Friday, 12 December 2008

Commercial email done right

Everyone hates spam. Some people do happen to like processed meat, but I have yet to find anyone who actually likes Unsolicited Commercial Email. But there is such a thing as desirable commercial email (and it's always solicited, ie you explicitly requested that it be sent), and today I had a perfect example of such.

Readers who know anything at all about me will know that I love chocolate. Some may also know that I frequently buy from a place called Sweet As in Box Hill Central. A little while ago, I signed up for their email newsletter with notification of their latest specials; and one such email came in today. I read it at lunch time, and made a quick change of plans... instead of going shopping tomorrow, I'd go tonight after work - because the email said they'd be open till 9pm. Yay!

And the final tally came out pretty beneficial to both sides. I bought a whole lot of discounted chocolate, and they took $153.70 of my money. I've broken $100 in a single chocolate transaction before (at Sweet As, of course), but this is the first time I've broken $150. Ahhh... Christmas shopping. Delightful occupation, when it means browsing chocolates!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

HTML tags illustrated



If that made you laugh, check out these, which are what inspired me to make that. Some of them are good and some aren't, but they're all very geeky.

Friday, 31 October 2008

New eatery in Oakleigh

At Oakleigh Station, right near the bus bays, there's a triangular shop space. When I first started commuting through Oakleigh, it was occupied by a low-grade fish and chippery. Then for a long while (a year or two, and sing that to whatever tune you like) it was empty, with the windows boarded up as though construction were going on. Well... Today, it opened. There's now an eatery on that spot, and a much better one than previously. Unfortunately service was a little slow this morning, with the result that I lost my bus, but hopefully that will change once the staff get into the swing of things. If their service, quality, and value for money (and you probably want me to mention cleanliness in that set, too) improve from here, I'll have no hesitation in recommending them.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

My hands are still stinging!

Having seen the cast list for this show, I came along with somewhat high expectations; and I can hardly say I was disappointed. Apart from a few points where lines were stumbled over, or the orchestra got slightly desynchronized with the cast, the show held together well.

The staging was, as could be expected, very traditional. There were a few points where things worked out un-ideally, such as Ida's fall into the river (there were not enough ladies' dresses to stop us from seeing her fall) and the double chorus in the second act finale (could hardly see the women at all, and I think they may have had trouble seeing the conductor), everything looked well-rehearsed and smoothly carried out. The Woman Of the wisest Wit quintet, especially, was superb, as was Hildebrand's song at the beginning, giving out instructions to his courtiers.

Hildebrand (Barry Fry) was in good form all through the show. Entering to fanfare, he commands the stage and draws your attention. A very powerful character, and this is never less obvious than in the second act finale, where he faces off with the princess and makes it clear that he really WILL kill her brothers.

Ida (Rachel Sztanski) handles that scene superbly as well; just as she handled every other scene. "Minerva" - striking those notes perfectly without a cue - the Broken Toy quartet - brilliant - and Cyril's drinking/kissing song was marked by excellent business between Ida, Hilarion, Melissa, and others. Her sad scene in the third act was also beautifully rendered.

After the drowning scene, she came back on stage looking very much as though she'd had a ducking (although still with dry costume of course), and the overcoat added to her costume made much of some of her gestures - she looked at times like the Sorceror's Apprentice, casting and commanding, just as she commanded the stage and the chorus without any trouble.

The forceful princess carried such weight and dignity that it's clear why she cannot "pocket her pride" - there is not a pocket in the world big enough for it!

Lady Blanche (Lucy Nicholson) had her aria, "Come Mighty Must", reinstated. Sung the way she did, it's well worth keeping. In her duet with Melissa, their voices did not truly harmonize as I'd hoped, through no fault of theirs; I'm not sure what was wrong, but perhaps it's just that I was sitting so close to the stage that one dominated whenever the other faced away from me. The singing was impeccable, and most pleasant on the ears in spite of this. And Blanche's acting, particularly during the second act finale, definitely added to the scene.

