Thursday, May 29, 2008

Does anyone want to play a game?

There is a play by e-mail role playing game that I've been involved in over the past couple years. The guy running it is in England, and he is thinking of getting his setting published. The online games is turning into a playtest, and is now resetting itself to use a new set of rules, Fudge RPG (Wikipedia), which is considered a rules-lite set of rules.)

Anyway, if you are interested in role playing games, or writing fiction (role playing games are essentially interactive fiction), and might be interested, take a look. My character is a fairly low level type, with an established place in his society. The archives are online so you can have a sense of play, which is as much social as combat (actually, you don't have to be a combat type at all to have a place.)

The setting is Kalyr, which is a pre-industrial setting. Information is at the Kalyr playtest site including the current draft of character generation rules and setting information. The Kalyr blog has some entries with samples of play as well as some of the experimentation that he has done using the game (I am in a post on conflict resolution).

And let me know. I can walk you through character creation, and joining up in the game would be an option too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bush Assails ‘Appeasement,’ Touching Off Storm

New York Times

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. - Winston Churchill (1954)

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. - John F. Kennedy (1961)

In a speech to the Israeli Knesset, President Bush said (quoted in the New York Times)

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along, . . . We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

It is a sound bite, but high school logic and rhetoric students will recognize it as a strawman argument. The purpose of speaking to opponents is not to persuade, but to understand. And the purpose of understanding is not to pretend that differences don't exist, but to make sure that we determine what the differences really are, and that noone has false assumptions about the severity. To forget this is to get into needless fights, make enemies out of those who would not otherwise be, make enemies out of friends, and make friends turn away.

Barack Obama has been criticized in the past for stating a situation that would lead him to order an attack on a sovereign country. The reality is that part of the role of leaders of sovereign nations is the decision to defend or pursue identified interests, and this includes the use of deadly force, and the placing at risk of its young men and women. In modern history (and probably also in history going to antiquity) few of those who became heads of government for any length of time have avoided this question. The question for nations is how to choose those people who make that decision and for what reasons. In democracies (of any form) the decision is made by citizen voting for its representatives (directly or indirectly). To think that there is no reason to go to war is denial, and it is a statement that nothing is of value, including your lives. But it should be a choice made soberly and wisely. As Churchill states, speaking is better than war. But he was also a man who was perfectly capable of using his time in jaw-jaw to make the choice to go to war.

In a democracy, people use many criteria for voting for a leader. Many of these are issues. But reality is situations change over time, even the short time of the term of a U.S. President. What we are electing are how people make decisions and their values. And one of the things we are voting for is a thought process and criteria on the use of force.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Modern Love: May I Have This Dance?

New York Times - Modern Love: May I Have This Dance? by Owen Powell

This week's Modern Love column is by Sergeant Owen Powell, an MP who has returned from an Iraq deployment and has now been assigned to Brooklyn New York. And he talks of being at war, the boredom, the banality, and thinking about his wife, and all the other little things he thought of to pass the time. I love his comment summerizing his experience:

It was everything I had ever hoped to experience in the military. It really was. Not that I would ever choose to do it again.

But the conclusion is a wonderful thing. While he may have whiled away his hours thinking of a famous pretty actress (whose identity is rather besides the point) and all of the things like dancing or romantic dinners they could be doing together (or not doing together, as some of his fantasies involve being dumped. I imagine that if you are being dumped in your dreams, life is not the greatest).

He goes on to talk about our celebrity and banality obsessed culture, one that we have more understanding of lives of people we only know on the TV screen then our neighbors.

But, then he also talks about being actually home. Not the United States that existed on TV, newspapers, or his dreams, but the real home. And in the city that the actress that he dreamed about was. But it turns out, dreams don't hold up against reality. And the reality is that he lives and goes home each night not to excitement, or dreams, but to his wife. And spends his Saturday's on a couch with his wife. And he is happy.

Next to that, dreams have no wonder for him. Not of the excitement of New York City in the skyline. Not the thoughts of a beautiful famous actress. And one month away, I'm looking forward to some of the same.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Telegraph (UK): China earthquake: Mudslides bury 200 relief workers

China earthquake: Mudslides bury 200 relief workers

On Monday, May 12 an earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan Province in China. It is feared some 70,000 dead and unknown numbers made homeless by this. Sichuan province is in the central part of China (Google imagery) (KML) , and the region is very mountainous, making access difficult in normal times, and downright treacherous during periods of geological instability as roads, bridges, and infrastructure are damaged to an unknown extent. The damage and difficulty is difficult to imagine, especially for westerners. The biggest events for Americans to compare to are the 2001 World Trade Center attack and 2005 Hurricane Katrina. But each of these only had a few thousand dead. The scale of the China earthquake and the Mynmar cyclone is beyond scale.

