Saturday, April 3, 2021

ESO and Homage

 I haven't seen much homage in The Elder Scrolls Online, but I'm not sure it isn't there (I won't get every reference), or if it's just that the game world is so huge. Also ESO doesn't have much room for homage in that, since it has five previous games that the writers need to either build from or build towards, there is a lot of lore and culture that is already set and needs to have a presence in the game. 

In the most recent expansion preview, one of the quest characters says, "I'm as fast as a leaf on the wind..." This is reminiscent of a line from the much-loved series, Firefly, where the character Wash occasionally says "I am a leaf on the wind" when piloting the ship through whatever danger has come about at the moment. I'm not sure if it is actually a Firefly reference, the two might just be inspired by the same thing, but, I think it's a good chance.

But I also ran into a skeleton hanging from the ceiling in an icy cave, along with a sword which was nearby stuck in the ground. This is a copy (of sorts) of a similar cave in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which itself is homage to Star Wars, where Luke is hung up in the cave ceiling (as a snack) and has to use the force to get his nearby light saber. (I didn't get the sword in the photo though.)

Monday, March 15, 2021

ESO and Huge Guilds

 I recently noticed something that I am sure has been obvious to many people who play The Elder Scrolls Online for some time--that, although in-game, guilds are limited to 500 accounts, by using Discord you can effectively have guilds that are much larger.

How does this work? So for instance, you might have the Netch Lords, with almost 500 people and officers. The officers decide to make Netch Lords II. The officers are the same in both in-game groups (well, technically, guilds, but they are the same guild). The guild hall is the same (this is a long story as it differs from WoW, with no housing, and EQ2, with both houses and slightly distinct guild halls--in ESO a player buys a large house and shares access with everyone in their guild, thus, a guild hall). The members, however, are different (although sure besides the officers there could be regular members who are in both, as you can belong in up to five guilds). This means that, for instance, the in-game guild chats are distinct. Yes, officers make announcements to all the guild groups. And guild events can and do include everyone from each of the guild groups. But, the important thing is, that members of both groups (or however many guild-groups there are, I'm in one guild that is the fourth grouping, so like Netch Lords IV, and there are three previous guild-groups, each with about 500 members), are all members of the same Discord server. So all Netch Lord guild members (I, II, III, etc.), have a shared communication channel via Discord. Communication and community are inexorably intertwined (and as you can see they share the same root in English, from Latin). 

I'm not really sure how to label such groups, although that isn't a big deal and they exist whether there are clear labels and distinctions. The world is beautifully complex, there are grey areas. What I mean is, if you just have the Netch Lords, you can say "this thing here is a guild." But if you also have Netch Lords II and III and there's a Discord, then the Netch Lords I is a guild but not in the way it would be without NLII and NLIII. You could say "there is a guild, called the Netch Lords, and it is comprised of three... things... guild groupings within ESO, and there is one Discord server for all of them, and that's in part why we consider these three in-game 'guilds' as one, larger guild." Possibly players have come up with good terminology for this kind of thing, perhaps in Reddit or in-game.

So, you end up with guilds that are quite a bit larger than 500 people, although they are not exactly the same as one singular guild in some ways. Some of my previous work looked at large guilds in ESO and only considered singular large guilds, I see I missed this aspect, although the findings for how guild leaders manage large guilds, from my experience so far in two large 500+ guilds, seem to hold.

(I made up the name Netch Lords, the Netch is a floating sky-jellyfish originally from the game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and it is also in ESO. If there is a guild with such a name, my example here is not trying to be reflective of it.)