Hilarion caught my ear right from the beginning. His opening solo sounded excellent, and he held the strength of the part all through the show. His companion Cyril, alas, is not the best person to take on this sort of mission, and I'd hesitate to take him anywhere after that disgusting drunken scene! David Campbell pulled off the part well, although he is a rather less than convincing drunk. With Florian (Geoff Carison) they nicely completed the trios and harmonized well.

Melissa! A fairly small part, but superbly executed. Her change of mood from bold to pleading to bold again in "Death to the Invader" was funny, the moreso because her emotions were so very real. Rebekah Chapman was notable time and again for her acting, never dropping out of character, always that bit funny and always involved. Lady Psyche (Amy Buchanan), too, made much of her role, and Sacharissa (Bec Muratore) stood out in every scene she was in, taking part in the action whatever was happening.

King Gama (Andy Payne) had a strange twitch to his hand, the cause of which I wondered at. Is it anything to do with the hump on his shoulder, perhaps? A field of unbounded curiosity, on which I could blog for hours! His sons, too, Arac (Andrew Ferguson), Guron (Michael James) and Scynthius (Robert Moroni), took their parts well in hand. Their programme photos looked hopelessly unlike anything that could be Gama's sons, but as soon as they appeared in beards, with suitable expressions on their faces, all doubt was at once removed.

The choruses had their weak and strong members, as could always be expected. Their involvement with the show was good, particularly the men in the first act and the ladies in the second; there was plenty of interaction between leads and chorus at all times. Goldfishing was rare, with most or all of the chorus singing out in every scene.

After the curtain calls, the entire company segued into "Then jump for joy", which seemed to take Melissa by surprise a little. Not that it hurt anything - she carried on anyway, as a good performer should.

All in all, a very good show. My hands are still stinging from the applause. Well done, all!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

SelfGeek.com and spam

I'll not honor them with a link, but there is a site called selfgeek.com. I was suspicious of them from the start, so when the site asked me to provide an email address before I would be allowed to access a certain document, I created one specifically for the purpose. Do not ever give this site your real address; it's one of those sites that sells your email address to spammers.

The content isn't even all that good. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's useless. Avoid.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?

I'm sure most people are aware of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. It's the largest particle collider in the world (until an even larger one is built), and has been predicted to do all sorts of things... not least of which is to drop the entire planet into a black hole. Many people are worried about whether or not such a thing is possible. The question is, should it happen, would you be told? After all, you might not have the radio or TV on at the right moment, to catch that vital news bulletin. Google may and may not have a chance to put a Google Doodle up. Your subscription to "End Of The World Weekly" might be delayed. How will you get immediate information?

Fortunately, there is an answer. A man named Michael Kania has published a web site which uses Javascript to determine the state of the world.

http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/

View that page, and view it often. Be the very first to know when the world disappears!

Friday, 3 October 2008

RosMud version 1.5.6

* The format used to show the timestamp of the line under the mouse is now configurable. You can now show the date, for instance.

* Aspell plugin can now do multiple words (it picks the first suggestion for each misspelled word). Of small value only. Very slow - does a separate web lookup for each word given.

* Added support for a NewPlugs.ini to simplify upgrades - plugins listed there will be installed on first startup. The installer will create this file if it is needed. The net effect is that new standard plugins will be automatically activated.

* RM will now recognize a special line of text that can be put into a help file or similar, and use that to note whether or not there's a new version of RosMud available. As of Oct 2008, this line is being put into Rosuav's ooc information - type "ooc rosuav" to see if there's a newer version than you currently have.

RosMud version 1.5.5

I failed to post this one at the appropriate time, unfortunately. Posting it now so the version history is maintained, but it was released on September 2nd.

* Closing a subwindow also now responds to confirm on close if there is a connection

* A very obscure and probably never seen bug in the TinyURL plugin was fixed.

* New plugin: Aspell. Calls on GNU Aspell to offer spelling suggestions. By popular demand!

* New plugin: REAlias. Regular Expression aliasing.

