If it weren't a Brandon Sanderson book, I think I would be more critical of the outsider kid turned hero through sheer power of will and reluctantly going towards becoming a minor god plot. I mean, I've seen it before, it sells, it's fun, but it never is good quality. Yet, Sanderson manages to make Cytonic about the characters, and it's hard to not empathize with them, once you get past the "oh, god, what a mess this story has become" feeling.

  And if I had to name one thing only that makes Brandon Sanderson books so good is that he doesn't give a crap about how credible his universes are. He can make emotional phone books having romances work, if he ever chooses to. (Please don't do it, man!)

  Back to Cytonic, Spensa again does things because she feels like it, rationalizing it afterwards as "she had to, despite her feelings", discovering new powers, making new friends and being sweet and aggressive at the same time (told you Sanderson can make anything work). I don't want to spoil anything, although I feel it would be impossible. I've forgotten most of what I've read in the first two books and it didn't matter that much. Ironically, it all happens in "the nowhere", a place where people can live, but slowly lose their memories of the real world (obviously, the somewhere), so maybe I went into the story a bit too much.

  For people who don't know this, Skyward is more of a young adult/children's series of books, where a young girl discovers she has a destiny. It's Harriet Potter in space, kind of, only with more focus on what people are like and how their feelings inform their actions than a world that makes objective sense. So, yeah, like Harry Potter. The tone is light, yet engaging and entertaining, and while it is not Sanderson's best work, it's quite fun.

  Trading for a Living is a pack of four different books, but of similar design:

  • The Best Trading Lessons of Jesse Livermore
    • contains quotes from Jesse Livermore and a short translation/analysis from Frank Marshall for each
  • Expert Trader: 93 Trading Lessons of Richard Wyckoff
    • contains quotes from Richard Wyckoff and a short translation/analysis from Frank Marshall for each
  • Secrets of Trading Performance
    • a list of 10 principles to help you get in the mindset of a day trader
  • Trading Essentials
    • a list of 20 principles to help you get in the mindset of a day trader

On the surface of it, you might say that this is not a book at all, just a collection of random musings from Frank Marshall. However, it does offer a direct and clear entry in the world of trading. As a complete noob in the business, I thought it was useful, if only as a browse-through and a reference book.

While I may have the utmost respect for Livermore and Wyckoff, they were trading a century ago. Their insights, even translated by a modern trader, don't mean much, although the small explaining paragraph from Marshall at the end of each is concise and useful. However, the two small booklets at the end, with the 30 principles in total, are kind of gold. And not gold in the sense of "read those and you will get rich!", but because they are honestly telling you:

  • trading is HARD, because it depends on you finding an edge over everybody else (you only win because someone else loses)
  • trading is discipline, because you need to fight your own urges and emotions and follow an (ever evolving) strategy
  • you need to keep your own mind, body and life in balance (he even recommends meditation and therapy)
  • trading is a job, which needs to be done with the mind, not the heart
  • most people losing big (the 90% that don't make it) usually enter trading with the wrong mindset: trying to prove something, gambling, fear, wanting to get rich fast, etc.
  • trading is hard work: following the trends, interpreting the data, doing math and statistics, etc.
  • you trade because you enjoy it, otherwise you won't make it

Bottom line: Frank Marshall is telling you NOT to pick up trading unless you are really into it. Even these relatively vague advice he gives is prefaced in every book by a disclaimer that you are not to follow it with the expectation that it will automatically make you win money. You need to put in a lot of work to even start making a dent and strong discipline is required to stop yourself from going in too deep and never coming back up.

  There is an issue with American science fiction, where the stakes have to be raised all the time. Everything has to become different, bigger, flashier, louder, until it becomes so ridiculous that you just have to start over. My greatest regret is that the Expanse series didn't focus more on the Sol world, so carefully crafted in the first books only to be discarded for (cheap?) alien cosmic horror. Perhaps there was never a market for that, but when the series ended, it is the complex interaction between Inners and Belters and the larger than life characters there I missed the most.

  Leviathan Falls doesn't address all of the open threads, loses focus on the world and stays on the crew of the Rocinante: victims, heroes, rebels, guardians of the Universe. It then unequivocally cuts all of those threads and ends the entire series with terrible finality.

  But the book is great, like most of the series, a page turner that I couldn't let go until I had finished it. Stakes were never higher, heroes never this heroic, villains never more terrifying and yet relatable. To me, at this moment, biggest villain(s) is still James S. A. Corey for killing my world.

 So you clicked on this post because you thought that:

  • I was smart enough to know how to be better than anybody else
  • I could summarize all the ways to become so
  • I would generously share them with you
  • You would understand what I am telling you in 3 minutes or whatever your attention span is now

While I appreciate the sentiment, no, I am not that smart, nor am I that stupid. There are no shortcuts. Just start thinking for yourself and explore the world with care and terror and hope, like the rest of us. And most of all, stop clicking on "N ways to..." links.

  Stranger in a Strange Land is mainly satire. It tries to shake the reader from stasis and make them ask questions and think for themselves. For Robert A. Heinlein, science, freedom of thought and critical thinking were really important and it shows in how he approaches the story. However, the book is also philosophy, pulp fiction, religious experimentation, erotica, science fiction and pure lunacy. Also, if you are one of the social justice people, don't read this book, especially feminists.

  First published in 1961, it both shows its age and is way ahead of its times. The book immensely influenced culture to the point that it added a new word to the English dictionary: "grok", which is used throughout the book as a synonym to "comprehend", although apparently it means a lot more.

