Science in the News

| Friday, July 29, 2011
With all the bad science, mostly psychological, flying around these days, I figured I'd offer a collection of science stories that can inform, and possibly uplift as well, as knowledge so often can.

Superstitious beliefs linked to clicking pen three times before writing subject name
Dr. Julliet Burns and her team of PhD candidates spent months researching the origins of superstitions. Genetics were expected to play a role, but little was found. Instead, Dr. Burns found that the best predictor of the development of superstitious beliefs was whether she clicked her pen exactly three times before writing down the name of the subject being tested. The report has not yet passed peer review, but panel members did comment that papers submitted on Thursday afternoon usually get through.

Gravity under increasing skepticism
While most students are taught that gravity is a force that pulls objects together, a small but growing group of concerned parents, backed by equally skeptical scientists, have begun after-school programs to teach gravity skepticism. At the heart of the new skepticism are two persistent problems in gravitational theory. The first is a lack of explanation for gravity, with gravitons and other theorized particles remaining out of sight, despite millions of man-hours spent squinting at heavy objects. Second, alternative explanations have emerged, such as Tiny Spring theory which suggests that all objects are connected by very tiny springs, pulling them together.

"Going green" linked to cancer, controversy
Green 45, a popular pigment used in dyes and inks, and most commonly seen in advertisements and labels for "green" products, has been linked to higher incidence of skin and joint cancers. No causal mechanic has yet been suggested. The study has provoked controversy due to being funded by the Citizens Committee for a Greyer Future, a collection of ink manufacturers and coal power plant operators.

And to wrap it up, a few headlines:

Video games linked to behavior being blamed on video games

False studies mistakenly believed

Global warming thaws frozen ice market

Bold text draws attention

Better mechanics, worse everything else

| Thursday, July 28, 2011
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. There, I typed out all the damn periods. No more.

Okay, so here's Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. It has a pretty cool story. You're the "Marked One", an amnesiac who just barely survived a big accident on a horrifying truck, and you have only one piece of information: a PDA that says "kill Strelok". Who is that and who am I?

So you do the only sensible thing: wander off completing tasks for the local trader, getting into fights with bandits, mutants, and the Ukrainian military. And for reasons I forget, you decide that the smart thing to do is to try to get to Chernobyl. You know, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Except in this universe it's even worse, with a second disaster causing physics to stop doing what it is supposed to do, creating anomalies in space. Also, a strange device called the Brain Scorcher turns other Stalkers and soldiers into Monolith: aggressive, fanatical, brainwashed soldiers who kill anyone who comes near the plant. And because this chosen course wasn't sufficiently dangerous, you explore various abandoned, or less than entirely abandoned, laboratories which give you (by which I mean me) nightmares.

But along the way the biggest obstacle is the game. Strange bullet mechanics, weapons that wear out and break and cannot be repaired, no matter how much you liked a particular gun, weight limits, and the randomly scattered stashes of valuable artifacts, powerful items created by anomalies, but which are empty until you've found the correct randomly dropped PDA with the location. It's not a pretty game by any means.

In contrast is the third game in the series, a visually stunning and mechanically impressive game, Call of Pripyat. Guns can be upgraded, repaired, and customized to work just as you would want (putting bullets in scary things at various ranges). Stashes exist even if no one has told you the location. The inventory is easier to manage. Artifacts are more fun to acquire, being searched for between emissions (these are a once-a-day Everyone Outside Dies), rather than found purely by chance. On top of all that, there are far fewer loading screens, thanks to most of the outside world taking place in three maps rather than a dozen or so.

But the story...

It can be summed up as this: you're a soldier sent in to look at crashed helicopters and figure out why they crashed. Then you fight some monolith and get airlifted out. That's the main story. Did it sound a little lame? Well yes, it is. There are side-quests, and those add some flavor, but not much depth.

