Mighty judgment coming

Sceenshot anime Tokyo Mag 8

In the anime “Tokyo Mag 8”, a girl writes an angry text, wishing that the world would just break. Right after she sends it, the city is hit by a devastating earthquake. Even in the anime, she is not the reason for the disaster, but it still has to feel pretty bad looking back on it.

I live in Norway, but most of my online friends and acquaintances are American. Among the Democrats there circulate some “funny” memes like “Godzilla 2020” or “Giant Meteor 2020”. The meaning behind this is that even a horror or a natural disaster would be better than the current Trump administration.

Rejoice, then, for your cries have come before the ears of the LORD. A new coronavirus has emerged that preferably kills elderly men, although it will attempt to devour also others who are elderly or sick. It seems to leave children and the young mostly untouched, so far, and is rarely severe in those under 40 and rarely (so far) deadly in those under 60. When this spreads in the USA, it should thoroughly decimate the Republican voter base, where the elderly and men in particular are over-represented.

Are you happy now? Of course, as such things go, it won’t spare your own friends and relatives, or yourself if you are in the risk group. But at least it is a more “surgical strike” than the disasters you mockingly invoked.

(I should probably note here that of course I don’t literally believe American Democrats have some kind of divine backchannel that lets them unleash death on the patriarchy. Just that, like the girl in the anime, it is not really something I think they will be happy about when looking back. Not that they don’t sincerely think of the current government as a disaster, since thousands of real lives could have been saved if the US had a Europe-style health care system. So it is easy to think that the wealthy old men presiding over the system could deserve to taste their own medicine, or lack thereof.)

Now you may say that I’ve grown bitter,
but of this you may be sure:
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor,
and there’s a mighty judgment coming…
but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices, in the Tower of Song.

-Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song.

I don’t look forward to this one myself either. I’m 61, with moderate exercise asthma and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. I’m in the “maybe die, maybe struggle for breath a couple weeks” category. My brothers are all older than me, but seem to be in better health, long may it last. Whether any, some or all of us will survive this year is all up in the air now. More than usual, I mean.

It may still not be too late to make a vaccine and distribute it, but there probably isn’t enough time to prevent at least some degree of disaster. The latest reports from China say that the virus incubates for up to 14 days, but transmits during part of that time. That means screening at airports is pretty much a waste of time and money – patients with the virus will go undetected for days, go about their lives, interact with friends and families and coworkers and door knobs. This puts the virus squarely in the pandemic class, unlike the previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS which could be quarantined once authorities took them seriously. It is more like the swine flu, only (so far) without the vaccine. And much more deadly.

Looking at the current stats from China, with 56 dead and 2000 sick, it does not seem particularly lethal. Until you realize that those 56 dead are people who were hospitalized when there were 500 diagnosed or less. And of those, there are still some – or many, we don’t know – who are going to die in the days ahead.

The World Health Organization originally wrote it off as a Chinese problem rather than a global one. I hope they are willing to admit their error and allocate any available resources. The virus is already in the United States, there is nowhere in the world it can’t reach from there, and quickly. It is time to hide your kings, presidents, prime ministers and supreme court judges. There’s a mighty judgment coming… but I may be wrong. Let’s all hope so.

Daggerfall: Tedious travel mod

Screenshot Daggerfall, wilderness of Tulune.

Roads would have helped, but who’s supposed to pay for them? I’ve been in Daggerfall for years and never paid a dime in taxes.

In classic Daggerfall, there are two ways to travel between locations on the province map: Fast travel, or traveling on your own.

You can literally walk or ride from one town or dungeon (or village or graveyard or farmstead) to another, simply look at the map to find the direction and use your compass to go in that direction. Eventually you will arrive, or else miss it and walk right past, since Daggerfall (unlike the other Elder Scrolls games) does not have roads outside of the habitation. (This is probably not realistic to make with a mod, given that Tamriel is the size of Great Britain or above, but that would have been ideal.)

Fast travel on the other hand is virtually instant for the player, but not for the character: You click on the destination and get an estimate of how long it will take given a couple different options. Then you confirm, and the new location loads. Time and date will have updated accordingly, but you the player don’t feel  like it has taken time. The time is only relevant if you are on a deadline. Most quests have very generous deadlines, but if you take on several at the same time you may need to factor in the time.

What if you could experience distance in the game without having to hold down the forward button the whole time? There is a mod for that.

“Tedious Travel” 

Thanks to a mod developer known as jedidia, you can replace the fast travel option with what he (?) calls ‘a convenient “autopilot” and adjustable time compression.’ The autopilot is extremely simple, it just points the nose against the target and off you go. If you start it in towns, you may get stuck in buildings; but overland it is quite effective. Unlike fast travel, but like traveling on your own, you may run into hostile encounters, but the mod thoughtfully pauses the game when this happens so you can take control of the situation: Kill or be killed, or try to run away, or – if you are a linguist – convince the rampaging orcs that you are on their side and they are obliged to guard you against wild animals while you take a nap.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, why would one want to do tedious things in a game? Well, not all have a super vivid imagination. When you are used to just clicking on a map, it can be hard to get a feel for how an actual character in a medium-tech, medium-magic world would feel about distance. For instance, I’ve found myself not bothering to look for bargain shops in an unfamiliar town, instead fast traveling to a town where I know I can get good prices for my loot. That would be a lot less likely to happen if I actually had to ride for several days to get there!

Luckily you don’t have to spend several days in the wilderness even with Tedious Travel. This is where the “adjustable time compression” comes in handy. By default you move 10 times faster than normal walking / riding speed (your choice of transportation matters for travel time, obviously). You see the terrain fly by like on a train. You can slow this down if you want to enjoy the scenery, or speed it up. I got to 45 before I gave up. At some point I guess it won’t be tedious anymore, although I assume the risk of wilderness encounters remains even at high speed. (Time compression is turned off for the duration of the encounters, so don’t worry about that. Also as mentioned, the game stops and wait for you to take the reins.)

