SDCC Just Didn’t Think About The Ladies This Time.

I normally never critique a company for not hiring female devs or DBAs; I tend to think it’s the responsibility of women to be good enough to deserve employment. This time, however, I think it’s quite appropriate for a system that seriously screwed with women who have two last names after marriage.

I’ll start by saying I got my San Diego Comic-Con badges just fine. Two 4-day with preview night badges successfully purchased for myself and my husband…but it nearly didn’t happen, and it certainly didn’t happen because I followed instructions.

You may all remember the giant cluster that was last year’s registration process. Comic-Con spent an extra five months trying to fix their problems concerning server balancing and site overload. They set up a system using preregistration for member IDs that had to be verified in advance. I applaud the effort; it seems that with a few hitches, this year went much better than last. There were two
serious issues, however.

In a predictable moment, the link included in the Comic-Con registration email (, for all of you who maniacally clicked it hundreds of time) went down due to tracking on the URL from the email. Their tracking and analytics system was their bottleneck. As a dev, I had some advantage here, since I expected that to happen and had already set up two machines in front of me with two different browsers and the link pasted into the address bar ready to hit ‘enter’. I popped in at #1906 in line on my main box in FF and #3222 on my netbook in Chrome.

Turns out that in a moment of epic (pun intended, as Epic Registration is the in-use system) failure, San Diego Comic-Con Member IDs created by people with spaces or punctuation in their names were utterly useless. In the badge registration email, I was told to register with the last name of VLACK, though my last name is Wheeler
Van Vlack. After VLACK didn’t work, I tried WHEELER VAN VLACK and was deeply fortunate that it worked. Chelsey St. Juniors has a space and period in her last name, and missed out on her badges entirely, since the information in her badge registration email was incorrect.

Others complaining on Facebook say that people with a space in their last names have not received confirmation emails. One woman’s comment (Lisa Wong Rodriguez, if I remember correctly) concerning her Member ID and last name not working has been deleted.

People on the Comic-Con International’s Facebook page who are commenting on this issue are being deleted, or so they claim. In a bit of investigative journalism, I’ve posted a comment there as well and already received a response. Far from deleting my comment, Comic-Con has acknowledged that they screwed up people with multiple last names. Still, note Tina’s comment at the bottom.

I want to congratulate Comic-Con for acknowledging their fault, but really–how many men have two last names like these women do? I’ll pay Comic-Con the compliment of assuming there were no talented female devs or DBAs available to do a quick smoke test for stupid.



Comic-Con has responded to my post on Facebook, and they say that the system was broken for all
people who had strange last names with any spaces or punctuation. I absolutely agree: their system was broken. They assert that because men sometimes have spaces and punctuation in their last names (Sr., Jr., etc), that they were affected too; I heartily concur. I never said that this was a deliberate attempt to keep women out of Comic-Con; what I said was that hiring a woman to look over the system might have prevented this problem. Women were, I think, disproportionately affected by this error–and I’m open to refutation on this point. I think that, proportionately, there were more women with multiple or hyphenated last names who didn’t get their badges than men who have a Sr. or Jr. tacked-on.

Third Edition Earthdawn Dice Roller in Java

So, I play an RPG called Earthdawn; it’s a lot like D&D, but for real nerds.

One of the things we all do in my gaming group is write our own dice rollers; rolling actual dice is SO passé–and there’s an ongoing argument about whether or not a seeded random is more or less random than the natural flaws in dice and rolling surfaces. Java is the language in which I learned to write math, so I somewhat naturally write algorithms in Java without thinking. It’s easy enough to translate this into C# or whatever.

