Fail2Ban

Virginia will be enacting some kind of “assault weapons” ban soon. Bans really bother me. They’re generally not very useful, especially if the thing you’re banning is pervasive.

We got here for obvious reasons: I mean, we do have a gun violence problem. The thing everyone’s afraid of – mass shooters armed with AR-15 rifles – accounts for a considerably smaller number of deaths than low-cost handguns, but so what, a few deaths here and there in certain parts of town every single hour of the day are less relevant than the ones in the nicer parts of town. Those make for better news. Also if we addressed our suicide problem, we’d have to make the insurance companies pay for mental health treatment, which would make them less rich; and we’d have to accept people with mental illness are worthy of treatment, not jokes and scorn, and we’d have to confront our own demons.

At any rate, the problem overall with bans is our federal system makes them sorta dumb. We do the same thing right now with marijuana, and it works out exactly the same. Consider:

You live in a state, A,  with a complete ban on substance X. Next door and accessible via mass transit is state B, a state with full decriminalization of substance X.

Moreover, B has a robust and safe infrastructure for purchasing substance X. You just hop on the mass transit system, go to some object of interest right across the border, and a phone call and about an hour later, you have a quantity of substance X. And not just a ziplock bag with something in it you hope is substance X; you ordered a specific type with known, defined-up-front strength. It’s on the label, tested.

You pick up your product(s), then go back across the border. No one notices or cares, because you can’t really even legally buy a consequential amount. You aren’t allowed to buy a fucking kilo of substance X. The legal amount you can buy fits in a jacket pocket. There is no odor; it’s in a sealed package. As long as you wait until you get home, you’re just a regular citizen doing regular citizen stuff.

Firearms bans currently work like that, except for the extra effort of moving hunks of metal around.

So that’s problem A. It does reduce violence, to be sure, but thanks to straw purchases and general illegal behavior, it doesn’t stop the thing you’re trying to stop.

Problem B is the firearms community itself. Poisoned by the scum terrorists of the NRA and MAGA types, it became impossible to promote reasonable, effective nation-wide controls. So we get dumb local bans.

A lot of people were and are willing to accept a wide array of controls on firearms ownership. As an example, I think “assault weapons” should be controlled under the National Firearms Act: you should have to obtain special dispensation, so to speak, to obtain one. A more comprehensive background check and an extra fee are the primary indignation.

“Obviously this is the prelude to confiscation and disarmament”, said the same people who believe in black helicopters and FEMA camps, but don’t believe in climate change, and so nothing got done.

Thanks to their bullshit worldview, I get a ban. I can’t leave the state (as in, move away) for a bunch of reasons, probably not for a couple decades. So now I get nothing, instead of “whatever the fuck I want, within a reasonable framework to ensure public safety”.

Bans are of course predicated on legislative control. Virginia is currently a “purple” state, trending towards blue. We’re also an “old South” state who could have led the way in sensible legislation. Naw, the NRA – who, and I cannot stress this enough, are terrorists and racists – are headquartered here. But also, we might turn red next session. They’ll just overturn it. Congrats, you did nothing.

A final note about bans. Not everything is straw purchase of a complete firearm. You can just hop on the road, and a short drive away to a non-ban state next door, purchase all the geegaws for your AR you want. They take up a little more space but they’re just parts. They look like nothing; springs or a piece of plastic. You don’t need an ID to buy an AR15 trigger or collapsible stock. Then you just lark back across the border and assemble. Obviously you need the “gun part” – the lower receiver, thanks to our dumb firearms laws – but they’re freakishly cheap, even cheaper if you buy one that still needs a small amount of machining.

In summation. Bans are stupid and thanks to the NRA we’re getting them all over the place, which won’t really end the problem they’re trying to solve, which will just get us a bigger, more restrictive national ban eventually.

Postscript: Our true-blue Virginia legislators came in with 2 big agendas. One was the firearms ban and one was marijuana reform. They’ve already largely caved on the latter; it’s unlikely we’ll get even limited decrim. It’s entirely possible they’ll cave on the former, too. Also, thanks to the courts being utterly stacked with MAGA types, we can safely assume how challenges to bans are going to go.

1 big reason to not move on from Java 8

20 Reasons To Move On From Java 8

Good reasons, all; but here’s 1 big reason to not move on from Java 8:

Your fucking application is pegged to 8 and anything higher won’t work.

Sigh.

It’s currently my life. The Application That Shall Remain Nameless is a big enterprise SaaS product whose overall environment I cannot influence. They said “you have to use 8”, and so, I have to use 8.

