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.

City of Heroes returns – sort of

Screenshot City of Heroes

The Were-Porcupine lives! (Willpower/Spines Tank.) 

During Easter week, the news broke that the online game City of Heroes  had not died at the end of November 2012, as most of us had been told. A secret cabal of reverse engineers had been able to set up a private server (possibly with the help of a former employee at Paragon Studios). For about six years, the cabal and their trusted friends had played the game that the rest of us could only watch in old YouTube videos (many of them in low resolution, as was common back then).

The source code went public during Easter, and a privately run server went public shortly after. Almost 20 000 players had signed up before a fake cease & desist warning caused the server and the forums to be wiped to protect the not entirely innocent.

A couple days later, a new server appeared, and thousands of people have once again signed up. It is kind of bizarre that this game was shut down when other games keep sputtering along with only a few hundred players. It is clear that City of Heroes  was dearly loved by many of its players, not only me. So I have conferred with the voices in my head and learned what made this game so special.

The secret ingredient

The thing people remember above all is the game’s community, the positive and inclusive and helpful atmosphere. Indeed that is a thing that stands out, but did this happen just because it was a superhero game? There have been others after it, that failed to create the same community.

And then, observing the game anew in 2019, I realized. Forming a party is an essential part of a multiplayer game, whether you are playing with dice at home or online with thousands of strangers. Parties / teams / groups / felllowships make or break the game. And only one game has a structure that makes virtually every class a welcome addition to virtually any team. That is City of Heroes, and the reason is its archetypes.


Instead of traditional classes like Warrior, Priest and Mage, CoH had a handful of archetypes. On the face of it they were just classes by another name, but there was one difference: Each archetype had a primary and secondary power set, with different functions.

Tankers can withstand massive damage, survive and bounce back. But they can also deal a more modest amount of damage to nearby enemies. With Scrappers it is the other way around, they do massive local damage and can withstand some. Blasters can do massive damage even at a distance and also have some modest crowd control (rendering opponents helpless or at least partly disabled for a while). Controllers can do massive crowd control and have modest team support abilities (healing, damage reduction, efficiency boosts). And Defenders have massive team support while doing modest damage at a distance, thus concluding the little triangle of behind-the-frontlines archetypes.

So basically if you have any one archetype and you add another, you will get some serious benefits to both, no matter which it is. If you add someone with the same archetype, you will still get a modest benefit, because of the dual nature of the archetype. It also lets one archetype substitute for another in a pinch, then revert to its strongest role if another player joins that is better suited.

While certain combinations of heroes work best together and lets you go through more challenging missions faster, you will always get a major boost from teaming up with another archetype and at least a minor boost from the same archetype. This means that instead of the “Team needs Healer” and “Team needs Tank” that you see in other online games, CoH will have a lot of “Team looking for more”, plain and simple. Because everyone is welcome. And that, gentle reader, makes a huge difference to how you perceive a game. The feeling of being welcome everywhere, being appreciated, being able to pull your weight and help anyone you meet? That is what creates a POSITIVE atmosphere that persists for years after the game itself is gone.

Or is it? With thousands of players gathering on the privately owned server as we approach the game’s 15th anniversary on April 27, it seems that NCSoft’s snap decision has been undone … at least for now.

To be continued…?

LOTRO Skirmishes: Too much fun!

Scrrenshot Lord of the Rings Online, riding through the Lonelands.

The road goes ever on and on… Medieval travel simulator: Only moderately fun. Slaying wave after wave of goblins, on the other hand…

I’ve written on a review of the Lord of the Rings Online game as a whole, but seriously it would be too long even by my standards. The game is 12 years old this spring and has a number of commercially sold expansions as well as a number of smaller, free expansions. The level cap was 50 when the game was new, now it is 120, and most of the game between those takes place in areas that did not even exist when the game was new. So you can read online reviews of the game and then of each of the expansions if you have the patience, I guess.

Due to this layered, growing nature of the game, the learning curve is not steep but very, very long. The expansions don’t only include new geographical areas and monsters of an adequate level to fight, but also new features. The Rohan expansion, for instance, has a lot of horse-related stuff, as you might expect. Some of that can be used in later expansions, but some only within Rohan. Well, I haven’t gotten to Rohan yet, and now I am not sure I ever will.

The game is quite pleasant to play, it has an atmosphere of inherent goodness and heroism that I haven’t felt since City of Heroes. It may seem strange to compare two games from so different genres, but they do share some of that longing for a more heroic world. The player base reflects this to some extent. I get the impression that many of the players are “marriage material” (not for me, obviously, and most of the female characters are played by males anyway) but in the sense of being playful yet serious, patient and unafraid of commitment. Well, you better not be afraid of commitment because this game will take many moons if not years to complete. Pretty sure Frodo got to Mordor faster than I will. If at all.

“The road goes ever on and on” is a famous Tolkien quote, and that is certainly also true for this game. I have jokingly called it a “Medieval travel simulator”. It gets somewhat better at level 20 when you can learn riding for free and buy a horse in-game for in-game silver. Before level 20, or if you are a free-player without subscription, you have to buy the riding skill for a small sum of real money. You can also buy substantially more expensive riding speed upgrades. I probably would, if not for the skirmishes.


