Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

7/24/2020

Programming Widgets

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,GUI Center,On Creativity,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  And, that’s where you should leave any comments or bugs you might find.

11/22/2019

Procedural Fun

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I like my fun to be automatic, free and semi-random.

Way back in the day, I was ahead of the curve on autogenerated “stuff”. In my case, it was semi-random language generation that I ran over on Fantasist.net. Let me tell you, back when I started doing it, I took an incredible amount of flack from the constructed language people for automating any part of the language creation process. Now, of course, there are plenty of the youngsters out there doing it, but it wasn’t always like that. I’m grateful they are though, because my stuff wasn’t programmed all that cleanly and got used so hard it used to crash the servers at my hosting company.
But, other than taking a moment to self-aggrandize, I only bring it up because I love that kind of automated fun. And, to me, that absolutely is fun. I love random generators, which you can still see on the Fantasist.net World Building page, but, since I’m a frustrated writer, all my work deals with text. This week, I’m bringing you something a bit more interesting. First, there’s the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which, as you may have guessed, randomly generates a pretty good, albeit simple, city map for your stories or adventures. It’s quick, and detailed enough, but loads of fun. The programmer, Watabou, as they’re known on /r/proceduralgeneration at Reddit, has actually made several related generator toys like this. My other favorite is the One-Page Dungeon. It’s a neat, little dungeon that’s perfect for a quick FRPG adventure, if you’re so inclined. And, I thought, with the holidays nearly upon us, that friends gathering with limited time, might like such a thing to game with. Also? They’re just fun to look at. At least, if you’re an old game geek like me.

So, there you are, just some quick, procedurally generated fun on the Friday before Thanksgiving!
And, be sure to check out the other stuff Watabou has shared, too! There are some fun, free games as well.
Enjoy!

This post first appeared at Use Your Words!

2/16/2018

Hacker Games

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Sounds like a good title for a book!

Except it’s not.
In my day job, I’m a professional geek. And, what I mean by that is that I work with computers for money. It seems like the vast majority of the guys my age who got into computers professionally did so because they were inspired by the movie [amazon_textlink asin=’B0011EQBOS’ text=’War Games’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’38c6d846-0d15-11e8-a8f6-f12f91a6eb2a’]. Not me, though. I fell into it a little sideways and my interest in the computer security angle of my work came from [amazon_textlink asin=’B00WGUWDVG’ text=’Sneakers’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’53433e58-0d15-11e8-991f-01aca75f720d’]. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Martin Bishop? A computer geek that looks like Robert Redford and could swing sleeping with Mary McDonnell? Seriously, sign me up!
The reality is, of course, a little less sexy. Trust me. No one who looked like Robert Redford was walking around DEFCON. Though, to be fair, I did learn to pick locks sitting next to a very nice and more than moderately attractive young woman. Who, incidentally, learned lock picking faster than any guy at the table.
In any case, times have changed since the early 90’s and all the harmless exploration I did when I first got into IT is mostly illegal now. Though, I’ll never forget helping an international guest at the Hyatt Regency Chicago get remote access to her VMS and find the program she needed to run. She had authorization, of course, but no idea how to find what she needed and I was blind in a VMS system for the first time. When I get her into her program, I think she clapped and then hugged me. It was cool! And FUN! But, opportunities like that are few and far between. And, there are plenty of places that won’t hire someone who has a criminal record. So, how do you recreate that experience without risking jail time?
Wargames by OverTheWire. These fine hackers have put together more than a dozen “games” meant to test your skill at electronic breaking and entering. And, honestly, a little bit more. Each game let’s you connect to it, most often with SSH via its own, dedicated SSH port, and then let’s you go after the rest. I haven’t had the chance to do much here yet, honestly, but the OverTheWire gang suggests you start with Bandit, which is aimed at absolute beginners and consists of 27 “levels”. Each “level” gives you information to “beat” the next “level”. It sounds like fun, but, then again, I am a pretty hardcore computer geek.

