COVID-19: Sing alone, if at all

Screenshot anime MomoKuri

“I’ve disinfected my hands.” Unfortunately, disinfecting your hands may not be enough, or even the most important thing this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has entered its second wave here in Europe. In much of the Americas and some other parts of the world, the first wave is not even over. Ironically, a vaccine seems to be only a few months away. If only we could keep it away a brief time longer!

At least we know more about how it is transmitted now. Or at least some of us know. So I thought I should say a few words about that. (A few words, hah.)

When the pandemic was new, we were in the strange situation of having its entire genome but not knowing for sure how it spread. This has never happened before, and it may have caused some of the jumping to conclusions that made the first wave so bad. See, the genome showed that the virus was fairly closely related to the original SARS virus from 2002. In fact, the new virus was named SARS-CoV-2 and still is. So it seemed a reasonable assumption that it spread similarly. Not quite the same way obviously, but perhaps that way too.

The original SARS was infamous for spreading by indirect contact. Its first “shock and awe” episode was when several people died after touching the same elevator button as a patient. As a result, some of the first advice was to wash your hands thoroughly and for a long time with soap, disinfect door handles and other shared surfaces, and not touch your face. (Leaving alone the stupidity of telling people to not touch their face, which even the health advisors continued to do at the press conferences where they told people not to do it, it is actually only the eyes, nostrils and mouth that needs avoiding even with surface contamination. Unbroken skin is very resistant to virus infection, even when it is thin.) People were also encouraged to wash perishable food (but not with chemicals!) and disinfect packaging, and let non-perishables stand untouched for three days to let the virus die.

Today we know that while this “hygiene theater” is mostly harmless, it is also mostly useless when it comes to COVID-19. The virus is mostly airborne, and resides in droplets that come out of people’s mouth and occasionally nose. Larger droplets fall to the ground after a distance of around 6 feet or close to 2 meters. But it has gradually become necessary to admit that a main pathway – perhaps THE main pathway – of transmission is aerosols,  or micro-droplets if you will use a more understandable name. These are so small and lightweight, they can float in he air for hours. And they are expelled even when breathing, particularly through the mouth, even more so when breathing heavily or talking, very much when talking loudly, and excessively when singing.

The great “shock and awe” episode of COVID-19, at least in the western world, was when a large part of a choir died after singing together, despite keeping the recommended distance and not facing each other. Similar but lesser episodes have happened elsewhere, among other places in Sweden where a local outbreak started after a song gathering. Here in Norway, a severe outbreak started in a Muslim community and spread to many schools after a festival.

Unlike some virus, the severity of this one seems to depend somewhat on how much virus you inhale, if you have a functioning immune system at all. Inhaling just a few virus seems to not cause infection at all in most, while inhaling a small dose will usually cause a mild disease except in the very old or sickly. Conversely, health workers who are exposed to massive doses of the virus often get critically ill and sometimes die, even when young and healthy.

In this situation, you would expect teachers to die like canaries in a coal mine, given how ubiquitous singing is in especially primary school. But there is one thing that comes to their rescue: The amazing ability of children to infect everyone around them with every germ that comes to town.

A Swedish study showed that in a control group who had not had COVID-19, about 1/3 still had T-cells that reacted against the virus. It is believed that these had been exposed to other corona-virus which cause common cold. (Please note that there are many different virus that cause “common cold”, which is merely a set of symptoms and not a particular species of virus.) There are at least four common colds that come from corona-virus, the latest one having split from bovine corona-virus around 1880. It is possible that the current pandemic will eventually join this crowd and become a recurring but mostly harmless cold, but for now it must be taken much more seriously. The good news is that most kids and their teachers probably have some resistance to it already because they have been exposed to related virus.

That said, if at all possible, singing should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic, or until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available. Locales should be aired as much as feasible, and any activity that can take place outdoors should do so. Outdoors, the micro-droplets will rapidly disperse: Even if there is no breeze, convection and Brownian motion will quickly remove them from face height. This would explain why the large demonstrations in many countries this summer had minimal effect, while weddings and birthday celebrations are pure murder, since they tend to be held indoors in whole or in part.

