Stranger Things – Episode 4

I thought I would bundle these more, but this particular episode merits it’s own post. Spoilers, obviously

Every so often, you find a particular episode that perfectly encapsulates a series. There’s a little piece of magic found, where the individual pieces fit just right and you get some magic. It requires impeccable timing, amazing acting, a tight story, and an appropriate score. Episode 4 somehow manages to do this, and more miraculously, does so after the doldrums of the first 3 episodes.

The long setup of the first few episodes comes to light here, on all the arcs. Jonathan finally stops being a stoner long enough to actually do something of merit. Will and Mike finally have a conversation that’s more than reacting to El’s behaviour. El is heading back to regain her powers. There’s a big action scene where the military comes to take the kids that pays off with some nice comedic bits from Argyle. A payoff for the stoner comedy is more than welcome.

Hopper escapes, right in line with most action films. Joyce and Murray meet Yuri and are double crossed, while Hopper gets sent to a worse prison. There’s something about a defeated hero that works here.

Robin and Nancy go full undercover to get into see Victor Creel, a source of the suspected murders. Again, Maya Hawke beats the tar out of the script focusing on how women are not even given a chance in a male dominated society. It’s a monologue that is so far ahead of anything else this series has produced, I was just stunned in the delivery. It also comes with a “poltergeist” subview of the start of the curse, which is framed in the typical just enough but not all context of most horror reveals.

The final thread deals with Max, and her acceptance of her inevitable death due to the continual trauma from her brother’s death. She experiences more trauma the episode, and tries to make some sort of amends through letters to those she cares about. She eventually does get captured by Vecna, set up for the kill, and then with the help of Kate Bush, visualizes all the positive memories and people she cares about, enough to escape and “run up that hill” (which is not what the song is about, but it fits). It’s an absolutely fascinating take on mental health, from depression and isolation, through acceptance, and recovery. One that Netflix sorely has lacked. It’s astonishing that a series based on an 80s homage is able to take any topic seriously enough to pump this quality out.

Plus, as always, Steve is the man. He continues to be a better parent than every other adult in the entire series. Which is a topic for a future post.

If Season 4 was a 15 minute summary of the first 3 episodes and then ended here, I would consider it a win. There’s zero filler, and plenty of spotlight for the actresses to shine. No wonder Kate Bush is all over the place right now… for sure this is sticking in people’s skulls.

Stranger Things Season 4 – Ep 1 to 3

There are 9 episodes this season, with the last 2 coming in July. The first three are very similar, figured I’d bunch them.

The biggest change this season is time. Everyone is noticeably older, the kids are in their early 20s now. It’s not exactly jarring, I mean we’ve all seen 20 year olds playing teenagers, but the sense of mystery and “newness” doesn’t come off like it once did.

Which I suppose reflects the change of tone in the season. There’s very little comedy left, it’s mostly drama. The sci-fi portion has been replaced by horror. Even the villain is fully revealed in the first episode, with a death in the first 2 episodes meant to set a foreboding tone. This isn’t Barb’s pool attack here… it’s all on screen. I guess one way to look at this is that we’ve moved away from The Goonies and into Nightmare on Elm Street.

The first 3 episode act as a sort of call back to season 1. There are bullies, there are scientists, there’s the lab, and a big scary bad thing hunting people. It acts as a prologue of sorts, and given that this is season 4, it seems very out of place compared to all the craziness that came before. To make a gaming analogy, like how when you beat God of War 1 and then start God of War 2 and lose all your powers and have to walk in the mud again. The good news here is that all the episodes launched at once, so you can binge through it. Had this been a weekly launch of episodes, it would be infuriating. You can skip the first 2 episodes completely and not lose a beat.

The really great news is that episode 4 is a true highlight.

Side notes:

  • I can always use more Kate Bush
  • Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) still manage to steal every scene
  • It was always odd that no one batted an eye on monsters in a city. Mental health seems to be the core theme this season.
  • There are too many characters in the main cast with no purpose other than to be present. Will is even more useless. Mike makes faces and is powerless. Lucas is there to show how bad the local teens are, does nothing else. Dustin is the comedic element.
  • I miss Bob. Eddie is a close surrogate.

Gaming Whales

For those not familiar with the concept, a gaming “whale” is someone who spends an inordinate amount of money as compared to the average. These people are what drive the free-to-play gaming model, where cash stops exist. If you have 1000 players, you may have 5 whales who account for 90% of the income. It seems strange to most, but it’s quite common for people to spend $1000 or $10,000 on a game in a short period.

Whales exist for 2 main reasons. First, because the game itself is a slot machine and they are addicted to the mechanics. It’s an addiction and certainly predatory in that the design is focused on that aspect. No different than the rules that exist around a casino.

Second, and not necessarily separate, is the artificial social value. A virtual popularity contest if you will. The kicker here is that these contests only exist if there are both competitors and spectators. In the same vein as being a SuperBowl champion is absolutely meaningless without the context of opponents and spectators. Think about it… those champions don’t help the economy, science, society, or any other portion. It’s a lottery for the players, and a money-making machine for the owners. Whales are similar in this concept, in that they have the ability to buy their way to the “top”, but need there to be folks to defeat and then the accolades from folks recognizing that achievement.

There are a few variables here… in older games, players often recognized the amount of effort required to achieve a given goal (which is more in line with athletes of prior generations). WoW raiders used to just stand around with their gear, as it was quite difficult to acquire. Larger and less educated player bases may not recognize the effort and simply enjoy the results (akin to 2nd generation athletes, who’s success is “bought” through the 1st generation wealth/contacts).

Whales aren’t necessarily the issue. If a cash stop sold a hat for $500, then that’s what a whale will pay to be above the rest. Lockboxes are the issue as they focus on the first type of whale, where the money spent is done so through predatory methods, in line with a casino and the addict issue it presents. Keep the lockboxes, treat them as the gambling mechanics.

Birth Rate Decline

World Population as compared to Birth Rate
World life expectancy

The graphs generally align to start/end dates, hence their use. Many other ways to look at the data.

They say the only sure thing in life is death and taxes. Everyone will pass eventually, so that the global population, on a very long scale, is based on birth rate. For population to be “stable” it needs to be about 2.1 children, in order to account for early deaths (i.e. low life expectancy). For a multitude of reasons, the birth rate was such that the overall population growth tended to be around the 0.5% rate per year. Things grow at any rate over 0%, though slowly. The baby boomers are super evident, but also some absolutely massive advances in health care/education that increased life expectancy. People may be anti-vaccine, but the numbers don’t lie – the eradication of polio and wide use of anti-biotics added 20 years to the average life expectancy.

This is an important fact, as when the industrial revolution started the average life span was only 35 globally – 45 in the Americas. Unions and pensions came about just after the baby boom, where life expectancy was closer to 55/65. If you retired at 60, you took a 5 year pension. Geriatric care didn’t really exist as we know it today… there weren’t enough people for it. When the baby boomers “came into power” in the mid-80s there was approximately half the amount of people on the planet, and nearly everyone was their age or younger. This pragmatic statement… non-productive members of society are by definition a drain on society. I am not debating that elders should be rewarded for their years of productivity. It’s a math thing though… you can’t withdraw more than you put in. The “you” in this case is generalized to society.

Today, the birth rate is declining. There are many reasons, most of them tied to the level of education of the population, which is itself tied to infant mortality rates. As people become more educated, they have access to better health care, and have less children. That is a massive simplification.

So we now have a declining birth rate, meaning less people being born and an increasing life expectancy, meaning more non-productive members of society. This will last until the “baby boomer bubble” exceed the life expectancy. In North America, with an expectancy of ~80yrs, that means this will last until 2026-2044. Back to the comment about not withdrawing more than you put in… if baby boomers retiring now think that they are going to get the same “benefits” as their parents, someone is in for a bad time.

The overall global population itself won’t decline as long as there are more people being born than those leaving. Perhaps there’s an interesting bit here where life expectancy in some areas (particularly the US) is actually in decline.