Even if you go for higher speeds like 40x or even 50x, you should still get a good idea of the difference between local and regional travel. Visiting the next village over may be a short trip, but traveling from the west coast to the north-eastern mountains or the south-eastern jungle will still be an adventure. There are two reasons for this. The first is the random encounters, as mentioned – on a long journey there will be lots of them. Related to this, there is the matter of stamina.

Stamina is not a problem during the original fast travel. In fact, if you choose cautious travel, you will arrive at daytime with full health and stamina, no matter your starting condition. But with Tedious Travel, as with manual travel, you will eventually get tired. Traveling by cart or horse is less tiring than walking, but after a day in the saddle you will no longer be able to go on. Letting your stamina get too low is also a problem if you run into bandits or monsters: Fighting them takes stamina, and if you run out of energy during the fight, they are not going to show you any mercy. Also, the chance of unfriendly visits increase if you camp out at night rather than the day.

Luckily, rural Daggerfall has a decent number of hostel villages, typically named after a long gone tavern but now occupied by one to three inns and a few other buildings (presumably where the staff lives). They always have plenty of room these days, although if you explore them you will occasionally find NPCs in various states of undress in some rooms. If you’re not looking for more combat experience, for instance because you are a linguist traveling on some scholarly quest, you may prefer to set your course for the nearest such village in the general direction you are going, and get a good night’s sleep there before moving on. They are generally very affordable. Once you start approaching travel in Daggerfall more realistically, it becomes obvious why there are so many of them – in fact, the question is why there aren’t more.

***

Yes, I am easily amused, I guess. In the highly unlikely case you want to try out this or any of the innumerable recent mods for Daggerfall Unity, you should go to the Daggerfall Workshop Forums – Released Mods.

Daggerfall evolves

Screenshot Daggerfall (Grayidge, Tulune)

Screenshot from outside the Mercy of Stendarr, Charley, Daggerfall.

(Open the picture in a new window for more detail.) Not your grandpa’s Daggerfall: The sky is high-resolution, with birds flying in it. The temple sign is haindpainted in loving detail and does not devolve into blocks when seen fairly close. The house walls are in high resolution, with the house to the left in the background having a whole new texture. The snowy trees have a painted look. The wilderness beyond the village limit is rendered with vegetation and terrain rather than a standard background picture.

After yesterday’s update I downloaded around 3 GB of mods for Daggerfall Unity, most of them high-resolution graphics, but also a couple hundred new quests and the Archaeologist Guild. Yes, a whole new guild for the game, aimed at intelligent characters who don’t use magic or weapons much but prefer to talk their way out of things. Language skills and high intelligence are requisites for advancing in this guild. Unfortunately it is a rival of the Mages Guild, so I haven’t gotten to test it yet. It definitely looks like a guild Language Grrl would have loved, for those who remember her. (OK, that would be deeply disturbing if you did – it’s been around two decades. I barely remember her myself.)

Despite the massive graphics upgrades, the game looks very much like old Daggerfall, just less blocky. The artists are generally very faithful to the original look and atmosphere of the game, and have gone for a “painting” look rather than a “photo” look when adding detail. The result is that if you don’t replace every part of the graphics, the new high-resolution items blend very well with the machine-expanded original sprites.

That said, there are sure to be people who prefer the “old school” graphics. In that case, the graphic mods are not for you. And there are even various degree of “retro” settings in the game for those who want the blocky, low-resolution style. Me, I like it shiny.

I haven’t had time to test out the new quests and the new guild. Maybe I’ll never take the time for that. I know I said that I’d like to play this game for a thousand years, but as my actual years run out, I get a bit more picky. Still, as games go, Daggerfall holds a special place in my heart, so I take some pleasure in seeing people still playing it and expanding on it in 2019.

 

Daggerfall Unity Alpha

Balcroft Heath, Tulune province, High Rock

Still very much Daggerfall, just slightly better. And better and better with each passing month.

Those who have undertaken the arduous task of reading my early archives, will remember Daggerfall, the greatest single-player roleplaying game of all time. The game remains the largest single-player game ever in terms of sheer geography, with a game world roughly the size of Great Britain. It takes weeks of Real Life to cross the land on foot, although luckily fast travel is available in the game. There are hundreds of centers of habitation from cities to farmsteads, and many dozens of dungeons, each of them enormous in size. (You can and will get lost in them, even after years of playing. Or at least I did. Luckily a patch to the game gave a way to cheat yourself to the exit after completing a dungeon quest.)

I could go on and on about the skill system, the magic system, the item system, the crafting etc which were all far ahead of their time. But unfortunately the ambitions were too high for the computers of the time. In further bad luck, the game was developed for MS-DOS but released only after Windows had largely replaced MS-DOS as the dominant operating system. (Windows 95 made away with the need for MS-DOS, and Daggerfall came in 1996.) And of course, pushing the boundaries as it did, the game was buggy. Also of course, trying to make the most of the available hardware, it became unplayable not only on older PCs but also on newer. As such, only a few of us got to play it for years. Some of the most enthusiastic players formed an informal online community known as the “Daggerfools”. I have lost touch with them over the years, but clearly we were not alone.

The game got a second lease of life with the coming of DOSbox, a program that allowed MS-DOS games to run within Windows. It created an environment the game could not distinguish from a real MS-DOS machine with the specifications set by the program. The two games I used DOSbox for were Master of Magic, and Daggerfall.

