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While I was away doing family stuff in Florida (again), there was an enormous comment-spam flood.  Nearly all of it was caught by my spam filter, but that was still 352 messages I had to delete from the filter’s trap, not to mention 352 e-mails asking me to approve or disapprove them.  And it kept coming.  So I turned off commenting completely as a temporary measure.

Then, several days later, I flipped the comments back on.  In fifteen seconds, I had four more comment spams, and these got past the spam filter, as inevitably they will, sooner or later.  So I flipped the comments back off.  Now I’m feeling a profound disinclination to ever re-enable them.  Yes, that’s letting the bastards win, but I only have so much energy to fight them.

So that’s why comments have been turned off.  No estimates regarding when they’ll be back.

En Passant

Last night, during a small window of down time (the first in almost a week), I fired up Freeverse‘s entirely free yet thoroughly gorgeous Big Bang Chess.  Now, it should be stated right up front that I’m not really a fan of chess.  Oh, sure, Game of Kings and all that, but generally I find it to be an almost even mixture of boredom and frustration.  The latter is particularly true because I’m just not very good at the game.  There’s too much going on, and I have to juggle too many things that might or might not happen, for it to be much fun for me.

But I was looking to keep myself occupied for a few minutes, and I have very few games installed on the laptop, so Big Bang Chess got the nod.  I immediately cranked the AI setting all the way over to the left (thus elevating fast thinking above smart thinking) and started playing.  As I blew through a few quick matches, it occurred to me that there are a few things that a computer chess game could do to make me more interested.

Human-like turn lengths for the AI.

One of the things that most often frustrates me about computer chess is that the AI will make a move within seconds of my making a move.  More often, it will do so immediately.  Then I sit there, thinking my slow organic thoughts, feeling vaguely stupid for being such a slowpoke even though I know there’s no direct comparison.  Eventually, I make a move.  Instantly, the computer makes its move.  My first reaction is, “That was awfully quick.  Was he waiting for the move I just made?  Did I just walk into a trap?  What am I missing?”  And then I go hunting around the board, not sure where to look, not sure that there’s even anything to see.

I’m aware that the computer needs only a fraction of a second to run through possible moves and pick one.  If it’s a really advanced system, it may take 20 or 30 seconds as it looks five moves ahead.  If the computer took a human amount of time before moving, say a few minutes, I’d feel more at ease.  Yes, I know that means having the computer pick a move and then do absolutely nothing for a few minutes.  I don’t care.  This is purely a matter of acting in a manner that makes me more comfortable, and therefore more likely to enjoy the entire process.  The UI could have a “go ahead and move” button tucked away in a corner for me to use if I ever got tired of waiting.

I realized this was what I wanted when I asked myself why I was setting the AI to be quick at the expense of being smart.  Aside from making it more likely that I’d win, I realized it was because I felt like if the computer was going to move at a speed that, subjectively, seemed reckless and devoid of consideration, then its moves should reflect that.  And they do.  But even if I set the AI to be as smart as possible, it’s still going to seem to me like it’s moving without putting much thought into its game.

So put up a picture of an opponent who looks around the board, holds a chin in his or her hand as if pondering deep thoughts, leans back in reflection, and generally acts like it’s still thinking even though it picked a move three minutes ago.  It will make the game more enjoyable.

An option to show all of the squares that any enemy piece can reach.

Part of my problem in chess is that I don’t have the patience to figure out whether a given square I’m considering occupying (or piece I’m thinking about taking) is already covered.  That’s largely due to all the possible ways a square can be covered.  Is there a knight within striking distance?  Can a bishop jump over from the other side of the board?  And so on.  It isn’t that I can’t manage this mental feat.  It’s just that I have little interest in doing so for every single last square that interests me, turn after turn.  So if a game tinted all enemy-reachable squares red, for example, I’d have a much better grasp of the strategic situation.

This would obviously be an option in the preferences, albeit one I’d never disable.  Having a similar “tint all squares my pieces can reach” option would be cool, too.  It would be even better if the amount of tinting of a square was based on the number of pieces that could move to it.

