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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I am Yamnaya

A study was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome by Lara M. Cassidya, Rui Martinianoa, Eileen M. Murphy, Matthew D. Teasdale, James Mallory, Barrie Hartwell and Daniel G. Bradleya (PNAS 2015 : 1518445113v1-201518445.) No, this has nothing to do with gaming, but it does relate to something I take a keen interest in [1] - genetics, genealogy and the history of human migrations as deduced through historical, linguistic, archaeological and genetic research. I am fascinated by the story of how humanity overtook the planet, and what we wrought - both good and bad - along the way.

This particular study caught my attention because it specifically relates to the Irish. My paternal lineage (Y chromosome) is Irish in origin, and I am always on the look out for information that may further explain my paternal origins. Specifically I come from the R-M222 SNP (Single nucleotide polymorphism, and in the latest test I had run the R-BY198 haplogroup exactly) line descended from the larger R-L21 branch. That puts me in the same lineage as King Brian Boru, which is fitting as my surname is Bryant which comes from that affiliation. However, those designations are a sort of short hand for the formal long designation of my paternal genetic heritage. That long designation tends to change over time as new SNPs are discovered, but last I looked it up the complete label was R1b1a2a1a1b4b. This is today's distribution of R1b, and below that R-L21 specifically.

The findings of this paper have a direct bearing on me in this long form haplogroup designation. But before I get into that, I need to summarize what the researchers discovered.

The researchers analyzed the DNA of four ancient skeletons found in Ireland. One was a woman discovered in Ballynahatty, Co. Down buried approximately 5000 years ago in a particularly old style megalithic tomb. The other three were men found on Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim buried about 1000 years later in early Bronze Age style tombs. In short, the woman comes from a completely different genetic background from the three men. And by this, I don't mean they come from different families or tribes. The come from completely different root human stock that originated in completely different parts of the world.

The woman's ancestry it what's routinely called farming culture. Somewhere between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago according, under the current understanding, agriculture was invented in the middle east. From there it spread to the rest of the world. By 3000 BC, farming had come to the island we know today as Ireland from people who had migrated up through the Iberian peninsula. These people had brown eyes and dark hair, and likely had darker skin than the Irish do today, and seemed to meld with the hunter-gatherer societies already on the island, converting them to farmers, rather than supplant them. Here is the neolithic world this woman lived in.

The three male skeletons have a completely different origin. Their ancestral DNA comes from the Pontic–Caspian steppe of Eurasia. More importantly, they were blue eyed, lactose tolerant, and probably fair skinned. Common culture has called these people Aryans, but scientifically they are known by the place they were first positively identified. They are the Yamnaya: a people who had domesticated the horse, and sheep, and probably cattle. They traveled in wagons, and had chariots. They drank milk, something no other humans we know of to that date could do - and not all humans to this day can do. They knew metallurgy. They are the origin of Europe's Indo-European languages. These three male skeletons' Y chromosome tells it all. They are all three R1b1a2a1 - just like me. That people's (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense as they were likely many, many different tribes) migrations are summed up in this map. 

Furthermore, this newly arrived group did not meld with the previous population as the farmers seem to have done. They kept the women, but they must have killed off the men. Those neolithic male genetic lines are no longer dominant in modern European populations to any extent, except in isolated areas like northern Norway and Sweden, though they are still dominant in the middle east from wince they originate. 

Now, as you can tell from all these maps, much of this information about the late neolithic and early bronze age migrations was already known. You may be asking yourself why this paper is important. It's importance lies in the verified ages of the burials. For the first time, this genetic evidence gives us the a time frame of when the Yamnaya migrations reached their furthest extent in Europe: between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. This may seem like a rather broad time frame, but it is infinitely better than no time frame at all.

In fact, it nicely coincides with other facts known to have occurred in that same time frame. For instance, the Hittite Empire arose on the Anatolian plateau during that time. The origins of Mycenaean Greece also come from that time. Both these peoples were documented by the master record keepers of the western Bronze Age: the Egyptians. The Hittites especially, with their horse drawn war chariots, made Egyptian life much more complicated than it had been before the establishment of the Hittite Empire.

But it was not the war chariot for which the Yamnaya people are most remembered. It is the fact they had domesticated sheep and possibly cattle. They were the first herders. When they moved into the middle east, this is how the Semitic peoples already living there designated the Yamnaya as being different from themselves. They even immortalized it in their second most ancient story.
Genesis 4 (KJV)
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
There you have it, highlight mine of course. The farmer/herder conflict in 15 verses. And from the genetic evidence in not only Ireland, but throughout Europe, we can surmise this conflict occurred many times and in many places. We now know it reached Ireland sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE, and it changed everything. And it eventually resulted in me. I am Yamnaya. [2]

[1] I have decided I will blog about more than just the games I play. I have other hobbies; other pursuits. I need to respect them as much as my gaming. If you like this new direction, please feel free to tell me so. If you don't, I'll still post about gaming at least once a week, so you'll still get something you like. Peace.