At the time I did not realize this, too busy being scared, or very happy, as I shot mutants and bandits. But after a bit of thought it struck me: Call of Pripyat has a pretty boring main story. Here, I'm going to spoil the big surprise for you, the mystery of the entire game, on why the helicopters crashed. Ready for it? Okay, here it is: the Ukrainian army made maps of the anomalies and the anomalies move after emissions. Wow. Big twist there! No conspiracies, no plots, no secrets to uncover, just "shit moved." Plus some open-ended "something may be going on but we're not going to tell you anything about it" bit concerning mercenaries.

Here's the thing to remember: I had fun playing both games. Sure, the second one had a rather lame story, but it was fun anyway. Does gameplay trump story? Almost certainly, since an unplayable game can never tell its story (which is what SoC was early on, before they fixed most of the really awful bugs). But can gameplay carry a game? Almost certainly, as most PvP can show. And PvE as well, since I doubt most raiders are lore nerds (I mean that affectionately) and most people aren't doing a whole lot of analysis of the quests that they're skimming for quest objectives.

And yet I still wish there were better stories.

I wonder if I'm on a terrorist watch list now

| Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I'm on the train to the airport in Atlanta when I realize: I don't have my wallet. This could be a slight problem. But okay, let's not panic. Okay fine, first let's panic and have someone yell at me to search every single pocket of my bags, because clearly I have magically broken years of habit and sense and started putting my wallet in the middle of a suitcase where it would be completely useless. Step two, call my brother to tell him I left my wallet at his apartment, in his living room, and then wait for him to get home to search for it, also known as find it where I said it would be.

Maybe there's some small chance that he could get it back here in time for security and the flight. Or not. Okay, now what? Well let's see...

We could rush off in some random direction on our phone and book a replacement flight that the other person didn't ask for, leaving the other person (me, btw) to struggle after with both suitcases. In the process, run right past the AirTran counter and then insist that I point it out if I see it, which I would have normally done, if I had the slightest clue what was going on (all I knew is that two bags are hard to control, nothing else), and if I didn't expect to get a response indicating something along the lines of "What? I can't hear them now. Can you please repeat that?"

My brother calls with a useful suggestion: explain to TSA and see if I can prove my identity despite my lack of proof of identity. So I rush off, on my phone with my brother, toward the security area, still dragging both bags, while getting told that I need to be thinking about my options, while still on the phone, and wondering why the fuck she is telling me anything at all because none of what she says actually affects my situation or what I will be doing. If she's getting on the plane without me then she's getting on the plane without me; I don't need to know the various reasons why or what it will cost me to get another ticket. I'm trying to fix a problem here, not get a lecture on why it is a problem.

The TSA people were obnoxiously slow, but eventually I did manage to get by. I'm not sure what part of "I don't have my wallet or any ID" suggests that "do you have an ID?" is a useful question. They called someone, asked my name and address. Then asked my date of birth. Where I grew up. My parents' names. What is the nearest expressway, park, and hospital. That last one had me worried because I wasn't quite sure. Somehow they never asked for my place of birth or social security number. Nor did they look up a photo of me, which was surprising, since at the very least they should have a database of driver's licenses, but I guess not. Then I did the usual shoes off, bags through the x-ray, me through the metal detector. After that was a useless search of my suitcase, which would have been entirely ineffective if there had been anything hidden. My backpack was left alone.

At the end my mom was crying, which I found a bit stupid. What could possibly be worth crying about? It's not as if either of us were in trouble. Only when we got back did I learn that she had been sent through that creepy naked scanner machine, which makes the crying make a bit more sense. Somehow I didn't get sent through, despite being the suspicious one.

The entire thing left me not feeling particularly safe. Or like a whole lot of time and money is being wasted. Is it stereotyping to suggest that middle-class, middle-age white people aren't your typical terrorist and maybe shouldn't be regularly harassed? Yes. Of course it is. But maybe it makes some sense. On the other hand, I don't think it makes much sense to have a line for white/black people and a line for brown people and one of those lines gets searched and the other wanders right through.