  The book is pretty damn large, split into five parts which each felt like a different story. Probably today it would have been published as a pentalogy. The first part is pure science fiction satire. A young man, raised by Martians, returns to Earth, where he has to confront the reality of our culture. Shots are fired towards everything: politics, law, religion, capitalism, culture. 

  The second part is about him finding some allies which protect him and allow him to have the time to evolve. Here it kind of transforms to the normal kind of pulp published at the time (and since).

  From the third part on, Heinlein gives agency to his character. People interact with him, teach him about the world while he starts "spreading his wings". A lot of discussion about how he naively perceives the world. More focus is put on his superpowers: he can not only make stuff (and people) disappear forever, but he can control his body, move things with his mind, is capable of telepathy.

  In the fourth part, Mike the Martian becomes a cult leader. He establishes a church, starts filtering people through a number of "circles" and at the end he has them speaking and thinking in Martian, which gives them the same powers that he has. His church is all about free love, communal ownership (if it even matters), group telepathy and so on. At this point I was reminded of The Center of the Cyclone, which started as a scientist's journal on LSD experimentation and ended as a complete mental breakdown of a person communing with extraterrestrial beings.

  The fifth part just wraps it all up in a biblical allegory, with Mike the God sacrificing himself for his church and humanity as a whole.

  It took me forever to finish the book. Partly because I was focused on other stuff, but also because the book is filled with random stuff. You might think that as Mike is the primary character, he is also the protagonist, but instead this old man Jubal is the carrier of the reader's point of view. The man is cultured, intelligent, arrogant, likes to hear himself speak, condescends to everybody and is generally grumpy - which is presented as being endearing, but in fact it's pretty annoying. He lives in a grand mansion with four young girls, which are his secretaries. When he permits them, they are quite lively and opinionated :) Apparently, many considered Jubal as a stand in for Heinlein himself.

  I admit that I loved the first part of the book. I thought it was humorous and poignant, laying bare the hypocrisy of the modern world. Also it had a good pace, it was presenting new information and there was no Jubal. Then things started to feel a bit weird, but I kept at it. The ending was almost like having to listen to one of those convinced hippies telling everybody how God is love and therefore you should let him fuck you. There are entire chapters about Jubal explaining someone how things truly are and why that person is wrong in their thoughts or beliefs. And then there is the church of love thing, where everybody groks and drinks deep and calls everybody "dear", while smugly announcing that they have the answer to everything.

  As far as I know Heinlein specifically tried to piss off people with the book, to shake things up. It all started from a idea of his wife's to write a Mowgli book, but where the kid has been raised by Martians. more than a decade later, this is the result. I think the Strugatskys did a better and more concise job in Space Mowgli, yet Heinlein managed to inspire whole generations with this book. To this day there is an actual church that follows the principles in the book and a Heinlein Society dedicated to encouraging critical thinking. Who am I to criticize it? But it was damn hard to finish.

  Can we use the scientific method as a guide for life? Let's find out!

  In these times science is either misunderstood or maligned (more often both), but what do you think science actually is? The "simple" Wikipedia definition is "a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe", which is a criminally roundabout way of saying it's the result of the scientific method, the one that you see in the picture there. No matter how little you know or how stupid you think you are, the scientific method is a way of acquiring knowledge and then building upon that knowledge. It has nothing to do with nomenclatures, hard mathematics, quantum mechanics or complex lab equipment. Those are results of science, not components. One may build upon them, but might as well decide they want to go another direction.

  Why am I writing this? Because I am not a scientist, but I feel inspired by the scientific method. It provides a sure algorithmic way of improving... well, anything! All you have to do is repeatedly follow four simple steps:

  • Observe
  • Predict
  • Test
  • Analyze

 And while discussing this with anyone is something I enjoy, this post is not about the entire process, but just about the first step: Observation. I strongly believe that what is missing most from our collective lives is observing the world around us. I was reading something about a plant today and I realize that I have no idea what the plants I see are called, what they are useful for, and furthermore I rarely pay any attention to them in the rare cases I do go out and find some. My wife is different. Her life is based on observation and, while I don't always agree with her conclusions, I begrudgingly have you admit that I mostly analyze her observations rather than make my own.

Imagine you are in a biology class in school, let's say primary school and they have to learn botany. Are you seeing it, in your mind's eye? Where are the students? How does the teacher enter the class? What does he do? What do the pupils do then? What tools are they using?

Now tell me, where did you imagine this class taking place? Because when I did it, I imagined a room at the first floor inside a concrete building. The teacher enters the room and writes something on the blackboard and the children open some textbook. Perhaps it's a whiteboard and children have tablets, because it's the future and I am fucking old. But where are the plants under study? If we are lucky, there are some in the window behind the teacher's desk, because they have a small, but higher chance of surviving there than anywhere else in the classroom. If the school has a high enough budget one can imagine an occasional field trip with the kids, using a bus to go to a botanic garden and walk around for a bit. An artificial and abstract representation of something that is never observed.

How can one study anything without observing it? In an average class what pupils are observing are the opinions of other people, translated into text and pictures in books. They move from subject to subject, always basing their learning on what someone else saw and abstracted away. They are taught, in a consistent and constant way, to base their thinking on what people in authority have chewed and regurgitated for them. It doesn't matter if those people are right or wrong, that's not the argument I am making, it's about what we are actually learning, in schools and then later in everything we do. It only takes one moment of disconnect, of betrayal of trust, for the foundation of entire lives to be shattered, because if you suddenly learn you may not get the right information from the people you thought of as experts and authority figures, then your entire life experience so far may be a lie.

Most people dislike and distrust science because it is presented in an abstract manner, removed from day to day experience. But that's not science! Science is based on *your* experience. The very word means knowledge. And while you are bombarded with information every minute of every day, that's not knowledge unless it fits in your chain of experiences.

