Posted on April 06, 2018, 09:25:23 PM by Jubal
Axes and Arithmetic 1: Percentages and Probability
Axes and Arithmetic 1: Percentages and Probability
These Chaos Dwarves may not care where their rocket lands, but you might do.
IntroductionI originally wrote this article under the title "Math-hammer" for the now defunct e-zine A Call To Arms, which I ran in 2010 and 2011, and was based at my high school's gaming club, covering wargaming news, the club's internal news, and a wide range of articles mostly covering Warhammer and related topics. As the e-zine is long since nonfunctional, I figured it was time to give some of the articles I wrote a new lease of life, and as such I'm re-publishing this series under the new title of Axes and Arithmetic. It starts pretty basic, but ultimately covers a good deal of A Level mathematics topics including statistics, mechanics, and decision maths in a way that should hopefully be useful to gamers and game designers alike.
Many wargames, ultimately, are games of chance. It’s all the luck of the dice. Or is it? The factors that determine whether you’ll win or lose are all based, in some way, on probability – if it was pure luck, the game would of course be boring. Instead, it’s a case of army composition, picking your fights, and so on. These things (combat calculations in particular) can all be based on simple mathematical tools that can let you work out where you want to be fighting, and can help with factors such as weapon selection going into combats no end. Of course, chances are you guesstimate such things anyway; but have you got the mental distinction between “big choppy axe” and “two little choppy axes” mathematically nailed down? If not, here’s how you do it.
Probability and FractionsA fraction, as we probably all know, is just a representation of a number divided by another number, usually used when the lower number (the denominator) is higher than the upper one (the numerator), and thus the result is less than one. We’ll be dealing only with fractions in that normal form, since we’re using them to express probability. A probability, put simply, is the likelihood that something will happen. One, or a one hundred percent chance, is a certainty – something that will happen no matter what you do. Zero is also a certainty, but a negative one – whatever you do, that thing will not happen. The numbers in between are probabilities, the higher the more likely.
I’m going to use fractions for this for a simple reason; we’re working in sixths almost entirely. Whilst there are lots of possibilities for polyhedrals, and computer game designers can have much freer choice on their random number generators, it's still basically the case that a large percentage of wargaming rolls are done on a humble D6 - a cubic, six-sided die. As such, the probability of many useful numbers or rolls is something over 6. Remember, the probability is the number of possible “good” results. So a 4+ roll succeeds on a 4, 5, or 6; the probability is 3 over 6. If you have the choice between that or a 5+ roll, (5 or 6, probability 2 over 6), you’ll obviously go for the 4+, since the higher probability has a higher chance of success. But what about when you have multiple dice rolls to do?
Multiple RoundsOk, let’s get some gaming into this - we'll be using old-school Warhammer rules as a vaguely representative gaming system. I’m facing an Orc, and I’ve got the option of attacking with a human swordsman or another human with a flail (we’ll keep them singular for now, doing calculations for whole units of different sizes will be a future article). I want to decide which of my two men will take on the beast. The Orc is Weapon Skill (WS) 3, and Toughness (T) 4, with a 4+ Armour Save. My swordsman is WS4, and Strength (S) 3 with a sword; my flailer has WS3, but S5 with his flail.
And here comes the maths. Rolling to hit, the rulebook chart shows us that the swordsman only needs a 3+. That means a 3, 4, 5, or 6 will succeed and the chance is thus 4/6. The flailer needs a 4+, and so only has a 3/6 chance. From here it looks like the swordsman is the better option. However, we still need to factor in the second "To Wound" roll and the armour save. We do this by multiplying across the tops AND bottoms of the fractions. The flailer needs a 3+ to wound, so that’s 4/6. We multiply the 4/6 to wound by his previous 3/6 to hit making a 12/36 chance to wound across both rolls. The swordsman now needs a 5+, so 2/6 by 4/6 means he only has an 8/36 chance to wound across both rolls. Because we multiplied both in the same way, as you can see, the numbers are still comparable. Finally, the armour save. Since we want the Orc to fail his save we count as "ours" the scores he fails on. The S5 flail is a high strength weapon that leaves him just a 6+ chance to save, so that’s 5/6 chance of him failing, final total 60/216. The sword gives no armour bonuses so the Orc has only a 3/6 chance of failure, final total 24/216. Whilst it’s clear already who the better candidate is, remember that you can divide the top and bottom of fractions by the same number to “cancel” them and make them easier to look at, and that to compare 2 fractions at a glance the denominator (bottom number) should be the same. In this case both can be divided by 12; the flail-man has a 5/18 chance (27.8%) of wounding the orc, his sword-armed counterpart just 2/18 (11.1%).
ConclusionSee, we're just one article in and maths can already help kill orcs with a big spiky flail! You can also use exactly this technique for working out the likelihood of causing a wound from a shooting attack, or in reverse for the chance of surviving (not being wounded by) an attack. If you're a game designer, of course, you can work in reverse - work out how likely you want something to be, and then see if your current requirements and die rolls actually facilitate that.
But what happens with multiple attacks, and when you want to know about rolling lots of dice? You can’t just add the probabilities, since that could end up with a number like 20/18 if the above flailman had 4 attacks (and probabilities can’t be higher than 1). The answer has to be to distribute the probabilities somehow... and that’s what I’ll be going on to next article. Stay tuned!
Posted on March 23, 2018, 11:03:53 PM by Jubal
The Bones of Earth 4: Making Maps
The Bones of Earth 4: Making MapsWhilst the first three parts of "The Bones of Earth" have dealt with features and how to make them realistic, this will deal with some of the first steps towards actually creating a map for a fictional setting, specifically the overall layouts one could go for.
Single CountriesFor some condensed settings, you only need a map of a single country, county, principality, island, or similar. Of course this is very setting-dependent, and it risks restricting your room for maneuver if you're literally not going to plan out more than the absolute minimum land area you need, but there's also something to be said for having a neat, compact setting that's proportionally much easier for your reader/user to get their head around. If it's a pre-modern setting you may need to cover for why national borders are where they are. Rivers, mountains, and coasts are all traditional, though in the case of rivers it's also worth remembering that river valleys often grow fairly culturally similar on both sides: maintaining a really hard border down the middle of a valley may not make a lot of sense for the people living immediately on either side. For a map of this scale, you're more likely to want to work out details of settlement and road positioning carefully - something we'll come back to in future articles.
The East-Facing/West-Facing Generic ContinentThe principle here is simple; you have the continent on one side of the map, bounded by mountains or an impassable desert or unknown lands, and on the other it’s bounded by sea (usually with further desert/mountains in the south and ice/mountains in the north. Examples of this include Narnia, Middle Earth, Calradia (in Mount & Blade), Memory/Sorrow/Thorn by Tad Williams, Guns, Swords and Steam (my RPG), The Inheritance Cycle, Bletsungia (another world of mine), and the list goes on. Europe, the USA, and China can all pretty much fit this in the real world, which explains its popularity partly. Historically having the sea in the west (Tolkien style) seems to be more traditional, though the east (Narnia) isn’t uncommon either. I'm not sure I've ever seen a north/south faced variant on this, though I don't see any particular reason why one shouldn't exist.
The advantage of this generic continent style is that it combines a sizeable land area with effective, natural-looking boundaries that prevent characters from needing or wanting to go far beyond the compact setting. This is somewhat unrealistic, of course, but not entirely so - large barriers like the Sahara have historically been difficult for most people to traverse, though it's worth noting that trade still very much existed and that the presence of large mountains or some tundra certainly doesn't mean that you'll end up with ethnic monocultures on either side.
The ArchipelagoThis is a pretty good alternative to a continent with a particular facing. Earthsea is the most prominent example, though there are large numbers of others. The major advantage of archipelagos is that they allow for very restricted geographical biomes and areas; this is excellent if lots of small political units are desired, or if large variations in wildlife or plantlife are needed in the setting. Of course, the requirement for transport is also a factor; if you want huge tribes of horsemen sweeping across wide open plains they’re going to have trouble on a landmass five miles wide. Conversely, if you want naval journeys and warfare to feature in a setting, an archipelago really lets you go to town and make those a major part of your world in a way that's less plausible in more continental settings.
The Central Sea or the Great PlainsThese are another two continental possibilities, both probably under-used. A Great Plains setting, with little water and no obvious sea, runs the risk that such areas rarely had much in the way of settled city-based cultures for much of their history. That said, nomads are pretty damn cool, and a setting that had more of a focus on areas where there weren’t the resources for larger settlement could work well. A Central Sea setting, with water surrounded by land, is another interesting idea; essentially most of fantasy writing focuses on inland cultures which happen to eventually reach the sea, but a setting where the sea was in itself the major resource needed would mean that the divide between inland cultures and those on the shore (littoral cultures) would become more prominent.
The Planetary Map A planetary map is a fairly large undertaking, and in many traditional fantasy settings doesn’t necessarily make all that much sense – if there’s no reasonable way for your heroic queen with her army to get to the other side of the world, there’s no need to focus your reader on a ton of places they don’t in any sense need to know about whilst losing detail on the places you really want. Nevertheless, for characters going on Marco Polo-like quests or in sci-fi worlds where air travel is easy it can certainly be useful. Generally the number of continents is up to you; you can end up with a bizarre super-archipelago if there are too many. Remember that if there are too few, you probably will end up with some inland seas etc or at least huge deserts in the centre of your vast landmasses. Thinking in plate tectonics terms is far more important at this scale; mountain ranges will go in long lines, ultimately landmasses will border each other at some sort of plate boundary. Looking at maps of prehistoric earth and the different forms the landmasses took is a really good plan here.
Real World PlusSomething I haven’t really talked about in the other articles is the fairly obvious fact that you don’t need to change the fundamental geography of the real world at all if you don’t want to. This can still lead to a number of possibilities – for example, major climatic change, adding wasteland or megacity areas, moving bits of landscape, simply wiping all the cities off the map and putting new ones in instead, etc etc. Sea level rise is an interesting one which can lead to an eerie “familiar yet different” feel for a map, as is the obliteration of large parts of it in nuclear wars. These ideas are used in a lot of sci-fi (Judge Dredd, for example) and Steampunk (Girl Genius includes Paris and Britain, and is primarily set in what is presumably roughly Germany) stories, and some fantasy too though this is a little rarer compared to a “hole in the world” idea where fantasy stuff invades our world or vice versa.
Star MappingStar maps are in some ways easier and in others more difficult than a planetary or terrestrial map. The bad news is that it’s harder to know where to start; the good news is that it matters very little! All interstellar distances are so large it makes little real difference as far as the world’s inhabitants are concerned. Generally the only advice I can give is to not be too regular or too spread out; have clumps (which will probably be the areas where interstellar civilisations can expand) and also gulfs.
With star maps the other thing to consider is size and depth per planet/location. Authors often spend years if not a lifetime mapping the detail of, say, a continent or even a country, let alone a whole planet. If you’re taking on the job of literally constructing a whole galaxy, you’re going to need to cut corners. Ways to do this; firstly, have very low population densities (this is surprisingly uncommon but I did it with Cepheida). This means that you only need to deal with a small inhabited area on each planet and many planets won’t have inhabitants at all. Good for exploration-based ideas, but less good for giant interplanetary war scenarios where billions die each day blah blah etc. The second solution is to assume that a planet is just one biome. I did that with Cepheida as well, but it’s also been done in pretty much all the big sci-fis such as Star Wars (Tatooine is a “desert planet”, Coruscant a “city planet”, Dagobah a “swamp planet”, with little indication of variation, unlike on earth which happily has deserts AND swamps AND cities AND icecaps). It works well as long as you don’t question it too much, but if you want something believable it may not always be the best plan. Solution three is just to not ask tricksy questions or, depending on the project, to do the “you can make YOUR OWN world, dear reader/player/etc” option.
So there you have it - a range of basic options and ideas for how to lay out your maps. I'm not sure what the next article in this series will be exactly, so do comment if you have preferences - either one on settlement growth and placement, or the importance of rivers and water systems, might be a good next step I think. As ever, I hope you enjoyed this, and do stay tuned for more!
Posted on March 18, 2018, 05:37:27 PM by Jubal
An Unexpected Bestiary: The Second Parchment
An Unexpected Bestiary: The Second ParchmentSo, I was hoping to get a few more bonus articles than we're going to end up with today, but hopefully this will be a reasonable offering - moving on from An Unexpected Bestiary, my previous article discussing some interesting and lesser known real creatures and thoughts on how they could inspire creativity in game design, creative writing, and beyond, I can now proudly present The Second Parchment, a continuation of that article with seven more bizarre and wonderful creatures. Some of these you may never have heard of: others you'll be familiar with, but hopefully I can show them to you in a different light. Read on to discover more...
QuollsThe quoll is a marsupial (well, one of six species of marsupial) roughly similar in build and ecological niche to the mustelids of the rest of the world. The name has aboriginal roots – early settler names like “spotted marten” or “marsupial cat” were dropped in favour of the more distinctive word. Solitary hunters and scavengers with a powerful bite, the smaller species eat small mammals and frogs, whereas the larger ones can take on birds and slightly larger mammals like echidnas.
The quoll could have a lot of fictional uses similar to a weasel or stoat – they’re a good “exotic mage’s familiar” option, and their spotted appearance gives them a very particular and striking look that differentiates them from a marten or polecat. If you’re willing to play around with their behaviour, size, or biology, there’s a lot more you could do with them – a giant one, or a pack of large ones, could be a pretty interesting threat to a character. Whilst I’m not aware that you can train real quolls very easily, I can imagine they’d also present a fun twist on “sneaky animal sent in with enough smarts to steal keys and pick locks”, if you’ve used monkeys one time too many for that.
Saiga AntelopesThe Saiga is a small, critically endangered species of antelope from the central Asian steppes – only around 50,000 are left after a major population crash in the past few years. They are best known for their bizarrely shaped face, with bloated nostrils that help filter out dust and cool the animals down in the summer months. Males have impressive horns, and the species lives in large, highly mobile herds – their main defence against predators and natural disasters is simply to move on to literal pastures new.
The Saiga have traditionally been hunted – the Chinese population has now been entirely wiped out – both for their meat, and for their horns, which are used in Chinese “traditional medicine” much like rhinoceros horns are and can sell for large sums of money. Steppe antelopes like this are definitely an option for hunted beasts. I think the distinctive look and relatively small size of the Saigas could make them a fun mount for some sort of little folk in a fantasy setting: unlike a lot of antelopes, they look sufficiently different and alien to creatures we know better that it could really mark out riders as otherworldly.
Mata mataThe Mata mata is one of the most bizarre looking vertebrates on the planet. It’s a South American freshwater turtle with a huge head triangular and exceptionally long neck, and an extremely knobbly skin. Its feeding method is pretty simple. It sits under the surface of a pool, with its up-pointed nose allowing it to breathe as if through a snorkel; thanks to its less than elegant appearance, it just looks like floating detritus, fooling predator and prey alike. It sits there and waits for a fish to come past – then simply opens its huge mouth and throat and sucks, dragging fish and water alike in and swallowing the lot.
I think the above – and the species’ unique appearance – speaks for itself when it comes to using the Mata mata in games or writing. A giant one would make a ready-made “trap-type monster”, waiting to just suddenly gulp down an unsuspecting player or even boat, depending on how big you made one. They’re also not hard to keep as pets, especially since they don’t tend to move around much, so they’d be a good exotic pet for… well, I leave the imagination of the sorts of characters who’d want to keep a Mata mata up to you!
DesmanDesmans are essentially aquatic moles, which is a pretty cool starting point for an animal. There are two species of desman: a southwestern European species found in the Pyrenees and northern Spain, and a Russian species found in the Urals. They have extremely sensitive snouts, and their paws are adapted more for swimming than digging: they rootle around for small creatures on the edge of mountain streams.
The desman has some pretty cool features like echolocation, and has been hunted and trapped for furs in the past, which gives it a baseline of relations with humans. I think there are some other interesting ways one could use them in stories, though: I quite like the idea of desmans as message carriers, perhaps with a little waterproofed bag tied to their leg and trained to slip out through a castle or mill’s stream to carry messages to a partner in crime or spy in the enemy camp. They’d also of course make endearing children’s characters much as water-voles and other semiaquatic creatures seem to in many actual works of childrens’ fiction. A story of how the desman learned to swim could be a nice Just So Stories style idea to work on. In general, I think it’s nice to have animals for fiction that are alike enough to a well-known creature for people to relate to, but with a twist to make them sufficiently different to be interesting, and so the desman’s position as a water-mole is a nice one to play around with.
HoopoeFew birds have so rich a literary and mythic tradition as the hoopoe, yet so little showtime in modern writing. These little birds have extremely distinctive Mohican-style crests, and orange colouration which makes them very noticeable and distinctive. They’re found across much of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
From the earliest times, hoopoes have been noticed and. They eat a number of insect species including agricultural pests, which gives them some positive attributes, and in many middle-Eastern and early cultures they had royal connotations. In ancient Egypt the symbol of the hoopoe was related to legitimacy in birth; in Aristophanes, the hoopoe was the king of the birds, and in the medieval Persian Conference of the Birds, the hoopoe becomes the birds’ leader as they attempt to find the Simurgh, their king. In Abrahamic and European folklore they have less positive connotations: they are not kosher in Judaism (though this didn’t stop them being named the national animal of Israel in 2008), and they have associations with thievery and death across parts of central and northern Europe. In Scandinavia they were once seen as harbingers of war, and in Estonia their song is said to foretell death; meanwhile in medieval ritual magic, they had further death associations, with the sacrifice of a hoopoe called for in magic books to aid in the summoning of demons.
With so many associations, and their extremely striking appearance, it’s very surprising to me that we don’t see more hoopoes. Whether you’re writing a Middle-eastern ruler, a Minoan trying to claim your birthright, a Viking looking for portents of the future, or a medieval German necromancer, give these little guys some thought – they may be more important than you know.
Sorting Hat SpidersSo, these guys, Eriovixia gryffindori, are mostly being included here for the name, but there’s some interesting discussion to be had around that. The sorting hat spider was discovered in 2016 in India, and its distinctively shaped cephalothorax (the back half of the body) is thought to have developed in order to make it easier for the spider to mimic leaf litter and hide from predators. Both the common and Latin names were given based on its similarity to the Sorting Hat in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books – originally owned by Godric Gryffindor.
Invertebrates and other animals, especially ones added anew into an existing language, are often named after existing forms, animals, ideas, or cultural phenomena, and when making up fantasy creatures for your worlds and settings that’s something to take into account. The idea of having animals that are seen as reflecting the human world in their shape, style, and form is something that’s a pretty interesting one to play around with too – in a fictional setting, there actually could be some sort of symbolism in the creation of such animals, or alternatively one could play around with giving animals very different connotations to the ones our own culture has come up with.
WalrusThe walrus is certainly a well known animal but, I think, one that gets underplayed in fiction. I think a lot of people have the same issue I do with them, which is that I basically think of them as “those seal things with the tusks”, and then mentally assume they can’t be that much bigger than a regular seal… whereas in fact a pacific bull walrus can weigh in at two thousand kilos, about equivalent in weight to a white rhinoceros and not far off the bulk of an Asian elephant. These things are biiiig. And pretty dangerous as a result, of course – though the amount of blubber and ivory that can be gained by hunting one made it worthwhile for many throughout human history. Walrus ivory has been a particularly major part of creations across the arctic and subarctic world - the Lewis Chessmen are mostly carved from walrus tusks, and they've been an important basic carving medium for cultures across that part of the world.
I’m admittedly not well read in fantasy generally, but I really can’t think of many settings that involve a walrus – but as a serious level opponent, they’re as dangerous as a bear or shark. Metre long tusks are a formidable threat, to say the least, and they come in literal herds rather than just being solitary. Their semiaquatic nature can make them a potential target/threat on both land and sea, as well, which adds to their potential versatility. In the wild, only orcas and polar bears ever seriously attempt to hunt them, and even then mostly only older or infirm individuals. If you want a really heavy-duty opponent in a snow-bound adventure, think about the walrus – its size and power alone make it a genuinely formidable beast to include in any sort of writing or game design.
And there you have it, seven more unexpected creatures and some thoughts on their potential roles in your creative works! I defintiely have more than enough animals left for a part three, so let me know if you want that to happen sometime - and I hope you found this a good bonus article to have for Exilian's tenth birthday today!
Posted on March 18, 2018, 05:37:16 PM by Jubal
The Two Cows (Llamas?) Theory: Exilian Edition
Cows Llamas Theory: Exilian Edition
A special 10th anniversary edition of the Two Cows theory! I'm not sure that trying to explain anything about Exilian makes any more sense when done this way, but given none of it made sense to start with... well, why not? As such, I present to you the Two
Cows Llamas Theory: The Exilian Edition!
The Church of Bunneh
You have two llamas. You put them in your signature in an attempt to achieve world domination. The two llamas fall out in a terrifying religious schism.
Cyril & Methodius
You have two llamas. You invent an alphabet perfectly attuned to llama noises and teach them to write.
Exilian Democratic Union
You have two llamas. You attempt to abolish the concept of ownership.
Forums for Internet Freedoms
You have two llamas. You give them the vote.
The House of Generals
You have two cows. They are armed with a disconcerting number of rifles, and at least one thermal pod.
The House of Glaurung
You have two llamas. You sell them and hoard the gold.
The House of the Phoenix
You have two llamas. You’re convinced that one of them is a guanaco.
The House of Scholars (Jubal)
You have two llamas. You also have two golden moles, two echidnas, two owlbears, forty-one penguins, and an extremely large number of pangolins. This is as it should be.
Internet Democrats of Exilian
You have two llamas. You pledge to do something different with them in a way that is also exactly the same as all the other systems listed here.
You have two llamas. You attempt to preach the word of Krishna to them, and are disappointed when they spit in your face and short out your bot-circuits.
You had two llamas, but that was many, many years ago…
The SOTK Clan
You have two llamas and a soup dragon. You clone them. One falls from a high place.
You have two llamas. You attempt to sell them a badly made second-hand kitchen from China. They are unimpressed.
You have two llamas. You get them drunk on bootlegged alcohol.
Posted on March 16, 2018, 09:53:25 PM by Jubal
The Beauty of RSS
The Beauty of RSS
The RSS logo - look for this to find feeds!Algorithmic content finding is at the core of the modern internet. Search engines and social media sites line up some of the best minds money can buy to design systems for showing you content you want to look at, articles you want to read, and products you want to buy.
...or at least, that's how it's marketed. There's a lot of downside to the sort of hyper-targeting that goes on nowadays, especially in that it ultimately means you have. Facebook is the most egregious example of this: which posts appear on your news feed is determined far more by what Facebook thinks is popular than what you think you want to see, making it extremely difficult to get updates from people who Facebook doesn't think you want to see news from. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this latter category is especially populated by smaller content creators, businesses, and hobbyists, who can't afford the increasingly exorbitant sums needed to pay to break through Facebook's content algorithms and build a large audience. Twitter operates a similar model, allowing promoted tweets to stay in view as others shoot down the timeline at a rate of knots. Facebook is, despite some signs that its market share may arguably be dropping, still extremely dominant in how people use the internet, both in how they discover content and how they get updates on it. In other words, if your Facebook page gets a new user, that's not necessarily a promise of future engagement: to access all of the users who've "liked" your page, nowadays, you now often actually need to pay to boost your posts in order to do so.
To put it in starker terms, Facebook is actively using the fact it controls the main platform for content finding and social updates to choke off creators who aren't prepared to pay them. Of course, they're a business, and that's their decision - but if you want smaller creators to survive, or if you just want to make sure you're actually seeing the content you want to see, it's time to start thinking harder about how you get updates.
RSS, or Rich Site Summary, is one possible answer. RSS is, essentially, a way for websites to create easy feeds for content in a format that can then be picked up by aggregators. It's essentially a standard XML sheet format that can be updated by the site, published to a known URL, and then picked up by aggregated "feeders" which can then show people the content and notify them when it's updated Created in the late 1990s, it was a major part of internet ecosystems through the mid-2000s until social media really started taking over people's content feeding habits.
So why go back to it? For one thing - no algorithms. RSS will just list the sites you add to it, and tell you when one of them updates, it's as simple as that. No more rolling a d20 to see if you're one of the lucky 10% who gets told what your favourite comic artist has actually published this week. These days, RSS feeders will sit as a little taskbar icon at the top of your web browser - you can then click on it, scroll down your list of feeds, and see what's new. I guess it's possible this could get difficult if you were trying to syndicate a really large amount of content this way, but I tend to find that I can leave off sites I check super regularly anyway and that even the fairly sizeable amount of content I look at doesn't pose a problem. For content from sites where I really need to get those updates, RSS is especially good: I won't run the risk of missing something like I would with a social media follow. It also ensures I can better support and read stuff from smaller creators, most of whom will have RSS running for their blogs or comics as it's easy to set up the feed. Even better, I don't need to give anyone my email address like for a mail newsletter - I just pick up the RSS newsletter via my reader, without risking it disappearing into the dark abyss of my inbox or cluttering things there up at the wrong time.
I mainly use the Firefox add-on Brief as my main feed reader, and I'd really recommend it. I've also got the free version of Feeder running on my chrome browser, which has a few annoying features telling me to upgrade to the non-free version but is otherwise very good. Other options for different browsers or app systems include Feedly, Panda, and Reeder. It's worth having a hunt around to find what's good for you; another advantage of RSS systems is that there's genuine diversity and choice in what's out there, and the standard XML format is open for all sorts of readers and aggregators to parse it. Once you have a reader, all you need to do is go to the URL of a feed, and your browsers/readers will offer you the option to subscribe to it. That's it!
So there you have it - the beauty of RSS. I don't think it's the only solution or part of building a more open internet, but I think it's a very good first step and I'd really encourage people to use it especially to support smaller content creators. If you liked this article, go get a reader and get finding sites to subscribe to (look for the RSS logo like the one above). And of course, make sure you add the Exilian newsfeed to get more like this in future!