But even with that, it was clear that time had run away from Daggerfall. The graphics were quite blocky by today’s standard, especially on modern screens. If you played it in its original resolution, it would just make up a small box on the screen. If you played it full-screen, it would be distorted on wide-screen monitors and the picture would consist of colored squares.

***

Daggerfall Unity uses the original resources from the game (which Bethesda has given away for free for years now, honor to them for that) but the game engine is replaced by the modern Unity game engine used in various multiplayer games. The game is still single-player, but it is improved in many other ways.

The graphics still use the old sprites, but with modern software that scales up the images to a wide range of screen resolutions without visible distortion, including the wide-screen formats that are common today. The game also allows modded resources, so you can replace the original sprites with new, more detailed ones. Some such mods already exist, as well as the first gameplay mods

In addition to less blocky graphics, view distance is greatly enhanced, letting you see things in the distance. Random terrain generating in the wilderness is fixed and the odd “dead zone” around towns is also gone.

The many bugs and instabilities in the game engine have been removed. (There are probably new ones but I haven’t seen them yet.) Controls are more like those in modern games (like mouse look and mouse click attacks instead of mouse swing attack – yes, you would swing your mouse side to side to swing your sword in the old game. You can still do this if it feels right for you.)

The game runs faster (which makes it harder) and the enemy AI has been improved (which makes it harder). Enemies of different types may now fight each other (which makes it easier). Luckily you can turn these off in the settings and also make various other changes if to make the game look and act more like the original, if you so prefer.

I was unhappy to find that Daggerfall Unity has removed the “donation piles” in temples. As a new member of the Mercy of Stendarr, I was used to rooting through the donation piles for money, potions and better items than I already had. Later when my fortunes had improved, I would drop my own gifts in the donation pile. Please bring back the donation piles! They are an essential expression of the spirit of the game.

The old game only had 6 savegame slots. Daggerfall Unity has the modern system where you can give each save a unique name, or re-use those that are no longer relevant. Savegame location has also been moved to a standard location for each operating system (the game runs under Windows, Linux and Mac) and at least in Windows, this is a hidden folder unless you change your settings in Windows. (I have done that long ago for other reasons.) I would assume that the old savegame editors like Daghex will not work with the new games, or at least those with a higher number than six, but I have not tried yet.

***

I mentioned that Unity is moddable. The first mods are already out, and a search for “daggerfall unity mods” should give you an up to date view of what is available. I expect new mods to trickle into the world for as long as the generation who played the original game is still alive. After that, I do not know. Maybe we, as Lord Stone once mused in alt.games.daggerfall, will go to Daggerfall when we die. If I have understood the author of Narnia correctly, this is not entirely impossible, but I don’t pray for this to be my eternal destination. Despite my claim long ago that I could play this game for a thousand year. Obviously I can’t in this body. But even if I could, I would probably not have explored all of Daggerfall’s towns and dungeons, or all of its magic and crafting options. The most ambitious single-player RPG of all time will most likely outlive me by a good many years, thanks in no small part to this project.

Link to Daggerfall Unity’s home: https://www.dfworkshop.net

Sims 4: Discover University, and its fatal flaw

Screenshot Sims 3, child hugging plush toy

Would you want to abandon your cute little sister to the random blows of fate, growing up without your guidance, knowing you at most as a dim memory? Then play this game as advertised. But I warn you: That way lies sorrow and loss.

***

The Sims 2: University was my first and favorite expansion for that game, and The Sims 3: University Life was one of my favorites too, albeit after Supernatural and perhaps tied with Into the Future. So it was with fairly high expectations (by Sims 4 standards) that I bought The Sims 4: Discover University. Unfortunately, after playing it for some days, my feelings are definitely more mixed.

Discover University has a wealth of content. In addition to the whole university experience, which is realized in more detail than ever before (as usual with Sims 4) there are three new careers, one of which actually looks interesting. (I have generally not bothered with careers in Sims 4, because they require a lot of micromanagement and you can live a simpler, happier life earning money from home: Painting, gardening, writing  and programming each can easily support a family that’s not bent on extreme luxury.) Engineering seems to allow the construction of a number of unique objects that just might justify the extra complexity. But before we get that far, a severe warning is in order.

***

At the heart of any University expansion is the campus experience itself. This time it is voluntary, as you can also live at home and just go to campus for classes (lectures) and to use the library which is open to the public. And a good thing too! Think twice before you  leave your home to move into a dorm. Not that living there is a horrible experience, although this depends a bit on your flatmates. But the whole flow of time is changed from the earlier games, and not for the better.

When you move to a dorm this time, you really move out. If you are part of a family, the rest of the family will now become non-played characters: They will age up, but they won’t do anything with their lives. (Unless you have a story progressing mod like MC Command Center, in which case they will progress like every other sim family out there.) You are basically leaving them to their fate.

In Sims 2 you also moved out from home, but time did not progress for households you did not play. So you could either move back in and nothing had changed, or you could (as I did) switch between them so your family aged up at a realistic speed. In Sims 3 you did not age up at university, and time did not move in your home neighborhood either. You could go home between semesters and take them at your own pace.

Now, everyone ages up, and they age a lot. Sims have always spent an unreasonably long time at university, but in the previous versions it did not matter. Now, it matters. You MUST change the lifespan from the default “Normal” to “Long” before you start using the University features, or tragicomedy will ensue.

The duration of a single career-oriented degree with the highest course load is 3 semesters, each of one week, so 21 days. In comparison, the entire young adult life phase is 24 days by default. That is, if you apply for University and scholarship when you become a young adult, and it takes three days before you have your acceptance papers (there is some processing time now, you can’t just call and move in) then you are halfway to elder  when you have your degree. Even here in Norway, we have a ways to go before that!

