The last three months

I must apologise for the lack of updates over the past while — real life suddenly got very, very busy.  I’ll sum up what I’ve been up to:

Work stuffs

I left Web Africa at the end of November 2013: several internal changes made in 2013 transformed the company from an awesome place to work to a totally hideous place to work.  (And, from general sentiment on MyBroadband, a totally hideous place to do business with as well now.)  I’m now over at Khanyisa Real Systems, which is another awesome place to work: small, everyone has fun while working hard at the same time, new technologies to play with, I’m no longer bored out of my skull… it’s how the development department at Web Africa was before upper management wrecked it.

Of course, this means that I have to update the About Me page again.  I’ll do this Soon™.

Family stuffs

Some of you reading this already know, but for those who don’t: Little Annoying Sister is expecting her first child in late June.  Tim, Kelle and Amy have already taken to calling me “Uncle Won-Won”… yeah, that title isn’t going away any time soon.

Relationship stuffs

Amy and I have been up to all kinds of awesome/crazy things lately — an awesome weekend going back in time to the Victorian era at Matjiesfontein, acting like tourists in our own city — it’s been fun.  I’ve obviously been slacking with putting write ups on here, but Amy has been posting our adventures on her own blog, so I’m just going to redirect you all there.

Location stuffs

Due to (1) new work location, (2) proximity to Little Annoying Sister and her Future Spawnling and (3) proximity to Amy, I’m relocating back to the Southern Suburbs (specifically: Rosebank) at the end of this month — though, I’m going to really miss living with Tim and Kelle.  Blog updates will probably stop dead again until Telkom wires my new place up.  Probably in a few years or so.

World of Warcraft stuffs

We had a lull since my post detailing our Kor’kron Dark Shaman kill due to people not being around due to end of year work pressures, then people not being around for December/January holidays, then people deciding not to raid any more and me having to recruit new people and gear them up.  We’ve slowly ramped back up since mid-January though, and are currently working on Siegecrafter Blackfuse.  After that’s killed, it’s just the Klaxxi Paragons (which, from my experience on the “tourist” difficulty levels, should be dispatched without too much trouble) and Garrosh (which, being the last raid boss, will be a nightmare) left until we’ve cleared Siege of Orgrimmar (on normal anyway, we’re not going to get very far on heroic, I’m afraid).

I’ve been considering setting up a separate blog for the World of Warcraft stuffs, but if I’m slacking on maintaining this one…

Miscellaneous stuffs

  • One of the PCF admins got in touch with me requesting a patch for a user-requested feature, so I wrote and submitted it.  I took a quick look around the place while I was there, and Panorama Publishing has totally ignored the place since my departure, which I had predicted.  They seem totally uninterested in having someone around to keep it going, and since my patch met with a frosty reception (evidently, some users still have the mindset of me being responsible for Panorama’s mismanagement), my feeling towards the place is now: let it burn.  Good riddance.
  • I managed to turn my mother into a planespotter when British Airways sent an A380 to Durban for crew training for around two weeks.  (There’s a video of it landing here, which is well worth watching for any aviation enthusiasts lurking here.)
  • If you ever visit the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, don’t pull a Jeremy Clarkson and run out of petrol in Pripyat.
  • A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood.

Why not fork?

I was asked — in real life — after my post about the (sorry!) state of the PCFormat/G3AR forums, “why not simply fork them and run them the way you would want to?”.  I’ve decided to share the answer here.

This is not an option.

True, the phpBB software that the forums run are licensed under GPLv2, which covers the software itself quite nicely.  I could quite easily go, set up a forum, and be on my way.  (In fact, that’s how the forum hidden away on this site got set up.)  This site doesn’t have the resources to run a fairly sizeable server — the resources are only adequate for the rather low demands — but, with virtual private servers becoming more affordable, setting up one of those would be just fine (gives me an opportunity to dust off my Linux sysadmin knowledge).    Plus, if it became a financial strain, there are ways of monetizing the content, though for various reasons, I would not make it any more intrusive than asking for donations.