This kind of visualization would keep me from making stupid mistakes, and mean a lot less use of the “Undo move” option.  Who knows?  Maybe with enough play in that mode, I’d eventually reach the point where I didn’t need the help.

The ability to somehow create variant games.

Back in high school, I was a member of the chess club, mostly because a lot of my friends were members.  Also because I still bought into the idea that the really smart people played chess, and I wanted to be really smart.  We had a few variant games that I remember fondly, and it would be fun to have them reborn.  My favorite was Nuclear Chess.  In that one, any piece could instead of moving choose to self-detonate, destroying itself and any pieces in adjacent squares.  (Of course, if you did that with your King, you lost the game—unless you took out the opposing King, in which case it was a tie.)  And then there was Thermonuclear Chess, where any piece could make a normal move and then immediately detonate.

They were quick games.  Lots of fun, too.  The nature of the game changes dramatically when you have to make sure an opposing piece can’t just plow into your pawn line and immediately detonate, thus wiping out your King in the process.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how one could open up a chess game’s architecture to allow the creation of variants like that, but I’d love to see it happen.

Just some random thoughts on a game I don’t really like.  If you want to talk Checkers, though…

UI9

A blurry image of the display panel of another digital camera, which shows that camera is pointed at the display panel of yet another digital camera.

Regular Expression Help

Some time ago, Simon Willison pointed out a very cool bookmarklet that helps solve the “I have one password for all my public sites” problem.  This is where someone picks a password they can remember, and then uses that as the password for their accounts on Amazon, eBay, Hotmail, Netflix, et cetera.  This is one of those things that security experts tell you never to do, and yet just about everyone does, because given the plethora of accounts most of us maintain, there’s no way we could keep track of which password goes with which account unless it was all written down somewhere… and that’s something the security experts insist that you never, ever do.

So the bookmarklet takes your ‘master password’, crosses it with the domain of the site, and generates an MD5-based result.  So let’s assume meyerweb had accounts.  You would fire off the bookmarklet, which would ask you type in your master password.  So let’s say your master password is ‘passwd'; this is combined with www.meyerweb.com and the resulting password is 68573552.  On the other hand, if you just use meyerweb.com, the result is 92938a6e

Now, while those aren’t the most secure possible passwords, they’re a lot more secure than ‘passwd’.  So I’d like to make use of this bookmarklet.  Fine, great.  The problem is what you just saw: the generated password changes if the full host and domain name bit changes.  This could be a problem if, say, amazon.com suddenly starts routing all logins to a server named login.amazon.com… or vice versa.  So I’d like to adapt the bookmarklet so it grabs just the domain and TLD (I probably got those terms wrong; I usually do) of a URL.  Problem is, I can’t write regular expressions for squat.  I don’t even understand how the regexp in the existing bookmarklet works.

So, a little help, please?  Given the form http://www.domain.tld/blah/foo/wow.xyz, I want the regexp to return just domain.tld.  Just leave a solution in the comments, and you’ll earn the respect and adulation of your peers.  At least those of them who read the comments.

Mazel Tov!

Kat, Carolyn, and I send our good wishes and heartfelt congratulations to Jeffrey Zeldman and Carrie Bickner on the birth of their daughter, Ava Marie Zeldman.

Let the “valid and well-formed” jokes commence.

Automated Language Setting

Over dinner this evening, I wondered why it is that bank ATMs always have to ask me what language I prefer.  Why not just encode my language preference on the card’s magnetic strip, so that when I insert the card into the machine it immediately knows what language to use?

It was, of course, too obvious an idea for me to have had it first: Why Not? has a post proposing the same idea just over a year ago.  The followup comments pretty much covered all the related ideas that came up as well.

So while it turns out I don’t get points for having the idea first, the question still remains: why don’t ATM cards (and the ATMs themselves) offer this capability?

Update: I forgot to enable comments, so a few people have e-mailed me to say that Bank of America ATMs do in fact let you set your language preferences, along with several other options.  Apparently these settings only carry to other BoA ATMs, so I suspect it’s data being stored in their database instead of being written onto the card itself.  It would be nicer if the card could carry that information and have it recognized by all ATMs, but I suppose we get these things one step at a time.

