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Playing Hnefatafl

So, earlier today myself and two other lads sat down and played a few rounds of Hnefatafl, which I mentioned in a previous post.

I suck at it. Out of 4 games I played, I only won once – and one of the other lads had at that point being awake for 36 hours! O_O That said, it was fun to play, and we got a better appreciation of the tactics you can use:

One is for the attacker to create a diamond shape on the board to surround the king, exploiting the restriction of piece movement (only left/right or up/down); however, if the defenders do a few kamikaze moves and force the defenders to break that to capture the pieces, it is possible for the king to escape.
Another tactic is for the attacker to plant themselves in the corners, blocking off the escape points for the king, but again it’s a double-edged sword: the corners and walls count as another piece for capturing an opponent’s pieces. It’s possible to lure the king out to this and then trap him, but I just can’t do that.
When playing as the king, the default strategy seems to be “get to the corners as quickly as possible”. We’ve noticed that it usually takes at least three turns to get the king out into the open (on the board we were using, he’s surrounded by guards at the start), at which point the attackers might already have three pieces in place for the “diamond trap”.
And finally, there’s also the issue of whether the king wins instantly or not if he gets to one of the corner pieces. In some variations of the game, he wins if he cannot be boxed in on the next turn, but that seems to unbalance things in favour of the attackers too much.

I can already see why it was so popular among the Vikings. It’s quite fun to play!


Viking board games – for the computer

One of my IT courses is in Research Methods, and it includes a project to do over the whole year. Mine, along with two other lads on the course, is to look into a simulation of a Viking board game called “Hnefatafl”.

The word translates roughly as “King’s Table/Board”, and it’s essentially a Viking percursor to chess. The idea is that there are two sides, the Reds and the Whites; the latter have to get their king to one of the corners of the boards, while the Reds have to capture said king. All the pieces can move like the rook in chess, i.e. in straight lines only, without any limits on the number of squares they move. It sounds a bit like Thud!, which already sounds awesome.

The main problem with Hnefatafl, however, is that it’s pretty obscure. Even the best-known version, Tablut, wasn’t documented in full by Linnaeus, who didn’t speak Sámi (basically, what the Laplanders speak). One of the papers I found mentioned a few online resources, but most of them date from the late 90s, and some don’t even appear to exist any more. That said, I HAVE found one on Sourceforge, although it hasn’t been updated in about 4 years and I haven’t tried compiling it yet. We have a whole year to look into it and produce something, however, so there’s no real rush…yet. All we really need to do at the moment is develop some actual research questions, possibly to do with the AI.

I actually think this game would fit quite well into Skyrim as a minigame. Go kill some dragons, then back to the tavern for some mead and a few rounds of Hnefatafl!

A Bullshite detection tool

Ahh, StumbleUpon…how I have missed thee! Thanks to SU, I found an online bullshite detector – what an excellent idea! It seems to rate the text as a decimal out of one, where 1 is complete fertiliser.

Unfortunately, when I put the text on the front page of an absurd site I put together for one of the IT courses I’m doing, it “only” came up with an index of 0.14, which is considerably less than expected for a site that “sells” racing equipment based around troll physics. The special offers got only 0.06, which either means I can’t bullshit properly, or the site’s a bit wonky…

That said, give it a try. It’s probably going to surprise you, and it might come in useful someday.

RIP Neil Armstrong

Well, this is sad: Neil Armstrong is dead. I have no idea what it would be like to be the first to step onto the moon, but he was one of the bravest people I’ve ever heard of. He and the rest of the astronauts in the Apollo programme knew perfectly well that what they were doing was risky, but they went to the Moon because they thought the risk was worth it. I think it was: they proved that it is possible to get to the Moon, which is pretty much the first step towards further manned voyages anywhere in our local solar system, let alone the rest of the Universe.

The really sad thing, of course, is that the conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork. Of course, the big one is that the landing was faked – here’s a site that debunks that entirely. One of the dumbest I came across, via Ophelia Benson, is that he converted to Islam after landing – a complete urban legend, according to the man himself; he labelled himself as a Deist. Don’t look at the comments on the BBC article or the one from, unless you want to end up destroying your computer keyboard and simultaneously give yourself a headache.

