New on Desk #54 — How to build your LAN

I was planning to feature my Coup Workbook development, but what I actually did most during the week was refereeing “Christmassy Lappfantasy” and building local area networks.

Getting one over on the utilities company

Here’s a life-hack for how to get cheap high-bandwidth Internet: have two houses next to each other, and purchase a fiber-optic line for one of them. Connect the two houses with a local area network and share the line between them. Voila! It’s not actually cheaper, but you get better value out of the connection by using it more. The practical truth is that most of us won’t be using most of the bandwidth that even a basic fiber optic line affords most of the time, so you might as well share it around. Throttle the line in whatever way when you actually need to hog it.

(Why the cable company finds this preferable to encouraging both houses to get their own line with more affordable utility pricing is a mystery for the ages. You’d think that they’d either forbid this scheme in their service terms, or price the service in a way that’d encourage paying for two connections. Probably the circumstance is just too rare for them to care about it either way.)

Speaking for myself, the main concerns in implementing this brilliant solution involve weather-protecting the cables and getting the cables through the assorted walls. Apparently you can just buy a weather-resistant 50 meter CAT 6 cable in this world of wonders, so that part proves trivial to implement.

(I’m writing this two days after the installation, so the assumption that the cable is actually weather resistant is, well, not exactly water-proof as per sceptical epistemology. Looking good so far, though.)

I’ll note that a wireless network is also a realistic option, particularly with some directional antennas, but you might still want to punch through walls to get the transmitters outside and facing each other. The transmitters cost more than just having a router on both ends of a cable, of course.

The art of boring through walls

As for the wall-boring, it seems to be the case (speaking after doing some practical wall-drilling) that an ordinary battery-pack hand-drill is basically sufficient for the job. The main issue is that walls are routinely thicker than a drill head is long, which means that you have to actually be capable of drilling a hole on both sides of the wall in the same location. I suspect it helps if you’re not a witless fool. I know that having some kind of filler putty or caulk on hand helps cover up the deed.

One practical issue that I could see coming up for a given LAN dilettante team is smuggling the cable connector heads through the walls. What we do is simply cutting the cable head off before pushing the cable through the small, neat hole in the wall, but you’ll need to be prepared to build a connector to the end of the cable afterwards. (It’s not difficult, but then nothing is when you know how to do it…) I wouldn’t be surprised if some team with a different set of tools and knowledges would be better served by making a larger hole for the connector and then filling it in (perhaps cable piping of some sort would be involved) to keep the house reasonably insulated.

Practically all walls around here are double-layered, often with some kind of insulation, which means that actually pushing the cable through the wall can be a bit tricky unless you’re doing the large-hole-with-cable-pipe thing I speculated about above. What we found to work best was using a long nail or other inflexible instrument to penetrate the two holes in the wall sidings; being more inflexible than the cable, a nail doesn’t go astray within the wall. Once you get the guide through, the cable can be attacked to it by appropriate means (we found duct taping the cable to the guide to work best) and pulled through.

Building LAN — easier than you’d think

You might expect my DIY guide to inter-house LAN building to discuss the cable routing out in the wilderness more than it does, but in the case of these particular houses that part proved simple: there’s a neat little lamp post installed conveniently midway between the two houses, so an air installation proved surprisingly easy by using that as a halfway attachment point. Just get the cable up near the roof (either come out of the house through the attic, or climb up the outside wall), attach it firmly and do the same thing on the other side. I could barely see myself putting up actual poles in between if I had to, but once you have to do that it’s probably easier to go digging underground instead.

(A thought: a patient builder could simply grow a tree in the right place to use as a cabling pole. You’d admittedly have to wait 10+ years for the pole to come up, but on the plus side it’d be less work overall than erecting an artificial one. Just start planning early enough, or simply have trees growing basically everywhere just in case you need a convenient cable pole. This plan is less insane than it sounds, at least around here you’re very likely to have a tree within 10 meters of yourself at all times.)

Also, another life-hack — or perhaps a humble suggestion: if you’re going to build a LAN outside, in the weather, maybe don’t do it on the coldest day of the winter so far? Me and the -23 C° got along fine for the first couple of hours, but I should probably have dressed for serious outside working conditions if I was going to spend the entire day pushing cable out there. I figured out afterwards that ~98% of the days of the year would have featured nicer weather conditions to work in.

One more subtle hint, perhaps a bit circumstantial: it might not be a bad idea to buy new routers now and then instead of repurposing and repurposing over the years. While the practical function of the humble router has remained rather stable over the recent decades, the configuration interfaces keep improving. For instance, this new router we got to serve as the access point in the new LAN can actually be configured over wifi. Of course I only noticed that after having done it the old-fashioned way (cabling it onto a computer just to configure it before installing it), but after a lifetime of configuring routers that’s the kind of design advance that makes me happy.

Also, a fun statistic: my brother did a performance test on our pile of old routers collected over the years in December. Apparently 7/8 of the currently non-used ones are outright broken. (No, I don’t know why; it’s not like we’d have set them aside in the first place if we knew they didn’t work.) Given that a router isn’t the most expensive item out there (comparable to the price of that 50 m ethernet cable), a recycling-oriented computer installation workshop like ours might not be saving much by insisting on a strict reuse policy on these little boxes of plastic and circuit board.

Monday: Coup de Main cancelled!

We’ve been playing Coup so regularly on Mondays that the session getting last-minute cancelled this week counts for a minor newsletter headline.

There wasn’t anything particularly dramatic involved, we just found that due to scheduling accidents we’d have been playing with a team of 2+1. Nothing wrong with that, but the combination of tight schedule and not having any particularly appealing adventure hooks for a small party had us call it off.

We’ll presumably have a few more people come along tomorrow. Figure out where the campaign’s going next; I could see taking another stab at the Deep Tunnel (that’s what I’ll prep), but maybe the players have developed other ideas.

Session #30 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 11.1., starting around 16:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like. The tritonian celebration is still in force, what with this still being session #30.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #3

Our face-to-face Coup fork happened on schedule on Tuesday, again with a healthy half a dozen plus players. Last time the party had retreated triumphantly from the Ruined Monastery, so now they got to debate their options. The favourites were going back to look for actual treasure in the Monastery, or delving into the Vast Swamp to scout out a troglodyte lair of some kind.

The players chose to go for the monastery. I liked how they left some of the PCs at home, opting to build stable width; this would come to matter later.

At the monastery the discoveries were relatively minor so far; mainly it’s very clear that there is something below the monastery cellar spaces the party had been exploring so far. The cracks in the floors of some rooms said as much. The major discoveries of the night were a relic of St. Zagyg (the cult the monastery belonged to misapplied Lawful worship to Zagyg the Mad Archmage, to be clear) and a chapel with a rift in its floor, large enough to entertain climbing down. The latter proved quite dangerous due to two ghouls that delighted in paralyzing victims and then dragging them into the rift; we lost a PC + retainer to that.

The party looted everything that wasn’t nailed down, as one does; having had the foresight of bringing a wagon paid off there for sure, as the discovered “treasure” wasn’t really very high in value/weight ratio. Ultimately the adventurers decided to call it off, uncertain whether to pursue the lower dungeon level at all.

The actual climax of the session only came when the party was returning back to town. A dumb random encounter with a bunch of goblins, the same ones they’d met and bossed around in the last session. The goblin crew had been left at loose ends after the party defeated Melchert, their erstwhile boss, so they’d decided to do some briganding before making their way back to the Meno Wood, their home. So of course the goblins randomly encountered the adventuring party and their wagon.

Sometimes everything goes wrong for a party on the road, and this was definitely one of those times: the alertness checks were pretty good, so there was no danger of being surprised by the goblins, but the players didn’t leverage their maneuvering space to do anything in particular, so the goblins struggled their way to the road from the bushes and assaulted the wagon, intent on scaring the people away and claiming the loot.

The first melee phase (a couple of combat rounds in the Coup combat initiative scheme) seemed to spell the doom of the party, as two of the adventurers went down in quick order against the grinning little maniacs, and this was before their slow and clumsy tunnel wolf could make its lumbering way into battle. However, the party had a Cleric of the Black Goat with them, of a cult the goblins were co-religionists in, so he saved the party by forcing a parley! The party could still play themselves out of this by diplomacy.

The second setback followed soon after, though, as the same player who managed to swing the parley decided after a few initial remarks that this was clearly going nowhere, declaring renewed assault on the goblins. An interesting fellow, this Cleric; I never quite figured out what he stood for, what with his terminal Chaotic Stupid getting in the way. He certainly had little respect for the goblin-kind.

The party fought bravely, as adventurers often do. The wagon clearly turned into a hindrance here, as the adventurers were entirely committed to saving it — in fact, riding it away from the situation. The last couple of survivors ended up doing a chaotic chase sequence with the goblins running alongside the slowly speeding wagon. Ultimately this proved futile and we gained that esteemed outcome, the Total Party Kill.

I, having marinaded in these kinds of games for a fair while, was excited about the TPK; no better way to affirm that the GM isn’t fucking around when he says that the game is merciless and the outcomes unbiased. There’s no guarantee that the players would feel the same, though; you only know when you experience it — is a dumb, nihilistic death caused by bad luck and poor choices something you want in your gaming?

As we found out, the party was apparently mentally prepared for this, and eager to continue the campaign despite the wipe-out. So all’s well, and we’ll see more of adventures in Sunndi next Tuesday. I expect that the players will be more careful about provoking combat in the future, and more eager to run away!

Thursday: Christmassy Lappfantasy

Our fantasy free kriegspiel exercise continued after a Christmas break. This game’s actually been my real time-sink this week; the game structure is elegant, but the fact is that it involves the GM playing one-on-one with seven other players, so even relatively fleeting dialogues add up. I’m loving the game, but I expect that wrapping it up will do good things for my overall productivity.

As I’ve discussed before, I can’t go into the details of what’s actually going on in the game so as to avoid spilling the beans between the competing players, but in general terms the scenario is approaching Yuletide (magically significant for various factions, and the encroaching winter is making conventional warfare difficult in Turja), and the players are generally settling into strategic patterns they find convenient for their factions. I guess, with the amount of time the players are taking in intrigue maneuvering, this can’t really be called a quick scenario any more. Who knows how long these careful and considerate players will take in resolving the scenario.

What I’m particularly fond of is how almost all of the seven players have managed to develop a strategic thrust (some kind of plan for actually winning the game), and how different and intellectually provocative those plans are. There’s everything from free trade imperialism to anticolonialism; from technical Ars Magica style spell research to outright Heroquesting for power; from strategically employed body horror to Christmas gnomes riding hobby horses.

State of the Productive Facilities

To refresh, my goal this week was to correspond with Muster backers and write an essay for the blog. I failed in doing either due to a combination of lazy, Christmassy Lappfantasy being a time-sink, and spending two entirely good working days laying out a local area network. (It’s a good LAN, so I’m not complaining.) So it was a relatively effective week, I just didn’t end up doing the things I expected to.

The coming week’s plan continues from there:
Monday: prep and run Coup
Tuesday: prep and run Coup
Wednesday: process Christmassy Lappfantasy
Thu–Sa: productive work
Sunday: write newsletter

I’ve pretty much decided to take a hiatus from RPG Club Hannilus (our Thursday video chat group) for the spring after we wrap up the Lappfantasy. Free up some schedule and get momentum into the Muster/CWP writing. Not stopping the Coup campaign train, though; it’s the background noise I work from for the writing work, after all.

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