Bay City Roller Coaster

Yesterday I returned from a whirlwind four days in San Francisco.  The primary reason for the trip was to conduct training for folks at the California Digital Library, but of course all kinds of other things happened.  Here’s the brain dump.

  • I can’t believe what great friends we have.  At a Sunday afternoon party at the gotomedia pad, we were joined by college friends from Oregon, others who live a four-hour drive from San Francisco, and another from Cleveland.  You read that right: one of our local friends flew out to the Bay Area to be at the party.  Well, that and to take a vacation in California, but still!  And that doesn’t even count the WaSP folks who also attended, like Simon, Porter, and Molly, who came from Kansas, Washington DC, and Arizona respectively.

    It was at the same party that I finally met Porter’s wife, so I can now stop referring to her as “Porter’s imaginary spouse.”

  • If there’s one thing I envy about San Francisco, it’s the BART system.  You can get darned near anywhere, and it makes commuting from the city over to Oakland a snap.  This is particularly true when your hotel is on a stop, and so is the place you’re headed.  Despite this, I still got turned around in downtown Oakland and was very nearly late for the second day of training.  The only reason I was able to find the place at all was that we’d walked over to the training facility the day before, so I was able to identify and use landmarks to reconstruct our path, and thus find the labs.

  • It turns out the BART ticket machines run on Windows.  I found this out by the usual method, of course. A picture of the screen on a BART ticket terminal with a Windows error dialog indicating a C++ crash.

  • In a conversation about the presidential campaign and Ohio being considered a key battleground state because of its employment situation and political complexity, one of my hosts opined, “The Bay Area pretty much spans the political spectrum from liberal to extremely liberal.”

  • At the WaSP and Friends after-dinner party on Tuesday, Tantek publicly announced his departure from Microsoft.  He refused to say where he was going next, although we’ve since learned that he’s headed to Technorati.  By Wednesday evening, I’d actually come to that conclusion without having seen the post, but of course I didn’t manage to post until now, so I look like a poser instead of eerily prescient… although if you’d take the word of a VP at Macromedia, he could attest to my prediction.

    Like others, in a way I’m sorry to see Microsoft losing such a passionate, intelligent, and committed standards advocate.  We could speculate all day as to whether or not there’s even room for people like him, but one could assume the same about AOL, and they funded a whole standards team for a few years.  In any case, Tantek firmly believes this is the right thing for him to do and seems happy with the life change it represents, so I can’t be anything but happy for him.  I can’t wait to see what he does at Technorati (and really hope the service stabilizes in the near future).

  • I spent a goodly portion of Tuesday evening talking, at various stages, with Rebecca Blood about the Web, adoption, growing up in the Midwest, and more.  On my flight home Thursday, I was delighted to discover a mini-profile of her in a Time article titled “Meet Joe Blog.”  It’s kind of a weird feeling to open a national magazine and read about someone you’d talked to just two days before.

  • Not only did Metagrrrl spend some time with my laptop at the party, so did Min Jung Kim.  Geez, this thing gets more action than I ever did.

  • At one point during the party, someone was copying a movie to his or her laptop.  I observed this activity for a few moments, then turned to Jonas Luster (who managed to get a picture of me drinking some MS kool-aid) and said, “You know, in Soviet America, the movies rip YOU!”

    Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Seeking In Seattle

A heads-up for readers in the Seattle area: FASA Studios is looking to hire an “HTML / CSS Specialist (Strong in Usability)” contractor.  FASA—man, that name takes me back to the old Star Trek tabletop games.  They also published two Xbox games I particularly enjoy, Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge and MechAssault.  (The teaser tagline for MechAssault was great: “Machines have evolved. Man hasn’t.”)  Anyway, the posting says that “This individual should be passionate about games and any experience working with game related websites will be a plus…”  Let’s see, being able to work with a game studio and create standards-oriented designs.  It almost makes me wish I lived out there.

Ordinarily I’d have let this slide, as I don’t intend to make this an employment board, except the combination of CSS skills and the name FASA really caught my eye and my inner geek forced me to post.

November 2014
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