Projects Everywhere

If my wife wasn’t a teacher, then there’d be no reason to own a cottage – we’d simply rent.  The only real downside to renting is that you need to make sure you have a place to rent during the time you want.

Owning a cottage shared a lot of the challenged of renting.  Still need clothes, still need food, still need the little things.  The car might be a bit more packed when travelling when renting, but not all that much.

The downside to owning is that it’s like another house. I need to cut the grass, maintain the property, and there are non-stop projects.  Planning those projects is key, so that you spend more time enjoying the cottage than working on projects.  Who wants to paint a deck when it’s boiling outside?

A few this year – things that take an hour or more

  • Plant / maintain a garden
  • Repair the roof
  • Install a new rain gutter
  • Clean & stain the deck
  • Replace the water heater element
  • Get new stairs for the dock
  • Replace the floating island for the kids
  • Cut down a tree or two
  • Install some new lighting
  • Change some power outlets
  • Repair the pillars supporting the dock
  • Trim all the trees
  • Install an in-line water filter for the lake water pump
  • Replace some sinking foundation pillars

We’ve been able to do most of the things on this list, with some big ones left to do.  The roof will be done in the fall, since it’s more important to prep for winter.  The foundation work needs to be done before frost as well, and that’s likely to take a couple weekends to let the cement cure properly.

Means that for the most part, the summer can be enjoyed without too much side effort.

I’m not regretting buying a cottage at all, frankly the list of things to do helps fill up the time instead of the liver.  Just makes me appreciate it all the more.

 

A Week of Rest

Was off for a week at the cottage with family and the COVID bubble folks.  The weather in my part of igloo-ville is quite warm, with a pile of humidity.  Hovering near the 35C/95F, with an extra 5C/10F in humidity.  It’s awesome.  Even the lake water is hot, 27C/82F.  Just borderline refreshing before being more wet.

Took both kids on a canoe-camping trip on an unmarked lot and slept the night.  The activity is something my wife really enjoys (and will be teaching), so it’s nice for the girls to see her in that element.  The day was solid, with some swimming/fishing, and a nice campfire.  The night had a major heat thunderstorm nearby, so some winds and about an hour or so of thunder.  There’s something eerie about being in a tent in the middle of that.  Kids slept like rocks, which was good.

Rest of the week was water stuff.  Tons of tubing with the kids, staying up wayyy too late around the fire.  A lot of beverages.  The heart loves it when people come over, and the liver thanks them for leaving.

This week is back to work, but I’ll see if I can’t get most of it done from the cottage.  I’m only an hour from the house (which is pretty much my old commute from downtown), so there’s some up/down that’s very easy to do.  Internet isn’t as good out here, but it’s good enough to get everything but videoconferencing to work.

The best part about being away for a week is that nothing big seems to have happened.  I don’t suffer from FOMO, and being able to disconnect and enjoy the day to day parts of life is really great.

Now I need to go through a week’s worth of work emails.  Thankfully, it’s the second slowest week of the year (Christmas being #1), so it should be pretty quick.  There are some bits of gaming news that interest me, so likely fodder for future posts.

Enjoy the good times.

Miyazaki on Netflix

If you don’t know who Miyazaki is, then let me introduce you to one of the best animated film directors of all time.  Where Christopher Nolan & Quentin Tarantino are today’s “pure film” masters, in the animated world it’s Miyazaki all the way.

On Thursday, the larger collection of his works was released on Netflix here in Canada, eh?  I’m like a kid in a candy shop.

Miyazaki tends to follow a set of themes in his stories, which I guess go counter to most mainstream media.

  • Feminism is a consistent theme.  Most of the films have female protagonists and focus on their complexity.
  • Love is throughout, but in the esoteric/family sense.  The major plot points are resolved through empathy and sacrifice.
  • Environmentalism is key where the world is a goal, not the individual.
  • Peace and pacifism.  The protagonists rarely use any violence, and any death’s are mourned rather than celebrated.
  • Magic/mysticism are facts of life.  “Normal” worlds are seen as strange.
  • Grey antagonists pervade.  It’s frankly amazing how complex these folks are – Lady Eboshi / Princess Mononoke in particular.

What you end up with are films that package a moral journey of resolving conflict through dialogue and sacrifice.  How many films play in North America work that don’t have a gun in them, or violence as the core of the story?  The stories come in tight, and with multiple layers.  There’s a whole lot of show, don’t tell throughout.

