelic drug in paper form. Highly recommended.
  • Trail of Cthulhu: Very rules-light investigation game, but I find the GUMSHOE games dull and predictable, too obviously railroaded by the GM.

Open Cthulhu: Because Cthulhu Wants to be Free

The current PDF is a pre-layout beta, no art, so I can only evaluate the rules.

Mechanically, it's CoC 6E, more or less, classic stats. Combat's streamlined quite a bit from the case-point mess of 6E, and you are directly instructed to inflict SAN rolls for committing violence, murder, and such, as well as the supernatural.

The implied setting is the 1920s-30s, but there's a decent chapter on customizing the setting, including a fairly extensive treatment of the Dreamlands, and rules for entering, leaving, and manipulating the Dreamlands! The Mythos tomes are limited to 5 translations of the Necronomicon, the Book of Dyzan, and The King in Yellow; most others have licensing entanglements.

Unlike Chaosium's "I shoot Cthulhu with a rocket launcher!" stats, Open Cthulhu doesn't give the Great Old Ones normal stats or limit their abilities; the Keeper is the author of the story and can do as they please. I like these guidelines:

  • Hint rather than show outright
  • Mythos Powers shouldn’t be “boss monsters”
  • Focus attention on human worshippers
  • Mental contact is dangerous; physical contact is virtually guaranteed deadly
  • Powers are never consistent; never predictable

Other monsters are almost entirely those from Lovecraft, not Derleth and such. The "Byakhee" are here called "Winged Servants" because Lovecraft didn't name them in "The Festival". The rather ludicrous presence of Mummies, Werewolves, Vampires, and such that would've made good old H.P. sigh with disdain is carried along from Chaosium's kitchen-sink approach; and yet they don't have Frankenstein's Monster, one of the few that H.P. liked! Stats are given for many of his characters, presumably prior to the events of their stories.

A compact but useful library of Mythos spells and artifacts adapted from the books finishes up.

I wouldn't classify this as more than halfway done; OpenCthulhu calls it 1.0a, which only makes sense if they're thinking it'll be done at 6.0. There's one skill for all "special gear" by which they mean photocopiers, computers, DNA sequencers, rockets, and any other tech which isn't a car or firearm; fine for 1920, incredibly stupid for modern games. There's no equipment lists, and while you can find online scans of Sears catalogs from the 1920s-1980s, things get more difficult after that. The weapons and armor system is greatly inadequate for modern games, and I hate low-fixed-value armor like CoC has used in most versions; the RuneQuest/Stormbringer-style random-roll armor is better. The bestiary could use work. Magic spells outside of just the Mythos aren't addressed, and for many games those are important.

But what is here, is a better Call of Cthulhu (almost but not yet a better universal Basic Role-Playing) than Chaosium has, and it's under the OGL so you can make your own, and write materials for it without arguing with anyone. I'm thinking I'll write up some adventures, maybe go back and re-adapt "Nightmare Eve" and my "Shotguns & Strip Malls" games into Open Cthulhu.