I've got a lot of complaints about the gui of my newish Android phone, including the actual phone dialer (which is important, because I use the phone part of it a lot.) I just had a realization about the root of my problems with the interface.

Most of the default interfaces are non-hierarchial. The main screen for the phone application, for example, contains not one, but three roots.

That sounds like a super obvious, 'wait what the fuck?' sort of observation, yes? As a user, and from what little I know of gui design, this is pretty clearly -not- a good decision. Yet there it is.

How does this work? The phone screen is effectively tabbed, with three tabs to do stuff. The tabs aren't real obvious, but they are there at the top of the screen, and you click on which one you want to enable it.

Coming from a one-root kind of model, I assumed that starting the phone app would throw you into a master screen for doing the most common things, with subscreen branch options. Instead, I'd open the phone app, and get whatever tab happened to be up at the time. First time trying to use the phone:

Open application. What's this call history thing? Obviously a submenu of some sort, I didn't want that, I wanted the phone. Press the back button. Application exits. Start up the application. This call history thing? I didn't want that, I wanted the fucking phone. Back button (to get to the phone.) Application exits. How the fuck do I get to the dialer on this piece of shit phone?

Now that I've properly verbalized and rebuilt my image of how the application actually works, it's a lot easier for me to get around in it, but the way the tabs work is still really unintuitive and clunky.

In fact, I see this in a lot of the phone applications. The back button never goes where I actually wanted it to, and often seems to just leave me stranded either somewhere stupid, or out of the application. Hint: I have a 'home' button which always gets me directly out of the application in one shot. Why would I need a back button which almost invariably does the same thing?

Long term number 2

Since the last post, the only real item I can remove from my list is the xml layer. There's been a lot of other stuff done since then, but none of it really applies to other list items. It also occurs to me that the list items need to be more specific, so that they can either be marked off or changed from update to update. For example, the 'learn javascript and html5' thing can probably stay, since once I complete it I can break it up into multiple pieces. The 'work on core server libraries, general' item however should go, since it's never completed. Things like general library maintenance should also only happen as a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

A good question to ask when doing something is, 'what do I intend to do with the result of this work?'

Old list:

1) learn enough javascript and html5 to make a web client

2) work on core server libraries - socket/ssl layer

3) work on core server libraries - binary packet layer

4) get together an interim dclient release

5) server code - daily autogenerated quests

6) server code - start work on druid class

New items:

7) I just bought the '' domain name, and need to put up a placeholder web page. It would also be a good idea to figure out what exactly I'm going to do with it; I certainly have the ability and tools to create blind-specific apps, I'd just have to sit down and do it.

8) Try to create new player introduction areas for mage and cleric classes (necromancer was an experiment, and appears to be a hit.)

9) Dclient http downloader, so I can replace wxHTTP (which crashes on a lot of builds.)

I also really want to start work on a separate server, but I have a problem: cross game accounts. Ideally, I should be able to set up an account server which handles all the credit stuff, email addresses, and character names (to prevent cross-game douchebaggery.) The down side is that I really don't have a good way of doing this, and I don't at all trust databases. A database is honestly probably the best option, but I'm really not sure how I feel about it and I don't know much about them. I'm also not used to having use request/response style apis; most of the things I have done are single threaded, and either happen instantly, or are at least synchronous/memory resident.

Valentines Day

I had planned to open a bunch of things for Valentine's day, but I only managed to get about half of them done, largely due to laziness and akrasia. It's still a decent chunk of work though:

- There's a new slot machine based on a 'travelling merchant' theme. The first two slot machine wheels pick a random cargo and destination, the next few wheels pick your path through various terrain (or have you get robbed by thieves), and when you arrive at the destination you sell your cargo. If there's a local event and your cargo is badly needed, you make a premium on your cargo, for example if you're hauling food into a famine zone, or supplying weapons to a kingdom at war.

- There's a new level 14 area on the island of Kordan, the Haunted Hills. This is the first complete, full size area that I've personally built entirely myself in at least a decade, possibly more. I ended up making quite a few code changes for this - silly little things to make the area work the way I wanted it to, but important (at least to me.) This area taught me that I underestimate the creativity of my builders, and I overestimate the ability of the code. Several things that should have been easy to do and that I've seen other builders do were best handled as code updates; even though my awesome builders have managed to get similar effects, they had to use incredibly shitty workarounds to do it.

I'm now convinced that if I were to build full time, building areas would rapidly become easier and more powerful for all the builders. It may be worthwhile for me to simply build a zone every month or two to improve the building system. If only I had multiple copies of myself.

- There's also a new level 24 area on the island of Archais, the tinker gnome colony. This is a massive rebuild and rework of an ancient 15 room mini-area built by Aleph at the dawn of time; the rebuilt version is at least five times the size, and uses a lot of the snazzy new building features that weren't available in 1996.

- The planar research guild has opened their main offices in the city of Gad's Landing on the island of Archais. The guild gives out copies of a bunch of quests which were used in the 17th anniversary event of 2012. The players seemed to really like the anniversary quests, and with the opening of the planar knot observation platform, it makes sense that similar sorts of things would be available.

- I added a new level 31 mage spell, 'group teleport'. The whole point is so that people can teleport with their group, to die en-masse instead of solo. Now that we have obscure spells, I can safely add this and put it somewhere out of the way where new players won't kill themselves using it.

- As mentioned above, the 17th anniversary zone is now an official area. The observation platform is instanced and accessible to players of any level - the dangerous parts are cordoned off with a very powerful ward spell. My intent was that it would be a place to visit and/or sightsee, similar to the Lincoln monument. High level groups can break the wards and let loose the elementals in the rest of the area. It takes a group with a minimum of 5k mana and an obscure high level spell to do this, so I'm hoping that new players who wander into it will be safe.

- We also opened the 18th anniversary zone in the Ash Mountains. Ward breaking is needed to enter the main fortress, but honestly any group able to make it to the main fortress in one piece is probably capable of bringing down the wards. This and the 17th anniversary zones were primarily intended to be high level group experience.

There probably won't be any more area or event updates like this from me for a while. I'm pretty burned out now, having done christmas/new years, the anniversary, and now a gob of stuff for valentines day; I'm also really behind on work I had scheduled that is important, so I'll probably be spending some time on infrastructure for a while.

Alter Aeon Wiki

It's taken forever, but we've finally got a proper Wiki up and running for Alter Aeon. The wiki itself is at:

It was even more work than I expected it would be, and took several days of actual effort to get everything in place. Those of you experienced in the field will probably attribute it to my inexperience, which is legitimate. If you're curious, I've posted about the things that took the most time, and how many different things had to be taken care of to actually get it working. That posting is over on the AA mob factory blog, at:

AA 18th Anniversary - Post Event Report

It was a mess, but at long last, the 18th anniversary event is over. The final event report is pretty awesome - it's got the full event text for the three main days, as well as the area tour transcripts with lots of historical trivia. It better be awesome, because it took forever to get together. You can find it at:

All things considered, it went pretty well other than some stupidity on Saturday. I really, really need to stop overestimating the playerbase.

Alter Aeon 18th Anniversary

The official 18th anniversary of Alter Aeon is the 15th of January, and we'll be having several days of events this year:

Starting Tuesday, January 15th, I'll be leading a handful of tours and death marches for anyone who wants to join. I'll be picking zones I'm familiar with and know some history on, and we may have some other gods willing to tell stories about their areas as well.

Starting Wednesday, we'll be running the 1995 version of the game server on port 4000. I'm going to leave it up for a week to allow people to explore and run some leveling contests.

At the end of the week, we'll be running a three day event with pieces of the main storyline on each of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The theme for this year is 'frost demon storm', with merely continent wide destruction instead of the universe ending peril of previous years.

We hope to see you there!

Alter Aeon MUD

Alter Aeon 2012 Year in Review

I've put together a year in review article for 2012, written from my perspective:

There's an overview of the various server features, new areas, and some question and answer from the players about the future as well as the past. Since it's my view on things, it's probably very different from what you'd expect as a player. If you're a fellow game programmer, you'll probably find it interesting.

New Alter Aeon Articles

After quite a bit of hard work and editing, Shadowfax has put together several new articles, as well as a long and detailed history of Alter Aeon, going back over 15 years. The history article is told from his standpoint, and contains a lot of funny stories from the bad old days through his path to godhood.

For existing players, you will almost certainly find something interesting that you didn't know; new players will probably just discover that the world of Alter Aeon is much bigger than they expected. The link to the date-sorted index is:

A direct link to the 15 years article is:

And here are links to the other three new articles:


One Minute Physics

There are two extremely short videos on modern physics in this blog post:

I'm really impressed by the quality of these - not only are they extremely close to correct, but the first one gets across what I'd consider The Most Important Fact about modern physics.

The obvious guess as to the Most Important Fact would be "mathematics is the universal language of the universe". However, this is a cheap soundbite; everyone already knows it and pays it lip service. I seriously don't know anyone who -doesn't- already believe this. It's what we're all taught from somewhere around age 5.

What I consider the important part is mentioned somewhat in passing, because pretty much every physicist knows it, but physicists don't realize that laymen don't realize it. Consider the following quote from the first video:

"Suppose you're ambitious enough to try to describe everything in the observable universe using one single mathematical equation. Done!"

This is the important part. Everyone already "knows" that mathematics is the language of the universe, but few people know what that actually means. This statement hits harder:

1) Mathematics is the language of the universe

2) We know that language extremely well, far better than the layperson might expect

3) Everything in the observable universe can be described using ONE single mathematical equation, which we know and understand.

4) Everything IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE can be described using ONE single mathematical equation, which we know and understand.

5) EVERYTHING in the observable universe can be described using ONE single mathematical equation, which we know and understand.

6) EVERYTHING in the observable universe can be described using ONE single mathematical equation, WHICH WE KNOW AND UNDERSTAND.

The capitalized words are important to emphasize just how much these statements mean. In short, there's nothing in the universe that isn't explained by math, and we understand the math really well.

The implications of this are far reaching and quite frankly unpleasant for most people. Initially, smart people realize that this makes the universe predictable - which is the essence of the scientific method itself - and some of the smarter ones realize that this implication extends to predicting people as well. People like to think they are special, that the rules don't apply to them, and being described by math goes against our core nature: it effectively says that people are understandable, in every way, and that is extremely uncomfortable to many.

A further implication for smarter people is that this simply rules out most supernatural stuff. The equation does in fact predict what happens out to 12+ decimal places, and once you make those predictions you're only left with less than one part in a trillion where supernatural effects can manifest. So in short, no spirits, no ghosts, no souls, no interfering supernatural gods, no homeopathy, and no magic. Each of these things requires a change to the laws of physics to even be possible on a visible scale, and we see no sign of such a change coming.

That's my true takeaway from the first video, even though I consider it a hidden point that few people will grasp. We really do live in a clockwork universe and we really are just minor automatons operating wholly within well-defined, simple mathematical laws; but so long as the illusion of free will exists, I see no reason to despair.


As a side note, it occurs to me that each of these realizations requires casting off a previously cached thought, a previously held belief, each level a bit deeper and more abstract than the previous:

- wait, we can predict the universe? [Yes.] (People in ancient times did not necessarily believe that the universe was predictable, but it is a common belief now.)

- what about unexplained things like ghosts and spirits? Are they covered too? [Yes.] (Belief in the unexplained will continue to be a problem due to cognitive defects in the way humans weigh evidence, but with luck the incidence will drop.)

- if spirits are explained, does this explain the soul and everything that people do? Aren't people special? [Yes, it explains everything people do, and no, we're not special or exempt.] (It is unfortunately still a common belief that people are 'special' and somehow exempt from the laws of physics. We're not.)

- if spirits, souls, and people are explained, doesn't this limit the powers of conventional gods such as the holy trinity and Zeus? [Yes. It limits their powers severely.]

- if all of this is explained, where is the magic and wonder in the universe? [There is no magic. But there's plenty of awesome stuff to gaze in wonder at and to try to explain or understand.]

- so what's the point of living? [Whatever you make of it.]

While writing this out, I believe I now understand why most people never make it to the final implications of the first video; it is difficult enough to cast off a single belief, much less half a dozen of them. And some of these are going to be critical support pillars for people; you don't just rip out something like that and rebuild your belief system overnight. Even just looking at my experience:

- in 1997 I obtained an understanding of statistical mechanics that became a critical support pillar as an adjunct to Newtons Laws of Motion for predicting the universe

- in 1998 I obtained sufficient information about biblical stories to discount them fully and believe that the biblical record was at best a minor inaccurate history document that for the most part did not match reality

- in 1999 I was able to remove 'belief in afterlife' as a critical core belief upon which many other things were based

- in 2000 I was able to remove most of my belief in the traditional christian god, but held onto it subconsciously to varying degrees in unobvious places

- in 2011 I finally realized that the universe had no point and that there truly was no god, afterlife, or purpose. This depressed me for two weeks while I reworked my belief system to function completely without these three constructs. I am now quite happy with the change, and it's not because I simply replaced them with other beliefs; I actually rebuilt my belief system such that they are simply not required.

The bulk of my changes took four years, so it seems reasonable (if disappointing) that it would take people so long to change.

Alter Aeon 17th Anniversary Event

This weekend, Alter Aeon is 17 years old!

In celebration we'll be running a one time multi-day event in which the fate of the magical world is at stake. This will be a multi-stage event, and our current tentative schedule is:

- Part 1 - Friday, Jan 13, starting at 5:00 pm EST

- Part 2 - Saturday, Jan 14, starting at 12:00 pm EST (noon)

- Part 3 - Sunday, Jan 15, starting at 3:00 pm EST

The first two chunks of the event should be open participation, with or without a group, and the notices will be posted. If you miss the start of the parts, you'll be able to jump in later without any trouble.

The final part of the event, on Sunday, will be group oriented and it's important to be at least somewhat on time. We may be rerun the final part later that evening if there's enough demand.

This event is intended to be a mid to high level event. While experienced players below level 20 can participate, some portions will be risky or may require a group to complete.

We hope to see you there!

Alter Aeon MUD