The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Black authors (black history month)

| February 3, 2017

So, it being February and all, and how social media “friend of a friend” stuff works, someone asked folks what their favorite book by a black author was. So, I answered “Showdown”, by Larry Elder. (I know, a political book? From me? Total surprise, right.). But then I got to thinking, this book is 15 years old at this point. Why don’t I have anything more recent than that? Well:

  1. Wargame and RPG books often only have authors’ names – no pictures or bios. So, for example, I only know that Jerry Grayson is black because they had his head shot next to his bio on the 7th Sea RPG Kickstarter. That stuff is never in the end product.

  2. I’ve been reading stuff mostly digitally for about 10 years. So, unless it’s an author I’ve read in paper, and thus have seen on a book jacket, I have no idea. For example, I’m currently reading Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake, and I have no idea what his skin pigmentation is.

So, anyway, assuming that (2) is becoming more commonplace, I have to ask – does it matter? I mean, if you get a book, that’s just text, aren’t we closer to (and let me borrow a phrase here), judging people not on the color of their skin, but rather on the quality of their arguments (or fiction, or research, or writing; depending on what all you’re reading)? On the flip side, if you don’t know the author’s background, then it’s harder to attempt to consider the source when compensating for prejudices and weighing the validity of arguments. I tend to lean towards the former idea (that is, that the ideas are best considered in isolation, to try and separate yourself from any possible prejudices), but I know that others often feel differently.

Anyone else have an opinion on the topic?

President vs. Prime Minister

| January 19, 2017

I just realized something.. this whole.. disagreement about the recent election has a lot to do with how strangely we do things in this country.

In other countries, they tend to have a President (who handles the diplomatic and statesman-type stuff) and a Prime Minister (who is a policy wonk and does all the beancounter-y stuff). We smush those two together.

Obama was a president.

Hillary Clinton would have been a president.

Trump is no president – but he’d make a decent Prime Minister.

You can disagree on their views, for sure, but I think it’s clear that Clinton’s platform was very focused on the nation as a political entity, and our position on the world stage as viewed from that lens. Trump, on the other hand, is focused on the nation as an economic entity – dollars and cents and the like.

President vs. Prime Minister.

On Post Capitalism…

| August 19, 2015

I found this article to be interesting.. Some thoughts:

  1. As a general case, what he calls “post capitalist” I call “post scarcity”.
  2. He says

    It will need the state to create the framework – just as it created the framework for factory labour, sound currencies and free trade in the early 19th century.

    Why does the state need to even be involved at all, aside from staying out of the way and letting things progress in an organic distributed fashion? If you’re talking about not locking things up as property and focusing on sharing of data, then you don’t need state institutions to facilitate this – you have existing ones to handle resolution of disputes of physical property, but if data is to be open and shared, you don’t need this for the virtual. So, what is the role of the state in this?

  3. This is wrong:

    They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death – but as we saw in New Orleans in 2005, it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.

    Order broke down when the government swooped in and took away the guns that people were using to protect life and property. By disarming the folks keeping order, disorder followed. The government doesn’t keep order. The general citizenry, which has a respect for order and property rights, does.

    Further, legislation designed to protect people (by preventing “price gouging”) caused the government to stop supplies from flowing in to the affected areas (so people wouldn’t be taken advantage of) leading to supply shortages. Just allowing the market to respond would have resulted in goods moved to where they need to be.

Grammar Libertarians Unite!

| September 20, 2014

I’m totally on board with this. Go Larry.

On ebooks

| June 3, 2014

So, |Adam Jury posted an insightful look at ebooks from a publisher’s perspective, which just happens to remind me of this old Jeff Atwood post on codinghorror.

Taking out the parts where Adam talks about what “should” happen, as should is relative, let’s simply talk about the market and, more specifically, my participation in the market, as it is the only part about all of this which I have perfect (or, nearly perfect) knowledge.

Let us also remove discussion of roleplaying game books for right now, because I’ll get to those later. For now, I’m just talking of fiction (essentially – “read once”).

So, let’s take a book I bought recently – Monster Hunter International. The paperback price is $7.19. The Kindle version is $6.83. This is a difference of $0.36. Since I have Amazon Prime, the shipping is free (or, more specifically, a sunk cost, but either way is not relevant here). So, the cost is functionally equivalent from where I sit. Hence, I decide solely based on merits of the medium.

Pro for print:

Pro for ebook:

  • Requires book light to read in bed

And that’s really the difference. Note that I didn’t mention weight – my tablet weighs as much as the book, and you can’t assume that I’ll always have my tablet with me. I always have my phone with me, for sure, but not always my tablet.

Now, I won’t understate the convenience of being able to have a self-illuminating read at night, but I can’t say that convenience trumps the ability to loan a good book to my mother, or let Liz read it without losing the use of my tablet, or stick it on my shelf to be pulled down by my children when they wish to read it. Now, Amazon does have a limited ability to do this without infringing on copyright (since they have permission to do so – if I were to loan someone a PDF, that would constitute copyright infringement), but in doing so, you accept their whole DRM scheme which has its own problems.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I bought the paper book, read it, and loaned it to my mother.