At level 20, you can go to one of the skirmish camps that exist near major centers. Normally at that age you would be in or near Breeland, so I went to the camp just outside the South Gate of Bree town. There I talked to the Skirmish Captain and went through the two tutorial missions.

Skirmishes are repeatable, instanced missions. Instanced means there is only you and your fellowship (team) if any. Nobody else will compete with you or help you. Well, except for one helper, your Soldier.

Soldiers are basically what gamers call “pets”, artificially intelligent companions that assist you in battles. There are several classes of soldiers, but you can only have one at a time. If you are squishy, you can have a soldier that tanks for you, attracting the attention of the enemy and keeping them occupied (within reason) so you can do damage from a distance. If you are a more sturdy type, you can use an archer to help whittle them down faster. The archer is also able to pull some of the opponents off you if you are surrounded. There is also a “sage” (basically a mage, but officially those don’t exist in LOTR) who can deal elemental damage at a distance, fulfilling a similar role as the archer. If you are a pure damage dealer but not very sturdy, perhaps you should get a herbalist who can heal you while you fight. Since they can also heal themselves, they too can pull some of the enemies off you and keep them occupied till you are ready to take them down, just don’t wait too long.

There are already two “pet classes” in the game: The Lore-Master is a squishy user of elemental magic, which again is not called magic but lore because Tolkien only had a handful of wizards and they were not really humans at all, more like angels in disguise. Anyway, the LM can use an animal to assist him in battle. The Captain has a human companion. The companion also has an aura that can slightly heal you, or make you slightly sturdier, or slightly increased your damage. But he will also directly assist you in battle, although he is just a commoner, not as good a fighter as you are.

Well, the good news for my Captain is that you can have both a Solider and your original banner-bearer, so now I go into battle with a team of three, even when soloing! The Soldier (in my case an Archer) is actually fairly competent, to the point of not attacking a certain type of enemy that will have secondary effects when attacked. (Which is more than I could say for myself the first times.)


When I say “too much fun”, I mean it half jokingly, half seriously. Noticed how I called LOTRO a “medieval travel simulator”? That is not really a compliment, not in the long run. The road (or other terrain) tends to not go straight, so you have to steer all the time, either your character or your horse, so you can’t even banter with your online friends (if any) or just look around on the varied landscape as you travel.

In contrast, with Skirmishes you warp straight from wherever you are (not limited to the skirmish camp!) and you are at the start of the skirmish instance. From here on, it does not take long before you fight groups of enemies, either because they are attacking you or because you are attacking them. (There are basically two types of Skirmishes, either defending an area against invaders or take it back from invaders.)  There are only brief pauses between the attacks, often not even that, while if you are attacking you can do so at your own pace (but there will often be counterattacks right afterwards.)

So if you prefer slaying goblins over travelling with your eyes on the road, Skirmishes are suddenly a lot more attractive than the usual quests.

If your character is not too well balanced and you could need a companion to round you out, Skirmishes are also a lot more attractive.

If you want to level up rapidly, Skirmishes are also more attractive.

If you want to rapidly get improved weapons and armor, you can buy those for “marks”, a currency of Skirmishes, and you get a generous helping of marks for each Skirmish. The best gear you can buy for marks exceeds the rewards you get for ordinary quests, at least at the level I am (early twenties).

In addition you can use marks to give yourself or your soldier bonuses that only work inside skirmishes: Attack bonuses, defense bonuses, and healing bonuses. These boosts won’t work in ordinary encounters outside of Skirmishes, so going back to normal quests will feel like being nerfed (made weaker).

Oh, and while the Skirmishes are indeed repeatable, the enemies vary between a number of types, especially the lieutenants (mini-bosses for each cluster of enemies). This and the length of each Skirmish makes it more varied than in Asian games like Kritika Online and Closers, where the missions are shorter and repeat exactly. Oh, and you get rewards for eliminating a certain number of those lieutenants, as well as for defeating X number of various monster types. Some of these “deeds” are rewarded with LOTRO Points, which you otherwise would have to buy for money. You can get these rewards by questing in the relevant zones outside of Skirmishes, but it takes longer and requires more traveling.

In short, Skirmishes are easier, more fun, and more rewarding  than the rest of the game. Well, at least the rest of the game so far. Is that really a good idea when you have made an elaborate, huge game world filled with varied content?

I love repetitive games

So maybe this is just me. Maybe most players get bored after playing the same Skirmish five times, even with somewhat different opponents. I kind of hope so, because there is so much to see in this game, so much content you lose out on if you just level past it. But it is just terribly tempting to do another Skirmish instead of riding along the trade roads looking for metal outcroppings to mine for metalsmithing or branches to bring back for woodworking, or archaeological relics to craft scrolls of lore.  I enjoy the crafting in this game, but not as much as the Skirmishes.

And that’s why I call this feature “too much fun”, because it is hard to pull myself away from it. Well, relatively hard. I am not a hardcore gamer, luckily. It is more like I play these skirmishes instead of the rest of the game, and instead of The Sims 3. It is not like I take days off from work to play, or play till dawn. (Well, in late May that might happen if I’m still around, because then there are like two hours of night, but you know what I mean.)

