Linked List: April 2020

Vikings It Is

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, where you can be a noble bloke or lass with a violent heart. This trailer means I have until the end of the year to finish my Odyssey in Greece and get ready to raid England.

The Making of Prince of Persia

Illustrated book about the creation of the classic jumping and parrying to avoid death video game. Jordan Mechner also made Karateka which I played on an 386 PC and today you can play in your web browser, along with Prince of Persia.

Trivializes War by Turning It Into a Music Video

John Siracusa on a single-sentence review of Top Gun he read in a weekly TV guide:

There was no description at all, just this frank assessment. After spending years of my life reading these movie summaries, it was as if the author had finally broken through and had spoken with a clear voice for one brief, shining moment. Trivializes war by turning it into a music video.

It’s now several decades later and I still remember this movie review word-for-word. I have no idea who the author was, or how many similar gems were hidden in the pages of that weekly TV guide over the years. But I credit this tiny act of defiance with inspiring me in multiple ways.

It taught me the power of well-chosen words to shake people out of their daily routines and patterns of thought. It showed me that all jobs, no matter how seemingly dull, can be an outlet for self-expression and excellence. And it reminds me, to this day, that each work of art can be—deserves to be—considered from multiple points of view, not all of which will be comfortable.

I agree with the note in the end of his post and am anticipating seeing Maverick again soon.

Wealth Shown To Scale

With pixels as units of measurement.

We rarely see wealth inequality represented to scale. This is part of the reason Americans consistently under-estimate the relative wealth of the super rich.

We can have a world in which wealthy people exist, without handing nearly all money to the super rich.

OK, now that we’ve established the scale of inequality in the United States, let’s dare to dream a little bigger.

What could we do with 40% of this money ($2.96 trillion owned by the 400 richest Americans.)

Give $10,000 to every American household.

There are about 128 million households in the United States. To give each one $10,000 would cost $1.28 trillion, or about 43% of the wealth controlled by 400 Americans.

As Americans debate how and when to open the economy after coronavirus, we are frequently presented with a seemingly impossible choice between risking millions of lives and sliding into a great depression through a continued lock down. This is a repugnant lie.

The money to weather this storm while maintaining quarantine exists, it’s just a matter of finding the political will to take it.

What could we do with 85% of this money?

Give $10,000 to every American household. ¶ Test every American for coronavirus. ¶ Eradicate Malaria. ¶ Provide clean water and waste disposal to every human on earth. ¶ Eliminate all federal taxes on households earning less than $80,000 for the next four years.

Remainder for the 400 richest Americans: $500 billion.

These programs combined would completely transform our world. By redistributing this wealth, millions of lives would be saved. Billions would be rescued from poverty and disease. By inconveniencing just 400 people, the entire human race could advance to a new, unprecedented level of development.

And all of them would still be billionaires afterwards.

I think a general strike is needed around the world demanding a basic income of between $1000 to $2000 a month for all human beings, and a one-time payment of around $125,000 to each person when they reach 25 years of age, financed by a progressive tax rate on the wealthiest people in the planet.

You mean you have not read the 800 pages of Thomas Piketty’s Capital In The 21st Century?! Okay then, here is a succinct explanation, and his latest book has some solutions to the very big problem of extreme wealth inequality, which leads to the destruction of our environment and us.

Noita Feast

Free update to the wonderful roguelike side-scroller Noita video game, where a wand-wielding witch floats and flies into a procedurally generated earth made of individually simulated pixels. The soundtrack is also lovely.

Watch Live Drawing of Next Assassin’s Creed Game Setting

Illustrator Kode A., aka “Bosslogic”, is drawing live with Photoshop right now. It looks like a medieval Viking setting so far, which would confirm the supposed clue in The Division 2. Probably time to go finish my looooong Odyssey in Ancient Greece.

My Love Letter To Computer Science Is Very Short And I Also Forgot To Mail It

Some highlights from James Mickens’ keynote speech at “O’Reilly Velocity Conference 2019” explaining signs that tech ideas like blockchain, cryptocurrencies and Twitter are bad:

Is there another thing that can be pegged to a fiat currency, and managed via monetary policy, and verified using aduits?

The answer is yes. It’s called money! Regular money! Newsflash: Money exists!

If you want to make money better why not try to just improve money instead of starting with a disaster and then trying to improve the disaster?

When people ask me why I don’t have a Twitter account, I say the following thing: Opening a new Twitter account today is like starting to smoke cigarettes when you’re 43 years old.

