Shoutout to Chiptunes

Chipzel on Bandcamp

I just wanted to post about how much I love chiptunes, and the whole scene. Especially Chipzel, who is my favorite in the genre. I bought Dicey Dungeons and The Crypt of the Necrodancer, based in large part on the music. Turns out, she was the force of nature behind both. Per my previous post on video gaming as I’ve gotten older, I’m terrible at Necrodancer, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to master Dicey. But the music for both is just terrific.

I also like this chiptune station: http://hyperadio.ru:8000/live, but I can’t seem to find where I found it to begin with. I think it was an Apple Music radio station, from it’s internal listings, that I put in a playlist, but Apple took the listings out of the application. You can still add manual entries, and I guess I can see where they’re coming from, but I sure hope they don’t remove the ability to stream an internet station entirely!

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Twitter? In my Imgur? It’s More Likely Than You Think

I was just trying to get away from the political trash fire that consumes every. single. post. on Twitter now, and this is the front page of Imgur’s user sub. Come on, internet. Is there nowhere you cannot give it a rest? #SocialMediaIsDestroyingSociety #TimeToReadABookAnyBook

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Why Don’t I “Consult?”

I get asked this question fairly often, and I usually just mumble something to move the conversation to something else, but I was thinking about my experience with it this morning, and wanted to write about it.

About… 25 years ago, I was working very heavily with Linux at my home, my church, and work. A good friend told me that his company wanted to get an email sever, and a file-sharing server. Aha! I was an expert at doing those things! I would indeed love to help!

In those days, there was a prominent local business-to-business consulting company which was charging $100/hr for their services. I quoted my friend’s boss at $50/hr. He balked initially, but eventually agreed. I bought them a server, installed Linux, configured postfix with spam rejection, and set up their computers with Outlook using IMAP. I bought a domain, setup a web site, and created a shared directory for internal file sharing. Except for the occasional new user I had to provision (which I could do remotely), everything ran fine for many months. I didn’t even charge them for less than 15 minutes of maintenance work like that.

Then the owner started making noises about paying too much for changes. I wasn’t doing much, so I agreed to cut my rate to $25/hr. Then he started making noises about how that was still too much, and my buddy told me that he was planing on bringing in a kid who was making local-business IT consulting his main gig. This guy was saying he could set them up with a wiz-bang Windows server for only $10/hr! I told him I wasn’t going to cut my rate any further, and they were welcome to replace me and my server.

Through my buddy, I heard how the kid bought the new computer, but couldn’t get mail to it. For days, he struggled, blaming my computer, which was turned off and sitting on the floor. Then he started blaming me, personally. So I wrote a nice, long letter, explaining that he needed to change the MX records in DNS, sent them the password to GoDaddy, told them what to do, and said that if they needed any more help, I would be glad to, without charge. None of this kept my name from being dragged through the mud by the owner.

Months went by, and I would occasionally ask my buddy how it was going with the new IT setup. Turned out that it was more down than up. About a year later, my buddy tells me that the owner was open to using my services again, if I would come back, and basically grovel for the work again. The whole process had been pretty dismal, but that’s when I decided, once and for all, that I didn’t have the patience or the temperament for doing consulting work.

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The Reports of the End of an Era Were Greatly Exaggerated

I’m still working through the issues of getting respectable DPS numbers in ESO, because — of course — I can’t leave it alone. It’s impossible to dictate a single approach to any build, because there are so many factors involved, and so many ways of going about it, and most of it seems to be interchangeable. Is it better to have higher base damage, for every hit? Or it better to have higher critical damage, which fires by chance? Or is it better to have a higher chance of hitting critically? Or is it better to have higher damage on elemental effects? Or… on and on it goes. Videos like this help, but the numbers are also affected by the way you play the game, and are not always absolute.

I bought a better secondary set of gear through a guild store (which turned out to be much less expensive than I thought). I re-enchanted my main weapon with a different glyph, and changed the trait with transmute gems. I re-spec’d my CP. I obtained the “monster set” that everyone recommends for my build (which is really cool, when it proc’s). I’ve changed my rotation to what I want to do, with the understanding of exactly why I have each item on my action bar, and when to use it.

I’m getting 13K without trying. If I really concentrate, and apply all the buffs I can, I can get into the high teens. I’m hitting groups for over 30K, sometimes 40K. While this isn’t winning any awards, I no longer have to feel like I’m effectively shut out of running trials. Most importantly, the game is just fun now. I don’t have to dread walking around the over world. If I pull aggro from a random encounter, I can kill it in a second. It no longer feels like everything is a slog. I solo’d a public dungeon with 7 bosses in it last night. I only died a couple of times, and that’s because I was talking to people while doing it.

