Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

The Decktet

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About a month or so ago, I discovered an interesting deck of cards and I've been a bit obsessed with it ever since. It's called The Decktet. It's a little hard to explain what it's like. It has a very unique structure which you can read about the here but I'll give you an overview:

  • There are 36 cards and 6 suits
  • The cards are ranked with Ace (1), 2-9, and Crown.
  • Cards of rank 2-9 have two suits each and suits are not repeated
  • Aces and Crowns only have one suit
  • Each card has a picture and a name (very much like Tarot)
  • There is also an extended deck -- one of those cards has no suit, while the others have three.

The cards themselves are colorful and unique. Just take a look. Click to embiggen.

The icons just below the rank is the suits that card belongs to. Yeah, those aren't the suits you are used to -- instead they are suns, moons, waves, leaves, wyrms, and knots.

Like our standard deck of 52 cards, The Decktet isn't for one game but a system to build other games on. The characteristics of this unique deck leads to some interesting possibilities in games that would be hard or impossible to make in a standard 52-card deck.

All the games I've tried have been solitaire games or solitaire variants of other games. I've been playing some solo games to get a feel for the deck and I've been very happy with it. The games I've tried is:

  • Jacynth -- an area control game, with the areas designated by the suits on the cards. This will probably be the game I'll try first as a multi-player.
  • Adaman -- an interesting take on solitaire. Try to assert influence over people in power. This is very tough to beat.
  • Quincunx -- A really interesting tableau game but with somewhat difficult scoring. But once you get used to the scoring, it's fun and a bit of brain-burner.

So how do you get this crazy deck of cards? Probably the easiest way is The Game Crafter. I actually ordered mine from ArtsCow which may be cheaper if you get on their free shipping deals. That said, I've heard Game Crafter's quality is better. I have also saw them listed at DriveThruCards but I don't know anything about the quality there either.

More to come on the Decktet front.

The Gaming Way

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It's funny to me that I really haven't blogged about boardgames. Because in my spare time, if I'm not playing board games, I'm thinking about them -- and I'd much rather be playing them.

Board Game Geek is my most visited website in my browser history. Yes, it's a horrible looking website and the front page is perhaps the worst. But when you dive in you see a lot of content -- rule explanations for each game, questions, reviews, ratings, etc., etc. You can even find compatriots for any type of game you like. Or people who like to get games at thrift store or people who play games by themselves. Not to mention a forum for every boardgame under the sun, including rules explanations and clarifications. It's also fun when the designer of the game gets involved in the discussion which is the case in one of my favorite games

So I'm going to be blogging more and more about boardgames. Note that I have a widget on the side for my recent boardgame plays so you can always keep up -- if you want.

I have been thinking for a while about why I'm so into boardgames. It's not really all of a sudden -- I've always been interested but haven't been sure how to get started. Then I got started... and, well, I just kept going. What I like about is several things:

  • Board games tend to exercise the mind. As someone who's brain is the main thing in his career, it's a good thing to keep in shape.
  • It's a social thing. You get to see how people thing, so you get to know more about them. You also get to learn new ways to approach the problem.
  • I don't always play with people -- I tend to play a solo game or two over lunch or at home when the TV is on something I don't want to watch. I do it to relax.... and to keep my mind sharper.

Adventures With Ubuntu and Minecraft 1.8

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or How I fixed Minecraft and became a hero in my daughter's eyes

Minecraft has become a big deal in my house -- my kids (11 and 5) not only use it on tablets but Leah (the 11-year old) uses it for a homeschool curriculum (via Minecraft Homeschool) and "for fun" at The Sandlot. I let her use my old development laptop, which had a bunch of stuff running that she will never need, but it had Java installed and (despite what anyone says) Unity is not hard. I was happy with the Ubuntu 12.04 installed on it, so had never upgraded it. And it worked perfectly for her.

A month or so ago, Sandlot upgraded to 1.8.0 and, suddenly, things went horribly wrong. When she would transport within Sandlot, her Minecraft client would freeze the whole system. There were only two things do to -- hold down the power button until it shut off (Leah's method), or switch to a console, login, find the process and run kill -9 (my method). When she connected back to Sandlot, she had already transported. So, to me, the Sandlot server did the right thing but something went wrong on our end. I tried it on my Mac and everything worked fine. Ok, so now we are talking about a Linux problem. Great.

I tried all different things -- I changed JDKs (Oracle 8, Oracle 7, and OpenJDK ), changed JVM flags, no avail. This wasn't the beefiest machine ever but it should run this. Minecraft 1.7 worked fine. As we talked to people on the forums, we discovered that we were the only ones with this problem.

(In case you are keeping track, this the same issue I briefly described in another post.)

I figured that it was just a blip with Minecraft 1.8.0 and Mohjang would fix it in 1.8.1. 1.7 worked fine, though Sandlot was making areas that only worked in 1.8.x. I assured Leah that 1.8.1 would fix it. Well late last week Mohjang released 1.8.1 and it still wasn't fixed -- it kept hanging. Grrr.

So this weekend I went back to googling the problem and found this forum post. It wasn't exactly the same problem I had, but it was something I hadn't tried before -- the video driver. It seemed weird to me, but why not try it?

