Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kindle Surprise

The best thing I've noticed about the Kindle since getting it last week, is the superb dictionary integration. It works better than it does on the iPad version. This is a feature I have wanted to have for years; almost instant look-up of the meaning of a word. Not only that, but if you read in another language, you can install a new dictionary and use that instead. You can also select the definition and save it for later revision.

This is a feature that every operating system should have built-in. One should be able to instantly look-up the meaning of any work at the click of a button. Why OSX and Windows fail to do this, I do not know.

Some new words:

reave v. (past and past participle reft ) [no obj.] ARCHAIC carry out raids in order to plunder. [with obj.] rob (a person or place) of something by force: reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast. [with obj.] steal (something). reaver n.

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hummock n. a hillock or knoll. a hump or ridge in an ice field. NORTH AMERICAN a piece of forested ground rising above a marsh. hummocky adj. mid 16th century (originally in nautical use denoting a small hillock on the coast): of unknown origin.

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broil1 v. [with obj.] NORTH AMERICAN cook (meat or fish) by exposure to direct heat. [no obj.] become very hot, especially from the sun: the countryside lay broiling in the sun. late Middle English (also in the sense ‘burn, char’): from Old French bruler ‘to burn’, of unknown origin.

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expostulate v. [no obj.] express strong disapproval or disagreement: he found Fox expostulating with a young man. expostulation n. expostulator n. expostulatory adj. mid 16th century (in the sense ‘demand how or why, state a complaint’): from Latin expostulat- ‘demanded’, from the verb expostulare, from ex- ‘out’ + postulare ‘demand’.

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arabesque n. 1 [BALLET] a posture in which one leg is extended backwards at right angles, the torso bent forwards, and the arms outstretched, one forwards and one backwards. 2 an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in ancient Islamic art: [as modifier] arabesque scrolls. 3 [MUSIC] a passage or composition with fanciful ornamentation of the melody. mid 17th century: from French, from Italian arabesco ‘in the Arabic style’, from arabo ‘Arab’.

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capon n. a castrated domestic cock fattened for eating. caponize (also caponise) v. late Old English: from Old French, based on Latin capo, capon-.

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faugh exclam. expressing disgust: ‘Faugh! This place stinks!’. natural exclamation: first recorded in English in the mid 16th cent.

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embrasure n. an opening in a wall or parapet which is bevelled or splayed out on the inside, typically one around a window or door. embrasured adj. early 18th century: from French, from obsolete embraser (earlier form of √©braser) ‘widen a door or window opening’, of unknown ultimate origin.

Gamebooks

Warlock MapGamebooks are a strange invention. When I was young, the Fighting Fantasy books were one of the coolest series I read. Playing The Warlock on Firetop Mountain again on the iPad, I realise that:
  1. It's not well written;
  2. It has a labyrinth that's impossible to escape without mapping the whole-damn thing (no wonder I thought the book was broken when I was a child);
  3. It's focussed on physical movement from room to room (Why? Choices can/should occur at any point in a narrative.);
  4. Most choices aren't really choices at all. "You may go east or west." But there isn't any hint, any decipherable reason to choose east over west. The story might as well have been linear.
Gamebooks are still with us. Computer role-playing and adventure games contain decisions through dialog trees. RPGs, like the D&D red box, occasionally feature gamebooks.

My questions are:
  • Why have gamebooks remained in the amateur and children's area of literature?
  • Why hasn't a competent author written a multi-pathed novel?
Ever since Borges and Cort√°zar, no really good author seems to have gone close. It's a shame. How about a murder mystery, where the reader has to piece together clues found in branching decisions? I'd read that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

RuneQuest adventurer

Benwyn the Herdsman

Characteristics

Str 10
Con 10
Pow 4
Dex 12
Cha 6
Int 11
Siz 14

Attributes

Age: 19
Combat Actions: 3 (4 with hammer and shield)
Damage Modifiers: +0
Improvment Roll Modifiers: -1
Magic Points: 4
Movement: 8m/r
Strike Rank: 13
Hero Points: 2

Hit Points

Legs 5
Abdomen 6
Chest 7
Arms 4
Head 5

Skills

Athetics: 33%
Brawn: 24%
Culture (Own): 52%
Dance: 18%
Drive: 16%
Evade: 39%
First Aid: 28%
Influence: 12%
Insight: 15%
Lore (regional): 62%
Perception: 25%
Persistence: 50%
Resilience: 60%
Ride: 26%
Sing: 10%
Sleight: 33%
Stealth: 54%
Swim: 16%
Unarmed: 22%