But in the game, I mean. One does not simply walk into Mordor. One gets distracted by Skirmishes.

God still reads my journal

Screenshot anime

I sure am hung up on myself. You don’t need to tell me…

Not sure how many others are still reading, what with updates being such a rare event (especially in Februaries) but clearly someone up there is watching over me. I mean, how else do you explain that Kritika Online is being closed down after I review it in my previous entry? ^_^

Don’t worry, I have already moved on to Lord of the Rings Online. It is an old MMORPG with lots of contents and lots of features added over the years, and lots of deep lore. But knowing me, it should surprise no one that the feature that interests me the most at the moment is the “skirmishes”, which are… repeatable instances! At the outset there are three of them, and you can tweak them a lot like missions in City of Heroes or even more: You can have different group sizes from 1 to 12 heroes, you can choose from 3 difficulty levels, and you can pick a character level from 20 upward. So you can tailor the difficulty to your liking, especially upward. And you can repeat them over and over till you die. Or the game dies. About that…

I got my first character to the minimum Skirmish level, 20, before bedtime. The next day after work I eagerly fired up my gaming computer, and it started to load LOTRO. And stuck on the first loading screen. I went to their website, it was also down. Eventually I found their Twitter account where they said they had “extended downtime” but would be up next morning. It’s been two days now of the downtime being extended by a few hours every few hours. I feel slightly guilty since, me being such a Very Important Person, obviously this happens for my sake. ^_^

Actually, if it happened for my sake, I would presumably be a Main Character, and that’s a bit too much even for me! What I mean is that I am a  Viewpoint Character: I am in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time to see things happen. It is a term from literature, in which the viewpoint character of a scene – or a chapter, or a whole book – is the person who sees and feels and experiences the content of the book. And if written correctly, the personality of the Viewpoint Character filters everything that he or she reports and adds meaning and narrative to it. But the Viewpoint Character is not necessarily the Main Character, let alone the Creator of the story. Still, being a Viewpoint Character is a privilege, as you get to be where things happen, when they happen.

So basically, while it looks to me (as the Viewpoint Character) like a higher power is shutting down the games that take too much of my interest, a more realistic take on it is that I (as the Viewpoint Character but not the Main Character) am being subtly placed by the Author in a position to notice when they get shut down.

Obviously I am not being told “You are the Viewpoint Character for a certain event, so I need you to go there and do this or that.” As far as I perceive things, I do them mostly entirely on my own, or as a reaction to things that happen to me from outside. It is only when I witness some unlikely string of coincidences that I start to suspect that I am placed there as a Viewpoint Character, to make sure it is seen. Coincidences like one game getting shut down and another put on hold after I start writing about them. (Yes, I have been writing on a review of Lord of the Rings Online, I just haven’t uploaded it yet.)

The Author of the world is, in my belief, the “Christian God”. (This is an artifact of the English language, obviously God is not a Christian! Rather it is a shorthand for “God as imagined by Christians”.) This God is believed to take an active interest in what goes on in the created world. So in that perspective, it makes sense to draw connections between my journal and the closing of games. But does this connection exist outside of my head? Does it matter if it does, or only that it seems like it?

There are a lot more important things going on in the world than computer games. I basically write about them to appear more normal than I am, since it is something I have in common with many normal humans. A friend of mine lost her father, her pets, and almost her life in a house fire last month. Computer games shutting down is not likely to be a big thing in her life right now. I am well aware of how tiny, petty and pointless my earthly interests are. But somehow, oddly, I am still able to see connections between my petty little life and events on a larger scale. And that is the joy of being a Viewpoint Character, seeing what would otherwise have passed unnoticed. I get to feel important, even though I am not. Because my role is to observe. ^_^

I love repetitive games

Censored screenshot from Kritika Online

.Can I interest you in a repetitive game with ridiculously inflated human udders? Probably not, unless you really like helium-filled breasts or repetitive games. Luckily for Enmasse Entertainment, I am squarely in the second  category. I was instantly attracted to this game, Kritika Online,  when I heard that it required you to do the same instances over and over again. The humongous and imperfectly dressed breastesses don’t make much of an impression on me either way, me having grown up on a dairy farm after all. (Not diary farm – that would be the first decade of my journal archives.)

As you may have guessed, when a reviewer mentions the repetitive gameplay, it is generally not meant as a compliment. Most people are easily bored. In fact, that would normally be why we play games in the first place, instead of working overtime or reading books by geniuses like Charlie Munger and Ray Dalio who generously (for a small fee) share the principles that have made them successful by the American definition of success. Objectively speaking, moving pixels around on a computer screen to simulate combat against imaginary enemies is a lot less productive, so it seems unlikely we would do it unless it just felt good. And most people don’t feel good doing the same things over and over. But I do, within reason.


We are not talking about the kind of repetition where you just stand there and press the same button over and over. There is some element of tactics. Each sequence of the game consists of a hub (a small village with services and where you can meet other players, it is an online game after all) with four “instances”. Each instance is a limited area, or in this case several smaller areas one after another, where enemies are waiting to fight you. The number and type of enemies do not vary. Occasionally during the fight, and always after defeating the final boss, you get dropped items like a weapon, a piece of armor, or a potion.

