Diary

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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

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2019-08-17 Hong Kong

I never quote knew what to write about Hong Kong. I love Asian megacities. I loved Hong Kong when we stopped over on our flight to Australia. Spending a few days in Hong Kong was great. I took some pictures.

Today I started reading a blog post by Maciej Cegłowski. It’s about the protests in Hong Kong, and about seeing Hong Kong as an American tourist, but also about seeing America as a Polish immigrant. I like it so much.

With the police visible, there is a little bit of a hush in the crowd. The march continues in a direction parallel to the police line, to another major intersection. There, volunteers are yelling to offer marchers a choice. We can turn right and walk to a nearby train station. Or we can go left and confront the police. Most people choose to go left, and are handed surgical masks (to hide their faces) if they don’t already have them.

I don’t think I can add much. Maciej ends his blog post with: “… all our hearts will remain with you, and with Hong Kong, whatever comes next.”

I recently heard a re-run of an episode of Thinking Allowed about tear gas. They talked about how it’s effectively torture. To inflict humiliating pain so excruciating that it reduces them to an animal unable to resist, to reduce people to gagging and vomiting bags of meat, as if you kept beating them with sticks until they left, hammering their arms and legs with clubs and batons, as sometimes happens after a tear gas attack, to use chemical weapons developed for trench warfare in the first World War against civilians, to use weapons outlawed in wars against foreign nations against your own population – I for one would not be surprised to learn that once a lawful citizen is tortured like this one is never again willing to trust the state, to trust the police, and forever on the lookout for a weakness. To end this torture. To hit back when the torturers show a sign of weakness. How will this end? How will this ever end well?

This is a question that concerns us all. Hong Kong is simply at the vanguard of it all. They are fighting for us.

We use tear gas to demoralize an angry population, and then what? Drone warfare? Civil war? Assassinations and terrorism? What are the options? What are the options if we cannot demonstrate for change?

I don’t like violence. But in the name of reducing our costs, of reducing the risks for our diminished police forces, we have found a love for “non-lethal” weapons. People are tortured on the streets by tear gas, have lost their sight to rubber bullets, and we pat ourselves on the back because we aren’t shooting them. Yeah, right on. We’re using “non-lethal” weapons because the alternative is what, the use of lethal weapons? Is that the options we are given?

How will this end well? We all need to think about the kind of positive outcomes we want for our world.

In the podcast episode they were talking to Anna Feigenbaum who had written Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today. As I was looking for a good website I came across an episode of Forthright Radio with a ton of pictures on their site. I haven’t listen to the audio, though. I am afraid to do it. Tear gas and rubber bullets make me so angry.

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2019-08-15 Deep Carbon Observatory Day 1

I’ve started running Deep Carbon Observatory.

As soon as the party arrived in town, I described the town as recently flooded and started playing some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And I immediately had my doubts. The golems get weaker every day, but at the same time, people are suppose to be hungry, so they’ve been hungry for days? My players wanted to know why the water hadn’t drained?

I started my players with three disaster vignettes. One player wanted to do this, the others left to handle the others, I kept introducing new disasters and NPCs and there was much sighing. Kids, teachers, priests and magic-users were saved, cannibals were ignored, the rich guy was also brought back, a fire got started, a palisade was built, a camp got started. When they boy with the stolen scrolls showed up, they decided to track him and free his sister because the cannibal who had tried to lure one of the kids away from the fire had freaked out my players, I think.

I didn’t like how the module says that if you pass dozens of tests, the boy just gets shot. The boy was cooperating, the halfling was well hidden, the thief had a ring of invisibility, I didn’t think that’d be fair, and so I improvised some safety measures: the boy hands the scroll case to a waiting zombie, the zombie takes it to remote ruin, the girl is released from a different ruin, the ranger comes and takes the scroll... and then my players strike, of course. An invisible thief with a good weapon, and the halfling, with surprise and winning initiative is good enough to down the ranger before he gets to react, and as per my house rules if you bring an opponent to zero hit-points with a melee weapon that could conceivably be used to deal non-lethal damage, then the opponent is at your mercy.

He was a tough one, knew exactly that they were do-gooders and played it well, I think. They took his bow and his poisons and traps and let him go.

Thus, we got through a bit more than half the encounters in Carrowmore in the first session. There was no abandoning of people, my players were willing to split up and split again but as my players always have a few henchmen at hand, splitting the party is no big deal.