And of course, all of this ignores the upcoming global famine caused 1) supply chain issues (ideally resolved in the next 12 months), 2) the war in Ukraine (people don’t fully realize how BIG a supplier they are) and 3) global warming (this one will kill us because of inaction). But that cheery topic is for another time.

Diablo Immortal

Which is borderline click bait I suppose.

This is an interesting one to me, where Wyatt Chang’s infamous “do you guys not have phones?!” in that the game is exactly what was expected.

It is a well-polished action rpg, built specifically for smartphones with an underlying gatcha mechanic. There are hundreds of these games available, have been for years. I’ve played a fair chunk and always uninstalled when I hit the pay wall. And further, as with the genre, it’s primarily a reskin of an existing game and re-use of assets from the Diablo franchise. There is nothing special about this game, if you look at it from the context of mobile games in the genre before it.

Where people seem to be taking issue is that this is against everything that the Diablo franchise stood for, as a shining pinnacle of the genre with a 1 time purchase and hundreds of hours of content. Agreed, but that was in 2013. The last Starcraft 2 DLC was 2015. Everything launched since has been either with lootboxes or a monthly fee or game-store supported. Blizzard barely held the line with some level of integrity while Morhaime and Metzen were around and it all died when Kaplan left. In that regard, Diablo Immortal is again, exactly what Blizzard was going to launch and certainly makes you question their next Warcraft mobile game model.

Blizzard is a company being still being sued for harassments, with some insane allegations. They banned someone for supporting Hong Kong and fired everyone involved. They hired a woman to co-lead only to pay her less than her equal partner, in part leading her to quit in 3 months. They pulled every union-busting trick in the book against Raven. Hell, we’re not even at the 1 year mark of J Allen Brack quitting because of the non-stop rollercoaster.

I am not quite sure what people were expecting here. Diablo Immortal is exactly what I thought it was going to be. What did others?

Psychopathy Rewards

Psychopathy is a neuropsychiatric disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior.  ref.

There was a time where we didn’t like psychopaths. The neurological disorder was tightly bound to serial killers and the outer edges of society. And then we reached the 80s, where “Greed is good” and we actively started rewarding people with this trait. When the almighty dollar is king, then that’s what people cherish. The CEOs that most people know have these traits, and the most egregious of them all get rewarded handsomely for it. These people are generally quite intelligent and leverage this lack of empathy towards “success”.

I won’t hard on it for long, but Trump is clearly a psychopath. Boris Johnson. They’re not alone, there are a slew of elected officials who require this trait in order to twist the truth to meet their agenda. The gap between the neurological state and learned behaviors is an interesting one, which is why we have the adage the power tends to corrupt, and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. In 2022, this often manifests in a cult-like worship (think about how far that spans for a minute…)

Elon Musk offered to but out Twitter, and staked a $1b minimum transaction on the deal. Elon Musk doesn’t actually have a salary or income, he has Tesla shares. Shares he needs to sell/leverage to have money. He has so many shares, he needs to declare he will sell them to the SEC so that he doesn’t “tank” their value. If he wanted to see in a month, he says so now, then in a month it goes through. He only gets value based on the stock in a month, so it’s in his best interests to make that number go up.

Tangent – When Musk announced a return to work for 40hrs/week for salaried employees, it was clear he needed to cut operational costs, which he announced the next day. When you force a change like this, a company loses the “top quality” talent, as they generally have a better ability to find somewhere else to work and the flexibility to afford time without pay. It’s a fascinatingly bad management decision.

Unfortunately for almost everyone involved, Mush has poor behavioral controls and has managed to cut the value of Tesla by nearly 50% (aware that stocks in general have taken a beating, but that’s closer to 20%). His ability to buy Twitter is based on the value of Tesla stocks, which are now worth half of what it was before. And now he wants to back out of the Twitter deal. Which is simply fascinating to watch, just like a slow motion car crash.

