Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cycles

— Matt Harris @ 12:09 pm

Found via Peeve Farm:

Words fail me.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Economics 101 By Bob McEwen

— Matt Harris @ 11:13 pm

Found via GayPatriot, this speech by former Ohio Representative Bob McEwen at CPAC 2010 is probably the best speech on effective economic policy I have ever seen.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Two More Pathfinder Society Modules Completed

— Matt Harris @ 5:15 pm

I played PFS #3  – Murder On The Silken Caravan last Saturday and PFS #12 – Stay of Execution yesterday.  Both were with the same DM and used OpenRPG, so I think I have a decent basis for comparison.  About 1/2 the players were the same as well.

PFS #3  – Murder On The Silken Caravan took much, much longer. We started at 9 AM last and finished up a little after 5 PM (without any breaks).  One of the players had to drop out a little after noon, because it was taking too long.  The last combat was just a number crunching exercise.   The big bad would knock a character into negatives, we would heal that person while doing a little bit of damage to him, and then repeat.  We also had a new character (a first level druid) who didn’t take any weapons so after his big snake got put down, he wasn’t a whole lot of use, other than for some healing.  Despite the length, and the fact that my character can’t seem to make any Will saves, I did have fun with the adventure. I think it was the better of the two overall.

PFS #12 – Stay of Execution went a whole lot faster. We started at 3 PM and were done by about 7 PM. However, it seemed little more than a series of semi-related encounters. While I was playing, the following picture and the words "railroad plot" kept popping into my head:

game mastering

That isn’t really fair to the DM, though.  As I normally do, I bought the module afterwards and any railroading is kind of baked-in.  We actually managed to role-play through some of the encounters, despite the module seeming to assume that we would just fight our way through.  After reading the module, I was impressed at how flexible the DM had been. My character’s faction missions were laughable. If you had all of the encounters, they would be completed.  It was a fun adventure, but that was due more to the role-playing skills of the other players and DM than due to the module design.

In prepping for the adventure, I did learn a bit more about OpenRPG. Some of the plug-ins often some nice features (global variables, et. al.) but I definitely think TTopRPG is a better program.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

OpenRPG 1.80 Bug

— Matt Harris @ 1:53 pm

I have been playing around with OpenRPG, and have one real annoyance. The Status Bar Toolbar keeps getting larger (when docked and then undocked), and there is no way I can find to resize it. Vertically it is too large, and horizontally too small.

openrpg status toolbar 11-27-09

On the plus side, it can be turned off and seems to be mostly useless, anyway.

11/28/2009 Update:

Somehow, I managed to turn off the Game Server window and couldn’t get it back; the menu command and Ctrl-B didn’t work.  I finally managed to restore it by replacing layout.xml in the myfiles folder with a copy from a fresh install of OpenRPG. Not only did this restore the ability to pop up the Game Server window, it reset the Status Bar Toolbar.

openrpg_game_server_112809

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Hydra’s Fang Incident

— Matt Harris @ 6:41 pm

I played my fourth Pathfinder Society Game on Saturday, PFS #2 – The Hydra’s Fang Incident. This was with a different GM and different gaming software.

The software used was OpenRPG. This is a cross-platform maptable and chat system.  It was an ok program, but I must admit that I prefer TTopRPG. Part of my preference is due to the fact that TTopRPG has more complete documentation. It looks like OpenRPG has gone through some cycles of development, then near-abandonment and the documentation is fragmented or non-existent.

The game itself was fun.  It was interesting using the same character, but with a different DM.  One interesting thing is that the DM didn’t bother to specify the faction missions. He just said (paraphrasing) that if he finished the adventure, we would finish all of the missions. After I bought the module, I looked at them and he was essentially correct.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Perils Of The Pirate Pact

— Matt Harris @ 5:08 pm

Last night was my third Pathfinder Society Game. Ithuriel, ran PFS #17 – Perils of The Pirate Pact.

It was another fun session.  A little longer than the first one, but not nearly as long as the second.  The length was important, as this was another “red-eye” adventure, starting as Midnight Eastern Time. 

We had six PCs again. There were supposed to be seven, but two were no shows and we had a last minute addition.  From my limited experience, six seems to be the perfect table size.

The plot behind the story was pretty blatant, even though the DM toned down some of the hints.  The combat was the easiest of the three adventures so far. Only one PC went into negative hit points.  The plot was a little more complicated than PFS #7 – Among The Living, but not nearly as much as #10 – Blood At Dralkard Manor. This was more linear – go to one area, have a combat, go to the next area area, have another.

My character’s faction quest actually seemed a little meaningful, in that it really did promote the goals of my faction, albeit in a very minor way.  It was interesting that there were two other Osirion faction members present, so we were all doing the same quest.  That made it really easy, because if any one of us succeeded, we all did.  This morning I bought the module, as usual, and four of the five faction quests seemed like they would be useful to the faction.  Only one (Taldor) seemed like it was really a stretch.

We also used Skype again. I think I prefer the games with a voice chat to those without.

The most important thing is that this was my character’s third adventure, so he leveled ;-). Korvan Winterlight is now Level 2.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blood At Dralkar Manor

— Matt Harris @ 6:05 pm

I played my second Pathfinder Society Game last night. As a special Halloween adventure, Ithuriel (the same DM from the first session), ran PFS #10 – Blood At Dralkard Manor.

