Author: skyrien

aka: Skyrien.
scientist, engineer, pursuer of knowledge, maker of things

Contagion! Global Pandemic! And of course, life goes on

An era for the history books

How quickly things can change. I have this Wall Street Journal issue I have from mid February, on the state of the US and global economy due to the Coronavirus in China. Let’s note that at this point, this was considered a polarizing pessimistic take by many, and the Dow and S&P would hit all time highs in the following weeks:

China’s coronavirus outbreak will likely dampen U.S. economic growth in the first quarter, according to a survey of economists by The Wall Street Journal.

The monthly survey of economists found 83% of economists expected the coronavirus outbreak will have a small impact on U.S. gross domestic product growth from January to March, or less than 0.5 percentage point. Just 5% of forecasters expected a significant reduction of more than 0.5 percentage point off the quarter’s annual growth rate, while 10% expected no impact.

These brilliant minds were collectively dead wrong

Now in mid-April, it’s been about a month since the entire state of Washington, and billions around world at large, has gone into a social distancing lockdown with effective shelter-in-place orders for months on end (until the end of May here in Washington). This period has created considerable stress for a large number of service workers who are finding themselves out of work for months on end. Massive economic levers are being pulled by policy and political change makers to prevent the economy from collapsing during this period, and for the moment in the US, it seems to be working. But we’re talking about unemployment in the 10-20% range, with a considerable contraction of the US economy for several quarters at a time.

I can’t quite say what the markets are doing, but in the two months since that publication, a recession a given and a depression being seriously discussed as a possibility as the full reopening of the US economy could be 18 months (!) or more. Tens of millions are on unemployment in an effective universal basic income, hundreds of millions of Americans are under legal quarantine and generally buying into the need of it to prevent mass deaths among the population.

Some key sobering moments have encouraged an honest take here — the British PM contracting the disease was quite an episode, with him being admitted to the ICU, it was rather dramatic. I was touched by the relative unity of the political scene there in stark contrast to what we’ve been seeing on the national state in the US.

Beyond that though, daily life has seen some changes. Notably, masks are far more accepted and in some places (and mandatory in others).

Life has also been altered

Travel is completely gone; airline traffic is down 96%, parks are closed, social events of more than a few people are not only cancelled, they are illegal (depends on state, but it is in Washington state). Overall I’ve been okay. I can work remotely. Life goes on. There are lot of things around the house that I needed to do anyway; I’d say I’ve been keeping quite productive. I’m thankful the world has internet; without it, I think it would have gone down very differently.

That it’s happening in 2020 instead of years means a few unique things:

  • Air travel and global integration allows for rapid spread of contagion, but also rapid international cooperation.
  • Major crises like this can elicit strong reflective reaction from policy makers, but a rational health policy based on statistics and measurements is critical to mitigate the harm.
  • With the recent rise of wealth in China, a great deal more has entered the middle class and have been occupying the airwaves. Based on how bad COVID19 is getting in the West, if there’s any basis in reality to Chinese statistics, it seems then that it’s incredibly impressive how quickly they were able to lock down, contain, and restart the economy.
  • The internet. It’s not even worth capitalizing the I anymore. Whatever it was before, it’s ever more critical now, to everyone.
  • Mobile work is possible for many if not most information-tech occupations; and it works for many. Working from home comes with it’s own set of pros/cons. More later.
  • Non-essential service sectors are nearly completely shut-down. The role of central governments and banks couldn’t be clearer in times of crisis.
  • It does seem that the US total deaths due to COVID19 will be far less than the worst case scenarios of widespread infection. Those had numbers of Holocaust like 3-5 million dead thrown around. Based on the latest projections (as of April 17th, this being a moving crisis), it seems like the numbers may peak around 60-70 thousand. Still horrific, but a fraction of the scar that a full 1-2% of the US population would have been. Whew.
  • The political fallout will be interesting. This is an election year after all.

So there’s too much to be said, and this isn’t meant to be a research blog. For me personally, life goes on. I happen to be able to work remotely, and it’s been an interesting test case of how to get people working across the world still able to function during this time.

I do think there are some positives that remote work offers. For one, there is is no commute. This for many saves hours off one’s day. I had a light commute of 20 minutes, and it was forced source of exercise. I’ve found myself needing to be more deliberate with habits that a workday builds in. Things like a commute, breakfast and lunch are all things that revolve around a cadence.

The explosion of video calling for work has also brought millions of people onboard, including folks from my own family. We’ve been putting Zoom and others to good use:

There’s also like… no traffic anywhere. Except that time in Seattle when that guy jumped off the I-5 and blocked the I-5 — I passed by what looked like a body in a blue tarp and confirmed yeah… some guy did something. (H showed me a later picture that was far too graphic to show here) I should have listened to Google Maps that day.)

But yes, other than that, there’s hardly any traffic on the road or in the skies.

Work is also changed

With everyone, from new hires to CEOs needing to dial in remotely, VCs are an interesting leveler of the playing field of meeting dynamic and team hierarchies. Nobody can have the ad hoc conversations that happen around the office, and every interaction has to be much more intentional. So I’ve found it a reason to be more bold. I happen to have a set up I consider relatively enjoyable, though I still find myself talking a lot of walks around the house before/after/or during stretches of meetings.

A couple weeks ago, a coworker of mine came by the house–quite the surprise, especially since I hadn’t seen almost anyone from the office with my own physical eyes in a month or more. It was nice, able to connect in person again. Social distancing is still good to enforce; just in case, but I think after this period, perhaps normal life will be more appreciated.

Stay safe world!