The general idea is that Musk over-extended the offer, on an artificial value of his own stock boosted by his love for Twitter. The deal made very little sense to start. Since that time, Musk has continued to stay in the spotlight, relishing the ability to share his thoughts with the public. The more he did, the more time was allowed for the market to correct itself. He was overpaying then, and even more so now, with half the funds available to pay it. He’s going to do everything in his power to back out of the deal.

Is this enough for society to get a wake up call that the people we reward are the ones with the least useful traits for our survival? Quite unlikely. We’ll go for the person who takes advantage of people who are not us. There’s a term for that…

Love, Death & Robots – Season 3

Not quite sure if spoilers apply to this or not, but hey, it’s back. It’s as short as Season 2, but the stories themselves are much more focused. I do get that Season 1 was pretty much Heavy Metal in visual form, but this particular season has much less fantasy and more sci-fi, which I consider an improvement. I think the season overall is the best of the bunch, and that more than a few episodes really make you question the ending/moral. That’s the beauty of sci-fi shorts after all.

On a per episode aspect:

Three Robots: Exist Strategy

This was the original short in season 1 and the robots are back with pretty much the same format as before. Slightly different take on what society is doing with regards to the climate crisis and how “castes” of society are trying to address it. I found it the weakest of the bunch.

Bad Travelling

This is pretty much a horror story set on a ship on the high seas. It’s more or less a continual set of bad events that people simply try to survive through, somewhat similar to the zombie/pirate story in Watchmen. The claustrophobia of a single ship really helps sell the horror aspect. There’s no sci-fi here, but the short is still quite good.

The Very Pulse of the Machine

This is pure sci-fi and could only work in this medium. Without spoiling much, the gradual decline (is it?) of the protagonist mental space makes you question if what you’re seeing is real or not. This one is a true highlight of the season.

Night of the Mini Dead

Zombie apocalypse filmed so that it looks like miniatures. The only point that seemed to matter to me what that this was but a speck of dust in the galactic scale. It looks cool mind you.

Kill Team Kill

This is a very violent take on a CIA robotics program gone rogue. I immediately shouted “that’s Shardik!” but sadly it wasn’t. Every season seems to have some set of soldiers fighting impossible odds, and then a horrible twist at the end. This is that episode.


This one turned out way better than I expected. I find that the best sci-fi are the ones that make you question the context and imagine the world-building around the story. This is like a kid with their toes in the surf of an infinite ocean. I’d rank this higher if there wasn’t an absolutely useless sex scene.

Mason’s Rats

A comic short and a military organization of rats and a farmer’s attempts to get rid of them. This is a weak story overall because the ending isn’t earned. Looks cool and talks about the excess of AI robots, but it could have used another 5 minutes.

In Vaulted Halls Entombed

This is a weird one since it’s quite similar to Kill Team Kill… a solider squad it tasked with finding a thing, and that thing is killing them. The big bad here is an eldritch horror, and the ending is unnecessarily ambiguous. Cabin in the Woods did this story line better.


This is a stunning take on infatuation and obsession which lead to horrible loss. The main character is deaf, which means that the sounds shut off completely when he’s the focus, making for a really amazing sensory experience. This one is a real highlight of the season, and plays out like a fable of old.

Return to Worksite

Without going into too much detail, I am involved in this particular topic at a rather large scale. For the past (now that I really think about it) 11 years, I’ve been trying to find a way to remove barriers to working remotely. This stemmed from a work stoppage incident when I was younger, where there was a picket line we could not cross and a rather substantial emergency that needed to be addressed. I got through the line, but lost so much time it was dumb. I figured if I could be a webmaster for a bunch of websites across North America, why couldn’t I do the same thing with my “real” job?

Security is the first, second, and third answer to that question. That issue has gotten worse over the years, and you all see it on smart phones that start showing you ads for things you’re talking about, clearly listening to you. But a Fort Knox defense can’t mean 10minutes of hoops to get access, it needs to find the right balance of user experience and on-going monitoring, with privacy controls. They need to securely connect with ease, and I need to make sure that it’s really them and that the connection itself “is clean”. Heck of a dance.