The first time you are sent into an instance, it is usually to perform one or more quests: Defeat [number] of [enemy type], pick up [object]. Then you return and are sent back into the exact same instance to do something similar. The same enemies are waiting in the same places and behaving the same way. So that already makes the second time easier. In addition, you may have leveled up or found better equipment, which would also help. Just in case it gets too easy, you can adjust the difficulty level. There are four of them, from easy to insane. On harder levels, the same enemies are harder to kill and do more damage, especially the end boss. But you also get more rewards.

Even if you don’t have a quest, you can still go back and do the same instance over and over again, leveling up and finding gold and new weapons and armor. You can basically do this as long as you want, I think. I have not seen a limit yet. And in fact, sometimes the only quest you have is to level up, if you’ve been “too effective” like doing several quests during the same run though an instance.


“No man ever steps into the same river twice,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

This is a classic trope in a certain type of time travel stories, where the protagonist’s mind goes back in time and is installed in his or her younger body, allowing them to live their life over again. I am sure many of us have thought of this at one time or another. I have been writing stories about this for many years, hundreds of thousands of words, but if you want to read a sure to be classic in this genre I would recommend getting The first 13 lives of Harry August by “Claire North”. I believe this is so far the best in the subgenre, but I may be wrong – be sure to shoot a comment if you have found any better.

This type of story is basically the literary equivalent of the much simpler scenario in Kritika Online (and a handful of similar games) where you are sent back into the same instance you just struggled your way through. But unlike in the game, in a more complex scenario the enemies may no longer be standing in the same place doing the same thing – your changed behavior will send ripples out from you and gradually things will change and you will find new challenges. So the game is more like the daydreams in which you think “if only I had said this instead of that, then everything would have been better”. In reality, you don’t know that, because then you would experience a different life. “All else being the same” is always a hypothetical phrase, because all else is never the same. Except in games, which is one of the more likable things about them, I think.


Another way to experience the same game content repeatedly is to create “alts”, alternative characters. These could be of different classes or archetypes, allowing you to experience the same content from a different angle. For instance maybe your first character was wielding a sword and fought up close with the enemies, but your second character has a bow and fights from a distance but has to run away if they get too close. That makes for a different experience, even if you know where the enemies are, because they behave differently. Unsurprisingly, I make alts in games as well. For instance, I have started Skyrim several times with a new character. Notably I had a Khajiit (cat-person) who would kill bandits and carry them all the way back to the entrance to Whiterun to lay them outside the main gate. MEOW!

I had somewhere around 110 different characters in City of Heroes before the game folded after 8 years. I have no idea how many I made in Daggerfall. But Daggerfall has a fantastic concept that I would dearly love to see in other games: You can add benefits (like more health per level, more resistances, expertise with certain weapons or against certain enemy types) at the price of leveling up more slowly. Conversely, you can add disadvantages to level up faster. So I load my characters to the gills to level up as slowly as possible (1/3 of normal speed, and I seriously wish you could go much further) and then go through quest after quest while slowly leveling up and randomly finding useful weapons, armor, magical items etc to make my character more powerful. The dungeons in Daggerfall do not always have exactly the same monsters in exactly the same place, but for the most part they do on the same level. (It changes once you level up.) Some of them vary though, adding some variation you don’t get in Kritika. Also, the dungeons are enormous, unlike the small quick instances in Kritika. But the principle is the same. And then I go back and start over again.


This past fall there was an anime series called Goblin Slayer, which was set in a typical fantasy world (inspired by Dungeons & Dragons with a dash of Lord of the Rings). I found this story particularly interesting because the main character seemed very clearly inspired by an “Aspie”, someone on the Autism Spectrum (until recently called Asperger Syndrome). I am not sure if the author is basing this on himself or someone he knows, but there are a lot of similarities. Goblin Slayer is a man who slays goblins. While other adventurers move on to more powerful monsters as they level up, Goblin Slayer just gets better and better at killing goblins. If it is not a goblin, he is not interested. He knows them inside and out, can predict what they will do, and has plans to counter them. If it has anything to do with goblins, he’s your man. In one memorable scene, he has a conversation with a heroine who was trapped and raped by goblins earlier in her career, and who had a phobia of them years later after she had become a famous heroine. “If you have a problem with goblins, I will kill them for you.” “Even in my dreams?” “Yes. Because I am the Goblin Slayer.”

I resonated with this character for several reasons, like how he had trouble talking with other people about other things than his special interest (but would know everything about that), how he would fail at common politeness like small talk (“Is this about goblins?” “No, but…” “Goodbye.”)  and did not meet people’s eyes (he actually wore a full helmet all the time when not asleep.) But I also realized that his approach to the fantasy world was very similar to mine. He was not interested in reaching the top level and fighting dragons and demon lords, as long as there were still new ways to fight goblins.

Although the Goblin Slayer’s reasons were different from mine, I also have the tendency to prefer the low-level part of fantasy games, doing them over and over until I feel that I have complete mastery before I move on to other things. This is not just a game thing, I guess, looking at my employment career. It doesn’t pay particularly well, but to someone like me it is still oddly satisfying.