Oh I know a reason why not -- because that laptop is running 12.04 LTS, which is no longer in support so there is no way I can find an updated video driver. Therefore I would have to upgrade the OS to find the most recent video driver. But from what I had read, the new Ubuntu version would work fine, so I decided to go for it. My initial thought was to burn the 14.04 DVD to install, but that was a lot of work. So I did the trusty do-release-upgrade. That was yet another mistake....

After it was done, there were processes (like Chrome) that wouldn't start up. It seemed that it couldn't find the libc6 library. Grrr. I found a forum post where someone fixed it by removing it and running dpkg -i over and over until everything was installed. I can't find that link now but no matter -- at one point I couldn't run dpkg, sudo, or even ls anymore. Uh-oh -- I knew I was in trouble now.

So I went back to my first instinct -- I downloaded the Ubuntu 14.04 image, burned it to a disc, and reinstalled it on that laptop. Overall, this was better because it removed things that were running that she wouldn't be using (like Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, etc). This took a while, of course.

After that, I made sure that the latest video drivers were installed (which was really the whole point of this exercise). Then I re-installed the Minecraft launcher and it was the moment of truth. I watched as Leah connected to the Sandlot and then did a transport. It was slow, but the cursor still worked! And then . . . the transport completed! We did some more tests and no more lock-ups. And no more since we upgraded.

Actually, the machine runs faster, the screen is brighter and (actually) runs a lot cooler. Win-win all around.

So in short -- if you are running Ubuntu and are having lock-ups in Mincraft, upgrade to 14.04 and make sure your video driver is up to the latest and greatest.

Java Java Everywhere

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It seems that everyone needs my Java expertise. The following all happened within a 12 hour period:

  • I'm now a contractor and my current contract is to get a bunch of semi-programmers up to speed on Grails so they can actually support the applications that are tossed over the wall.
  • As soon as I get home from work, my daughter doesn't let me into the house, because she's having problems with Minecraft on our Ubuntu laptop. I used a lot of my Java troubleshooting-fu to figure out what is happening. It comes done to Majong doing something that make Minecraft on Linux janky with Minecraft 1.8 and new servers with mods. Works fine on my Mac (which my daughter does not use).
  • During the day, I get a frantic text from a friend of mine. Her son is on college and not going well in his second semester college programming class and asked if I knew anything about Java and if I could help him. I said I do Java for a living. I got with him that night and found out that the instructer is not explaining things well, giving examples with bad practices, and an extremely superficial and insipid assignment.

My Personal Cloud

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I've been having an ongoing conversation with a good friend of mine for a long time about email management. We want to keep our emails so we can find them later, and either don't trust or don't like the interfaces what GMail and other free providers give us. In that vein, early this spring, he sent me a link to the Sovereign project on github that is, essentially, your own cloud server with storage, email, et al.

What he didn't know at the time was that I was lamenting all the cloud services I was using (and spending bits of money on) but still not feeling in control of what was where. Add that to the fact that I've never really trusted a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Box.net, GDrive with my files. Yes I had all of them and had files in all of them, but never really dedicating anything to any of them, i.e. paying them money.

So I tried it out -- I got a cheap VPS and ran the Ansible scripts, taking out the things I didn't need (like, I haven't been on IRC for years!). As time as went on I tweaked things and simplified my digital services by replacing them with things on the server.

This is what I use:

ownCloud

This is really the most important item on this list, and probably the most surprising one to me. I have learned to like cloud storage, now that I feel like I have some control (and, honestly, some space to actually hold things). I'm using it to hold my ebooks I store in Calibre. I still don't have room to put my music on there, but I'm toying with the idea of upgrading the VPS so I have the room. I have all sorts of documents there for work. The Android app is great for most things -- it doesn't keep an entire folder in sync but, luckily, ownCloud implements webdav so I can use existing tools like FolderSync. ownCloud also keeps contacts via CardDav so I can keep my own copy of contacts.

This personal cloud storage is great, but I use the syncing abilities to keep track of other things. So Todo.txt has replaced Remember The Milk for tasks and KeePass2 has replaced LastPass. The last one was hard for me to let go of, but I'm actually now happier now with KeePass2.

On the Android side, the official Todo.txt Android app utilizes Dropbox for syncing, but a little research I found Simpletask Cloudless and Keepass2Android, using the fore-mentioned FolderSync to keep the files in sync. At most they are an hour behind, which is fine for me.

gitolite

This wasn't end the original version of Sovereign that I installed, but I'm glad that it was included. I do like having my own private git repo that I don't have to pay Github for. I disabled cgit mostly because I didn't see the need for it, for just me. Though I have included others in a couple of my projects.

selfoss

When the Google Reader Shutdown happened and I looked for self-hosted alternatives, selfoss didn't no pop up on my searches. But I'm glad that the it was included with this! It's very clean, lets me scan the articles from my feeds quickly. The mobile version (through my mobile browser) is actually better than the full-screen one, IMHO.

wallabag

Wallabag is another new-comer to Sovereign but I like it a lot -- it has replaced Pocket for me. It works just the same as Pocket, but with an added feature of saving articles to epub. I haven't actually done that yet but I fancy putting together a cookbook with it. Wouldn't that be cool?

There are other things I like -- using OpenVPN when using an open wifi connection, automatic backup to Tarsnap, and just having a SSH prompt at my exposure, when I need it.