What is arguably worse is if your sim is part of a family. The entire teen life phase is 14 days and childhood is 13. So if your kid brother is halfway through grade school when you leave, he is an adult when you graduate! Siriusly? And in the final dagger strike to the heart of the family-oriented sim: Elder “guaranteed” lifespan is a measly 10 days, which means your student may leave his parents in their golden years near the top of their career and still with smallish children, and get a phone call at university that they have passed away from old age. Not cool.

Changing to long lifespan before you go to college mitigates all of this. But the fact remains that your family turns into non-playable characters that waste their lives in your absence, thanks to the artificial stupidity of the game. But at least you may be able to fix some of it when you rejoin the family.

Of course, if you are done with that family when your student moves out and you want to start a new chapter with the parents and siblings (if any) fading into the background, then the game works as intended. You still should change to long lifespan for the duration of the studies, though, because of the ridiculous length of the studies.

***

I have gone on about this at length because it can completely ruin your gameplay if you’re not aware of it and simply expect things to work similarly to the earlier games in the series. Also because I’ve seen rather a lot of reviews and playthrough videos, and none of them get this point across (in fact, almost none of them even hint at it). This makes sense because the first thing you do if you are a professional reviewer is create a new young adult sim and either apply for university right away or build up a few skills so you can get scholarship, then off to campus.

But in practice, almost all simmers will be playing families 90+% of the time, and it is here that the expansion is fatally flawed unless you take care. In that case, unless you are ready to switch to a brand new generational chapter (not to say a sequel) in your family dynasty, you should probably let your sims attend classes from home instead. And still at long lifespan until they graduate, if not longer.

NaNoWriMo 2019

Screenshot anime 3D Kanojo (3D Girlfriend)

“Do your best to maintain your chastity and become a respectable wizard” does not seem like a high hurdle to clear if you’re at a place called Brainerd Magic Science Academy, right? Well, we’ll see about that. (Picture is actually totally unrelated, it is from the anime 3D Girlfriend which I did not even complete watching for free. It has some funny quotes though.)

As usual I have joined the National Novel Writing Month stampede. This year is somewhat disappointing in that they took their remarkably useful and easy-to-use website and changed it to a dysfunctional labyrinth. There was probably some reason for this, but they paid a high price. The community is the whole point of this movement, and making it hard for us to communicate with each other will cost them for each year they keep it up.

That said, I’m along for the ride as usual. This time I was a day or two late getting started, as I had forgotten my original story idea and waited in vain for it to come back. Eventually I got a new one. It is a variant of dicewriting, based on my latest parameters but expanded and changed for faster power progression. It is also set in a new setting.

***

Basically the story takes an immature 19-year old boy and puts him in an alternate version of Earth, set in 1975, after a science of magic was discovered in the late 1950es, unifying magic, psychic powers and superpowers into a common Magic Science that is available to all who can understand the Laws of Magic as described by Master Storelv. Yes, after the passing of the founder, it has taken on some trappings of religion, with people referring to the founder as Master and treating his books more or less as holy scripture. But as long as people understand the principles he describes and meditate on them, they have a fairly high chance of manifesting some kind of supernatural ability, varying from increased health to the ability to be two places at once. The more spectacular powers – or “Abilities” as they are called – are quite rare. Of course there is also now a political movement, the Right to Rule Party, who push for greater privileges for magic users and influence on political decisions.

Unlike last year’s story, this one is not combat-centered at all. It takes place in a boarding school, the fictional Brainerd Magic Science Academy, in the non-fictional small town of Brainerd, central Minnesota. (As such there is a fair share of stereotypical Nordic and German names, because Minnesota!) There is almost no description of how the school looks (apart from its basic floor plan), or the people, or the town. (This may change if I run out of ideas and start padding the book. I’d rather not others do that unto me, though, so probably not.)

Most of the content so far is dialogue and internal monologue of the main character. Constantly watching over him is Crystal, the voice of the mysterious crystal artifact that transferred his consciousness from Earth to this lower world. She occasionally provides useful information, but mostly seems to regard this as an experiment. Because he comes from a higher world, or perhaps because he is this world’s only hyperlexic, he starts racking up magic Strengths faster than anyone else. This thrusts him into the spotlight and forces him to choose sides in a world he does not understand at all. Religious fundamentalists want to expel or kill all magic users. The Right to Rule Party wants the magic users to rule society. In between are various more normal factions. Government agencies that seek to use them as pawns, for the greater glory of America and the Agency. That kind of stuff. The first 50 000 words will likely only be enough to set up the story. Whatever tension there is, is the usual high school drama. (The main character is aged down to 16 by Crystal and starts over as a freshman.) Girls abound, but the main character is as bad at reading humans as he is good at reading books. (Apart from that he is not autobiographic in the least.)

***

On a magic system note, I have run with my fine-tuned list of psychic powers, but divided more of them into branches. For instance Psychokinesis now has a Levitation branch which lets you fly, and a Telekinesis branch that lets you move other objects. You can absolutely have both, and they share a Power stat (which determines how much, how fast and for how long) but have separate Skill stats (which determines your chance of success and your accuracy). Pyrokinesis and Cryokinesis are now skills of a single Thermokinesis Power, while ESP has been divided into Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, Psychometry, Precognition and Aura Sight.

***

My writing tool of choice is still yWroter 5, free from Spacejock Software. (You can give him money if you want.) As a former programmer, I find this a near ideal tool, with menus that let me bring up all the important features with a couple clicks or keypresses. For instance creating a new scene is Alt-S-S-Enter, and there is no need to memorize this as the menus are right there on the screen.