“Won” NaNoWriMo again

There was a time when I wrote novels on the web, too! (And now I do it again.)

On the 14th of NaNoWriMo, the month formerly known as November, I had written 50 000 words on one and the same novel, which is the “winning” requirement for the National Novel Writing Month. So that didn’t take too long, especially since I started over on the second day.

It was pretty fast writing because it was fun to me. That does not mean it is fun to other people. I like superhero-themed massive online games, especially City of Heroes (2004-2012) but I have also repeatedly played Champions Online (although not weekly or monthly, but several times a year) and even tried my hand at DC Universe Online (not so much a fan of that). I occasionally donate a modest amount of money to Valiance Online (which is still in development, and very slow development at that, but can already be tested online) and especially to Ship of Heroes, another “spiritual successor” to City of Heroes which aims to especially preserve the optimistic, heroic atmosphere of the original game. I will surely play City of Titans as well, the first and biggest of the “successors” – if I am still alive and lucid when it becomes available. The official release date is still “fall 2018”, which is a couple weeks ago now. I believe their first release date was in 2015…

So I’ve written a number of attempted stories before that tended strongly toward City of Heroes fan fiction, despite changes in names and the addition of an extra power set. There is certainly some CoH fanfic tendency even in this fall’s story, but it is toned down further and the whole power system is replaced with one based on colors rather than origins. This is something I have used in my fantasy writing for some years, an earlier version of it was very similar to the system in Master of Magic and Magic: The Gathering, but again this has evolved with each story to become more and more unique. Writing a lot is important for this process, I believe, based on my own experience. There was a wave here in Norway of teachers writing their debut novel about a frustrated teacher. You have to write that stuff out of your system. There should be some of you left in your novel, but it should not be autobiographical unless you make that the point. And in the same way, I write the fan fiction out of my stories until it reaches a balance. It took four or five stories to get to this stage.

At this point, I enjoy developing my own imaginary superhero game with a unique power system, and turning it into a world with somewhat lifelike heroes (and somewhat less lifelike villains, so far). But at 50 000 words, we haven’t actually gotten very far at all. Many of those words are describing fights where a small group of newbie heroes goes into a cave or a warehouse to fight criminals, most of which don’t even have superpowers. Of course, we are not talking Superman-level heroes here either, getting shot with a handgun or hit with a baseball bat still hurts, even if it takes a number of such hits to send them to the hospital.

At the end of the 50 000 words, our main character is still level 2 out of at least 60 – and each level takes more to achieve. If I were to continue in this much detail, it would literally take millions of words for him to reach the highest level or anywhere close to it. Not that this is his goal, really. But just to put things in perspective. The main plot is barely touched upon. Interpersonal relationship are few and generally businesslike. Romance is limited to sporadic one-way flirting. We don’t know the general layout of the city where the story takes place, nor the specific layout of any of the locations mentioned. We know at most the uniform colors, sometimes race and general body type of the most important characters.

So what are those 50 000 words? Mostly fight scenes, characters talking about fights, and the narrator (who is also the main character) explaining the superpowers in enough detail to make sense of the fights. Hey, it works for actual superhero comic books. (And Goblin Slayer, but let’s not go there today.)

So anyway, you can read it here, as far as it has come, but I don’t particularly recommend it unless you can’t get enough reading about newbie superheros fighting criminals. Trigger warnings for violence (obviously), poorly hidden sexual innuendo occasionally, and an apostate main character. (Not autobiographic.) It is also a lot less funny than the stories I wrote when I was younger and more carefree.

NaNoWriMo doubts

Made from screenshot in City of Heroes

Example of possible book cover for superhero novel.

In past years, I used to be really excited about NaNoWriMo, the (inter)National Novel Writing Month. I would lay plans starting already in August, and on the last day of October – which some of us refer to as NaNoWriMo Eve or NaNoWe’en – I would restlessly visit the forums while waiting for the midnight hour to strike. Oh, and I took my vacation days in November instead of in summer. Not anymore.

This year I kind of intended to participate, but after midnight I still did not have any good idea about what to write about. No, it is not like I don’t have ideas. I have more ideas than I can count. Ideas are like cats: If you take in two of them, soon your house is full of them. They are on your kitchen counter, they are on your couch, they are under your cupboard, they try to follow you into the bathroom. Actually, ideas usually succeed at this better than cats, but you get the point. There are always ideas, but none of them stood out as This Year’s Idea for NaNoWriMo.

Around an hour after midnight, I picked one fairly pretentious one, a metaphysical fantasy about an unemployed warehouse workers which gets picked by the Universe to send to the Universe’s niece which was in a difficult age, with excessive magic production and wars and disasters. Insert deep teachings about the Great Chain of Being and the Descent of the Light into Creation. I wrote a bit less than 2000 words on it before I decided that this was way too serious a topic for speed writing. Also, not much fun. So the next day I started over with a fluffier story.