Fourth is scale. Remote access solutions are just like a security checkpoint at an airport. They need to let a TON of people through a key points of the day, and then have less use in other times. Peak load starts at 8AM and tapers off near 3PM, time zone specific. While there are plenty of solutions on the planet, few of them can operate at the scale I need and the security criteria as well.

Fifth is performance. This one is complicated because of “old stuff”. In the older “on-site” model, you were inside the perimeter and could generally move about with ease. If you wanted to get a box of paper from one office to your desk, not too bad. In a remote world, you’re trying to get that same box of paper from the same office, to your home desk. It needs to pass the security gates and then ship. What was a 2 minute job may take an hour now. And you can’t use any paper but that. For remote work to be useful, the boxes of paper need to be as close to the door as possible, to make it as fast as possible. Now imagine there are millions of offices with boxes. Hah!


I’ve had an uphill battle against a culture that was adamant that people would not work without direct supervision, or that face to face meetings was the only way to manage people. While this may seem like it’s a challenge for the team under a manager, it’s actually the manager who is the problem. If that manager is spending their day looking over people’s shoulders, then the company is paying them to babysit.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people who need the daily human contact in the office to stay sane. I’ve met more than a few that need to have those 3 coffees a day break in order to be productive. There are people who simply cannot work remotely for physical reasons (like a tiny apartment, bad internet, noise, or the actual work is physical). Then there’s the serendipitous aspect of work, where conversations in the elevator/hall can trigger something new (the nature of this aspect makes it random).

Are teams more or less productive in or out of the office? The entire pandemic proved that the world can be extremely productive, if given the appropriate toolset.


Directly, it costs much less to have a remote workforce than an on-site one. The real property costs for office space are numbers you don’t want to imagine. You could give every employee $5,000 a year and it still would be a drop in the bucket.

And yet, there are costs to the company, especially if they own the building. Apple’s new HQ cost $5 billion dollars. That’s a lot, until you realize Apple profits per quarter are like $20 billion (they paid it off in 3 weeks). Corporate needs to be accountable, and the math on bad real property investments has not been sorted out yet.

Then there are the indirect costs to the community. Coffee and lunch shops all but closed up completely on my city’s downtown core. More of them opened in the suburbs where people now work. The people that were working in those locations now can’t, and need to travel to a new one. And tax revenues are higher in a downtown core, so the municipality is actually losing money. Heating/cooling/power/water costs are shifted as well, where peak demand is now spread to a larger area. We’ve still got a ways to go to figure this all out.


All that to get here. Remote work has multiple benefits.

  • Working from anywhere at anytime means flexibility for the employee. Dentist appointment? Much easier to do that in the middle of the day and still get work done. Want to work from a patio, or next to a pool? Be in a scent-full zone? Avoid nosy cubicle neighbours? All of it works.
  • Ability to hire a more diverse workforce. I could hire folks only in my city, or I could hire people across the country/globe. Why have someone work til 8pm here when I can have someone work til 5pm on the West Coast and cover the same time? Assuming the person has a viable internet connection (not guaranteed for all, certainly), they are a candidate
  • It forces adoption of digital tools. I still remember my boss asking me to print out a wiki, and 2 weeks before the pandemic hit, someone was hired to print daily binders. The idea of HR taking a piece of paper in the mail and shipping it around for 3 months is dead. They get a digital signature and can process within a few minutes. Digital tools simply remove “wait times”. Those folks sitting in a chair 8 hours but doing 15 minutes of work are all but gone.
  • It doesn’t prevent people from meeting face to face or socializing, if they are geographically close. They can have a big team planning meeting and then head out to lunch.
  • It is a tool to attract talent. I’ll be super up front on this, the best talent doesn’t need to be sitting in a desk in an office building. The brightest folks are “on” 24/7 inside their head and giving them the tools to be creative is fundamental. They are in high demand, and while pay is a primary incentive, flexibility is the next one. Apple lost their AI exec because of this, and he found a job the next day. It’s an employee’s market… anyone who thinks otherwise is going to go out of business.