Monday, March 1, 2021

Recent Reads

Two books I recently finished and want to mention:

Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs
Ken Kocienda (Picador)

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
Mary Norris (Norton)

They have some interesting parallels:

  • Neither author is primarily a non-fiction writer, but one writes code and the other is a copyeditor, so the right words in the right places are their craft.
  • Both books are indeed about craft. It’s more than a job.
  • Both books start out in a way that initially threw me, but later serves as important context.
  • Both end with the death of a person in the story, for Kocienda it is Steve Jobs, and for Norris it is a fellow copyeditor at The New Yorker, Lu Burke. 
  • Both copyediting and coding, in these stories, are a combination of individual work and, quite importantly, team effort. 
  • Both tasks are, on the surface, guided by rules, but yet there is a huge human and creative element in both of these jobs which make them more than a task (thus, craft). 
  • I was sad to reach the end of both. 

My favorite chapter in Kocienda’s book was about figuring out the iPhone keyboard, which really was uncharted territory. My favorite chapter in Norris’ was about dashes. I won’t give any spoilers, each book is a journey worth taking. 

One section I will recreate here is Kocienda’s seven items which he uses to describe and summarize the Apple development process (pp. 247-248). I think they work really well for writing, or at least academic writing: it’s craft. Kocienda helpfully includes examples in each item, stories from the previous chapters, I will omit those. 

  1. Inspiration, which means thinking big ideas and imagining about what might be possible.
  2. Collaboration, which means working together well with other people seeking to combine your complementary strengths.
  3. Craft, which means applying skill to achieve high-quality results and always striving to do better.
  4. Diligence, which means doing the necessary grunt work and never resorting to shortcuts or half measures.
  5. Decisiveness, which means making tough choices and refusing to delay or procrastinate.
  6. Taste, which means developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole.
  7. Empathy, which means trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs. [For academic writing, I feel this is about the audience.]

Images of the book covers.

Monday, February 1, 2021

ESO Traders

The Elder Scrolls Online, which is a great game (although very different from the Elder Scrolls single-player series), has an unusual global market system that varies considerably from those found in World of Warcraft and EverQuest II. In those older games, there is a large global market (by server, I mean), and all players can buy and sell on the market. But in ESO, in order to list goods that other players can find, players have to be in a guild, and that guild has to bid on a trader every week and win a trader ever week. In order to buy from that guild, you have to find the right trader in the world. Thus, some traders are seen as better than others, as they have a better location (easier to get to, usually). 

I wrote about the trade system in a paper a while ago, and IIRC the best data I could find (one of the wikis) indicated that there were around 160 traders in the world. But now, and more recently with game expansions (more parts of the world, with more traders), I was listening to a Twitch stream and the streamer said there were 239 traders. (I don't recall which streamer it was, it may have been Stardancer who is part of the ESO Stream Team). 

For some reason (trying to be accurate), I felt like that should be a blog post. 

Edit: Okay yes, in WoW there's the whole Horde/Alliance thing, and mostly you can only trade within your faction. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Book Review: Kindred, by Sykes

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes, is hands-down the best of books about Neanderthals that I have read, and I’ve read a few. Although Dr. Sykes benefits from having the most recent information, she masterfully deals with that information, contextualizing it wonderfully for the reader in terms of reassessing older work (carbon dating adjustments, early archaeological practices or lack thereof), situating individual sites within the larger picture, trying to understand what hasn’t been found or what didn’t survive over more than 40,000 years ago in the archaeological record, and how what we know would have been lived experience for Neanderthals. If you have any interest in Neanderthals, human evolution, ancient peoples, or archaeology, get this book. 

I have only two minor items that I wish she had engaged with more. One is the extinction of the Neanderthals, which is of course THE big question. She does point out it’s difficult to know exactly, and that, given the dates we have, it isn’t certain that the last Neanderthals were in southern Spain. She also points out how, over their 400,000 year run, they survived many eras of climate change, so reducing their extinction to one item and where that one item is climate change is not a sufficient answer. 

The other item is that I wish she had a few more maps, but specifically for Neanderthal's existence over time with the aforementioned climate change. She does have a fantastic map inside the front flap, and she also has an evolutionary tree inside the back flap. But I find evolutionary trees somewhat lacking and problematic in that the X-axis is, well what is it, really only the Y-axis has a clear unit (time). If similar enough species are meeting, they’re mating. That’s why islands are so interesting for evolution, you don’t meet anyone off-island (I mean like Darwin and the Galapagos, or Hawaii). Geography plays a huge role here. As does time and climate change: early humans move into an area, over millennia the climate changes, a glacier moves between what are now two groups. For hundreds of thousands of years, they no longer meet, and eventually you have Neanderthals and Denisovans (in theory). Evolutionary trees are not the best way to display the information: although they have time they lack geography, and geography is a key component of the story, of the outcomes in the data. 

Overall, it is a great book, and there were two items that particularly interested me. 

Mousterian- and Keilmesser-making Neanderthal knappers lived at the same time, used both Levallois and Discoid for flake production and hunted similar species. Nonetheless, they held totally different ideas on what a biface was, from how it should be made to resharpening methods. Clearly there was a cultural border of some sort, but unpicking whether it was to do with populations who never came into contact, or something more subtle, remains a significant challenge. (p. 117)

Image by Tom Björklund, between pp. 208-209.
To me, especially after reading another great prehistoric humans book on the origin of Indo-European languages, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language by Dr. David Anthony, strongly suggests not just different cultures, but different languages

The other suggests a route to music and rhythm, although this is not a new idea for Neanderthals (for instance with Dr. Steven Mithen’s The Singing Neanderthals but also Dr. Gary Tomlinson’s A Million Years of Music).

They would have heard how a cobble with good structure calls out when struck; felt with their body the right angle and force to hit a core just so. (p. 136)

Great books, all of them. 

The End of Google

Google used to have a mantra, as much as massive global corporations can have mantras: "don't be evil." But the people in charge got rid of it after 18 years. It was now okay to be evil. 

More recently, they hired Timnit Gebru to focus on ethical AI issues, yet when she did, they fired her. Apparently, the people in charge of Google's AI want unethical AI.

And on a more personally noticeable level, they changed their mobile search app. No longer is it streamlined and simple, emphasizing speed and focus and, one hoped, accuracy and usefulness of the results. Now it's a news app with a general search function included. This in itself is not a huge problem, what they pass off as news is. About half of the stories are trashy clickbait, not designed to inform but instead designed to manipulate the inbuilt curiosity of the human mind and create "engagement" and advertising revenue. So it's no longer about providing reliable and useful information to the user, it's about providing the user to the advertisers. Much like was said of television advertising, "if the product is free, you're the product."

How this is not a major blow to their original branding, I don't know. Perhaps the DoubleClick people have taken over and they don't care. At this rate, I am seriously debating dropping Chrome completely, I had started using it years ago for its security features. 

I don't mean that Google will suddenly cease to exist. The Google we used to have, however, is gone. The thing with the search app is so upsetting, and the clickbait is so trashy and so transparent, that I am motivated to write a blog post about it. You know it's bad if I'm writing about it. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Pokemon, Homage, Uri Geller and KISS

I had noticed that a psychic-type Pokemon was holding spoons, which reminded me of Uri Geller, the illusionist who would bend spoons and pretend to be a psychic (and people took him seriously). Long-time Pokemon fans will know that, yes, this was homage, and there's a legal story where Geller had the card blocked for many years so it wasn't printed, and he has recently recanted which is how I learned about it. 

Interestingly, considering homage, the other two forms of this Pokemon (that makes sense for Pokemon, otherwise don't worry about it) also have Japanese names that are homage to Japanese magicians. None of this is apparent in English, though. 

Additionally, and I don't follow Pokemon news so I missed the announcement (but noticed the Pokemon), there is also a Pokemon which is an homage to the band KISS, with its over-the-top style.

What I find interesting, besides more homage, is that to me both of these speak to the culture of the USA in the early 1980s, which is a long time ago, yet here they are in Pokemon.