The problem is that the GPLv2 doesn’t (and wasn’t designed to) extend to the data within the database, which is the most fundamental part of the community.  That data is the proprietary property of Panorama Publishing and thus, to fork, I would need their express permission, something that I can virtually guarantee would not be obtained.  If it were to be obtained, I’d need to sift through it and remove any content specific to them and their branding.  If it were not to be obtained, I’d basically be creating a new forum community from scratch.  I have the time and inclination for neither of these outcomes.

It’s a nice and noble idea, and within the spirit of software freedom, but in this case, the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle is non-free, which makes this practically impossible.

In search of paradigm shifts

The ironic thing about me putting up a “fighting against the tide” post yesterday is that the same thing is happening in the protection paladin community at the moment.  However, there’s a lot more of us available for said fighting.

I’ll simply let my post on the official World of Warcraft forums explain it all.  Note that it is very protection paladin specific: if you don’t play World of Warcraft, much less play a protection paladin within the game, you’ll likely be either uninterested or confused — so, I’ve hidden it behind the break.

Continue reading

The decision to walk away

Just short of a month ago, I rather abruptly made the decision to resign my position as sysadmin of the PCFormat/G3AR forums. Or rather, it was seen as abrupt as I posted the announcement without any prior warning, when in actuality, I had been deliberating over it for several months prior. A month on, it seems to have been largely forgotten about, which makes me comfortable enough to write up my reasoning for leaving.

A lot of it is indeed personal. Since late last year, there have been several changes in my life, with some things becoming more important, and others becoming less so. I’ve been putting a lot more time and effort into personal character development: becoming less anti-social, getting out there, meeting new people, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and all of that. (The result of that is that I may have finally met my life partner — although she is going through quite a few life issues and isn’t ready for a relationship, being told “I hope you don’t have to wait too long” is an indication that she may feel the same way.) Also, being elevated to the position of guild master in my World of Warcraft guild has chewed up some time that would have previously been assigned to more hackerish activities — such as, applying security updates and code fixes to an Internet forum at 1 AM on a weekend night. The thing is, I realised that I was doing way, way too much in my life without taking time out to relax, which was burning me out: unfortunately, as is the case for all of us, my time available to do things is a rather scarce resource. I realised that I had to give up on some things that I was previously doing, and administering the PCF/G3AR forums was one of the things that had its head lopped off outside the Great Sept of Baelor.

But, not all of it was personal, and to find out what the other reasons were, it’s necessary to understand why I jettisoned my forum administrator role specifically. After all, I could have kept it and quit something else instead. This requires some insight into how I fitted into the whole operation, which I will attempt to give.

Historically, the publishers of the PCFormat magazine (initially Intelligence Publishing, later bought out by Panorama Publishing) ran the forum as an in-house operation, but once their in-house guy left back in 2008, they chose to move to a community-managed operation. They decided to pick one person from the community that would keep the forums operational and act as a bridge between Panorama and the community. Yup, they chose me (possibly primarily because of my expertise hacking on the phpBB forum software).

On theory, this was a great idea, but times and perceptions shift. Generally, internet forums are now an endangered species as kids these days have gravitated towards newer forms of online social media and networking (Facebook, Twitter, et al.), which is a well-documented phenomenon.  And over time, I noticed a gradual decline of people using the forum. People leave online communities (and non-online communities too) for various reasons — it’s a fact of life: people change, circumstances change. The problem is that, unlike in the past where new people would arrive to replace those leaving, new people would be heading off to the PCF/G3AR Facebook page and Twitter feed, and wouldn’t bother registering a forum account (“I’m already on Facebook, why should I bother with another login?”). Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this shift: I find an internet forum can be much more close-knit than a Facebook page (and far more close-knit than a random Twitter feed), but I can’t fight that tide alone.