Now tell me another thing: what do you want to improve? Your life, probably. How do you define it, what are its components, how do you measure its quality? In the end (or is it the start), how well are you observing your life? How do you observe yourself, the people around you, the world in which you live?

Let's start there, with defining ourselves and our place in the world, let's observe the immediate reality of our existence. We'll wing it from there. It won't be science until we make testable predictions, actually test them and then adapt to what the analysis tells us, but it's a start. The alternative is to try to fix something without understanding how it works. Or worse, waiting for someone else to do it for us and hoping they understand it better than we. We will end up hitting something repeatedly, expecting it to start working as we want.

I was reading an article a few days suggesting that he have evolved to hold opinions that make us "win" not that are necessarily true, that those opinions are there to define our belonging to a social group and not to inform our actions according to reality. The scientific method appears to do away with emotions and instinct, thus feel unnatural, but in the things we choose observe we find ourselves, in the predictions we make we put our hopes and in the effort to test and improve our understanding we enforce our will.

Do you feel lacking control over things? Are you angry and frustrated? You might not have much power, but *this* you can do no matter who you are, where you are and who stands with or against you. Science: see, think, try, choose.

  Mirage is inspired by the "Years of Lead" in Morocco's 1960s history and its underlying message about the terrors of colonialism is quite important. At first I thought it was inspired by the plight of Arabs in Palestine, so it's also very timely. That is why it pains me to say that I couldn't go more than several chapters in. The writing is amateurish, the lead teen character inconsistent and annoying and this is clearly a YA book written by a woman for other women.

  That may sound misogynistic, but everyone who has ever hunted for a good book to read knows what I mean: you get to something that has rave recommendations, raised to the level of masterpiece by a few articles, but then when you start reading and you look closer at those reviews you see that they are mostly from women writing those five star animated GIF capital letter emoji filled things. And all the men give two stars and wonder how did they get to read the book in the first place, just like you.

  I don't want to be unfair to Somaiya Daud - this is her debut novel and I am sure her writing will get better with time - but for me reading through the rest of the book and knowing that it's yet another trilogy in the making, so having to wait even more to even get to the end of the story, was too much. It also addresses issues of personal helplessness, which is probably my Achilles' heel. If I ever want to get to those good books that I want to find, I have to fail fast and cut my losses early.

  Bottom line: I couldn't even begin to start reading the book. A combination of subject, debut writing style and aggressive and misleading advertising made me abandon it immediately.

  I have heard about Jack Kerouac and his most famous book On the Road for as long as I can remember, but I had never read it until now. I did watch the 2012 movie with the same name, though, and I gave it the highest rating. I still believe Garrett Hedlund was amazing in it and that the guy needs more great roles like that. So, while whole books have been written about the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and his friends and about On the Road itself, what did I, greatest book critic ever, think of it?

  I liked it. I can say that parts of it were lovely and parts of it boring. But consider this: Kerouac wrote this as a "scroll", based on a stream of thoughts randomly thrown on whatever paper he could find on his travels, shaped by whatever place he was in and what mood he was having and which people he was with and what substances coursed through his body. The scroll itself is twice as big as the book he eventually published and On the Road is considered part of the Duluoz Legend series, which spans 13 books. The thing to look for in his writing cannot be about specific details, but about the overall philosophy, the experience.

  That is why I can safely and with certainty say: I will not read the scroll version, I liked the book, but I loved the movie. And while this is not a review of the film, I did notice that many of its critics were mainly focused on "it's not like the book". Gentlemen, if the film would have been about other people doing other things, but in the same spirit as the book, it would still have been On the Road and just as entertaining. Because, while this is based on actual people and actual experiences, the specifics are quite irrelevant. Once you capture the spirit of the thing, the rest is just filler.

  So what is the book about? Jack and his buddy Dean spend the entire time moving from New York to San Francisco and back, using their own cars, car sharing, hitching, jumping on trains, buses, or however they could, enjoying each other's company and the feeling of being on the road and meeting interesting people and living life at its fullest. The film has a great female cast, but you will notice that they are barely doing anything. They are there in the background, because while the story contains them, it is not focused on them. It's even more so in the book, where characters jump in and out of the story: travel companions, drink and drug buddies, random sex, true love, marriages, children, people who let them sleep in their houses with or without pleasure. And while everything is told from the perspective of the writer and Dean has the next more important role, even then you cannot say the story is about them.

  The effect that both book and movie had on me was quite an antisocial one. They made me dream of travelling light, experiencing all kinds of adventures while caring about nothing and nobody, just living in the moment. It's a nice fantasy, one that breaks easily under the weight of my own nature and the oppressive organization of the present, but nice nonetheless. On the Road gives us a glimpse of what was gained and what got lost in 70 years from the perspective of people doing the living back then. There is no hero, no villain, no moral to the story and no mystery to solve. Just people being as free as the world lets them to.

Bottom line: not the best book that I have ever read, but also great, fresh, honest, worth reading, with characters worth knowing. It is important to know that in order to get to the curated, safe, stale world we live in, others had to try all kinds of other things, that freedom is something you feel rather than something given to you. This is a fantasy and an autobiography all at once. That's the part that I loved most.

  I am watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show that I have loved since I was a child and was watching obsessively again and again at that time. Yet as I grew older (and hopefully wiser) and with full knowledge of TV and movie culture since then, I see many new things in this show that I was unable at the time of my youth.

