Riddle Me This

Why does my new printer come with an AOL CD but not a cable to hook the printer up to my computer?

I mean seriously, who actually subscribes to AOL anymore?

Web 2.0, Destroyer of Dreams

I had an idea for a game.

No, not that one, a real one.

And it wasn’t so much an original idea, but an idea to take one of the truly classic network-based games of the past and bring it into the modern era, so that people all over the world could play it.

But it wasn’t just an idea, but a plan. After all, one of the problems with writing a game — or software in general, for that matter — is incompatibilities between systems. Something compiled for my Linux laptop, say, wouldn’t run on someone else’s Windows machine. Sure, there are cross-platform scripting languages out there, but how many Windows machines do you think have the necessary interpreters pre-installed?

Handing someone a game and then telling them “by the way, you need to go download this other thing and install it first” is more of a buzzkill than finding out that your precious 4/20 is also Hitler‘s birthday.

But wait, you say, this is The Twenty-First Century! “Installing software” is sooooo last millennium! This is the era of Web 2.0! And sure, that’s mostly a meaningless buzzword, but dig down deep enough and we have web apps that don’t suck (as bad as they used to)! You can put the game on your website, and anyone in the world can come play it (assuming they have a reasonably modern browser)! Nothing to it!

And so what if you can’t program in Flash, since the only development tools available on Linux are fourth-rate? Flash is proprietary anyway; we can do this with open standards! SVG for graphics! JavaScript for client-side code! Whatever you want on the server! And bringing everything together, the crown jewel powering the Web 2.0 revolution, XMLHttpRequest!

The idea, the plan, the ideal was so glorious, I could not help but to pursue it. Was it but a pipe dream, or could I usher in a new age of gaming?

I sat down and put together a rough demo of the core of the client-side interface. JavaScript collected user input and told SVG how to draw the action. And lo, it worked! Sure, Firefox‘s JavaScript implementation only really handled one key pressed at a time, but that would be good enough!

And with that done, all I needed to demonstrate was near-real-time bi-directional communications between the browser and the server, and the technology would be proven! All that would be left is fleshing out the details!

But what treachery is this? XMLHttpRequest objects only handle a single request/response, not continuous bidirectional communications? The request gets sent all at once, and the object even explicitly disallows keepalive? Every time the player made a move, I would have to issue an entirely new HTTP request, each with a new TCP three-way handshake?

Oh, the latency! Oh, the bandwidth!

And woe, for security reasons browsers do not let JavaScript code open their own socket!

For want of a usable way to talk to the server, the demo was lost.

I suppose the game itself could be written as a Java applet, with everything else being all trendy Web 2.0 type stuff. But do browsers these days still come with a Java plugin by default?

No, seriously, does yours? What does about:plugins tell you if you put that into your browser (in case that link won’t work)? If a Java applet would actually work for people, that’d be the way to go, I guess.

Otherwise, since Flash development is pretty much out, the other option would be a standalone client. But if I can’t assume most people can do Java applets, can I assume they have a standalone Java or C# runtime, let alone Python or Perl? Or that someone would even know how to run such a program?

*sigh* Web 2.0, you fail.

Trivia Question

Which member of the Ship of Fools, past or present, has a tattoo of Kurt Vonnegut‘s signature?

The answer whenever I get around to posting it.

Hey Now, You’re The Juror

Last week I got called for jury duty, despite only having lived in the area for under a year.

Not having, um, jured, before, I wasn’t sure of just what to expect, especially given some of the passages in the court’s Jury Service guide, such as:

The newly completed courthouse project offers jurors a greatly enhanced jury assembly area with comfortable individual seating (no more hard wooden benches), cable t.v., vending machines, bathroom facilities and other amenities to make jury service less painful.

I can just envision an advertising campaign. “Circuit Court jury duty: now with bathroom facilities!” And don’t get too excited about that cable TV, either; depending on what time it is, you’ll be watching either some awful morning show or The Price Is Right, neither one of which is exactly exclusive to cable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first day of jury duty, you get to watch a training video about what happens during the jury selection process and the trial itself. The most interesting fact? Apparently, according to the narrator, “juror” rhymes with “bursar“, “quasar“, and (if you’re Andy Ober), “cursor.”

After that, you wait. And wait. And wait. Bringing something to read is a good idea.

Eventually, the Powers That Be decide to do something about those hundred jurors sucking up oxygen in the waiting room, and a bailiff starts to call names for a jury selection process (which has some Latin-sounding name I can’t remember). Each person gets assigned a number in the order in which they’re called, a process which always reveals at least one person who fails at counting and/or paying attention. After a group of several times more people than actually fits on a jury gets called, they get led into the audience section of one of the courtrooms.