Perhaps there is a way to circumvent all this; I do it all the time with JavaScript, using Babel to write good JavaScript and turn it into “runs everywhere” JavaScript (and if I ever get around to another big JS project, I’ll use TypeScript). I am something of a newcomer to actual production Java programming, so I don’t even know what I don’t know at this point.

Tangential, I never understood why a lot of the people writing hipster blogs and going to meetups were rarely coming from big enterprises, it was always people at smaller companies and startups (or the recruiters from said big companies).

A lot of the Java blogs at its heyday were focused on seemingly boring stuff; like “ways that HashMap synchronization can produce inconsistent results” or whatever. Rarely, if ever, did they talk about bleeding edge stuff, frameworks, or endless puffery about whatever editor everyone was using this week.

I think I know why now.

The enterprise is a conservative, risk-averse place that puts emphasis on maintainability and support, not “programmer happiness”, because real money is on the line – and not someone else’s money, as in the Silicon Valley VC ecosystem. No one cares about some web framework with hot reloading or whatever; they’re using off-the-rack LTS JBoss or whatever.

So I’m stuck. The Application That Shall Remain Nameless is a straight-up far-upper-right-Gartner-Quadant platform, with a bunch of Fortune 100 users. It will likely be on Java 8 until the heat-death of the Universe. (There are no plans to move it to 9 or greater, or so I’m told.)

Which sucks because honestly, Java 9+ looks like a genuinely good platform. Not good enough to base your multi-billion-dollar company on without a few years of evaluation, testing, and research (by which time, Java 22 will be released). But good.

Sigh.

The missing piece of the Lovecraft mythos

The Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods didn’t seem to know much about technology.

They flew through space with magic, they did some basic biology stuff but nothing particularly interesting (except maybe the MiGo).

Can new Elder Gods or Great Old Ones appear? Can Azathoth sire new gods? Maybe Nyarlathotep sets up a science project involving some Deep Ones and a few used Commodore 64s?

Or consider an Iain Banks-style set of Minds: hyperdimensional AI gets bootstrapped and then discovers that, ok, science and physics and string theory but also what the FUCK is happening out there in the Pleiades?

Can you fight a shoggoth with particle beams? Or what happens when the shoggoth learn about particle beams?

Games I want to run

Star Trek, only instead of a “peaceful” Federation, they’re the 25th century version of revolutionary France. They’re trying to do their thing, but managing the aftermath of the revolution – factionalism, economic woes, and other empires right next door.

Oh, and instead of Klingons and Romulans the bad guys are the Great Old Ones and Elder Gods.

“OK, boomer” annoys me

So “OK, boomer” is kinda funny. Carlin summed it up a couple decades ago; boomers are the worst. Not really a controversial stance for anyone born after about 1965.

My annoyance isn’t ageism; boomer (used pejoratively) is in a way more about a mentality that strictly date of birth. Watch that Carlin bit and tell me Ben Shapiro is not a boomer. A self-absorbed idiot asshole screaming “give it to me, it’s mine”.

Instead, my annoyance is that this is probably going to be repeated ad nauseam in every media space. And not just for the next 6 months.

No, we’re going to see this over and over and over. In a couple years, when the boomers start dying off in greater and greater numbers, we in Gen X will assume the mantle of boomer. Despite the hilariously small demographic relative to everyone else, and a likelihood we’ll not own all the wealth in the world (here), everything will naturally be blamed on us.

Whatever the fuck comes after Zoomers will naturally blame the Millennials for all their woes.

And so on, and so on.

It’s because it’s an easy, lazy joke construct. Bagging on boomers is funny (again, Carlin’s bit). The entire generational conception of Gen X is that we’re the cynical, forgotten children of Boomers! Our “whatever, nothing matters” stereotype is an indirect burn on boomers!

Anyway, the point is that social media INTERNET COOL POINTS makes these easy burns the culture of the realm. Thus, if your premise is that social media – and all the godawful bullshit that it entails – is here to stay, then so is this kind of lazy intergeneration warfare bullshit.

Lastly, the other problem with “ok, boomer” is it buys into generational struggles and not a greater class struggle. Yelling about boomers isn’t really helpful when the problem is that a very small percent of hyper-rich boomers are just manipulating the rest to support this oligarchy.

So, whatever. Yell at the boomers, fine. They’re shitty. But maybe also take a few minutes to then do some “let’s raise class consciousness” work too?

Let’s run the Park Service like Chuck E. Cheese

Today’s frothing rage brought to you by this article: https://www.hcn.org/articles/national-park-service-wifi-amazon-and-food-trucks-trump-teams-vision-for-national-parks

The tl;dr is: let’s “modernize” national parks by adding food trucks and WiFi so you can get your Amazon deliveries while you’re camping.