I had imagined there being a stronger sense of loss and despair as players have to abandon people to their fate but that didn’t happen. Good or bad? I don’t know.

I was able to bring the Crows across as mean bastards who know how to control zombies, but their ranger is now diminished. The consecutive INT tests to discover how the bow works are weird. Also, you need to pass 1d6 tests – I wonder what that is for? How about ignoring this and just saying that the character discovers how to use the bow after a while and that’s it? The INT test rolling isn’t very exciting, I think.

Anyway, not sure what to make of it. Drowning lands sounds interesting.

The two hooks I used to invite the party to Carrowmore was that some rebels they wanted to support needed a magic user and these rebels had heard that Koolhaus (which I misread as Koolmore because it was too close to Carrowmore, haha) was sympathetic to the rebel cause. So the party went to Carrowmore to find Koolhaus/Koolmore. At the same time, the rebel leader told them about the legend of an old kingdom hiding their treasures beneath a lake in the mountains nearby so while they’re in the area, why not investigate?

The magic user the players met in Carrowmore knew Koolmore, of course, and said that he had gone upriver to investigate the broken dam, so now the party is feeling the pull of both hooks. This seems to be working. 👍

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2019-08-14 The kind of RPG podcast I miss

You probably know that I have a podcast, the Halberds and Helmets Podcast. Recently on Reddit somebody said they loved it and asked for recommendations. If only I knew!

My favourite RPG podcast is Judd Karlman’s podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons. I like how he just picks up the phone and starts talking.

I think what I like about Judd’s podcast is that he talks about technique and inspiration – not about the actual things. It’s hard to put into words. I once said the following about Judd’s podcast on Mastodon:

What is it about the exact things he talks about that keeps me listening? I think it’s because I can imagine myself in the conversation I can’t have in my face-to-face games: referees talking to each other about their games, about what works and what inspired them and what didn’t work. I even listen to the call-ins because they’re not about praising each other or the products made. Just GM-to-GM talk.

And that’s it, I think. I feel like I’m having a Referee-to-Referee talk when I listen to the podcast, which is something I don’t get at my table with my players. We play on weekdays, people come late because they come from work and they leave early because they have to work the next day. We talk about parents, injuries, jobs, relationships, life. Somehow we don’t talk about running games.

I think other podcasts often fall into author-to-reader talk. It’s still hard to put into words. Judd talks about why and how he does things and doesn’t talk about the things themselves. He talks about why random tables are great and maybe what effect it had that one time he used a random table, but he doesn’t provide listeners with actual random tables, nor does he pontificate about random tables. It’s conversational. I love it.

If you know other podcasts like that, I’d love to know about them! Perhaps Fear of a Black Dragon comes close because the two hosts talk about how they run games, how they use the material, and that’s great, except I’m usually not too interested in the actual material they use to anchor the conversation.

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2019-08-14 Pirates

One thing I always admired about pirates was the pirate code. The part I care about the most is how booty is shared. For example:

The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.

Just think about this! What if a CEO only ever got twice as much as everybody else? Twice as much was good enough for Captain Bartholomew Roberts!

☠️

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2019-08-14 No meat

In Spectre at the Feast, George Monbiot talks about Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change by Timothy D. Searchinger, Stefan Wirsenius, Tim Beringer & Patrice Dumas, a paper which accounts for carbon costs by asking: “how does farming compare to the natural ecosystems that would otherwise have occupied the land?”

The astonishing quote that made me read the rest of Monbiot’s essay was this:

The Nature paper estimates the carbon cost of a kilo of soya protein at 17kg. The carbon cost of chicken is six times higher, while milk is 15 times higher, and beef 73 times. One kilogram of beef protein has a carbon opportunity cost of 1250kg. That’s roughly equal to one passenger flying from London to New York and back.

We really need to make an effort to live as vegan as possible, as vegetarian as possible. We really do.

And how much power we have! All we need to do is get rid of most of our meat eating. Here Monbiot talks about the UK only, Repurposing UK agricultural land to meet climate goals by Helen Harwatt and Matthew Hayek:

If our grazing land was allowed to revert to natural ecosystems, and the land currently used to grow feed for livestock was used to grow grains, beans, fruit, nuts and vegetables for humans, this switch would allow the UK to absorb an astonishing quantity of carbon: equivalent, the paper estimates, to 9 years of our total emissions. And farming in this country could then feed everyone, without the need for imports. A plant-based diet would make the difference between the UK’s current failure to meet its international commitments, and success.

Or here, talking about Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers by J. Poore and T. Nemecek:

A famous paper in Science shows that a plant-based diet would release 76% of the land currently used for farming. This land could then be used for the mass restoration of ecosystems and wildlife, pulling the living world back from the brink of ecological collapse and a sixth great extinction.

It boggles the mind.

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Unrelated: The Anthropocene Is a Joke: “On geological timescales, human civilization is an event, not an epoch.” Noooo!

If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselves—it would be virtually impossible to tell. All we do know is that an asteroid did hit, and that the fossils in the millions of years afterward look very different than in the millions of years prior.

It is this idea that Robert E. Howard’s Conan World, Hyperborea, might have been possible, that excites. Not possible possible, for sure, but “possible”. It would be virtually impossible to tell.

I do remember hearing that us digging up all the oil and all the coal and burning it would leave a lasting impression, making a future recovery based on fossil fuel impossible.

Ah, just the worlds. Fossil. Fuel. To run a ton of steel on exploding dinosaur corpses...

But then:

Fifty-six million years ago, the Earth belched 5,000 gigatons of carbon (the equivalent of burning all our fossil-fuel reserves) over roughly 5,000 years into the oceans and atmosphere, and the planet warmed 5 to 8 degrees Celsius. The warming set off megafloods and storms, and wiped out coral reefs globally. It took the planet more than 150,000 years to cool off.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-15 05:48 UTC


Sometimes I read things that just put me down. Today, for example, @The_ogier write the following, slightly edited:

We must de-grow now

The data shows there is no way to stay below even 2° (see sources below).

We have been missing every target catastrophically. And physical reality limits what we can do now.

But there is one obvious way to avoid catastrophe, drastically de-grow.

We are being sold false hope to keep the profits flowing.

Globally we must use significantly LESS total energy 2030 even as China’s & India’s economies of then ~3 billion are set to almost double.

This will not happen. Our current system cannot avoiding climate catastrophe.

It gets worse.

Just in regards to power-generation, the area we are doing “best” at: By 2030 we must double our current solar and wind power and we must have more exponential growth from there.

Instead renewable growth is stalling.

There is almost no chance that we will be able to have the factories and workforce online in time to cover the current massive shortfall.

Even if we do that means we must offset additional factories & mines.

And we need massive advances in batteries.

All of this was foreseeable and likely foreseen a decade ago or even longer.

And it is not clear that our current system ever had a chance. What little progress we’ve made is entirely based on technological advances that were not available a decade ago.

But the situation for our current system is actually far worse.

The above is based on the optimistic IPCC projections. And devestatinglyd the projections all absolutely require fracked natural gas to be a relatively clean transition fuel. It is not.

We do not need a WW2 style mobilization. We need a post-WW2 de-mobilization now or face a catastrophe that will devastate millions who did nothing to cause it.

Selected sources:

#climatechange #anticapitalism

And I’m sitting a restaurant after Aikido practice talking to somebody who claims that the CO2 concentration is a consequence of the temperature change, not a cause, and that global warming is not man-made.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-16 20:24 UTC

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2019-08-14 Diaspora CLI Client

As I’ve written recently, sometimes I am on Diaspora discussing things with two collaborators (shoutout to ktrey and tuiren!) in very long threads. I keep creating new threads whenever we reach 100 comments, more or less. I started thinking about a command line client that would work well for just this particular use case.

Sadly, there is no API for Diaspora and so all I found was diaspy, the unofficial API which does everything by HTML scraping. It’s a miracle, basically! 😅

Thus, if you’re interested: jan pona mute.

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2019-08-14 Achievements in the Anthropocene

@Miredly was musing about life and work:

I’m wasting my life, time is slipping away and the world is ending. I’ll never achieve the things I want to achieve.

I fear this is related to the winner-takes-all job situation some of us find themselves in. In other words, wherever there are rockstars this happens. No matter how well we can sing or dance or program, we are not Michael Jackson or Linus Torvalds. Jobs that don’t scale don’t have this problem: the butcher, carpenter, gardener – they don’t feel like losing at the job because there are no rockstars as far as I know. So the self-worth we derive from our job depends on the rockstariness.

Then again, time is slipping away, life is short and then we die, and apparently the world is ending because we didn’t just fail as individuals but as a culture. I spoke about work because that is where we can do something for our own mental health: look away. Focus on the private life, the achievements of living, of going for a walk, of good food, of beautiful sunsets, of seeing plants and animals and the sky.

