What’s New?

Plans in the Melt

Bulletin board is now retired and all links to it are certain to be dead. In coming days, we will replace this page with a Web log. Once this is in place and functioning smoothly, attention shall return to the Farlopsian Rogues Gallery.

What’s Happened so Far?

  • Extensive revisions to the The Temple of Mank, relocation of main plant to a secret location in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, financial reorganizations and other factors contribute to stasis of our site for nearly three months. The decision is made to retire the script that builds this site’s bulletin board and replace it with a more sophisticated solution: Greymatter. Greymatter is an open-source Web log written in perl and Mr. Farlops was very impressed with it’s design. Once this new script is installed, we shall replace the current root page of this site with a new one that uses Greymatter. We’ll keep you posted.
    Saturday, March 17, 2001 10:02:57 AM
  • The new year ushers in the creation of The Temple of Mank–new home of Shaw’s Outline of Ancient History. Minor link corrections throughout this site to point to the Temple of Mank. Minor editing to some of my rants.
    Friday, January 05, 2001 12:12:11 AM
  • Events from last year.

The Glory that Was Meroë

1668 BCE: Freed from Egyptian domination, two Nubian kingdoms
unify into one state, known to the Egyptians as Kush, with its
capitol at Kerma. Currently Egypt is in decline and is ruled by
foreign invaders: the Hyksos.

1700-1400 BCE: Minoan culture reaches its apex.

Continue reading The Glory that Was Meroë →

Alternate, Alternate Histories

I’m tired of what-if stories about the Second World War and the Civil War.
Those are allohistories that have been
fictionally done to death. I’d like to see something different.

I graduated from university with a degree in history. I did three years of
physics, astronomy and mathematics but, in the end, I was too lazy to complete
a degree in that so, in order to get out of university as quickly as possible,
I chose history because, out all things I had distribution courses in, it was
the one subject I disliked the least.

Continue reading Alternate, Alternate Histories →

My Hopeless Love Affair with Mathematics

Or why, after many years, I still can’t get over the fact I flunked
complex variable analysis

I’ve got something to prove.

Continue reading My Hopeless Love Affair with Mathematics →

Ancient History

Look upon what has happened to this site in it’s many incarnations!
See how my skills at Web engineering and design improve!

Continue reading Ancient History →

Keyboard and Otherwise, Accessible Client Scripts

As I said, there a many reasons why I don’t use DHTML on
this site. However since the world at large continues to use the suspect
stuff, the least I can do is provide examples of how to design client scripts
that are accessible. So much DHTML can only work with the mouse and so
much of it doesn’t clearly communicate its state to the users with screen
readers. I hope to answer that here and give examples of good script design
that others should follow.

Continue reading Keyboard and Otherwise, Accessible Client Scripts →

On the Morality of Superhumanly Intelligent Artificial Organisms

Let me explain what I mean by that title. I don’t mean to ask if the creation of superhuman artificial intelligences is a wise decision or not because a lot has already been said about that.

Also I am not going discuss or argue about whether it’s even possible to create life, sapience or superhuman intelligence artificially except to say that I believe it’s merely an engineering problem. If you disagree with this, well, I guess this rant really isn’t relevant to you.

What I am going to examine is what kind of moral character will these beings have if they come into existance.

Continue reading On the Morality of Superhumanly Intelligent Artificial Organisms →

Zip the commercials!

Advertising is everywhere these days. It’s becoming like that Pohl and Kornbluth story, where advertising was even on the wallpaper and toilet paper. I think it’s gone far enough. I think people should be allowed to pay more for no advertising at all. Think about it. You pay for cable right? Wouldn’t you be willing to pay a little more not to see any ads on cable at all? Maybe we should demand that. Maybe we should demand to pay more not to see ads before movies–or “prominent product placement” in movies. Maybe there should be a movement towards paying more not to plagued by ads.

Until then, we have to engage in all these tricks to avoid ads. We zip through the ads on rented movies. We zip through the ads on stuff we record off the cable. I hit the mute button constantly when watching TV. Seeing ads without any sound robs them of a lot of their power.

How to block those damn banner ads!

And you can do the same thing on the Internet. There are banner ad blockers that people can add to their browsers to prevent banner ads from loading or displaying. To find one for your browser and system, visit Junkbusters (The code of Internet Junkbuster has since moved into SourceForge and many improvements have been added. Go take a look!). They have a list and advice. Their Internet Junkbuster proxy is free and does lots of great things to control your electronic wake. There is also a more user-friendly version of this technology called Guidescope.

You can also use style sheets to hide banner ads on your site, if you are forced to display them. Just use IMG {display: none;} and then set up a class with the rule {display: inline;} for your images. Your images just call the class and are displayed. Of course this only works for browsers that support style sheets.

A client-side script to stop those annoying popups

Bothered by those annoying popups on “free” web hosting sites? Do you wish you had something to stop them from bothering you?