* Fixed that problem with ==> prompts followed by color codes not being recognized.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

RosMud version 1.5.4

* File|Exit now responds to the "Confirm on Close" setting. (Obscure bug.)

* Adjusted the accelerators on the Connect dialog to make it easier to use the keyboard

* New feature: Multiline entry field! Configurable in Options|Advanced. (Geek note: There are now actually two separate Edit windows. If you do any sort of tinkering from outside the window, this may break you.)

Monday, 19 May 2008

RosMud version 1.5.3

* New feature: Search! This command is "/" - type "/ searchstring" (note the space) to begin searching, then "/" on its own to find next. Can also be invoked in dialog form: press Ctrl-F, or use View|Find, then type what you want to look for and hit Enter. (Enter again to find next; there's no Find Previous, sorry.)

* Guarded against an obscure bug: If you use numpad nav but do not have any command set for the 0 key, it would lose that entry next time you loaded RM - the commands would all move up one slot. Only applies to the 0 key; others could safely be blank without problem. But it's fixed now.

* Added some checks to try to pin down the "feral GA" problem. It's only a display problem, but I'd really like to fix this.

* Changed distribution again: Instead of a ZIP, it's now a self-extracting installer. It wants to install into c:\rosmud.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Facebook applications and you

I don't think anyone needs to be told what Facebook is. If you're one of the lucky few who's never heard of it, just skip this post and move on. The feature that I'm looking at right now is the myriad applications that you can install; in fact, anyone can write such an application, without very much trouble. And that's the problem - anyone can write a malicious piece of code, wrap it up inside an application, and start pushing it.

When you add an application that wasn't created by Facebook's own programmers, you get a prompt asking if you want to let the application access blah blah blah. Since you can't use the app without doing so, people will just say "Okay, let it have access". This security measure is really just a waste of bandwidth, because it's so completely normal. If you had an "Are you sure" prompt every time you tried to use Google, you wouldn't take much notice of it; and then if you got the same prompt trying to visit a site that downloads spyware to your computer, you'd probably click OK to it without taking any notice. So the confirmation is of very limited value.

The BBC did a bit of a test in which they published a rogue application and leeched enormous amounts of data away. Few details are shown, naturally, but I have no doubt that it's all completely accurate.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7376738.stm

They collected personal information, not only from the person who actually added the app, but also from all that person's friends - without anyone's knowledge. If this code were part of some trojan horse application (such as a game - it seems that there are a LOT of people who install a LOT of game applications), it wouldn't take long before large amounts of data could be collected. The BBC report states that the information cannot directly be used for identity theft, but when you consider the amount of information that people post on their Myspace/Facebook profiles, it's obvious that an identity thief could put it to pretty good use.

So what's to be done? It's not possible to 100% trust all applications unless you read through their source code in great detail; and I don't think the Facebook people have the time to do that. Certainly this responsibility cannot be dumped on the app users; there's no way Joe and Jenny Average are going to go checking out someone's source code. What can be done to mitigate the problem?

Solution 1: Make several different levels of access. Most apps won't need access to much, so just let them read really basic information like your name. Then the next level could be access to all your profile, but not to any information about your friends. Only a very few applications would need to know your friends' interests and personal details. When you add an application, it should ask you to confirm, and the page presented should look VERY different for the different levels.

Solution 2: Abandon Facebook. Get cheap web hosting to put your photo album on, and just don't use social networking sites.

I guess that puts this in the category of rants - nobody wants to take either/any solution offered, because none is really satisfactory. Unless, of course, you're like me, and don't care that much about Facebook anyway.

