Tapping

Should I try to kill the war elephants just with Nubian archers? The mathematical analysis by Muhabir on the East Nagach server suggests that I only need Nubian archers, but I have tried with an army before and lost, and it takes 4-8 hours to rebuild archers. It’s possible that the auto-attack mode in the Egyptian mode is set to the AI’s advantage, and that I should be attacking myself, but it’s been so long, I’ve almost forgotten how.

Also, I lost my pink piece of paper that my daughter helped me construct which explained the Circle of Life, so I’m a little at sea.

600 (Embassy) + 174×4=696 (Houses) + 428 = 1724 Deben Coins per day

Muhabir’s Mathematical Analysis of the FOE Egyptian Settlement
Kajmeister’s 2-year-old Forge of Empires settlement. Crowded, but it’s home.

App life in the 21st century is big business. Entertainment, during this pandemic, is a much larger part of what we have to do, especially when there are also hurricanes, wildfires, and police shooting at protesters at various parts of the country. Best to stay inside. I have been playing a game called Forge of Empires since 2016, since I first got my tablet. It’s now a love/hate relationship. I’m getting a little bored. But I have to solve Egypt first.

Gotta Play

Some of us oldsters back in the day played a game called Sid Meier’s Civilization, which let you build cities throughout history, from ancient days through medieval and industrial times, with the outcome building an Apollo spaceship. I spent many happy hours, sometimes even at work to take a break from the frustrations of middle management, moving my settlers around and trying to decide whether the Great Library of Alexandria was more important than the Lighthouse (it was a push… the Pyramids were key and Leonardo’s Workshop, which gave you gunpowder). Forge of Empires has some of the feel with settlers, cities, advancement–if you’ve played one of these, you know how they go.

KK has been playing the Simpsons game, which I looked into but felt it was more funny than intuitive. Lee used to play a game involving keeping Japanese anime cats happy; I tried that for a while, but it lacked any feel of advancement. The cats just were. Rather realistic, actually. Lee also goes online and shoots at terrifying-looking things with large guns. It scares me just to stand behind and watch them play. I will say that if the zombie apocalypse comes, I know who I will shelter with. Not the cats.

FOE Egypt… the most difficult extra settlement, which I probably will be unable to do, even in a month

The graphics with FOE are good, and they’ve added a lot of features in the last three years. There’s a tavern where you can sit and exchange coins, as well as get various boosts. They added an auction site where you can trade your 4 Shrines of Knowledge for something more interesting, like the 4th piece of the set for the Fall Harvest. A place to just shoot at other teams… randomly placed coins, supplies, or even diamonds you get clicking on strange-looking trees, hippos, or stranded parachutes out in the fields…and once a month or so, there’s a big event with special challenges. If you do these tapping kinds of games, it will sound familiar. Even in the blog space, I wrote about it before (scroll to the bottom). Where else can you build your Atomium next to the Capitol next to the Chateau Frontenac, between the blacksmith, Santa’s workshop, and the tar kiln?

The fundamental underlying problem is that the game limits the space you can occupy. At first, there’s plenty, but as soon as you start acquiring things –and I’m a big farmer/gatherer so I’m good at acquiring–you run out of space to put them. You end up with a giant inventory of Coin Boosts (completely useless), Victory Tower Upgrades, or Faces of the Ancient (37). You get way more stuff than you can use or need. A stupefyingly boring surfeit of stuff. I am at least seven levels away from the top of the game, but I got stuck at about this point two years ago. I think I’m going to have to start over.

Tapping Is Big Business

Ninety billion dollars is spent annually on mobile gaming. Or $1.2 trillion if you count global apps. This is not just big business but GIGANTORRRRR (*echo echo*) business. You may have heard about the “Let’s Play” format where celebrity gamers earn money by others watching them play; some dude named PewDiePie apparently is a millionaire. Hope he’s stashing it in a 401K and not blowing it on, like, online games.

Source: Top App Trend

Some of the companies designing apps, like Epic (which makes Fortnite) and Spotify are banding together because the companies that support the apps, like Apple, don’t give them enough money. Write-ups talk about pitting the “small” firms against the “giants.” Reminds me of what we learned about the railroad robber barons of the 1880s, such as Vanderbilt–yes, the guy with the mansions and universities named for him–who would get other companies to pay for him not to compete. On the other hand, railroads brought food and useful goods to people; the Apple apps that we are tapping are simply distractions. Should they be Giants of Industry?

I was speaking with a young woman yesterday, giving a little career exploration advice, and she said she got a job because she plays Minecraft. (Such things happen, whether through being part of a potential boss’s network or whatever the reason. Better than meeting on the golf course.) Given how tech savvy she is, she could probably get a job in the gaming industry, and why not? if we’re all going to be inside and tapping away, then someone has to be paid to program what it is tapped.

Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow diagram

Tapping in the Flow

The key to game design is to strike the proper design between Boredom and Stress. If it’s too easy, fugeddaboutit. If it’s too hard to reach the top levels, it’s also unpleasant. This is the essence of the famous idea of Flow, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in the groundbreaking research for his book. To get the most out of an activity you need to challenge yourself until it’s too hard, then practice and learn, then challenge, usw. (&c)

Difficulty takes different forms. KK, as her Pokemon friends know, is an avid Pokemon player, really a Master if there’s such a thing. She’s only a handful of levels above me numerically, but she plays with such care and dedication that she really ought to be nationally ranked. In our neighborhood, there are apparently several such people, some of whom hunt in a pack and others who can play the game without going outside and walking around as you are supposed to do. She gets vehemently frustrated when Other Knowledgeable Ones kick her out of the gym after only five minutes, but she also is annoyed when they don’t kick her out after a few days because then she’s missing out on coins. Last night, she went for a short post-prandial walk up the street, to put herself into a gym–there was an elaborate explanation as to why. I made the mistake of asking that it be repeated.

Five minutes after coming home, she checks her phone and gosh darn it (or words to that effect). They had already kicked her out. I was probably insufficiently sympathetic. If she reads this, I’m sorry. You were right to be annoyed that the people who kicked you out didn’t look at how long you were in so that you could have more coins. Selfish bastards!

I would never fight her in Pokemon; I’m no fool. I only take her on in something like Scrabble, which is just as ruthless but has clearer rules. We used to be roughly evenly matched, but then she started playing Words with Friends, and now we are allowed to check the two-letter word list that we have in our cloud… so even with Scrabble, there’s tapping involved. My mother and her sisters were wickedly good Scrabble players; my 86-year-old aunt who is legally blind still beats the pants off of me. Well played, Depression babies, well played.

FOE Circle of Life… what kills what. In theory, Archers kill elephants but…

I Despair

The Egypt portion of FOE still eludes me. It’s a sub-section from the main game, and I did master the Viking and Samurai versions, so I’m not a complete cretin. Here you build out your brick huts and war elephant stables, producing grain and flowers–down the road I think if I produce enough Ceremonial Sacrifices, then I will win a modest-sized pyramid. But you can’t just be a gatherer/producer, which is my specialty. You have to fight. The mathematical analysis said that I only needed Nubian archers and war chariots, but I keep getting killed with the elephants. And they take 8 hours to build. I’ve read so many portions of the Wiki; I think the problem is you have to be willing to read and understand about hit point values, and I just can’t keep that stuff in my head. Don’t ever make me a general in your army, really, put me in the back where I can handle the supply trains.

Because this is the most difficult of the sub-section offshoots, they give you a month to complete it, instead of only ten days, but I don’t think I’m going to make it. I did manage to replicate the Circle of Life. Lee, the gamer, explained to me that they’re all based on some variation of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. The key is remembering what the Light Infantry can kill because everything can kill them. Still, I’ve had my Nubian archers going after the Artillery (elephants) as directed, but I think the computer’s AI is not calibrated correctly. I may have to quit soon and start the whole game from mud hut level.

Although, on the other hand, we’re baking now, so I don’t want to quit before I make cinnamon rolls.

Forge of Empires fall harvest=baked goods. I never seem to get enough for pumpkin for the cinnamon rolls.

Author’s note: I have been pandemic-blessed to pick up two significant short-term gigs (one is writing-related) which are keeping me too busy at the moment to write frequently. This happy problem forces me to dial it back from weekly to bi-weekly or monthly. Those who gently commented that my entries are too damn long can catch up on the ones they missed.

Fate Has Already Been Decided

The Norns, weaving the past, present, and future. Artwork by Arthur Rackham.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the TV series “The Travelers,” “The Umbrella Academy,” and the movie Interstellar, as well as The Time Machine, Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever,” and Oedipus Rex. Plus thinking about things that make your head hurt.

Wyrd bið ful aræd: Fate is unalterable.
(“weird bidth ful ah-red”)

Old English poem The Wanderer and Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories

The Norse understood about Fate because their worldview envisioned Norns, Weird (Wyrd) Sisters who controlled all that happened, weaving the giant tapestry of our lives. The sisters represented what was, what is, and what is to be.  One Old English poet summed it up in that “weird” saying: Fate is unalterable. The Greeks understood it, too, at least the ones that told the story of Oedipus.

Science fiction writers are kind of on the fence.

Recently, I have been binge-watching series that happen to address time travel. We’ve gotten so used to this as a subject that we take for granted certain conventions, namely that it’s possible in a sci fi story to go back and change something in the past to alter the future. But what if it turns out that isn’t possible? What happens when Wyrd bið ful aræd — the idea that the future can’t be changed–smashes into the quantum technology that allows movement through time? Time travel, meet the Norns.

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Capitalism in the Time of Covid-19

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ionizer! See 99.99%. Photo from CBSNews.com.

Who said our economy shut down during shelter-in-place? Based on the nature of advertisements, businesses seem to be thriving–businesses targeted at selling masks, toilet paper, and chloroquine tablets, in particular. The innovation of greed has been a marvel to behold as this pandemic created, in just a few weeks, a whole sub-industry of quackery preying on people’s needs, fears, and hopes.