Ok, so, here’s the algorithm. In Earthdawn, dice rolls are predicated on the step level of the difficulty. You may have an attack roll at step 18 and a damage roll at step 22. In 3rd edition Earthdawn, that translates to rolling d12+d10+d8 to attack, and 2d12+2d6 for damage. Here’s the chart (click to embiggen):

As you can see, there’s some kind of progression here; it turns out that the algorithm is a simple infinite series. There’s a jump in the number of dice every seven steps. Hence, the algorithm has a few simple steps:

(1) Divide the step number by 7.
(2) Determine and store the floor and the modulus.
(3) Roll a number of d12s equal to (floor – 1).
(4) Roll dice equal to the corresponding modulus (the first addition of dice past the 7 threshold will be 2d6, so if the modulus is 1, 2d6 are rolled and added).

That is the step algorithm such that no lookup is now necessary; Earthdawn has exploding dice and epic
fails, however, so two things are necessary. Look at the exploding dice method; if you roll the maximum value of a die, you can roll it again. You can keep rolling that die until a value shows that is less than the maximum value, such that a d6 rolled with a result of 6 can be rerolled. On the second roll, 6 results. On the third roll, 2 results, so the total value of that die roll is 14. For epic fails, if you roll more than one die and all dice show ones, you have epically failed (similar to a fumble in D&D, and with equivalent disastrous results).

Here’s my dice roller; click to embiggen:

So, here’s the code. It’s intended to be self-contained (you can see that I use a pic of Captain Malcolm Reynolds; just drop a pic in your file structure and reference it in the code if you want a background). Obviously this is bare-bones; you can adapt it at your leisure and to whatever GUI you desire. Any suggestions are welcome; I am always debugging this (and the JavaScript I’m using to display syntax highlighting is a little cranky, so forgive any indentation issues). If you can think of a way to optimize this algorithm, let me know; I always need bragging rights over the guys 😉

package dice;

import java.awt.Color;
import java.awt.Dimension;
import java.awt.Graphics;
import java.awt.GridLayout;
import java.awt.Image;
import java.awt.event.ActionEvent;
import java.awt.event.ActionListener;
import java.util.Random;

import javax.swing.BorderFactory;
import javax.swing.ImageIcon;
import javax.swing.JButton;
import javax.swing.JCheckBox;
import javax.swing.JFrame;
import javax.swing.JOptionPane;
import javax.swing.JPanel;
import javax.swing.JSpinner;
import javax.swing.JTextField;
import javax.swing.SpinnerModel;
import javax.swing.SpinnerNumberModel;

public class ImagePanel extends JPanel implements ActionListener{

	int six = 6;
	int eight = 8;
	int ten = 10;
	int twelve = 12;
	int dice = 0; //counter for total number of dice
	public int middle; //step value entered by me.
	public boolean fail; //whether or not an epic fail happened.
	public JFrame frame;
	public Random r;
	Image img = new ImageIcon("img/MalcolmReynolds13.jpg").getImage();
	SpinnerModel stepEntry = new SpinnerNumberModel(1, 1, 300, 1);
	SpinnerModel karmaCounter = new SpinnerNumberModel(25, 0, 25, 1);
	JSpinner stepSpinner = new JSpinner(stepEntry);
	JSpinner karmaSpinner = new JSpinner(karmaCounter);
	private JTextField diceResult;
	private JButton myButton;
private JCheckBox myCheck;
	private JLabel enterStep = new JLabel("Enter Step Here.");
	public static void main(String[] args) {
		ImagePanel panel = new ImagePanel(new ImageIcon("img/MalcolmReynolds13.jpg").getImage());
		JFrame frame = new JFrame("Tarah's Dice Roller Of Awesomeness");

	public ImagePanel(String img) {
		this(new ImageIcon(img).getImage());

	public ImagePanel(Image img){
		this.img = img;
		Dimension size = new Dimension(img.getWidth(null), img.getHeight(null));
		JPanel panel = new JPanel();
		add(panel, "Center");
		myButton = new JButton("Roll The Dice.");
		diceResult = new JTextField("Roll Result", 9);
		myCheck = new JCheckBox("Use Karma.", false);
		GridLayout myGrid = new GridLayout(3, 2);

	public void paintComponent(Graphics g) {
		g.drawImage(img, 0, 0, null);
	public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
		boolean useKarma = false;
		middle = (Integer)stepSpinner.getValue();
		System.out.println("actionPerformed() thinks the step number is: " + middle);
		if (myCheck.isSelected() == true) {
			System.out.println("Using Karma.");
			useKarma = true;
			int decrease = ((Integer)karmaCounter.getValue()) - 1;
		String s = Integer.toString(rollTheDice(useKarma, middle, fail));