I might suggest this though: it's not going to save anyone anyway. If I were a terrorist I'd not waste time with planes. At this point no plane can ever be highjacked again. You could smuggle on a machine gun that shoots nuclear bullets and the entire plane would still rush you. At best you could blow up a plane. And I would suggest that that was a stupid thing to do, because if the goal is fear or murder, there are much bigger numbers of people that can be killed by much easier methods. A terrorist with nail clippers is not a threat, but instead something we should be grateful for and encourage, as a way to safely identify and dispose of terrorists.

Tomorrow I'll try to talk about something with gaming. I have plenty of them. But being away from a good computer for 5 days makes them hard to play.

The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways

| Monday, July 25, 2011
Sin and Mystery, these were always the answers. The question was why bad things happen. An earthquake kills a thousand people. A fire burns down a city. A war, and another, and another. All manner of pain and suffering.

Some is obviously our own faults. World War I was no act of God or Nature, but pure human stupidity and arrogance. We cannot blame anything but these strange ape-brains of ours.

But let's go back to the mystery. A flood wipes out half of Pakistan and we ask why. One preacher blames their faith, usually the same one who blamed gays, sex, and the most recent type of music for the second most recent disaster. Another cannot even give us lies and hate, but can only shrug and suggest that the Lord works in Mysterious Ways. A hand wave. A Wizard Did it.

It's the perfect answer for the lazy or those who don't want any new questions. It reminds me of another answer given by the faithful: "that's the free market."

A town loses the factory and everyone loses their job. One man starves while another lives in a palace. Why? A thousand economists and philosophers rally to the call, offering their answers. The Marxist says it is capitalist oppression and urges action. The bureaucrat says it is a lack of regulation and asks for more power. The politician says it is China and mentions terrorism, saying we must replace the factory with a munitions plant. And the voice is always there, steadily repeating the mantra: it is the free market, and he urges nothing at all.

How strange, this natural force or entity which cannot be controlled, contained, channeled, or even charmed. It does what it does and we are helpless before it, so helpless that we are not even permitted to predict it or wish anything to be any other way. "As it is, so it must be", they say. How convenient, an answer of inaction.

If there were a flood would we simply be washed away? Or would we build levies? Launch weather satellites to predict it? Install pumps and ready boats? Even against that which we cannot quite stop, we still take action and we make things a little less bad. But the market, do not question it, do not oppose it, bow before it.

Why does it do what it does? Obviously it works in mysterious ways.

Now let us close our hands and give praise, as we would to any other mysterious god dictating our fates, that it might show mercy, but never think to change it or order it.


Atlanta: Take Two

| Thursday, July 21, 2011
Today I'm flying down to Atlanta. My brother is having a sort of second wedding, a chance for all the sides of the family to meet, since many missed the previous two chances. Hopefully it will be cooler there than here in Chicago.

So probably no posts Friday or Tuesday. Or the days between.

In the meantime, consider this thought: I have too many games to play now. Finally getting a decent video card (by my low low standards) means that I have about a half-dozen more games to play: Portal 2, Civ V, Dragon Age: Origins, Bioshock (1 and 2), Just Cause, and probably some more Splinter Cell games as well. It's overwhelming, like a kid wandering into a candy store with a hundred dollars and realizing he can only shove so much in his face at once.

Civ V is pretty fun. I like how they've changed resources and units. But it runs terribly. Randomly it pauses for 30-60 seconds. Loading a saved game is an invitation to go buy ingredients for, cook, eat, and clean up after a multi-course meal. And then get a glass of water while I wait a bit longer.

My life as a metaphor for WoW

Or should it be the other way around?

Here's the picture: across the street from my home is a park. Down the block is a school. They are linked by more park and a playground, dominating the area. A couple years ago there were four houses on our side of the alley. Then two of them emptied, the park district bought them, and now there is a field of grass next to our house. And a tall fence that they were kind enough to install. The couple next door are past the point of tip-toeing around it: they are old. We don't know how long they'll be there, but I doubt more than a few years.

That would leave my parents' house in the middle of the block, surrounded on three sides by the grass of the park. Someday, that house will be sold and torn down.

This leaves the children of the area with a large park to play in, bigger than before, with more room for soccer and baseball, with no windows nearby to worry about. For them, it is absolutely better.