That’s actually not the frothing rage bit. People should be allowed to experience the outdoors how they want; it’s a spectrum, from Primitive Technology Guy to glamping.

I’ve lived that entire spectrum! Obviously I’m closer to glamping, now that we have the trailer, but it’s not like we have a bread maker in there. Still gotta shower in the creek and poop in the woods.

So we’ve established that allowing a wide range of outdoor experiences is OK. Fine, right?

No, I still have frothing rage.

First, this stupid plan is blatantly intended to enrich landlords:

The White House wants to reduce spending on the National Park Service by 15%, or $481 million, even as the service has said it is facing a more than $11 billion maintenance backlog.

In other words, enable and empower our corporate overlords instead of doing the boring, expensive, and absolutely critical work of maintaining outdoor public spaces.

This is some straight-up disaster capitalism thinking:

“Overall capacity has not kept up with growth and changes in camping demand, and the infrastructure that does exist, with few exceptions, fails to meet expectations of the contemporary camping market,” the group said, calling U.S. national campgrounds an “underperforming asset.”

Underperforming asset. Public lands are underperforming. A thing that is ours, yours and mine, intended to provide for all of us and our kin and our future generations. But this group of walking infectious human waste bags look at the George Washington National Forest as an “underperforming asset” and not “the woods”.

That’s really the frothing rage bit, here. It’s not about diversity of outdoor experience, or reasoned ways to accomplish that diversity. We’re going to disaster-capitalism the outdoors, “extract value” from it, suck the marrow from its bones, then shrug and move on.

“Sure, we aided in the extinction of dozens of species and added tonnes of carbon to the air – we had to cut down a lot of trees so there was better WiFi on the trail, and for some reason there were a lot of fires every summer in the places we didn’t want to spend money maintaining – but at least we generated a lot of value for private industry and our shareholders.”


The way to solve the “changes in camping demand” is easy. Fund the fucking park services. Maintain the backcountry, keep the vault toilets emptied on a regular basis, and enforce the rules.

Part two of that is, yes, also build some infrastructure to support the glamping types. Just FOR FUCK’S SAKE put the “we have to have a generator/AC/shore power” areas opposite from the “I want to sleep on the ground” areas, OK?

Trying (again) to unwind myself from AAPL (and others)

Every so often I get sort of freaked out how deep I am in the Apple ecosystem.

The most often occurs when I want to replace a device, and the combination of “geeze that costs a LOT” and “at this point in time, Apple hardware is sort of shit” makes me think that it’s all a really bad idea and I should GTFO.

The answer is always … complicated.

For example, I still have precisely 0 interest in DIY. So while BitWarden seems as capable a password manager as 1Password, it seems like the only obvious thing to do is to host my own locker, or I’m just trading lock-in A for lock-in B. But I don’t want to DIY something that important, and even if I did, I’m just locking myself into AWS or whatever else I use to host it.

The second problem is as crappy as eg Photos is, gotta tell ya, most of the alternatives are pretty much even worse. The thing about any given Apple app is, most of the bad press is when it first comes out. Photos was monstrous garbage. Lately, though, it’s really a generally OK-if-not-good-enough consumer-grade app. I’m not angry at Photos, the point of the exercise is “everything is locked up in one place and that’s scary”.

Thus, audition replacements; replacements are not great; ugh, why bother.

So unwinding myself from all this is tedious and there’s no great answers. And every day that goes by is another day I just dive deeper into FruitCo.

(Also no, I’ll never use Android, Android is bad and you should feel bad.)

Further complicating is that Apple might get its shit together and release some non-awful computers. Due this year are, if I recall correctly, the new Mac Pro desktops, and probably some upgrades to the line overall. So maybe it won’t be so bad? Maybe?

Success on the social media front is heartening, though. I’ve gotten rid of Slack, I’m mostly not using Instagram, and I only use Twitter via the web, which is so generally awful that it restricts use. I am desperately trying to use this blog more and am once again trying out Micro.blog.

I started using Flickr again but the public feed looks like a bunch of Very Serious photographers and not pictures of people’s lunch, which is about all I use it for when I’m not on vacation or camping or whatever. So I don’t expect I’ll get a lot of “likes” but as Insta is now pretty much “stealth Facebook”, I should get the fuck off it.

The bottom line, is that DIY remains hard even for a seasoned technologist. It’s a matter of time and effort I don’t always have. That sort of sucks.

5e total conversions and game balance

On a whim I backed a Kickstarter for a cyberpunk 5e “total conversion”. It got me thinking about how you do deep system balance.