[2] This is my layman's interpretation of what I've read and know about my own genetic background. I am not an expert in genetics or the history of human migrations. If something I've said strikes you as incorrect, please share in the comments. However, I'd appreciate it if you don't call me an imbecile. We are all learning something everyday. ;-)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Games I've Played in 2015

This seems to be a thing. This year it seems to have been started by Belghast (OMG man!) on his blog Tales of the Aggronaut. Liore of Herding Cats then picked it up. Now Wilhelm Arcturus, The Ancient Gaming Noob has done his as well today. I find these sorts of summaries interesting and insightful. Of course I had to do one for myself. And it'd be a shame not to share it.

I used to track the hours I played using Raptr. That came to an end when I upgraded my system to Windows 10 in September. I couldn't get Raptr to run in the background immediately after the upgrade, and then I sort of forgot about it for a couple months. That sort of ruined my data stream. Oops.

However, it is easy enough to compile a quick spreadsheet of activity like this. The blog makes that somewhat easy, though there are a few games I chose to keep just for myself. The above chart is what I ended up with, borrowing Wilhelm's idea of listing games down the left side and months across the top.

This is a fairly inclusive list. If there was a game I played this year that isn't on this list, it just wasn't that memorable and I didn't write anything about it. Of those on this list they are all memorable for one reason or another.

Let's start with the memorable for a bad reason. That honor has to go to Mortal Kombat X. It wasn't really a bad game. It was perhaps the best Mortal Kombat done to date. The issue for me is I quickly became bored of it. It was the same thing over and over, repeated as quickly as your fingers could pound it out on the controller. After a couple of months I'd had my fill. I think many are experiencing this with Star Wars: Battlefront right now. Mortal Kombat X was one of the reasons I didn't get excited about that game. Glad to see I can still learn a lesson.

Next, I want to talk about memorable for nostalgic reasons. That honor goes to Elite: Dangerous. If you could pull a game you love out of your past from 20 or 30 years ago and feel about it's reincarnation like you did about the original, that would be Elite: Dangerous for me. The up side of this nostalgic love affair is that the updated graphics are phenomenally beautiful. I literally spent hours upon hours simply sight seeing in the game. I've slacked off a little during the last quarter of this year, but there will probably be a large bar for it in 2016 too now that we can land of planetary bodies and multi-person ships are coming.

The other often played and very memorable game for me this year is World of Warships. I am not a huge fan of PvP games in general, and MOBA style games in particular, but WoWS is different to me. I gave League of Legends a shot and even got to play with my nephew and his son and had a group I could join at any time. However, it just wasn't my thing to do the rinse, lather, repeat required to progress by that game. It was basically always the same every game. You could say the same thing about World of Warships, but it isn't true. I could play five games in a row with the same ship on the same map (and nearly have, LOL!) but the games themselves are always unique. What works in one game doesn't typically work in another because there is so much variability in whose matched with whom. Your ship may be the same. The map may be the same. But the teams most certainly are not the same. That makes for a dynamic game I find myself drawn to time and again.

There are some old favorites in this list as well. I still tinker with Kerbal Space Program from time to time. I am slowly working through career mode with no mods. Wow, is rocket science hard when you don't get a computer to automatically calculate everything for you and control your ship afterwards. I also get my SimCity fix from time to time, but now from City Skylines since they went and ruined SimCity itself.

There is even a new MMORPG on the list: Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's hard to post about this game because it's been around so long. And really, who cares what my character did that thousands upon thousands have already done? But it's like crack cocaine. I spent my entire day yesterday working my way through the Voss missions as a Smuggler Gunslinger. I just kept working my way from one boss to the next until it was all done. I even hit 60th level! Yeah, they tend to give out way too much XP in the game. But they downscale your character to cope. It's all good.

But of all the games on my list, the one that emotionally impacted me the most this year was The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from a little known independent Polish studio named The Astronauts. It won the BAFTA Games Award for Innovation. They say it is a horror adventure game. I don't agree. It is a riveting story with a strong plot that sucks you in and makes you care about Ethan Carter. Yes, horrible things have happened. That only makes you want to find Ethan even more. But you have to puzzle it out. And when you finally do, it's... NO SPOILERS. Just go out to steam and get the game. It'll only cost you $5.99 until January 4, 2016 on Steam. It takes less than 20 hours to complete. Be sure to play the The Unreal Engine 4 remaster called The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Redux as it corrects some quirky mouse behavior. I don't think you'll regret a minute spent playing it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Highlights #18: Fubuki was Home for Christmas.

Success to the west followed by success to the east. Then it was straight to their home to find 12,000 experience waiting unter der Tannenbaum.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

"Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement...for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.
Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons.
In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity’s union intact...or else risk oblivion, and extinction—and the end of all things."
As the title says, this book is the end of the Old Man's War series. Not the end-end as John Scalzi clearly states in his self-described post-mortem of The End of all Things, but it is the end of the military/political situation we first became privy to in the book Old Man's War. I have not read all the books in this series to be honest. I have read Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, The Lost Colony and Zoe's Tale. Hmmm, that's all but one. Okay, I guess that means I really am qualified to have an opinion on the series.

