Weeknotes: 080

Work

This week I’ve made a few small tweaks to search to help people looking for coronavirus content:

  • If you’re on a search page filtered by a topical event like this one, it says in smaller text above the title what topical event you’re looking at. This is useful because we don’t have a facet for topical events, so there was previously no indication that you were seeing a filtered list of results (other than the querystring).

  • A lot of people are searching for terms which are only tangentially related to coronavirus, like “dog walking”. So to help pull coronavirus results up onto the first page, they’re now slightly boosted.

  • We’ve also been brainstorming ways to help, like adding more synonyms (eg, “covid19” and “coronavirus”), automatically fixing some common spelling mistakes (like “vunerable”), and adding a feature to our ranking model for “is this content coronavirus related?” and seeing what that does.

I also did some work on finishing off showing “parts” of multi-part content directly in search results, as we think we could use that to expose HTML attachments on pages like this directly in search, making it clearer what’s on a page and reducing the number of clicks needed to get to it. There’s a bit more to do there, as currently we don’t index HTML attachments in search, but once that’s sorted we can A/B test it and see how it performs.

Boringly, it was also end-of-year review time. I got it done, but it’s a bit hard to prioritise mundane stuff like that when there’s coronavirus and brexit going on.

The Plague

Another week, another intensification of the prevention measures. Going outside is now only allowed for daily exercise, shopping, and a few other reasons.

On the bright side, the supermarkets are filling up with supplies again, and they’re pretty quiet now. But I’ve not managed to buy flour in over a week, so I’ll run out of bread soon.

Other than that, it’s not so bad.

Miscellaneous

Books

Still reading The Nyarlathotep CycleI seem to be reading less at night lately, I need to fix that.

, but I’ve read a few more stories:

  • The Dweller in Darkness, by August Derleth
  • The Titan in the Crypt, by J. G. Warner
  • Fane of the Black Pharaoh, by Robert Bloch
  • Curse of the Black Pharaoh, by Lin Carter

The Dweller in Darkness was my first August Derleth story, and I quite liked it. It’s got heavy similarities with The Whisperer in Darkness, but that’s ok, as it takes the story in a different direction. I don’t think I like his conception of the mythos along more traditional good-vs-evil lines, though.

Games

Another week of Apocalypse World. I think I’m getting the hang of the system more now, though I’m still struggling to handle task difficulties. For example, the players were in a junkyard on the outskirts of a town which hates their guts, searching through the rubbish for a plane engine. I wanted them to find the engine, because they came to this plan based on what their characters knew, so: stuff I’d told them. It would suck a lot to go into danger, narrate how they dig through the rubbish heaps, and for me to say “sorry, there isn’t one there, even though I strongly hinted that there would be.”

I also felt it would be a bit unsatisfying to say “lo and behold, there one is!” without any drama happening at all. If this were Call of Cthulhu, I could have called for a Spot Hidden roll, and handled the result like this:

  • Hard success: you find the engine and are able to get away undetected.
  • Regular success: you find the engine but, as you’re loading it up into your car, you get discovered. Your enemies will give chase!
  • Failure: you find the engine but, as you’re digging it out of the rubbish, you get discovered. Do you run back to the car and leave, or stand and fight so that one of you can finish retrieving it?

Fortunately, one of the players introduced drama by deciding to wander into the town to ask some questions, and only escaped by successfully bluffing that he had guards with him. Then he ran back to the junkyard, where they’d just found and dug out the engine, and they didn’t waste any time sticking around. But if that hadn’t happened, I’m not sure what I would have done other than say “well done, you found it”.

Internet

I’ve been working from home this week so, naturally, my internet connection has been terribly unreliable. I’ve been having minutes, sometimes even hours, of total packet loss. The mornings and evenings have mostly been fine, but it all falls apart in the afternoons. It’s pretty hard to work remotely if your connection is so unstable you can’t load a web page or send an email!

So I’ve been tethering to my phone a lot, but I’ve used up half of its data allowance already… and it resets just before the end of April.

I’ve got a Virgin Media engineer coming around tomorrow afternoon to have a look. I really hope he can fix it there and then, rather than doing some triage and realising that the problem is elsewhere in the network.