For more reading, not by me, Elemental has an article on this topic, partly overlapping with mine but with a different focus: The most likely way you’ll get infected with COVID-19

So secure

Screenshot anime Aho-girl

Boys feel insecure unless you tell them with words… and Google feels insecure unless you use SSL. Sometimes I too feel insecure, and need a reminder.

It is way past decent bedtime but I think I have manage to activate SSL to the point where my website defaults to https. Or in other words, hopefully once your cache clears, you should be able to visit Chaosnode.net without your browser screaming “This site has been taken over by the forces of evil! Flee for your life!” as it has done for some time now. I was a bit baffled about this since the site has been encrypted by Let’s Encrypt for, oh, a year or two? But Google still had to be prodded with a cattleprod to have anything to do with it. Hopefully that should end now, because the site is so secure.

***

Speaking of Google, their YouTube thought this was a good time to bring up again some songs I listened to in October last year. I agree, although probably not for the reasons they believe. Perhaps another Big G is also tweaking their routines, who knows. Because a song came up that made me cry then, and it made me cry again tonight. (But I dried my tears and continued to research the SSL, because I love you.)

The song is called You Are The Light and is by Kanon, a Japanese songstress of some good repute. I discovered this song because it is popular the same audience as the song This Is My Road  which was performed in excerpt with the anime Guin Saga, based on a work that was unfortunately left unfinished due to the untimely demise of its author. I guess I should take that as a reminder. “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are lost forever” used to be a motto of this site, once upon a time. Once upon a brighter time, I guess we can say.

The refrain of the song goes like this:

You are the light, you are my hope,
I’m so secure ’cause with you now.

I hope you too are so secure  now. And Light willing, I may write more another time. But for now, I uploaded the brief entry I wrote back then, on October 1 last year. Back then, I tried to embed the song and type out the text I heard, even if not much more. I have no idea if those who know me will understand why it hit me like it did. But it is worth a try. Here it is: Singing to the Light, in the dark.

 

COVID-19: Be like Norway, maybe?

“Be like Sweden” they said. “It will be fun, they said.” (Image from the Swedish course on Duolingo.com.)

Since I am still alive (surprise!), I should probably write this. It is still a time of confusion for many, and a time of uncertainty even for me. How long I shall remain in the world of forms is literally up in the air. But at least I am still alive as of writing this. And living in Norway may be a big part of that.

“Be like Sweden” say homemade banners from people who are not usually big fans of the Nordic social democracy. Social Democracy is generally grouped with Socialism among those who have no education in the field beyond hearsay and rumors. So what did Sweden do to summon forth this sudden love? It allowed a few thousand people to die for the economy, it seems.

I should make it clear that we are not talking about “Hey, we have too many old people here, let’s kill some of them off for the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.” Nope, nothing like that. More like “Some of you are going to die, probably, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.” Obviously, with COVID-19 being a brand new disease, nobody knew for sure how many might die, but optimism prevailed. It was thought that children were immune and also could not spread the virus, and that maybe 95% of those infected never developed the disease at all, or not beyond a common cold. Hey, seriously, people believed that for a while. So much like any drunk driver, Sweden took the chance that it would probably be fine. Well, they were kind of right, in that only 5000 have died so far (officially at least) out of 10 million. Of course, those who died might have seen it in a less positive light.

My native Norway, Sweden’s smaller brother to the west, was || this close to taking the same path. But our female Prime Minister chickened out and slammed the emergency brakes. As a result Norway could open up again around the time Sweden realized that things were not really going as well as expected.

***

On March 12, the Norwegian government declared the most severe restrictions in peacetime ever. (Arguably the most severe ever, since we’ve only been in war once after our independence in 1905, and then it was the German occupation force that introduced the severity.) Schools and kindergartens were closed down, as were one-on-one services like hairdressers or physical therapy; gatherings of more than 5 people outside the household were forbidden, and travel was severely restricted even inside the country while the borders were closed almost completely. Health personnel were forbidden from leaving the country, and others who crossed the borders were required to quarantine on return.

Groceries and supermarkets were kept open and it was made clear that they would remain so. This prevented most of the hoarding seen in some other nations. Actually, my local supermarket had a sale on toilet paper at the time when lack of toilet paper was a recurring headline in many other countries. There was some extra sale of dry and canned food. (I had shopped that a month or two in advance, since it was glaringly obvious already in January that the pandemic would hit us like a giant wave.)