Which leads me to the actual animation.  It’s still hand-made today, and the cells are all overseen to perfection.  Miyazaki is a micro-manager / perfectionist in this regard, so that the characters all feel natural.  Tiny scenes that don’t move the plot, but move the character are throughout.  Some scenes focus on silence, just to prove that point.

So last night I watched Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Other films came before then, but the general consensus is that this is the real starting point of his major work.  For a film from ’84, you can see the ripples across other forms of media.  Chocobos come from here.  Metal Slug copied a ton of the art.  If you’ve seen a post-apocalyptic movie, odds are there are scenes pulled from here.  The tapestry scene in the opening credits gives all the background you need to know in about 15 seconds of still, abstract images.  Even the Ohm changed the way creatures in sci-fi were displayed forward.

If you have the time, pick a Ghibli/Miyazaki film, sit back, and enjoy.  It’s going to a better choice than 95% of the rest of stuff that’s streaming.

Teaching Math

It should be pretty clear based on my post history that math is one of my stronger subjects. I really love numbers and finding patterns.  Mostly this is due to there often only being one answer.  I live in grey, so any time I can get a pure answer, that’s great!

I live in Ontario, which about 15 years ago implemented a new math curriculum in elementary school.  Helping my kids with their homework isn’t easy, because I find the approach ridiculously overlong.  Multiplication tables aren’t a requirement, and everyone has a calculator in grade 1.  Fine though, I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt and judge on results.  For a wide variety of reasons, the general results have been increasingly trending downwards. There’s no single factor to blame here, everyone in the process has something to bring.

To me, math is like breathing and walking.  I don’t really think about it, I just do it.  That comes from years and years of exercise.  I have a habit of throwing math problems to my kids, in particular in long car rides.  At first they were simple arithmetic, but over the years they’ve grown into analytical problems.  This year they’ve learned more about budgeting.  I won’t hide it, there are parts I’ve taught them that conflict with their teachers.  So there have been some nights where we work on multiple approaches, and the kids get to see the logic behind them.  At some point, they will find their personal approach for problems solving, and the more they are exposed to, the better.

The provincial government announced this week a new curriculum for math.  The devil is in the details, but at a conceptual level this new model appears to address quite a few gaps of the previous.  It’s practical math, meaning that it’s in the day to day context of use.  If they can find ways to apply the math (like coding, or budgeting as listed), then this simply becomes a daily skill set.

Won’t stop me from having random math tests at home.  There are few skills more useful in life than mathematical literacy.

 

Personality Profile

I would think most people have had some sort of personality profile in their lives.  First ones are usually in high school and relate to career development.  You may have had one at work later on, or taking some random online test.  They all seem to fall into the same general category, like Myers Briggs.

The one we’ve been focusing at work is Insights.  Similar model, but a larger focus on interactions between the profiles.

 

The north/south axis is related to data/feelings, respectively.  The east/west axis is related to introvert, and extrovert, respectively.  The challenges in communication between profiles is when they are directly opposite – so someone that’s mostly Blue (introverted and data driven) has trouble with people who are Yellow (social and runs with their gut).

The challenge with any of these assessments is that they are exclusive choices.  You are presented with options, and since it’s a priority, one choice is the “best” one given your current context.  Let’s say your house is on fire, you are going to make different decisions than if you’re just making dinner.  In that sense, these are role-based assessments.

So first some work context – I work in an IT related field.  The stereotype is generally there, with a whole bunch of Blue and very few Yellow.  When I’m trying to fill a gap in the team, I often leverage this model to figure out how best to pick a candidate.  The technical domain changes all the time, but it takes a mountain to change a personality type.  Too many Red and you get conflict.  Too many Yellow and no work gets done.  Too much Green and you have people waiting.  Too much Blue and you have analysis-paralysis.

My personal assessment puts me as a very strong Red, with part of Blue. so I tend to trend between Director and Reformer.  I struggle with the Support/Helper role, I really do.  There are times where I need to take a couple deep breaths before responding.  They need to feel valued in the larger sphere of work, and their motivators are not tangible.  If they wake up on the wrong side of the bed, well, that day’s a wash.  If they wake up on the right side of the bed, then they have some sort of magical sauce that makes the team 8x more productive.

A reminder that this is role based, so this assessment is related to work.  There’s an “unconscious” evaluation, one where you’re not at work.  I still trend in the same role, but my Red trends downwards, and it’s a more balanced view across the 4 colors.  Balanced, in the sense that I actually have Green in my non-work state, not in the sense of equal values.