I have Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 now, and it is better than ever. But I don’t use it, because it feels super embarrassing to tell a history in first person about being in high school and having magic powers and not understanding girls, when the landlord’s daughter lives upstairs and the house is rather poorly soundproofed. Well, it would probably not get me evicted, but it would still be embarrassing. Luckily my wrists are in excellent shape these days, better so than my throat, so I mostly have Dragon around because I love living in the future, and try to be the consumer I wish to see in the world, buying the stuff I want there to be more of (when I can afford it).

I considered writing in my native Nynorsk (New Norwegian) this year, right up until my English-speaking muse came on board. But the lack of a Nynorsk spell check in yWriter (or any other novel-writing tool) held me back. (That and the tiny possibility that it might end up good enough for someone to want to read it. There is more chance that one in 2 billion people might be interested, than one in 5 million.)

That’s it, I think?

Faster PC with “multi-disking”

External disk and a 13-port USB 3.0 hub

You can definitely do this without a 13-port USB hub, but they are cool to look at (but hot to the touch). Two USB 3.0 thumb drives should do for most people. Even one will help.

I have not seen this anywhere else, but I am sure I am not the first or only human to think of this. Well, probably not. I’ll tell why I did it and how it helped me, then you can see if it is useful to you or someone you know.

What is multi-disking? I actually came up with that word just today, nobody has told me about it. It means I distribute the applications with the most disk access on different drives (either hard drives, SSDs or Flash drives). In my case, I have games on an external hard disk, My Documents on a smallish external SSD, and my browser on a thumb drive. Because the computer can read/write to different disks/drives simultaneously, it does not get clogged up in queues and the speed improves. If this is enough for the revelation to reach you, off you go! Otherwise, it is a long story as usual.

***

I bought my ASUS N56V back in May 2012, so it is not super old (look, Sims 3 was already around!) but it is well past its warranty. All the more reason for me to not take it apart if I can avoid it. (That, and the computers I have taken apart tended to end in a loud crack or a rain of sparks followed by acrid smoke. Not a soldering iron man, me.) What then could I do when it started slowing down? For the last months, I had had more and more episodes where it simply stopped responding for several seconds, and then responded sluggishly for a while longer.

Using the Resource Monitor that comes with Windows 7, I quickly suspected the disk activity. I found that if I had several things going on simultaneously, and/or the computer had been running for a while without logging off or restarting, it would have used almost all the physical memory. (6 GB in my case – if you actually can add memory to your PC, this is probably the most dramatic speed increase you can get, but this can be impossible on a laptop.) When I opened a web page, for instance, it would start writing content from memory to “pagefile”. You can read about virtual memory elsewhere if you wonder what a page file is, but basically when the memory is full, it uses the hard disk instead. The hard disk of a laptop is easily a thousand times slower than the memory, so no surprise things ground to a halt.

Again, if you are a screwdriver person, you will probably have heard that you can replace your hard disk with a SSD (Solid State Drive) which is slower than memory but many times faster than a hard disk. But again, this is for the screwdriver folks, and can cost a pretty penny. Also, Windows may wake up after the surgery and decide that it is on a new computer, and require you to register again. Windows is not free, contrary to common belief, and if you don’t have the documentation for your personal installation, Microsoft could think you have stolen their Windows and shut it down in whole or in part. Of course after 7 years, my documentation was well and truly lost.

I did however have some peripherals lying around, including a handful of 32 GB USB 3.0 memory sticks that I bought when they were on sale. They did not cost many breads each, so I had a bunch, and an external USB 3.0  hub to connect them all to the PC. Now, the 3.0 is fairly important here as it is 10 times faster than 2.0. If your computer only supports 2.0, you may see less or no improvement here, I am not sure. But you also have an amazing computer to have survived that long. In 2012, my computer already had 2 separate built-in USB 3.0 controllers with separate ports. Most computers still running should have at least one.

First I tried to move the page file to the external disk. Windows cheerfully confirmed that this was done, but it did not work. This is because when you start Windows, it starts the page file before it starts the USB (unless you boot from an USB – this is an alternative that you can find elsewhere by searching from “boot windows from USB” or words to that effect.)

So I settled for less. Why settle for less? Because I am cheap and lazy. I had already put my games on an external hard disk, because games are big and the hard disk is not. Plus it fills up with Windows updates, temporary files and other gruff that you have to clear out from time to time, and some of it will crash the machine if you clear it out. (Use a certified disk cleaner, like the one that comes with Windows and is called “disk cleanup”.) But even with that, small disk is small.

Next thing I outsourced to a USB device was My Documents. This folder and its many subfolders, are used by Windows and many programs (including many games) so it sees a fair bit of use. You can find detailed tutorials on how to move it to another disk (search “how to move documents folder to another drive”), others have illustrations and even videos about this. It can be pretty big so check in advance that you have a big enough device. Some of the content may be ready for archive anyway, but luckily I had room on my biggest device.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I installed my favorite browser on a thumb drive. I was lucky that my favorite browser is Vivaldi (made in Norway, by the way). It has a choice for “standalone” in advanced setup. It actually transferred my saved passwords from the hard disk after installation, but you can choose this. With other browsers (and most people have another browser) you will probably want to go to PortableApps or search for “install browser on usb windows” for tutorials for your particular browser. The nice thing about PortableApps is that you may browse it for other FREE software that you can install to other USB drives to take even more load off your main disk. But My Documents and your browser are typically used a lot, so these two should make a difference. They sure did for me!