Now the situation changes. Now I’m going to start working with one guild to sell stuff to make the money I need to buy nirncrux and work with another guild to get the nirnhoned-trait gear I need to research so that I can unlock crafting my own set of high-end, end-game gear. Maybe by the time I can create that, I can also max out enchanting and jewelry to make the best glyphs and jewelry, and collect the improvement mats to upgrade everything to legendary, and the transmute gems to correctly trait everything (whatever that means).

I’ve maxed out the fighter and mage guild lines. I continue to work on the psijic guild line. I’m still trying to collect all the sky shards in the game. If you really work at it, I’m thinking there really are enough skill points in the game to max out all the crafting stuff, and still have all the skills you would want for fighting. I’ve managed to collect all the crafting except metalworking, and I have more skills than I know what to do with, and I still have, like, half the sky shards to collect, and that’s not even counting all the questing I haven’t done, or half the group dungeons I’ve not done for the first time.

The point is that there are still several more passives — and about 600 more CP — I can throw on this build, and I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I can lighten up a bit now, and just get on with collecting while I wait for researching to finish. Something tells me that I’m going to wind up buying research scrolls, if I’m going to really see this through…

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Is This the End of an Era?

I don’t have a lot of memories from when I was young. All I have are a few bits and pieces from my early grade-school days. However, one thing I remember pretty vividly was discovering a Space Invaders arcade game in the super market when I was 6. It started a lifetime pursuit of video gaming that has been obsessive at times.

I’ll be honest: I stunk at early coin-op video games. I couldn’t clear 4 boards in Pac-Man. I couldn’t get through 3 levels of Donkey Kong. I fared a little better in Asteroids. It wasn’t until Defender that I found a game I could actually play fairly well. I got to where I could always get to the space stage, and usually back to Earth again. This was around 6th grade for me, and it was probably just a function of getting a little older, and able to understand more of the mechanics.

By this time, I had a Commodore 64 at home, and was playing a lot of games on it, too. Badly, of course. Hard Hat Mack stood out as a platformer which was particularly difficult, but one which my sister and I spent a lot of time with. There was Archon, which I mastered. And M.U.L.E., which I could win. But getting good at these games came at a cost. I, uh, “went through” several joysticks during this phase.

The landscape truly changed for me in my sophomore year of high school with the release of The Bard’s Tale. As much time as I had been spending with video games, in general, they were self-limiting because of the difficulty. But The Bard’s Tale was different. If you were getting beat by the game, you could retreat, lick your wounds, level up, buy better gear, use a different strategy, and then have another go. This was different. It wasn’t so punishing. I played a lot of Bard’s Tale. My sessions would last so long that I took the cover off the floppy drive, and used a house fan to keep it cool. I’ve never been any good at staying up all night, but I do remember playing the game for 25 hours straight once. Then there was Bard’s Tale 2 and 3. And Centauri Alliance.

During college, some good friends a couple doors down had a Nintendo. I missed out on the first Zelda, because I didn’t have one, but I remember staying up many nights playing Zelda II. I can’t remember for sure if I beat it, but I think I did. I do remember it being super difficult. It was the first time that I broke through the “git gud” in order to play a game. I know what this looks like. I know what it feels like.

After 30-35 years of obsessive video gaming, I’ve noticed that I’m really slowing down. There are times where I don’t really want to play video games, but I’ll play one any way, because there’s nothing else I want to do instead. There’s not much I want to stream, and even though I read voraciously as a kid, I don’t enjoy it very much any more.

My issue with gaming and difficulty has really been coming to a head with the quarantine. I’ve been part of a great group of guys who had been playing Gloomhaven every week for several months leading up to the pandemic. To keep playing, I bought 4 of us the “game” Tabletop Simulator on Steam, which has a free plugin for playing Gloom. We tried it out over the course of a couple sessions, and found that it was fiddly, and prone to irreversible error. So we kept looking for something we could all play online, and finally settled on Elder Scrolls Online. That first week, another friend turned to me at our first streaming-only church service, and asked, “So what MMO are we going to start playing?” I said, “Funny you should ask…”

We’ve been playing it a lot. Like, a LOT. I just checked Steam, and it reports that I’ve spent 247 hours with it in the past 2 months. That’s 6 man-weeks. That represents a solid chunk of time I could have spent doing something else. Something productive. Something self-improving.

Two of the other guys had played a lot of World of Warcraft, but I’ve never played an MMO before. I was prepared for the infamous WoW “grind.” ESO is not like this. You can max a character in probably 20 hours. Then ESO’s system of Champion Points kicks in, and starts a long process to max out. But! Those CP’s are shared amongst your characters. I really like this system. It’s not overly grind-y. If you start a new character, you can get them into the CP fairly quickly, and then they also collect and share CP’s with all of your other characters.

The problem for me has been player-versus-player. I never wanted ANYTHING to do with PvP, because I didn’t want to be humiliated by “bucket” players. However, in my quest for sky shards and their attendant skill points, I ventured into Cyrodiil, and into raw player-vs-player interaction. As predicted, everyone I’ve ever run across has killed me in a couple of hits. If I even bothered to try to fight back, I never even scratched my opponent. Likewise, the battlegrounds are an utter joke for me.

This led me to get serious about looking at my build, and what sort of damage a magicka sorcerer should be able to do. Based on build guides I had read, I thought I had a decent setup for PvE. Then one of my guys joined a PvE guild, and told me that they ran trials and world bosses on a regular schedule, so I joined too.

I joined the guild’s Discord. Before my first run began, I asked what sort of DPS numbers they would expect me to be doing, and the clan leader said “around 20K.” I had just used a target dummy before this, and had gotten 18K DPS, so I thought I was good to go. We ran the trial, and the combat metrics add-on showed me that I had done a mere 3.3% of the total damage in the final fight. I was doing about 3,800 DPS. It was, frankly, embarrassing. Turns out the dummy I had used in the clan-leader’s house was one which represented having all the buffs you could get in a trial, from the whole group.

So I’ve looked at various other build guides. I’ve watched videos. I’ve respec-ed. Crafted and bought better gear. Spent more CP. Last night, after staying up too late, I tried a target dummy with more changes, and I got 5,500. 5,500? 5,500! All of the guides I read agree that 20-25K should be no problem. Like, no effort at all. Lots of people say that they can get upwards of 40K, but many agree this takes real talent at “weaving.” I see people who demonstrate 60-70, and I’ve even seen one at 95! I’m getting all of 5.

I saw a post on the ESO forums from a guy who was stuck at 15K, and people were telling him “simple” changes to get into the 20’s. Meanwhile, I can’t even get on paper. And the worst part is that I have literally no idea how I could be doing any better. OK, sure, I could grind to CP810, and then grind trials, group delves, and world bosses to get top-tier gear, and then spend the resources to improve them, re-enchant them, and re-trait them, but the way the math works in the game, these kinds of changes look like they might add up to 20-30% better stats. I’m behind the curve by at least 400-500%; maybe even 1000-2000%. More CP and better gear will not fix my problem, and I don’t know how I could be executing people’s supposed 40K-rotations any better.

And even if I could master some 40-60K build/rotation on a target dummy, I literally have no idea how this would translate to actually running around the game, where you have to keep moving to avoid enemy attacks and AoE’s.

In all my years of gaming, I’ve never been stuck like this. And I’ve played Battlefield! I know how to work on fundamentals and learn the mechanics, and get to a competitive place in difficult games. I may not win, but I’m almost always a threat. I literally have nothing this time around. I realize that this is the game. The weaving and the rotations, working in tandem with your gear, is the main mechanic. I get it. But, as of this writing, I have no clue as to what to work on or change.

I’ve been noticing a trend with me and video games. I think it started with Rogue Legacy. This is a great game with terrific mechanics, wonderful graphics, good music, a great premise… and I absolutely suck at it. I can get to a certain point, and then I just can’t go any further. I’m not good enough to get far enough into a run to earn enough gold to pay for any of the available upgrades, and the restart “tax” effectively stops any further progression. Which is too bad, because otherwise, I love it!

Other games that come to mind are Crystal Catacombs (which I helped fund), Wasteland 2 (which I also helped fund), The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Dicey Dungeons, and Children of Morta. All of these are games I like, but which get to a level of difficulty I just can’t be hassled to overcome. These are mostly short-run, “rogue-like” games, but there are triple-A’s in there too, like Dishonored, which made me give up early on because every approach I tried to be stealthy on one level wound up failing. I just don’t have the requisite patience. Then there are games like Spider-Man PS4 and Borderlands 3, which are such utter slog-fests, that they just wear me out and take the fun out of it. And, finally — and especially — DOOM Eternal. I’m trying to play it on the easiest level, and it’s still such a chore to clear the levels that I consider the $90 super-deluxe pre-order (because I loved the first one so much) to be akin to throwing my money in the toilet, because it’s just not… you know… fun! The first one was amazing. This one? Ug.