I could sum up the series with the phrase, "it started out strong and ended weak," but that is not fair. As far as the writing is concerned, the last book was just as good as the first. The characters were interesting and engaging. The four stories (more on that in a moment) held my interest. There were new characters I liked. Even the bad guys were likable insomuch as they were evil bad guys. And there were enough characters from previous stories that continuity was maintained. No, "ended weak" would be entirely unfair.

I also would not want to say the story evolved. Using evolution as a metaphor has the connotation the changes to the military/political situation were beneficial to the overall series. I am not sure I can say that. I can say I enjoyed Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades because of that military/political situation. More so than I enjoyed this last book. Don't get me wrong though. I enjoyed The End of all Things. I just didn't enjoy it as much, No, it's not an evolution, merely a change. I believe it was a person choice by the writer. He says in his self-described post-mortem he thought his readers would enjoy the change more. I think he's rationalizing.  I'll support that opinion more in a bit.

Part of the reason I did not enjoy this book as much as the first two is the fact this isn't really a novel. It is four novellas put into novel format. The four parts were previously published as Life of the Mind, This Hollow Union, Can Long Endure, and To Stand or Fall. At first I found this format irritating. The first section ended without telling me what happened to the protagonist afterwords. I was mightily pissed about that. I really liked Rafe Daquin. But Scalzi corrected that in two of the remaining three novellas, so it was all good by the end of the book. The one section that did not have Rafe in it was mostly tangential to the overall arc of the book. To me it felt mostly like filler that could have been woven into the other three parts, but this book was already a little on the short side at 11 hours and 25 minutes. It did serve some illustrative purposes, and it was interesting, but it was not needed to understand the overall military/political changes happening. Bottom line: the format was off putting, but not as much as was The Human Division, which I did not read because of all the negativity about it in other reviews I read. Thank god Scalzi says he never plans to do it again.

Now, back to that rationalization comment. Here is what Scalzi himself had to say in the blog post I linked above,
"However, The End of All Things ends this particular story arc in the OMW universe, and at the moment in time there are no other OMW books planned. I have other things I want to write and do, and six books is enough for now. My philosophy behind writing the OMW series (which I expect I will extend to any series I do) is only write books in the series if I enjoy the process and have someplace new to take the universe. Grinding out books in a series is a drag for both writer and reader. I have better things to do than crank out books in a series just for the cash, and you have better things to do than to read a book created in those circumstances. So while I never say never to more OMW books, for the moment, this is it."
I was not tired of Old Man's War and Ghost Brigade style space opera from Scalzi. I would have paid for more like them, even if they weren't quite as good. The bottom line is John Michael Scalzi the second got tired of writing them. He got tired of writing militaristic space opera where it's kill or be killed. Instead, he'd rather write about more... jees, is there a nice way to say it... "philosophical" things? He wants to write about things that are not Old Man's War bang-bang shoot-them-up stuff. Frankly I don't know what the hell he wants to write about. And that said, I don't know if I want to read them.

One of the nice things about a series is you know what you're buying. If I pick up a Dresden Files book, I know what that's going to be like. If I pick up an Ancillary book, I know what that's going to be like. If I pick up a Thrones book, I know what it is going to be like. That's why they tend to be cash cows. But John Scalzi isn't content with being an author just to provide entertainment to his readers. He seems to want to be an artist, a literary tour de force. He's on some sort of personal improvement trek. I can't begrudge him that, but perhaps he should look at changing genre if he wants to pursue that goal. I don't think trade fiction is going to get him there, and he's likely to upset the fan base if he tries. Can anyone who has read the Old Man's War series say they are just as satisfied with the last as the first?

Scalzi is correct in that we have better things to do then read a book a writer didn't want to write in the first place. But he man needs to tread carefully. Not all of his current fans will be willing to simply follow where he goes. He states he has trouble with beginnings. Well, changing what you write about and how you write it is the mother of all beginnings - or should a say new beginnings. I'd ask Mr. Scalzi to look at the nearly 20 years it's taken for him to get where he is, and then ask if he can afford to commit the next 20 to rebuilding. Of course, he now has contacts, allies, etc. to help him speed up that process. But in the publishing business sales is king, and if you haven't got them you don't get published. At least not by the big companies with the ultra-distribution channels.