Michael Collins, the pilot of the Apollo 11 command module has a short but sweet obituary for him, posted here on NASA’s obituary page:

“He was the best, and I will miss him terribly.”

I’ll drink to that tonight.

Finally registered for my course

I have one week left in Italy, and due to the shoddy connection and excessive heat lately, I’ve been doing almost nothing. Not to worry, my postgraduate degree starts on the 2nd of September, and I have registered for it. Finally, doing something useful again!

So far, the courses I’m registered for in Semester 1 include:
Algorithms and Logical Methods
Computer Architechture & Operating Systems
Internet Programming

I’ve already got a basic idea of C++, which is one of the langauges I’ll be learning, according to a guy I know who’s done this course. I suspect the one on Operating Systems will cover Linux and Windows – got some experience there, although I’ll have to keep reminding myself that I’m not an expert. All in all, it sounds like this is going to be an interesting degree.

Of course, being back in Galway means I get a better Internet connection that doesn’t randomly disconnect just because I go up a flight of stairs into my room – hence the lack of posts. I’ll start actually blogging properly once I get back there.

Thunderf00t’s credibility has dried up

I’ve stayed out of the whole Thunderf00t affair until now. However, I am simply not going to after what he’s just done: he hacked into a private backchannel on Freethoughtblogs and stole confidential emails, before forwarding them on to other people.

One of the people on FTB who was affected is Natalie Reed. In her post here, she explains why this sort of thing isn’t acceptable:

Natalie Reed is not my “real name”. I use a different name for “real life”… for employment, for housing, for everything I don’t necessarily want connected to my being out as a transsexual, atheist blogger. There is a huge amount of highly personal, highly stigmatized issues I discuss on this blog, or in other venues under the name Natalie Reed. Transsexuality and transgenderism, my heroin addiction, stories from my life and past, my being a survivor of multiple rapes…I’ve even mentioned my being an incest survivor, an issue that’s incredibly, deeply painful for me. Most of these things I never, ever would have felt able to write about without feeling protected by this name.

It also protects my ability to pursue housing and employment without the threat of being outed as trans, a recovering addict, an atheist and so on by a simple five minute google search. It protects the possibility of my someday choosing to go “stealth” if I ever feel the desire or need, in which I could finally live as just a woman instead of always as a trans woman. It keeps me further removed from my birth name and images of my former self, and the life I led before transition. It protects my physical safety from those who feel the need to enforce their beliefs and feelings about gender through violence. It protects me from the countless rad-fems and HBSers who consistently out or dox trans women, often with the deliberate, explicit intent of exposing them to harassment, discrimination and violence.

She is a very brave person to even bring herself to talk of such things. But this is just one reason that email list was confidential, and there are plenty more.

Jason Thibeault has the technical details and evidence. Basically, the server program they were using never expires an invitation ticket, and the original confirmation email still allows you to log back in without informing the admin. I’m not an IT expert, but that seems like a big flaw in the software they were using, and I’ll have to keep a note of that for future reference.

This seems like as good a place as any to reiterate my opinion on pseudonyms. I do this myself on other sites, so I have no problem with people using them, as long as they don’t involve bigotry or unless those people create a second one to support themselves – in short, I tend to apply the Golden Rule. However, even if you use a pseudonym, I believe people should be held accountable for what they say, which is why I ask people for an email address when commenting.

This sort of thing is just not acceptable, and by doing so, Thunderf00t has lost any credibility and support he may have had with me. It’s one thing to publish an email sent to you that contains threats if you explicitly state that you will, but private ones between other people who may be discussing technical issues, or simply be bouncing ideas off each other for an event or even a joke like a massive April Fool’s Day prank earlier this year, are off-limits. What Thunderf00t did here was utterly wrong, and in fact it leads me to suspect he has almost no empathy for other people, given that he was threatened with it himself a while ago. Jen McCreight’s finishing paragraph on her post is right on the money:

How are you that obsessed with taking down a freaking blog network because you disagree with the fucking no-brainer of having sexual harassment policies that you’re willing to cost innocent people their jobs and safety? How is destroying lives of your atheist allies your priority over combating creationism in the classroom, faith healing, the Religious Right, and homophobia?

Attempted N00bery

This is a short story based around a grumpy comment I made about how some idiot should be arrested for “Attempted N00bery in a Private Web Forum”. Read More…