  Next Generation is, on the surface, a story about a wonderful future in which humanity has somehow distilled its best qualities and created a post-scarcity utopia that anyone can enjoy and in which everybody can thrive. People are intelligent, educated, passionate, considerate, moral, loyal and dutiful. They don't even have money anymore!  In a show made in 1987, computers were there just to do the bidding of humans, with no creativity or decision power. Security was just a matter of choosing a good password any anyone could access almost everything given a few minutes.

   However this was not unintentional. The vision of the show was focused on "humanity at its best" and so it could never be outmatched by algorithms, machines or cold calculation. And the most beautiful thing of all is Starfleet, an organization dedicated to knowledge and exploration, diplomacy and discovery, where everyone who is insanely qualified can find their place amongst the stars, happy to serve their duty in a heavily structured navy that is at the same time diverse, inclusive, quaint and strict.

  It surely inspired me when I was a child, but now I start seeing things that I couldn't then. The judgement of anyone who is different while expressing views of total tolerance, for example. And I am not talking about species that were particularly designed to be repugnant or immoral, like the Ferengi, but about people. Barclay, for example, a brilliant engineer that can't find the confidence to assert himself is ridiculed for his addiction to the holodeck, called Broccoli behind his back, almost transferred because he is not expressing himself as expected and punctual enough, yet embraced when he saves the day. At that time it felt like an honest mistake that the crew wished to resolve and in the end did. But what if he didn't save the day? In another episode, Riker refuses yet another promotion to captain and an admiral asserts his career will suffer, as other young and brilliant people aim higher than him, which makes him seem a risk avoider. And in yet another episode Picard goes back in time to behave more rationally in his youth, only to find himself in the present relegated to a role of lieutenant that is not taken seriously when asking for advancement because he had always chosen the safe path.

  All this went over my head when I was young, but now it sounds a lot just like the most toxic of corporate cultures. You either fit in and play happy or you are pushed out to a life that no one even mentions. You can tend plants in your garden for the rest of your life, because if you didn't fall in line with the office rulebook, you won't be working there. That doesn't sound like a utopia for me, but a dystopia, a world ruled by churches that expect, with kindness, that you obey the rules exactly, both in your work life and your personal one, move in a certain way, behave in a certain way, talk in a certain way and navigate topics of conversation carefully. In fact, many a time in Star Trek, the line between work and personal life was explicitly rejected. In one episode Deanna Troi shouts to her mother that the crew of the Enterprise is her family and there lies her life. In many others Picard refuses to go on vacation and even there he is reading heavy stuff that will help him at his work.

  The principles spouted by the actors in the show are also routinely broken by actions motivated with sophistry and dramatism. But not just anyone can break those principles. One of the main cast can do it, and always under the benevolent yet strict oversight of the captain. And in case you want to "play the game" and "fake it till you make it" there is always counselor Troi to invade your privacy and broadcast you real emotions to the captain.

  And I admit that I am a corporate guy, enjoying the relative safety and monetary comfort by sacrificing some of my principles and remaining relevant to my level of employment. The truth is that the same environment can be a blessing for some and a nightmare for others. Yet the problem is not the rules themselves, but how static and rigid they are. If one can either choose one way to behave or the other, with no overlap and a large gap between the two, there is little chance for people from a group to move to the other. Without that mobility things stagnate and die and that is exactly my own experience in real life corporations.

  I am not trying to criticize The Next Generation here. It was an amazing show that churned 25 episodes of good storytelling and decent acting per year for seven years in a row and which generated two spinoffs: DS9 and Voyager. Compare this with today's Star Trek: seasons of 13 episodes with three times the budget per episode (adjusted for inflation) and a linear storyline that is neither original nor well thought. What I am trying to say is that under the veneer of a beautiful bright future, one that Gene Roddenberry imagined with the best of intentions, the details belie the influence of the real world and of how people really function. It's a wonderful example of how the same concepts and the same words look great at one time and less so after you experience them.

  Bottom line: I think Gene's vision was great and the future imagined by him puts the present to shame, yet I am sure I would have had a very hard time adapting to life on the Enterprise. Perhaps I would have been the guy at the teleporter station, who obviously has no reason to do anything there unless when orbiting or approaching another ship, doing his job in a place with no windows or chairs and that somehow everyone knows by name. Or the cadet who always finds ways of optimizing things, but can't navigate the complicated rules of political correctness or the chain of command when wanting to express them. Or Barclay. Probably Barclay.

  A while ago I started looking for books about microbial biology, for whatever reason, and so I also added From Bacteria to Bach and Back, without bothering to look at the description or any of the reviews. And it was a hard to find book, too! So here I am, happy to have gotten it and looking forward to its wisdom. I really try to finish books that I have started, so I did with this one as well, but just couldn't. I had to decide if I want to abandon this and read some other book or just find new reasons to scroll Facebook forever!

  And the reason is not that the book is not saying something interesting and important or that it is not researched. The reason for me being unable to finish reading it is solely based on the style of the writing. Imagine David Attenborough at his most pompous, writing something that has the scope of something Yuval Noah Harari would write and with the condescendence of Richard Dawkins because he wanted to outdo Douglas Hofstadter and you get Daniel C. Dennett writing this book, but without the charisma, conciseness or cleverness of either of the others.

  The book relates exclusively on how evolution leads to intelligence, how our conscious minds can be explained by evolution and mechanistic principles alone and that concepts like free will are not consistent with anything scientific. The problem is that after saying that, it continues to repeat it, more and more smugly, trying to dot every i and cross every t, until reading becomes unbearable. And yes, one could have expected something like this from someone actually named Daniel Clement Dennett the Third, age 75 and having dedicated his life to defining and researching consciousness, but it doesn't make getting through the book any easier. It has nothing to do with bacteria or Bach, other than empty correlations, either.