My wife is an Inspirer/Motivator.  She’s damn good at it too.  That means our kids are exposed to two people who are mostly extroverted (my wife much more than I).  I consciously push into the Blue to offset my wife, and she works on pushing into the Green to offset me.  That still leaves a point where we both move into a “get shit done” mode, and that only gets you so far.  So we spend some time talking over our days, seeing what worked out and what we want to try the next time.  That we’re aware of this at all is probably the most important step.  Much easier to work on being a parent as a team, than against each other.

It’s interesting to think about the genesis of this post.  I’ve covered bits of it in the past, but a recent event at work really made me take stock of my personality once again.  It’s good to write it down again, remind myself that progress is really only achieved as a team, and that for every perceived weakness, there’s also a strength.

 

Leveling Speed

What feels good for someone could feel off for another.  And in a game with multiple options, leveling between choices can vary wildly as well.

There’s really nothing that replaces the first time for pretty much anything in life.  It’s all shiny and new.  Games certainly have that in spades, where it may be mechanics that open up over time, or a story that just hits all the right notes.  Horizon: Zero Dawn was a damn feast in both those spaces, where more and more things just kept coming at you.  God of War’s story is just mind boggling the first time you run through it.  While both are made to play be played a main time, then perhaps a New Game+ (or much later), MMOs are instead meant to be replayed ad nauseum.  The leveling portion (getting another class/character to top level) is a part that just really struggles to come close to the first time.

Most MMO’s today suffer from this fatigue, not so much because the of the repetitive nature of the game, but because the games themselves are so old and that the leveling portion itself is a fraction of the totality of the game.  Since I’m leveling alts in WoW, I’ll pick on that for now.

There are few milestones in the leveling portion

  • 1 to 20 – starting experience
  • 21 to 60 – core skills (~24 hours from 1 to 60)
  • 61 to 80 – Frozen Throne + flying! (15 hours)
  • 81 to 90 – Pandaria (4 hours)
  • 91 to 100 – Warlords (4 hours)
  • 101 to 110 – Legion (4 hours)
  • 111 to 120 – BfA (12 hours)

Character progression-wise, 1 to 60 is where the real meat is.  You get pretty much the entire toolset by 30, and flying at 60, so the rest is all filler.  I still like to think that each milestone should be of similar duration, simply because the expansion mechanics do some somersaults.  I mean, you KNOW you’re in WoD because of the unskippable intro quest.  All told, it’s about 50 hours to get to 110.

Assuming you have heirlooms, war mode, and flying unlocked for every zone.

81 to 110 is all done within a similar timeframe – but only if you’ve unlocked flying everywhere – takes maybe 2 hours to get through each phase.  The 61 to 80 portion feels like it takes longer than the 21-60 part, but that’s not at all true.  Catalcysm was just after WotLK and we were still in the hub/fetch quest model.  There’s an insane amount of backtracking that is jut completely ignored once you can fly – and if you have any plans of visiting that content at all, it’s worth every second to unlock flying (remember to use a Human for any rep-based gains).

Now, the differences between classes is absurd.  A Hunter with War Mode skills (2 massive DPS boosts on relatively short cooldowns) can take out absolutely anything – even the 3+ targets in BfA.  It’s right on the edge of being a complete joke.  The other side of that spectrum is something like the Shaman, where even a single regular target can kill you.  I get the concept that each class has strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part they sort of all fit into this middle pack.  And because the class kits are determined way back at the start of the journey, the rest of the ride can be quite painful.

Now, the fundamental question here is Does It Matter?  In the context of leveling alts, not at all.  It’s just a repeat of what came before (minus the Legion Class Hall stuff, which can be awesome).  It’s a speedbum.  Where it does matter is in the goal of bringing in new main characters (either new players, or existing players changing classes).  The player’s enjoyment of the toolkit + leveling experience has a pretty big impact on the viability of that class long term.

If you have a chance, play a DH for an hour or so.  Then play any other class in the leveling process.  Or a WW Monk vs. a Rogue (or cat druid).  Some classes/specs have such a dynamic toolkit that moves beyond 2-3 keys, and their abilities just look damn cool.  Hate on Pally if you want, but there’s no denying that it looks like a Paladin should look.

Long post to short point.  I dont for a second imagine that Blizz has the resources necessary to re-jig the leveling experience or class kits.  I am hopeful that they address the time-to-level portion so that people can get to relevant content and current mechanics sooner.  Right now, Shadowlands seems to clock in at 1-50 taking ~20 hours – I still think that’s twice as long as needed.  It would be amazing if they somehow made the older content relevant again… but in nearly every respect that matters, that ship left port years and years ago.

