Problems with PostgreSQL 8, and PHP 5.2, on Mac OS X

(GeekStuff)

2011-07-14 11:35
Comment

For future reference:

If PHP mysteriously decides that none of the standard PQ* functions exist, the reason is that the tests are defective. Specifically, in ext/pgsql/config.m4, LDFLAGS should be getting set to:

LDFLAGS="$LDFLAGS -L$PGSQL_LIBDIR -lpgport -lpam -lssl -lcrypto -lkrb5 -lz -lreadline -lm"

or something similar, as shown by the output of “pg_config”. Otherwise, links will fail for unrelated reasons.

This is true, anyway, using PostgreSQL8 for Mac, as shipped by Andy Satori. There were at least in the past similar issues with the Ruby “ruby_pg” extension. In general, people are not handling well the case where a library must have other libraries linked with it — this could be a flaw in how that library is configured. Whatever, that’s the fix that worked for me.

Peter Seebach

Comment

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I believe in ESPs

(GeekStuff, Spam)

2011-07-13 13:00
Comment [3]

So, there’s a category of business which I am by default not much inclined to like, which is businesses which do pretty much nothing that isn’t focused on sending email. You might call such businesses “spammers”. But there’s a subset of these businesses which, I am now forced to grudgingly admit, reduce the amount of spam I get.

Over time, the “we send spam for you” industry has been infiltrated by people who have an interesting theory; it’s that being more confident of successful delivery is more important than number of messages sent. These companies like to call themselves “email service providers”, or ESPs. Now, not all of them are legit, but… A lot are.

Here’s the thing. These people send a lot of email. In fact, if my conversions from imperial units are correct, they send at least a metric fuckton of email. And some of it is promotional stuff and newsletters, and some of it is transaction confirmations. Some of it is email that really, really, has to go through. And as a result, they care whether it goes through.

This means that, if something they are sending might cause people to stop accepting their mail, that’s important to them. They care. They care a lot, and because it affects their entire business, they care even more than the specific people whose mail they’re sending. And that means that they try harder than their customers would to avoid sending mail that people think is spam.

A while back, I signed up for a discount thing with GameStop. Their signup process asks whether you want promotions via email or not, and says that you can’t completely opt out of email because it’s used for account status. In fact, they send promotional spam. So I cancelled the account. They sent back a note saying to allow “up to two weeks” for the spam to stop. Now, that’s already offensively stupid; it doesn’t take two weeks to stop sending mail. If their procedures can’t do it faster, tough; even the very loose laws we have don’t give a two week grace period on opt-outs. But it hardly matters, because a full month later they sent more mail anyway.

GameStop doesn’t care. They’re huge. They have retail stores. They have a web store which you can use to buy stuff even if you don’t get their email. It doesn’t matter to them whether you accept their mail or not. It’s not a priority to them.

So even though ESPs send a ton more messages than GameStop does, I personally get more spam from GameStop than I do from ESPs.

When I first formed my negative view of ESPs, I assumed that they would do a shoddy job and thus send a ton of spam to me. I was sort of right, early on. They weren’t always very careful. They tended to fall for lying customers. But… What I hadn’t taken into account was how much shoddier everyone else would be. I assumed that ESPs would send the bulk of the non-botnet spam I got. I was wrong. Of (non-botnet) spam I’ve gotten so far this year, the breakdown is roughly:

Real ESPs, all of them, put together: About 1%
Crappy ESPs: About 5%
Specific companies that got an address list somewhere: About 9%
Spam from the Yahoo account of “Melvin Whorms”: About 20%
Other broken webmail accounts: About 65%

(numbers fictitious, but roughly to scale)

That’s right, a single compromised Yahoo account, which has been reported to them many times, is sending me about 20x as much spam as all the ESPs put together.

There’s more to it. As I noted, when I got spammed by GameStop, they were unable to figure out how to stop spamming me. Similarly, when SpringSource picked up an old mailing list, they were unable to figure out how to stop sending me junk, despite many complaints. Roxio sent me weekly announcements, finally stopped, then started up again… More than once.