The China earthquake is remarkable for the government response. The free flow of information, in fact Sichuan province's openness with disseminating accurate information is amazing for a generally suspicious and paranoid government. The publicized punishment of a few local and regional party officials who made attempts to hide issues is another sign that this is being handled very differently then SARS and Harbin, which is a sign of lessons were observed, and even learned. Another notable response was the bringing in outsiders, in this case Japanese and Taiwanese disaster response and relief teams (I believe they were the national Red Cross societies and the Tzu Chi Foundation) were allowed in the country to assist with rescue and relief. The contrast with previous disasters, or especially the current Myanmar regieme is striking, and encouraging.

There is difficult work ahead. Many areas have yet to be reached, a difficulty remeniscient of the difficulty in reaching parts of the Louisiana Bayou after all roads were destroyed in 2005. Large populations are without infrastructure, including shelter, water and sanitation facilities. Disease becomes a major issue. And, in a mountainous area, roads and the very geography is unstable (see Visualizing China's Sichuan Earthquake in Google Earth blog). It is a serious business, underscored by reports of 200+ relief workers feard dead in landslides and other events. The United States Coast Guard has an unofficial motto "you have to go out, but you don't have to come back." The more sober of us realize that if the situation was not somewhat dangerous, we would not be there in the first place. And for all the others still at work, godspeed and stay safe.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The world of Google

I'm slowly turning into a Google fan boy. Let's see, what started it all. Well, there was this blog, which started life as semi-secure and compartmentized from the rest of my life, which meant a nice new internet accounts that did not have the account name I've been using since my college days. Then the email address that came with it. But the kicker was wedding planning. Since there are two of us, Google Docs became the way both of us could work on the same spreadsheet or text document and keep track of the changes.

Now, that is not so hard. But wait, there is more. With Google Docs came Google Calendar, because it was just easier to use the same calendar. And it supports .ics files, which meant everything on Google Calendar, was also automatically sent to my Mac at home (and then to my iPod and Palm).

And now that I bought another computer, some other things just help. GMail uses IMAP, which means that every IMAP client logging into the same account sees the same thing, what is on the server. So now I have email on the web, on my Mac, and on my Linux laptop and no problems syncronizing. Google Gears puts everything I have on Google docs saved on my desktop(s) so I can work offline on any machine, and it gets saved and synced to all the others. And all this just works, using Thunderbird on Mac or Windows, iCal on the Mac, and Evolution on Linux.

And I've just discovered Remember the Milk, which works via Google calendar, email, text message, or whatever way I can get something on the internet, and goes out to Calendar, Thunderbird, Evolution, iGoogle, etc. One Todo list that goes everywhere.

This single data store stuff is getting to be nice, especially since I have a particularly disorganized life right now.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Eclipse on the Hardy Heron (Ubuntu)

I took a bit of time with all the unpacking to getting my laptop up and running again. It seemed that the swap partition died, so I reinstalled everything. Well, at least I reinstalled Ubuntu, reinstalling Windows looks difficult. The first thing that I did after I reinstalled Ubuntu was run the Update Manager, which gave the option of upgrading to Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron). Well, if it is that easy, go for it. So I now have Hardy Heron on my laptop.

So for the past week, I've been upgrading packages, and figuring out what I need to get my system up. Most of it is pretty easy, just use the Ubuntu Synaptic Package manager and a few judicious searches get everything. And I got a few extras like Picasa and Google Earth. Evolution is now setup to use my Gmail and Google Calendar accounts. So almost all is good.

The big hiccup was getting Eclipse running. It was in the Ubuntu repositories, so I tried to load it from there. Problem, Ubuntu had Eclipse 3.2. The current version is 3.3, with 3.4 on the way. And the jump from 3.2 to 3.3 was big enough that some major applications that run in Eclipse require it. So I had to remove Eclipse 3.2 using the package manager, and install Eclipse from the website, just like I do with Windows. Annoying.

So, what do I have on Eclipse. Pydev is a must, as Python is my standard development language. Texlipse for LaTeX. Subclipse to use Subversion for source code. And StatET, for using with R (I've never used StatET before). And there are a couple other gotchas when installing Eclipse (like the need to have a directory $HOME/.mozilla/eclipse existing) that I would not have been able to figure out without some judicious web surfing). But just about everything is there now. I may not bother installing the Windows, but I may as well.