Some browsers and some browser plug-ins allow you to adjust your browser’s security depending on where you are. For example, you can tell some browsers to shut off page scripting and Java support while in some particular location. For example, a site or even a whole domain. These browsers and browser plug-ins will switch scripting and Java back on once you leave that domain or site. Take advantage of that. If you have that ability at your disposal, you’ll never be plagued by popups or branding watermarks again. Of course the drawback is that, in shutting off the popups, you shut off everything else, included scripts you may want to see. Oh well.

Another thing you could try is to fight fire with fire.

The problematic ThirdVoice annotation tool

ThirdVoice would actually be a neat idea if it was done better. I loaded it the other day and tried it out. I saw a few neat things that people said about sites but, mostly I saw junk notes–spam, I guess you could call it. It is a neat idea to be able to annotate sites with your own personal notes (sort of like writing notes in the margin of a book). It is also a neat idea to be able to comment on specific passages or objects in a site and have that commentary be seen by other people. But there are two problems to be dealt with:

  1. How can site owners control what people plaster messages on their site. Should they be allowed to? Is it graffiti or useful, constructive commentary that shouldn’t be silenced?
  2. How do users of ThirdVoice filter all the useless junk annotations to get to the useful comments?

ThirdVoice claims to be improving the software so that it will somehow answer these two problems. Until then, Michel van Baalen, Christian Graham and others offer page scripts that block or other wise disable ThirdVoice.

Actually, savvy guy that I am, I heard about the idea of Web annotation long before ThirdVoice claimed to have invented it. There’s a server based tool called CritSuite that was invented by some folks over at The Foresight Institute. I read about it in a newsletter in ’96. They posted their first annotation in ’97, nearly two years before ThirdVoice made their claim to be first.

CritSuite behaves like ThirdVoice except it isn’t client-side and as such it doesn’t depend on which browser you’re running. It’s truly interoperable and can even work with Lynx! Also since CritSuite is currently being run and supported on servers that belong to a non-profit organization of scientists and engineers, that is, Foresight, I have better assurances of the quality of the annotations and notes. Also the notes can be moderated and the application is open source, which means you can download the code, tweak it, compile it and run it on your own server! How’s that Third Voice? If you want to boycott ThirdVoice, yet like the idea of Web annotations, try CritSuite.

Maybe a better way of doing site annotation is allow the Web author maintain control by running the service on the site. There are already some applications that do this.

Addendum: Since I wrote this in late 1998, things have changed. Web annotation technology has continued to progress yet it still remains deeply problematic.

Free, junkmail-blocking e-mail

There are a few things you should know to prevent your e-mail box from being filled up with unsolicited bulk e-mail:

  1. Always use spambot braking strings when posting your e-mail address in public places, like Web pages, Usenet posts, chat room profiles and so on.
  2. Even then, use free, Web-based e-mail addresses when posting your mail address in public places. As unsolicited bulk mail builds in frequency, you can always discard the account, get a new one and tell you new and old friends where your new account is–the spam can rot in your old account.
  3. Never tell anyone your mail address if you cannot easily change it.
  4. Protect the privacy of yourself and others by putting all addresses for group mailings on the blind carbon copy (BCC) line, if you mail client supports it. This way if anyone tries to group reply, they can only reply to you. Always ask your friends to do the same when they include you in group mails.
  5. Set up a white list in you mail client or with your free web mail service if they allow it. A white list automatically routes all mail from friends on your contact list to the inbox and all mail from addresses not your white list to a suspicious mail folder for you to check over later.
  6. There used to be a wonderful free mail service called MessageTo. It died in the dot-com crash. What I am waiting for is an open source version of this thing so I can install it on my own mail server.

I was at the WTO demonstration in Seattle. It really was as bad as all that.

Background for Chumbe Bandia

What is the Industrial States Trust?

In Chumbe Bandia, the Industrial States Trust, or simply, IT, is the name of an alliance of economically powerful and highly technological countries who, before the war, ruled the global economy. Most of the world’s multinational corporations had their head offices in these countries. Their sphere of influence contained most of Africa, India and South America. Over past forty years, in this timeline, the military, economic, environmental and political policies of this block has alienated a significant portion of the global populace.

What is the Bioregional Progress?

This alliance originally started as a political philosophy espoused by certain eco-terrorists, labor agitators and, later, militants fighting against colonial rule. In several ways the ideology corresponds to that followed by the Unibomber, the Khemer Rouge and the Shining Path. Its strange mixture of totalitarian socialism, xenophobic nationalism and deep ecology drove revolutionaries to overthrow governments in the developing world. Before the war, the sphere of influence of the BP bloc contained Europe, North Asia and a growing portion of the newly independent North American counties. It should be made clear that even though Bioregionalist thought contains several strongly anti-technological themes, the BP nations are unafraid to use any technology to achieve their ends, and invest heavily in military research.

What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?

This loose alliance arose in response to the polarizing of the world between the Industrial Trust and Bioregionalists. It is a small number of neutral counties in the regions of Australia, Oceania, North America, Europe and Asia.

What does Zombie mean?