But for me, it's my childhood home vanishing. I don't need to live there anymore and in many ways do not want to. That doesn't make it feel much better to imagine it gone, forever. No more ability to go back and see it. Instead I'll be left trying to remember exactly where the sidewalk was and when the stairs started, with nothing but memories left, and left with a ridiculous desire to see it again, just to know what it was, to point out the windows my brother broke, the low roof I slept under, the red curtains that left the light filtering into the basement looking like a submarine movie.

It is, of course, progress, but that doesn't mean there isn't loss.

Cataclysm makes me sad. I hope the children are happy.

P.S. My use of children is not meant to be a literal "kids are taking over WoW", but instead "the next generation." If anything, I'd bet that the audience is older, no longer being so skewed by college students with way too much time.

No one would play gearless PvP

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I offer this question: Would PvP in WoW be more or less active (note that I am specifically not using the words popular or fun) if players used a standardized set of gear?

On one hand, removing gear as a factor would allow players to jump right in at any time, with no grinds to get in their way.

But I suspect this benefit would be outweighed by the costs. For one, gear serves as a scapegoat. How good/bad are you? Who knows! Your gear is a factor, and a convenient excuse, allowing bad players to avoid being discouraged and quitting, since they can get better gear and think that will fix the problem.

WoW on the PvE side is driven heavily by gear. I don't think it's a stretch to say that PvE is the dominant element in WoW. It levels us, it trains us. Note the training part: follow the gear, always, if there is no gear, ignore it. Even if PvP gear was completely useless in PvE, the ability to gain gear attracts players, and keeps them going. The hamster wheel may keep more players on than it keeps off.

Meaningful decisions must be permanent, for a short time

| Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Why would any ever level up that class? It's terrible! All the other classes beat it at its main role. I feel sorry for anyone who plays that class. But it won't last, because I bet next month they'll be overpowered again.

It's pretty hard to pick a class when balance is a factor.

But good news! I found this great game where you can reroll in only a few minutes. A few clicks can change your "race" and from there you can customize extensively. If you screw up, you'll get a new opportunity in a short while.

But don't confuse this for some trivial game of throwaway decisions! What you do matters. How you specialize will affect how you play and how your enemy must react. Of course there are some cookie-cutter specializations, but variety is critical, because standard specs can only take you so far. Eventually you're going to need to mix it up, or at least play especially well. Yep, there's also a skill element to it, and no matter how well you follow the formula, you still need to be able to think and adapt, quickly.

What is this wonderful game of specialization and skill? World of Warcraft? Don't make me laugh. EVE? Please. LotRO? More like LOL! Also, not league of legends.

This game is Starcraft 2.

Yes, I did just say that. It has meaningful decisions, that last a very short time.

Will you go for a mechanical army? Then you'd better have the resources to support it. And the upgrades. And structures. If you change your mind halfway in and decide you want infantry instead, go for it, but you're not getting a refund.

Maybe your enemy is going heavy air. Well then anti-air units would be handy. So I hope you've not specialized in something ground-oriented like siege tanks and marauders. I guess you should have kept some marines around. But don't spam them, lest a colossus or ten show up in a few minutes.

After so long feeling stuck on one character and one class, it's liberating to choose, choose, and choose, different every time if I want, trying new things without forking over gold or whatever other currency (time) the developers demand. One day I might go with a lot of marine-marauder drops, the next I'm working on reaper harassment, and then I'm using ground-heavy mixes for the fight after that. Maybe I even mix them all together, taking advantage of each unit as it becomes available and discarding it when it wears out, dipping into upgrades here and there without committing 100% to any one thing, as a jack of trades who can outmaneuver the master of one.

But again, these aren't meaningless, trivial decisions. There are consequences. Victory or defeat. So I want to learn and I want to do better. But for all the permanence of the decisions, they only last a short time, so I can move on from failures rather than be burdened by them. That's not something you can easily do if you find yourself playing the wrong class this month.