***

Why did this break through the wall of pauses, stuttering and crawl? Because multitasking. The USB has its own controller (in my case two, so I put one drive on each of them, but even one should help). Before yesterday, when I clicked on a link, Windows checked to see if I had spare RAM memory. If there was too little, it would start writing the memory to disk. The same disk that it was trying to read the browser code from. (The browser has a lot of code for displaying all kinds of things like different fonts, different sizes, pictures, formatting etc etc, so it reads all of this from the same disk that is busy writing.) A hard drive has a physical read/write head (kind of like an old gramophone) that races furiously from place to place on the hard disk when trying to do two things at once. Back and forth, back and forth. When it only needs to do ONE thing, it can stop scurrying, and the speed increases dramatically.

If you have a computer with two physical disks, you could simply move the pagefile or the browser to a different disk, but in my case (and almost all laptops with “two” disks) they are actually different partitions on the same physical disk, and moving things between them will just slow it down even more. Thus my decision to “outsource” to flash drives.

So now I can have Sims 4 running in the background, installed on disk G:, with its save files and other data in My Documents on drive M:, while I use my browser on drive I: running under Windows on disk C:. In addition I have Windows ReadyBoost on drives H: and N:. Yes, I have a lot of drives, most of them cheap 32 GB but some larger or smaller. Two 16 GB are actually better than one 32 GB for ReadyBoost, which I and many others have written about already. I just assumed you already had that. But moving your browser is probably more important than ReadyBoost if you use the Web a lot.

My computer is running smoothly again, thanks to the wonders of multi-disking. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Sims 4 Practical Magic is practical

Screenshot Sims 4 Realm of Magic

You shall not pass! No, actually the guy with the sigil over his head is one of the three Sages, and he is trying to teach her better spellcasting. Training with the Sages is the safest way to level up and builds friendship with them, so they will teach you a new spell and a new potion each, once a day. Do this early in your career, because one day they will have nothing more to teach you, and you will be the one mentoring other sims.

Despite the streaks of Harry Potter flavor here and there in the new Sims 4 expansion Realm of Magic, there is no overarching plot of good versus evil. The plot, such as it is, tells us that the Magical Realm is threatened by a metaphysical vortex and can only be defended by the cooperation of the three “Schools” of magic, represented by three Sages, who teach either Mischief Magic, Untamed Magic, or Practical Magic.

Given my previous entry about the excessive time spent on basic needs in Sims 4, it should surprise no one that I made a beeline for Practical Magic. Indeed, as I write this, I just had an elderly Simeon Silversweater, Sage of Practical Magic, teach me his ultimate spell, which allows me to bestow the power of magic upon a normal human. The disciple has not become quite like his master yet, though: He still has many alchemy recipes to teach me. But I know the most important one: Potion of Plentiful Needs.

***

Before we get too far ahead, let me explain the basics of sim magic, although it is fairly well explained in the game.

Spellcaster is the new life state in this expansion. As such, you can not access this magic if you are already an Alien, a Vampire or a Mermaid. You can either create your sim as Spellcaster, or find one of the three Sages in the Magic Realm and ask them to turn you into one. They will cast a temporary spell on you that lets you see “motes” (glowing orbs of magical energy) and collect a bunch of them. After having shown your magical aptitude, you get to join their ranks. As a Spellcaster, you have access to all three Schools of magic, and can mix and match them as you want, along with Alchemy.

A feature not well explained in the game (as far as I can see) is that magic accumulates over generations. A child of a Spellcaster will have more aptitude for magic than either of its parents.You go from Weak Bloodline to Strong Bloodline to Ancient Bloodline. The third generation of genetic Spellcaster will accumulate magical experience 30% faster and suffer less danger from overload.

In contrast to most role-playing magic, you don’t start your day with a supply of mana that is spent with each spell. On the contrary, each spell leaves a residue in your aura, called Charge. As you build Charge, your spells become more powerful, but the risk of backfire increases. If a spell backfires because you cast too many in too short a time, you will suffer an uncontrolled discharge of magic that burns you to death. To avoid this, you need to cast fewer spells, or have perks that let you discharge the residue or keep it from building up too fast in the first place.

Perks are bought with talent points, which you get when leveling up. You can eventually get them all if you keep at it long enough, but it may be smart to first pick those that let you gain more experience, and then those that let you control the aforementioned Charge. Hereditary Spellcasters also get more talent points, and having a familiar active supposedly gives more too. I have not tested this, as I try to always have a familiar around when casting spells.

Familiars have two functions: They give you bonuses to your advancement, and they protect you from death. If you accidentally set off a deadly discharge, the familiar will absorb part of the blast and you will both survive, although the familiar will not be able to do so again in a while (I am told a week). Luckily you can have more than one familiar, although only one can be active at any one time. But definitely prudent to have a backup familiar in case of accident. You may want to get one for each of your children too, as familiars protect from all causes of death, not just from magic.

Familiars can be bought, found, received as a gift, or won through duels. Magical duels are a big part of the game. You can challenge other sims or they can challenge you. Most duels are friendly and may even improve your relationship, in addition to giving magical experience and building Charge (don’t accept one when you are supercharged please). But you can also have more competitive duels for knowledge, ingredients and artifacts. Familiars are artifacts. Ingredients are needed for potions, but you can buy those in a shop or find at least many of them in the wild. Knowledge gives you a new spell or recipe, but there are other ways to get those.

The easiest way is to befriend a Sage. The Practical Sage is probably the easiest to befriend. The Mischief Sage (at least the one the game starts with) is on the evil side so can be harder to befriend. The Untamed Sage is also fairly personable. Once you’re a bit more than strangers, you can start asking them for training. This is a way to gain experience fairly quickly without building Charge, so don’t be shy to use it early on when you don’t have Charge-reducing perks. While improving your skills, you also improve your relationship with your teacher. Once you are friends, you can stop by and ask them for a new spell each day until you know them all. You can also ask them for potion recipes, but only one of the recipes is really worth knowing early on: Potion of Plentiful Needs.