Hammer (Shillelagh) and Shield: 62%
Sling: 64%
Common Magic: 10%

Advanced Skills

Acrobatics: 42%
Craft (cartographer): 28%
Language (native): 50%
Survival: 54%
Track: 51%

Magic

Bestial Enchancement (3)
Endurance (3)

Clothes

Aba (6 SP)
Shoes (2 SP)

Equipment

Adventuring Kit (70 SP, 17 ENC)
Footpads (12 SP, 1 ENC)
Shillelagh (40 SP, 1 ENC)
Heater shield (150 SP, 2)
Sling (5 SP)
Walking stick (5 SP, 1ENC)
Writing Kit (45 SP, 2 ENC)

Character History

Benwyn grew up as a nomad, in a small family of three that consisted of his father and twin sister. His mother, Samara, died when he was twelve years old.

Benwyn spent his teenage years as a herdsman, assisting his father to move cattle and sheep for sale between the markets of three small settlements that are many kilometres from the hills he grew up in. His family has gained a good reputation with two of these settlements.

Due to his culture's continual roaming, Benwyn's skills in survival and tracking are well developed. On occasional visits to a not too distant village, a family contact has trained Benwyn in the art of cartography. It has become a passionate interest, though his ability lags behind his enthusiam.

Two years ago, a long-standing feud between Benwyn's father and another herding family resulted in bloodshed. As a result, his family has been forced to abandon their livelihood, and it is for this reason that Benwyn has begun a life of adventure.

RuneQuest II vs D&D

In a lot of ways RuneQuest and D&D are similar. However, everything works better in RuneQuest. Such as:
  • RuneQuest uses skills whenever a character attempts to do anything. e.g., singing, thieving, shooting, casting, etc. Skills all work in the same way and they all make sense. No base attack bonuses, saving throws, ability score checks, synergy, obscure exceptions, etc.
  • There are no classes in RuneQuest. If you want to create a thief, you devote skills that are useful to thieving (sleight, stealth, evade, disguise). If want a cleric (or healer), you devote skills and magic to healing. If you want to create a unique character, combine unrelated skills and spells.
  • D&D is full of redundancy. e.g., Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, Cure Critical Wounds, etc. In RuneQuest, there is just "Heal," the caster can increase the amount of healing as they improve their magical ability.
  • RuneQuest combat is more than just spatial, it is temporal too. Timing is key. This gives a whole new tactical layer to the combat that is missing from D&D.
  • Combat is a lot more deadly in RuneQuest. Fights don't go on and on like they do in D&D.
  • There is locational damage in RuneQuest (head, arms, chest, etc.)
  • Hit Points don't increase over time in RuneQuest. i.e., you don't miraculously become more resilient to pain.
  • There is no alignment in RuneQuest. You define your morality rather than fitting into an obscure and confusing category. (What the hell is Chaotic Neutral suppose to mean?)
  • In RuneQuest, armour works like one imagines it would. There is no weird abstraction (i.e., Armour Class). There are armour points that apply to parts of the body. If you are wounded, you subtract the armour points from the damage dealt. e.g., a Broo does 6 damage to the left arm. Leather armour on the left arm has 2 armour points. 6 - 2 = 4 damage. Simple and logical.
  • There are no levels in RuneQuest. At a particular juncture, players are rewarded with improvement points that they can use to improve skills or characteristics. There is no endlessly waiting until your character finally goes up a level. Beautiful.
  • RuneQuest doesn't have the utterly frustrating Vancian magic system. Okay, not entirely true, divine magic uses a Vancian system, but sorcery and common magic doesn't.
  • Skill checks are slightly simpler and require less tedious communication in RuneQuest. In D&D, the player rolls and applies bonuses (e.g., 1D20 + 5) and compares it with a number supplied by the Dungeon Master (e.g., need 17 or above). In RuneQuest, the player will generally already know the chance of success (e.g., 68% chance) and can just roll and declare the result (critical success, success, failure or fumble). This is a subtle difference, but it saves constantly needing to ask "What's the number I need?" or "Did I succeed?" It puts slightly more power on to the player. This a good thing.
  • Since 2000, D&D editions have been advocating the use of miniatures in combat. They even have special rules that apply best with miniatures (attacks of opportunity, movement rules to get past other characters/pieces, etc.) There is nothing wrong with using miniatures. However, one must be careful because miniatures reduce the luscious 3D environment of an imagined scene to a grided 2D battlemap with right-angles. On a battlemap it's difficult to visualise attacks from above (balustrades, trees, fly-by attacks) and below (burrowing creatures or a chasm traversed by a suspension-bridge). You can't see sloping or uneven ground. Stairs and various forms of cover (walls, bushes and tables) are often difficult to represent. Your imagination can handle all of this better than a battlemap. RuneQuest has a cinematic feel with not a single mention of miniatures or battlemaps. All of those environments mentioned above are easily supported by the RuneQuest game system. D&D can do it too, but it struggles.
  • With D&D and D20 games in general, it takes a bit of thinking to figure out your probability of success. E.g., you require 23+ for success and roll 1d20+8. You have to do a bit of maths to figure out the chance of success. It's more transparent in RuneQuest, everything uses percentiles, e.g. 25% chance.
  • Even though ability scores (or characteristics) are created the same way in both games (i.e., 3d6 or 4d6, drop the lowest, etc.) they're actually used in RuneQuest. In D&D, you roll the scores, derive a "modifier," and never use the score again, for anything. This "modifier" is used as proxy for everything. The obvious question is, why bother with ability scores at all? Just roll for the modifier instead. Ability scores in D&D are just one more number that you don't use. In RuneQuest, the scores themselves are used as a basis for basically everything.