Currently I’m writing about a gamer who tried to be a hero in Real Life and was stabbed and died. Or perhaps he didn’t exactly die. It is hard to know. What we know is that he wakes up inside his favorite superhero MMORPG, which was closed down the year before. Maybe this is his afterlife – he and the game are both dead – or perhaps he is in a coma and imagining all this. Or perhaps it is the future and his frozen brain has been scanned and uploaded to a supercomputer. Or perhaps he has been in a coma for many years and his actual brain has only now been connected to a supercomputer. Who knows? How are you supposed to find out from inside the game? If reality outside of reality was easy to find out, we wouldn’t have dozens of competing religions in the so-called real world, would we?

But mostly it’s just the kind of fluffy feel-good superhero story with the occasional challenge thrown in, that I myself would like to read. It is almost certainly not going to sneakily save anyone’s soul while they let their guard down.

So in the end, I am once again writing the kind of story I like to read. In fact, I am writing it because that is the only way I get to read it – the muses in my head won’t dictate a whole book to me if I can’t be bothered to write it down. That’s just how this thing works for me. So I guess I am, as you say in English, just pleasuring myself – in this case my mind rather than my flesh. But in either case, it is probably not something the rest of the world is particularly interested in. I may put it up with the old stories that are linked from my front page, in which case I will likely only post the first chapters as usual. We’ll see, nobody knows whether we will be here tomorrow. But if I am, chances are that I am writing. I do that pretty much every day, after all.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15

Screenshot anime Overlord, season 3, episode 8, last scene

Why is there a Dragon here? For speaking, naturally! Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the world’s premiere speech recognition software, now with Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence that adjusts to your accent and the common cold. Fire breathing not included.

Today I upgraded (in a manner of speaking) from Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 13 professional individual to Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 15 home. I virtually never used the more advanced features of the earlier version.

The most important part for me is accuracy of recognition, and I have to say that version 15 is almost indistinguishable from magic in that regard. And I mean right out of the box: There is no longer even an option to train the program by reading a text for it. Version 13 was pretty good after training and a few days of practice. Version 15 is that good right out of the box. (At least I believe it doesn’t have access to my previous training, as it required me to uninstall the previous version and reboot the computer before I was allowed to install the newest version.)

I have used and reviewed many different versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking over the years, both before and after it was acquired by Nuance. There has definitely been progress! I believe the first version I reviewed was either six or seven, and I generously compared it to homesick Asian high school exchange student. I could probably have added seasick as well, as its performance was unimpressive, to say the least. If you had functioning hands, you were better off using those, even if you typed with one finger.

Those days are definitely gone! Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 takes dictation like a highly trained secretary, only faster. Actually, Dragon has outpaced secretaries for at least a couple of versions now, but this required you to speak clearly and train the program first. And the results were less impressive for me, who has a strong Scandinavian accent. Actually, “accent” might be too weak a word. If you are familiar with the computer game “Skyrim”, the pronunciation by the Nord bandits in that game is pretty close to how I speak in real life. I am not sure how a highly trained secretary will handle that, but Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 has well over 99% accuracy, right out of the box, with that kind of foreign accent.


There are still some challenges. In my experience, they are not too bad, but I see a lot of one star reviews on Amazon. Most notably, Dragon is squeamish about working with applications it doesn’t know. Supposedly this includes earlier versions of Microsoft Office. When I started writing in LibreOffice, Dragon NaturallySpeaking automatically popped up to the “Dictation box” where you can dictate and edit your text before transferring it to the target application. It’s an okay solution in my opinion, but it can be distracting, and you cannot interact directly with the target program using your voice for instance “click file save” the way you can in supported programs. Removing the checkmark for automatically opening Dictation box lets me dictate directly in LibreOffice, but it still struggles with commands, and you cannot edit the text with Dragon after you dictate it.

I have the same problem with my favorite browser, Vivaldi. Admittedly that is not very common browser, So I installed the Dragon Web extension For chrome.As you can see from the previous sentence, that didn’t work too well, and it doesn’t work too well in Google Chrome either. Luckily I have fingers, and so Dictation Box it is. But Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser for Windows, and not having native support for that makes the program seem rushed, at best. Especially when you consider that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a very expensive program. It is not so bad by Norwegian standards, since both salaries and living expenses here are already very high. Even so, I only buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking when it is discounted, as it was in this case. In the USA, a single person could eat for a month for this much money, and in the actual developing world even more. So in that perspective, you would expect a more polished product than this.

But what it does well, is take dictation. And at that, it is the best in the world. No software and no human can match it for the combination of speed, accuracy, and fast learning.

Life in the zeroth world

Screenshot from Finnish TV program

Screenshot from Finnish TV program. Contrary to what some may think, healthcare and education are not so much expenses as investment. If you think it is expensive to have a healthy and well educated population, you should try to have a sickly and ignorant one. Actually, perhaps you have. In that case, you are likely to be stuck in the Third World for some time.

I am old enough to remember that the phrases “first world” and “third world” meant something different from today. Today, they refer to standard of living. Back then, these were geopolitical descriptions: The USA and its allies were the First World, the Soviet Union and its allies were the Second World, and the unaligned nations were the Third World.

America and western Europe are still referred to as first world countries, and Japan is also usually included. For a while, it was thought that Japan would surpass the western economies, but this did not happen. On the other hand, a number of small countries have surpassed the USA in income per capita or at least in standard of living for the average citizen, sometimes both. If the USA is the standard of the first world, maybe we should refer to nations like Norway and Luxembourg as “zeroth world countries”?