Anyway, I'm digressing from a book review into something more personal and it's time to yank it back. I've just been experiencing a growing dissatisfaction with the direction John Scalzi's work has taken and wanted to say so. I know others who are quite pleased with it, but they didn't really like Old Man's War. I think that is the defining statement in this review. If you really, really liked Old Man's War, this book really is The End of all Things. It will not please you nearly as much as you might hope. However, you should probably read this book just for closure. If you didn't like the militaristic bent of Old Man's War, then you'll likely be relieved it's over and should read this book to see how Scalzi corrected what you perceived as the mistakes of Old Man's War. Regardless, the Old Man's War universe is gone, replaced by something that is not the Old Man's War universe, and I am somewhat saddened by that knowledge.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Highlight #17: Hatsuharu in the Land of Fire

In this domination battle on the Land of Fire map, I contest, capture and then defend B against all comers, earning myself top marks with 2231 base experience on our way to victory. I hope you enjoy the commentary and I hope you have a great day!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fleet Friday: Update 0.5.2 Coming - Oh Yeah

First of all, I'd like to apologize for missing my post on Wednesday. My RL job required three straight days of a 75 mile commute (one way) and all day meetings I had no chance whatsoever to log in and write a post. Of course, that would have been predicated on having content to post about, which also did not happen. In fact, I've not had an opportunity to play any computer game or do anything else since last Sunday. That makes Mabrick a sad gamer. But on the bright side, it pays for my computer game addiction!

And speaking of computer game addictions, I did go ahead and purchase a Tirpitz premium battleship as a holiday gift for myself while they are available again. The only problem is I got to play about three whole matches in it. The good news is two of the three were victories. Go team! And wow, is that ship capable. I was mauling this Izumo who only want to show me his broadside.

However, I'm still getting used to how it fights. With a top speed of 30 plus knots, it handles much differently than my Colorado. I'm also hampered by a relatively unskilled captain. It's here I have to admit I didn't understand how captains work in premium ships. You can put any captain of the same nation into a premium ship. Oops. But in three games I've been able to gain enough captain experience to obtain Superintendent. And yes, premium ships are bank boosters in that and other ways. Remember my complaint that the New Orleans was a money loser because it was so expensive to repair? Not so the Tirpitz. I put it to the test even. My first Tirpitz battle I was low tier facing a Yamato and several Iowas and Izumos. So I ran right out into the middle of B on the Hot Spot map. The entire opposing team was happy to shoot at me until I sank, which took longer than I expected but not that long in reality. So complete loss and all I didn't even capture B. I still made over 26k credits. I laughed all the way to the bank.

But hey, the title of this post indicated I was looking forward to the next game update so I should discuss that shouldn't I? Update 0.5.2 is coming soon and is on the public test server now. I've not had time to check it out, but I've had some time to watch a view reviews on You Tube and to read the dev bulletin on it.

The thing I'm really psyched about are the changes to torpedo detection. You may remember I made a statement in my Fleet Friday: Hatsuharu Class Destroyer post about the need to change the torpedo detection mechanic in World of Warships. I recommended if hydro-acoustic was not active and a spotter/fighter plane was not within 0.3 kilometers of the torpedo, that ships get no more than a 0.7 kilometer warning on incoming torpedoes. It seems Wargaming was already on it. They are making torpedoes more difficult to detect. I don't know yet precisely what they've done, but in the test server games I've watched torpedoes were definitely more effective. And on the EU forums there is a post about data mined information posted by Kurbain which states,
1.) DD torpedoes are now spotted later. (About 5% less visibility for T2-T5 and 20% for T6-T10) The Type 93 of Kagero and Shimakaze will have a visibility factor of 1.7km instead of 2,1km, giving you a reaction time of 9,8s instead of 12,1s. Other countries also get this buff, but it won't be as large as the one for IJN DDs. In return the 2 million credits Target Acquisition module will boost torpedo spotting range by 20% and the range at which ships are automatically detected by 50% (From 2 to 3 KM)
This is not nearly as much of a reduction in spotting distance as I advocated, but it's probably more balanced than what I would want. ;-)

There are also two new maps coming. The more the merrier I say. I love variety when it comes to maps. I also like that these are inspired by real world geography like Strait was. If you'd like to see them in action, Notser has a video on them. Thank you Notser! Atlantic is a huge map, suited for high tier ships with long ranges. I feel it would also be a great carrier map. One issue with carriers in World of Warships is the maps are too damn small. Look at the distances covered in the Battle of Midway for example. Those fleets never got close to each other. Carriers may be played more if they could really be a long range force multiplier. And shattered looks like Two Brothers but more fun. Point B looks like knife fight territory for sure, and as I'm working up the Russian destroyer line I like that possibility. It also looks a lot like home. :-)

There are also more flags coming. The term "builds" was used in conjunction with these new flags. That has some very interesting implications for combining ship upgrades, captain skills and flags to enhance the natural capabilities of ship. Look for the Cleveland to become more OP with fire damage, and some other ships as well. I'm not certain if increased magazine detonation will stop that as there is a flag to counter magazine detonation.

I also like the idea of Karma. If you really like how another player comports them self, you can compliment them with a right click. If they get enough compliments, they'll get a reward. It's the carrot versus the stick philosophy and I approve 100%. Players should be rewarded for being nice, and trolls should just be ignored.

