What’s New?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 30, 2018

Filed under: Notices 75 comments

Besides sulking, ranting, and pacing restlessly while my site was down, I spent the last several days updating bits of the site that have been neglected for ages. Most of this is probably only interesting or useful for new readers, but just in case you’re curious what I did:

There’s a new front page. Yeah. When was the last time anyone looked at that thing? I don’t even know.

Also, I updated the favicon for the site. I liked the old one because it was a blue die, but it looked terrible when mashed down to 16×16, which seems to be the norm these days. The new one isn’t as cool, but it’s more visually clear.

I’ve revamped the System Shock novel. Some PHP updates broke it ages ago, but now it should work as intended. Also I got rid of the archaic IFRAME-based design.

Heads up, you’re not at the end of the post. The next thing after the jump is an image of the thing we usually see below a post, which makes this feel like the end. But keep scrolling.

The Promo Display

I tried to darken this a bit and put a black border around it so I'd stop thinking the post got cut off, but it still looks like the bottom of the post to me.
I tried to darken this a bit and put a black border around it so I'd stop thinking the post got cut off, but it still looks like the bottom of the post to me.

Promo is what I call the little boxes that suggest other content when you get to the end of a post. If you’re a regular then I’m sure you’ve long since been desensitized to it by now and your eyes automatically skip over it. You’ve probably seen every possible promo box dozens of times now and you’ve long since learned that there’s nothing for you there. That’s fine. The promo is mostly designed for newcomers.

See, one thing I noticed from reading clickbait-ish sites is that these sorts of suggestions can be really powerful. You get to the end of some content, and see more content. And when you’re done with that, you’re offered more. Out of the handful of articles on offer, one is bound to capture your curiosity. The problem with clickbait sites is that you eventually learn it’s all empty promises. Looking for interesting content on these sites is like panning for gold in your bathtub. The headlines might tantalize you with an intriguing question, but then when you see the articles it’s a giant unrelated image and two paragraphs of fluff that don’t really answer the question, surrounded by two dozen advertisements.

But the promo thing is my attempt to make a similar system, except designed to be fulfilling. I have no way of knowing how well it works because I don’t have any fancy site metrics to track that sort of thing. (And I probably wouldn’t bother to read them if I did.) But I’m sort of assuming that if it works for me then it might work for other people. I know Joel Spolsky had a text-based version of this on his blog, and that’s how I found a lot of his best stuff. (Sadly, the feature has vanished now that he’s moved to WordPress.)

The trick with this promo thing is that I need strike the right balance. If I have too few articles available, then you’ll see the same few dozen suggestions appear again and again. If I’m too greedy about putting things in there, then it lowers the overall quality. It’s no longer my “best stuff” but just “more stuff”, turning it into a really inefficient way of exploring the archives.

Believe it or not, there were actually over 100 items in the list. I know after a few months of repetition it felt like there were just a dozen, but it really was that many. I’ve added another 30 or so, which might help break up the monotony. I suppose the other way to help would be if I just wrote more great content worthy of being featured, but to be honest that’s a lot of work.

If you want to see all 130 at once for some reason, you can do so on the front page I mentioned earlier. That’s basically all it is. “Hi. I’m Shamus Young! (Dumps promo database on you.)”

To my embarrassment, all of the promo entries were being pulled out of text file, like some shameful ad-hoc database. Last week I used the downtime to put it all in a proper database, and wrote some PHP scripts to help me maintain it.

I dumped Bootstrap, the Javascript / CSS package that so many sites use. I only used it for the little gizmo at the top that shows off old content. It was nice, but Bootstrap also “corrects” a lot of CSS stuff and when things don’t look the way I expect, I was always worried I was falling victim to some unknown Bootstrap sorcery. I hate working with CSS, and Bootstrap just gave me one more thing to worry about.

I also fussed with the site theme a little. Not much. I’m actually pretty happy with how the site is right now. If you’ve ever been cooped up in the house for so long that you feel compelled to rearrange the furniture for no particular reason, then you get why I felt the need to mess with the theme.

Another note is that some of the character encoding got borked during the database migration. The accented é was replaced with à©, which screwed up post titles to be something like Dà©nouement 2017: The Best Stuff. Yuck. It seemed to impact posts at random. Quotation marks would be screwed up for one post in a series but not the rest. Sometimes apostrophes were replaced with junk and sometimes they were left alone. I fixed as many as I could find, but if you spot more garbled encodings please leave a comment on the affected post.

I have to fix these using global, can’t-be-undone SQL commands like this:

UPDATE wp_posts SET post_content = REPLACE (post_content, 'à©', 'é');

I do a backup beforehand, but it’s still terrifying.

One last note is the comment editing plugin. There are two major plugins for this. One is simple with no options and only allows editing for 5 minutes. The other has tons of bells and whistles but allows me to set an arbitrary edit window. (I’m a fan of 15 minutes myself.) I’m still trying to decide which one is the best fit.

So that’s the new stuff. Hopefully it all works for you. Let me know if anything is broken.


From The Archives:

75 thoughts on “What’s New?

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    and you’ve long since learned that there’s nothing for you there.

    Sometimes it does remind me of something Im willing to reread.So even for old timers it can be useful at times.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Definitely – I mostly brainfade it in the manner Shamus describes, but occasionally something will catch my eye and before I know it I’m off down the archive rabbithole. (Particularly since many posts will include links to older posts within the body text, which is also a good method of proffering moar content.)

    2. Methermeneus says:

      Yeah, in October I read the entire Skyrim thieves guild quest line series because of that. And that led me to rewatching the Skyrim season of Spiller Warning, which led to me playing again for a bit. So, yeah, the promo stuff works for old hands, too.

      EDIT: The comment text entry box was aligned so the right edge was offscreen until my text reached that point, and then it shifted the whole page so the left edge was offscreen, and I couldn’t move out back except by refreshing the screen (it, in this case, by posting). The edit screen is fine. Using a Motorola Moto X Pure running Android 7.0 XT1575 build NPHS25.200-22-1, chrome version 62.0.3282.123.

    3. Soldierhawk says:

      Totally. I re-read the entire Mass Effect series last week, and went right into Jade Empire and Batman because of that.

      Also started a new playthrough of ME1 with the intention of actually finishing the entire series for a change. And started playing the Arkham series again…

      Shamus should start charging these companies money. Any time I read about a series he writes about, I start playing it again. It’s worse than Pavlov’s dog.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Also started a new playthrough of ME1 with the intention of actually finishing the entire series for a change.

        Dont do it!You dont have to suffer like that.Especially not when Shamus has suffered for all of us.

        1. Zekiel says:

          It’s not that bad. As long as you remember that the true ending of Mass Effect 3 occurs 10 minutes before the abomination that the developers thought was the ending.

          (And yes, I know that the whole point of Shamus’ series was that the rot set in looong before that… but I maintain that 90% of ME2 and 80% of ME3 are thoroughly enjoyable)

    4. Zekiel says:

      Me too. There’s some fantastic old content around here that I haven’t read for years, and its nice to be reminded of from time to time.

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    Question, are the “back” and “next” buttons supposed to be this big (link:https://imgur.com/a/pBgti) now or is there an issue with my browser?

    Edit: wow, either the link making feature is seriously broken or my browser is having a seizure.

    1. Shamus says:

      Stupid CSS.

      Yes, I changed them to grey. No, they’re not supposed to be that stupidly tall. What browser are you using?

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I’m using Chrome, but this PC is still using Windows XP (yeah, that’s how they roll at my work), so that’s probably the issue. They look fine on my mobile browser.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Didn’t XP stop getting security updates like…five years ago? :O

            1. evileeyore says:

              No, Chrome stills works on XP… it’s just not being fixed when some new feature breaks if it’s on XP.

              I know as my Mom is still on XP and uses Chrome.

          1. Dreadjaws says:

            Don’t get me started. I’m surprised this darn place doesn’t force us to sit on rocks and write documents on banana leaves. There actually are a couple of machines with W7 but one’s decommissioned and the other one is only used by one person. Then there are Linux machines, but those aren’t connected to the internet.

            If it wasn’t for the fact that this office keeps me far away from real life people I’d have gone insane a long time ago.

            In any case, Shamus’ website didn’t have that issue previously in this PC, so I didn’t know if it was an intended change or a mistake.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              I feel for you.A couple of months ago I had to make a (relatively) modern printer work on an xp machine via win7 machine,when both are communicating through 2003 server.Only for it to be discarded a few weeks down the line because no one wanted to pay for the new non refillable cartridges.

            2. Decius says:

              You get rocks to sit on? We have to bring our own from home every day and can’t leave them overnight or the janitors throw them away.

    2. Dreadjaws says:


      Well, now it seems to be working. I guess it was my browser after all.

  3. blue_painted says:

    I like the promo as an easy way to send people to read DM of the Rings … and hopefully they stay and read the rest of your stuff thereafter.

    And I noticed that my comment on the new/old site is in your screen-cap example (grin)

    1. Droid says:

      You’re practically famous now.

      For a certain definition of famous.

      1. Methermeneus says:

        You’re practically famous now.

        For a certain definition of famous.

        Or, as Steve Burns says, fameish. (There was supposed to be a link there, but my phone can’t seem to load it, and I don’t think anyone wants a Google search redirect.)

      2. Retsam says:

        It’s a very specific level of famous.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Are you using grave accent for rollover text on pictures on purpose,or is that just an automated thing?Because grave accent is also borked when copied to comments.Example of copied rollover text:

    I tried to darken this a bit and put a black border around it so I`d stop thinking the post got cut off

    And that same thing from the text bellow the picture:

    I tried to darken this a bit and put a black border around it so I’d stop thinking the post got cut off

    EDIT:Checked in firefox,and its the same thing.Comment boxes just parses graves weirdly.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah, I forgot about that one. IIRC, at some point I noticed that regular quote marks were getting escaped for some reason. So you’d mouse over an image and see something like:

      It"s great that you"re reading the mouseover text right now.

      And switching to grave was a half-assed solution at the time. Maybe I’ll fix it today, since I’m already tinkering with stuff.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:


          I tried to darken this a bit and put a black border around it so I’d stop thinking the post got cut off

          Seems fine now.

          Testing the grave accent `itself.

          And it too seems fine.

          EDIT: It seems fine in the comment box,but breaks once posted.

          EDIT2:Also damn it!Ive just seen that I was bellowing instead of belowing.I hate that.

      1. Shamus says:

        I was wrong about the cause. I don’t know how it works elsewhere, but on US keyboards you use the same symbol for single quote and apostrophe. So if you try to write the following PHP code:

        echo 'It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.';

        …it won’t work because the symbol in “it’s” will end the string. The apostrophe was breaking my html. I could fix that by switching to double quotes, but then it would break the PHP that was creating the HTML. I solved it thus:

        $image_text = str_replace ("'", "'", $image_text);

        That ought to work, but we’re dealing with PHP so anything is possible.

        1. silver Harloe says:

          I found ' to occasionally be broken and learned to write it as ' instead.

          In theory what you want in PHP is to replace
          $image_text = str_replace (“‘”, “'”, $image_text);
          $html = htmlentities( $html, ENT_QUOTES, ‘UTF-8’ );
          or ‘ISO-8859-1’ in the last argument, if you’re still using that, which I suspect you are either at the PHP level or the DB level, because UTF-8 being printed in 8859 is where capital-A-accent-followed-by-some-other-squiggly-character comes from.

          But I wouldn’t run out and replace your working code with that unless you continue to have issues with things other than ‘

  5. some random dood says:

    Test – wonder if this will work for me now? Hasn’t in ages

    1. some random dood says:

      oh – and I’ve e-mailed you a message with attachment for how the “teaser” looks for me. Don’t think it’s how it should be.

      FYI the mixed up accented characters sounds like a character-encoding problem – mixing between utf-8 representation (I would recommend trying to stick to that in the long term) and (probably) iso-8859-1 (pretty much US-ASCII). If it’s encoded as one, but then gets sent on to a system that expects (or has default encoding) in the other, accented characters can be corrupted in the way you saw. If you can still see the old database a well as new, see if there are differences in the character-encodings for the database/tables. (Or it may have happened at the export-to stage, or even at the ftp stage… yeah, character encodings have given me grief over the years.)

      Hope things settle down and you can relax into your usual self. Good luck!

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      So, did it work?

      … Also, what is that which was supposed to work?

      1. some random dood says:

        Posting anything at all! I tend to have a very locked down browser (no javascript etc), and after a change by Shamus a few years ago, was not able to post anything to this site. Whatever has changed this time now allows me to post without having to borrow someone else’s pc :P

  6. NilkadNaquada says:

    I can confirm that, for me at least, the promo feature served its intended purpose very well, once I found the site and read my first article, I found myself clicking on any promo entry at the bottom that piqued my interest, and generally being very happy with where it got me. (Then I ran out of promos to read and just started reading through any category that interested me, gradually working through “video games,” “rants,” “programming,” and all of your comics before having to admit that I’d basically exhausted the backlog and would need to just wait for new content.)

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      They were really helpful for me too when I first found the site. I’ve been checking the site almost daily for a few years now (anything more than six months ago becomes a blur of disjointed memories dislodged from any sense time for me, but I’m pretty sure it’s been at least two years but less than five) and I still find myself occasionally checking out the promos.

  7. Paul Spooner says:

    Neat! I went browsing through the featured content, and found that http://shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=26011 is in there twice, with different images. Maybe that’s what you wanted? Seems like inserting duplicates of articles you REALLY like increases their chances of showing up in the promo bar.

    As far as comment editing goes, I feel like five minutes is enough to re-read a comment and fix typos (unless you’re theRocketeer) or experiment with markup tags or whatever.

    1. Syal says:

      I like more editing time; oftentimes my posts look wrong and I try to rewrite portions of them in the edit window. Combined with spotty Internet, five minutes goes by fast.

    2. Steve C says:

      Personally I prefer 15mins or longer. I get interrupted frequently. The interruption uses up that timer quick. It also causes me think of more things to add.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      Does there have to be a time limit for when posts can be edited? It’d be great if there wasn’t one. It’s a special (but minor) brand of annoying to see an obvious typo in something I’ve said but be unable to fix it.
      Of course, if that’s impossible/prohibitively inconvenient to implement/etc, I understand.

      I’ll just get better at proofreeding my posts ;).

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        The drawback being that someone could post a response, and then the OP could be completely altered or deleted. It’s happened to me enough on Facebook to dampen the sense of real dialog.
        Most internet communication is like a rage-filled charging bull. But that doesn’t mean we should adopt the tools of the matador.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The original comment being altered significantly further down the line is not that much of a problem here.It being deleted is.And a more severe problem is the database having to keep track of all the posts and who they should be edited by and when.With a time limit,the only info that needs to be kept about the comment is just text(who made it,when,what it says).This is not a problem for a forum where people register and then that info is stored somewhere.But for a place where you “register” only when you leave a comment with your unique email,it is a problem.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            …the database having to keep track of all the posts and who they should be edited by and when.With a time limit [system],the only info that needs to be kept about the comment is just text(who made it,when,what it says).

            This makes sense. So ‘prohibitively inconvenient to implement’ seems about right. Fair enough, and good to know.
            I suspected that there would be a reason for it.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You should do a another pass over the promo entries,because some of them have wonky formating.Like this:


    Or maybe just increase the size of the promo display a tad more.

    EDIT:Doom article isnt the only offender.Programming Language for Games is looking even worse:


  9. Paul Spooner says:

    Thanks for fixing the Free Radical formatting. That was bugging me. I’ve updated the links on my end for the audio-book: http://www.peripheralarbor.com/FreeRadical_Audio/index.html
    Feel free to add links on your end. The format is http://www.peripheralarbor.com/FreeRadical_Audio/FreeRadicalXX.ogg where XX is the zero-padded chapter number (so that the files will sort properly)

  10. John says:

    Seeing your site down was a really scary experience. And I mean that, it hit me right in the gut. I am glad you are back in action.

  11. BenD says:


    Is the post body supposed to be justified right and left, creating giant rivers of empty space on a phone browser?

    Is the post body supposed to bang right up against the walls of the page or maybe the table cell?, with no white space gap left or right of the text, so letters just barely touch the page background or the wall of my screen?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Is the post body supposed to be justified right and left, creating giant rivers of empty space on a phone browser?

      Personally, that’s preferable to the way comment boxes are, constantly cutting out parts of the text.

  12. Joey245 says:

    Good to have you and the site back, Shamus!

  13. Cordance says:

    The greatest curse that can before you has, “May you live in interesting times.” I hope that only just enough things continue to break so that you are able to write interesting things without generating enough rage to break the keyboard you write with.

  14. KingJosh says:

    Minor detail, but since you’re thinking with the site anyway…

    Spoiler tags don’t work on the iOS Safari browser. Oh, it’ll hide the text just fine! But, it won’t let you see behind the spoiler blocks when you hilight the text, as it’s always done on any desktop browser I’ve tried.

    I can usually just deal with it, as you almost never use the spoiler tags, but commenters sometimes do. And I never remember to reopen the page when I get back home to my main computer.

    EDIT: This isn’t new. Spoiler tags didn’t work for me on the “old” site, either. Just bringing it up ‘cause, again, you’re tinkering anyway.

    1. Zekiel says:

      This annoys me too! (But, as you say, not all that often)

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Every once in a while I’ll leave a comment from my phone, and then stop to think :
    “Wow! I’m communicating with people on the other side of the planet, while sitting in traffic, and using a device that fits in my hand! ”

    Screw the flying car, I like this future better.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      Says the European. The American who’s spent what feels like a quarter of his life on the gorram road wishes we had the flying cars already

      1. Joe says:

        The peril with flying cars is twofold. Look at the people all around you. Some people can’t drive when it’s only horizontal movement. Do you trust them with up and down? Also, when cars stop, they just stop. If they stop while airborne, they might just drop.

      2. Retsam says:

        I’ve seen how most people drive, I don’t want them to fly. Self-driving cars, on the other hand, solve both the problem of me not wanting to drive, and not wanting other people to drive, either.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Now, self-driving flying cars, that’s where the real future’s at!

  16. Falcon02 says:

    Not sure if there’s a better way to report these things rather than just comment here… but noticed another (probable) error in an old article.

    The Video compression article mentions 1920 x 1080 Blu-ray resolution, but when I read it, it showed “1920à—1080” instead.

    Side note… despite my time reading here I still occasionally hit the promo articles (how I ran into the above), either see an article I missed (hasn’t been entirely continuous) or an old favorite I want to revisit.

    I also thought about commenting on the article itself (I know you say you still look at new comments on old Articles) but still felt it was more likely you’d see it here.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I also thought about commenting on the article itself…

      That is correct, per this:

      I fixed as many as I could find, but if you spot more garbled encodings please leave a comment on the affected post.

      (emphasis mine)

      1. Falcon02 says:

        oops, missed that, thanks for pointing that out, will try to keep that in mind for next time. Thanks.

        And… sorry Shamus for failing reading comprehension…

        And, looks like Shamus has fixed the article’s error now.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I must say,now that Ive looked at it a bit better,the new 20 sided favicon looks fahn-cee.

    1. evileeyore says:

      Oh aye. I couldn’t even make out what it was before… but now, it’s a pretty little picture.

  18. GTB says:

    Another week like this and Shamus is just going to move his whole family to Romania and learn to herd things.

  19. John says:

    Welcome back, Shamus. I’ve missed this place. The site looks good. I haven’t had the chance to check it out on my PC yet, but I think it looks better in my phone now than it did before the move.

  20. chiefnewo says:

    Speaking of updating the database, the promo for Final Fantasy X reads “Final Fantsy X”, that is you’re missing the second ‘a’ in Fantasy.

  21. Brendan says:

    Actually, I do have something to point out:

    On the new front page, at the size my screen is at, the shine from the “X” button in the background (and a little bit from the “A” button, though not so much) makes it hard to read some of the “about Shamus” text. I’d recommend just putting a grey, possibly semi-transparent, background behind the text element.

    EDIT: Also, the white background for the rest of the front page seems kind of… I dunno, “low quality”? Maybe add a neutral background color (grey or black, maybe?) that fits with the rest of the theme.

  22. Armstrong says:

    I’m kind of disappointed you removed that stuff at the top of the page. That’s how I discovered most of the content I’ve been reading over the past few days (or weeks, seeing how the website was down for the “past few days”).
    As for the “promo bar” at the bottom – I haven’t even noticed it up until now. Probably some desantization from having been exposed to one too many clickbait factories.

    1. Maybe a 6 most “Popular” strip at the bottom and a 6 “Random” strip at the top would be ideal?

  23. “trick with this promo thing is that I need strike the right balance”

    Here’s a quick tip. Your 6x promo strip. What I’d do is pull 6 random categories (or alternatively articles), then I’d pull the 3 most popular categories (or articles).
    If the 3 popular ones is among the 6 random ones I’ll remove those (be it 1, 2, or 3, hence why I’d pull 6 so Id’ be guaranteed at least 3 random).

    That way I’d be able to present the 3 most popular, plus 3 random ones.

    Why random? Because you never know what people will like.

    If you do it in a single transaction you can get the 6 random, then exclude any popular ones that by random chance got um, randomly picked and if you got more than 3 randoms in that result just pick the first 3.

    I don’t know from the top of my head of to write the query for that (somebody else here probably do). But it’s not that complicated to figure out and do. If done right you’d get back (from the db transaction) a list of 6 (3 most popular + 3 random).

    If this gets too boring I guess you could pick randomly from the top 10 popular just to get more variation.

    Alternatively, show the 6 random ones from the Top N most popular in a strip and below it show 6 random ones (you’d have to pick 12 random in case you’d end up unluckily picking the same as the popular random ones, duplicates would look silly after all).

  24. Jack of Spades says:

    I miss the old Notices banner.

  25. Rick says:

    I’m surprised that you don’t have your Wavatar posts in your promo section. As far as I can tell you were the first to do anything like it and now they (as well as other procedurally generated avatars) are used quite widely across the internet.

  26. You know you can have a different icon for each size right? :D you could have the fancy rendered one for sizes above 32×32 so all those ppl who bookmark this on their ipads or create shortcuts on their desktops will see the fancy high-res version.

  27. DavidJCobb says:

    I don’t know if this is due to the site update, so I’ll say it here, but formatting is busted in the Tenpenny Tower article. Headers appear in plain text.


  28. ZGCact says:

    I wanted to download the screensavers and some of the files from the programming posts, but they don’t appear to be accessible.

    Also, I miss the page where you could look at posts by category, ie programming projects page, let’s plays page, etc.

  29. The Unforgiven says:

    Hey. The text size on mobile is redonca-huge. Depending on whether I’m in portrait or landscape mode I can fit somewhere between 10 and 25 lines of text on screen, with no way of zooming out to fit more. I am using Safari on an iPhone 8.

  30. Megalorex says:

    The justified margins are ok on PC but don’t look that great on mobile. The large gaps between words make it hard to read. I’m using Chrome on a Galaxy J2

  31. DaveMc says:

    Oi! What’s with all this interesting text? I came here looking for a 404 error.

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You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

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