Somewhere there has to be a set of rules – a spreadsheet, a Perl script, something – that TSR and now WotC uses to work out game balance.

There’s back-of-the-envelope stuff in the 5e DMG, buried in the back (the part no one reads, I imagine – but you should, it’s some of the best stuff!). But, it’s very abstract and intended more to just get you into the balance ballpark.

So for example, what I’m wondering about is a small piece of math like:

  1. For every spell level, base damage is 1d10.
  2. automatic hits drop damage to d8 per level
  3. for every 3 point save DC interval above 10, add +1 to damage

And so on. Some sort of balance algorithm.

A friend of mine tried once to reverse engineer this; he had a Perl script and a spreadsheet. He got pretty far into it; mostly enough to decide what he had worked well enough for his own games. Whatver math didn’t work out, he’d just eyeball and improvise in the context of the session.

TSR, WotC, and other D&D publishers don’t get to do that; you can’t improve printed materials. So it stands to reason there’s at least some way to 1)assure balance before press and 2)verify empirically (better than a guess) the balance of submitted materials. Right?

My eternal quest to “fix” D&D

I’ve been playing TTRPGs for, oh, 37 years or something. I was exposed to Tolkien as a child, via the Rankin and Bass movies, and shortly thereafter a trip to a hobby shop exposed me to this strange board (?) game with lead figurines and weird dice and hobbits and dragons.

I was not allowed to play this strange game. Not because of the “Satanic Panic” of the time. Instead, my parents – inveterate spendthrifts – easily spied it as an activity that required money, which to them was far more pernicious and awful.

So I’d go to the hobby shop with my mom – I was, like, 8 – and sit and read the manuals while she shopped for craft supplies.

(I suppose I should explain to any younger readers that at the time, a “hobby shop” often contained a strange mix of what would now be separate Hobby Lobby, comic book, and toy stores. One part of the store was silk flowers, another was model rockets, still another needlepoint and fabric, and then a little corner with D&D books, minis, and paint. Also at the time, my main source of comic books was the grocery store.)

Then, I’d go home, and attempt to transcribe what I’d read into some meaningful semblance of a game. I didn’t have polyhedral dice, so I’d try to work out how to make it all work with the 5 6-siders I’d taken from the family Yahtzee game. I didn’t have minis, either, so I used army men.

It was an exceptionally unplayable game, but having never actually played D&D, I didn’t really know that. It was one of the first time I sat down and tried to create a mechanical system. I was hooked.

I’d eventually go on to play real D&D. I remember one DM thought hobbits only had 1 arm, because they couldn’t wield 2-handed weapons. Another couldn’t figure out THAC0 so he just rolled the first die at hand and made the player guess if the result was odd or even.

Over the years, I’ve probably seen hundreds of homegrown and commercial optional rules for D&D; mostly combat and spell casting, but also weird things like random weather tables and managing ones castle.

D&D is an at times frustrating mix of game and simulation. If you’re into that sort of thing you can do an incredible deep-dive on just what all that means, but if you only want the nickel-tour version: a game lets you survive what looks like dozens of sword blows, falls from a great height, or impacts from massive objects; a simulation carefully details just how incredibly fucking dead you are from just one good sword wound (or, how if you survive it, you lose use of a limb or whatever, in other words, permanently maimed).

The other day I was thinking about how to bolt on a system to core D&D combat that allowed for “glancing blows”; that “hits” should be split into solid and meager hits. The damage system doesn’t really allow for that well; if you have a sword with a magic effect, it fires if you do 1 points of damage or 10. And don’t get me started on armor classes and hit points …

When it suddenly occurred to me. I have a bookshelf (and now, digital one) laden with games systems that aren’t by-God D&D, with often novel mechanics to resolve these and many other “problems” with D&D. It’s not just that we want a particular flavor of fantasy world; we want the mechanical resolution to reflect that world.

I think back to the odd-or-even DM, and how while I was perpetually annoyed at “why bother having a magic sword if it’s all just a 50/50 chance to do anything”, what was fun was not the deep, careful, intellectual manipulation of a mathematical/mechanical system, but the game itself. Suspense, action, chaos, heroism, adventure, and discovery; that was the fun. The fun with maths what just what I did when I wasn’t actually playing D&D with my friends.

So I’ll get these ideas, and think, this would be fun for 5E, but, ugh, hit points. But I think now that’s wrong. Mechanics are fun and important, but should never outweigh the value of the game itself.

Programmers lose sight of the business value of the programs we write, instead thinking about the elegance of the algorithms or the utility of some set of libraries. I think I’ve spent a lot of time losing sight of the game itself by spending my idle time thinking about the simulation.