 

 

WoW Class Mounts

I keep falling back into Legion content – there’s just so much there.  There was a large focus in that expansion on cosmetic rewards, which I think is a great horizontal incentive.

One of those rewards is class mounts.  Some of them are very unique (Monk/DH), while others are upgraded basic mounts (Pally/Warlock).  The method to acquire there is really simple – get the Breaching the Tomb achievement.  I did this with my Monk was back in the day, so I figured it would be account wide.

Yeah, not so much.  In fact, you need to do a PILE of stuff to get here.

First bit, this is only relevant if you are leveling an alt toady, on a class you didn’t fully max to 110 back in Legion.  My Shaman did 100-110 by only doing about half of a Legion zone (heirlooms + rested + war mode).  I put one toe into the Class Hall to start the journey, then never went back.

Complete Class Hall

This means getting your title, and unlocking Heroic Weapons.  Again, sounds simple.  In reality this means unlocking all of your spec weapons, running at least 1 dungeon, running 2 sets of 5x 1hr missions, then a whole pile of instanced content.

The painful part is the table missions, since you’re effectively time-gated.  If there are 5 missions, it’s more than 5 hours since you need to be logged on to select a new mission.  The mobile app doesn’t do Legion content anymore.

The fun part is the actual class content.  Some classes have really solid storylines, some have really good quest content.  Some have both, some have neither.  If you’ve unlocked Nazjatar content, then your ilvl is enough to face roll pretty much anything, so there’s no actual challenge. That does put a whole lot more focus on the actual content.

All told, it’s just under a week to get through everything, mainly due to the time gates.

Complete Broken Shore

This is the same for everyone, which makes is very repetitive.  Everyone will stall at the Champions of Legionfall step – it won’t show until you complete the entire Class Hall portion.

  • A Legion Assault (every ~2 days)
  • 2500 Nethershards (do all the Assault WQs)
  • 50 Sentinax tokens, which usually has a ship up
  • 8 World Quests (this will take about a day to get enough)
  • 3 rares, which should be up, otherwise you need to wait a bit
  • 10 chests, which should be up but you need to fly around to find them
  • an 8hr table quest (ARGH!!)
  • A class quest to get a new companion

The class quest varies in complexity per class.  Some are really easy and over before you know it, some are quite involved.  All steps together can be luckily done in a day, but most likely will be done over multiple.

Reward

The actual Class Mounts!

There are some beauties in here.  The Monk mount is top of list for me.  Ban Lu spends a fair chunk talking to you as well.  The Mage mount is certainly unique, though the looks is really similar to the Cloud mount from Pandaria.  Demon Hunter has a great mounting animation, where you jump up and crash into the ground.  Rogue spins around and summons the Raven.  The Shaman is also quite thematic.

Paladin, Warlock, and Warrior all look like existing mounts.  Druid is better than their basic travel form, but looks better when not moving. Priest and Hunter are in this weird spot where they look cool from up close, but you wouldn’t really notice it from a few steps away.  To each their own though!

I will say that this model is unlikely to work once Shadowlands launches, only because the enemies HP will be so low that every class will 1 shot everything.  There are some bits of this process that are in the open world, and some classes are at a huge disadvantage in terms of actions per second.  Maybe this will just become an account achievement.

Throttling the Market

WoW had a stealth fix applied that impacts people who play the Auction House, effectively throttling the number of transactions after a certain limit is reached.  High level

With this hotfix, we’ve implemented a new system that effectively gives each player a “budget” of AH actions per minute, and only kicks in once that budget has been exceeded. The system is tuned so that is should never affect players using the AH typically: buying consumables, listing gathered or crafted goods for sale, searching for specific items you want to purchase, etc. It should be essentially impossible to encounter the new limits for most players.

The first question I have is why?  I can only assume this is a throughput/TX issue where the servers were taking a major load and impacting other parts of the game.  It’s entirely possible that a very small fraction of players are causing a majority of the game load.  This is sort of like how time dilation works in EvE, where there isn’t a hard cap, simply a soft one that allows things to move at a snail’s pace.  Degraded service, rather than failed service.

Balance-wise, I am more curious as to where this threshold exists.  Long gone are the days where people posted single items rather than stacks, clogging up the AH space.  It was why I stopped playin a Hunter – getting ammo was stupid complicated.  Getting rid of thousands of individual posting isn’t a problem that needs solving anymore.