There are lots of other changes coming in update 0.5.2. Have a read through the mined data and you can also read the player feedback on the official forum to see what everyone thinks. I read something about a Cleveland with 19 kilometer range and smoke to hide in. O.o

And lastly, I want to provide some data on the Secret Santa gift giving going on now through January 4, 2016. Yes, this is just another way for to generate income. But is it worth the expense? Here's what I did. I purchased 10 Secret Santa gifts. That cost me $9.90. For that $9.90 I received 2300 doubloons and 15 Type 3 ship camos which give me -4% to opponent's firing accuracy and 100% to my experience earned. Those are going on my Tirpitz for sure! A similar package is not available in the premium shop, but 3000 doubloons on the NA server cost $14.79. At that rate the 2300 I got would cost $11.34. I'd say I got my money's worth. And there is a chance you might get a premium ship from your Secret Santa. It's a luck of the draw proposition. Nice.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Highlight #16: Destroyer vs Cruiser

Destroyers taking on cruisers is not the normal way of World of Warships, but I find it some of the most satisfying game play to be had. Set to Zoot Suit Riot by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, this video highlights some of my most recent successes, though you may have to put up with some advertising if you don't have YouTube Red. Let me know in the comments if the ads are too irritating please.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fleet Friday: Two New Destroyers in Port

I'll be taking this in reverse order, as I just acquired the Fubuki last night and have only played two matches in it. But it was the only one of my two new destroyers for which I could get a picture.

The real Fubuki class destroyers actually preceded the Hatsuharu class destroyers, but in many ways they were far ahead of their time. They had turreted guns at a time when other navies were still using gun shields, and their loading system was automated rather than manual. They saw extensive service in World War II and performed with distinction, though 21 of the 23 that entered the war (one of the 24 originally built sank in 1934 after a collision with another ship) were lost. The original Fubuki was sank during the Battle of Cape Esperance (along with the Furutaka, Aoba and Murakumo) with the loss of 78 men from a complement of 187 at the time of the battle. These casualties included her Captain, Lieutenant Commander Shizuo Yamashita,

What is there to say about the Fubuki in World of Warships that hasn't already been said? This ship is a destroyer captain's dream. She's fast, though not more so than her contemporaries in other Navies. But she is stealthier than most, with a surface detection range of only 6.1 kilometers after all upgrades, including camo and Concealment, giving her a 3.9 kilometer buffer from which to sow mayhem.

And less you think my salvo a hazard to that North Carolina, he was already heavily damaged by the opposing North Carolina (and others behind us.) We sortied down the slot to the oppositions cap. :P Our North Carolina was soon finished by the Atalanta's torps whose wakes you see in front of our North Carolina. The Atlanta ran itself aground and my torp salvo delivered a Devastating Strike in retribution to go with the three hits I'd had a minute before against their North Carolina. I just felt compelled to put that screenshot in context. ;-)

Besides the three triple torpedo launchers, the four guns in two turrets are also now bad. They are perhaps the first not bad guns on a Japanese destroyer. They are still somewhat slow to turn, but have decent range and rate of fire compared to what I am used too. And even in this game, which was ultimately a loss through attrition (gg!) I still had a positive balance of 110,906 credits even with the complete loss of the ship while defending our cap. Yes, I think this ship will do nicely.

But that was not the first new destroyer I purchased this week. As threatened, I have begun the Russian destroyer tree. The first destroyer in that tree is the Storozhevoi. I find that I really, really like this ship. He's fast, nimble and stealthy with a 5.6 kilometer surface detection range.

If you hold your fire until detected, your first strike is practically guaranteed to heavily damage opposing destroyers even though you only have three guns. Remember, at these tiers they don't have any more. And the Storozhevoi is so nimble, you can easily swing your ship to bring all guns to bear and then swing back to a narrower exposure to enemy fire. And the rate of fire on these guns are awesome. At 12 rounds a minute, you can definitely keep someones attention. The one drawback to the Storozhevoi's guns are they are only 105 millimeter guns. You may as well be using spit wads against protected and armored cruiser. And they certainly will not be sending spit wads back at you. If confronted, us your smoke and fire HE. Low tier cruisers burn easily, and you can keep several fires lit on them as they charge you. Once they charge, you can use your other weapon.

Russian torpedoes are universally panned for only having a range of 3.0 kilometers. And they're slow at only 45 knots. And they only do a maximum of 6133 damage. Okay, they really are terrible torpedoes. I had to put six into a full health South Carolina and did not sink it immediately, though she flooded out soon enough as the six were delivered in two salvos with enough time in between to insure the repair was already used. I even survived that encounter, only having been set in fire once by secondaries and completely missed by the South Carolina's main guns because terrible dispersion.

What, you don't believe me? ;-) Okay, here are the screen shots of start, middle and end.

But back the the terrible Russian torpedoes. Against a cruiser they will save your life. Hide in your smoke. Make the cruiser come get you. At two kilometers they will detect you, but at that range you cannot miss with your torpedoes. If you have hardened steal gonads, you can even close the range if you like. You can survive, just as I did with the South Carolina above, but not always. This is for all intents and purposes a desperation move.

You can also use the ambush successfully against cruisers. The Storozhevoi cannot be detected behind small islands of some height. Use cover and concealment to your advantage, and their determent. You'll see them long before they see you. Set up your launch, wait for it, launch and then back around a corner without showing a broadside. Resist the urge to charge out and torpedo them. Once you're in the open your odds are not so good. Cruisers always seem to have friends. But if you can launch and take cover, even partial, your tubes have a super fast reload and you'll be able to fire again in no time should your first salvo miss. Alternately, only fire on of your launchers and keep the other for after the commit to evasive. Once hard over, they won't come back any time soon thereafter. No guts no glory, right?

The last think I'll say about the Storozhevoi is I decided to use it to level up my Russian destroyer captain. The Derzki is no better than the Storozhevoi from what I can tell, and it'll get placed into higher tier battles where it won't fair as well as the Storozhevoi where it's at. I've totally upgraded the Storozhevoi and it doesn't have to contend with scout planes. That said, I've already managed Superintendent for my Captain, and it's a long haul to Last Stand. I'd love to hold out until the Gnevny and it's 130 millimeter guns, but I don't know. I just bought a Fubuki. :/ Maybe I should by a Tirpitz as a Christmas present to myself and using it to train up my Russian destroyer captain. (EDIT 12.12.15: Learned something last night about that last sentence, so you don't have to tell me. *wink* ) Ho ho ha! What? You didn't know it's on sale again? Only $66.99 for a limited time! *grin* I wonder if all my Fubuki matches will be filled with Tirpitz again? Oy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher

"Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace. 

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…" - Publisher's Summary

What do you get when you fuse epic fantasy with space opera and sprinkle liberally with steampunk? You get The Aeronaut's Windlass. We already now Jim Butcher from his urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. But that is only one side of this talented author. In The Aeronaut's Windlass, we get to see another side.

So, let me start this review with a derp - and a bit of a rant. Jim Butcher is a man. I point this out because there is an old axiom in the writing profession that extols writers to, "write what you know." I've heard this from writers, agents and publishers in conference after conference. That is why Anne Leckie writes mostly women protagonists and Jim Butcher, or any other man for that matter, writes mostly male protagonists. It is difficult to successfully write a character that is true to their gender when you do not share that gender. So it is with Anne Leckie; so it is with Jim Butcher.

I say this because I've seen and heard male authors run down by women because their stories are too full of machismo/testosterone/maleness and lacking in good female characters driven by feminism/estrogen/womanhood. Guess what ladies, I can say the same thing about the Ancillary series by Anne Leckie, but in reverse. In fact, all characters in her books are referred to as she regardless of gender. And you don't think that's potentially insulting to half the population? And honestly, there is not a single "male" character in that series as well written as Captain Francis Madison Grimm.

That said, there is not a single female character in The Aeronaut's Windlass as female as all Anne Leckie's characters are. That's not an insult to Anne, more of a negative for Jim there. However, Jim does manage four, possibly five, believable female characters; three of which are not romantically involved with a male character by the end of the book. And they have conversations among themselves without a male being part of the conversation, or even the subject of the conversation. If they are not "female" enough, I feel it's because Jim is male, not because he is a misogynist. No more than Anne Leckie is a misandrist.

But what I like most about all the characters are how capable they are, male and female alike, yet each is flawed in their own particular way. Captain Grimm is brave, stalwart, and loyal. But he is also too trusting. Gwendolyn Margaret Elizabeth Lancaster is smart, rational and has a superb wit. She is also headstrong and arrogant nearly to a fault. These characters would be stereotypes in another author's hands, but Jim Butcher gives them good reason to be as they are. They come across as genuine people who genuinely have these strengths and weaknesses, and I found I cared about every single one of them.

As for the story, what can I say except this is written by Jim Butcher. The book starts with action and ends with action. There are questions answered and questions unanswered. There are plots, sub plots and interesting tangents. Not everybody survives, but we're too early in the series for any major character deaths - even among the enemies, though my feelings would not have been hurt had Sark died horribly.

Now, this is not literary fiction. It is fantasy. As such, it contains more than than an average number of tropes. In fact, it is perhaps not that the characters are well handled stereotypes, but rather they are excellent characters fulfilling well known tropes. And this book is full of tropes. I'd be several more posts to list them all, but fortunately I do not have to. It has already been done at Follow the link if you'd like to see what they are. Spoilers have been hidden behind spoiler links, but the tropes themselves are a bit of a spoiler in my view. I only went there after I listened to the whole book.

And lastly, I am utterly intrigued with the world Jim Butcher is building in this series. It is mysterious, deadly, terrifying and familiar at the same time. To me, it has more if a sci-fi feel to it than an epic fantasy feel. The epic fantasy comes in with the overarching plot of the war, and the fact there truly are true creature monsters in the world, and I don't just mean Madame Cavendish. But the airships, and the combat and the spires themselves are more science than magic. There is steam and iron and copper. And what may seem magic, is just a technology we don't understand.

So in conclusion, The Aeronaut's Windlass goes into my must read column, should you be inclined to read epic steam-opera. This book does not disappoint, and I look forward to the next.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Highlights #15: Hard Fought - Colorado vs Two New Mexicos

This battle in my Colorado on the Two Brother's map is truly the definition of hard fought. With great game play on both sides, this was decided by guts and competence, not the RNG god. Though not the highest scoring game I've ever had, it is certainly one of the most fun. Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fleet Friday: Fubuki or Bust

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the last week about World of Warships. More precisely, I've thought about what I want to accomplish in World of Warships. Here is the list of things I've come up with in no particular order.
  • Have fun
  • Be awesome

Let's take them in order.