The Czech loan word, robot, doesn’t exist in the world of Chumbe Bandia. In this world, the meaning of the West African word, zombie, evolved from its origins in African myth to mean the same thing as robot means in our world. In Chumbe Bandia, zombie means exactly the same thing as robot–a machine that does the work of a human being.

Why is game called Chumbe Bandia?

Chumbe bandia [pronounced choom-bay bahnd-ee-ah] is Swahili and it means, literally, “creatures of a synthetic nature.” I was the closest I could come to finding an expression, after combing the African language sites, that meant something similar to the expression artificial life without using loan words. The Era Chumbebandia might be best translated as the Synthozoic Era

Who is Shango and What is Shango Station?

Shango is a sky god among the Yoruba. Sometimes called the “Lord of Lightning,” he is known to be god of victory and male virility. As such he is often found as a nickname on military hardware such as tanks, planes, smart bombs and powered exoskeletons.

Chumbe Bandia

“Entry 64

“Things are quiet now and I have a few to jot a note in my diary before before they send us to Prep. Warden Mausa says it’s another sample mission?just routine. That’s a patent lie though. If these things were routine, they wouldn’t send political prisoners to do them.

“Like I said before I hate Prep. They strip you naked, dunk you in chemicals and flash burn your body hair off. Then they shoot you full of every antibiotic known to medicine, stuff you in an itchy paper jumper, shrink-wrap an environment suit on you and finally send you to the airlock where your gun, armor and tools are waiting. After that it’s a mile hike up ladders and stairs to get to the surface. And that’s just to go up to the surface. Coming back, if you come back, is worse.

“The funny thing is they haven’t confiscated my diary yet. They know I have it cause it’s impossible to hide it in the cells. I guess they feel it will keep me diverted or perhaps they think I will forget how to read. It’s hard to guess what the Directorate thinks.

“The Directorate says it’s just trying to win the world back and that humanity is hanging by a thread and, as such, harsh measures are needed. That’s it. Gaurd’s here. Hope this isn’t my last entry

“Mweli Msisi
Shango Station
22 CB

“Entry 137

“It’s hard to remember things. For the politicals, they routinely administer drugs and surgery on them to?I won’t say destroy?to edit?memory. They’ve got this chemical, administered by medical microbots implanted in your brain, that’s supposed to render the brain more plastic. They try to wash away what they don’t want while at the same time rending the brain more receptive to learning new things.

“I can’t even remember my parents now. They died in the early stages of the way. This diary is the only way I have to remember things. I suspect now that they tamper with it while I am away on sample missions or when I am at learning sessions. Did I just write this? Or did I just fabricate the memory that I did in order to rationalize what I see here?

“Mweli Msisi
Shango Station
22 CB

“Entry 651

“Where to start? How to describe the end?

“It began as a dispute over mineral rights in the frozen waste of the Polar Continent. At the time, Earth was divided into three political groups: The Industrial States Trust, The Bioregional Progress and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The dispute became a shooting war. Considering the amount of money the BP and IT alliances spent on defense over the past forty years, it was only a matter of time before someone attempted to use weapons of mass destruction. It began with plague weapons being used by the BP. The IT retaliated with nuclear and kinetic weapons, which the BP answered in kind. Civilization began to fall apart but, the governmental and military command structures managed to remain intact on both sides even though the populations of many nations were reduced to a tiny fraction of their pre-war numbers. This was possible because the automated factories kept pouring out war materials despite repeated bombardment.

“It was then that the IT introduced the Hunters. The First Global War was 6 years old. Hunters were simple zombies, not much smarter than insects, that were produced by small, mobile factories called Mothers. Hunters had a very simple goal: Find and destroy the enemy. Or at least find and destroy those who could not identify themselves as friendly with the correct, ciphered, control signals. A new arms race began as each side invented smarter and tougher creatures and smarter and tougher countermeasures.

“And so things went for another two years.

“It was then that we began to find new varieties of war zombies whose origins didn’t seem to correspond to any known enemy design. By then it was already too late. They were beyond our control. The Era Chumbebandia had begun.

“Now, as I sit in one the endless vaults of Shango Station, the Reign of Humanity appears to be over.”

–Excerpted and translated from the diaries of Mweli Msesi, Enlisted, of the 43rd Army, Territorial Defense Forces, Industrial Trust.

This is your typical humans versus the robots story but with a with a twist. It takes place in an alternate history where Africa, not Europe, rises to global dominance first. Not only that but technical advances occur more rapidly in this history than in our history. The people of this world built computers and gene manipulation 300 years earlier than we did.

Rules for Chumbe Bandia

I would prefer if you use GURPS or the Hero System if you want to give me a character. Those are the point based systems I know. Before you even start thinking about point totals though, you’d better write up a detailed life history first. This game is about psychological themes and melodrama not about power gaming a set of statistics. The rules are going to be an extremely abstract concept in this game and I plan on being quite arbitrary. If you wanna just run around and kill things go play StarCraft or Quake or something.

Related pages: