Blowing on embers

The raging fire inside translates into a pleasant warmth when you pass by it.

The summer was cooler (in temperature, I mean) than I am used to. Some people blame the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. Certainly the autumn has also come faster than usual, although we have had no snow yet and only a couple nights of frost. The thermometer in my living room soon went down to 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) and has pretty much stayed there for about a month. It has not gone much below that, even after cold nights. It is as if the house cannot really believe it can get colder in the living room while there are people living in it.

But I don’t live in the living room, I live in the home office. And in the bedroom at night. The home office is still heated enough by the computers, when I keep the door closed. Although today is is just barely.

And today, the living room thermometer went below 14 degrees C (57F). So I fired up the wood stove again.

It is more like a test run, really. I am not going to heat the whole house pleasantly warm throughout winter, but I intend to burn wood every day to help keep the pipes from freezing. That is not really a problem yet, probably not for several weeks.

I first put some balled-up newspaper pages in the stove, then put in an empty yogurt carton filled with other, flattened cartons to a compact mass. This burns like a very porous wood and is a great way to get a fire started. After a while I returned and put wood on.  By then, there was only embers, and they seemed to like it that way. So I found a drinking straw and used it to blow on the embers. Soon they flared into an intense flame, easily igniting the wood. It has been burning since, with the occasional new piece of wood thrown in.


And this, dear congregation, is my text today. Because something similar happened to me. I have gotten my hand on the book The Intellectual Life by A G Sertillanges. It is an old book, the last foreword by the author from 1934, and the book had already been in print for a good while by then. It may be around a century old, or nearly so.  It is certainly from a time when there was no contradiction between the words “intellectual” and “Christian”, rather the author seems to assume that any serious intellectual would also be a Catholic or at least a Christian.

How did we get from there to here?  I don’t know. It happened before my time, I believe, or at least before I started thinking about such things.

Be that as it may, the book bears a striking resemblance to parts of the writing of Ryuho Okawa, more exactly his writing about Wisdom, one of the four pillars of the “modern four-fold path”: Love that gives, Wisdom, Self-reflection and Progress.  Okawa’s view of wisdom is so strikingly similar to the older book that I am certain he must have read it, and it must have resonated within his heart as it does in mine.  Then again Mr Okawa supposedly reads about 1000 books a year, so it is no wonder if he has read this. And if he has, it is no wonder it made a deep impression on him. It probably would on anyone able to work through its somewhat dense language.

Yes, Sertillanges writes for the intellectual, and he does not bother to make it easy to read. Why would he? Intellectuals should be accustomed to heavy reading. His writing is quite a bit harder to read than mine, whereas Okawa can probably be read even by 12 year olds if they are interested in the subject matter.

I have not read far yet. I hope to write more about the book once I have finished it, or at least read a goodly part of it.  But the effect was very much like blowing on embers.  My desire for a life of the spirit flared up, and with it a willingness to spend more of my time and my thought on higher matters. That means, among other things, that I won’t be punishing those treacherous Greeks in Civilization V tonight. ^_^ Or anytime soon, I suppose.

Not that there is anything wrong with playing Civ5. To quote Okawa, whose latest book I reread a bit of later today: “For example, if you wish to graduate from university with good grades, find a good job, and be successful in society, you cannot spend all your time gambling. This might be fine if you intend to live the life of a professional gambler or if you want to gamble moderately, work moderately, and live a moderate life. If you have high aspirations and need to concentrate on achieving them, however, you must give up your gambling activities, even if you enjoy them.” If you replace gambling with gaming, you’ll see what I mean. Do I wish to live a moderate life, or do I have higher aspirations? That’s where the fire of the heart comes in.


NaNoWriMo also has that effect on some people.

Yes, only a few weeks till November, or NaNoWriMo as some of us calls it. National (more like International these days) Novel Writing Month.  The forums are heating up, the various participants are blogging, and planning and plotting are done by the kind of people who do those things.

Correspondingly, it becomes harder to not start writing already on all of the ideas that pop up, and they do pop up pretty frequently as the time draws close. I don’t know what I am going to write about if I’m still around and capable of writing in November (which I sincerely hope). I have said half in jest that my NaNoWriMo story will be the one that has survived unwritten through October.

In other words, October is Non-Writing Month, thus today’s headline.

I have already started on a couple stories that might have been expandable to short books.

“Sucks to be a succubus” – about two teenage boys in the magical world of Arcanus who try to summon a succubus (female sexual demon). Because they gets one of the magical words wrong, they end up summoning the soul of a dying teen boy from Earth into the excessively sexy female body. Chaos ensues.  Pro: I already have a lot of worldbuilding for Arcanus and Myrror, for an earlier NaNoWriMo story that annihilated itself and its backups (which were on the same disk, for convenience). Con: A month with a succubus. -_-;

Crystalight: A world with superheroes but no supervillains, because superpowers come from attuning to the mystic light of the Crystals in the half-ethereal Overworld, and only young teenagers of good reputation are allowed to enter the Academy built around the Crystals. So nothing can go wrong… or can it? Pro: I’ve written Magic School stories since long, long before Harry Potter saw the light of day. Con: Not enough content for a month. I would have to contrive a lot.

Still unwritten:

“Return to Niniveh”: A young man start hearing voices telling him that he is the reincarnation of the prophet Jonah. El, king of the gods, needs his services again: As the only known prophet to convert a large city, he is El’s last best hope to avert the end of the current era. “Don’t make me come down there!” Pro: Psychological angle. Is he really the prophet reborn, or just crazy? Con: Potential blasphemy, and lots of it.

“Mirror world”: One day there is a girl in the large bathroom mirror. This would not have been uncommon except the one in front of it is a boy. The girl is his counterpart in the Mirror World, and he gets over to the other side to help her investigate a mystery.  Mirror World borders on many different worlds, most of them magical worlds strikingly different from ours. Pro: With unlimited worlds, it should be easy to get to 50 000 words in a month. Con: No plot, no point, no message.

Or I could reboot some older story, in which case there are too many to even list by name.  I have been writing since I was little, after all.  I wonder if I will stop before my body gives out.

Civilization V game – early impressions

Welcome to the future of Civilization (or at least the game of that name).

I don’t have unlimited time for gaming, but some days ago I bought the latest incarnation of Sid Meier’s Civilization. The original was possibly the most engrossing game I have ever known, so that I still thought it was evening when the morning sun rose.  This is not quite that bad / good, or perhaps I am just more resistant now.  But my first impression is that I like it better than the two previous versions.

The first thing you notice is that the game now requires online validation. It uses the online gaming service Steam, run by a company called Valve (who also make some popular games on their own). If you don’t have Internet access, you can’t play this game.  If Valve goes bust or is bought up by competitors, or if their servers are hit by a meteor or whatever, you can’t play this game ever again.  If you are temporarily without Internet connection, or if the Steam server is temporarily without Internet connection, or if there is a line break anywhere between the two, you can’t play the game until this is fixed. So, a big thumb down for this. It is not like the game actually needs this feature for any reason:  Multiplayer is entirely voluntary and a clearly separated part of the game.

It is obviously some kind of copy protection. People are scared of piracy, and rightly so. But the irony is that due to this copy protection, you are better off with a cracked copy (unless it is infected with virus or other malware). Legitimate customers are the ones who have to suffer this indignity, pirates don’t. Well, unless they want to play multiplayer, in which case they may find themselves in hot water as their IP address will be registered.

Now on to the actual game. It is advertised as having a major upgrade of graphics, but I don’t agree. It is no more decorative than Civ4 was, and more cluttered. The information is reasonably easy to find, but there is a lot of detail that is basically more noise than signal. The game designers have taken this into account and provided a strategic mode you can toggle to, but that goes to the other extreme again, looking terribly cartoonish.

One striking change is the shift from rectangles to hexagons as the basic unit of land (or sea). I approve of this, but it does not look better. It looks worse, in my opinion. I may simply need to get used to it, but it is months since last I looked at a Civilization game and it still looks just unnatural to me. It does make more sense in military confrontations and unit movement though, and also in land cultivation.

Another major difference from all the earlier games is that cities now have hit points and an inherent bombard ability regardless of whether there are military units in them. So you can establish a city and not immediately fortify it. Even a small city with no upgrades can fend off the random wandering barbarian army or two without a scratch, which is nice.  But it goes further than that.

During my second game, I played at an easy difficulty level. At first I made mostly workers to improve the land, but then I started plonking down cities. I fortified a warrior in the first and an archer in the second, then made two without defenders.  While working on my fifth settler, I had two of the strongest powers in the world declare war on me.  Russia had about half of the world’s military at the time, so that was rather disconcerting. Luckily the highest tech was chariot archers, but still seeing a tsunami of enemy units rolling toward your undefended city…

Amazingly though, the bombard ability managed to take out several attackers without them ever getting right next to the city. The enemy archers were the worst problem, but I managed to finish a chariot archer just in time when the city defenses were eradicated.  The other part of the Russian army that had marched toward my capital city were shot to pieces without doing any damage at all.  So that was pretty impressive.  I assume the same would have happened if I had attacked them, so this is a major change in the game balance during the ancient and medieval era.  I assume this will change with artillery, rocketry and air bombing. Still, it gives a major incentive to expand rapidly instead of building up the military first.

The role of religions, which showed up in Civ4, is utterly removed. You can still build temples, but they only give culture points. Specialized religious buildings for different religions are removed, and I did not even see the cathedrals that have been with the game from the start (I think, I know they were in Civ2 at least). The number of religious themed Wonders of the World is also reduced, and there is no longer particularly many from the Christian sphere compared to other cultures. It seems safe to guess that Firaxis got burned on that feature last time.

Culture no longer expands your border rapidly. You will get nearby land or sea tiles as your population grows. There seem to be more tiles than population, but not by much, unless you spend gold to buy them. This may be a good idea if there are valuable resources just out of reach, like luxuries or iron or horses for your military.

On the other hand, culture now accumulates to let you buy social policies. These come in a number of groups, some of which are mutually exclusive, but many are not. The groups are themed, so that one group is particularly useful for large empires, another for small, another for seafaring and mercantile nations and so on. You can win a cultural victory by getting many enough of these, but even on the ridiculously easy Tutorial level I was nowhere near that before the game was closing in on the year 2050, where scoring ends.

The Civ games used to benefit greatly from micromanagement. It was a bit of a wrist nightmare, to tell the truth. This may be one of the reasons why I have played it so little over the last years. In this version, micromanagement is downplayed. You can still do some of it, but it does not make the huge difference it used to.  Unless you are pretty good, you should probably leave most of the mundane tasks to the computer intelligence and concentrate on the strategic stuff.

The military is changed in more ways than the hexagon tiles and the strong cities. Support of armies is simplified, and you can no longer stack two military units in the same tile. They are also more expensive to make. The net result is that you make many fewer military units, and feel more protective of the ones you have. Experience makes more difference than ever before, so if you have an old spearman you will definitely want to upgrade rather than disband and make something new.

Having only one unit per tile means warfare is far more intuitive. No more mousing over tiles to see how many units are stacked there. Just look out across the field and you can judge the forces pretty quickly.  Battles also don’t end with annihilation unless one of the sides is extremely much stronger. Even if you lose, you can normally withdraw to heal, unless you are surrounded. And there is now a preview before you attack, which tells you the expected outcome of the battle. The actual battle may be a little different, for instance I got predicted “minor victory” but ended up with a stalemate, but the range of randomness is cut down. No more spearmen sinking destroyers by sheer luck.

That’s all I can remember off my sleepy head.

Work angels and Gaming Jesus

Various occupations indeed. I actually thought of this picture, as it pretty much shows how I felt. I am not the kind of person who actually does SEE luminous beings though. I would probably have run screaming!

I am not alone in my head. Neither is anyone else, or at least not any normal person, but most are not aware of it, or only very dimly.  I sometimes jokingly write about “the voices in my head”, but they are not actually voices, more like independent thoughts. Today, they helped me at work.

After noon, I ran into two different cases which I could not solve. In one case, others had already tried to solve it too but given up. But while I was talking with the client, I received what I can only call a revelation. In fact, I said so out loud the first time, it was so out of the blue.  I cannot give any details about it, of course, my work being mostly non-disclosure. But it was computer software related.

I trust I have mentioned that for a while I developed software on my spare time for a friend, creating a big database system that let a number of workers register and access information regarding debt collection, and the system would follow up and print various documents and so on. It was really far too complex for a single person to keep in his head, but what happened was that I frequently received sudden insights, as if someone from outside projected into my mind how to do a task, complete and ready to just key it into the computer, or very nearly so.

Today was somewhat similar, only less extreme. I did not follow any logical train of thought. It was more like intuition, or even more than intuition. Jumping to conclusions, but in a good way. And it worked. Of course, perhaps. I mean, either of course because these things do that every time, or of course because I would not have written about it otherwise, given my good relationship with the “silent voices”.


The other part of today’s subject header is a bit different. I have mentioned a couple times in the past where I have bought a computer game acting on impulse, and how I had been warned in advanced by the “voice in my head” to not buy it. Each time it turned out to be wasted money. I may have referred to this warning as coming from “Gaming Jesus”, an expression I picked up from the now long gone web comic “Shawn Island”. In this comic there was a vaguely Jesus-like amnesiac who spent much of his time playing computer games and believed he was Jesus, thus he got the nickname “Gaming Jesus”. The phrase must have stuck with me, because I thought of this after I had been warned (in vain) a couple times about bad games.  I defended this idea by saying that perhaps people were saying “Good Lord what a terrible game” or “Jesus, this game sucks!” so obviously the Lord would have heard a lot of these comments already before I came to the shop. ^_^

No actual blasphemy is intended. There could be any number of reason why an independent thought process in my subconscious would know that a game was bad even though it had not heard it or read it until later.  Reasons like, uhm, reasons, I guess. Wait! Like, if it had been that good, I would have heard of it elsewhere?

Anyway, I heard about Civilization V yesterday, though not in a positive way. An online friend said he was not going to buy it.  But the non-voice in my head did not warn me against it. I checked it out a bit online and realized that it would probably be fun.  I don’t really have time to play much, but I used to love the Civilization series from the very start and have spent many happy hours on it. I certainly wish Sid Meier to become (or stay) rich and famous. So I bought it today in my late lunch break.

There was no protest by independent thought processes this time.

I actually forgot about it until a ways into the evening, at which point I installed it and played until it suddenly was close to midnight. It is like the original, and at least most of the sequels: Just a little more!  I remember when I had just got the original game – it may have been the first evening actually – I suddenly noticed that there was a strange light on the curtains. Cautiously I checked out what it was… it was the dawn. I had thought it was still evening. Not quite as bad this time, but I should probably be careful. Life is short enough. While I have gained a kind of perspective and time dilation from playing various games, I have other things to do now that are competing for the time.

Since I did not get any warning against the game, I assume it is not the reason why I got a sunburn.  What? It is October, in Norway, and it has been overcast for about a week, almost year record in this part of the country. But I really have a red triangle in the area where my topmost shirt button has been open. It looks like a redneck sunburn alright. Huh.

I also began freezing and shivering even though it was not particularly cold. It reminded me of a fat poisoning, though I don’t remember eating enough fat for that. It seems to be fading now, after spending time in outdoors winter clothes in a warm room, and before that some physical activity in front of a space heater.  It’s too late to go to bed early in any case, and I will wait a bit longer to see what happens next.

I have no idea whether there is a connection between the shivering and the fake sunburn, much less a connection to Civ5.  But I assume that if it was something bad that was happening to me, the silent voice in my head would have warned me.  OK, so I more or less stole that one from Socrates, but why not. If the independent actors in (or through) my subconscious can help me solve problems at work and be a better judge of computer games than I am, who knows what else they might do.

But if they tell me to kill random people, I’m opting out.

(Seriously, why do some people have voices that tell them to kill their neighbors, while I have the ones who tell me to stop playing games and take the pasta off the stove before it gets burned? It certainly does not go by merit, I can tell you that much.)

My Gmail was hacked!

Just thought you might want to know. Sometime during the day, someone took over my gmail account. It had a password made of 8 random letters and numbers. Admittedly this is a bit few, but normally brute hacking won’t work against someone like gmail since they won’t allow a re-attempt speed that can only be achieved by a robot.

I installed a Google News applet for my android phone today. I wonder if that may have been a malicious program – android does not control their free applet all that strictly, so that is a possibility. I may have given it my google account password indeed, which would be an insane thing for me to do given that it only delivers public news. I will have to reinstall it (once I get control of my android account) to see whether it really does ask for the password. Since it has a pretty Google logo, I may have fed it by habit. Worth checking.

I have filed a request for getting back control of gmail, which is luckily frozen. It has probably only been used to send a few thousand spam mail, in which case all my address book contacts will have gotten one.  I am not sure how much difference that makes: Since my gmail name is in hundreds of places anyway, a lot of forged mail with me seemingly as sender is already being belched out on the Net. I know this because I get several of these daily in my own spam box. Hopefully people will realize at a glance, as usual, that no that’s not him.

If a more creative organization had gotten hold of it, they could probably use it more efficiently. But it is already frozen, which means they probably jumped to the spam pump immediately. So there should be relatively little damage. I’ve changed a few other passwords, including to my old account at  The handle is the same, after all, and if you have known me for a long time, you probably have it on file already.

I provided Google with some pretty unique information (the complete url of the invitation mail I got when I first got gmail), so I expect to get it back within 24 hours.

A huge disappointment is that despite some 10 attempts, I never got the text message with a verification code, which could have unlocked the account automatically without fuss. Why?  Perhaps my text messaging in Android does not work when my google account is locked? That would be pretty idiotic, but you never know.

Well, that was fast! Control of Gmail is back in my grubby hands, with a new password that makes more sense to me and still no sense even to my best friends. I have also set different passwords on Facebook and Chaosnode.

The spam sent from my account was pitiful, with only random letters in the subject header. I can only assume that they are paid per mail, and their contract with the Mafia never said anything about the mail actually being read by anyone.

Special thanks to Fujitsu-Siemens, who made a PC so durable (despite numerous problems) that I could recover my correspondence from many years ago by simply firing up Opera and scrolling through the mail. Whew.

Also four thumbs up to Google for handling this quickly and professionally. It seems most of the mails were rejected before even getting to my contacts, as gmail detected a sudden change in behavior when the robot took over. Now the only thing that did not work as expected was the text message with the recovery code. It has still not arrived, so I think we can tentatively say that it does not work … either generally, or in Norway, or with Telenor Mobil, or with Android phones, or some combination.

It is quite disturbing how much e-mail really matters these days. I get my bills to that address, even.  I’d like to check out that applet and see if it really does ask for my Google password. But not today, just in case it has found some other way to steal it.  I have deleted it for now.  Your curiosity may vary.