Posted in Books, Odds & ends

Recommended listening: “Cat Pictures, Please”

One of my favorite podcasts is Escape Pod, which brings a new science fiction short story every week. I particularly liked this week’s episode, “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer.

Many stories that feature advanced artificial intelligence programs seem to focus on ones that want to destroy humanity, from Wargames‘ WOPR and Terminator‘s Skynet to The 100‘s Allie.

Kritzer imagines an A.I. that wants to be helpful… but her story also asks us to think about how much algorithms already control our lives.

Check it out if you have a half hour to spare.

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Posted in Odds & ends

Gaming Log- Fate Grand Order Saber Wars

Fate: Grand Order’s first event of 2018, Saber Wars, wrapped up yesterday and it was fairly productive for me. I was able to get everything I wanted out of the event shop, reach two million points to clear the reward ladder and even add to my stock of Reverse Dragon Scales via battle drops.

The story was fun, if short – Mysterious Heroine X crash lands near where Saber Lily is training. Ms. X vows to help train Lily while secretly plotting to destroy all other saber-class servants. In the final act, another mystery woman arrives to battle Ms. X.

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Lily helps Ms. X defeat Ms. Z, and then we’re launched into two weeks of farming to gather items and Altrium points to help Ms. X repair her space ship.

This event marked a departure from some recent ones in that we had a choice of battles to fight to gather resources. For people with low level servants or who had yet to acquire the damage-boosting craft essence cards, there was a set of relatively easy battles. If you had to stick with them for the whole event, you could certainly clear the event shop and would have a chance of getting enough Altrium points to obtain all five copies of Saber Lily, but you wouldn’t have much of a shot of obtaining everything from the points ladder.

But if you had strong servants, you could move on to the tougher fights. Most of the people I know who play Fate: Grand Order spend the bulk of their time fighting a version of Scathach with nearly a million hit points because it gave them a chance to collect Hearts of the Foreign God, Octuplet Crystals and Eternal Gears. The consistent rewards were a mix of Vacuum Tubes and Altrium points.

So I ended up moving on to the next fight once I had all the Vacuum Tubes I needed and spent the last week of the event fighting Ultra Heroine Z, who had over a million hit points. That battle only gave you Altrium points, so you got more of them – and I decided to stop using Golden Fruits for this event once I’d gotten enough copies Saber Lily to max out her Noble Phantasm.

I relieved on borrowed Okitas (and one of my in-game friend’s level 100 Mordred with 10/10/10 skills) to be my main damage dealer, with my max leveled Altria and Saber Lily to back them up. My back row consisted of Waver, to help support whoever was left after my first front row servant was defeated, Mashu, to switch in and taunt Ultra Heroine Z when she charged her Noble Phantasm, and a level 50 Nero to increase my Altrium points bonus.

That lineup worked well, for the most part. But occasionally I’d end up losing all of my sabers and be left with just Waver, or Waver and Mashu. And every time that happened, Waver came through as my damage dealer and carried the day. One time he pulled it off despite being down to one hit point. So he’s my MVP for moving out of his customary role to save me.

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I did try to summon Mysterious Heroine X, but she didn’t answer my call within the 90 Saint Quartz and handful of summon tickets I was willing to use. That’s ok. Shiki will be coming soon.

I was really trying for Nero, and I got her.

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I was able to get her to level 50 during the event, and I should be able to get her to level 60 at least during our two million download celebration with its 1/2 AP ember gathering missions. Saber Wars also helped me to final ascend Waver and Kiyohime, and fully level Saber Gilles, Medusa and Mashu (for now.) I also got Caesar, Saber Lily and Waver to bond level six.

How did Saber Wars go for you?

Posted in Odds & ends

A word for 2018: Joy

JoyThis Sunday, my church celebrated Epiphany. Epiphany is the religious holiday commemorating the visit of the Magi who followed the star to find the Christ child. It emphasizes that Jesus is a gift for both the Hebrew people and gentiles alike.

One of the ways that churches mark the holiday is by giving out paper stars with words written on them for us to reflect upon throughout the new year. Rather than giving us a random word, our pastor today asked us to think about the joy of Christmas… how we see it in our lives, and how we can share it with others.

And you know what? That’s good advice at any time, but in 2018? We need to fight to hold onto joy and to share it with others where we can.

Individually, we cannot fight all the injustice in the world or bring about peace. But we can look for ways to help. Maybe that looks like calling your politicians about issues that are important to you. Maybe it looks like running for office or starting a non-profit to address those issues more directly.

Maybe it just means checking on your lonely or elderly neighbor, or noticing and acknowledging the homeless person who’s looking for money or food instead of pretending that you don’t see them. Maybe it’s even just offering a kind word or a smile, because that’s all we can do in that moment.

So I’m going to try to hold onto the joy of Christmas throughout the year, and share it with others as much as I can. Who else is with me?

Posted in Odds & ends

Inspiration in imperfection

It was way too cold to do anything that involved leaving the house today, so I ended up watching the U.S. Figure Skating championships on tv for part of the day.

At their best, figure skaters seem like magical beings who can defy gravity in ways that the rest of us can only dream about. And of course, that mastery only comes through many, many hours of practice and a lifetime of dedication.

And that’s amazing – you can probably count on your fingers the number of people in the world who can skate like Nathan Chen, and I bet there’d be some fingers left over.

But as impressive as Chen was at the end of the night, I keep thinking back to earlier in the day when we watched skaters who did not come as close to perfection. The ones who fought to land their jumps even though they weren’t fully rotated and wouldn’t count for the anticipated points total. The ones who fell and got back up again without missing a beat to finish their routines

Those skaters had to know that their mistakes had likely cost them any shot at the podium that they might have had, but they were able to set that aside and keep going. When so many things are going wrong and the whole world feels broken, I’m finding more inspiration and beauty in those flawed performances than I did in perfection.

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Image by en:User:Dr.frog (en:Image:Figure-skates-1.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Posted in Gardening, Odds & ends

A glass of spring…

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The northeast has resembled Hoth for the past couple of weeks, with today bringing our first significant snowstorm of 2018. It’s supposed to get even colder this weekend.

But the two most recent additions to our plant menagerie will help remind me that spring is on the way, and that should make it a little bit easier to get through the winter.

January 6th update:

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Posted in Odds & ends

We survived

980xWe made it through another year. It’s felt like the worst year ever to me every year since 2013, so I’ve kinda given up thinking things will get better just because I put up a new blank calendar.

But we made it through 2017, even if it did really suck at (a lot) of points along the way. And for all the bad, there were some great memories along the way.

I visited Florida, flew on a plane for the first time, and saw baseball games in two parks I’d never been to before. I almost caught a football at the arena-league championship game. I spent time with friends. I learned to be a slightly better photographer than I was when the year started.

I hope that you all had your own great memories of 2017. Maybe you don’t even think the year sucked.

I hope that 2018 is a good year. I do. But I realize that its not all going to be roses. Our country is more divided than ever — we live in a time where people don’t just have their own sets of opinions, but their own sets of facts as well. Even in fandom circles, there is so much fighting that there’s little respite from reality to be found there.  Health problems don’t get better just because of date change, either.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago, because I’ve never been able to keep them. But I still set some New Year’s goals for 2018:

  • Fight for the things that matter to me, and let go of the things that don’t
  • Spend time with the people that I care about
  • Focus on being happy – as the Doctor says,  “Everything ends and it’s always sad. But everything begins again and it’s always happy. Be happy.”

Here’s to the adventure that awaits us in 2018