  Apparently, this should have been the distillation of Dennett's thinking. At almost 500 pages, this is not distilling anything! You don't go into a pub to get a distillate and ask for a pint. And while the subject is interesting and the conclusions iron clad, I do believe that a smart editor could have created a wonderful little book by deleting two thirds of everything written in this.

  Bottom line: sorry, but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even reach the half point.

 

  BTW, if you are a player of the game, leave a comment. I would like to meet the people I play with.

Intro

  For me it is strange that Kogama Battle isn't a more famous game. I am searching for it on the Internet and no one talks about it. And it's too bad, because it has all the hallmarks of a great game: flexibility, action, strategy, team play, accessibility.

  KB is a browser 3D shooter game. The 3D models are very simple and require little resources, but the network code is pretty good. There are two teams, Red and Blue, each starting from their own "castle". The two castles are three floors high and separated from each other by a water moat in which there are some islands to hop on. The purpose of the game is to reach the flag that is found in the other basecamp. Sounds easy, and it is. But there are so many different ways to win the game, that it becomes extremely amusing to play, if you have people who know how to play it on both sides.

  In this post I will:

  1. enumerate the different strategies for winning
  2. talk about what is good about the game
  3. talk about what is bad about the game
  4. list the items one can use in the game
  5. conclusion

How to win

1. Open the gate

  The obvious way to finish the game seems to be getting the key to the enemy castle (which lies on your side of the water) and carry it to the gate. You have to do this 10 times, then the door opens, allowing access to the enemy flag.

  Counter measures:

  • shoot the enemy as they get the key (either directly or shooting at the target stuck on the platform where the key is, which makes the entire platform explode and kill anyone there)
    • you can use the firewall, too, but it's pretty useless
  • after they open the gate, go to the enemy side, get the key and take it to your gate (applying the key to an open gate closes it and sets the counter back to 10)
    • this of course means your team must defend the flag from the people who entered the base
  • use the builder gun to cover the inside of the gate so that the enemy cannot immediately enter the base
    • the enemy might counter this by shooting a bazooka at the gate before they open it

  The greatest fun here is to get to the enemy side and steal a key when your gate counter is very low, then enter the castle and wait on the top floor. When the enemy has succeeded to open the gate you jump from above and immediately close it. Combined with the builder gun barricade, it makes for great satisfaction to foil your enemy.

2. Use the back door

  On the left side of the stairs to the gate there is a block out of place. It is a hint that you can do something with it. Shoot at it (and the next four blocks) and you open a tunnel to the enemy base. You can only go through it by using the shrinking pill, which means you can penetrate the enemy base, but unarmed and having to wait until you grow back again.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to ... err ... block the tunnel from the inside of the base. Since the enemy is shrunken, they cannot shoot through it
    • there is a way for the enemy to destroy the blocks inside, as well as any defenses, and that is to temporarily switch team. Obviously, this is a form of cheating and only assholes use it, but it adds an element of "sabotage" to the game.
  • kill the tiny enemies, preferably with the flamethrower, when they emerge helpless from the tunnel :)
    • this wastes the resource of a person, but it is fun

3. Come through the window

  One can use the block gun in a variety of ways to gain access, but this is almost like it was designed like that. You need to make a stair like structure with the block gun that leads from the shrinking pill outside to the defense window above. Then, shrink yourself and enter the enemy base through the window, just like with the tunnel.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to block the defense window on the pill side
    • the enemy can destroy that block easily, though, so it must be periodically checked, from outside and inside
  • kill the tiny enemies when they enter the window
  • destroy the blocks as they build the stair

4. Any other way of using the block gun to get to the enemy side:

  • jump and shoot a block under you, creating a column that pushes you up and allows you to get in the enemy base from the top floor
  • attach blocks on the walls of the map and create a bridge to get from one side to another
    • warning, when you create a bridge, the enemy can use it as well
  • shoot from your base to the other base so that there is a bridge created from the enemy base to the central suspended platform, then use the underwater teleporter to get onto the bridge
  • any type of ladder on the enemy base that allows you to get to the top floor

  Counter measures:

  • be vigilant and destroy the block structures constructed by the enemy (a bazooka is most effective)
  • kill enemies that manage to get in the base

5. Ugh! Rocket jumps

  Someone played Quake when they were young and they implemented the same thing here. In my opinion the bazooka is the worst item in the game, killing people after three shots, but destroying a lot of blocks and allowing rocket jumps. It holds 12 shots! I personally believe that people should be ashamed of themselves for using rocket jumps in Kogama Battle, because they are completely screwing the flow of the game.

  That being said, using a bazooka one can reach the other side's flag in less than 30 seconds.

  Another type of jump is pistol jump. I only saw it done once and it looks like a rocket jump, but without getting damaged, which is really dumb to have been allowed. I think you might need to have a jump bonus for this to work. Ugh, bonuses!

  Counter measures:

  • the only real solution is basing someone inside the flag room, armed with a flamethrower or a machine gun, ready to kill the attacker, who should be wounded from the rocket jumps
    • having health around in the base doesn't really help, though
  • some block structures can be erected to deter some sorts of rocket jumps, but it is a trivial matter to destroy them with the same weapon used for the jumps
  • use a sniper to hit them before they rocket jump to your base, which is pretty enjoyable, especially if they have a health bonus and thus die not from your sniper, but from their own jump

6. Team work

  Playing within a common strategy with other people is the fastest way to win in a satisfying manner. Even unlocking a gate takes just a few minutes with people defending the key bearers and having at least two of those. Once a gate is open, there is almost no way to defend the flag from incoming enemies and a strong team can stop anyone from grabbing the 11th key to close the door.