This is where the first round of magic happens. Also in the courtroom will be the judge, a clerk, the plaintiff, the defendant, their lawyers, bailiffs, and a guard. After calling roll and swearing in the proto-jurors, the judge asks them series of questions to weed out anyone who might be biased or somehow have an interest in the case. These could include anything from knowing one of the parties, to having been in some similar case yourself, or whatever else the lawyers might have dreamed up to screen based on. Any “yes” answers are explained to the judge, and afterwards the lawyers figure out who they want to exclude from the jury, and out of those left, people are randomly picked as jurors, or alternates, or people who get to go back to the waiting room.

Fun fact about Anne Arundel Circuit Court courtrooms: whenever someone’s conferencing with the judge up at the bench, the judge plays white noise over the courtroom’s speakers. I’d say I never saw that happen on a courtroom drama, but that could well be a result of me pretty much never watching courtroom dramas.

In my case, I went through the selection process twice, and neither time did I wind up on a jury. On the plus side, I only had to go in two days out of the five I was on call for jury duty, and people who don’t get put on a jury get dismissed at noon, so it wasn’t that big of a hassle.

Plus, when you factor in your daily expense monies, that comes to… not even close to minimum wage.

Strange But True

It’s been a while since I posted any shocking secrets about me on here — in fact, I think it’s been almost one year exactly. And since I don’t have much of interest otherwise to be posting at the moment, here goes.

I once had fangirls.

Now, I’m not talking about scantily clad slave girls armed with large fans used solely to direct a breeze my way, preferably while sitting on some sort of gilded throne. Though now that I think about it, that doesn’t sound too bad. Hmm. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits the “slave” part, but the rest of that would probably still be legal….

Focus. Right.

Fangirls, as in “more than one female fanboy.”

This was all several years ago, back before I had finished BSing my way through Purdue’s Computer Science program, back in the days when I was in the Ship of Fools. Of course, the fangirls in question were in regards to the latter, rather than the former. As everyone knows, there’s no such thing as a CS fangirl.

I can’t recall any other Fools ever accruing fangirls of their own. Why I have been the only one to attract some, I have no idea. I mean, if I were picking a Fool to be a fanboy of, it certainly wouldn’t be me, and not just because I don’t think the reflexive property holds for fanboyism.

Now, lest the reader become jealous of my seeming good fortune, I have another shocking revelation to make. Having fangirls isn’t nearly as great as you might think. In fact, it can get fairly creepy.

Perhaps that’s an overgeneralization; after all, I am extrapolating from a sample size of two. If you have your own experience of having fanpersons, I would be interested in hearing if yours differed significantly.

At first my fangirls (who shall remain anonymous to protect their identity and definitely not because I can’t remember their names) were relatively benign. They’d get excited and cheer whenever I was in a game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But then they started getting disruptive when I wasn’t in a game. For instance, if I were to be tagged out during Freeze, they would complain loudly. I mean yeah, the “leave one person in the entire time” gag is funny once, but not every time. Especially when I’m that guy.

OK, you may be saying, that certainly would count as “annoying” or “obnoxious,” but “creepy”? And you’d be right, if this were the end of the story. Which it isn’t.

The creepy came into play when I went over to their apartment one night.

Now while my former fellow Fools were likely aware of the fangirls, they surely weren’t aware of this part of the story, as I have never before told this tale to anyone.

Now lest you think my intentions in going to their apartment were untoward, I assure you they were not. Not that if they had been untoward, I wouldn’t have likely been successful. I mean, come on, fangirls. But even if that had been the case, one of the other Fools (who shall also remain nameless, even though I do remember his name for the same reason as before), who was their friend and in fact was how they first started coming to our weekly meetings, came along as well.

Once inside their apartment, I began to understand that my two fangirls had a bit of an obsessive streak about them. For example, they showed off a door completely covered with wrappers from York Peppermint Patties. They also had a bit of an Angelina Jolie fixation, with one of the fangirls having an entire wall of her bedroom covered with pictures of her, with varying degrees of safe-for-work-ness.

But it was when they started showing an earnest interest in sniffing the bean bags and pillows that had come in contact with me during my visit that I officially became Weirded Out.

Eventually I was able to leave with my fellow Fool unscathed. As it turned out, shortly after that incident they transfered out of Purdue, so I didn’t see much of them after that night. Which probably was for the best, at least for avoiding any awkwardness after that experience.

The moral of the story is: fangirls are kind of creepy.