Dark Season 3

Credit where due.  Dark is one of the best shows I have ever watched.  I had put up a post about Season 1 a while back, and it launched pretty close to Stranger Things – so most of the air was taken away.  They share similar first episodes, with a child disappearance.  By episode’s end, Dark decides to just go for it and drop time travel on the table.  I remember thinking that it was risky, given that normally only works well in comedies (Back to the Future, Bill and Ted) and that most sci-fi stories get stuck in the mud (Lost).

Oh boy was I wrong.

It instead spends 3 jam-packed seasons, meticulously playing out card after card of a deck of amazing storytelling, in what often appears to be a random order.  Each and every twist and action has a reason.  Some know more than others based on where they are in the overall timeline, and sometimes, they are just a few minutes apart.  The thing I enjoyed the most was that the series respects the viewer, if the viewer respects the series.  You can’t watch it out the corner of your eye, you’ll miss too much.

I should also mention that the penultimate episode manages to close off nearly every single question posed.  The finale wonderfully closes the entire story, making the arcs feel worthwhile.  I cannot recall the last time any show did that.

Some Spoilers Ahead

The comparison’s to Lost are apt.  Both are sci-fi stories where character decisions have to be taken on faith of the underlying story.  There’s the mystery box (literally in both), and the character motivations/allegiances seem to shift over time.  But Lost stopped thinking before writing in Season 3 (the cages) and went full reactive mode from then on.  Dark never strays.

There’s an old idea about time travel that asks what would happen if you went back in time and killed your grandparents.  In most cases, that means you die, multi-verse be damned.  Dark doesn’t actually let you do it, instead it shows the repercussions of you trying.  Helge’s disfigurement is the present is caused by someone going back in time trying to kill him, to prevent his future self.  But it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy at that point. Time is immutable.

In practice, that means that the series covers nearly every action and consequence, just not in a linear fashion.  People end up being their own fathers, or grandparents.  It feels more like a close ecosystem of cause/effect.  At the end of Season 1 you get to see part of the larger picture with Adam providing a more menacing viewpoint.  Season 2 is a marvel to watch through, and ends with a twist that is evident when you look back.  Season 3 deals with the duality /  mirror effect of all this time travel impacts.  Close to what Fringe delivered, but a better execution.

Interesting bit is the way season 3 is filmed.  The mirror effect is practically applied – stairs that went left go right, right handed people use their left hand.  Scars change.  It’s like an uncanny valley, where you know something is wrong but not quite sure what.  The story takes center stage, and you get the perception that the characters are but characters in a play – or pieces on a chessboard.  That would be accurate, given the themes of determinization.

I also want to give a massive shoutout to the music in this series.  I listen to the opening credits everytime.  And each episode carries some poignant song that reflects the themes of that episode.  I often found myself finding that song outside of the series, just to get some time to reflect.

The series gets so complex that Netflix has an accompanying webapp to help out.  Really well done, as you can set the spoilers to only apply to the episodes you’ve watched.  It comes with a  timetravel timeline too, which makes a world of difference in understanding how everything fits together.

I’d be remiss not to mention that the series is filmed in German.  There are English voiceovers, or subtitles, to your leisure.  Both are of great quality.  Given the visual aspects are important to the story, I prefer the voiceovers.

I am setting expectations a tad high, but to me this is the new gold standard in sci-fi story telling.  Heck, just story telling in a visual medium.

 

Heat Wave

I had a week off at the cottage, then worked a week there.  That week was heat wave weather.  My part of the country comes with some insane humidity levels in heat waves. While the base temperature is not crazy, the humidity runs close to 70%.  Feels like breathing soup.  It also makes it near impossible to sweat to remove body heat, and your body dehydrates lightning fast.

So going outside wasn’t exactly pleasant, and working indoors staring at a window of people with smiles isn’t motivating either.  Still, I was able to wake up with the family, have lunch with them (most days) and see them in the evenings.  The alternative in the past few years is me working in the office and not seeing them at all for a week+.  This isn’t perfect, but it’s a massive improvement.

I did have to come back to the house this week.  Maintenance for one, but also cause the in-laws are staying at the cottage a few days.  I get along with them just fine, but it’s a LOT easier to ship the kids outside than the in-laws.  Walking into the house was a bit weird, like I needed to find my stuff again.