A long time ago I used to play the AH, maybe 30 minutes a day or so.  Made enough money to get a dozen+ WoW tokens.  I can’t see how anyone would have the Brontosaurus mount who wasn’t using something like TSM to make money.  It’s entirely the purpose of that mount after all.  Entirely normal to run a few hundred changes in a few minutes – cancelling auctions and reposting at a different price.  Filling up in materials.

The sidenote here would be snipe scans.  That takes a look across the entire AH for things that are well below market value.  It’s nearly impossible to find these manually.  Someone continually polling the entire AH would be a massive drain on server.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term market value.  It’s certainly a number Blizz can change over time, and I’m sure they are seeing server TX volumes take a massive nosedive.  Even more curious if this is account-wide, or character specific.  If there’s a hard drop (e.g. cap goes away after an hour) or if it’s a variable rate limit.

There’s a real world analogy here, where the majority of stock market transactions are high volume automated systems, making pennies a trade, but having millions of transactions a day.  It would be something to see what TX throttling would have as an impact to the market volatility.  Course that won’t ever happen, for reasons that are clearly obvious that the people making the most money in this behavior are also the ones who make the rules…

Milestones

My eldest hits 10 this week.  There’s something about society looking at the X0 ages as big stepping stones.  I think it’s mostly about easier math, cause I can easily think of 2010 and what was going on.  The summer was a heat wave, everyone in the social group was having kids, and I went through a massive career shift in the fall.  With the support of my wife, in the first year I pushed extremely hard to get progress then, which I knew I’d be unable to do with a kid running around.  It’s paid off, and today I have the flexibility to spend more time with the family.

My eldest has seen some really crazy stuff.  She has little concept of a disconnected world.  For the longest time she didn’t understand that her grandparent didn’t have access to the internet.  Social Media has exploded in her lifetime, and kids her age end up watching TikTok, or some other insanity. She gets annoyed at TV ads but will accept ads on YouTube.  I think we’ve done a decent job at balancing real world and connected world, since she’s not bugging us for a phone.  She can follow, or she can lead.  She shares a lot of my passions, and has plenty of her own that I try my best to support.

The most fulfilling bit is seeing the sense of discovery in her eyes when she finds something I take for granted.  She (her sister and friends) fully dissected a fish at the cottage this weekend, and it was as if they had found hidden treasure.   The first time she rode her bike alone, her eyes were like saucers.  When she build a brand new tower in Minecraft that has a secret passage… it’s like showing me a new puppy.

Oh, there are days where she can drive me up the wall.  There are days where I drive myself up the wall, so that’s sort of part of the game.  I know there’s only a finite amount of time left where time together is assured.  Eventually she will spend more time with friends, have a job, and eventually university or other.  Eventually she will spread her wings and I will sit here with my wife and watch her soar, hoping I did good enough to keep her in flight towards happiness.

But that day is not today.  Today I get to appreciate the time I have, the opportunities COVID has presented to be with my family.  I can see her every day try, fall, get up, and grow.  I can share in her success and her stumbles.  And while this post references my eldest, it applies equally to my youngest… but it’s my eldest’ milestone.

And this milestone is just a reminder of how lucky I am to have a great wife and two amazing kids.

WoW Expansion Content

Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus.  Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.

Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus.  That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream.  The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead.  You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out.  When you don’t spend half your time travelling.  The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.

As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model.  The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there.  Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown.  Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world.  Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good.  You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.

Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up.  Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK.  Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level.  WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations.  Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.

Dungeons have been all over the map.  They were only ever relevant up to WotLK.  Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that.  WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better.  Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards.  BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.

The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks.  Long gone are the days of 40 person raids.  Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding.  These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE.  It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain.  Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess.  If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running.  Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows.  It’s not a sustainable model.

Tangent

I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion.  The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion.  The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it.  The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests.  But it’s there!  Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind.  The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics.  There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content.  The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.

On Track

The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another.  Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added.  LFG is one.  LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm.  Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight.  Mythics are now the content du-jour.

The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion.  The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum).  It’s somethign to do, every other day or so.  And provides another catch up mechanic.

But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world.  I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant.  Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start.  Piles of cosmetics.  Have pets drop.  Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role.  Make it a horizontal progress system.  I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this.  I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system.  Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.

You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions.  The less said about them the better.  I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.

It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched.  The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront.  Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.