	//This is the Earthdawn Exploding Dice Method.
	public int d (int die){

		int sides = die;
		int result = 0;
        int roll;
		do {
			r = new Random();
            roll = r.nextInt(sides) + 1;
            result = result + roll;
            System.out.println("This is a d" + sides + " roll with result: " + result);
       } while (roll == sides);

		return result;
	public int oneToSeven (int o) {
		int result = 0;
		if (o == 1) {
			result = d(six) - 3;
			if (result < 1) {
				result = 1;
		if (o == 2) {
			result = d(six) - 2;
			if (result < 1) {
				result = 1;
		if (o == 3) {
result = d(six) - 1;
			if (result < 1) {
				result = 1;
		if (o == 4) {
			result = d(six);
		if (o == 5) {
			result = d(eight);
		if (o == 6) {
			result = d(ten);
		if (o == 7) {
			result = d(twelve);
		return result;
	public int prefix (int p) {
		int prefixTotal = 0;

		for (int i=1; i= 8) {
			int d12s = prefix(full);
			int rest = suffix(mod);
			result = d12s + rest;
			if (result == full+1) {
				fail = true;
		return result;
	public int rollTheDice(boolean addKarma, int stepValue, boolean epicFail) {
		boolean addK = addKarma;
		dice = 0;
		int result = 0;
		result = step(stepValue);
		epicFail = fail;
		if (addK == true) {
			int dK = d(six);
			result = result + dK;
			if (epicFail == true && dK == 1) {
				JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(frame, "Epic FAIL.");
		else if (addK != true && epicFail == true) {
			JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(frame, "Epic FAIL.");

The IDE Wars: NetBeans or Eclipse for Java Software Development

I’ve been working on several applications for a few years; some are ready or released into the wild. I’ve used NetBeans and Eclipse to develop one application in particular; I’ve written an Earthdawn dice roller application. Earthdawn is like Dungeons & Dragons, but for real nerds. The Earthdawn dice system is complex, including a shifting iterated seven-step algorithm for determining the dice rolled for a given action. In addition, dice explode in Earthdawn. That means that if a given die results in its maximum value (i.e. a d6 result is a 6 or a d12 result is a 12), you reroll the dice and add that to the total, continuing to reroll if the die continues to result in its maximum value and stopping when it does not. Plus, you also have the option of adding a karma die (dependent on race, like Elf or Dwarf) to any roll which permits it.

Obviously, this is a complex system, and dealing with the RNG was not the hard part. The hard part was
figuring out the algorithm by which you can calculate the dice you would roll for any given step. For example, rolling a step 10 means that you roll a d8 + d6. Rolling a step 20 means that you roll 2d12 + d10. You can find this on a chart in the 3rd Edition Earthdawn Player’s Guide, but it actually took doing a Taylor series to determine that there is an algorithm which repeats every 7 steps. This means that my app can calculate what you’d roll for a step 63 dice roll, when the book doesn’t provide a chart that high.

I’ve been fiddling with this app for a year or so, and while I’ve been developing the backend in Eclipse, I found that the frontend needed some serious help. I looked around for an IDE specifically to develop the frontend of a Java app, and NetBeans turned out to be full-featured enough to develop in much the same way that I’d dev a C# app in Visual Studio 2010. I’m an old school algorithm coder, and I don’t do as much frontend app development, as opposed to my long term work in
frontend web development. In fact, most of my experience in frontend app development is in VS from 2003 on. So, believe it or not, I was looking for an IDE experience closer to VS.