***

Practical magic is useful from the start. Your first spell should be one that lets you repair broken things. Home reparations are time-consuming and sometimes dangerous, but on the flip side non-magical repairs builds mechanical skill and gives you spare parts you can use to upgrade your household items. Mechanical skill may also be required in some jobs. So there is a downside to using this spell, but it saves a lot of time when you need it.

The next spell cleans things, including sims, including you. No more scrubbing toilets, no more showers unless you need a specific type of shower to put you in the right mood.

The third spell creates a random item of food, either a single portion or a family-sized quantity depending on your choice. This saves time and there is no risk of burning down the house (only the Spellcaster – save early, save often, keep your familiar out).

The fourth spell weeds, waters and removes pests on a garden plant. Another time-consuming but skill-building activity avoided.

The fifth spell lets you teleport to any point of your choosing in the neighborhood. Faster than using your broomstick, let alone anything else. Broomsticks don’t make you explode, though, and they also build wizard experience, like the spell.

The sixth spell is kind of game-breaking: It lets you make an instant copy of small objects. This happens to include the rare and expensive ingredients that limited alchemy. Now you only need to buy one of each, and you can multiply them beyond necessity. This is a good time to take up alchemy. Before that, it is kind of expensive.

Next comes another gardening spell, which lets you grow a plant to full size instantly.

The penultimate spell is rather trivial: It lets you teleport to the Magic Realm from anywhere without going through the portal at the top of the waterfall in Glimmerbrook. But there is also a crystal (Glimmerstone) that does the same thing, although it has a cooldown.

The ultimate spell, as mentioned, lets you convert a normie to a Spellcaster. It is not really something you need since the Sages have it already and besides, your kids will inherit your magic and surpass it.

***

I’ve mentioned potions. Some of them are for very specific situations and require rare ingredients. One of them (Potion of the Nimble Mind) is quite useful but not game-breaking, letting you learn skill faster but not instantly. And one is probably the main reason why professional reviewers recoil in horror. The “Potion of Plentiful Needs” resets all the need bars to full, as if you had just fulfilled all your physical and mental needs at once. If you have a stack of these, you could basically stop eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, playing or socializing. I agree that this would destroy the tenuous link between the game an real life. And that is not how I use them. I have a stack of them around for emergencies.

Say you’re about to go to bed and a friend you like invites you to an impromptu party. In real life you would probably be able to stay up a few hours even though you would regret it, but in the game you quickly grind to a halt and fall asleep on a bench. This is where I whip out my extra strong energy drink, Potion of Plentiful Needs, and dance the night away before going to work.

Or you’re coming home from work, hungry and dirty, and you get a message that the spirit of an old friend is about to pass from this realm. You don’t spend an hour making an egg on toast, another hour eating it, and an hour and a half in the shower before you go see them. In the Sims 4, there was no way to not do things slooowly, that I am aware of at least, until now. So that’s how I use the potion: To do the things I should do or would do rather than the things I must do.

There is also a Potion of Rejuvenation, but you can get that from fulfilling whims and living up to your aspirations as well. I believe it still only resets you to the beginning of your current life phase (so you can’t go from old to young, for instance). The new part is that you can mass produce it, not that this should be needed. The Potion of Immortality, harking back to an old fable, does not make you eternally young. It just keeps you from dying from old age. You are still old. Or that’s how the text presents it, I have not tried it yet. There is also a Potion of Prompt Resurrection. If you die while this is active, you return to life soon after. Probably nice to have if you are planning to do something remarkably risky, but as a Spellcaster you can get a familiar and skip the whole dying part. Maybe you can use it on other sims or something?

***

The Untamed Magic has a spell to let you summon a ghost and another that lets you restore a ghost to life, which of course is not realistic. (Nor are ghosts realistic in the first place.) I have not used it yet, but I can see it being valuable for those cases where things went more wrong than expected. The drawback with this is that another sim must cast the spell, so it is mostly useful in a family situation, I guess, or a friend that passes away unexpectedly. You could also use an ice spell to put out a fire instead of a fire extinguisher. Finally there is a spell to remove curses (or you could use the corresponding potion.) The rest of the spells, and the whole School of Mischief, seem useless to me. Which is good, because this is already too long.

Magic comes to Sims 4 (finally)

Screenshot Sims 4 Realm of Magic - floating glowing book

One of the first magic perks I took was of course “Knowledge is magic”, which speeds up reading and research as well as gaining a small amount of wizardry experience points from these activities. (The magical anti-gravity boobies were none of my doing though – she was like this when I found her.)

This is not so much a traditional review as a reaction. I’ve only had the Sims 4 expansion Realm of Magic for a couple days. I accidentally learned of it the day it came out, and the two first reviews I saw agreed that magic made the game too easy. And I was like “YES PLEASE! Let it be so!”

***

I wanted to like Sims 4. After all, I loved the three previous games in the series, each more than the last. Sims 3 remained my go-to game during my limited play time up until City of Heroes: Homecoming happened this April. And Sims 4 was technologically superior to them all. I don’t think this was obvious to people who haven’t made software (or at least been educated to do so) but it did not take me long to be impressed by the design of this game. The game still runs smoothly on my 7 year old laptop, where it is installed on an external hard disk. Now if only it was fun! But unfortunately it is not. Or wasn’t until three days ago.

A big part of why I quickly went back to Sims 3 was that the newer game went back to the roots of the series with excessive focus on basic needs. Those were always present, but somehow it feels like they make up more of the game now than in Sims 3 and even Sims 2. I know this is a bit exaggerated, but this is how I remember my sims’ day:

Wake up. Pee. Eat. Briefly do something that puts you in the right mood before going to work. (This depends on the work, but could be playing chess, playing an instrument, or taking a shower.) Work. Eat. Pee. Shower (if you didn’t in the morning.) Scramble to fill fun and social needs before going to bed. Sleep.