7. Use blocks to guard your flag

  This is more a way to prevent loss, rather than promote a win, but it's necessary. The strategy here involves blocking the way to the flag with blocks. If placed well, they will stop the enemy while the lava wall burns them or force them to fall into a lava pit. Just blocking the entry to the flag room is not enough, usually it takes at least 5 levels of walls. The walls don't need to cover everything from top to bottom, just to stop the movement of the enemy. Sometimes leaving holes in the walls lures enemies thinking there is a way through without having to shoot the blocks out.

  Usually this strategy is essential to delay enemies that opened the gate while you run to close it. Then, press K, which commits suicide, and chances are you will be respawned in the base on the top floor, ready to kill whoever is there.

8. Cheating

  I already said that rocket jumps are shameful, but even worse is switching teams to sabotage because you can't play the game properly. One can do that, and forever lose any self esteem, to use it to destroy block defenses or gain information

The good

  As you can see from above, there are multiple ways to play this. If you play beginners you can even harass them in their own base or write insults with the block gun in their own base, rather than end the round by reaching the flag. There are strategies, counters and counter counters, and they all change based on the composition of the teams. It is the thing that makes it so fun for me. Even for people who only care about shooting, one can be a sniper, a machine gunner, an akimbo shooter, using a flamethrower or a bazooka or a shotgun. People can play offense, defense, or both. There are a myriad ways to use the block gun to do all kinds of things.

  It's a browser game! Just open the page and play! The game moves smoothly, even if sometimes you see people skipping if they have a network issue. It is a shooter, but you don't need special skills to play it. I personally play it with the little laptop dongle on the keyboard (which also makes me unable to shoot while moving, a strange side effect of using the dongle in web games that I can't explain)

  The game is also as short as you want it. I have played 30 minutes rounds protecting the base alone against ten enemies and finished some in 2 minutes.

  There is no chat! Actually there is, but no one uses it because it is an option you have to sign in for. You can do this only on the Kogama web site, but most people play Kogama Battle on other servers. This means no one can shout abuse at you or explain to everybody how things are done or collaborate with the team (unless they use some other channel like a Discord chat) and log in together.

The bad

  The rocket gun! It is so unlike any other item in the game. It destroys everything in its path, except actual players. Carefully crafted block structures are blown away in a second. It holds 12 rounds of ammo! And it allows for rocket jumps. People who rocket jump should be dead when they land!

  The flamethrower. It is a very nice weapon, but has low damage and no lasting flame damage. When you stop shooting it, the damage stops. That's not how flamethrowers work.

  There is no chat! I know this is a good thing, but it is also a bad one. Many a times people who have no idea how to play the game (or trolls) grab a bazooka and start to destroy the defenses trying to get to their own flag! A special kind of person (that is amazingly common) comes and uses the block gun to cover the lava pits so that the enemy can get to the flag better. And they don't even intend harm, they just want to reach the flag and are scared of jumping, I suppose?

  Bonuses. There is a way to get some small perks for the game, like extra life, extra jump, extra speed. I don't know, I never used them. It spices things up, but it also breaks the rhythm of the game. With an extra hit points bonus you don't get instakilled by snipers and you can rocket jump with impunity. I think they are shameful.

  The firewall. Each base has a platform that triggers a wall of fire in front of the gate when a person sits on it. The fire doesn't stick, the damage is low and one needs just the smallest amount of time to use the key to unlock the gate. The firewall, as it stands, is useless.

  The two sides are not created equal. Differences in how blocks stick to the gate, the size of the lava wall and some random blocks on the lower level makes the red side better than the blue one.

  Team inequality is also a problem. One can switch team at any time, join the bigger team, switch again.

Items in the game

Weapons:

  • shotgun
    • fires slowly and in a limited range, but is very powerful. 
    • kills someone in two or three shots, depending on distance
  • flamethrower
    • continuous fire and limited range, medium damage, fires through walls
    • as discussed above, it looks cool and it can be found in a more accessible area of the base, but it's usually less effective than a shotgun
  • akimbo revolvers
    • strange weapons that push you back (no other weapon does that) making aiming difficult, medium damage
    • they are placed outside, good for quickly picking up and destroying blocks or shooting at platform triggers
  • machine gun
    • fires fast, low damage bullets, lots of ammo, pushes people back
    • perfect for pushing someone of a ledge or for defending the base, as it disrupts enemy movement a little
    • good for destroying blocks
  • sniper
    • very high damage, usually kills in one shot (see bonuses)
    • only 5 shots and it needs a long charging time before shooting
    • doesn't affect blocks
  • bazooka
    • destroys blocks easily on a large area, the explosion pushes the shooter (but not the target), needs three shots to kill a player
    • blast also hurts user, but not your own team
    • explosion has area damage that goes through walls as well
    • nasty and stupid weapon :D
  • life gun
    • a weird and kind of useless contraption
    • when fired at an enemy, it sucks away their life, but once stopped, life jumps back to the initial level
    • when used at an ally, it gives life to them, maybe also temporarily. I've never used it.
    • maybe it has a different hidden use as well?
  • block gun
    • fires blocks of destructible stone that can attach themselves to walls or other blocks
    • can be used to defend against bazookas, as placing a block in front of the shooter will make them hurt themselves (even if they are your own team, like for trolls)
    • pressing long will destroy blocks and return them to you

Map features:

