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Archive for November, 2020

‘The Last Waltz’ Is The Best Thanksgiving Movie Ever Made

Friday, November 27th, 2020

I extremely randomly put on The Last Waltz yesterday. Miranda and I have had the song Ophelia in our heads for weeks after seeing a cover band play it, and that our friends have a new baby named Ophelia.

The Band plays Ophelia in their seminal concert:

But I absolutely did not remember that some of first spoken words in that movie were:

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Quite the coincidence, since it was Thanksgiving day. It was the 44th anniversary of The Last Waltz. I was web searching around about it, and found a fun article from Steven Hyden at Uproxx:

The guest list at this party is truly a mixed bag. There is a wise old man from Mississippi. There is a beautiful blonde poet from the Hollywood hills. There is a jive-talking hipster from New Orleans. There is a coked-up Canadian hippie. There is a portly, purple-suited Irishman who mistakenly believes that he knows karate. And then there’s the Jewish rock star for Minnesota who can’t decide if he really wants to be there.

Thus far, it sounds like I’m describing a Wes Anderson film. 

And yet — in spite of the resentments, and the betrayals, and the intensifying intoxication — everyone is able to come together and conjure a feeling of community. When they gather around to tell old family stories that have been told and re-told umpteen times — like the one about Jack Ruby, or the one about shoplifting bologna and cigarettes — the brothers pretend to laugh whenever the overbearing brother takes over the conversation. (The upside of being on stage is that you can turn off his microphone.) After a while, the laughs seem less forced. They’re faking it so well that they start to feel actual community and love and understanding. This is what The Last Waltz, and Thanksgiving, is all about.

The Tenuous Promise of the Substack Dream

Friday, November 27th, 2020

I’m super intrigued by Substack for the same reason everyone is: there seems to be money there. Steven Levy’s article at WIRED gets into it. Here’s a bit from Casey Newton, who wrote newsletters for Vox:

[Casey] sees newsletters as something he’ll be doing for his whole career. And if he draws a relatively modest paying audience, he can match his previous salary. “I only need to have 3,000 subscribers to have the best job in journalism,” he says.

A lot of paid newsletters are asking $100/year. With 3,000 subscribers, that’s $300,000. Even with Substack taking 10% off the top, that’s $270,000/year, which is very very good money. I think you need to build an audience first in order to make it work, but once you have, knowing there is a tool that’s working for people at this scale is mighty appealing.

I feel like I’ve got too many things going on to try it right now, but I’m sure I’ll be writing about the web forever, so maybe I’ll it after my first retirement. I’d attempt to do it by making big promises about delivering educational value. (Tech-wise, though, I’m sure I’ll be tempted to manage it myself.)

Steven doesn’t think the stars will stick around for long, just because the better writer you are…

… big talents ultimately seek bigger stacks.

Which makes sense to me. Money is cool, but so is fame, and your fame is gonna fade if the only people you talk to is the sub 1% of people you converted over to this new model.

Rollerblade Wheels for Office Chairs

Friday, November 27th, 2020

Speaking of little improvements to chairsDaniel Aleksandersen:

I swapped out my boring old office chair double-wheeled castors for rollerblade-style wheels. I didn’t quite know what I expected, but I’m happier with my chair. The new wheels also as the potential for a minuscule improve my health; so what’s not to like?

Who knew? I gotta try it. I went with these:

They have 4.8/5 average with over 10,000 ratings on Amazon, so they aren’t exactly a secret.

Lava Lamp Encryption

Friday, November 27th, 2020

From 2017, Joshua Liebow-Feeser on the Cloudflare Blog, about using the randomness of Lava Lamps for crypto randomization:

The flow of the “lava” in a lava lamp is very unpredictable, and so the entropy in those lamps is incredibly high. Even if we conservatively assume that the camera has a resolution of 100×100 pixels (of course it’s actually much higher) and that an attacker can guess the value of any pixel of that image to within one bit of precision (e.g., they know that a particular pixel has a red value of either 123 or 124, but they aren’t sure which it is), then the total amount of entropy produced by the image is 100x100x3 = 30,000 bits (the x3 is because each pixel comprises three values – a red, a green, and a blue channel). This is orders of magnitude more entropy than we need.

Cool.

(via Garbage Day)

Man to Man

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

My wife sent me the story My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me. from Wil S. Hylton to listen to. It’s pretty intense. Ultimately it’s a story about masculinity and how it plays out in two different men.

Part of the ending:

The Pantheon of Male Tropes… Masculinity is a religion. It’s a compendium of saints. The vaunted patriarch. The taciturn cowboy. The errant knight. The reluctant hero. Gentle giant. And omniscient father.

It reminds me of a random comment-and-reply I saw on Reddit the other day. Someone posted about their dad and pandemic times, saying that he’s been a rock since the 70’s, but has started to admit he is depressed. Someone responded saying that all dads who have been a total rock since the 70’s are depressed.

Why We Play (Gemstone)

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

I’ve mentioned over on ShopTalk Show a times (here’s one) that I’ve been playing (again) a text-based MMORPG called Gemstone IV. I wrote a nostolgia-powered blog post about the game over 10 years ago right here, so, uh, wow. It’s been a while. The game still inspires nostoliga-powered blog posts, like Elizabeth Landau’s I Had My First Kiss in GemStone III, published just this year.

On one hand, it’s amazing the game still exists. A text-based game is probably a bit of a hard sell for gamers these days. On the other, the game is straight-up amazing, and the ways you engage with it can be so rich (more on that later) that perhaps it’s not amazing at all that the game still not only exists today, but in many ways, is thriving (lots of live events, new areas, entire new mechanical systems, and post-level-cap development, all have been released in the last 6 months or so). The text-based approach might even feel fresh to some.