What really adds insult to injury, is that jobs now require you to do very specific things to advance. Typically your work-related skills must reach a certain value, but also you are expected to do certain time-consuming work things on your spare time. If you are a programmer, for instance, you need high logic skills, but you also need to do X hours of coding on your spare time. If you are a writer, you have to write X number of books of a certain quality on your free time; but you still have to go to work, and whatever you do there, it neither produces books nor increases your skills. (Meetings, perhaps?)

Compare this to Sims 3, where the relevant skills decided your speed of advancement. If they were high, you added work experience faster. If they were horrifyingly low, you actually got negative work experience. In between was this large area where you might get a raise faster if you improved your skills, but it was a matter of degree. And many jobs had an option to spend part of your work hours improving the leading skill for your work (cooking for the culinary career, a musical instrument for the music career etc). It is hard to see Sims 4 as anything but a big leap backward both in realism and fun.

***

So when I learned that the new expansion had a potion that would reset all the needs to max, I whipped out my credit card right quick. It is not like there aren’t many fun things to do in Sims 4, especially if you have a couple expansions already. The problem is finding time to do any of them when your sim takes 40 minutes to drink a glass of water. (I timed it. In all fairness, a sim hour is more like 1 minute real time, but then again they only live like 80 sim days or something. So no more water unless your life depends on it.)

Even with Realm of Magic installed, it is not like you can just fire up the game and cast spells and drink potions. There is an uphill road to power, glory, and death by fiery explosion. Still, if you take the right path from the start, you should see useful results pretty quickly. I can tell you a couple helpful things about that! But we should probably come back to that in another entry. This was more of an opinion piece. Let me just say that in my opinion after two days of play, this expansion goes a long way toward redeeming the game. I won’t say it is better than Sims 3 yet, but it’s starting to become a serious contender.

Unless you like spending your weekends working, sleeping and peeing, and hate all things magical as well as goth clothes and stained-glass windows. In that case, stay away.

We are stupid and ignorant

Screenshot anime Aho-girl

Let’s enjoy our idiot lives together! From the aptly named Aho-gaaru, or Idiot Girl.

One thing that most of us will never fully grasp is how stupid and ignorant we are, simply because we are human. And being human, while great fun at times, is being very very limited. As I have said before, “life is not only short but also very narrow”.

I used to be a genius. Not Nobel Prize level – that takes hard work too, and I hate that – but I used to effortlessly be one of the best at whatever school I went to after puberty. (I matured slowly so in my childhood I was not particularly bright.) I have remained curious since then, learned much and understood much. And the more I know, the more I realize that I don’t know and will never ever know in a human life.

As I said, I’m on the brighter end of the scale, even if not sensationally so. And I say with absolute certainty that even if I could relive my adult life a thousand times over, I would still not learn all that my fellow humans know and can do, let alone what none of us can. I don’t here talk about the origin of the cosmos or the relationships between the fundamental forces of nature. I mean things like building a house, repairing a car, growing various crops, raising children, preparing food that is both tasty and beautiful, programming an operating system, engineering a bridge or a tunnel, herding reindeer, growing bonsai trees, landing an airplane. All that jazz, including various musical instruments.

No, literally, a thousand lifetimes would not be enough to master every skill that someone has today. Probably not even enough to dabble in them all. But dabbling and mastery are not the same, although the dabbler may think himself a master until he learns enough to realize how little he knows. Most people who work in a field for decades, don’t become really awesome at it. They stop at some intermediate level that is good enough. They get paid, they don’t get fired, people even speak well of their work, finished, case closed. People speak well of my work as well. They are horribly wrong. I am terrible at what I do, even though I like it, and every workday is another day of despair about the fact that I not only know almost nothing about what I do, but can’t find a way to learn it within my remaining lifetime.

Yes, each workday is a day of mental pain, shame and regret. And I doubt it would be different in any other trade. In fact, helping people with software problems is probably one of the things I am best at. If I could go back in time to my younger body at an earlier age and take a different path, I doubt I would end up much better, and quite likely worse.

There is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect: People who are really ignorant, tend to even be ignorant of their ignorance. The Bible tells us so. OK, it actually does, but Dunning and Kruger verified it by controlled, repeatable test, and so it is named after them rather than some wise king in Jerusalem. (I am a big fan of divine wisdom myself, in principle, but my experience is the same as that of Johan Oscar Smith, founder of Brunstad Christian Church: Rather than gaining insight into the beasts of the Revelation, divine wisdom showed us the beast within ourselves. Not a pretty sight.) Anyway, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Or at least absence of a certain form of pain.

On the other hand, ignorance and stupidity bring their own pains. No matter how convinced you are that it is all other people’s fault, reality doesn’t budge all that much, and being stupid and ignorant, you can do even less than you otherwise could have done to dodge the mule-kicks of fate. Not that even the brighter and wiser of us can avoid them all, far from it. But it is kind of nice not to have HIV for the rest of your life just because it seemed like a good idea to have sex with some friendly person. Or to not sleep in a prison bunk because you took a chance and it didn’t work out. Not have a lifelong mountain of debt and no job because you borrowed a little now and then, including from your employer without asking, because you were sure you would win the big jackpot one day. So yeah, being at least moderately non-stupid is a blessing as well.

But being smart enough and having enough life experience to know how little you know and how little you can do, that brings its own pain as well.

There is a saying that God must love mediocre people since he made so many of them. Yeah, or maybe it is an act of divine mercy, that so many people are bright enough to survive but not bright enough to realize how little they can know and do.