Musings on Role-Playing Games

I've played role-playing games, on and off (mostly off) for many years. I haven't played much over the last few years. During the last week I've been reading Lankhmar stories by Fritz Leiber. They have relatively simple plots, but truly evocative scenes, events and characters. Reading these stories have inspired me to re-start some role-playing.

Role-playing games that I've played over the years:
I recently read a fairly comprehensive history of role-playing games at http://ptgptb.org/0001/history1.html. It goes through a lot. Origins of RPGs, gamebooks, collectible miniature games, etc. Reading this history brought up a lot more games that I've never tried.

Role-playing games that I'd consider playing:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kindle vs iPad vs "real" books

My Kindle arrived yesterday. It's good. Unlike most people who have commented on it, I bought it after getting an iPad. I was so impressed by how easy it was to read with an electronic device that I decided to buy something dedicated to it. It works exactly as expected.

Good things about ePaper devices (Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc.) compared with a tablet:
  • Smaller and lighter
  • Battery lasts longer
  • Can read outdoors
  • Better quality screen
Goods things about the iPad, for reading:
  • Big screen, colour and zoom (i.e., I wouldn't use an ePaper device for PDFs)
  • Self lit (good for reading at night without a light)
One stupid thing that both types of devices don't really understand yet is that they're not paper books. e.g., the software is happy to end a page half-way through a sentence. For what purpose? To force me to keep reading? What it should do is end on the last complete sentence that fits on the page. A very minor complaint, however.

It's a new age for books. What will happen:
  • Individual prices will plummet (they're already zero for books out of copyright)
  • You can have any number of books and they take up the same space as one. Actually, the idea of book having/ownership is now completely absurd.
  • Nothing will ever go out of print
  • Quality will replace availability (many, many times I have wanted a book and bought something that wasn't as good because I couldn't find the one I wanted)
  • People will fetishise "physical" books like they do LPs/CDs, DVDs and everything else that becomes immaterial. What they don't understand is that it's not the form that's important, it's particular instances. i.e., The Secret is a shit book no matter how it's read.
Is ePaper the coming communist revolution? Unfortunately, no. It's just nice to be able to stop collecting another type of thing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How To Act Like An Aldryami

I've been searching for a new role-playing game ever since D&D 4th edition came out. I never really loved 3rd edition all that much. I compared 3rd edition to 2nd edition and it was a good improvement. However, nowadays I've decided that D&D has to go. It's got stupidly complex rules, was designed for power-gaming, and is full of contradictions (resulting in arguments). It's a fun killer.

Traveller appears to be the sci-fi game out there. However, I've always liked my role-playing games to be fantasy based. I'm currently considering RuneQuest. Reading through one of the books, I came across the section below, describing how to play an elf. I really love it. I can't remember reading anything similar in a role-playing book. It's a great example of how and why role-playing games don't need to be anything like board-games or computer games.

How To Act Like An Aldryami:
  • Unfocus your eyes; look off into the distance, past the person you are talking to.
  • Talk so quietly others must strain to listen.
  • Bring a few dried leaves to the game session in a plastic bag; occasionally take them out and rustle them.
  • Speak in plant metaphors.
  • Tremble with quiet fury when the woods are threatened.
  • Have your character detour to forests. Once there, it lingers, listening to the song of Seyotel. Require sustained prompting from other Adventurers before you move or pay attention to pressing matters at hand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Traveller character

Neil Calderon (UPP 589AA2)

Str 5
Dex 8
End 9
Int 10
Edu 10
Soc 2

Age: 34

Skills

Astrogation 0
Athletics (Endurance) 0
Carouse 0
Comms 0
Compuers 0
Diplomat 1
Engineer 0
Investigate 0
Medic 0
Navigation 0
Pilot 1
Science (Phsyical) 0
Streetwise 1
Trade 0
Recon 2
Vacc Suit 1

Credits: 87,500


Homeworld: High population and Industrialised

Terms served
  • Scholar (Field Researcher) (yrs 18-22)
  • Scout (Survey) (yrs 22-26)
  • Scout (Exploration) x2 (yrs 26-34)
Career events

Neil Calderon started life on a highly populated and industrialise world. His family was poor and marginalised. Much of his youth was spent on the streets, talking and carousing. Ambition, however, was to grasp him in his later teenage years as his studies demonstrated a high aptitude for scholarly research.

At 18, Calderon enrolled as a researcher and undertook offworld research in lesser known systems. Unfortunately, two years into his contract, one of Calderon's expeditions went dreadfully wrong. He spent 9 months stranded on an unknown and desolate planet, struggling for survival. Eventually, a scout ship that was surveying the area, picked up Calderon and the remaining survivors. On his return, Calderon learnt that his position had been discontinued and he was forced to look for another career.

At 22, Calderon enrolled in the Scouts. Initially he worked in surveying, applying skills from his previous career to his new position. Eventually, however, the experiences of the isolation and necessity for resourcefulness, acquired when marooned a few years earlier, became an obsession. By the time he was 26, Calderon shifted from surveying work to exploration.

Through the course of Calderon's second term as a scout, he met Salwa, a merchant broker. They met by chance on a sparsely inhabited starport. Within a short period of time they had developed a close relationship, organising rendezvous whenever possible.

During Calderon's last term as an explorer, he was involved in a rescue mission of a transport ship. Hastily applying his inexperienced medical skills, he set to work aiding whoever he could. The rescue mission resulted in a disaster. Six crewmen died and two suffered lifelong injuries. One of the remaining crew swore an oath of revenge upon Calderon after
seeing the crew die due to incompetence.

Calderon left the Scout service with the rank of Senior Scout after many years of dedicated service. For services rendered, the Scouts have loaded Calderon a Scout vessel to further contribute to exploration and discovery.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning a new (programming) language

I'm attempting to learn a new programming language. The main issue here is that F# isn't just a new language, it's a new type of language. There are three main (i.e. popular) paradigms of programming languages: imperative (the one you learn at school), object-orientated (the one most programmers use), and functional (the one I'm trying to learn). Object-orientated is really just an extension of imperative programming, so for me, learning F# is about learning how to re-think how to do things.

I thought I'd try to do the Euler problems like Andrew is doing at a misdirected effort.

My solution for problem 1 in F#:
let multiple x = if x % 3 = 0 || x % 5 = 0 then x else 0

let sequenceOfNumbers n = [1 .. n]

let euler1 numbers =
numbers
|> Seq.map multiple
|> Seq.sum

printf "Result = %i" (euler1 (sequenceOfNumbers 999))
The way I'd do it in C#, however, is:
static int Euler1(int maxValue)
{
var sum = 0;
for (var i = 1; i <= maxValue; i++
if
(i % 3 == 0 || i % 5 == 0)
sum += i;

return sum;
}
Is there really all that much difference? Could I have expressed it in F# in a more functional way? I don't know. Hopefully I can change the way I think about functional programming as I move through the problems.