NetBeans is open source; I found that specifically for the purpose of frontend Java software development, it’s a far better IDE than Eclipse. While Eclipse works better for academic algorithm coding, NetBeans is tailor-made for someone who wants to turn out an app with a backend; in fact, I coded the backend over rather a lot of time in Eclipse to test it with multiple RNGs developed at CERN, Argonne, etc, and simply copied over the relevant classes into NetBeans to hook them up to the frontend. I’d actually recommend this as the most efficient experience if you’re trying to create a complex backend with a simple and effective frontend…especially if you have an app that needs a frontend instead of a script. NetBeans has a simple application package process as well, if you need to pack up the app and send it out. I have
Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Windows, and Mac users in my group, and Java will execute on each of those platforms.

I’ll also shortly be posting the app so you can examine it for yourselves 😉

“Murder” or “Theft”?

Hello! This is my first post over here, so hopefully you all will be kind, and allow me to run my legal mouth off just a touch. ^.^

In honor of the Hallmark Holiday that is the fourteenth of February, I thought I’d revisit an oldie but goodie from the annals of “Seriously? It’s just a game!”

I used to play a number of MMORPGs, and the one that held my attention for the longest was a Korean-based free-to-play one called MapleStory. It was fun and cute and you could play through most of the quests without actually having to interact with
too many people, at least in the States. Where things started getting a little sticky for players and the company, however, was when they introduced the ability to “marry” other players. You got special items and could go on special quests as a couple, and apparently you could have problems in real life as well.

After being dumped by her online husband in 2008, a Japanese woman hacked into his account, and deleted his character. After being interviewed by the police and admitting that she was responsible, she faced up to years  in prison or a $5000 fine. But wait a minute, I hear you saying, can you really “kill” an online character? Should that be punished the same way as “real” crimes?

It’s not clear from the various news stories who focused on the jilted lover aspect of the story, but it’s likely that the crime for which she was punished was the “hacking into his account” and not so much the “deleting his character.” In the States, we have the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (
CFAA) which makes it unlawful to use someone else’s login information to do illegal things, and Japan probably has similar provisions. Technically, even if she’d had his information for legitimate reasons, she still could have been prosecuted, because there is a provision about “exceeding the authority” to use that account or computer.

Even if she had been within the law in how she accessed his character, did she break the law by deleting his character? Is an avatar “human” such that it can be “killed” under the law? Well, probably not. The worst charge would probably be one of theft or conversion, or malicious mischief at the lowest end. And online games have an additional layer of complexity about who owns pixels, because with “free-to-play” and online games there isn’t a physical transfer of ownership which would constitute a “sale” in the legal sense.

Even if you pay money to use premium content (like if you want to get married in MapleStory…) the Terms of Service makes
it clear that players lease the game from the developer, and don’t actually “own” any of it. So the spurned woman may have caused problems for her erstwhile lover, but the property she “destroyed” didn’t even belong to him. He was just using it under a license for as long as he followed the rules.

But “Woman Arrested for Hacking Lover’s Computer” doesn’t have the same sense of absurdity, does it?

Dungeon Delve with Wil Wheaton at ECCC, Pt. 3 (final)

Stench rises from the ooze swirling through the Freeport sewers. The revolting sludge clings to our boots, infests our noses, darkens our spirits. As the faint phosporescence illumines the passages ahead, we see a junction in these ancient underground passages. Rats squeak in the darkness ahead, and a low moan of foul wind tells us that something is coming…

So I roll to check the junction in the sewers. The rest of the party is clustered ahead, because I’m a wussy elf with very little in the physical defense department. I’ve scooted to the side of the tunnel, as there are two raised shelves on each side with a low channel between for the sewage to pass through. As the tank moves out in front, there’s a scrape up to the left. Ye olde initiative time! Bandits filled the tunnel on both sides of the X-junction we’re moving towards. We scattered to give ourselves room to fight, and I moved to the right-hand side of the tunnel.