We’re in a cultural shift, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable as we’ve been in a “worksite” mindset for nearly 100 years. But it’s the future.

Just About Enough

These last few years have felt like a non-stop dumpster fire. Just a barrage of events, some within control, others outside, that have been draining my sanity.

My city (and others) just got walloped by a massive storm this weekend, knocking out power to seemingly half the population, and efforts are still underway to restore it for quite a lot of people. Farms destroyed, roofs ripped off, it’s something that frankly should not happen in our area. We’ve had two 100-year-floods in the past 5 years. It’s a special type of person who isn’t concerned that things are getting worse and what we should do about it.

There’s a months-long war in Ukraine, held aloft through nearly 2 decades of enabling a dictator because of our global dependence on gas/oil. Decades of wars for oil, and it took Ukraine to be the proverbial straw here.

And for some reason abortion is a big deal in the States, yet it’s not a big deal that school shootings continue. The factory of dumb that comes from the US in general is just mind-numbing, where people are proud of their stupidity instead of ashamed of it. I mean, I can understand why folks are looking to the fringes when their elected officials don’t care about them, and their CEOs are bleeding them dry. The inmates are about to run the prison.

The whole Musk-Twitter-Tesla debacle is a really great popcorn show of billionaires gambling and thousands of people crossing their fingers as to where it lands. If that isn’t proof enough that billionaires should not exist, I don’t know what else would show it.

Can we maybe go through the summer months without a new level of emergency going on? Let people catch their breath and just hug a neighbor? I could certainly use some bits of good news.

Games as an Escape

The news often sucks, and it’s a self-feeding depression cycle about how things are getting worse. In many respects they are, and in many others they are improving. r/mademesmile is a decent dose of good news on a daily basis, and I try to make efforts to avoid any 24 hour news channel.

Games are one of my escapes. There’s a slew of them, many of them season dependent, but gaming is the type of thing that seems to work in nearly any circumstance. Escapes may be the wrong wording though… Sure it has me focus on something other than my daily toils, which is a sort of evasion, but it also allows me to set and accomplish goals, which is full of that lovely dopamine kick we all need.

Over time my gaming habits have changed. I still do have the need to binge from time to time, but the larger commitments in my life prevent that from being any actual habit. Instead it feels more like there are burst of gaming, followed by lulls. Picking the right game, for the right time is the kicker. I’m not a monogamous gamer by any stretch… I need to try different things and experiences. I may have a few firm call backs that are a sort of comfort food (FF14, DSP are in that bucket), but there’s always that drive for something a bit different. Vampire Survivors came out of nowhere, and can scratch that 15 minute itch without much planning. Valheim certainly sucked all the air in the room for over a month. Lego Star Wars is right up there with about 50 hours played trying to get as many bricks as I can. Looking at my various game libraries, there’s still plenty to work my way through.

I will say that the games that are more experimental are the ones that seem to stick the most – puzzlers in particular. Return of the Obra Dinn, What Remains of Edith Finch, Disco Elysium, 12 Minutes … they are less (if at all) about a score, and more about a particular journey. Games that encourage experimentation, in the space that you effectively have no “wrong” answers, just different perspectives.

I do still enjoy the more braindead activities in games, where it’s just cruise control. Not much different than most stuff on TV I guess, or any MCU movie. There are times where I simply want to be entertained, and you’ll get something more like Lost Ark, Hollow Knight, or Hades. They may have a technical requirements, but once you get the rhythm down, the rest is just following through.

Which I suppose cycles back to the title itself and the desire for a game to have some sort of conclusion, an actual escape from its confines. I am not in the Achiever Bartle-type.. I could care less about trophies, or world rankings. I define a set of goals, work towards them, and then when they are attained, move on. With hundreds of quality games coming out all the time, it makes little sense to focus on one for a super long tail when I could just take on another awesome experience.\

Give me a problem and the tools to solve it. I’ll be a happy man.