Why I don’t identify as sysadmin anymore

I used to be a sysadmin. And I like to think that I was pretty good at my job. These days, my work is much more managerial with a strong emphasis on communication. The command line and I only meet occasionally, and I have to get help whenever I do something more complicated with regular expressions. Still, I apparently have retained enough skills that the Head of Cloud Operations at my current workplace occasionally says things like „oh, you can do that?“ in a positively surprised tone. But I usually do know my limits and what not to touch.

This is the story of when I failed to recognize my limits.

Knowing that I’m not an admin, this webpage resides on a server that is run by a webhosting company. They worry over security patches, uptime, sensible database configuration and so on, because I know that I’ll probably screw this up. I am allowing myself to change database tables, tinker with some of the htaccess settings and… DNS. That is one of those things that I don’t touch a lot, as there is no need for this on a daily basis.

And thus, I completely forgot about the SPF record when changing the MX entries to support my G Suite setup when I switched hosting last year. As a quick recap, let me quote Google what it’s about:

The purpose of an SPF record is to prevent spammers from sending messages with forged From addresses at your domain. Recipients can refer to the SPF record to determine whether a message purporting to be from your domain comes from an authorized mail server.

Quite the important and nifty functionality. I actually knew of it already, but didn’t realize that the new webhoster had this implemented as a standard. So while I successfully switched all the MX entries, I overlooked the SPF setting.

Alas, there are a lot of email servers that happily ignore a faulty SPF setting, even Google kept receiving emails despite the wrong setting. And you don’t really get an error message on the senders part, because no one talks back to (even only suspected) spammers. So nearly everything seemed fine: I was sending and receiving mails on a daily basis and this configuration error wasn’t discovered for nearly half a year. Only when I started to worry that one email recipient didn’t answer at all and a friend who actually is an admin looked into the matter for me.

So, the lesson here is: The Dunning Kruger effect is sometimes closer to home than you think. Whenever you do something only occasionally, maybe talk to someone who does it regularly, to make sure that technology hasn’t advanced past your own experience in the meantime. And if you use G Suite, here’s how to set the SPF correctly.

Gangs & Bullshit

One of the nicest and also to me most intriguing RPG publishers I know these days is Paolo Greco with his Lost Pages. His stuff is whimsy, well made and often bafflingly strange. Where Lamentations of the Flame Princess stuff is heavy-metal gore weird, the Cthonic Codex for example is… odd. Paranoia meets Academentia is a nice explanation for it.

Gangs & Bullshit is the baby he’s carrying now for a while. It is not really a roleplaying game, nor is it a boardgame, and it isn’t „ready“ yet by far. The closest explanation is campaign sandbox with boardgame elements. You do have characters, and you can create them with your favourite (fantasy) game system. But there will also be turns and lengthy meta-discussions where the players plan which single (big) action their characters do each week.

But what is it about, you ask me. Well, the closest literary example would be „The Lies of Locke Lamarra“ – the players have a gang that tries to make money in a city where other gangs do the same. To quote:

Bullshit is screams in the night. Bullshit is a botched job. Bullshit is a corpse found by the city guard. Bullshit is something embarrassing coming known to your enemies. Bullshit happens.

The mechanics are mostly improvisation, some random rumour and encounter roles and helping hints on how to determine what other gangs and opponents are doing.

Personally, I think this game is a blast: The Broken Benches sat in their hideout (a leaky loft) and heard that this other gang wants you to buy several boxes of their cookies. Of course, this couldn’t stand, and shortly afterwards, a bunch of girl scouts got what they had coming…

Surprisingly, this is a game that is equally suitable for the planners as well as for those who just barge into a situation to find out what’ll happen next. A good deal of time can be spent studying the city map and planning where to break in, where to set up diversions and how to handle the minotaur-dung cart. But as you do have the backup of the RPG system of your choice, you can jump into the action at any time and see how things actually turn out.

Keep your eyes peeled, and get it as soon as it is available!

Tales from the Loop Playtest

For all of you who live under rocks: Tales from the Loop is a roleplaying game based on the retro-scifi artwork by swedish painter Simon Stålenhag.

The world portrayed are the 80ies we saw when we watched E.T. or, more recently, Stranger Things. As a result, you will be playing teenagers, or rather: Kids, somewhere between 10 and 15 years old.

We got our picks from easily relateable archetypes: The Computer Geek, the Rocker, the Popular Kid, the Hick and of course the Jock. They don’t get any custom skills like you might expect from games that are Powered by the Apocalypse but instead have slightly different sets of background notes and relationships.

The fun part is that the rules really drive home the idea that you’re playing kids. For starters, there are no combat rules at all, a fact that I actually only realized when the game was over and someone else mentioned it. Rather consequently, the kids can’t die either. Damage is caused by pushing ones limit and handled with an abstract set of conditions that are mechanically shed whenever you take a moment of timeout in a safe space.

As a result, you really get thrown into the kids mindset, even though some of the skills seem to be too broad or too narrow in name and definition, with a confusing overlap at some points. But that is not too bad – unlike the pool system: Nothing is more frustrating than throwing buckets of D6 and not getting a single success (which only sixes count as those).

Anyway: We opted for slightly older kids in the 13 to 14 year old range and had a blast. The kids spied on a scientist, camped on an island, played spin-the-bottle, nearly got torpedoed by a submarine and finally had to tell the truth to adults (which was a believably scary thing!)

If you know the teenager books like The Famous Five, TKKG and similar fare, you’ll feel right at home.

How I imprinted on (not only computer) RPGs

Back when I was a kid (well, teenager), I had an Atari 800XL and played a great many list of games on it. The one that hooked me most though is a rather obscure one: Alternate Reality (The City) and it’s sequel Alternate Reality (The Dungeon).

For me, that game was eye-opening. The game world felt really alive in a lot of tiny ways, and was in many more way ahead than other games. It used a raycasting engine, on 8-Bit home computers nonetheless. It was basically an open-world game, where you didn’t wander through a set plot, but had to connect the dots yourself, and figure out who wanted what. That meant that you could suddenly die, because you wandered in the wrong part of the map, or that people you never met knew of you.

This thoroughly spoiled me for most of what followed. I couldn’t fathom why things had to be so static, why I couldn’t just rob this bank or plead with this monster. And the places made sense, even if they were labyrinthine. Also, with monsters like the „Clothes Horse“, it forged my sense of what is appropriate in a game and what isn’t.

Gosh, I miss that game :)