In the meantime, be inspired by an awesome live performance of the Civilization VI theme Sogno di Volare by Christopher Tin.

Space Needle, from Facebook Dexter Building

Happy 2020!

Hello world, and hello 2020!

For this year, effectively the 20th year of my online blog presence, I’ll recommit to posting more of my thoughts this blog. I do intend to maintain this as a more personal blog than something official, so it’ll continue to contain a mix of my own musings on topics of personal interest.

(For a more professional take on things, there’re plenty of other places to do so.)

Will elaborate on a future post!

Raving about Surviving Mars!

Role-playing city building and PVE real-time 4X strategy in a near-future Mars colonization simulation game

Wanted to put out a quick rave about my favorite game of (my) 2019 so far: Surviving Mars (2018), by Haemimont Games (out of Sofia, Bulgaria), published by Paradox (which also published my favorite game of 2015, Cities Skylines)!

Xbox Release Trailer

I bought Surviving Mars on a whim after checking the Steam review metascore, having never heard the game before (kind of the best way to have any kind of media experience, really). I was not disappointed! The title may suggest survival-oriented game mechanics, but I think the best description for the game would be Cities Skylines on Mars. Or as another reviewer wrote: Simcity with soul.

Simulations are one of my favorite game genres (the first game I ever bought was SimAnt, by Maxis) and games like the SimCity and the Sims series’ have provided me hundreds of hours of fun, challenge, and a sense of accomplishment; kind of like growing a virtual garden from scratch and checking it out once completed. The sheer scale of what you can build and simulate produce intricate emergent properties entirely artificial life constructs that are fun to observe on their own. It’s kind of like the Conway’s Game of Life, but with far more variables and a sense of purpose.

Come on USA! We got $8 billion dollars; LFG!

Clearly a lot of love went into this game to represent a believable martian environment both at the macro planetary level as well as down to the human scale. I particularly love that the game provided the ability to land basically anywhere on the planet, including some historical sites–just to give it a, “this is the real Mars” personality. It doesn’t create any in game consequence though. Just use a little imagination 😉

We’ll check out the Viking 2 Landing Area
Choosing a landing site
Mars is a harsh, unforgiving place… can it be tamed and made livable by soft fleshy humans?

The purpose of Surviving Mars, of course, is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars (Elon Musk would earn his ST:Discovery mention if he can get humanity to this point). This is no novice task — Surviving Mars has you starting with a rocket (imagine the early iterations of SpaceX’s pre-Starship BFR) landing with a skeleton complement of autonomous robots and resources. Living off the land is the only way to get anywhere (as it will be in real life), so much of the early game is a constant hunt for resources; more concrete, more metal, more water, etc…

I spy some concrete and metals behind my ‘murica rocket! Humble beginnings, really…

Through most of this, the early game feels a bit more like real-time strategy / 4X than city building. Unlike Cities Skylines or Simcity, you directly control key “hero” units like Explorers that survey planetary anomalies and cargo rovers that enable a crude point-to-point supply chain management (or desperate resupply to a fledgling satellite colony). The game quests (or “Mysteries” as the game calls them) also operate much more like a real-time strategy game than most city building game scenarios, much to my enjoyment.

Unleash the drones!
Kinda cute little robots!
Aforementioned “hero” units – An explorer, transport, and drone commander (controls drones, duh)

The game has quite a number of random events/quests that give a lot of depth to the game’s backstory. City building games rarely have such things, leaving most to the imagination, but Haemimont’s done something awesome here in creating a single player simulation strategy game that’s more than just a city builder with disasters.

Real time 4x right here
The game has a good sense of humor; and lets you indulge in the dark side
Like any good city builder, there’s a good set of survival metrics to take care of
In this game, running out of resources means death. That’s not surviving Mars.

The game also provides a great ambient atmosphere, thanks to a stellar soundtrack By George Strezov and series of entertaining “radio” options, with a great tie-in to Cities Skylines, which curiously had the Mars radio station (perhaps they’re set in the same Paradox universe?).

I also remember reading somewhere that “real” martian geography was somehow included in the game, but the actual maps appear to be a far smaller set of maps in rotation (less than 10 vs the 50,901 start locations available). Perhaps future expansions can provide more scenario-based maps, or at least a greater variety of terrains.

Minor quips in an otherwise spectacular package.

Also of note, the Green Planet expansion offers an entirely new next step in colony development with the addition of a terraforming dynamic that continues until the entire planet is a lush, Earth-like world.

One of the Green Planet loading screens


  • Near-future space theme has a tech tree and plausibility is more believable than most science fiction
  • Game is challenging, mostly in a good ways! Many Steam reviews complain about the difficulty of Surviving Mars. I recommend auto-save at short intervals (once per sol for me). One temporarily disrupted supply chain can quickly cripple a city lacking redundancy and drive an early stage martian colony into collapse. Many of the same people also describe the game as often “stressful”. That too can be apt, but this is a game that one attains mastery in with experience; and as that occurs, much of these issues can be avoided.
  • Scenarios add unique game dynamics that feel like minigames of their own; adding replayabilty.
  • Visuals are beautiful! See screenshots! After building a massive Martian city, I’d often poke around in Photo Mode for hours taking snapshots of the dynamic ecosystem that is a Martian colony. It also runs reasonably well at 4k resolution on my 5-year old GTX 970 (latter screenshots).


Spectacular stuff! I hope to see more of it!


  • Gamespot review:
  • Surviving Mars Soundtrack:
  • Surviving Mars Announcement trailer:
  • Surviving Mars Xbox release trailer: