The way of stones

Saturday, 25 January, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

The main attraction of an old 286 for a young boy carrying my name through the world was not Golden Axe, as much as he loved that, nor Death Tracki, as much as he loved that too, nor F-19 nor Qbasic, which allowed him to draw arbitrary circles and lines and whatnot on the screen, even nested in arbitrary for clauses. Nor XTreeGold, of which Norton Commander was a pale later copy, reluctantly accepted for lack of maintenance on the original - and which has meanwhile become a bridge too far for the constantly deteriorating computing UX standards, you wish today you had a file manager as powerful as NT was in the days of the 386s. It sucked as compared to the standards of the 8086s, but hey. Progress, which is to say rot, right ?

The main attraction was an ancient game, started one misty spring morning in 1989, in the remote mountains of China's Han Shan province, a Mendicant monk of the Northern School of the White Crane branch of Taoism, walked silently out through the front gates of the Heavenly Peak Temple. That monk carried a stone board, a set of seventy-two carved stone pieces, and an ancient scroll inscribed with brush and ink in elegant calligraphic script. That monk, of course, was Michael J. Feinberg, an extremist leftwing nut.

The game was by no means ancient, even if nobody I met as a teenager could be convinced otherwise. It had everything it needed to have in order to feel ancient : a sort of balance, a difficulty made out of the exact right stuff - the resistence of the medium.

I dearly loved that game, I was pretty good at it, and while I only spent with it before my eyes a fraction of the time I spent gazing upon the improbably pixelated tits of the sword amazon or Melissaii nevertheless I spent a lot more thinking about it, whether I was aware of the fact or not. Which is why when I think of what games were great in that period, Ishido comes to mind first and immediately.

So I wanted to show it to a younger friend, not even sure any implementation survives. Turns out... it does. Obviously the dork age that is iPad gaming does not have a reimplementation of Ishido among all the really stupid clones of themselves they list, but that doesn't matter so much : the current maintainer had the sense to make his implementation crossplatform by default.iii

So I fired it up and played exactly one game, explaining what I do and how it works as the game progressed. I had no idea if I even still remembered much, seeing how it's been a solid decade since I last touched it - at least. Turns out, I do remember.


That's right baby, eight four-ways and an empty pouch, 8285 final score. A master!

Encouraged by my display, making things seem easy, the friend tried later all by herself. Suffice it to say it didn't quite work as well as one'd have expected, which overall turned out to be a useful lesson.

So there you go : try a game of stones. It can't possibly hurt anything.

  1. Yes, there was a GTA in the 90s, arguably cooler than the later versions you kids saw for the first time and imagined originals. They ain't originals. []
  2. Cine cunoaste stie. []
  3. Which is, to this day, the only good thing that can be said about the web : even Fuctapple can't fuck up a browser to the degree it breaks the web. Or maybe I shouldn't say that lest I jinx the whole ecosystem. []
Category: Trolloludens
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13 Responses

  1. Here you go, Tyris Flare from Golden Axe. Thank teh Russians.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 25 January 2014

    What a sweet butt!

  3. Re: Norton Commander:

    I'm still using it, without skipping a beat, since childhood - in the form of the open source Midnight Commander.

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 25 January 2014

    There's also Total Commander from Ghisler trying to bring a shred of sanity into the world of "folders" (They're motherfucking DIRECTORIES, and what the fuck is a folder already!) which seems to still be maintained.

    Nevertheless... out of the box support for serial cable direct connection ?

  5. Can't comment on Total - MS-Winblows-only, last I checked.

    Midnight does support file transfer over SSH (not SCP-based, either! straight shell!) out of the box. It is also nicely extensible, and not only in the sense of the source being public.

    If you actually need to move bits over RS232, that's a shell one-liner on any reasonable Unixlike.

  6. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 25 January 2014

    Yea, obviously. I didn't mean it in the sense of "couldn't be done", but in the sense of the level of everythingness that was included in DOS at the time.

  7. I like Krusader and switched from mc. Mostly because it has tabs, though ideally the thing would be more modular. I want to try though, it looks like a dream come true.

    On DOS I used another two-pane file manager, but I still can't remember its name. It was good looking and buggy, if that rings a bell to someone!

    As for SSH, just use FUSE + sshfs.

  8. pankkake,

    Krusader could be interesting, but I'll probably never know - because KDE is a misery.

    The pig-hoggery of modern open source projects is truly astounding. For instance, the other day I made the mistake of building 'grub2', and noticed that it: requires 'FreeType' - a massive turd; why?!? - for the fancy menus, it turns out. On top of it all, the latter wouldn't even build (latest stable FreeBSD and OpenBSD both), because of an elementary mistaken 'include' that had to be fixed manually.

    A boot loader that wants nearly a day of CPU time to build...
    Someone should burn it all.

  9. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 26 January 2014

    You can either have fonts or not have fonts. The simple choice seems to be to have fonts.

    You can either have two types of fonts, of which one type a dos-style fixed and a 2nd a windows-style "extended" or else have one type of fonts, like freetype. The simple choice seems to be to have one type.

    This then means you have to include that in anything that writes, which is anything. Which means you can't get five words on the screen as a bootloader without including support for presenting a novel in elegant type to the user.

    The paradox of choice is that if there isn't one tyrant making all the choices then necessarily the result of free if blind choice will be nonsense.

  10. Until very recently, Grub was happy to be built with textmode-only (BIOS font) interface.

    Whoever is responsible for this no longer being the case, is unambiguously a 'wrecker', in the Soviet mythological sense, albeit genuine.

  11. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 27 January 2014

    This is an interesting point. Perhaps the fellow should be tracked down and negrated (also a Soviet concept, except much more effectual). After all idiots a la G Maxwell and M Hearn have had their careers destroyed by quite similar stupidities, why should some random idiot be extempt from his due just because he stayed away from Bitcoin ?

  12. Re: 'negrated' - perhaps you're thinking of 'lowering into pederasty.' This is quite certainly a pre-Soviet concept - cave men probably had it. And quite appropriate in this case.

  13. Eh, I was expecting the "KDE" thing. I don't think it requires much of KDE, and since I use some other applications from the KDE suite it doesn't really bother me.

    While grub2 is certainly bloated, it solves some problems - I used to be stuck with lilo without it on pure 64 bit machines (no multilib). I also like the fact that it can generate the menu.lst itself. Well, the way it is done is extremely complicated, and I won't switch my existing machines just for that.
    *freetype* is also an optional dependency and it seems Gentoo managed to make most dependencies optional (which wasn't the case at first).

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