Wednesday, 30 September 2020

A Surreal Moment in Time

My blog is still shut down (see here for the announcement... no, I don't remember why I made all my posts drafts, either) but I... I just need to be selfish for a moment, and I think this is the best place to do this.

At the start of this year, I was looking forward to a final assault on the latest version of my grand plan (this would make more sense if you could read some of my formerly published posts). Basically, I was entering the final semester of my latest programme at uni. Things were looking very good. I'd even acquired two jobs over summer to pay to do a Certificate of Proficiency so that I'd have a reason to go into uni on more days. Why? Because I don't do any work at home. Ever. Also, I wanted to do that course.

I like to believe that in a world absent coronavirus I'd have submitted my thesis. I don't know if that's true. Even before we entered lockdown, I was behind where I wanted to be. I'm extremely lazy. I know that about myself. I might very well have failed to do anything (okay, fine, I chose a topic but we were expected to do that before we even had a supervisor so it shouldn't really count) regardless. I just don't know.

What I do know is this... I basically hid away from the world for a few months. The literal part of staying inside and not seeing people? That's not a big deal for me. We've been out and/or in pretty meaningless stages of lockdown for months now. I've still barely been anywhere or done anything (except go to the doctor... mostly for a sore throat/cough I've had since March... yes, of course, I've had a test... actually several... all negative, but I feel like I "get" something of long haul Covid). It's basically the same as a normal "summer holiday". But I don't hide from the world. I read emails. I go on Facebook and see what's happening with my "friends" (am I still a friend if I don't call, message, post updates or even bother to see what anyone is doing? I don't know). I read text messages properly. I don't read Harry Potter fanfictions obsessively. These sorts of things. That's hiding.

Today I went to Facebook.

Sure, it's not the first time I've done this since March. But it's one of only a few times. I didn't do anything but browse. Maybe next time. It's what I did read, though.

Some years ago, while at school, a dude I knew slightly had a pretty major workplace accident. It was in the news, actually. I remember that it was pretty surreal. 

Today I learnt that he died several months ago. And that he had two, maybe three, children, too. Certainly, two... and with another former "classmate" (I don't think we ever literally had a class together but we were at the same college for at least a few years).

This is a very strange moment for me. It's very sad. I don't know how old his children are, but they're certainly no older than I was when my father died. I hope that they'll be able to refer to him by some other term than "my father". It's hard. Some days I feel like the only memory I have of my father is when I learnt that he was dead and all I remember doing is crying.

As I said, I needed to be selfish. And this seemed to be the best place to do that.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Status Report

I have shut down my blog.

I began it in 2013 and made 3 posts. In 2014 I made 14. In 2015, for my sins, I made 58. In 2016 I made 24. In 2017 I made 55 posts but I really shouldn't have. In 2018 I made 30 and that was still too many. In 2019? I made 2 posts, not including this one.

If you ever read any of my posts, thanks for reading. If you've stumbled across it since then, I hope you follow my rules for President but I make no apologies for having closed up shop.

It's been digital,


Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Zombie's Guide to Installing R on Ubuntu

There is a how-to in this post, scroll down until the other bolded heading or ctrl-F for guide. If you're wondering what the rest of this blog is like, read the whole thing.

Paperweights : Misadventures in Consuming and "Computing"

Just after we moved house at the end of 2015 I decided that I should get another laptop. Not a new laptop but another laptop.

You see, the major issue with the laptop that I had at the time was that it was fairly big and heavy, i.e. impractical when I wanted (on those rare occasions) to bring it in with me to uni. (Incidentally, this was why my granfather had given me the laptop in the first place.) Thus, what was needed was something pretty small and lightweight. It would also need to have an hdmi port so we could use it to watch television (this was envisioned as the primary function).

Now, you might remember that I have taken a couple of marketing papers and one of the big things in marketing is the notion of involvement. Specifically, with high involvement purchasing* like what happens when buying a laptop is that you do some research. Basically this involves shopping around and trying to find the best product-as-solution to a perceived problem. The thing is that I am a very price conscious consumer and I had the terrible luck to start my search on the same day as a one-off sale. And like the dweebish consumer I am, the one-off sale convinced me into making a decision I should have deferred. I bought an HP Stream pre-loaded with Windows 10. (Apple was never in the running.) We got it a few days later.

These laptops are pretty small (11" or thereabouts) and come in bright colours. They also have next to no hard-drive space (like 28 GB) and are thus designed entirely for the Cloud. This stuff is all fine although I didn't really appreciate it until after I bought it. After all, what I wanted was something that I could use occasionally for uni work (i.e. just needed enough space for Word and R/RStudio) and which could use the internet to watch stuff. And so life was good, for a time. I even called the computer Light Blue, which I thought was hilarious. (And it was.)

After a few months or whatever I started getting memory warnings. Somehow there was less than a GB of space left? It didn't make any sense. But it turns out to be a pretty common issue. Whether or not I would have thought to check for known memory issues prior to my experiences with Light Blue is definitely a question to ask, but I feel like maybe I could have saved myself the memory trouble if I had started the search even a day later. Anyway, I found a solution... but I forget what it was.

Life went on and Light Blue was pretty much used exclusively to watch the great many different things we watch on things like TVNZ On Demand or play Youtube videos when we've been cooking. But then, after some months, I became aware that the memory was filling up again. And this time I couldn't find a way out of the fix. This was, I guess, when I resolved to install Ubuntu.

I've been aware of Linux generally and Ubuntu specifically for some years now. This is because on some of the websites I visit some of the other users are Ubuntu-ites and they talk about this in OS threads. However, I had never really met anyone who used Linux except this one dude who I don't know very well and who I haven't seen for over a year anyway. So, I decided to do some research about Christmas-time last year (I think I had finally decided to actually go ahead with my plan rather than having conceived it then). The results were clear. I needed to get two USB sticks and I should use them to install Ubuntu (as opposed to a different Linux system).

The idea was pretty simple. I would back up Light Blue as a Windows system on one of the data sticks and the other would be used to install Ubuntu. But I didn't do anything. That is, until today... the first weekend of the holidays and a few days after persistent crashes related to memory shortages. But it turned out that installing Ubuntu was the easy part (although I did have to do it twice, but this took like thirty minutes).

The truth is that I haven't changed what I need from a computer much in the last two years. Basically, LinuxBlue (I changed the name) needs to do exactly the same stuff as before. Luckily, Libre Office comes with Ubuntu and doesn't seem to have any major compatibility issues with Word (and if it does... copy and paste, am I right?). R doesn't come with Ubuntu as such, though. And installing it was a bit complex.

If you don't know what R is, you should find out. But basically, it's a statistical computing language (think like Python or Fortran but just for stats) based on S Plus, developed at the University of Auckland that is completely free. It represents the sum total of all my "coding" knowledge... and obviously I am a newbie when it comes to Ubuntu to Linux. Sadly, I think most people who want to use R on a Linux system aren't as end-usery as me... which meant it wasn't really clear how to get R onto the machine (RStudio was no problem, though). In fact, it was more troublesome than getting Ubuntu in the first place! Which brings me to the useful part of this blog:

A Beginner's Guide to Installing R on Ubuntu, by A Noob

Basically, we'll be following exactly what I did. So, start by following this link. All the stuff we'll be mindlessly typing was sourced from that helpful page.

The second thing is to go here and install RStudio. Don't try and open it because we haven't installed R yet so it won't work. Actually, you probably should try and open it (from "files") because that's what I did and this is a zombie's guide so we should probably follow the formula I used even if it is illogical. This is also your caution. Imagine that I am a moron. That's the level of expertise that went into the process you're about to follow (or read).

Next, go to the "search your computer" thing and find the terminal. Open it and type in, from the link:

sudo echo "deb xenial/" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list
Now, you can probably change the url but, as I said, I'm a noob, so I wouldn't try when I can tell you for a fact that just mindlessly typing the stuff in works.

That being said, you need to type in your password at this point. If nothing shows up and you're randomly bashing keys, just press enter and then type your password and imagine that asterisks are popping up.  Then hit enter and mindlessly type the following:

 gpg --keyserver --recv-key E084DAB9

 gpg -a --export E084DAB9 | sudo apt-key add -

At this point I got a warning message. I ignored it.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install r-base r-base-dev

After the first one I got a bunch of prompts so just read those and always go with the yes option.

After the second one I wasn't sure if it had actually finished working or not, so I decided to open RStudio... which worked this time. I then installed s20x and R330 because they're packages I remember using from courses I have taken.

Hope this helps!

(And I am hopeful my decision to explore Ubuntu resolves the memory issue that looked as if it was creating a $300 paperweight.)

*See my recent blog post here for why this is a problematic concept . If you're wondering why it seems so much more pro than my usual stuff that's because it is actually just an essay I handed in last year that I couldn't be bothered copying from to explain involvement properly for readers of this post.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

President/Scum : DA Rulez!

President/Scum is one of my favourite card games. However, it is also a card game with non-standard rules and, like handball, depending on where you are playing and who you are playing with, you are going to encounter variations on the basic game. I've already explained a little bit of the rules that my friends and I developed: here I am going to actually explore the game in some more detail.


Basically, one's only constraint is the number of cards available. For a good game you want to have a realistic possibility of high doubles. To that end, even with four players, I would advise two decks and once you're hitting more than six consider adding in a third but it's really a matter of taste. Bear in mind that more players also requires more space and you need to be able to hear everyone too.

If you want to play with fewer than four players? Well, three man scum and two man scum are entirely possible. The thing to bear in mind is that you know a lot more about the opponents' cards, which means you either need to be a lot luckier or a lot better.


To be the first player to have no cards in hand, i,e, become the President.


Standard Pack of Cards... my personal recommendation, as above, is two.

You want to keep the jokers in as well so if you know a brand of cards that has four jokers in it? All the better. (See, for instance, Cardinal card decks in New Zealand.)

Set Up:

Deal out all the cards, face down, in any direction, so that each person has a roughly equal number of cards (having a few less is both advantageous and disadvantageous).

Pick up your cards and order. I personally prefer to have the low cards on the left and the high cards on the right but the important thing is that one's hand is ordered in a manner one understands. Order of cards, low to high, as follows:

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A 2 Joker


The 3 of Clubs always starts the game: it may be played individually or with any other number of threes. Play proceeds clockwise. If more than one deck of cards is being used, the fastest three of clubs starts (first to play, in other words).

To play in a specific trick one must play a) cards of a higher worth (i.e. you can't play a 9 on a 9) and b) the same number of cards as played at the start of the trick. If one cannot play, one is obliged to pass. Once one has passed, one is out of the trick. The trick ends when all players have passed. The cards from the trick are left in the middle/moved to the side.

The player of the cards passed on starts the next trick afresh. That is, if the previous one ended with trip two (i.e. three twos) then the next trick may start with, say, two threes no worries. All passed players from the previous trick are back in, until they pass again.

The set, as it were (if a trick is a game), ends when all players bar one have no cards left. The first two payers to have no cards are, respectively, termed the President and the Vice President. The last two are, respectively, the Vice-Scum and the Scum (i.e. second to last and last, in that order). Any players in between are known as neutrals.

Before the next set begins, the Presidents and Scums exchange cards. The Scum is obliged to give the President whatever two cards the President desires (although the President is not allowed to keep asking for cards in order to discover all the cards in the Scum's hand), and receives whichever two cards the President wishes to give the Scum. This is the same for the Vices, albeit with only one card involved. Typically the President demands the highest card and gives low cards back.

The next set begins with the three of clubs as before.

The match ends when the participants decide to end it. As we developed these rules at school, this was generally when the bell rang. There is no overall winner but there is no reason why a points system could not be developed.

Elaborations/Special Moves:

  • Passing - one is always able to pass. At no point in a game of President is one obliged by the rules to play. However, whether one passes for strategic/tactical reasons or because one has no valid cards to play, one is forced to sit the trick out from that point forth. The only exception is with 666 where passed players still participate in the card exchanges (but nothing else).

  • Consecutive - this special rule, typically known as "consec", occurs whenever a run of three consecutive numbers occurs. When consec is in operation all players must continue to play the same number of cards but can only play consecutive cards. That is, a joker will not beat a 9 in consecutive as only a 10 can be placed on that 9. The trick continues under consecutive until all bar one players have passed.

  • Eight Below - the eight is one of three exceptions to the "must play a card greater than" rule. Whenever an eight is played, the next card placed on the pile must be lower than an eight, although the card after that may be higher. Thus, 8, 7, 9 is valid but 8, 7, 4 is not. The run 6, 7, 8 will be consec as consec takes priority, but the run 7, 8 may not be followed by a 9. Eight Below does not affect the "same number of cards" aspect... that rule is immutable, hence double eight requires a lower double next up and so forth.
    • I am familiar with people who use 10 instead of 8 and make "the below" bit a decision. I disagree with this. 10 is too high for the Below rule to function as a balance feature, and giving the opportunity to choose whilst introducing more strategy to the game has two potentially harmful side effects. Firstly, players whose last card played is an eight have no incentive to choose strategically, so if they say "below" on a 50/50 basis mean half the time the amusing troll nature of Eight Below isn't observed. Secondly, that Eight Below is mandatory means there is a greater tradeoff involved when faced with the consec, KKK and 666 rules. President is a game of punishment more than it is of decisions.

  • 69 - whenever a nine is played on top of a six, the 69 rule applies. This means that to remain in the trick a player must play any two face cards (i.e. J, Q, K) regardless of whether or not they remain a pair. 69 is another exception to the "higher than rule" in that if you have the run 6, 9, JK you can then follow up with JQ (or any other combination of faces). A trick operating under the conditions of 69 ends only once everyone passes on either the last card played (frequently, this is the 9). If the run is 66, 99 (double 69) then four face cards (any four) must be played, if the run is 666, 999 (triple 69) then six face cards must be played and so on. In this way the immutable rule of "same number of cards" is preserved (69 requires two cards, therefore two face cards... even though that starts from a singles trick).

  • KKK - if three kings are played (i.e. trip king) then all subsequent players must play three red cards (any three red cards). KKK only exists with triples.

  • 666 - if triple 6 is played all players count their cards. The player with the lowest number of cards (a proxy for the winner at the moment of play) passes their highest card to the player with the highest number of cards (a proxy for the loser) who passes back their lowest card, both cards are passed face down and are set aside. When the "winner" and "loser" have finished exchanging cards all players (including the "winner" and "loser") must pass a card (of their choosing) to the player on their left. Once all cards are exchanged the trick continues. If the "winner" has only one card, they have to pass on the set aside card at step two.
    • The idea is that the Devil is shaking things up for kicks but ultimately doesn't actually change the game (an all powerful God cannot be an all good God, amirite?). We had a lot of trouble coming up with this rule and it took four years to finalise a version once we decided we wanted to have it (because 6 is already involved in a special move we initially didn't want to double up and by the time we succumbed to our inner trolls we were in year thirteen and barely playing. Ultimately we came up with the rules over the last few months after more debate than play testing, but we are very familiar with our rules). We initially focussed more on Faustian bargains than trickster interpretations, but elements of that thinking persist even here (the player who plays 666 runs the risk of allowing the creation of new triples. However, because 666 is in isolation a very good move, even with three decks, the Faustian elements are extremely weak).

Additional Comments

In President, the luck of the draw is important but it is not insurmountable. Indeed, the rules described in the post were created with balance in mind. While it is unlikely that a hand stack top to bottom with face cards, aces, two and jokers (lowest card Jack) will lose, it is possible. This is due to rules like eight below and consecutive which mean that ludicrously high hands can be forced to pass with no opportunity to play any cards. The immutability of the number of cards also means that it is impossible to beat a single joker if playing singles, double joker if playing with doubles and so on. This means that a ludicrously high hand can be forced to lose a trick. However, it is unlikely that such a ludicrously high hand will be dealt out (especially if the cards in the pile are not shuffled after the end of a "set"; this breaks up any doubles and runs of high cards).

What is more likely is that a player, particularly a scum, ends up with a very low hand (even when playing with two decks). This situation is recoverable as such players tend to have a number of lower doubles; so if one waits long enough and then wins a trick, it is often possible to win several in a row (as most players will have exhausted their doubles/triples etc earlier). Players faced with such hands will look to utilise eight below, 69 and consecutive.

The value of various rules changes as the game goes on. In the early stages, consecutive is an important rule as it frequently allows a couple of players to use up a lot of singles quickly. In the later stages of a game, consecutives are harder to play and to create due to fewer cars. My gut also says late consecutives are either high or very low (more J, Q, K or 3,4, 5 than 5, 6, 7 for instance). An early 69 is an opportunity to leverage a hand stacked with faces whereas a late game 69 often allows scums a chance to win a trick as people have often got only one face card (or a high double they don't want to waste). An early stage Eight Below is generally wasted (see above) as players are almost guaranteed to have low cards: in the late game this is much less likely (which is why I keep hold of sixes and sevens even late on). KKK is unlikely to appear near the end of a game: people who play KKK still want to have three reds to dispose of themselves.

In general, players will play low first and then try and build to the higher cards. This manner of playing is designed to maximise the number of cards played in a trick. Sudden jumps, eg. 5 to J, are generally signs of inexperience or aggression. It is much easier to play aggressively as a President (of either kind) as such players are more likely to have higher hands. In this sense, I personally suggest that once you are familiar enough with these rules (or, indeed, any other rule system) you start to predict from the very start, before even the three of clubs is played, whether or not your hand can win. If you don't think you can win from the start, it is generally better to play to avoid becoming a scum, rather than to become President. That being said, any hand can win. With hands that don't look so good at the start, winning is a matter of timing one's push: move too soon and you're often left stranded with fairly low cards.