  • teleporter
    • there is one in each base lower level that leads in and out and can only be used by the base team
    • there is a neutral one under water which leads to a suspended ledge above it
  • trigger
    • it is a platform that triggers something when someone stands on it
    • there is one in each base to trigger the firewall
    • there is one outside each base, invisible, left of the staircase, sounding an alarm every time someone steps there (announcing a possible tunnel breach)
    • there are triggers on the key platforms, ringing when someone is on them
  • key
    • on each side of the water there is a key that opens the gate on the other side
    • the key is located upon a platform that has a target trigger attached to it
    • takes some time to respawn
    • if you are killed when carrying one, the key is dropped for a few seconds, permitting a team mate to continue carrying it
  • target trigger
    • attached to the platforms on which keys are located
    • if shot, they make the platform explode, killing everything on it
    • takes some time to recharge
  • destroyable blocks
    • not only you can place blocks, there are some placed for you
    • they can be destroyed to gain faster exit access or to get to the flag or secret tunnel
  • lava pits
    • found only in the flag room, they can be jumped over easily
    • if touched by lava you burn fast until you die, even if you get out of it
  • lava wall
    • also in the flag room, it moves from one side of the room to the other and back
    • touching it makes you burn until death
  • lava edges
    • there is one on the top edge of a wall of the top floor as well as around the walls of the map itself
    • pretty useless and only accidentally can someone get burnt by them
  • gates
    • one for each base, they start locked 10 times
    • you need a key with the same color for each of the times to open it
    • a key will reset a gate to closed if used on an open gate
  • middle platform
    • only accessible by using the underwater teleporter (or lucky rocket jumps)
    • it allows for some ways to get to the enemy base as well as an overview of the entire map
    • people sitting on the platform are easily killed from the top of the base
  • shrink pill
    • found outside the base as well as inside the tunnel and inside the base
    • they shrink you to a size that allows for going through small holes or windows
    • you lose any weapon you have when you shrink
  • defense ports
    • each base has two small ones on the lower level, where one can use snipers and bazookas against enemies going for the key
    • each base has two medium ones on the middle level, large enough for a shrunken person to go through
    • each base has large holes in the thin wall on the top floor through which one can look and shoot at the enemies
  • water
    • water makes it almost impossible to see outside it, but you are visible to anyone looking in the water
    • stay long enough under water and you will take very little damage

Game features:

  • the long jump
    • jumps depend on how long one presses space
    • you need to master the long jump before you can play this game well
  • access from the base
    • you can exit the base by using the teleporter or jumping from the top floor
    • in order to exit faster (and safer) use the machine gun to cut through the destructible blocks next to them (or a bazooka, or a block gun)
  • the machine gun push
    • machine gun bullets push the target a bit, which means you can disrupt their movement, push them into lava or into shrink pills (always fun, that)
  • flame through wall
    • much stronger than the firewall is using the flamethrower to shoot through the gate or through walls
    • warning! Do this in front of the gate and you might promote someone shooting a bazooka at you and destroying any block defense there
    • one can sit around a corner or even shoot through floors and give damage while protected from most guns
  • initial block setup
    • it is important when the round starts to cover these bases:
      • block tunnel under the Warning! sign
      • block defense window on the right on the middle floor (where the teleporter and small pill lie outside)
      • block flag by starting from the flag out: block access to the flag, block access out of the lava pit, block escape from lava wall, only then block the entry to the room. Here you need to not block the lava pits or give your enemy footholds above them, instead you block after the pits so that the enemy falls into them if they jump.

Conclusion

  This game is a lot of fun with the right people. If someone would make some small fixes, it could be the seed to a wonderful little game.

  My proposals:

  1. nerf the bazooka
    • less area damage against blocks, two at most and preferable dealing a lot less damage to a block behind a block
    • more damage against people
    • less blast pushback (no rocket jumps)
    • less ammo
  2. upgrade fire damage
    • increase fire damage from fire wall and flamethrower
    • and/or make fire stick to the target for a while
  3. nerf block gun
    • the block gun needs to be fast, so you can't nerf the speed of fire
    • so make it so you can't fire it while moving
      • this will allow for strategic long range structures, but disallow columns and jump-and-fire escapades from one side to the other
  4. force teams equal
    • make it so you can only join the smaller team
    • make the team switch (and initial game join) take a lot longer 
  5. no bonuses
    • remove bonuses, all players should be equal
  6. make it a real capture the flag game. The flag should be captured and taken to your own base before winning
    • this promotes teamwork, as the guy with the flag would not carry any weapons

  That's it. In my mind, this game would be perfect with just a few adjustments.

  You can play this game by googling for it and finding the biggest server at that time. Now, the servers I use are:

  • Crazy Games
  • Y8
  • any other server where Kogama Battle can be found via Google

 Have fun!

  Was I in a mood that I didn't enjoy Revenant Gun or has something changed in Yoon Ha Lee's writing? I can blame it partially on the fact that I didn't remember anything from the previous books, but I do remember I enjoyed them!

  Reading my review of the previous book I see some similarities in feeling: I don't remember much of the story or characters from before and it feels a bit sluggish at the beginning and rushed at the end. But the difference is that I had trouble finishing Revenant Gun and, instead of fondly remembering the situation where the other two books left off and getting closure, I felt like I had difficulty empathizing with any of the characters or caring about the story.

  And it's not like it's a straightforward book. It has two different threads, in one there is a resurrected Jedao reluctantly serving Kujen, the other is another Jedao, inhabiting the body of Cheris. Then there are a zillion officers, hexarhs, servitors, moths, lots of gay love that is unrelated to the story, but may have a place in the culture of this military universe and so on. The writing was decent, but it didn't blow me away.

  Bottom line: Perhaps the lucky ones are those who will read the entire trilogy at once and get both the freshness of the concepts and the closure of the story in one go. As such, I got almost nothing from this.