The bandits closed, and we laid into them. Our tank bashed, our dwarf cleaved, my brother lit the place up, our rogue slashed away, and I made like Legolas in a skirt. On the left side of the junction, Stanislaw started burning bandits. On the right side, I got trapped in between two of the bandits, and decided to flip over them to get behind them. I asked Wil how high the tunnel ceiling was, and he told me it was about 12′ high in the center, and at the sides, closer to 10′. I’d have to do a tuck roll in midair…no vaulting over their shoulders. I had a monster Acrobatics score, so I gave it a roll. Unfortunately, the roll didn’t hit the DC, so I snagged my foot on the ceiling, and proceeded to drop into the muck at the bottom of the sewer.


I was then treated to a lovingly-described scene, as
Wil let me know that I had crap in my boots, hair, teeth, and quiver. UGH.

[Commentary: Wil admittedly didn’t have a lot of experience DMing this, but here is where he really shone. He used his skill as an actor to make up for the parts where his DM skills were somewhat less than spectacular. Voices, gestures; all were lovingly created. He’s far better than most of his roles allow him to show.]

Elfy was PISSED. I started laying about with arrows while the party started tossing assorted and sundry spells, darts, daggers, and sword blows about. We didn’t even notice the black ooze crawling our way. Remember the floater I’d seen when we were first entering the tunnels? It was sucked under the surface of the ooze by an oily current. I totally asked Wil if I should be envisioning Skin Of Evil at this point (I think he has a voice control unit in his
brain that permits him to totally ignore people who have just Stepped Over The Geek Line), but he was already describing the vile Black Pudding coming toward us! Needless to say, most of our weapons didn’t work; a Black Pudding isn’t immune to nonmagical weapons, but as a sewer scavenger, it simply absorbed missile weapons. Stanislaw ended up burning it up with a spell, and we took a deep breath while Wil pointed us towards a junction ahead in the tunnel.

We’d seen a bandit run towards a dark pipe off to the south. Being intelligent PCs, we decided that we’d traipse off in the dark towards a filthy tunnel instead of heading back up to the perfectly respectable Adventure Hook Tavern above for a nice warm mead.

Gamers, man. Just…gamers.

Passing through the dark pipe, we ended up in a small room that contained a woman and Davien,
who pointed us towards tiles on the ground that would take us to the amulet’s location.

We arrived on transfer portals in a large hall that was filled with torches. We were also not able to see too far into the room; giant vaulted ceilings disappeared upwards into greyish clouds. We guessed that this was some sort of extraplanar location or interdimensional fold; a few of us had done some planar travel, so the runes on the walls and floors were more understandable and even translatable. There was a great deal of blackness in front of us; as we moved forward, we heard scritching sounds at the sides of the room, and undead bandit ravenous critters started to close.

I fell back, since I am still a wussy elven archer. I can thread a needle with an arrow at 100 paces, but I’ll fall over in a stiff breeze. Tank (Matt’s character, whose name I do not remember, but with a 6 INT, it’s not like Ye Olde Thug
Number Four is going to remember what I said long enough to be offended) jumped ahead to start smashing, and our dwarven cleric moved to the side to start doing some holy muttering. The slavering undead beasties shambled into melee combat with our vanguard, teeth bared, and we could tell that only one thought was rolling through their rotten minds…NOM.

Our rogue started tossing daggers, but he was less than effective until he got surprise and a flanking attack on one of the undead critters when it came for me. I kept circling around to the side to see where the caster was. It’s usually pretty obvious when there’s undead about that someone’s a necromancer or caster. If the undead have been summoned through a spell, killing the caster will sometimes cause them to drop or dematerialize if the spell is what is keeping them there. If they’ve been raised, though, it may take a turn undead spell to make them head back to the soiled graves out of which they’ve crawled.

