Category: reflection

Hello World 2021: Pulse check

Yes I’m alive! Though I seem to habitually forget how to write in this blog. It’s not to say that I’ve forgotten to document my life–the majority of my personal writing I’ve moved to more private docs–it’s just that I haven’t really figured out what I want to write about here in 2021. Though I suppose now that I’ve had this blog for over half my lifetime, it’s not surprising that my habits and style would change, long hiatuses included.

From Xanga to blog.skyrien.com

The world has changed quite a bit since I started this blog started in 2002 (nearly 20 years ago!). It started as a personal blog where, I posted quite random musings and conversed with my community (then of high school Naperville, Illinois folk). In doing so, I also cultivated my online internet persona and written voice.

I credit a lot to my sophomore year English classes for inspiring a habit of self-reflection and an appreciation for documenting my experiences in written form. The skill came in handy when I needed to write professionally, but I also furthered many useful skills — perhaps most importantly, metacognition–thinking about your thinking–in a self-reflective manner. At least, that’s how I remember it.

I still reflect fondly on the ‘publishing company’ we created for class–ours was called ‘4AM publishing’ which carried a number of meanings. It did give me an excuse to poke around and use more of the incredible 3d modeling/ animation tool that is 3ds max where I made our simple logo:

My amateur 3d modeling experience would come in handy in my near future in at least two ways: (1) CAD modeling props and environments for engineering school courses and (2) making my own models intended for 3d printing; and I’m still on Thingiverse!

Later in college, as I began to document more of my life and write more personal stories, I felt a need to share and document my story. I wrote quite a bit about my college experience (2004-2008) and writing continued up until around 2011. Through that period, I often had major thoughts and frequently would want to write them into a semi-coherent blog post. I experimented with several platforms outside of Xanga–including LiveJournal, Vox (different than today’s), WordPress.com, and probably a few more. Most I’ve merged back into blog.skyrien.com, which I claimed in 2008.

Over the decades, I’ve mostly reverted to simple commentary on other peoples’ created works. Actually creating new posts it’s much rarer and I’ve wondered why; it’s not like I have less to share. I do think it’s because I don’t really know the audience I’m posting to anymore; and perhaps more importantly, not sure what to write about. Incidentally, this is also why I’ve mostly been writing in my much more expansive journals elsewhere, where I don’t really have to wonder what reaction my posts may elicit.

I have expanded my tweeting though, but even that has been confused given the uncertain audience. I’ve often contemplated shifting more of my posting to anonymous social media–i.e. Reddit, where the security of anonymity brings out… shall we say a less inhibited internet persona.

Often it seems the internet is a permanent low-context environment; where anything you say can be re-twisted into anything. Or perhaps that’s just our political climate. Regardless, I think the essence is, what I’ve long believed to be the inevitable utopia (the future) of the internet, I wonder what the true impact of humanity earning this superpower will be. I still hope for the best, but I still don’t know what to write here anymore.

For me personally, I have perhaps, too many opinions and thoughts that could be construed in any which way. Keeping your own personal internet a safe environment for expression is critical. But it’s been said that the internet never forgets… and that can cost you; an election, job, friendships, or more.

Hmm… nonetheless, I do believe that the essence of sharing and connecting is innate in humanity, particularly when in a safe and productive environment that promotes the development of self-identity and a healthy, self-aware relationship with one’s other peers. The art of personal blogs seems to have become lost by many, who have reverted their online identities to things like their Twitter accounts and other private social media pages. To each their own; I’ve always loved having my own territory–here–with perhaps rules only set by my hosting provider.

Restarting this blog

So let’s do a quick catch-up… a lot has happened since my last post of September 2020, and doing a complete retrospective is quite hard. I’ve actually been accumulating a list of partially started drafts of posts over the past year since my Kindle ramble. I’ll keep them as drafts for now and quickly reflect on world events (that I may expound into their originally intended posts–

  1. COVID19 – Has it really almost been 2 years?! Crazy… this is going to be a life era for all of us, regardless of our political persuasion. I wrote about it once back in April 2020 — by then, the depths of the sudden shock of shutdowns were setting in, etc… but I’m pretty sure if someone suggested we’d still be talking about COVID19 years later… well, I suppose there’s at least a lot to write about! But indeed life does go on, and I think I have mostly fascinations to expound on.
  2. George Floyd, CHAZ/CHOP, and the Summer of 2020 — This itself deserves many books which I’m not qualified to write. Yet it has shaped the course of this nation and the discussion of race, policing, the boundaries of civil unrest, and one’s stand on the toughest social issues of our time.
  3. Election 2020 — Yeah, wow, the country survived–but the ominous seams still seem to be there under the surface; what is the endgame from all this polarization? What would a more proactive role be in ensuring the survivability of liberal democracy in today’s climate? An important civil discussion to keep having in these United States.
  4. Satisfactory, Dyson Sphere Program, and my newfound love of production simulation games such as these. I’ve admitted to a few that I somehow played 160+ hours of Satisfactory in the month of June; basically a full-time second job. Granted… much of that was spent accumulating resources while I slept, traveled long distances through hypertubes, or otherwise had very little engagement from me during those hours. But the hours I did play… very few games have encouraged such addictive yet beautiful game mechanics that make it such a joy to keep playing. I came upon this video yesterday and it very much sums up why I loved Satisfactory. Thank you Coffee Stain!
  5. Gadgets I’ve recently accumulated — I’ve acquired a number of new toys / gadgets that I’ve integrated into my lifestyle — a folding smartphone, a new smartwatch, an “Art TV”, (yes I suppose I’m a Samsung fan?), my wfh setup, autonomous vacuums, a dining table, etc…
  6. Cryptomining round 2 — I mined a bunch of Litecoin back in 2014; and now I’ve started on Ethereum with an RTX3080. Mixed experiences overall though in round 2.
  7. Playing around with hair coloring — The hair colors I have today I’ve generally had since 2017, so at least four years now. I’ve almost come to identify them as part of myself/identity, in that it almost feels weird when my hair is mostly natural. (Not that I don’t like my hair, but I like playing with its canvas).
  8. Seattle, Pacific Northwest, and how I became part of what I once fought–the Seattle Freeze… I guess after 12 years I’m maybe a local-ish person now?

And I’m sure more… but in any case, I’m writing all the above to move these ideas out of my mental space and start anew for 2021. I probably will write more about those issues eventually.

Decision: No self-hosting, yet…

One thing I’ve decided on though is to not yet try to self-host skyrien.com. I learned quite a bit and got the entire stack working locally, and even mirrored the MySQL DBs into MariaDB which Synology’s DSM seems to prefer. But really, the limiting factor was upload bandwidth by my home ISP.

And that ISP being Comcast in Seattle, the best reasonably priced up-speed only seems to offer an abysmally slow 6 Mbps. Not that I’m Youtube, but this upload speed is also shared by all other applications in my house, so even a single user uploading files would strain the available bandwidth.

So I’ll stay with Dreamhost for now.

But for now, my year-long blog post fast is broken! Tomorrow is a new day!

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

LOVED:

  • 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).

Screenshots

Spectacular stuff! I hope to see more of it!

References:

  • Gamespot review: https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/surviving-mars-review-building-the-final-frontier/1900-6416877/
  • Surviving Mars Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zlapZxOAog
  • Surviving Mars Announcement trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG8b3rCI5rY
  • Surviving Mars Xbox release trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sovutsHwmj8

From the Ashes of War… a Lasting Peace?