Panorama Publishing wasn’t interested in fighting that tide at all, and pretty much lost all interest in their “legacy” online community. I could keep the forum operational — that was my area of expertise, and apart from a few early server hiccups (until we moved to a beefier server, at which point things became, and still are, rock solid stable), I believe I did a good job there — but I had no impact or influence over the PCFormat/G3AR brand, or how it was marketed, which meant any drive to market the forum had to come from Panorama, not from me. Which would have been fine if they were actually interested in doing that but, sadly, my numerous attempts there were generally met with apathy. Not even a massive restructuring exercise that I, after discussion with Panorama, took on — rearranging and redesigning the forum to be more in line with the magazine brand — made much difference. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to notice the decline in activity: the userbase did as well, and I ended up with a small but extremely vocal group of users that were convinced that I was the cause for every single reason for the decline (to the extent that Panorama requested me to issue some high-profile user bans, which really only added fuel to the fire). Caught between a rock and a hard place, my position became untenable. Panorama Publishing has the right to give the PCF/G3AR forums the level of support of their choosing — but in the absence of any support despite my efforts to gain said support, then, as forum sysadmin/custodian/whatever, I had the right to do the right thing: walk away.

It’s unclear what will happen in the future, but that depends on how Panorama Publishing decides to proceed. There are three options that they might take: firstly, they may decide to appoint a replacement from within their ranks which, if they intend to keep the forum going, I believe to be the best option. Secondly, they may decide that maintaining the forum makes little sense from a commercial and social media standpoint, and decide to close it entirely. Thirdly, they may appoint a replacement from within the community, as was what happened with me, but I strongly feel that this would be a grave mistake: without a drastic, positive shift regarding their level of support, this will likely be the same as the second option, just more protracted in its execution — and this would be by far the most detrimental option, both to Panorama, and to the remaining community. If Panorama feels that the forum has reached end of life, I feel that it would be best to just cut life support and let it go. It will definitely upset and alienate the remaining forum community, but unfortunately, they don’t have much recourse there.

In conclusion, I’d like to end off with a brief message to any member of the PCF/G3AR forum community that happens to stumble by and read this (and I know that some of them do): thank you for being a part of an awesome community. As I mentioned in my resignation announcement, there are some of you who will never forget, and there are none of you who I would like to forget; friendships have been forged that will last far, far longer than I could have ever conceived. Understand that behind the scenes, behind closed doors, I was fighting a massive battle to ensure your community’s survival. Sadly, it turned out to be a battle that I did not have the strength to win.

It’s beer o’clock!

Those who know me know that I enjoy a good drink every now and then.  Those who have the misfortune of living with me experience this all the time (and then, they decide to bring out the Penalty Shot at a whim, but that’s going off on a bit of a tangent for this post).  I blame my Rhodesian heritage: back in that long-lost culture, having a daily glass of wine, typically when returning from a hard day’s work, was considered the norm.  (My mother frequently cites this as the reason for Rhodesia having far less of a drinking problem than South Africa, because people there were “taught to drink responsibly”.  Or at least, it was that way in the 1970s… well before my time though.)

That kind of still lives on: some office environments find that the occasional drink at work stimulates social interaction, and can actually result in some decent ideas and brainstorming being thrown around.  (It does depend on the working environment: informal ones, such as your typical IT company, would do just fine with this, but don’t try this in the manufacturing sector, the petrochemical sector, or — worst of all — in government.)  This is actually one reason why there’s usually beer supplied at our company-wide meetings and catch-up sessions (the other reason is that it’s the only way to entice the Development Department to actually attend these).  In fact, some places are taking this a step further and are offering free wine to customers on Fridays, though, as much as I would like to take them up on their offer, boutique stores are not my kind of thing — and I will reach though my laptop and slap the first person who suggests that “that’s how guys roll in the Cape”!  (The other reason involves someone who I sadly parted ways with somewhat acrimoniously, but of that, I will say no more.)

But that’s not what prompted this blog post.  What did prompt it was this morning’s run to the Vida in the office park for my morning cappuccino.   For the first time after their recent renovations, I noticed this:

Beer on tap!

Yes, that is indeed beer on tap.