However, I guarantee you that if on Monday a new hate group called Death To Full-Stack Developers released a grainy video that depicted corporate shuttles being set on fire, and free food cafeterias being smashed to pieces, if all this happened on a Monday, then tech companies would embrace content moderation on a Tuesday, okay, not the following Tuesday, the very next day. That Tuesday, right, because then, the hatespeech would seem real — “These savage revolutionaries, they’re disparaging the avocado water. This hate speech must stop.”

Right, we know that’s what would happen. So this is why I find it so painful to watch these tech companies drag their feet on making obvious decisions about content moderation.

James is the kind of person who can explain things you don’t even know you would find interesting in amusing ways, so even if you don’t care or know anything about computer programming, you should go read his essay about Systems Programmers entitled The Night Watch, which beings thusly:

As a highly trained academic researcher, I spend a lot of time trying to advance the frontiers of human knowledge. However, as someone who was born in the South, I secretly believe that true progress is a fantasy, and that I need to prepare for the end times, and for the chickens coming home to roost, and fast zombies, and slow zombies, and the polite zombies who say “sir” and “ma’am” but then try to eat your brain to acquire your skills. When the revolution comes, I need to be prepared; thus, in the quiet moments, when I’m not producing incredible scientific breakthroughs, I think about what I’ll do when the weather forecast inevitably becomes RIVERS OF BLOOD ALL DAY EVERY DAY. The main thing that I ponder is who will be in my gang, because the likelihood of post-apocalyptic survival is directly related to the size and quality of your rag-tag group of associates.

Discovering Our Galaxy Is Not The Only One

I don’t remember from where I stole the ideas I often repeat to people that photography is a good teacher and that there is wisdom in uncertainty, but here is more proof.

Due to the work of Edwin Hubble, it is now known that the Milky Way is only one of as many as an estimated 200 billion (2×1011) to 2 trillion (2×1012) or more galaxies.

Mike Johnston writing about the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Photograph, which shows around 10,000 galaxies:

This is not the prettiest picture ever made, but it is certainly one of the most amazing. It is a picture of a tiny, nondescript patch of sky with “nothing in it,” in the constellation Fornax, below Orion. To put its angle of view in perspective, science writer Chet Raymo explains, take two pins or sewing needles and, at arm’s length, cross them. The small square where the two pins overlap is approximately the visual area represented by the Hubble Ultra Deep Field photograph.

I find it quite beautiful, the smudges of colored light like distant glowing jewels, each composed of billions of stars and who knows how many planets.

Evaluating Technology

We shape our tools and, thereafter, the tools shape us.

So it’s important to observe and continuously ask questions about the technology we use. For example, should we depend on communication software that lacks open source code? Or alternatives?


Artist Thomas Thwaites tries becoming a goat “to escape the angst inherent in being a human.”

How Videogames Are Helping Teachers Play

Elise Favis, writing at the Washington Post:

Instead of a physical trip to Greece, Péloquin proposed, what if his students could digitally tour Greece — or even better — explore it as it was thousands of years ago? He first weighed the potential of virtual reality, but soon pivoted toward a video game.

Alongside its action-packed fictional story line, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey includes a robust education mode and a research-based recreation of ancient Greece. Péloquin’s students will play individually in the coming weeks from their homes and use that as the foundation for their reports.

Péloquin isn’t alone in investigating the potential of video games as education during the covid-19 crisis. Teachers are utilizing widely played games like Roblox and Minecraft to demonstrate scientific principles like climate change or cellular biology, and those games’ publishers are making their platforms as accessible as possible to educators during the crisis. As teachers around the world seek creative ways to engage homebound students with coursework, video games are aiding that effort.

Good to see more people finding out about the value of play.

Get Really Fucking Scared For $2

Want to be even more terrified while isolating at home for less than a candy bar which is bad for your teeth anyway? Horror game Alien: Isolation, the closest in feeling to Ridley Scott’s first film, is on sale for two dollars on Steam. Runs on Macs, too, and for the wealthy masochists there is even a mod to make the game VR.

Good Old Reddit

Here’s how to use the old Reddit user interface that is better than the current one:

  1. Login to Reddit and access your preferences.
  2. Click the Opt out of the redesign toggle, then on Opt Out.
  3. Enjoy the better UI.
New Missions in GTA Online

A new series of “contact” missions — thus named because you receive them via text message in your in-game “iFruit” mobile phone — are available on Grand Theft Auto Online, playable alone or with friends. Rockstar also says they are donating 5% of their revenue from GTA Online and Red Dead Redemption Online to Covid-19 relief efforts through May 1st. Hope it continues past that date and isn’t limited to the online revenue since there are likely many people buying these games for the first time now.