Have Fun

Here are a few things that make games not fun for me.
  • Grinding
  • Negativity
  • Unreasonable expectations from others
  • Abusive behavior
  • No talent for the game (let's be honest)

If you are playing a game and it is not fun, why are you playing it? This was somewhat of a hard lesson for me to learn. A few years back I was playing a game called EVE Online. Perhaps you've heard of it. I actively played EVE Online practically every day, to the exclusion of pretty much every other computer game, for over six years. I met some great gamers there. I was part of an incredibly cool wormhole corporation. I still read the community blogs.

But it got to the point where I was just not having fun anymore. There were many reasons for this, mostly the three middle items of the list above, but I'd invested so much time into the game I felt I just couldn't walk away. I started to really resent the time I had to spend doing all those things EVE Online requires, because people depend on you. Even if it's to just show up in a fleet and float in virtual space for three hours and then log off. 

I won't say I agonized over the decision to stop playing. That's just hyperbole. But it was a hard decision to make because real friends were involved and the idea I didn't want to let the bastards win. It was a decision I had to make though, for my sake. 

It wasn't fun any more. It wasn't why I want to play computer games. And in the end, it IS about me. It's my game playing time, and there are so many other games I could play. I still have an active EVE Online account, but I haven't logged in in months - even to setup training. (The queue is unlimited now.) I just don't play it. I might play it again one day. But that day will not be this year. And I can't imagine it will be next either.

Once I freed myself of what were really just self-imposed expectations, I had tons of time to play other games. Here's what I've played since EVE Online (mostly in order, list may not be complete:)
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO)
  • Simcity
  • Banished
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth
  • Cities: Skyline
  • The Stanley Parable
  • Mortal Combat X
  • Tesla Effect
  • The Long Dark
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Elite: Dangerous
  • World of Warships
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)
  • Armored Warfare

Now, I would certainly have played a few of those regardless, but I put in over 300 hours (!!) into Kerbal Space Program alone. I couldn't have done that and still played EVE Online practically every day because I have a RL job. And believe me, Kerbal Space Program was way more fun than what EVE Online had become. I put hundreds of hours into TESO, Elite: Dangerous, World of Warships and soon SWTOR - each. There are tens of hours invested in every other game in that list - each. Most I still play. And I have fun in every single one of them, either by my self or in a group.

The point is, I can't let myself get so burned out on a single game, or so fixated on it, I stop having fun playing it. There is a real danger of that with World of Warships. It's too easy to get caught up in the next bigger, better ship race. In the real world that's known as the rat race, and it leads directly to unhappiness.

Be Awesome

This isn't exactly what you may thing. It doesn't mean be better than average in stats. Here is what being awesome means.
  • Be a part of the community
  • Encourage others to have fun
  • Don't be mean
  • Win as gracefully as you lose

Yeah, it would be great to have a better than 50% victory rating. But let's be real, I started with U.S. cruisers and then went to U.S. battleships. Who am I kidding? There is a lot more to being awesome than having good stats.

In fact, I'd posit if that's your idea of awesome, you are really cheating yourself. Awesome is so much more than just being good at what you do. It's also about how you treat other people. Every time I see something like that last comment to the right, I think there's a person who will never be awesome.

Look, we've all been on teams that just don't work out. There are a variety of reasons why it happens. It personally does me no good to dwell on who didn't do what I thought they should do. Hell, I'VE been that person at times. It's not intentional. It just happens. Being an ass-hat in chat, or simply overly negative, is a reflection on you as a person, not your team mates as players. It's not a good reflection.

It is far easier to have fun in a multi-person game when you are courteous and helpful to those playing with you. If you are nice to them, nine times out of ten they will be nice to you. And if they aren't, you can just ignore them. Trolls are. Don't feed them.

What this Means re: WoWS

So how many of you are thinking this is just a long winded way of saying, "I quit?" Well, it isn't. I love World of Warships. Why would I quit it? No, I am not giving it up. Nor is it very likely I will decrease my playing time. I try to play Wednesday and Thursday nights for six to eight hours, and any other time I can steal on the weekends. That's usually another four to eight hours. It's not a huge amount. It's not EVE Online amounts. But it is sufficient for me.

Mostly what I will be doing is stopping the overt grind. I titled this post Fubuki or Bust because my plan requires I make my Hatsuharu elite. It's either that or the Pensacola, and the Hatsuharu is just way more fun to play IMO. But to make that happen I finish my Hatsuharu upgrades, or at least the fire control upgrade. I was able to research the Fubuki after eight wins and six losses last night, but I lack credits to buy other ships. Selling the New Orleans is the only way I'm going to have the credits any time soon.