It would be one thing for me to complain that I’m an old man now, and don’t have the patience to “git gud” at the “hard” games any more, but most of these are more-casual games, so I’m kind of stuck with modern gaming, in general. It’s kind of depressing to effectively be told that my favorite pastime is forcing me out because I suck at it. I guess the industry is telling me to go suck my thumb and play Minecraft or Terraria or something, but those kind of games never appealed to me.

What’s been surprising to me is that I can easily solo the content I’m supposed to be able to in ESO, so I’m clearly not doing something fundamentally wrong. But I’m also clearly not doing enough right to succeed at the end-game content, and there are no hints or clues from going through the game missions to point me towards what I should be doing any differently. I don’t know if I’m going to continue trying to fool with this or not. I don’t know what comes next, but I felt the need to save at this checkpoint, and get my thinking out of my head.

And maybe it’s time that I don’t figure it out this time.

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So True, and So Wrong

This resonates with me. Spend millions on some new equipment to make widgets better? Sure! Spend thousands to improve the functionality of the lifeblood of the company? Well… I don’t know…

Seriously, though, there’s so much wrong with the way this movie treats this plot point. First, there’s the issue where the only other guy who can get in the system doesn’t have all the access. Second, there’s the issue where there are “a million” lines of code in a monolithic application which clearly covers lots of independent systems, and the other guy can’t even begin to track down where the problem might lie. Third, the little grade-school-aged girl says she knows Unix. Fourth, she then navigates a GUI-based filesystem browser — which no one has ever used in any serious capacity — to find and run an executable — starting from /usr, no less — that magically fixes everything.

I always wondered why I never liked the Jurassic movies very much. Maybe this was a large part of the reasoning.

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Staying Effective at You Job While Changing Methods

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Isolation of an archaeon at the prokaryote–eukaryote interface | Nature

The origin of eukaryotes remains unclear1,2,3,4. Current data suggest that eukaryotes may have emerged from an archaeal lineage known as ‘Asgard’ archaea5,6. Despite the eukaryote-like genomic features that are found in these archaea, the evolutionary transition from archaea to eukaryotes remains unclear, owing to the lack of cultured representatives and corresponding physiological insights. Here we report the decade-long isolation of an Asgard archaeon related to Lokiarchaeota from deep marine sediment. The archaeon—‘Candidatus Prometheoarchaeum syntrophicum’ strain MK-D1—is an anaerobic, extremely slow-growing, small coccus (around 550 nm in diameter) that degrades amino acids through syntrophy. Although eukaryote-like intracellular complexes have been proposed for Asgard archaea6, the isolate has no visible organelle-like structure. Instead, Ca. P. syntrophicum is morphologically complex and has unique protrusions that are long and often branching. On the basis of the available data obtained from cultivation and genomics, and reasoned interpretations of the existing literature, we propose a hypothetical model for eukaryogenesis, termed the entangle–engulf–endogenize (also known as E3) model.

Source: Isolation of an archaeon at the prokaryote–eukaryote interface | Nature

Just a little light reading that caught my eye. I think this pretty well sums it up, don’t you?

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Drug Company Set to Pay $15 Million to DOJ Over Doctor Bribery Scandal

Two whistleblowers came forward in April to accuse Questcor of trying to boost profits for Acthar, a medication primarily for infants with seizures. Questcor raised the price of the medication by almost 100,000 percent (not a typo) from just $40 in 2000 to $38,892 today, despite the fact that Acthar has been on the market since 1952. Mallinckrodt currently rakes in about $1 billion per year from Acthar, according to CNN.

Source: Drug Company Set to Pay $15 Million to DOJ Over Doctor Bribery Scandal

Today, in Medicare-For-All-is-inevitable news: One company jacked up the price of a drug for newborns from $40 to FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS, even though it has been around since 1952, and THEN they were caught bribing doctors to prescribe it!

There’s only so much of this our system can take before enough people get affected by it and vote for a nationalized health care system — despite whatever negatives they might fear — because surely nothing can be as bad as what they’re dealing with.