Friday, 11 April 2008

RANT: eBay and PayPal

My salary, at the moment, is largely dependant on eBay Australia - I work in a business that sells primarily on ebay.com.au - but for a long time my boss has been talking about the need to move away. Customer service just doesn't exist at ebay - they care a little bit about the end customers, but not at all about the sellers (who are ebay's customers). And neither they nor PayPal can be relied upon to make good their promises, when things go badly - a number of their guarantees are valid only until it's going to hurt them, and then they don't fulfil (or delay things until you realise you're wasting hours and hours trying to recover $25 from them). But a recent announcement shows that they've outdone themselves. Massively.

eBay and PayPal have long maintained a strong, almost-monopolistic association (for instance, you're not allowed to pass on the PayPal fee to the end customer, but have to absorb it yourself, thus making PayPal look better to the buyer, thus encouraging its use). There have been many advertisements saying that PayPal is safe, and other methods are not safe (that's true of some, like putting cash in the post, but there are other methods that are as safe as PayPal - especially when you factor out their empty promises of refunds and such), but it's always been up to the seller to announce what they'll accept, and up to the buyer to pick a payment method.

Now we get this announcement (hopefully that page will stay valid). I checked the date - that's April 10th, not April 1st, so this is for real. Some significant passages:

All items listed for sale on eBay.com.au on or after 21 May 2008 must offer PayPal as one of the payment methods.


That's annoying, and it's monopolistic. But it's livable, and any semi-major ebay seller is going to have a paypal account and be using it already. But that's just the interim order.


All items appearing on eBay.com.au as of 17 June 2008 must be paid for using one of the following:

1. PayPal
2. Pay on pick up (i.e. paid for when picking up the item)
3. Visa/MasterCard (with transactions processed by PayPal).


(And what's the betting they're going to strongly FUD against option #2?) This is completely monopolistic. eBay is using its position as the #1 online auction site to FORCE people to use their money-transfer company.

I had a quick look at www.ebay.com, but I couldn't see any corresponding announcement, so at the moment, eBay US doesn't seem to be taking this action. But unless it backfires really badly on eBay AU, it's going to be seen everywhere in a very short space of time.

The business philosophy of eBay doesn't include customer service anywhere (and they're not likely to add it either, unless something shakes them up), so they're not going to take any notice of people complaining on their forums or by email. Perhaps if every seller just ignores them and states (in the description) that they take other forms of payment, then maybe they'll notice. But the only real way to wake them up would be to move away. And here we have the vital key that makes a monopoly possible: There is no alternative. Yet.

There are other online selling sites, however. And it may be that one of them, or maybe several of them, will become tomorrow's eBay. But a site needs two things: code, and people. You can't attract buyers unless the likelihood of finding what they want is worth their investment of time; same for sellers - you can't attract sellers unless the likelihood of having someone find them is worth their investment of time. Good code will reduce the "investment of time" requirement, but ultimately, it takes a large community to get over that hurdle. So for a site like OZtion (for example) to succeed, they first need good code, then lots of sellers, and then lots of buyers. One crucial factor here, though, is cross-listing. If it takes 1 minute more to relist something on OZtion that you already have listed on eBay, then it's only going to cost you 1 minute of time to list it. That would make the whole concept a lot easier to get started.

But there needs to be code before any of that can happen. And for all its faults, all its bugs and stupid stupid foibles, eBay's system still has the best of anything that I've seen. There's room for someone new. Who is going to step into the gap and be tomorrow's big online selling site? Because it won't be ebay, if they continue as they are now.

Friday, 28 March 2008

RosMud version 1.5.2

Mainly bugfixes too.

* RM will no longer look at the word under the cursor when you click - it now waits for a double-click, unless it was a URL. (URLs are still clickable, therefore.) Should be a little less annoying.

* Fixed more silly problems with selection hilight: 1) if ANSI color is disabled, and in a few other circumstances, the middle lines of the selection would be unreadable; 2) the blank space at the end of the last selected line would be shown hilighted, instead of unhilighted; and 3) if you hilight several lines of text, finishing with one that came locally (rather than from the server), then it would print the line doubled. No longer.

* The Timer plugin had a lingering bug in that when you try to delete a timer, it picked the wrong one to delete. (It would query you and quote the keyword for the timer it actually intended to remove, but it wouldn't be the one that you selected.) Now fixed.