Counterfeit: Rascal Rollover

Despite the gutting of budgets for critical government health agencies like the CDC and FDA, the handful of people there are kept very busy posting about bogus companies. For example, the Wall Street Journal last week wrote about how thousands of overseas medical suppliers were using a fake Delaware registry as their representative. Pop over to the CDC, and you can easily find a handy list of how to tell if a company is falsely claiming their product is endorsed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Hint: they might misspell NIOSH.

What’s crazy isn’t so much that an Asian company might market a product in the U.S. with the fancy label “Air Queen,” or that they might sell a lot of masks which aren’t medical-grade. What’s crazy is that they bothered to create a fake Letter of Approval from the NIOSH, which the NIOSH then has to post with a “We Don’t Endorse this Crap….” label. Instead of working to design and manufacture whatever they would need to make masks that are medical-grade, it’s obviously much cheaper to create a fake letter of endorsement. But since American consumers wouldn’t care whether the letter has the correct government agency on it, there must be a middle-market supplier who needed to be convinced, which requires someone to be on top of determining what the transport paperwork looks like for such agencies. That’s damn elaborate!

However, as the founder of Quackwatch Dr. Stephen Barrett told NPR, when the AIDS crisis arose, those who touted fake cancer cures started touting fake AIDS cures. He called it “Rascal Rollover.” With Covid-19, the Rascals roll on.

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Absence of Evidence

Graphic of telepathy from Pinterest.

Shepherd: It’s my belief that those sheep are laborin’ under the misapprehension that they’re birds. Observe their behavior. …witness their attmpts to fly from tree to tree. Notice that they do not so much fly as… plummet. (Baaa baaa… flap flap… thud.) …One thing is for sure, the sheep is not a creature of the air. They have enormous difficulty in the comparatively simple act of perchin’. (Baaa baaa… flap flap… thud.)

Tourist: But where did they get the idea from?
Shepherd: From Harold. … He has realized that a sheep’s life consists of standin’ around for a few months and then bein’ eaten. … He’s patently hit on the idea of escape.
Tourist: Well why don’t you just get rid of Harold?
Shepherd: Because of the enormous commercial possibilities should he succeed.

Could there be ESP? Can sheep fly? Monty Python speculated about it…

The topic of Extra-Sensory Perception came up yesterday, and my initial reaction was that it was too broad to write about and that it hadn’t affected me personally, so I had nothing to say. I then got it into a hot debate with my spouse about the limits and definitions of ESP–does it include ghosts? is telepathy part of ESP and therefore BS whereas telekinesis might be possible so it’s not BS? what about twin studies? and so on. This led me down the Internet rabbit hole; what exactly is the research? I realized that I never have nothing to say.

This Provocative Question was asked by blogger Fandango (in summary): “Do you believe in ESP, defined as 1) Telepathy; 2) Clairvoyance; and 3) Precognition?”

Fair enough. For definitional purposes, let’s not include all unexplained phenomena, no ghosts, traveling back from the dead, global consciousness, or UFOs. Let’s get even simpler. Telepathy, and its corollary, telekinesis. Moving and communicating with just your mind.

Belief is the Wrong Word

While assessing whether ESP is possible might seem a simple question, I have to start by picking at the word “belief.” Belief can be a function of drawing a conclusion based on facts, even though the dictionary suggests that “Belief=confidence in truth of something without proof.” Proof is a bit dodgy, since it could be limited to what I’ve observed, but ought instead to be limited to what has been developed by experiment. This is important: Belief in scientific fact can’t be limited to what you have personally experienced.

I believe the world is round based on photos I’ve seen and textbooks I’ve read. I haven’t personally seen the “roundness.” I believe there is a sub-atomic world. I believe that there were giant sloths (we have the bones). I believe there could have been unicorns.

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The Cosmonauts in the Mirror

As a person of a certain age, I always associate the word “cosmonaut” with space villains, who launch spy satellites and build giant lasers on the moon to execute secret plans for world domination. Everyone raised in the 1960-70s “knows” that America did all the important space stuff like design a plane to fly in space and land on the moon. The reality, of course, is that the Soviet and Russian space programs, like the American space program, have been a blend of science and humanity, ingenuity and bravery, success and failure. While many goals were military, the Soviet achievements were as much about beating the United States (or playing catch up to perceived U.S. advantages) as anything else. In that sense, the journey into space and advances in knowledge shared by humanity have derived from a giant game of tag between superpowers.

Since today’s launch of the first astronauts in an American spacecraft since the end of the shuttle program has been delayed until Saturday–godspeed Behnken and Hurley–perhaps it’s a good day to review some space history. But we often hear only about the Americans, like what John Glenn or Neil Armstrong experienced. What about their mirror image counterparts?

A Vostok 3KA descent module like the one used by pioneer cosmonauts. This one was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $2.9 million. Photo by Anatoly Zak.
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