I live in Norway, and I am well aware that I am super privileged to live here. Obviously a lot of countries feel like the best country in the world to those who live there, and surely this is a good thing. But when compiling statistics, Norway tends to float to the top because it is near the top in so many good things, and far from the bottom in the rest. The other Nordic countries have a lower nominal income per person, but their standard of living is still very high. We could perhaps refer to all these too as “zeroth world countries”. Life here is quite good in many ways. But it is probably very different from what you imagine if you live in the “third world”.

For instance, perhaps you imagine that if you lived in a rich country like this, you would have many servants, like rich people have in many third world countries. But “servant” is not actually a meaningful word up here. It is an old-fashioned concept that is mostly found in history book. It is extremely rare for a family, even a rich family by our standards, to have a cook or a full-time gardener, let alone a butler or maid. People may go out to eat and may rent some services if they have jobs that leave them with little free time; but mostly it is seen as a matter of pride to be self-sufficient in your own home. Having something like servants is seen as morally dubious and conceited. On the other hand it is fine to save time by using robotic vacuum cleaners, robotic lawnmowers and all kinds of intelligent electronics in the house.

Perhaps you think that if you lived in a rich country, you could afford to go to the university for many years and get a great title, perhaps become a doctor. Yes, this is very common. But after you finish, you don’t use that title except perhaps briefly in academic journals. Students refer to their professors by first name, the CEO of a large company signs his emails by first name, and even the Prime Minister – arguably the most powerful person in the country – is usually referred to by her first name. If you tried to demand that people refer to you as “doctor”, people would look at you like you were on the wrong drugs, like someone wandering around in sandals and a toga in the middle of winter muttering to themselves.

Perhaps you think that living in a rich country, you would buy a big luxury car or wear lots of gold rings and jewelry. Well, there are some pretty nice cars around, Tesla in particular are fairly popular. But luxury brands are quite rare, and not because of crime, which is fairly low here. Rather, it is seen as vulgar and crude to display your wealth with extreme luxury. Sure, buy high quality and keep up with the neighbors, but don’t go over the top, or others will laugh at you behind your back and say that your head has become a balloon and you are flying in the skies. The same goes for excessive jewelry, especially gold. Traditional folk garb that is now used for festive occasions can be decorated with quite a bit of silver, but gold should always be displayed in moderation, and jewels even more so.

Of course, there are other ways to signal that you are well off. A common use of money is to vacation in faraway places. “Oh, you went to Bali? Yes, I hear there have been quite a lot of people going to Bali lately. Me, I was in Myanmar this year. Fassscinating place! Hardly a tourist to see. I’m thinking of seeing Nepal next year. I hear it is really difficult to get in there.”

In addition to their house in or near the city, most self-respecting families have a cabin (“hytte” in Norwegian). Originally a simple wood structure without electricity and water, usually in a remote location in the mountains or by the sea. In recent years these have become larger and more convenient, and there are whole villages of them.  It is increasingly common to have two, one in the mountains for winter skiing, and one by the sea for bathing and sunbathing in the summer. Normally the cabin is close enough that you can drive there on weekends. The cabin is also used by teenagers who want to have sex without their parents listening, or just to get to know each other better. Even though many people outside the city center have a free-standing house owned only by their family, it is generally frowned upon to have a huge manor, plus it is a lot of work since you don’t have servants. It is better to have a normal-size house and then a cabin or two.

(Me, I am barely even working class, so I have none of this of course. No house, no cabin, no car, no boat, no vacation travel. I rent the house and take the bus if it is too far to walk. People would pity me if they thought of me at all. “What’s wrong with that guy? Does he have a lot of kids he is paying child support for, or is he not right in the head?” Well, the last part is not too far off, I guess, by local standards. But I still work full time, thanks for asking.)


Speaking of people who are not right in the head, these make up a significant portion of the truly poor here. It is not like everyone is living in luxury. Some people are unable to work because our workplaces are very demanding, especially on the mind. Due to the high salaries, you are not employed at all unless you can add significant value to the workplace. Public sector is a little easier in that regard, but it is still pretty intense these days. So a number of people are on disability pension, and many retire early. Still, pensions are usually enough to assure a comfortable life. Those who experience abject poverty are usually those who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse, and who are therefore unable to handle money in a reasonable way.

One result of this is that helping the poor is not something you can or should try to do impulsively. Unless these are old friends or relatives (and sometimes even if they are), you may need to be a trained professional to know for sure whether they can tell you apart from the orcs and aliens that haunt their inner landscape. And if you don’t know what you do, you could bring great harm to yourself, to them, or to random bystanders.

The sane poor generally get help from the government in various ways, and consider this a right rather than some kind of gift, charity or pity money. Many of them would indeed take offense at random gifts or offers of help. That said, there are charitable organizations that make life easier for those of limited means, such as the Salvation Army which sells used clothes and furniture without racking up a profit. (I have a nice living room group that I bought from their outlet. Good enough for many more years.)


