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Welcome to Packbat Wiki!

I started this site in 2012 as a place for me to write about things that interested me -- but if you're interested in contributing to or commenting on any of these pages, feel free to create an account. As a spam restriction measure you will be initially restricted to the Talk pages; post on mine to get fuller editing access. (Unfortunately, spam is growing to be a noticeable problem, and I've needed to be more liberal with the banhammer; let me know if I screw up via my gmail address -- my first name followed by the first four letters of my last name.)

-- Robin Zimmermann.

P.S. If you are having difficulties registering a username, this may be because you are browsing on .com instead of .net -- if so, either fixing the URL or (if you do not have write access to the URL field) clicking on the "Random page" link should correct this.


This is a bit of a new experiment: rather than adding new content directly to pages, I write bloglike posts that (besides being archived as blogging) get transferred to the appropriate Wiki pages. Here's hoping.

2014-03-12: Time travel game mechanic idea

(This started life as an Idea Pad bullet, but then I realized just how much I was writing and decided to do the right thing and give it its own space.)

A lot of games have played with time-travel mechanics, but I don't believe any have attempted to recreate the most classic of time-travel systems: time-travel that creates a single, self-consistent timeline. The tricky part of doing this in a game is that, if a character jumps back to a time when that character already exists, we have a span of time during which they exist (at least) twice simultaneously. Each copy should be able to act independently, but the player would struggle to control multiple characters at once.

To resolve this issue by making a 'tape' of what the character does is problematic, though, because one function of time travel is to change what the character could have done. Imagine I need to get through a locked door, and quickly; this seems like it should be very easy:

Time Past-Me Future-Me
0 Waiting outside. Arriving from 3 inside.
1 Watching the door open. Opening the door.
2 Entering through open door. Continuing on my merry way.
3 Jumping back to 0 inside.

Unfortunately, from a game perspective, there's a paradox here: how can the game know when there will be some future version of me arriving, and what I will do when I get there? And if the game doesn't know there will be a future-me opening the door, then past-me will see a locked door ... and so, even if future-me opens the door, the game won't know what to do with past-me after that changes.

...unless there is some way for me to tell the game what past-me will do.

My idea, then, would rewrite the locked-door bypass to look more like this.

Time Past-Me #1 (P1) Future-Me #1 (F1) Past-Me #2 (P2) Future-Me #2 (F2)
0 Priming the time-machine. Arriving inside from 3. Restarting in the F1 timeline from 2. Arriving inside from 2.
1 Hunting for a way into the house. Opening the door. Waiting for the door to open. Opening the door.
2 Clearing the doorway and reverting to take over the past-self's actions in the new timeline. Entering and jumping back in time to 0. Continuing on my merry way.
3 Getting inside and, from inside, jumping back to 0.

This is theoretically something a game could implement. If the game records what I do as P1, F1, and P2, it can play those actions back to simulate what happens when I play as F1, P2, and F2, respectively - and if it records what I see (or, if I want to be especially cruel, hear), it can tell if the new timeline will create a paradox for the old one.

I'm not sure yet how to deal with paradoxes, to be honest - it'd have to be something that prevents the player from simply ignoring them - but I think there's a lot of potential in this as a puzzle mechanic. And there's an obvious way to incorporate the tutorial into the system: the first thing the player character does in the game is equip, power up, and activate the experimental time-travel device for its next round of testing - and something bad happens that the character wants to prevent during this testing.

- Robin (talk) 17:43, 12 March 2014 (EDT)

2014-01-16: An Ignoramus's Quest for GCC, Part Two

Continued from Part One

Having learned that I could not simply walk into Mordor install GCC, I proceeded to the aforementioned GCC binaries page with the optimistic belief that I would find what past experience told me to expect from binary pages:

  • An executable file approximately identical to what one would obtain by compiling the source code on my own computer, or
  • An executable file that acts as an installer that produces a folder full of files approximately identical to the folder full of files that I would produce if I were following the procedure to compile the source code on my own computer. opposed to a pageful of links, each of which was -- with but a handful of exceptions:

  • An independent project which, for motives probably similar to my own upon setting forth on this quest, contains GCC somewhere inside its bundle of tools.

...and each of which was -- with but a handful of exceptions:

  • Built to run on one or several flavors of UNIX.

Nevertheless, I forged onwards, quickly narrowing my search down to the two "Microsoft Windows" options listed:

I opened each in a separate tab and started to read.

(There was one other option that I might have considered -- DJGPP, the DOS version -- but not only did I immediately eliminate this from consideration on the grounds that Windows is no longer DOS, but my immediate elimination of it from consideration was wise: running it on a Windows NT system can lead to ... issues.)

(Yes, Windows 7 is Windows NT.) (I think.) (It doesn't actually matter.)

(To be continued.)

2014-01-13: Short Status Update

...hi. Been a while. Let me tell you what's up.