It was a long adventure. We spent six hours playing and even then only finished as the DM narrated away some of the slog and grind. The length was a bit of the problem as it was a bit of a “red-eye” adventure. It started at 6AM Athens time (where the DM was located) which is midnight Eastern Standard Time. Most of the players were on Eastern Time I believe. I actually probably had the best time zone (Pacific) – for me the game went from 9 PM to 3 AM. I can’t possibly see how this adventure could be run in four hours, which is the time limit for scenarios at conventions.

Despite the late hour, I think everyone had a good time, although some players had a hard time staying awake. I think the adventure was better written than the last one, PFS #7 – Among the Living. While there was lots of combat, it seemed less linear and more flexible. I bought the adventure afterwards and it did have much more of a plot to it. The adventure didn’t seem to force a specific mix of characters on us either. We had the following:

While combat was very challenging and about half the party ended up going into negative hit points everyone survived.

My character’s faction quest in this adventure (and the last) seemed pretty silly. After reviewing the other faction quests when perusing the module, I think most of them are rather meaningless. Technically, the are supposed to forward some goal of your character’s faction (there are five factions) but most (not all) seem really useless to said faction. I understand the constraints Paizo is under in creating these – the adventures are time limited and the quest needs to be doable in the time allotted without screwing up the game. They still seem trivial, though.

Overall, though, I had a blast. I actually remembered my familiar this time ;-). There is supposed to be another “red-eye” session next Saturday, and I can hardly wait.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Restored The Guestbook

— Matt Harris @ 11:52 am

The previous guestbook was being overwhelmed with spam, so I disabled it many years ago. Part of the site upgrade plan was to redo the guestbook as a WordPress Page, as Spam Karma 2 manages to deal with all of the spam quite nicely.

Creating the page was easy enough, and I was getting it. The difficulty was in linking it properly on the navbar. When I clicked on the navbar link, the entire site would end up nesting inside the main frame, doubling up the navbar:

Nested Navbar

For a long time, I thought this was due to the javascript file I used to make sure the navbar showed up. Turns out it wasn’t – I fixed it by simply having the link target “_parent” as opposed to the main frame.

One more mystery solved. Eventually, I want to get rid of the frames entirely. They are a legacy of the days when this site was strictly static HTML. Still, that is a task for another day.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Upgraded to WordPress 2.8.5

— Matt Harris @ 7:18 pm

Finally upgraded the site to the latest version of WordPress, after I learned that the 2.0 branch, which was supposed to be supported into 2010, was dropped early this year. Upgrading the site was painless. Upgrading my home mirror took about 6 hours, as I ended up having to install new versions of Apache, PHP & MySQL.

Also added a new logo – I think it looks much better than the old logo. Took out a couple of items on the navbar to the left. The links were very outdated, I don’t really use ICQ much anymore and the guestbook didn’t work on my home version of PHP. I plan on switching the guestbook over to a WordPress page sooner or later.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Adventures In Java – The Perils Of Encoding & Decoding

— Matt Harris @ 8:23 pm

A little while ago, I decided to get off my duff (figuratively speaking) and finally learn how to program Java. I installed the latest version of the JDK and Netbeans three weeks ago, did the usual “Hello, World” type programs and then began working in earnest.

I decided that I wanted to do a fanfiction downloader, similar to this program. I condsidered use Netbeans’ GUI builder, but decided to do the GUI coding by hand for my first project, for educational purposes. It was educational…and a pain.

Anyway, I had the following after a couple of hours of work:

Screenshot of Alpha Fiction Downloader

Once that was done, this weekend I began writing the backend code to download stories from fanfiction.net. After another couple of hours, I had something that would download a story – buggy and no error trapping to speak of, but a pretty decent alpha. As part of my testing, I decided to run it outside of the Netbeans IDE. It didn’t work. The stories would download, but they had gibberish in the place of quotes and some other punctuation.

Having be around the web a few times, I figured this was an encoding issue. What I didn’t understand is why it would work perfectly when I ran the program from inside Netbeans and screw up the encoding when I didn’t. I spent hours playing around with the URL and HttpURLConnection classes, without any success. I then stumbled upon a webpage that mentioned that the Scannerclass (which I used to download the webpage) would default to the system’s charset. I added some code to show the current system charset via the Charset.defaultCharset() method. Turns out the inside Netbeans, the charset is “UTF-8”. When I ran program outside the IDE, the charset was “windows-1252”.

Thinking I had solved the problem, I changed the Scanner constructor to use “UTF-8” encoding. I ran the program outside the IDE and the output html was still messed up, but in a different way. I switched the encoding inside my browser for UTF-8 to windows-1252 and everything looked perfect. Turns out the PrintWriter class also uses the system charset as the default. Added UTF-8 encoding to the PrintWriter constructor and things looked good. I decided to test the output file in Firefox (my default browser is Opera) and it rendered just fine. When I tried it in IE 6.0, more garbage. Opera and Firefox recognized the file as being UTF-8, but IE defaulted to my system settings. Added a couple of lines to the header of the file being generated, specifying that it was UTF-8, and even IE 6 read it fine.

I have to admit, I never expected the IDE to use different encoding internally than the system. Despite the several hours of frustration this caused, I had a fun and educational weekend.

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