* Lines ending with "==> " will be recognized as prompts. This should fix problems with handshaking and such in Threshold.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

RosMud version 1.5.1

A few small bugfixes. Nothing major.

* Whoops. Version 1.5.0 sent a termtype saying "BetaII"... now fixed. From 1.5.1 onwards, RM correctly says "RosMud_A".
* Added a constant message to the bottom of the Timer plugin window. It's now somewhat less cryptic out-of-the-box. Well... slightly less cryptic anyhow.
* Clicking on the window (without marking out an area) will no longer empty your clipboard for you. It will now attempt to "look" at the word under the cursor; if that word begins http:// or www. then it will be given to your web browser. So... clickable links! Woo! All other words will be sent back to the currently-connected server.
* Made RM more correctly handle botched ANSI codes. If you've seen RM show massive slabs of text with the wrong background color, upgrade to 1.5.1 and the problem should disappear. (It's a server bug, but RM was handling it backwards, and so the bug showed up as a wrong display, where other clients would handle it forwards and still look alright.)

Monday, 10 March 2008

RosMud version 1.5.0

This release has been held over a bit, awaiting a couple of things. But here it is, and it's big enough to not just be a Revision. There are some major client-server interaction improvements; hopefully this will make your Threshold RPG experience better!

* RosMud will now send a Terminal Type to servers which request it. (It will not cycle through types.) To allow some form of versioning, the termtype is "RosMud_A" - the letter will be incremented if and when a server will need to distinguish old versions from new. (To discover what version it changed, search History.txt for the keyword "termtype".)
* Big new feature: TELNET Prompts Mode! See the main documentation for details.
* Big new feature: Idle Killer! Also see main docs for details. Will send IAC GA at a specified interval, to keep your internet connection alive. Has the approval of the Threshold RPG administration as it does NOT affect your idle time as measured by the server.
* Fixed bug in word wrap/tab expansion code that meant that large numbers of tabs in a line could crash RosMud
* Made the Timer plugin less flickery and way less buggy. The configuration dialog is HEAPS better now.
* New local command: /about. Type "/about" to get detailed version information, displayed locally; type "/about trivia" to emit the same information on the trivia channel. (It takes whatever you type and executes it as a command with the version info appended.)

The usual download URL is, of course, the place to look. Or you can go to rosuav.com, which has a link. All users of RosMud are strongly recommended to upgrade to version 1.5.0, as it has a large number of improvements, plus some plugin upgrades, plus it has detailed version information available, which may make tech support far easier.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Well, I guess it's about time...

I've finally done it: registered the domain rosuav.com. At the moment, www.rosuav.com doesn't have much content, but what it has may be of value: a copy of the same information that's in my OOC info on Threshold. The links are of course clickable, which they're unlikely to be on Threshold (it all depends on your client), but beyond that there's basically no change. For people who are not registered citizens, however, this is quite a significant change, as they now have easy access to the links - non-citizens can't read other people's OOC info. It's fairly simple to get hold of; just type "rosuav" into your browser's address bar and press Ctrl-Enter (known to work in both Firefox and Internet Explorer; may also work in other browsers); or just enter "rosuav.com", as it works without the www. It's straight from my OOC, and looks like text; it even maintains the flush alignment from the original.

Some day I'll probably migrate The Esstu Pack to the new domain, but not before I give it a really good makeover. The old address, showing it as a subdirectory of KEPL's web site, will of course be maintained as an alias, even if/when the change happens. (I have long wished for such a change as you suggest... but there's no compulsion, so I won't do it.) For now, though, it's just a few links that you can tab between. Clean and simple!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Robotics... I could watch it for hours!

This robot, as built by one Daniele Benedettelli, is pretty amazing. Somewhat more tedious than doing it by hand, but WAY more impressive! Who says LEGO is just a toy?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

I don't have anything to say.

So I'm going to say nothing. There is no content to this post. Nothing to see, move along. Please read 'help baonn'. Blog posts are even cheaper than 1c TXT messages, and I don't even remember which provider it is that uses that slogan.