Ever since I first “rolled” a character, I’d play the game in spirts. I’d play somewhat intensely for a while (like, many hours every day) and then quit for months or years. The game requires a non-trivial monthly subscription per account (you need multiple accounts if you want to play multiple characters at the same time, which can be fun). So when you quit, you entirely deactivate and literally can’t play until you reactivate.

The reason I come back is always random. A discussion with friends inspired a spurt once where we all came back together. This time, I somehow stumbled across that the game had a podcast now. I love podcasts!

The podcast is called Town Square Central, named after an iconic location in the game. I can link to it now, but it didn’t really have a normal website home when I found it, so I offered to build that super basic one you see there. Thank god for how easy it is to toss up WordPress.com sites.

I was immediately hooked after listening to Stop and Smell the Kobolds. I reactivated right away. The host (who, to this day, I don’t know his real name), goes by his bard character’s name: Milax. This episode is a real love letter to how interesting this game is. Kobolds are level 1 creatures in Gemstone that have been around forever. Despite being so old and low-level, they are incredibly interesting. They are dumb, so they do dumb things like attack each other. But then they apologize to each other for it! But are they so dumb? They quote Shakespeare when they see a friend die. They are wonderfully interactive and creative and just the kind of thing that gives this game depth. And the way Milax introduced all this in that episode was just excellent.

The show has a Patreon, so I did that, as I wanted to support something that I was loving so much. That got me chatting with Milax, and, six months later, I had the pleasure of joining him on the show in an episode called Why We Play.

The idea behind that was that, as I was getting back into the game, I wanted to see if my web skills could be of any use. See, you need a client to play this game, and not only that, you need a Ruby-based scripting client you have to run locally to connect first, and the client works through that. There are official clients and third-party clients, and in my opinion, all of them are kind of bad. Not unusable, just not nice. One of the third-party clients runs right in the terminal, which I thought was a pretty cool approach to it. But I was hoping to do something a bit more visual and be able to use HTML/CSS/JavaScript. I thought Flutter might be fun, because it’s so cross-platform friendly, but maybe too ambitious for a first-project.

In fact, the whole idea was starting to feel too ambitious when I ran across someone else, Benjamin Clos, who was also interested in building a new front-end and was much further along. Illthorn, his baby, was already playable when I got involved. Benjamin has done by far the bulk of the work, but I was able to come in and do some of the design work and light functionality, which is where I feel most useful anyway.

I commissioned an icon for it:

And built out some themes:

The way I was engaging with the game was:

Turns out, that combination of ways to engage with the game is unique, but no more unique than anyone else’s. Other’s I’ve met along the way are absolutely obsessed with the games mechanics. Even the point of having their own Patreon’s for building complex spreadsheets to help with character training choices. Some people are invested into the economy so much they make real-world money doing so. Some people, many people, come for the roleplaying aspects and could care less about anything else.

That’s what Milax and I got into in Why We Play. Perhaps most games in the world people engage with them and extract fun from them in largely the same way. Not this game!

Chairs

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

My wife bought some little felt pads to go under our dining room chairs. They were probably like, a few bucks. They are really nice!

They made the chair slide across the wood floor a bit more quietly and nicely, not to mention scratch it up less.

While we were putting them on, I was like, ya know what, I’m going to get out the hex wrenches and tighten up all the bolts on these chairs.

I didn’t really notice before, but now that we were improving the chairs with little fixes and I was paying attention to the feel of the chairs, they really were quite wobbly. A quick few twists of tightening on all the bolts made them feel strong and sturdy and almost like new again.

It feels great to do these little tasks that increase the quality of life around the dining room table a little bit.

But did we just do them randomly? Nope, we were doing them because we had the floors in the house re-finished, and we were moving the dining room table and chairs back into the room.

Sometimes little fixes that you could do anytime only get done when really big stuff happens around them. I find that so true with web work. I could work on any aspect of any of my sites at any time, but I tend not to. I work on the small stuff surrounding the big stuff that is also being worked on.

In Tune: A Community of Musicians

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

I miss old-time and bluegrass festivals (reminder: they’re different!) so much. There was a time in my life that my mental state was “life is just something I have to do between festivals”. I miraculously have old-time musician friends here in Bend, but of course, we haven’t been getting together at all during the pandemic. I love a good documentary anytime, especially about my favorite music, but especially now. Or any video of people playing, really.

Thanks, West Virginia Public Broadcasting:

I’m also aware that that the music is absolutely dominated by white people (that documentary is 100% white, by my count), despite that not being the roots. I appreciate The Ashokan Center for running events like African Traditions in American Roots Music:

You probably know the banjo’s African roots, but there’s so much more to learn about the profound rhythmic and melodic influence of African musicians in American roots music throughout history and today. Join fiddler and banjoist Jake Blount (RI), percussionist and storyteller Joakim Lartey (NY), and musician and educator Brandi Pace (TX) for a great conversation and maybe a few tunes.

(I linked up the awesome people leading the conversation names to their personal sites.)

I missed it live, but bought the recording. There is some great stuff to learn in there, like Jake Blount talking about the financial incentives that musicians had once the recording industry came along. It ended up such that black musicians were incentivized to play different sorts of music than white musicians were, which means far less crossover and genre-mixing than there naturally is. Aside from the loss of potentially more interesting and diverse music, it has led to misconceptions, like that black people weren’t a part of this style of music (“hillbilly music” it was literally called) all along.

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