It’s May 9th 2015, around the world yesterday and today were commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II*, the most apocalyptic conflict the world has ever seen, and hopefully will ever see. It’s with an odd detachment that I reflect in this history while sipping a Starbucks frappuccino in Hawaii. For those of my generation, the world we live in is truly the product of our (great-)grandparents’ history, and seventy years seems such a short time ago for the transformation of everything.
(*In Europe, but for the sake of remembrance, let’s say WWII)

If anything gives us perspective into the relative insignificance our problems today, it should be the what the Greatest Generation endured through those few terrible years, which for the dwindling millions still alive today, remains a living memory, and for the rest of us, a foundation of our world we enjoy today. So powerful was the impact of that one terrible War that every single person that lived then and is alive today has been shaped by it and the world order that emerged from its ashes.

In middle school, our class had the privilege of being the audience to veterans of the War. This was in the spring of 2000, when an estimated 5 million US veterans remained alive, mostly in their 70s and 80s. I remember being told that we were very fortunate, as we may be the last generation of children privileged enough to meet and hear their stories first-hand. Recent statistics I’ve read suggest this is likely to be true, as 15 years later, fewer than 1 million vets remain, many in declining health. Still they gather, to remember what they can of a War that will soon become collective history.

Out of deference to the Greatest Generation, even with their first-hand accounts, I admit that I will never truly understand what it was like to live through this crazy period of our modern history, but it’s also with mixed feelings that I reflect on all that was destroyed and lost. How horrible is it that so-called civilized nations would take upon themselves as their national agenda to inflict such vast destruction on each other, drafting mere children, young men and women to slaughter each other and civilians by the millions across the lands of others. Why did this piece of history have to happen? And could it happen again?

Growing up in the United States, my perspective of the war was one where the Allies had no choice but to enter, with the US dragged in by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and fuelled by the just need to fight fascism of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Given the stakes, it can’t be disputed that it was a just, necessary war. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve taken a more balanced perspective from the eyes of a global citizen looking back at humanity’s collective history. The sheer scale of the conflict in aggregate eludes any sense of individual comprehension. That the powers of the so-called civilized world could allow, as national policy, the absolute carnage that was the slaughter of nearly 100 million men, women, and children–most of which had no care in the world of the ambitions of the war’s executioners–defies rational understanding.

As an adult, I’m left with the disturbing realization that even those executioners of the war were mere humans, like you or I–humans, acting out of some sense of purpose and necessity. The victims, were everyone else–all innocents–whether they were the kids drafted into the conflict of their national leaders, or even worse, the victims of ethnic hate and mechanized genocide, and the unthinkable suffering of peoples and families in lands that were laid in waste through the conflict.

We live in an age today where we can, and should, learn to take a global perspective of the War, where the pain and anguish caused to peoples across all nations should be remembered, as to prevent such horrors from ever again touching our common human history. This responsibility is on all of us, and in a world where more nations are democracies than ever before, we must hold our leaders accountable to ensure that the long peace since the War remains a lasting peace for us and our succeeding generations. With the weapons of war at our disposal today, this is an imperative for our survival as a civilization.

It is with this understanding that I have come to further appreciate the international order that came to rise from the ashes of the conflict, not least of which includes the United Nations. Founded in the tail end of the conflict, and remains to this day (albeit imperfect as it is) a body devoted to international peace, it is an incredible common achievement of nations, given the years of horrors that preceded it.

It is certainly an imperfect body, but given that no major power has gone to direct war with each other since it’s founding, I find its role highly successful given its initial goals. The founding document is the United Nations Charter, a sort of constitution if you will, encompassing a shared treaty of all member states, which today is basically all the countries of the world. If you’ve never read the preamble, I encourage you to do so, if anything, to understand the common will of peoples just emerging from the ashes of the greatest destruction that mankind has ever inflicted on itself. For the sake of the lazy, I’ve included the text below.

May we all become more enlightened of our common history, and our individual roles to protect the peace that cost so many millions of lives.

 


 

CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS

PREAMBLE

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Signed, June 26th, 1945
Ratified, October 24, 1945