So I get to spent the next few days alone at home.  The silence is deafening.

Heirlooms in BfA

For a very long time, the entire point of heirlooms was to bypass the wonky leveling mechanics in WoW.  Mainly the fact that items scaled in power, smoothing (?) the power curve.  The % increase to xp gain has been a perk on top of that, and of larger and larger benefit as the leveling experience has gotten longer.  From level 100+, there’s really nothing in game that provides any character growth, it’s just a time tax.  Every expansion just adds 4 hours or so to the leveling period.

Shadowlands aims to reduce that time tax – with something near the 20hr mark to get from 1-60.  That’s in the realm of most single player games, so not too bad.  Heatmaps are going to be interesting… I don’t see why anyone, anywhere, would want to level in any zone that was NOT Legion / BfA.  Anything pre-MoP feels horrendous – and unless you’re really strapped for attention, you’re best playing the LFD roulette.

But 20 hours, that’s doable I guess.  Certainly less than the current pace of leveling, even with heirlooms.  So I guess that’s why Blizz is not planning to have an %XP boost anymore.  The item scaling appears to still be there, but I’d be wildly surprised if anyone thinks that’s enough of a motivator in a single expansion cycle (where I assume item levels make sense).

Taken from another lens, I see heirlooms as a band-aid for the larger problem – time to level.  That problem generated other problems, primarily the value of a level.  The level crunch should get rid of the value problem, where you spend 20 hours and get nothing for it.  The time to level reduction is pretty much required, given Blizz’ persistence to only put relevant content at max level.  I mean, aside from the art, what’s different from a player at level 30 and 119?  The rotation is 95% the same, there’s no real grouping aside from guilds, crafting is entirely meaningless.  The Class Trial option gives you nearly every permutation of gameplay for a class – and it doesnt take 20 hours to complete.

But that’s a larger rant.

Right now, Blizz is cutting leveling time, reducing a significant problem’s impact.  Removing %XP from heirlooms, in this expansion, removes the practical need to buy them.  Curious if they will do the same to the Refer a Friend bonus…

 

Pendulum Swings

I recall a physics class where the teacher demonstrated the behavior of a pendulum and the effect that gravity/air resistance had.  If you dropped (not pushed) it would never reach it’s starting point – each pass would get progressively shorter.  The beauty here is that physics are a constant – the math is consistent and the results always match the math.

In the sci-fi series Foundation (from the 50s!) the concept of psychohistory is pushed, where mathematical models are applied to sociology.  The core concept that an individual can be an unknown, but that large masses can be predicted.  The larger the mass, the more accurate the prediction.  Over the series, the books explore the creation of this class of mathematics, and the centuries of effort to refine it.  The point here is that the first book is entirely based on the mathematical predictions, and how people deal with the concepts of fate/control.  This is over large spans of time – each crisis takes over a couple generations to appear.

In today’s word, we seem to be encountering a new crisis every couple weeks.  2020 has been a hell of a year.  I mean, it started with most of a continent on fire and has somehow managed to go downhill from there.

The pendulum keeps swinging.  Instead of resistance, there’s a larger force pushing the swing forward.  That force has always existed, but it’s been limited in power/reach.  It used to be that you had to physically meet people to sway their ideas.  Then radio gave a voice to it.  TV put a face to it (the Nixon/Kennedy debate is a key turning point).  The hindrance here was time – you needed to be ready to take the message when it appeared.

Social media removes the concept of time.  Some countries have weaponized this platform either through moderation (China) or deception (Russia).  If they control the medium, they control the message.  Other countries aren’t a whole lot better.  POTUS tweets on average 20 times a day,.  It doesn’t matter the validity of the message, simply that the message exists and is amplified.  Credit where due – these groups have found an opportunity and exploited it.  Where at the ethical level, most people wouldn’t think that deception would be consistent, these groups focus almost entirely on changing the narrative.  They are not targeting the majority – they are simply targeting a vocal minority.  Smart.

Again, this is consistent with social modeling.  People that acquire and maintain power must control the message.  People’s acceptance of that message is like an elastic – it can stretch for quite some time.  Finding the right balance of stressing that elastic and then easing is key.  (There’s a longer conversation as to the people of China who have enjoyed unheard of prosperity this generation, and what they’ve gladly traded for it.  Golden chains, as it were.)  Very few people in power are able to maintain that balance, as it changes as society itself changes.  Eventually, the systems themselves become unmanageable and they topple.  There are no exceptions to this rule – they all eventually fail.  The difference is in how long that takes – and who’s in charge when the decline picks up steam.

It’s not like there’s one factor, or one actor that we can point to.  It’s simply the stress on the elastic that gives out and cascade impacts occur.  No one who lived during the fall of the Roman Empire ever saw the fall occur – it took a long while.  They saw the pendulum swing, but never really saw it pivot.  In today’s hyper-connected world, we are seeing very large swings at the micro level.  Brazil might have a buffoon as a president, but at the aggregate, Brazil has had corrupt leaders for a long time.  It seems like a swing, but it’s just a speedbump in the larger arc.

It’s too early to say that we’re in a change of arc.  It certainly can feel that way, but usually a change is countered in short order.  We’re still having debates/laws pushed about abortion – a discussion that should have been closed a generation ago.  People feel that racism doesn’t impact them, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  There’s a whole lot of “the rules sound great, but don’t apply the to me!” – which, if history is any indicator, is a trigger for large scale change.

I do have faith in the outcome.  It’s not like we’re staring at the dark ages again (1200 years!).  I really don’t think that people in charge are smart enough to do enough lasting damage – cause the people themselves simply won’t accept it.  They’ll accept a lot.  They have already.  But when that elastic does break, a new one will show up within a short time.  Always has.  Just wonder what it will look like.

Offline Puzzles

Internet at the cottage isn’t the best, and it’s not like we have rigs to manage the load here anyway.  I can work off my phone for the majority of the day, and there’s a need to decompress a tad between work and life.

There’s a couple tablets we have with, and in this ever-connected world, it’s a challenge to find things that work offline.  I’d hazard to say that most things work better offline, since they cannot access the ad servers – and nearly everything mobile has ads.  You end up losing an ad banner, or some injected ad in the middle of play. (Side note, if more than 10% of my time is spent watching ads, then that’s an uninstall.)  There are games that simply will not work offline – Super Mario Run is certainly one of them.  I get multiplayer / server hosted games… but others make less sense.

I end up with puzzlers instead, since they are rarely online.  There are some good ones out there.

The Room Series by Fireproof Games is a solid choice.  They last about 4-5 hours each, use touch controls, and have some decent puzzles.  Often there are branching choices near the end.  They are big games, so you want to be on wifi to download them.  Easy to be engrossed.

The House of Davinci by Blue Brain Games is also quite good.  The overall design is quite impressive, and most of the puzzles follow a logical flow.  It’s a notch under the Room series, but still incredibly higher than the next ones you can find.

Wordscapes has an absolutely horrendous ad system when you’re online.  When offline, it’s serene!

Sudoku puzzles abound, and it would be hard to make any serious recommendation.  They fit the niche between crosswords (which I find purposefully obtuse) and find-a-word.  The best part here is the option to select a difficulty.  Sometimes I want stupid easy, other times a tougher go.

Hidden Folks is awesome.  Like a monochrome Where’s Waldo.  Not terribly long, but very easy to get through – and the art is neat.

Monument Valley (and sequel) are great picks.  Escher paintings have always intrigued me and its even cooler to see them in motion.

Guild of Dungeoneering is a rogue-like card based dungeon explorer.  The game is somewhat simple, with a lot of unlocks along the road.  Its presentation values are astounding – like you were in a P&P game.

There are others that I flit to/from.  Puzzles/sims seem to be the ones I enjoy the most.  There’s a few idle games that come up, but I’d prefer to play than to wait for some cooldown to be available.

 

You’ll notice that nearly all these recommendations are games you need to pay for.  It’s impressive how much quality you can get for $5.  I can’t stand gatcha games, or the crazy grind / f2p bullplop that permeates mobile gaming.  You won’t find me downloading a Square Enix game at $30 (!!) but the $5-7 range seems to provide the best bang for the buck.  And it’s not like anyone is ordering a coffee anymore…

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.