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Why The Internet is Terrible, Part 1

Josh Topolsky, writing at Input:

But thank god for the internet. What the hell would we do right now without the internet? How would so many of us work, stay connected, stay informed, stay entertained? For all of its failings and flops, all of its breeches and blunders, the internet has become the digital town square that we always believed it could and should be.

So true. Feeling isolated? Cooped up? Me too. But imagine what this would’ve been like 30 years ago. This sort of crisis is what the internet was designed for, and it’s working.

Source: Daring Fireball: ‘Thank God for the Internet’

I’m dubious about the quoted article’s opinion of the net value of the internet to society at large, and it’s Gruber’s take that precisely highlights my problem with it. The underlying assumption is that we’re all going stir crazy, and the Internet is saving us from the worst of it.

It’s the information bandwidth created by the internet that is driving us crazy, forcing us all to live at breakneck speed to keep up with it. Thirty years ago, you simply didn’t know the social activities of every one of your acquaintances. Because of that, you couldn’t feel compelled to try to fit them all into your schedule, and participate, in some capacity, or, at the very least, acknowledge them, lest you offend someone, and then suffer their displeasure in the form of them pressuring other parts of your social life in negative ways.

Thirty years ago, you had a small circle of friends, because that’s all your “information bandwidth” would allow for. And you were happy. You made things work. You made phone calls. You went to church. You went over to someone’s place, and talked, or played a game. The internet ruined that. The internet is the reason that families run 24×7 to keep up with every thing and every one. It started with an assumption that, hey, you and I are friends, and if you only knew *this thing* was happening, you would, of course, want to show up for it. And now, every single person you know is trying to get *their thing* onto your schedule. The problem is that we feel socially guilty about saying no, for fear that we will lose standing in someone else’s eyes, and perhaps not be invited to the next thing that we actually do want to be involved with.

The internet is the reason that you know what people you wouldn’t have even called friends in high school are up to, thirty years on, and you kinda-sorta feel compelled to congratulate them for it. The internet is why you know that that one guy at work is doing this charity thing next month, and you don’t really know him, and don’t really care about his cause, but the event is pulling in a couple of people you want to like you, and you really don’t have anything better to do in that 2-hour block of time, so, fine, you’ll go.

So, yeah, “the internet” is the only thing that can help you refill that emptiness created by “the internet,” which keeps you binging on it. And all the “Web 2.0” companies laugh all the way to the bank for preying on your need for human connectivity and relevance, manipulating your opinion for their benefactors, and “monetizing” your “eyeballs.”

And that’s just the social networks. What about the actual facts of science relating to the virus, and the government’s response to it, and the media coverage of it all? It’s a frightening mess of clashing opinion, creating warring tribal factions about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s literally tearing society apart, fractioning us into camps which can never be reconciled.

The absolute worst part of this is the United States’ two-party system, and the non-overlapping dichotomy of ideology it forcibly implies. So, given any statement, people feel license to derive an entire worldview for the other person, down to their income level, geographic location, intelligence level, and what they surely must think about every other topic. Twitter, for instance, is almost literally made of strawman arguments. Sometimes, it feels as though, if you used machine learning to delete strawmen from the platform, more than half the content would be gone, and it would definitely be the half that generates all the ad revenue.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t that way before. Respectable journalists digested the facts, wrote articles, and news editors gave us a well-formed narrative. Were there oversights? Was there propaganda? Sure, but people found ways to get the story out. Now, any crank with a computer can spew his or her unsound opinion on any particular topic, and entire communities spring up around it, to support it and keep it alive. I’m not talking about flat-earth or faked-moon-landing stuff here; I’m talking about anti-vax, climate change, human rights, and terrorism. Stuff that really matters, now, and to our children’s children.

Right now, the total effect is hardly distinguishable from everyone just stepping out of their homes, into the street, and screaming at the top of their lungs. In the same way as with America’s broken health insurance system, the people who are the fans of the status quo are, predictably, the winners of the current system: the blue checkmarks. You might find it to be great, because you’ve got a really loud voice, but that just makes other people even more upset with you.

“The internet” is perverting just about every element of human relations. Facebook and Twitter are the arch-villains here, but every other online forum isn’t far behind. At this point, I could probably write a book about what I’m seeing, but I’m sure that there are already several out there, and I’m just waking up. So, no, I don’t buy the argument that the internet is vastly more good than bad. To me, it’s marginally better, at best. In another 30 years, I think we will look back this time of the internet, and weep for the damage it caused, and the opportunity for good which was lost.

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