I hope this gave you an interesting glimpse of life in a “rich country”. As you see, it is not so much that everyone is like the rich people in a poor country. It is a completely different culture and way of life.

Incels and other in’s

Screenshot anime 3D Kanojou

In general, people like me will never be taken as a partner. (And the other way around.) 

I am still alive, long may it last! So I should pay my due to humanity by sharing my wisdom with the world, right? Well, there is pearls before swine, but I like to think that fairly few swine find their way here. (Not counting the repeated Google searches for “anime babes” and such. I don’t think they stay long.)

Recently I learned a new North American word, “incel”. It is a shorthand for “involuntary celibate”, and evidently in recent months some of those folks have decided that this is sufficient reason to rape, murder or just be a public nuisance. And of course giving a bad name to celibate men everywhere.

So, let us look at this from a place far above the dust clouds of the news media.


Of course there are many men who are involuntarily celibate, and this is pretty much normal for much or all of your life. We know this because if we look at the human genome, you have roughly twice as many female ancestors as male ones.

Wait, that can’t be right, can it? After all, you have one father and one mother (dead or alive), two grandfathers and two grandmothers, four great-grandfathers and four great-grandmothers. In each and every generation, it take exactly 1 man and 1 woman to make a baby.

True. But once you start looking back through your ancestry, you will find male names popping up in more than one place. It may take some time, but if you have a large and complex map of your ancestry, this will increasingly happen as you go back in time. And a map made from genes will show more of this than one made from church books. The reason for these duplicates is that this guy had kids with his wife, but also with his servant girl (or slave, or prisoner of war, or some other woman he had power over). These kids, when they survived, made their own branches of your family tree, and after some generations they forgot that they were related to the main family (if they even knew).

In addition, some men also had children with other men’s wives, but this is actually less common than I expected – it seems that women are not more likely to have extramarital sex during their most fertile days, despite predictions by evolutionary biologists that this would make up almost all of their fence jumping, while they would have sex with their beta husbands the rest of the month to keep him paying the bills (or chasing away cave bears, in our distant past). Turns out women aren’t usually that focused on getting the “alpha” genes for their babies, to the big surprise of theoretical biologists.

Going further back than the last few generations, there is rather a lot of slavery and servitude and serf-i-tude with the slave owners, the rich and the nobles having a field day with the women who served them. That’s when we don’t have outright polygamy, which was common in the Bronze Age and for some time afterwards.

There was a brief interval in the 20th century when monogamy was seen as so much of an ideal that a higher proportion of the men were married than today, but the servant girls still got pregnant with their masters (or the master’s son). They just weren’t supposed to talk about i.

Anyway, being celibate whether you want it or not is perfectly normal and a fairly larger percentage of the male population will be in this situation for years on end, and some for life.


Labeling yourself as “involuntarily celibate” when you are 19 is about as ingenious as calling yourself “involuntarily poor” when you are subsisting on student loans. You aren’t supposed to get everything right away. Sure, all the guys in your high school class were going on and on about the awesome sex they had with named girls pretty all the time. But you know what? Unless you live in Scandinavia or some such, a lot of them lied. Possibly even there. You really ought to know that: After all, unless you were seriously God-fearing, you probably did the same yourself. Boys lie about how many girls they’ve slept with, and girls lie about how few guys they’ve slept with. We know this because if we interview enough men and women about their sexual history, the numbers don’t match up at all. Even in anonymous surveys, there is still a substantial difference.


Once you’re a working adult, we can start talking about being involuntarily celibate. But then, we can talk about a lot of involuntary things. Like involuntary poverty, for instance the couple billion people who can’t eat whenever they want to or wear shoes whenever they want to. But you don’t compare yourself to them, do you? You compare yourself to the rich and famous. After all, a thousand advertisements have told you that you deserve the best, even though the objective fact is that you aren’t the best, far from it. How about you compare yourself to the involuntarily blind, the involuntarily deaf, the involuntarily wheelchair-bound, the involuntarily missing fingers and broken spines. I guess involuntarily stupid can be combined with incel, though. So there is that.


“Involuntary sex is no worse than involuntary lack of sex” is a valid hypothesis. But as always in science, you need to run tests of  both scenarios. I am sure going to jail as a rapist will help you test out your hypothesis right quick. Being a whiner in prison should be a good way to attract involuntary sex, at least in America. And involuntary violence as well. It can’t be worse than involuntary lack of violence, can it? If someone wants to fight with you, why should they have to restrain themselves? After all, it is fun for them, so they would be suffering if they had to concern themselves about other people’s feelings. Lack of pleasure is suffering now, evidently. Such a terrible suffering that the world needs to know.


Basically, we are all suffering involuntarily in many ways. As the Buddha said (loosely translated), “life is suffering”. There aren’t many things we know for sure, but some things we know for sure: We will all lose our youth, our health, our family, our friends, our belongings and our life. Some will lose them one by one, others will lose them all at once. Me, I am involuntarily mortal, and it bothers me a great deal. Celibacy not so much. Definitely less than involuntarily not playing City of Heroes. Luckily, if I stay alive till December, I should be in on the Ship of Heroes beta, which is widely expected to be better than sex. (Your sex may vary.)