I will not actually be playing the Fubuki. At least not for awhile. I only need it to make the Hatsuharu elite. The reason I am not playing it is because I am imposing a Tier VII limit on my ships. I feel that is the last tier where I can reliable earn credits, and I will need those credits for other ships.

What other ships? Well, for starters the Russian destroyer line. After that I'll likely research the American Destroyer line. By then I figure they'll have other countries to explore. By having a variety of lines to play, it won't feel so much like a grind, as the Colorado has, and the Pensacola was. And I find I enjoy the fast ships more. Win or lose, they are just more exciting to play IMO, though the others can be at times.

So as you can see, it's Fubuki or bust for me. That will give me a ship with which I'm good to earn extra credits and experience and help me up other ship lines. Once I have a goodly variety of ships in my tier VI and VII ship stable, the game will be fun without breaking the bank as trying to fight the New Orleans will surely do. 

One day, should the bank ever get healthy enough, I'll venture into the higher tiers. But this strategy will give me the flexibility to only go up the lines for OP ships, like the Mogami. Hey, everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I? If every ship is OP in a game, then none of them are OP. I actually cheered last night in one of the games when the opposing Mogami was finally sank by a Cleveland. He'd been a effing terror sailing around in the middle of Fault Line giving me and our BBs more than a little to worry about. That ship is terrifying in it's capabilities. But that's not saying I wouldn't like to have one. I surely would.

So that's the plan to keep WoWS fun for me. I'm going back to the lower tiers and working on more ship lines until I have them all at Tier VII. Than I'll pick and choose where I want to go. There are some ships of lower tier that are just fun to play and I will keep those in my port. I guess I just came to the realization it's not the tier of a ship that makes it fun, it's the fun you have playing it. Is that a bit of a derp, or what? What makes a game fun or not fun for you? Let me know in the comments, and as always, sail carefully until we meet as opponents on the high seas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Star Wars Wednesday: The Continuing Adventures of Caius Mabrick

The episode above takes Caius from level 35 (or so) to level 45; from the planet Quesh to Balmorra to  Hoth, and beyond. He is on the hunt for Rogun the Butcher, to put paid the criminals attempts to assassinate Caius and his friends. And there's that whole business about  a war with the Sith Empire with which to contend as well. Fun all around!

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) has been a lot more fun than I thought it would. So far I have pretty much just stayed with my main character mission line as well as the Republic mission line. I have been putting in four hour, five hour and longer play sessions through the Thanksgiving holiday and the recent unpleasantness. That has allowed me to basically power level.

In fact, leveling seems to be too easy - not that I'm complaining. I like how SWTOR down shifts your level to allow you to go back to other places for pickup missions. I still feel pretty overpowered. Still, while on Balmorra the MOBs actually managed to defeat me in battle for the first, and only, time. I ran out of energy, Corso went down and there were still two imperials with really large two-handed blaster cannons left. I got one, but not the other. So I revived on the spot and finished him off as well. It didn't slow me down hardly at all, but made me a lot more cautious about taking on large mobs with really freaking huge hand cannons. The only other close fight was with a Sith Lord in a really freakishly large hat hiding a goiter. 

He went down though, just like they all do.

At this point I've gotten all the companions my ship can hold. I find I like Corso Riggs the most. He's been with me since Ord Mantell. He's a good kid, and fights a ranged baster fight like I do. I am least likely to take Bowdaar on missions with me. Hearing Wookie all the time gives me a splitting headache. And though I really sympathize with is mistreatment at the hands of the Hutts, he wears it like a second fur coat. Risha and Akaavi Spar are quite nice to look at, and very competent too. I get along with them fairly well, but they really cramp my style at times. I took Risha with me last time I was on Nar Shaddaa, and there I ran into the Senator again. She really likes me, and I do mean in that way. I saved her life and she was very appreciative; wanted to show me how appreciative she was. I had to let the opportunity go because Risha was giving me THAT look. If Corso was there, he'd have just given me a wink and a nod and cleaned his blaster somewhere else for awhile. You know, like he did on Balmorra when I ran into you know who quite by surprise.

I recently became acquainted with Lunguss "Guss" Tuno and invited him on board. He seems eager enough, but I'm not sure how steady he'd be in a fight.

My stronghold on Coruscent is coming along well. I have a whole slew of droids in place now for making things, and enough furniture the place doesn't echo any more. I've not expanded it yet. I haven't really acquired anything to place in any expansions. Once I deal with Rogun and get the Sith issue dealt with, I can worry about outfitting a proper place to entertain guests and other dignitaries. I did get this really cool console contraption running a special mission for this guy on Alderaan.

I have no idea what it is, but it looks really cool in the entry room. I need to get me more of these things. And some paintings too. The walls are awfully bear. I'll need to consult closely with Risha. She has more fashion sense than I do, and I certainly want her to feel right at home in my place. But there will be time for all that later. For now, I need to end Rogun. I also need to see what I can do about the Senator's problems. You know, to help the Republic and all that. I am certain she'll be very appreciative of my efforts, and I always aim to please. By this time next week I hope to have accomplished all her goals. It's the least I can do.