By contrast, if I get a mailing from an ESP like MessageLabs or MailChimp, and I complain… It stops. They care. They have reason to develop the competence it takes to make this happen. I got an unwanted mailing via Exact Target, and they made it stop quickly. Furthermore, ESPs seem to educate customers who are at all willing to be educated. I’ve seen people hopping from one to another spamming bogus lists, but I’ve also seen people stick with an ESP and fix their spam problem.

So it turns out my dismissal of these people as spam sources was just plain wrong. Now, that’s not to say there’s no exceptions; I get tons of spam from EmailRail, who are apparently uninterested in whether their mail gets delivered. Given that it’s all spammy gift certificates, sometimes sent to the same account three times in a day, I guess I wouldn’t care either.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [3]

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RYGCBM color space.

(GeekStuff)

2011-07-12 16:15
Comment [2]

Okay, so. Light lets you assemble colors from R/G/B. Ink uses C/M/Y. So, for instance, R+G light = yellow.

The thing is. I knew that red+blue was purple. And I knew that yellow+magenta yielded red. But I hadn’t realized that red+blue is actually magenta. And this means…

The primaries in each scheme, doubled up, produce the primaries in the other. Take two primaries from CMY and add them:

Cyan + Magenta: Blue.
Magenta + Yellow: Red.
Yellow + Cyan: Green.

Similarly, it works the other way:

Red + Blue: Magenta
Blue + Green: Cyan
Green + Red: Yellow

And if you think about WHY ink is subtractive and light is additive, this is even totally obvious. Yellow reflects red light and green light. Cyan reflects green light and blue light. Mix them, and the only thing still reflected is green light.

I knew every component of this, but I had not put it together until just yesterday.

Peter Seebach

Comment [2]

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Just for my own reference...

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2011-07-10 18:11
Comment [1]

Long ago, I got sick of silly backgrounds for WoW characters. I decided to treat it not as a thing I disliked… but as a challenge. Reposted here since I don’t have easy access to it elsewhere.

Merisioux is your personal ideal of feminine beauty, even if you didn’t think you had one. She exemplifies everything you have ever loved, wanted, dreamed of, or hoped for. Tragically, her own tragic tale is not as beautiful, being full of tragedy. Meri is half blood elf, half night elf, half priest, half rogue, half demon, half vampyr, and all woman. She was raised from humble beginnings.

After her parents were killed in a bizarre gardening accident, she was adopted by a deeply loving family, all of whom were then tortured to death in front of her very eyes (which are a brilliant sparkling purple except when she is in a bad mood, when they turn a deep red). Her third adoptive family choked to death on their own vomit. Her fourth spontaneously combusted when Pyrelle hit them with a Pyroblast. Each of these tragedies has left an indelible mark on Meri’s gentile soul. Because of her amazing strength of character, Meri was adopted by the Frostwolf clan, and is technically Thrall’s older sister.

Although her outward form (with beautiful golden eyes that glitter like stars) may give the impression of a shallow girl with no interests in life other than trades involving your mats and her nethers, she is in fact incredibly deep. You are filled with an abiding respect for her and would NEVER be mean or snide towards her. When she roleplays, you obviously play along and keep her the center of attention, because she is just that awesome and might flirt with you if you’re very lucky, and go a lot further if you have gold in hand.

After she became the first person to fully explore Ulduar, she became locked in an epic battle with an Elder God, a titanic struggle for her very soul! Sometimes she is consumed by the darkness within, and becomes a creature of shadow and darkness! However, so far she has always successfully overcome the evil, beating it off for a time to return to her search for the Light. When she is free of the shadow, she is quick to celebrate her banal victories.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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Why RIFT is not a WoW clone.

(GeekStuff)

2011-07-01 14:29
Comment [35]

This is partially a response to a forum poster on the RIFT forums asking whether someone could write an explanation of how RIFT is different from WoW without using the word “rifts”. To some extent, I think that’s unfair; after all, the rifts are a significant difference for me. But okay, let’s see.

