Sam's Blog entries for 2012

Review: Sword of the Stars II Enhanced Edition

Date: Tuesday, 11 December 2012, 15:37.

Categories: games, review, game-review, sword-of-the-stars, 4x, strategy.

The initial release of Sword of the Stars II was possibly the most shambolic release of a game I have ever seen, it made Master of Orion 3 look like a masterpiece of finished product.

A year on, and free to people who didn't take up the refund offer on the original, the Enhanced Edition finally shows what Sword of the Stars II should have been on release - a worthy successor to the ground-breaking original. It took them a while, but they got there in the end.

There's still a few rough edges, and some of the easy accessibility of the original is gone, but the sequel shows that they're still willing to challenge some of the design conventions that 4X games all-too-often find themselves blindly defaulting to.

Unintentional Truths

Date: Thursday, 26 July 2012, 15:38.

Categories: random-stuff.

Showing my Ol***ics(tm)-induced patriotic fervour with this warning on the perils of "Thing, Prefix of" notation, courtesy of

Who says AIs don't have a sense of humour...

Note to future me: Are you trying to remember how to shell-quote/escape the contents of a variable to avoid going utterly insane from the nested double-quotes and backslashing?

printf -v escaped_var "%q" "$var" is the command that you can never remember, and never find the documentation for until you've wasted a morning of your life.

Don't forget it next time. Or at least, remember that you wrote this note, kthxbai.

Bash-itunes plugin tutorial

Date: Friday, 15 June 2012, 11:03.

Categories: bash-itunes, itunes, cli, bash, shell-scripting, apple-script, tutorial.

In v1.2.0 of bash-itunes, my project to control iTunes from the command-line, I've added plugin support for sub-commands.

This allows you, or anyone else, to add new commands to the basic script without needing to alter the script itself.

Read below the cut for details and a walkthrough of creating a new plugin.

A year or so ago I got myself a sound mixer, letting me mix the sound from all my computers into a single set of headphones and speakers. I'd been meaning to do it for years, and eventually settled on a Behringer XENYX 1002. It's a great little bit of kit, ideal for grabbing the sound from four machines and isn't too huge.

Of course, this then left me with another problem.

I tend to just play music on iTunes on my old laptop, and that means I have to physically use the old laptop if I want to skip tracks or adjust the volume, or mute, or whatever.

That's not a big deal when I'm sat at the desk, but a bit more annoying if I'm sitting back with my feet on the desk and my work laptop in my lap, comfortable and living my rockstar-developer lifestyle - leaning forwards is such a concentration-breaker.

So, uh, yeah, whatever. I found a need for controlling iTunes from the command-line over SSH. I had a look around at the existing command-line clients for iTunes and didn't really like most of them and decided to write my own.

RIP Ray Bradbury

Date: Thursday, 7 June 2012, 06:08.

Categories: books.

Sad to see this in the news Author Ray Bradbury dies, aged 91.

One of the sci-fi greats, to me he was one of those authors who gave sci-fi a kick up the ass and showed that it could go in a different direction than the rut the Golden Age had got stuck in, doing so a surprising number of years before New Wave got its act together to do the same thing.

He was also often willing to challenge the artificial boundaries of genres, writing works that could be equally well classified as fantasy, horror or sci-fi; producing a seamless blend of "its all just story-telling" in the truest tradition of genreless speculative fiction.

RIP Ray Bradbury, a pioneer and inspiration to many, you will be missed.

Goodreads and I

Date: Wednesday, 16 May 2012, 12:00.

Categories: books, elsewhere, goodreads.

A number of events have conspired to remind me of the existence of Goodreads recently, combined with a couple of conversations from people wanting to tap into my awesome taste in sci-fi and fantasy (or at least the awesome extent of my reading).

So I finally got off my ass and created an account. I've been updating it a few hours at a time, here and there, so it only has around 500 rating so far: I hope to get around to getting it more complete as time permits. (For scale reference, I have somewhere between 1000 and 2000 sci-fi and fantasy books owned, let alone those I've borrowed from libraries over the years.)

Dwarf Fortress Minecart Edition Released

Date: Tuesday, 15 May 2012, 09:35.

Categories: gaming, dwarf-fortress.

Seems the latest version (0.34.08) of Dwarf Fortress has been released over at Bay 12 Games.

This version belies its miniscule version bump by adding a whole new toy to play with: minecarts. I can't wait to get time to see what fun can be had with these, the devblogs have teased with the possibilities as usual:

05/10/2012 Toady One: The items and units fly out of carts now on major collisions. It gives the objects a little lift and spread sometimes to make the happenings more entertaining. Accidental grapeshotting of the dining room should be possible now. The debug tests on massed goblins were fairly devastating and left a large conical skidmark.

I foresee many (probably failed) attempts to create an anti-goblin minecart shotgun in my future.

And the Sly Subeditor of the Week Award goes to...

Date: Wednesday, 25 April 2012, 21:20.

Categories: random-stuff.

Subeditors are sly sods, stuck in a largely thankless job, being shouted at from one side by journalists and the other side by editors, and if you take your eye off them for a second, they'll resort to what is seemingly their only pleasure in life: slipping slyly subversive jokes into seemingly innocent copy.

This week's award goes to whoever it was at the BBC who managed to inject a little fun into the US secret service prostitute scandal with this subtle joke:

Well it made me laugh...

If you still don't see it, read below the cut for a hint.

Book Review: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Date: Thursday, 12 April 2012, 16:54.

Categories: books, review, book-review, sci-fi, karl-schroeder, virga.

Being an avid Charles Stross reader, both fiction and blog, I had heard the name Karl Schroeder mentioned a few times and even read some of his guest posts on Charlie's blog, and I eventually picked up one of his books from the local Forbidden Planet: Sun of Suns.

Set in a free-fall air bubble the size of a planet, it's a blend of swashbuckling "airships on mars"-style derring-do, political intrigue, and hints of post-human futurism.

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