However I don't think simple class-switching is the solution, since then everything becomes meaningless. The genre is slower, with days or weeks as the scale, rather than minutes. To shorten the effect of a decision could weaken it too much, destroy the meaning, the need to plan it out or think it through.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go regret attempting to make a sneaky-type character in Dragon Age: Origins. And if anyone is interested in a three year old game, I'm sure I'll have more to say about it in a few days.

When I see a bad idea, I think, "Hey, I should try that!"

| Monday, July 18, 2011
While with my awesome nerd friends (the same who gave me this shiny newer computer) we watched a bit of "when cheese fails", a show dedicated to replays of people trying cheap (cheese) strategies, and failing at it. For example, this might be a protoss player using very fast cannons as a "cannon rush" or "cannon contain" in which mass photon cannons are used to bottle in or attack the enemy. The overall concept of cheese is interesting to me, seeing whether people consider it valid or not, what they think is or is not cheese. And why the fuck do they call it cheese?

The particular replay was of a protoss-terran battle, in which the terran attempted to use a few early marines, along with most of his SCVs, to attack the enemy earlier than would be expected, even building a bunker to really hold the line. But he managed to be insufficiently aggressive and generally tactically failful and was defeated, leaving him with a weak economy which was soon overrun.

Then we played a 2v2 match, as terran-zerg matched with random-random who turned out to be terran-protoss. I did something unusual: I scouted. Yea, I'm that guy who doesn't scout and then gets terribly surprised when a horde of enemies arrives to which I have no counters. So there I was, scouting, with my SCV, when I thought "Hey, there's a bad idea; I should try that!"

So I built a barracks. It wasn't planned. Just an impulse. I normally build a barracks about now and this is the SCV I have selected, so why not build it here?

Here's the area I was working in.

1 is where a normal person might build this so-called "proxy barracks". From there it can quickly bring units to the front lines and blocks the enemy from expanding. Also it's not likely to be noticed very quickly. Players would have to either run all the way around, fly over (and flying takes a while unless it's a terran building or an overlord), or blast through the pile of metal there. It's a good location.


3 is the protoss base. Sadly, that wasn't much of an option. Though now that I think of it, I might have to try that some time.

I went with 2. This area isn't in sight of the main base. Players will by habit build something there, for the sole purpose of visibility. Supply depots and pylons are popular choices. Zerg may float over an overlord. But not this protoss. And he paid for it.

Watching the replay, my SCV was for a few moments mere inches away from being seen. A wayward twitch, one extra jolt on his hover controls, and it would have been spotted. But no. That little tiny bit of grey-black fog kept him safe.

By the time I left my hiding spot I had a half-dozen marines, two barracks with reactors, and a filled bunker. One does not expect that on their doorstep. Or in this case, their back porch, since their doorstep was fairly well secured.

And so began the harassment. They'd run out and shoot something, running back at the sight of enemies, to the cover of the bunker. All the while four were being produced at a time. Eventually the protoss nexus was destroyed, many probes gone, and the pylons powering his unit-producing structures knocked down. But the day was saved with the arrival of a few siege tanks and more marines from his ally.

Except my barracks fled to live again and his base was still entirely offline. I'd been a highly successful distraction. Turns out the real threat wasn't two and a half barracks (third one got its SCV killed halfway in), but the zerg ally who was expanding and quickly saturating bases with drones, a luxury granted by my cheesy irritation.

Then he made a ton of roaches and blew up the protoss expansion, a nexus that he'd managed to build in time to avoid being revealed. Hilarity ensued as I sent a few reapers for some more obnoxiousness (that's word! AWESOME!), reapers who blew up an attempted terran expansion, and the protoss attempt to reactivate his base, a single probe with a single pylon warping in, both of which died from a single volley each. Then the roaches arrived at the main ramp. Soon later our enemies surrendered.

The game lasted about 18 minutes, which I consider somewhat quick, but obviously not super-fast. In my experience games last either 5 minutes (rush->gg), 25 (major attack->gg) or fifteen hours (anyone have any spare minerals?), so 18 would make it a quick non-rush. It might sound like the other team was bad. Maybe. Maybe not. Of course they made some significant mistakes, as did we, but ultimately I think it was one single tiny mistake which tipped everything.