Why I do not think RIFT is a WoW clone

In Soviet Telara, environment raids you. Sure, there’s other differences. But the big difference is that, in RIFT, there are very few places I can go where I have confidence that I know what will be there. Things happen. The quest hub I was just at getting quests might have been replaced with a blasted zone of black-and-purple with a writhing mass of tentacles in the middle of it. This has a number of effects.

In WoW, I would do various daily quests. Each quest had a clearly defined object, environment, and so on. There were no big changes from one day to another. It was always the same. In RIFT, there are also daily quests… But if I do a handful of them, the chances are quite good that during one of them I’ll end up dying several times trying to fight off the invading forces of an elemental plane. So instead of “hop over to the next zone, click a couple of things, head back”, I end up with “spend 45 minutes fighting for my life”. I like this. It’s fun to me. It really does a great job of making the experience less monotonous than it would otherwise be.

Zone events aren’t all of it, though.

The much greater degree of support and even encouragement for exploration is a really big difference for me, because I enjoy exploring, and it’s nice to have a game that rewards this a bit. I like going around finding little glowy things in out of the way places. I like finding a bunch of squirrels dancing around a magical torch. :)

When it comes to the actual mechanics of combat, there are a number of differences. Sure, you can pretty much just run things the way you would in WoW, with a tank, healer, and some DPS. Support roles change that. A lot of people imagine that stuff like Vanilla WoW paladins or shamans were a “support” class. No, not even close. A real support class can be a game-changer at a much deeper level. Support, by it’s nature, is a little optional; you don’t need it if you overpower the content. But… It can be pretty fun. And it changes the dynamic of a group, typically.

Group dynamics is where I think RIFT really shines. In WoW, once you had a group, you were done. The tank would tank, the healer would heal, and the DPS would do damage. That was it. There was no real call for shuffling things, and you mostly couldn’t. You might well have only one person who could heal.

In RIFT, you can frequently get by with alternative builds, and everyone is likely to have multiple roles. I’ve seen groups where one of the DPS, and the tank, were trading roles depending on the fight because one of them was better at tanking one kind of content and the other was better at tanking another. I’ve seen a group replace the healer with two “support” characters who were credible off healers. What that means is that, in many groups, you have tactical choices beyond whether or not to LoS pull the next group, and kill order. Maybe these options could exist for some groups in WoW; in RIFT, they’re commonplace, and most groups have options.

Finally, the soul system really is that flexible. People often insist that really there’ll be a few “cookie-cutter builds” that are the best. Maybe, but so far I haven’t seen it. Instead, I’ve seen people combine a melee tank build and a ranged DPS build and get a credible healer. Yes. healer. (It’s called an Inquisicar, and takes advantage of an interesting interaction between the class mechanics of the two classes.) While there are plenty of “obviously this will work very well” builds out there, there are also a lot of surprising builds. Furthermore, even the builds that aren’t obviously optimized work.

And that brings us to one of the Huge Differences: Hybrids. In WoW, a “hybrid” is a character who can do two different things ever — say, a shaman, who can be a damage-dealer or a healer. You can’t have a single build which can do two things. Back in the Burning Crusade era, I was able to build a marginally-effective DPS/healing hybrid shaman, and some people found ways to do tolerable hybrids for the classes that had both caster DPS and caster healing, but… Hybrids were a weak choice, clearly inferior. In Cataclysm, Blizzard finally put the nail in that coffin by mechanically enforcing a requirement that you fully specialize in one tree before adding any others. Back in Burning Crusade, I was able to make a shaman DPS who could, when a healer made a key mistake, heal a group through a fight. That’s no longer (at least by intent) an option. Furthermore, in WoW, gear is very role-specific; RIFT has put a lot of work into making gear more flexible, so you don’t need a completely different set of gear for a melee cleric than you do for a caster cleric.

In RIFT, hybrids are common. Prior to the 1.3 patch, one of the most common end-game healing builds was an even mix of Chloromancer and Warlock — in many cases, with more points spent in the “DPS” build than in the “healer” build. Even now, in a lot of the content, hybrids remain genuinely viable. You can have a character who can, during a single fight, switch from healing to damage-dealing, or vice versa.

What this contributes to is that fundamental flexibility of roles which makes RIFT so much more fun, at least for me. It’s not just that I have three “roles” available even by level 20 or so; it’s that one of those roles can itself be able to switch from one play style to another during a fight.

Now, remember all that stuff I was saying about invasion events? This flexibility of characters matters hugely in invasions, becuase you don’t get to sit around planning the perfect five-player group. You walk around the corner expecting to see the guy you were killing rats for (quests, regrettably, are perhaps not as varied as we might hope), and instead you see Unholy Horrors. And now… it’s up to you and that random person you see nearby to kill them. You don’t know whether either of you has a healing or tanking set available. You don’t have time to sit around chatting. And here, hybrid specs shine, as does the general ability of characters to swap specializations around quickly.

The net result is a game where you have dynamic roles being used in dynamic ways to interact with dynamic content.

Sure, there’s a ton of fixed stuff. There has to be in order to attract the key population of existing MMO players needed to fund the game. But even when you’re dealing with that fixed stuff, once you embrace the underlying dynamic gameplay model, you find that you have more interesting choices to make, and more interesting things to do, than you would have if you’d stayed in the box.

Some people find this upsetting. They log in planning to do their daily quests and are frustrated because all this stuff is getting in the way. Me, I’m loving it. I log in planning to quick bash out a few dailies before I really start playing, and instead I really start playing before I bash out the dailies. It’s a nice change.

Peter Seebach

Comment [35]

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More thoughts about books: How expectation affects reading

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2011-06-22 12:02
Comment [1]

I have recently been re-reading the Ethshar books, by Lawrence Watt-Evans. I was first introduced to these many many years ago, when someone lent me a copy of The Misenchanted Sword, telling me it was a “very funny” book. I read it, enjoyed it, and kept an eye out for more books by the same author.

For many years, I kept reading these books, and every time I read one of them I felt vaguely disappointed, but I kept buying them. The anomaly never really stuck out at me, but recently I noticed that the author had observed that larger publishers were not interested in these, because they didn’t sell well enough, and that got me to thinking.

When I read The Misenchanted Sword, it was presented to me as a comedy book, and I read it as such. It has a hilarious mishap (the misenchanted sword of the title), and it somehow feels Not Quite Right for a fantasy novel, therefore it’s a comedy, right? Similarly, the second book (With a Single Spell) is about a wizard who only knows one spell, so he can’t do anything else. Comedy, right? Well, the thing is. There’s certainly humor in these books (in one of the later books, a wizard uses the Spell of the Eighth Sphere to seek information), but in general the books are not particularly comedies.

So here’s the thing. The reason I found them disappointing was that I kept thinking they were supposed to be funnier. By the time I got to Single Spell, I’d read a couple of Pratchett’s comedy fantasy novels, and I was trying to find the funny, and it just wasn’t happening. So why did I keep reading the books? Why do I own all of them, many of them in both paperback and e-book?

Because they’re good stories. The thing is, they’re stories which don’t fit the conventions of the fantasy genre. They aren’t stories about the major heroes of the day. In The Misenchanted Sword, the major events of the war do not primarily involve the protagonist. He then procedes to… open an inn. This creates a vague sense of cognitive dissonance, which we tend to interpret as “funny” when reading, but the real problem is the expectation. We assume that fantasy stories are about Epic Heroes having Epic Adventures. The Ethshar books aren’t; they’re about people going about their lives. The setting contains plenty of magic, sure. Some of the characters do heroic things, or have adventures. But fundamentally, the point of the books is not epic happenings, but people experiencing life.

Reading them as such, rather than expecting something else, I don’t find them disappointing at all; they’re good stories with interesting characters. The things that the characters do may not involve the overthrow of the Evil Overlord, but they are significant enough to the people involved; sometimes that’s a lot of people, sometimes only a few. But life is like that. Most of us find our own lives interesting enough, after all.