Turns out I was
right. Ahead in the distance was a scattering of stone posts. Flaming torches obscured our view ahead. I slid to the side to try to get a better view. I had some seriously awesome Passive Perception, so I started scanning the room…Passively, of course. I rolled it, and caught two things: first, there was indeed a caster in front of us; second, that there was a flame elemental starting to grow in the middle of the pillars separating us from the caster! This elemental was fricken HUGE…like 30 feet tall. Our rogue tried to sneak past it to get between the pillars and over to the caster, but there was some kind of gelatinous wall between each of the pillars. I couldn’t tell if it only prevented organics from crossing, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try to shoot an arrow through it. I fired, and hit our caster. The room shook, and everyone started really getting set for Ye Olde Epic Battle. The cleric limbered up that mace and got her praying muscles ready, Stanislaw got set for casting some of
his own mojo, the tank grunted, the rogue slunk about suspiciously, and I sighted down a clothyard shaft towards the caster that had brought us all here. Here’s a pic of this very moment!!

Ok, it’s been a while since I saw that episode of Criminal Minds where Wil plays this vile icky scary way gross rapist dude. I remember being quite startled by the depth of my disgust, and my admiration for his increasing skills. As a DM who can make you really SEE what’s going on in the battle, I’m going to tell you right now, find a damned actor to DM for you. When Kala bitchslapped his caster with like six called shots to the head and hands to prevent casting, and then finally shot him through the heart (thus unsummoning the fire demon and deanimating the dead bandit critters), I and everyone else at the table were treated to a full three minute description of the end of the battle and the delve. Wil can capture you
with a story like any actor can capture you with their performance, and he’d obviously not only put a lot of thought and work into his storyline, but was so familiar with all the potential story arcs that he could improvise on the NPC character actions while STILL ensnaring us into his tale. Nice work, man!

Final judgment: If you have a chance to go to a Dungeon Delve with Wil, jump at the chance. It was a blast. I would, however, advise Child’s Play to manage their charitable events better. Wil collected the $100 from each of us…except for me. I chose to write a check to Child’s Play, because I needed a charitable donation receipt, and it was quite a saga to actually find the right person at CP who could contact Wil and let him know that I’d donated. Honestly, there really should have either been a rep there from CP or Wil should have had a way for us to get receipts. I don’t know about you guys,
but $100 is a bit more than I want to just lose track of; this went to charity, so I’m entitled to a tax receipt. (Which, come to think of it, I STILL haven’t received) I’m also guessing that Wil will absolutely be able to increase the amount he asks for at each con, so next year at ECCC if he’s charging $300, that’s kind of a lot of dough to just fork over with no receipt.

On one personal note, I will say this: I’m not exactly a toothless hag. I think Wil may have been somewhat startled by the fact that I’m an extremely experienced gamer, and not some starstruck chick looking to hang with an actor. I’m going to say this not just to Wil Wheaton (who, to be fair, DID start treating me like everyone else at the table after I’d proved that I knew what I was doing), but to every other GM of the masculine persuasion: when an attractive femme sporting a full con badge is first in line for your game at GenCon or DragonCon or any other game con, do NOT ask her if she’s “ever played a role playing
game before. Because this is really for people who know how to play Dungeons And Dragons. You know, where you roll dice and pretend to be a character in a story.” I was furious for, like, ten minutes until my fiance calmed me down and noted that I’d just been given quite the backhanded compliment. Plus, he gave me coffee, which at 8:30AM is a WAI better way to appease me. There’s a reason I’m marrying the man.

Dear Whhhhil Whhhhheaton: You are awesome in many ways, I never wanted to alt.kill.wesley.crusher, I sympathize that you probably have many cute stalker chicks after you at cons, and I feel that I got my own back when I fully pwned your uber-Big Bad at the end. Hugs and kisses, Tarah. PS: Dude, I would totally love to get you in one of MY games. Come to GenCon and play in one of my two events!