The general malaise of being human in the anthropocene and late stage capitalism can only be handled by distraction, I fear. We run and dance in order not to see.

Facing the truth of our insignificance is unnecessary, most of the time. Realize it, ponder it, and then put it aside.

As a kid I was looking at what Alexander the Great had accomplished at my age. But then came the day when I realized I had survived the butcher and I realized that maybe simply being alive is enough. It doesn’t always help, though.

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2019-08-13 VF-1 handlers

Here’s my .config/.vf1rc file:

handler text/plain mdcat %s
handler text/html lynx -force_html %s

The first line says that all text gets rendered with mdcat which is like cat except it renders Markdown. Check out mdcat on Github.

The second line says that HTML gets rendered by lynx, our favoured text browser. It opens lynx and stays there so you can browser the site on the web. It doesn’t just dump the HTML to text like the default VF-1 setup does.

For a moment I was experimenting with showing things in a second window, or a second session of my terminal, but when I tried it, I realised that I didn’t want it.

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2019-08-12 Public Domain Radio

I love this: Public Domain Online Radio.

  1. Public Domain Classical: Mixed Classical music, Chamber music and Symphonies
  2. Public Domain Jazz: Mixed Jazz, Ragtime and Swing

And there’s the promise for more:

The Public Domain Radio broadcasts 24/7 non-stop free works on different channels. Our archive includes over 50 000 78 rpm records, cylinders and discs of Edison and Pathé that we have to clean and digitize.

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2019-08-12 Killer Clowns

An excellent article on the killer clowns ruling our world: not just Boris Johnson and Donald Trump but many others, too. The reason, the author argues, is that capital used to be interested in a functional state but now oligarchs are interested in chaos and distraction, which is why they finance these killer clowns, and that taxes are not only necessary to finance the state but to break the cycle of inheritance. Let’s stop the rich from passing on their wealth!

From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs, George Monbiot, The Guardian:

The politicians who most loudly proclaim their patriotism and defence of sovereignty are always the first to sell their nations down the river. It is no coincidence that most of the newspapers promoting the nativist agenda, whipping up hatred against immigrants and thundering about sovereignty, are owned by billionaire tax exiles, living offshore.

German translation: Die Stunde der Killer-Clowns)

How will the manipulated realize their mistake? Sometimes I wonder. When Germany lost World War II, when did the gullible realize that they had made a big mistake? Did they ever?

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I don’t think that people are more gullible and just manipulated by oligarchs. Why didn’t they succeed in the past? There are real issues making the electorate angry, like rising inequality and stagnating real wages. But it’s naïve from the Left to think that this is only a matter of fiscal policy (e.g. taxes) and at the same time applauding the monetary policy of central banks (e.g. lowering interest rates and propping up asset prices through direct asset purchases). I think it’s pretty obvious that monetary policy is the main driver of wealth inequality these days.

This article states the case quite well: https://www.epsilontheory.com/pecking-order/

Team Elite has failed the average voter/wage earner for decades now, so they are more and more inclined to give the Killer Clowns a chance, may they be from the Right or the Left. I think both ends of the populist spectrum will get a chance to try out their remedies. They are not that different anyway. Just look at the current primary debates among Democrats: Most of the front runners are also for the China tariffs. And I think Trump will outflank them on other promises like free medicare for all. He is a big spender.

Deglobalization has already begun. The old liberal world order and the Pax Americana are waning. Less trade means less cooperation. Coop games become competitive zero sum games. And like in the 1930s, the old adage may become true that when trade goods don’t cross borders, armies will.

– Peter 2019-08-12 19:12 UTC


Sadly, I very much agree with you on the question of deglobalization and the part about goods and armies, and I fear you might also be right with your assessment of Trump.

I think the answer to the question whether people are in fact “more gullible and just manipulated by oligarchs” or not is that I think there are more oligarchs now than before Reagan.

Admittedly, I don’t know whether the new oligarchs in the West came to be because the stopped paying progressive taxes or whether we allowed their investments to yield more and more profits, but I suspect we just need to attack all of these issues.

  • bring back inheritance tax
  • up the tax rate for higher incomes
  • up the tax rate for wealth
  • bring down the value added tax
  • curb capital flight to tax havens
  • tax all sorts of transactions
  • bring inflation back

To be honest, I don’t know much about quantitative easing and large-scale asset purchases. I just read the Wikipedia page moments ago. Thanks for the pointer. The Increased income and wealth inequality section was particularly enlightening.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-13 07:15 UTC

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