Watt-Evans has written books outside this setting as well; the Annals of the Chosen series is more traditional in scope, with weighty events involving heroes at the core of them. (Excellent books, I might add.) But for one reason and another, the Ethshar books are the ones I come back to most often, simply because I find the characters and setting interesting.

I suspect that it’s the violation of genre conventions that has limited the success of the books; people may not be quite clear on why you’d read a fantasy novel in which no kingdoms are overthrown. All I can say is, they really are fascinating books. The Misenchanted Sword is still one of my favorites in the series, though.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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I am... not surprised.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2011-06-22 08:28
Comment [2]

So, a bit of background. A while back, I found a series of books… somewhere. I don’t even remember. It’s a trilogy of books, the first being Starrigger, by John DeChancie. (The other two are Paradox Alley and Red Limit Freeway.)

The first book in the series was a fun story with the classic 70s-SF feel, including a bunch of “heh, this would be so awesome” happenings which really didn’t make any sense, but which kept the story hopping. By the end of the third book, something had changed; everything made sense. The things I thought were throwaway gags, the mysterious deus ex machina, were all suddenly logically clear and inevitable. It’s not too much of a spoiler, I think, to say that this is my favoritest time travel story ever.

For the longest time, Baen’s ebook store has had exactly one of these books available as an ebook. Last night, I noticed that this was still the case, and I checked around more. Barnes & Noble had exactly the first book available for NOOK. They had the second in used paperback for $20, and the third in paperback only, as I recall.

So I emailed the author to point out that I’d buy them if they were for sale. He wrote back linking me to the press release indicating that the whole series was now available as ebooks, dated June 10th of this year. … Yes, June 10th. I went and checked. B&N now had the second one in ebook, and Fictionwise had all three. I thought I’d checked for these on Fictionwise pretty recently.

Should it surprise me that the guy who wrote the books I describe as my “favoritest time travel story ever” was able to respond to a request made on the 22nd or so on the 10th? I don’t think it should. Really, it explains a lot.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [2]

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What to do with your friend, the electrical engineer

(Personal)

2011-06-17 14:25
Comment [3]

A friend of mine is an electrical engineer. An electrical engineer who is… sometimes bored.

Anyone who knows me is already cringing.

So, the first project. We have cats. We have three female cats. And they have not decided which of them owns the door at the top of the basement stairs, but they are convinced that it is to be one of them. They are even willing to challenge the authority of The Cat That Pees 409.

So, there is to be a Device. The Device shall have two contacts, and if they are shorted it suddenly makes horrible noises. The device will be constructed such that it sits on the floor with space under it, and the two contacts go down to the floor. Were there to be a pool of conductive liquid, there would be sudden noises.

We’ll see whether we can make this work. If we can we’ll refine it a bit and post schematics. (A big part of my goal is to get a solenoid into it such that it can make caps go off, because those are loud.)

Peter Seebach

Comment [3]

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Well, it's true.

(Personal)

2011-06-16 17:05
Comment

“That depends on who is wearing the moose costume and who is determining hilarity levels.”

Don’t look for the context, it’ll only cheapen the moment. Just trust me: It’s true.

Peter Seebach

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Push the kitten

(Personal)

2011-06-15 20:52
Comment [2]

For some reason, cats seem to insinuate themselves into the brains of cat people. If I am hearing music, and there is a kitty, I tend to get loose bits of lyrics which have somehow become cat-themed.

The trope-namer, for me, was a bit of verbiage in the Chemical Brothers piece Galvanize. There’s a piece of it where a sampled voice says:

My finger is on the button.
Push the button.

We got this album at a time when one of our cats was new, and as a result, I always think of that as

My finger is on the kitten.
Push the kitten.

This, in fact, happens to me with a lot of songs.

Cats cats cats / we like cats in boxes
cats cats cats / pointy ears like foxes
cats cats cats / with catnip and catbeds
cat cats cats / we pet them! we pet them!

I sort of wonder whether dog people have the same problem.

Peter Seebach

Comment [2]

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