What cost reduction would make me willing to compromise and accept the ebook? From the back of the napkin, I’d say, maximally, 50% of the print book cost. Based on what? Well, Neat is $3, and I’d pay that for a non-loanable book. But, it’s also shorter (scaling it to MHI’s page count would make it a whopping $15), and there’s no print version, so it’s not a totally fair comparison, but I haven’t come across an example where the ebook was so much cheaper that it caused me to buy it instead of the print one (except RPGs, which we’ll get in to below).

Also of note – Neat is available from DriveThruFiction for the same price as Amazon, and is DRM free, so I’d buy that one.

So, now, RPGs.

My thoughts on RPG books (and, indeed, game books in general) are actually more thought out, although a bit more emotional. I typically do the following:

  1. I never just buy the print version. I might just buy the PDF.
  2. If it is interesting and I want to read it, I buy the PDF, typically from DriveThruRPG.
  3. If I’m going to definitely run a game with it, I’ll buy a copy of it, so as to have it for a tableside reference that can be passed around.
  4. If it is a heavily used system (Savage Worlds comes to mind), I’ll typically print a copy of the PDF to put in a binder with those quick tabs and notes in the margins – I call this the “GM’s edition” of the book.
  5. If it is some system or setting about which I’m really excited (and is likely to be played), I’ll often do a print + PDF preorder, because it is common for the bundle to be cheaper than the print version would be at release.

As far as pricing does, I typically expect:

  1. The PDF to cost less than half what the print version does.
  2. The print + PDF bundle to cost no more than $5 more than the print version.

I can’t tell you why these are my expectations – I think it’s mostly how the marketplace has evolved – at least where I buy. See?

Evil Hat does it a little differently, in that ALL print sales are a print + PDF bundle. (Buy the book, get the PDF for free, even if you buy the book in a bookshop). Their pricing is:

And, even though you have to go to two places to get it (and it’s not really a bundle), Shadowrun 5th ed tracks with the same trend:

So, whether or not it’s “fair” this pricing of a DRM-free PDF @ 50% off the print price is really common in that market segment… perhaps, at its root, that is the cause of my expectation that fiction books should be the same?

I guess, in the end, I’ve gotten spoiled by the RPG industry giving me the media that I want in exactly the way I want to consume it, and I want mainstream publishing to step to and do the same.

Reading rainbow

| June 2, 2014

For those that are interested in such things, there is a Reading Rainbow Kickstarter trying to bring it up to date to the modern age (apps, web content, virtual library, etc.). They already have the basics of this, they just want to expand it to more people.

Catching up….

| June 2, 2014

So, yeah, we had company up for the weekend of May 3rd, and then Liz and I did our Mothers’ day brunch on the weekend of the 10th (and my folks were able to come up for that, and to visit with the boys) and the following weekend (May 17th) we were in Newburyport, MA for a baby shower. (As an aside, if you’re ever looking for a cute New England town to hang out in, the Essex Street Inn is a nice accommodation right in the center of town, and they serve a continental breakfast. Plus, there’s plenty to see, walking around, seeing the shops, walking up the coast, etc. Also of note, Not Your Average Joes has a pretty extensive gluten free menu.

The next weekend back (the 24th) was memorial day, and we had to do a big grocery shopping on Saturday. Sunday, we hung out with Liz’s cousin, as they were having a cookout. Monday, I needed to get out and mow the lawn before it got even longer (I likely should have done it the weekend of Mothers’ day, but.. well, it was Mothers’ day, and we had company). Anyway, it still took me about 8 hours to mow it all, the main reason for that was that I weeded the strawberries so that I could put the grass clippings down as weed control. The strawberries did well over the winter, and did not all get over grown (which is what happened when I tried to plant some strawberries in that spot a couple of years ago).

Of course, by the time we finished with that list of activities, the weather had warmed up sufficiently that we aren’t really concerned with planting things in the garden. Peas go in early, and my father in law was generous enough to help with that, but everything else we need to be careful when we put in, as we often get frost up until the second week of June. So, Liz and her Dad put in the lettuce and corn last week, and Liz worked on weeding and mulching about the front garden, completing about half. This weekend, I got her more mulch and played with the boys in the grass out front as she finished the rest of it. I also got the last of the fields tilled, so now they’re all ready for the seedlings which will be planted in roughly the following order:

  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Hot peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • All the other random herbs. (This order is determined by a combination of how large the seedlings currently are, and how frost resistant that plant is – the Pumpkins, Squash and Cukes are pretty hardy, and are currently huge).

We also need to plant the carrots, as I prepped the bed for them this weekend as well. Since carrots take so long to germinate, we use a raised bed (to keep seed infiltration to a minimum) and I fill it with about 2/3rds compost and top dress that with some sterile growing medium or potting soil. It worked well last year, and by virtue of the compost being freshly turned, it is well aerated and easily pushed out of the way by the carrots.