And no, absolutely no idea why I didn’t notice it earlier — I guess I’m still half-asleep whenever I wander into there.  (No, you may NOT ask me how I negotiate the R27 every morning, because apart from heading through there after the majority of the traffic, I honestly can’t give you an answer to that!)

Perfect for your typical developer.  Now, the challenge: how to keep this particular one functioning at the Ballmer Peak

(Mandatory disclaimer: there is a difference between drinking responsibly and drinking irresponsibly, and the latter is definitely not condoned within this context.  If you don’t know said difference, rather don’t try to find it in the first place.)

What is worth fighting for?

A few weeks ago, I completed the Isle of Thunder storyline in World of Warcraft.  It picks up after events already documented, with Lor’themar Theron’s Sunreaver Onslaught and Jaina Proudmoore’s Kirin Tor Offensive working with the neutral Shado-Pan Assault to (1) bring down the Thunder King (which is what my raid team is trying to do, if only we weren’t stuck on Horridon) and (2) procure ancient artefacts that they could use against Garrosh when the time to depose him finally comes.

The climax of the storyline involved Taran Zhu (leader of the Shado-Pan) defusing the conflict between Theron and Proudmoore:

I see now why your Alliance and Horde cannot stop fighting. Every reprisal is itself an act of aggression, and every act of aggression triggers immediate reprisal.

The cycle ends when you, Regent Lord, and you, Lady Proudmoore, turn from one another. And walk. Away.

I didn’t think much of that at the time, certainly not from outside the game universe.  But then we had the Boston Marathon bombings, and while I only maintain a passing interest in current affairs, something about that attack and the Isle of Thunder questline seemed connected, somehow.

If we take a look at the global war on terror, there’s a clear pattern of aggression and reprisal.  We can look at the 9/11 attacks, and events on either side of it for a clear example.  al-Qaeda felt aggrieved by the U.S. millitary presence in Saudi Arabia, their backing of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and probably countless other things, so they took out the World Trade Center in an act of reprisal, which triggered the United States to strike at al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which led to a massive conflict in Iraq, continued U.S. drone strikes, continued terrorist attacks… basically, it’s one whole vicious cycle of reprisal and aggression.  Just as what’s happening in the World of Warcraft universe at the moment — in a way, it’s almost eerie of how it mirrors global, real-life events.  (As of me writing this, the perpetrators of the Boston attack are believed to have close ties with Chechnya — I’m unaware of any hostile connection between Chechnya and the U.S., so if someone would fill me in, it would be much appreciated.)

As someone not involved, and hence as a neutral observer, I don’t believe that it’s my place to take any side here but, like Taran Zhu, I have to ask the question: can all of those in this global conflict turn from each other and walk away?  Right now, I feel that that’s improbable, to say the least.  As things stand at the moment, there’s too much fanaticism, hatred, indoctrination and the like on both sides that suggest that either side, much less both, are capable of doing this at this point in time.  Perhaps future generations will be able to break out of this cycle.  One can always hope for that.

Granted, it’s difficult to do, and I speak from personal experience here.  I’ve been in more conflicts than I’d like to admit where relations have deteriorated into such a cycle, and every time, I’ve struggled to even realise that such a cycle exists, and then struggled even harder to break it.  (Some such cycles, I’ve yet to break.)  That’s not to say it’s impossible.  It’s definitely possible.  But if I have so much difficulty with this on a personal level, I wonder just how long it would take on a global level.  Maybe for those involved, as it is for me, some form of virtual escapism is the answer.

Maybe we should ask the question from back in the Mists of Pandaria trailer: what is worth fighting for?

Luser attitudes

My intense dislike of lusers was rekindled this morning.

Recently, a request thread was started on the PCFormat/G3AR forums that requested some extra user profile fields — which I considered entirely reasonable.  So, I got into my usual routine of getting information, hearing user suggestions and so forth, when our luser decides to ask a question that I had, in fact, just answered.

