Board Game Arena and Blooms

A couple of months ago, someone mentioned Board Game Arena to me and I signed up to take a look. The site carries a huge collection of board games, all of which can be played online. You can either play in real time (live against an opponent) or (as is my preference, turn based in which each play has a day or more to make a move. Not all games lend themselves to turn-based play, but the ones that do are handled well by the site.

Board Game Arena has recently added Nick Bentley’s Blooms to the site. And this is proving to be a frighteningly addictive two-player game.

The rules are pretty simple. The game is played on a hexagonal board made up of smaller hexes. Each player has two sets of coloured stones. The first player players a single stone and in each subsequent turn players can place one or two stones onto any empty space — if you play two stones they have to be different colours. To capture a stone or ‘bloom’ of connected stones you have to surround them so that there are no empty spaces into which the bloom can expand.

And that’s it.

The game is inspired by Go in that you place stones to surround territory but differs in that the emphasis is on capturing stones rather than territory. Also, the much smaller board size makes for a much faster game.

The number of stones you have to capture varies depending on the size of the board (15 stones when it’s four hexes per side; more for bigger boards).

What makes this game really fascinating is that you have to watch out for your opponent’s pieces but also your own. Each player has two colours which means that, if you’re not careful, you can end up trapping your own pieces. This adds a whole new element to the game and one that makes it a real challenge.

I’m still terrible at this game, but the depth that emerges does leave me wanting to play more and to get a much better handle on the game. It’s a game that is easy to understand but one in which you really need to think about your moves if you want to avoid tripping over the sort of mistake that can quickly lose you the game.

It’s certainly a game worth playing, but I would suggest you avoid the four hexes per side option. This makes for a very small playing area in which the outcome is determined by whoever makes the first mistake.

Decoupling

When I last moved my blog, I exported my posts archive, used Vim to correct all of the internal links in the XML file and then imported it into the new instance. I don’t think an option to export and import media even existed back in 2010. If it did, I didn’t see it and simply FTP’ed the images from the old site to the new.

With the move to WordPress.com I encountered a couple of glitches. The first one was my own fault — I forgot to fix the links which means that there are still some posts on here posting to images on the old server. Those images are still there, so this isn’t a problem — yet.

Slightly more concerning is the fact that not all images seem to have been transferred. This could either be because WordPress didn’t always neatly organise it’s media files by year and month, or it may just because I have too many of them. Again, this isn’t a problem while the files can still be found on the old server, but I don’t want to be dependent on having to indefinitely maintain a bunch of old domains.

So I am thinking of hosting my media files elsewhere. Media Goblin is my first thought, which would allow me to host images elsewhere while retaining control over them.

I’m not in any great hurry just yet, but decoupling my posts from my images does strike me as an effective way of maximising flexibility at minimal cost.

Another task for 2019, I think.

WordPress and walled gardens

Here’s a coincidence. Shortly after I decide to abandon my self-hosted WordPress instance for the safety of a site hosted on WordPress.com, John Beckett starts mulling over whether to leave the WordPress walled garden:

As we have seen in recent days with Tumblr, a shoe could come down one day, and change the rules that govern the existence of our words on the internet. If I choose to walk away from a hosted blogging service, am I really taking ownership though? I still won’t own or control the hardware — I still won’t own or control the connection between the hardware and the wider internet. I’ll just have moved the goal-posts a little closer to me — I won’t own them, or the ground they are planted in.

For me, there are two issues with walled gardens. Firstly, and most importantly, the owners of these networks tend to try and force people to sign up to their networks — I can’t see what someone has posted on Facebook, for example, without first signing up to Facebook. The second issue is one of exportability — once you have placed your content into the walled garden it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get it back out.

In the case of WordPress, neither of these issues apply. You don’t need a WordPress account to visit, or follow, this blog and if I do decide to self-host again at some point in the future, exporting and importing my posts is a very straightforward process.

Crucially, I do own this domain name and, if I did decide I wanted to self-host again, it would be possible to do so pretty much seamlessly. And because I can easily move the blog, I have much less desire to do so.

And by hosting the blog on WordPress, I can leave tasks like security, sizing and the rest to people who (should) know what they are doing.

WordPress may be a bit of a walled garden, but the walls are very low and the gates are wide open.

Kobo in my Pocket

I have, over the years, acquired a surprisingly sizable collection of eBooks and, after trying several cheapskate alternatives have finally had to face the fact that you really do need a dedicated eReader if you want to read an eBook comfortably. So I bought a Kobo. Specifically, a Kobo Aura H2O which I could (in theory, at least) read in the bath.

It’s a nice device and I am finding myself using it more and more. The text is sharp and clear and the backlight redshifts as the evening wears on so that you can read it in bed without disturbing your partner or straining your eyes.

The real killer feature for me, though, is the Pocket integration.

Pocket is not something I have really looked at in the past but, since the Kobo integrates with it I thought I would take a look. And this has proven to be fantastic.

With a traditional PC or phone screen, I find that there is a limit to the length of article I am willing to read. It doesn’t matter how interesting or useful the article is, I always reach a point at which I start scanning to the end of it — I’m not alone in this.

But now, rather than skimming, I save longer articles to Pocket so that when I get home they are all on the Kobo, patiently waiting for me to make myself a nice cup of tea before I sit back on the couch and catch up on the day’s reading.

Better than that, though, is that with a little IFTTT tinkering I have the RSS feed for The Observer coming straight into Pocket and direct to the Kobo. It’s not quite like reading a Sunday paper again, but it’s probably as close as I will ever get.

Away forever

AOL has announced that it is shutting down AOL Instant messenger on December 15th. I’m rather surprised as I hadn’t realised that either AIM or AOL were still a thing.

The last away message

I do remember AIM though, and I even had an account on there back in the day, and it was certainly great at the time. So much so that everyone was on AIM.

And then it went the way of every proprietary network on the internet — superseded, ignored and now abandoned.

Automated philosophy

I am indebted to Crys for pointing me in the direction of InspiroBot:

[A]n artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

You know the sort of thing, those wannabe inspirational posters that people keep obliviously posting all over the internet.

What InspiroBot does is allow you to generate these at random by simply clicking on a button. The joy of it is that the program is a lot better at grammar than it is at content.

Here’s an example:

Are past lives the orgasm of a vacuum?

Solving the wrong problem

Dave Winer thinks that podcast RSS feeds should be ghettoised.

Here’s the problem. If you put a link to the RSS feed alongside the links to iTunes and Stitcher and whatever else, you’re going to get a bunch of emails from users about how your site is broken. I know, because I’ve gotten those emails.

And here’s his answer:

Create a simple page that says “This is a link to our RSS feed. It’s used by developers and hobbyists to build their own listeners and it helps support innovation on the internet.”

This is a terrible solution, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the suggested statement is flat-out not true. Speaking for myself, I don’t use iTunes or Stitcher. I use gPodder. If I find an interesting podcast I need an RSS feed to follow it — if you don’t give me a feed I’m not going to follow your content. It really is as simple as that.

This leads to the second problem, which is that Winer is assuming that proprietary feeds are the norm and should therefore be given preferential treatment to open standards. I’m not going to dispute the first part of this assumption but to present RSS as some curiosity that is only of interest to hobbyists is to consign it to history. If you want RSS to remain a viable standard, the RSS feed needs to be given at least the same precedence as the proprietary feeds.

As to the problem that Winer is trying to solve. How many people, really, are incapable of clicking on the correct link? A quick search across the corporate podcasts that I listen to reveals that neither the BBC nor The Guardian feel the need to make some special “your’re stupid” statement about RSS. In fact, The Guardian even manages to force a few extra clicks out of you regardless of what feed you choose.

Of course, the best approach is that taken by the Duffercast1. A single subscribe link takes you to all the feeds with no special statements about any of them, because some audiocasts have listeners who are capable of using the internet.

Footnote

  1. Disclaimer: Yes, I am a duffer

Rolling back

I noticed that the Twenty Seventeen Theme that I installed on this blog at the start of the year wasn’t playing too nicely with Epiphany. Having lots of links in a post is a bit pointless if you have to hover your mouse over them in order for them to be highlighted.

So I have rolled back to the previous theme which, if I’m honest, looks a lot nicer than all this new-fangled modernity,

Removing Google Apps from a Fairphone

One of the nice things about the Fairphone is that none of the Google Apps are installed by default. There is a widget that allows you to manually install them and, when I received my phone back in 2014 I hesitated briefly, then tapped it.

This means, of course, that if I want to scrape all of these apps off my phone, the easiest approach is to backup and reset.

It worked, but the results aren’t quite what I expected. I still see apps like the Play Store, Gmail and Google+ on my phone, which leaves me wondering what the Google Apps Installer actually installs. This also means that my phone is still a lot less Googly than I would like and I have simply managed to find the slow way of removing an account.

However, I went ahead and installed F-Droid and started searching for current apps or replacements. This was successful and F-Droid does have everything I want, and more more. The only quirk I encountered was with the iFixit app which was installed by default on the phone. F-Droid tells me there is an upgrade, which I can’t install without first removing the original app. And I can’t remove the original app.

The Fairphone 1 is rooted by default, so I should be able to remove this. But right now, it’s late and I’m going to bed.