Stadia, Stream Connect, Latency

Thomas Morgan, writing about Google’s Stadia game streaming service that lets you play games run by powerful hardware streamed to the Chrome web browser, at Eurogamer:

The idea is simple: you join up with up to three friends online and as you play, you see their point of view in a smaller window at the top-right. It’s a picture-in-picture display of their side of the action - requiring no extra processing power from your Stadia hardware. Instead, the video stream of the other player is transmitted over and composited into your screen.

This is a nice feature which reminds me of 2 or 4-player split-screen Mario Kart with friends on consoles when I was a kid. No latency worries back then, but you did need to be in the same room — and in Mario Kart’s case — risk the ire of friends who “too angry to continue playing, threw or smashed their controller in response to their rage.”

Although I have been hesitant to recommend Stadia given how often Google discontinue their products, with many friends asking me about playing cooperative video games together during this time I am considering telling them to try it making sure to select the 1080p 60fps mode, especially if they have a fast internet connection (please hurry up, Elon).

May give it a go myself to see if it solves action-freezing-for-a-few-seconds-at-times lag issues I have in The Division 2 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint that happen whether I am playing alone or with friends with my internetworks-connected videogaming machine (a small Zotac with an i5-6400T with GFX-1060 mini, connected via LAN cable to a router on a 200+ mbps network, running games installed on a SSD, in case this information is useful to someone who may have an idea of what is happening that causes the intermittent freezes in the action, which only happens with these games).

Earth Now

Monitor our planet’s vital signs, such as sea level height, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and Antarctic ozone. Trace the movement of water around the globe using the gravity map from NASA’s GRACE satellites. Spot volcanic eruptions and forest fires using the carbon monoxide vital sign. Check out the hottest and coldest locations on Earth with the global surface temperature map.

With the “Latest Events” feature, you can explore geo-located satellite images of recent Earth events, including algal blooms, super storms and wildfires.

Anticipating flying through those clouds soon.

Background Sound Generator

Found while researching pink noise for a graphic design project, this may help you avoid killing your roommate.

I’m enjoying Primeval Forest while exploring the author’s website where you can find even more generators of sounds like rain, calm chameleons, and even cats.

Background sound generators can work particularly well together with open world video games.

Happy Earth Day

50 spins later should humans come together to keep Earth from becoming a planetary inferno, or get ready to join Max and Auntie?

Carl Sagan, in the Cosmos episode titled “Heaven and Hell”:

But Venus is an ominous reminder, that in a world rather like the Earth, things can go wrong. There is no guarantee that our planet will always be so hospitable. To maintain this clement world we must understand it and appreciate it. The Earth, to our eyes, is a place more beautiful than any other that we know, but this beauty has been sculpted by change, gentle, almost undetectable change, and sudden, violent change. In the Cosmos, there is no refuge from change.

The Sphynx. Human head. Lion’s body. Constructed more than 55 hundred years ago. That face was once crisp and cleanly rendered like this paw I’m standing on, the paw’s been buried in the sand until recently and protected from erosion. The face is now muddled and softened because of thousands of years of sandblasting in the desert, and a little rainfall.

In New York City there is an obelisk called Cleopatra’s Needle — it comes from Egypt. In only a little more than a century in New York’s Central Park, the inscriptions on that obelisk have been almost totally obliterated, not by sand and water, but by smog and industrial pollution — a little bit like the atmosphere of Venus.

The Fighter

A little piece about my mom.

Productivity Is Not Working

Laurie Penny, writing at Wired:

There has always been something a little obscene about the cult of the hustle, the treadmill of alienated insecurity that tells you that if you stop running for even an instant, you’ll be flung flat on your face—but the treadmill is familiar. The treadmill feels normal. And right now, when the world economy has jerked to a sudden, shuddering stop, most of us are desperate to feel normal. This column is happening because I lost one of my three jobs to the Covid-19 crisis right around the time when I realized I had no idea when I was going to see my mum again, and after a few hours of crying and tidying, I emailed my kind editor in a panic and told him to please give me deadlines, I don’t know who I am without them. Why don’t I know?

“When we have no memory or little imagination of an alternative to a life centered on work,” writes theorist Kathi Weeks, “there are few incentives to reflect on why we work as we do and what we might wish to do instead.”

The last time I experienced this feeling was when I was as a freelancer in an advertising agency for some weeks. A pressure to work hard and stay in late, and an underlying feeling of uncertainty and unease.

It was a reminder for me of why I had abandoned the idea of working in advertising in the first place. While it does do work for the public good, this is usually the exception, and often you are working to convince people to buy things that are not very good at all and that they do not need, or to make people feel bad about themselves.

It also made me think of the millions of people who might be glad to have a job, including those who cut trees to make a living.

Shouldn’t the world come together to make a universal basic income a reality and give people the freedom to choose to work on the things they care about instead of on the things they don’t, solely to survive?

Home Computers

New book by Alex Wiltshire telling the story of the rise of home computers, with photographs by John Short. I am grateful to my parents for giving me an IBM 386 when I was a kid, and to my friend Arthur and his family for introducing me to personal computers. One of the good things to come out of this pandemic is we have begun playing together again, over 25 years later.

I Want You To Love Me

From Fiona Apple’s new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, recorded from her home, often with GarageBand or an iPhone. Wonderful music and writing. Here’s the refrain from the song Relay:

Evil is a relay sport
When the one who’s burned
Turns to pass the torch

Friends in Flight

To me these videos are a reminder that we human beings, despite our different languages and cultures, are all the same, and that we would do well to ignore politicians that seek to divide us and instead each do what we each think is right in our heart. It may save us.

The Last Dance

When Michael Jordan stopped playing basketball, I stopped watching it. Missing the 1990s.

Project Drawdown

Drawdown is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming. It is a critical turning point for life on Earth.

Interesting to see that in the Table of Solutions for both carbon reduction scenarios, health and education, plant-rich diets and reduced food waste are priorities.

Hopefully the BIG PAUSE of the pandemic has given smart people time to think of solutions to green the world economy, which we need quickly if we want a comfortable world to live in for our and other living species in the near future.

See a good visual demonstration of the reality of global warming since the industrial revolution.

Perhaps Billionaires Are Waking Up

Twitter’s Chief Operating Officer Jack Dorsey:

I’m moving $1B of my Square equity (~28% of my wealth) to #startsmall LLC to fund global COVID-19 relief. After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and UBI. It will operate transparently, all flows tracked here.

Free Flight of DCS Digital Airplanes

Starting tomorrow on April 19th you can fly any of several meticulously simulated aeroplanes from Eagle Dynamics’ Digital Combat Simulator for one month (minus the AJS-37 Viggen and the F-14B, unfortunately, so no reverse parking or maverick tricks this time). Just go to the Trial Licensing page in the Licensing section.

I have flown the free TF-51D Mustang and SU-25, as well as the F-15C, A-10A, Mig-29 and Su-27, and look forward to jumping into other clickable cockpits to see if I can take off and land in one go without reading any manuals or crashing — unlikely — but that is the fun of guiding the undying. I think I will begin with the charming Yak-52.

Explosions Simulator and Italian Coast Visual Novel Free at Epic

Two free games to play and keep until April 23rd at Epic Games Store: Just Cause 4, an open world action game where you are a man who walks away from or dive into explosions, and Wheels of Aurelia, a visual novel and adventure game about a woman driving on the Italian coast in the 1970s.

iPad Pro’s LIDAR Sensor

The makers of the iPhone’s Halide camera app explore the abilities of the Light Detection and Ranging sensor on the new iPad Pro. I think that this is the technology that will most make me feel like I am living in the future.

Histomap of Evolution

Beautifully typeset streamgraph from 1942 with some quite racist information — a product of its time. As puts it in Sapiens (pp. 135–136):

Yet, to the best of our understanding, these hierarchies are all the product of human imagination. Brahmins and Shudras were not really created by the gods from different body parts of a primeval being. Instead, the distinction between the two castes was created by laws and norms invented by humans in northern India about 3,000 years ago. Contrary to Aristotle, there is no known biological difference between slaves and free people. Human laws and norms have turned some people into slaves and others into masters. Between blacks and whites there are some objective biological differences, such as skin colour and hair type, but there is no evidence that the differences extend to intelligence or morality.

Old Man

Not the wonderful Neil Young song, but a new Arma 3 scenario where you guide an “old man in a job where men die young.”

History Gives Us Hope

Steve Weiner, a former nuclear submarine officer, writing on his personal blog:

History gives us some hope. During the Great Plague of 1665, Isaac Newton – then a student at Cambridge – was forced to leave campus as a precautionary measure, and went to his family estate in the country. There his brain was freed up and he began work on some of the world’s most monumental discoveries: calculus, optics, and gravity. He called the subsequent time his annus mirabilis, his “wonder year”. I’m optimistic that similarly profound achievements are happening in isolation all over the world. Hopefully, we’ll soon have a cure to this fucking thing, but why shouldn’t we also surface from the depths with action plans to eliminate poverty or reverse climate change?

Focus Writer

Distraction-free writing application. It is open source software, available for Mac, Linux, and Windows.