This isn’t too bad in itself, but redundant questions like that don’t sit at all well with me.  I had already answered the question, and therefore viewed this as a time sink — and I don’t at all sit well with time sinks.  Time sinks take without giving back; they waste time that could have been spent on more interesting questions and more worthy querents.  This point of view may not be apparent to some, so let me explain a bit: to understand the world that experts on a particular field of expertise live in, think of their expertise as an abundant resource, but their time to response as a scarce one — and that therefore, the less of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely that you’ll get the answer you wanted.

So, I replied with a terse answer while thinking “stupid question…”, and hoping that the experience of getting what one deserved rather than what one needed would have taught our luser a lesson.  This consequently set off a tirade of whining, posted in one of the general chat threads and posted in Afrikaans; presumably, the luser thought that I wouldn’t notice it that way.  I did.  Hence this blog post in response.

Eric S. Raymond, in his essay “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way“, deals with how not to act like a luser in one section of said essay:

Odds are you’ll screw up a few times on hacker community forums — in ways detailed in this article, or similar. And you’ll be told exactly how you screwed up, possibly with colourful asides. In public.

When this happens, the worst thing you can do is whine about the experience, claim to have been verbally assaulted, demand apologies, scream, hold your breath, threaten lawsuits, complain to people’s employers, leave the toilet seat up, etc. Instead, here’s what you do:

Get over it. It’s normal. In fact, it’s healthy and appropriate.

Community standards do not maintain themselves: They’re maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in public. Don’t whine that all criticism should have been conveyed via private e-mail: That’s not how it works. Nor is it useful to insist you’ve been personally insulted when someone comments that one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are loser attitudes.

[…]

Remember: When that hacker tells you that you’ve screwed up, and (no matter how gruffly) tells you not to do it again, he’s acting out of concern for (1) you and (2) his community. It would be much easier for him to ignore you and filter you out of his life. If you can’t manage to be grateful, at least have a little dignity, don’t whine, and don’t expect to be treated like a fragile doll just because you’re a newcomer with a theatrically hypersensitive soul and delusions of entitlement.

One can immediately see why the aforementioned and aforelinked whining tirade does not help the luser at all.  The luser attitude demonstrated in this case of (1) wasting other people’s time and (2) whining because other people expressed dissatisfaction of it simply results in the luser losing all respect within the community, which does not help the luser case at all.  (We have long memories; it can take a while — years, even — for such blunders to be lived down.)  I’ve seen this all before on the various project mailing lists that I’ve sat on over the years.

You don’t want to be a luser, nor do you want to seem like one.  You want a winning attitude in order to be treated as an equal and welcomed into our culture — and we would really want to do this (so if you think of our attitude obnoxious, condescending or arrogant, please revisit your faulty assumptions).  The underlying issue at hand is that it’s extremely inefficient to try to help people who aren’t willing to help themselves.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much about lusers pestering me.  Hopefully, some will read this and realise what they need to change/fix to stop being one.

The Relationship Explanation

Following my last entry, I was asked in meatspace for some clarification on my statement on choosing to stay single.  Since I get asked this a lot (people who meet me seem to have some strange misconception that I’d make high-quality lover and spouse material), my only answer now is to take the “picture speaks a thousand words” approach, and (with apologies to Randall Munroe) provide an obligatory xkcd comic:

Yeah, story of my life.

Yes, I survived the end of 2012

So, I’ve survived the end of the world, the New Year’s celebration (and, keeping with tradition, the parts that I remember were awesome, but I don’t remember much…), the mini-relocation to Parklands (with the real relocation at the end of this month).  2013, bring it on!

Not much else to write about at the moment though.  Everyone who was down for Little Annoying Sister’s wedding and Christmas has gone home, I’m back at work, my raid team is back raiding again (and getting some decent progression in after some roster issues that plagued us towards the end of last year), and people’s attempts to hook me up with $female over the New Year were dismal failures due to my resistance (I have good reasons for staying single, and right now, I’d prefer to keep things that way).   In other words, same old, same old (although I’m now fighting R27 traffic instead of M3 traffic)– so, this is just a quick post that only has the purpose to let folks know that I’m still around.  Or suck up needless bytes of database storage.  But whatever.