Weeknotes: 081

Work

This week I switched on an A/B test for showing parts in search results. For example, if you search for france travel advice you will, if you’re in the right bucket, see a list of parts beneath some of the results. Parts can appear beneath the top 3 results, with up to 10 parts per result. On Friday we had just over a full day of data, and click-through rate was slightly up, but we need more data to know for sure if it’s a definite improvement. Hopefully we’ll have enough at the end of next week.

I then moved to the Platform Health team, as Search finally ended. Platform Health was my first team at GDS, so it’s not so much of a big change. I spent Thursday and Friday redeploying all our apps to use Ruby 2.6.6, which fixed some CVEs, but first I had to shave a yak and make it possible to upload new packages to our private repository again, which got broken when it was migrated to AWS.

Going forward, it looks like I’ll be leading on retiring the frontend part of whitehall, which will be great, because whitehall is the only app which does both publishing and rendering, and it takes advantage of that to do a lot of weird and not-so-good stuff.

The Plague

The work days have blurred together. The weekend days have also blurred together: all Saturday I was thinking it was Sunday (even though I had my game, and I know that’s on Saturdays!), and the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to double-check that it wasn’t Monday.

Not so great.

This week I’ve managed to survive without having to brave the shops at all, though I’m now totally out of bread, flour, and rice, so I’ll have to do that tomorrow.

I’ve been making a list of everything I’ve needed to buy, because it’s only been a few weeks and I’ve already run out of a lot of stuff. So far in my life I’ve tended to do my shopping in a just-in-time fashion, often going shopping two or three times a week to pick up a couple of things each time.

In the future, when shops have recovered, I’ll try to make sure I have at least a month’s supplies in at all times. Right now, if I developed symptoms and had to self-isolate for a fortnight, I’d have to live off takeaways and tins of soup after a few days.

Miscellaneous

Books

I finished reading Blindsight, a sci-fi first-contact story. It felt like it took a little time to get going, giving lots of information about Earth when really I just wanted it to get to the aliens, but that exposition did all mostly get tied back into the alien action (and the horrifying truth revealed to the protagonist) by the end. It was a good read; the aliens, and what they represent, were a very cool idea.

I also finished reading The Nyarlathotep Cycle, covering these short stories:

  • The Temple of Nephren-Ka, by Philip J. & Glenn A. Rahman
  • The Papyrus of Nephren-Ka, by Robert C. Culp
  • The Snout in the Alcove, by Gary Myers
  • The Contemplative Sphinx, by Richard Tierney
  • El-Pi-El’s Ægypt, by Ann K. Schwader

It’s fair to say that Nephren-Ka was the main character of this collection of stories. Overall it was a good read, but the Egyptian focus did make things feel a bit samey after a while. It would have been nice if there’d been some more “alien” cosmic horror sprinkled in too, rather than just lots and lots of Egyptian curses.

Games

This has been a fun week. I’ve been reading a lot of RPG blog posts and watching videos, and have started to note down tips I come across that I like and which solve problems I’ve had in my games. I’ve also been learning things from the games I’m in; like Apocalypse World has helped me to understand “only roll when the outcome is in doubt”. A bad habit of mine in Call of Cthulhu was making the players roll for everything, even if there was no real chance of failure. But then because the dice are random, sometimes someone would fail a roll, and we’d be stuck while I tried to improvise a way out.

Just because someone is picking a lock and they have a skill called “lockpicking” (for example), doesn’t mean they need to roll it. They only need to roll it if there’s some reason they don’t just succeed: it’s a tricky lock, they’re under time pressure, they’re fatigued, etc. It sounds obvious when put like that, but it wasn’t for me running the game at the time.

On Saturday the Pokemon game I’m in switched to a system based on Fate Accelerated, because we were all sick of the system we were using, which was just unwieldy. So we needed to run through character creation again to port our characters over.

One of the things you have to do in Fate is come up with a “trouble aspect”: some character trait which causes problems for you (though it may be helpful in some circumstances). And I realised I’d not really thought about character flaws like that before. While my character was by no means perfect, I couldn’t really come up with one flaw which was big enough to call out as the trouble aspect. So I had to think about that a bit, and then it ended up coming into play in the session (in a positive way, as it turned out), and caused some good roleplaying.

That’s another thing I’ll be keeping in mind for future games, regardless of system. Thinking up a major flaw (and one generic enough to actually come up regularly in play) leads to more interesting characters. Even if you’re in a system where it has no mechanical significance, it’s still good for roleplaying.