  • Something I haven't mentioned on the Web (at least, not to my recollection) is that I'm in therapy for anxiety. As Boggle the Owl will tell you, anxiety is no joke -- but I'm dealing, and getting better.
  • Over the past month or so, I've been trying to maintain a regular schedule of self-improvement, with partial success. (It is quite fortunate that among my successes to date is realizing that I do not need to achieve perfect success, although I hope to improve the fraction a bit.) (Possibly by decreasing the denominator.) (But partial success is definitely a part of the aforementioned "getting better".)
  • The Bayesian Clocks thing is definitely on hiatus, but I intend to return to it. (Having a running copy of Matlab on my computer will probably be an aid to this -- graphs are fun and pretty, and numerical solution is often simpler than analytic.)
  • The blog ... well, I hope to post a few things here, but it is not a priority. I do hope to get a little bit of joy out of it by making a record of one of my self-improvement projects: learning C. Well, more specifically...

2014-01-13: An Ignoramus's Quest for GCC, Part One

(Yes, this is posted out of order. Relax, I know what I'm doing.)

Over the weekend, talking with a friend from the Less Wrong group in my area -- LessWrong DC -- I've decided to begin studying the C programming language by studying The C Programming Language (by Kernighan and Ritchie -- a.k.a. K&R -- second edition). As an aid to doing so, I decided to install the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) on my Windows 7 laptop, for two reasons.

  1. GCC is GNU free software -- so if I find myself engaged in a serious C-programming project, I will be able to do so without worrying about acquiring new software licenses.
  2. GCC is, according to what I've heard, the gold standard of C compilers -- so if I find myself wanting or needing to use some other, I can expect at the very minimum to find users of the new compiler who are already familiar with the differences.

Proceeding on this noble basis, I typed "GCC" into a search engine, opened the webpage...

...and ran into the first problem that faces the uninitiated when they set out to use free software: that free software people are living in their own private universe. Indeed, they seem especially prone to the high-percentile-rank variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect: their idea of a rank beginner -- of someone whose knowledge is as close to nonexistent as can be found among those with whom communication is possible -- is an individual who can already compile C source code to run on their computer.

Meaning, in this case, that the installation instructions on the GCC website include, as the very first prerequisite to installation, possession of an "ISO C++98 compiler" -- one capable of configuring and building the raw GCC source code that is the product which GNU provides. Although, to their credit, they are sufficiently self-aware as to remark that:

Important: because these are source releases, they will be of little use to you if you do not already have a C compiler on your machine. If you don't already have a compiler, you need pre-compiled binaries. Our binaries page has references to pre-compiled binaries for various platforms.

...leaving me with my choice of two yaks to shave:

  1. Choose a binary distribution and use that instead; or
  2. Find a C++ compiler somewhere and build GCC.

Given that the latter appeared to likely have significantly more fur than the former, I decided to check out the provided binaries page and see what I could find.

Continued in Part Two.

Blog Archives

In the interest of keeping the front page navigable, I am (manually) shifting entries to archive pages over time. Blog:Archive Index will connect you to that page.

At the moment, the most recent archive page is Blog:Archive 2013 (part 1).

Wiki Links

The following are pages on the Wiki which (should) connect you with most of the interesting non-blog content that I have or have promised.

Recent Additions

...the definition of "recent" is a slippery thing; expect content here when I figure out what it should mean to me. That said:

  • Henderson Duct Log - because, as Robert Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when a problem turns out to be not easy, it's a good idea to do Science to it ... and science requires data.
  • Essays - because it seemed like a good category for things. (Categories ... now there's an idea.)

Starting Points

  • Packbat's Recreations
    • Wherein the site owner blathers about some of the pointless stuff he does.
  • Blog:Archive Index
    • An index to all the old blog entries that said site owner plans to have written in the future.
  • Packbat's Reading
  • Dispatches
    • Wherein reports are made on places and events.
  • Idea Pad
    • Wherein ideas are thrown at a wall to see what sticks.
  • Essays
    • Some ideas aren't short enough to fit on one line of one page.
  • Quotes
    • Wherein memorable phrasings are not-particularly-im-mortalized.
  • Pro Tips
    • Wherein useful suggestions of little to no import are provided.
  • Link:Art, Link:Webcomics, Link:Web Fiction
    • Wherein URLs that, at one point, directed browsers to interesting visual works, visual sequential works, and textual sequential works accumulate.
  • Scales
    • Wherein criteria are proposed for the measurement of arbitrary qualities.
  • Sandbox
    • Wherein experiments with Wiki formatting are conducted and randomly deleted.

Serial Works

  • Roll to Dodge - Zombie Apocalypse
    • "Roll to Dodge" is a simplified kind of forum roleplaying game in which the outcome of each action is determined by rolling a single d6. theplague42 and Packbat were moderating this game starting in January 2011 (until I vanished of the face of the earth) - the above is the beginnings of a copy of this archive, condensed to include just the player actions, die rolls, and resolutions.