I also upgraded my laptop to Xubuntu 14.04; as always, my install procedure can be found on my GitHub.

On the video game front, I finished X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and am playing a bit of the highly addictive Civilization V. I wasn’t playing on a super easy difficulty (I think I went with “normal”), and, as a result, my civilization is essentially comprised of a few cities surrounded by large empires.

This version is slightly different – happiness can’t be bought off with structures as easily as with previous versions, and trade is immensely more important. It’s different than I’m used to, but that’s not to say that it’s bad – it just took some time for me to learn the new rules. I suppose if I restarted, I would do better, but I’m getting a little bored with it and want to get back to coming up with Savage Worlds Showdown stats for a pile of the miniatures I own.

So, that gets everyone up to speed with what is going on in my world right now. I very much want to blog about other topics (continuing my gaming stories, talking about eBooks and some other topics), but have not yet had the time. Hopefully, by putting down Civ V, I will.

On cell phones

| May 15, 2014

So, Verizon is expensive. Like, stupid expensive. However, they have the best coverage of all of the major carriers, and since I live in a rural area, that kind of means I’m stuck.

Enter Page Plus Cellular. They’re a prepaid cellular provider who buys time on Verizon’s network, so it’s the same network, but different plans. Since Liz and I barely ever use our phones, we are now on “pay as you go” plans, bringing us down from over $100 a month to somewhere in the ballpark of $50 a quarter (depending on usage).

It is also a bring your own device provider, but they only guarantee that their phones will work. However, they also have a large dealer network, and Page Plus Direct (more on them later) maintains a list of compatible phones.

One big caveat – 4G phones are not allowed on their network – those are reserved for Verizon’s customers (and, not their prepaid ones either). (More on this later).

Anyway, Liz’s old phone ported over easily. It’s an old enough iPhone that she could just give them the numbers and it worked just fine.

For my first round, I bought a Huawei Ascend Plus, which also worked just fine.

So, that brings me to the phone. After using it for a couple of weeks, I realized that, while it is a very capable value phone, it is indeed a value phone. The amount of RAM is has is minimal and mostly consumed by the running of the OS, and the amount of storage is equally minimal – once you install more than a couple of apps, you run out of space and can’t install anymore.

I wanted something a little more out of a smartphone, so I put the word out about wanting a used phone (had I thought it through a little more, I would have just bought a used phone through Page Plus Direct initially, but I didn’t). A friend’s daughter was switching to AT&T and therefore had a surplus Samsung Galaxy S3 which I bought from her, and then proceeded to convert over.

My full notes are here, but the gist of it is that I:

Also of note – the folks at Page Plus Direct were really helpful. I had some questions about how all this worked, and a guy named Reed helped me out quite a bit, even though it was only going to mean the $5 ESN change.

Touching base

| March 15, 2014

I haven’t been posting a lot because I’ve had several other side things going on.

The boys continue to do well, growing like crazy, and I have some more pictures and video I need to post.

I’ve got a roughed-out bit of a political post, exploring the financial disincentives for people even at high wage levels to work when you have two non-school-aged children. Current tax policy discourages workforce participation in this regard, and I have the numbers to prove it.

I also have a couple more tales of player silliness in roleplaying games floating around in my back brain that I want to post.

I’ve been working on a Savage Worlds Showdown conversion for Warhammer 40k. Basically, I have a pile of different minis from different lines, and would like to group them by line and have them fight battles. Showdown seems a good way to accomplish this. Of course, I’ll post what I have once I have something to show.

Finally, I started reading Monster Hunter International. Highly recommended for gun nerds and monster movie fans. I mean, in the first chapter, the protagonist’s boss turns in to a werewolf and tries to eat him, so our hero shoots him in the face then pushes him and his desk out a 14 story window. As it turns out, there is already an RPG for it (uses HERO system rules. Not my favorite, but solid), which is likely worth picking up if only for all the fluff to use to do a SW port – this type of monster hunter game is exactly where SW shines. Heck, a Showdown scenario where you’re breaking up a den of vampires or whatnot would be awesome.

So, anyway, that’s what’s doing.

So, yeah, it was cold

| December 21, 2013

This past weekend, specifically, 14 Dec, it was really cold. This photo was taken at noon, and so was pretty close to the high for the day at our house. I took this after I finished my morning errands and got home before the snow started.

Car thermometer

Car thermometer

7oF is -13.8o to the rest of the world.

It should also be noted that the boys were born on am (apparently) record-setting cold night. At 3AM, another nursery nurse was called in because there were now going to be too many babies for a single nurse to handle. Anyway, she said that her car was saying that it was -2oF (-18o).

Then, between Saturday and Sunday, we got somewhere in the ballpark of 8 inches of snow.

Snow (panoramic, click for fullsize)

Snow (panoramic, click for fullsize)

Diesel was quite happy to play in the snow

Diesel was quite happy to play in the snow