I had also worked from home for a while when the order came for all office workers to work from home wherever possible. Mass transit was ordered to leave every other seat marked as unavailable. Like that would be enough, as one person sneezing in a bus will reach at least half the bus if not all of it. Data so far imply that mass transit has been the main scene of transmission along with shared workspace, so sending most office workers home was probably the single most effective move, far more than some of the more draconian restrictions.

By the end of April, the first wave of the pandemic was fast receding in Norway, and society began to open up.

***

The re-opening of Norway started with kindergarten, as one could expect since it is quite rare to have stay-at-home parents here, of either gender. If you’ve ever seen pre-school children awake, you probably can imagine what having them around would do for productivity at the home office. Even grade school kids tend to get restless pretty quickly if they don’t get attention (especially if they don’t have the good luck to be born introverts). So a week after their smaller siblings, the first four grades of primary school were off to class, followed by the rest in early May.

Also in early May, gatherings of up to 20 people were allowed, or 50 for formal gatherings in public spaces. Recommended distance was lowered from 2 meters (yards) to 1.

In May, the rapid fall in new infections stopped and the disease stabilized on a very low level, typically 10-20 new cases registered per day, in a population of 5 million. For some reason everyone seems happy with having rolled the boulder almost to the top of the hill and leaving it there, ready to roll all the way back down again, rather than end the threat more definitely. One reason for that can be seen by looking over the border to the east: Neighboring Sweden still had a raging epidemic, even though the top of the first wave had been passed even there. The top was far higher though, and the decline slower. Eradicating the disease in Norway was perhaps pointless if anyone sneaking across the border could set it off again from the start.

***

It is now late June, and contrary to my expectations, we have not had a second wave. The number of infections has increased marginally, occasionally rising above 30 new cases per day. We also know that there are some unregistered cases, because we get new patients who have no idea where they were infected. There are probably some asymptomatic carriers, or people with so mild symptoms that they can’t be bothered to get tested, as well as people who avoid health personnel or anything resembling government for personal reasons. The testing capacity is far, far higher than needed, although there are occasionally unnecessary wait times for results. Mostly just a couple days though.

Norwegians have been encouraged to vacation in Norway, meaning evidently that they are supposed to travel to other parts of Norway on vacation instead of staying at home as would be the sane thing to do. Now they are going to throng together at the popular tourist spots (one of which is right here where I live) and we can expect local outbreaks.

***

Speaking of local outbreaks, one reason the topic came to mind again was that a shop worker sneezed right by me this past Friday. Nobody here wears face masks – by ancient tradition, only criminals wear masks outside certain parts of hospitals – so now I’m waiting to see whether I got COVID-19 or not. A bit of excitement in everyday life, since I’m in a couple risk groups. That said, there’s been like 1 registered case in this province so far in June, so if I get COVID-19 from this episode I think we’ll have to chalk it up to Divine intervention. Which admittedly seems to play a pretty big role in my life, looking back on it, but usually for the better. Starting with the amazingly great fortune of being born into Norwegian citizenship, which is already like winning a lottery.

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?

Singing to the Light, in the dark

You never know what you will find in a Chaos Node. As I booted up an old computer to test something, the browser came up with one window showing my Livejournal Friends page from a day in 2010, presumably when I last used the computer. That is why I know how long ago this was. Another tab was opened on one of my favorite Japanese songs from that time (This is my Road from Guin Saga). The next video queued up, which I had not played and never seen or heard before, was the song You are the Light by Kanon. A Japanese songstress, so I was completely unprepared for what I heard. And for the first time in many months, tears filled my eyes.

Every time I lose myself, you always guide my with your words;
give me the strength to power on.
That’s why I’m still standing now…
I wanna thank for all the things you have given me.
The light seems stronger every time you are here with me…
All my heart and soul belong to you… to You!

You are the Light, you are my hope,
I’m so secure ’cause with you now.

In this world we live today,
failing to achieve our goals,
our souls are left in deep despair.
But don’t let darkness fill your heart
’cause there will always be the Light, shining from Above.
Ah, draw me closer, hold me tighter, with your love:
all my heart and soul belong to you… to You.

You are the Light, you are my hope,
I’m so secure ’cause with you now.

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