So, there you go! It’s a free introduction to computer security in game form. The perfect Friday diversion for the aspiring network geek or hacker!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my ironically non-computer-geeky blog!

2/9/2018

Escape the Planet

Filed under: Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

No, not for real, just in a browser-based game.

I’ve often said that if things are as bad on this beautiful, blue marble as the news would have us believe, then we should throw all our resources into getting off it and founding a colony somewhere else. Like Mars, for instance. As it turns out, I’m not the only one to think that way, but for some reason, people take Elon Musk more seriously than me when he says it. Be that as it may, I still have often dreamed of being one of those brave travelers who fling themselves into the starry night and try to begin civilization again on some distant world, under the light of an alien sun. Sadly, I suspect that I’ll die long before interplanetary colonization really gets going, much less interstellar travel.
Still, the subject has been a rich mine for writers and game creators alike, which brings me to the Friday Fun Link I have to share with you; Seedship. It’s a simple, text-based game of interstellar exploration and colonization you can play right in your browser! Just follow that link and you can take the part of a ship’s artificial intelligence, helping colonists find a suitable home and survive long enough to make a life there.
It’s pretty simple game-play, but I have to admit, it is kind of fun. And, of course, it’s a quiet way to spend a couple minutes of your Friday having some fun.

Try it out and “escape the planet”, at least for a few minutes at lunch!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.  Why not check it out?

6/2/2017

Music for Gaming

Filed under: Fun,music — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Ambient music with the gamer in mind.

Last week, I brought you a blog which explored the latest, and classic, MP3 music. This week, I’m bringing you a link to more music, but of a different kind.
I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone who reads my blog that I was a table-top role-playing gamer. Yes, that means Dungeons and Dragons, as well as others. Games like Traveller and Top Secret and Star Frontiers, not to mention the more obscure Gamma World and Villains and Vigilantes or Dragon Quest. (Yes, Dragon Quest was a table-top game once that had nothing to do with the more well-known video game.) Back in the day, we generally played these games in someone’s spare room or basement and, if we were lucky, there was a TV with a VHS player where we could run appropriately themed movies in the background for a little “mood music” soundtrack.
Now, though, I’d bet that pretty much everyone has a computer, of some kind, in their favorite game area. And, what with all the digital music available, means a much easier means of playing some appropriate music in the background. Which brings me to the link I have to share with you all today, Tabletop Audio, “ambiances and music for tabletop role playing games”. They pretty much have a background track for every genre and most every situation. Everything from a Wild West Saloon to a haunted House on the Hill to a Busy Space Port to the Colosseum or an Elven Glade. They also would probably make good background noise for genre writers looking to get into the right mood for their work.
And, yes, all free, though they do gently ask for free-will donations.

Come back next week to see if I even bother blogging anything at all!
And have a good weekend.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

5/2/2014

A Grim Game

Filed under: Art,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’ve had a rather grim and brutal week at work, so I’m going to share a rather grim and brutal, but oddly engaging game with you all today.

The game, called Drowning In Problems, is just a little too true to life to be “fun” exactly.  But, it is oddly compelling.  And, it only takes about ten or fifteen minutes to play a round, so it’s not too, too depressing.  It is, however, simple, text-based and created by Minecraft creator Markus…
Read More

3/26/2004

Cartoon Network Games

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s Friday! Time for a little fun!

Okay, so this blog has been kind of depressing lately and the “fun” things haven’t been quite as fun. Hey, I’ve been busy! No, really!! Anyway, it’s Friday, the traditional day to let off some steam at work. But, I don’t reccomend going “postal” on your coworkers. Instead, try some games brought to you by the fine folks at Cartoon Network.
They’re all fun. Mindlessly fun, actually. Which is just what you need on a Friday afternoon.

Enjoy!


Powered by WordPress
Any links to sites selling any reviewed item, including but not limited to Amazon, may be affiliate links which will pay me some tiny bit of money if used to purchase the item, but this site does no paid reviews and all opinions are my own.