  Money is the root of all evil is a saying that has proven itself time and time again. Trying to make money from something that was not meant to do that will always soil and corrupt it. It is the case of so called "superchats", chat entries that have money attached to them.

  Here is how it works. Some content creator is doing a live stream and people are discussing the subject in the chat. There have been donation systems that allow people to give money to the creator for a long time and even there you see there is a bit of an issue. The streamer is almost forced by politeness (and because it encourages viewers) to acknowledge every donation. So they punctuate their content with "X has given me Y. Thanks a lot, X". This diminishes, albeit in a small way, the quality of the streamed content. Superchats are this, times 100.

  You see, when a chat message comes with money attached, the streamers are again motivated to acknowledge it. However, this time they read aloud the content of the message as well and respond to it, even if it is just with a sentence. This leads to significantly more disruption, but also has secondary effects that are at the core of the system. People have now been tiered into the ones that write a message and are ignored and the ones that pay to not be ignored, regardless of how useless, stupid or aggressive their chat message is.

  The content creator has only a few options at their disposal:

  • treat the superchats just like normal chat messages, in which case people won't be motivated to superchat, leading to less money for the stream
  • acknowledge and reply to just some of the superchats, which is a form of gambling for the message sender, if you think about it
  • acknowledge and reply to all superchats, which leads to a "super" tier of discussion that can only be accessed if you pay for it

Now, I understand how this system brings more money to the stream, but at what cost? People who crave attention are not the ones that you want to bring to the forefront of any discussion, but even so, many of them are immature teens. In order to have the system working, you need to stream, which motivates the creator to make interactive content and as long as possible to the detriment of short, concise, researched content.

The result is an explosion of low quality live streams, playing (preying!) on people's biases and social instincts, funded by the money of children and highlighting fragments of discussions based on how much they paid and not the quality of their content. Superchats are a disease of the Internet, akin to infomercials, television ads or paid news items. And unlike these, there are no tools to remove the streamer acknowledgements of superchats from the stream.

I am not an activist, but the only way to get rid of this toxic system is to actively fight it. I wonder if it could be seen as gambling, in a legal context. That should shut it down.

  It was very difficult to finish Bad Connections, as it is just a one sided view of the world from a very unsympathetic character. I understand the story was supposed to be a fuller portrait of women as a whole, but damn it makes them look dumb.

  So there is this woman who has to navigate through being the wife, the sexually unsatisfied, the adulteress, the divorcee, the single mother, the mistress, the woman on the side, the compulsive clinger and so on. I guess it was supposed to make the reader understand what it means to be female, yet Molly is emotional, compulsive, egotistic and ultimately weak. The scene at the end it written to provide some sort of feeling of emancipation, but in fact made me think she was even more of a coward than before.

  Bottom line: Joyce Johnson may be a big shot beatnik writer who hung out with Kerouac, but I did not like this book. It was short, yet unentertaining. It was full of meaning, of which I felt none was interesting or educational.

  About a year and a half ago I installed DuoLingo and started going through some of the languages there. The app was advertising itself as "The world's best way to learn a language" and "Learn languages by playing a game. It's 100% free, fun, and scientifically proven to work." And in the beginning it was. You could go through simple but increasingly complex lessons and advance in level, exactly as promised.

  And then whatever happened to mobile apps everywhere happened to DuoLingo as well: incessant ads, with garish colors and loud sounds, overtly lying about what they are advertising for. They changed the internal currency of DuoLingo, started to ask for more things just to get the normal stuff needed to learn a language, like the short stories that are the only part of the app that teaches the language in context. Lately they added speed games that no one can finish without spending the currency they've amassed, but increase the points one gets, so puts pressure on everyone to either play the games or spend a lot of effort to not fall behind.

  And for what? After getting to the third level in a language, I started to take every section and finish it (take it to level 5). There is basically no difference between the lessons as the level increases. You never get to complex sentences, learn new words or gain any new knowledge. You just go through the motions in order to get a golden badge or whatever, while filling in sentences about newspapers. Yes! I don't know if you remember them, they're very important in the universe of DuoLingo.

  Also, there is a huge difference between the way lessons work for different languages. You want Spanish of French, you get different games, a lot of stories and so on. You want something more obscure like Dutch, you don't even get stories!

  So continuing to bear with obnoxious commercials just in order to use the app "100% free" is too exhausting, while the benefits are now minimal to none.

  I also doubt this is any way to learn a language. I am not able to understand speech in the language that I've spent months working on, there are very few sentence composition lessons that cover reasonable scenarios likely to meet in real life and the vocabulary is extremely limited. And limited in a stupid way: instead of learning words that one would use in everyday sentences you learn things like newspaper and apple and rabbit.

  Let's be honest here: I only went with Duolingo because it was easy. It gave me the illusion that I am doing something with my time while playing with my smartphone. If I really wanted to learn a language I would have listened and read in that language, I would have found people speaking the language and chatted with them, whether directly or in writing, I would have taken the list of the top 100 words used in that language and I would have created and written down sentences using those words until I could do it in my sleep. That requires effort and commitment and it is obvious that I wasn't going to spend it. That's on me. However, the state of DuoLingo, particularly compared to how it started, is the fault of the company.

  Conclusion: not only has DuoLingo become a cautionary tale about applications that advertise how free they are and will ever be, but it wasn't a good app to begin with and they never invested much into improving it. All development efforts in the last year have been on how to get you to pay for the app, what clothes Duo the owl wears and stupid time consuming animations to "motivate" you. Gamification has become the goal, not the means to achieve something worthwhile. So, with a heavy heart because of losing all the gems I've gathered and my 550 daily streak, I will be stopping using DuoLingo.