He did not watch his other ramp. That's all. This isn't some massively stupid thing. Just a little tiny thing that can go terribly, terribly wrong. It's not spamming marines to fight colossi. It's forgetting a stim, once. But that small error, if exploited, can compound into a gigantic problem. Or at least a gigantic irritation.

That's something that fascinates me, whether in games or real life, how a single error can have multiplying effects, causing problems far beyond the actual mistake. I remember an arena match, a close one, but where I'm pretty sure we were on the verge of victory. One enemy was nearly dead and one ally was nearly dead. I cast blessing of protection to save the ally. Alas... I cast it on the wrong player, and rather than saving my ally, who died, it instead stopped my warrior teammate from delivering the killing blow to the nearly-dead enemy, who did not die. It came down to one single mis-click, and yet it cost the entire match.

Going back to my Starcraft strategies, which mostly revolve around being annoying while someone else did all the killing, it makes me wonder why I played a paladin for so long. Wouldn't a CC-heavy class have been better? A rogue perhaps? I actually did have a lot of fun when I played a rogue, relishing the sheer irritation that they can cause. But somehow I never switched to one. I liked tanking. Or maybe I liked short queues. Which makes me wonder if anyone would play Starcraft if it required completing the campaign first and if we needed to complete missions on hard or higher to unlock units, much like a gear grind. Wouldn't that be a pretty stupid system for competitive PvP?

How did the Soviet Union run a budget deficit?

| Saturday, July 16, 2011
Sometimes a single sentence or phrase jumps out at me, offering many questions in just a few words. Reading an article about the Soviet Union and its unexpected collapse, I read this, "Budget deficits, which since the French Revolution have been considered among the prominent portents of a coming revolutionary crisis, equaled less than 2 percent of GDP in 1985."

Obviously budgets don't need to be balanced perfectly at all times. A bit extra now can compensate for by a bit less then. Or the reverse. Maybe some bills are left unpaid, which in effect would be a spending cut rather than an actual deficit. It's not as if a totalitarian regime has much to worry about if some peasant doesn't get their expected government benefits.

But an actual deficit, to spend more money than it taken in, without having a reserve of cash that is being run down, means the money must come from somewhere. Where? It could have simply been printed or inked, but that would be inflation, not a deficit. It must have been loaned, but who loans money to the Soviet Union? Other, similarly poor communist states? From the similarly deficit-ridden West?

Were capitalist bankers loaning money to the Evil Empire? That would be quite amusing to me: the communists dependent on the evil capitalist pigs, while the evil capitalist pigs happily get richer from communism. On top of that, it seems to me that a totally government-controlled economy would be incapable of running a deficit. With no private wealth to borrow from, it would have to balance its books and economy. Or there is the North Korean model of progressive starvation, extracting more work from citizens than the food required (or even less, if you count foreign aid), but eventually even that must be balanced, if only by the physical necessity of needing the population alive to get anything done.

Maybe the Soviet Union just needed a balanced budget amendment.

We're at World of Warcraft, pick a side

| Friday, July 15, 2011
Once upon a time I was a noob. I'd see pretty gear and say "ooh, pretty gear!" and then I'd attempt to get said pretty gear. Someone once called me a ninja. In retrospect I should have better explained that the dagger from SM lib was a better stabber than what I had at the time, but they didn't seem eager to listen to reason anyway.

I ran whatever place was fun. La di da dee da di dee da. I'd sing that as I played. Sometimes I'd type it as well. Sometimes with the chat box open, sometimes without. I'd turn right, left, right, i, right, left, right, stormstrike, stormstrike, right, left, right, i,right, stormstrike, stormstrike, right, left.

Or maybe e was grounding totem. It's entirely possible that e was nothing at all, since like I said, I was a noob.

I had a lot of fun being a noob.

Then I started playing 'smarter', researching builds and gear locations, trying to do things in a more optimal manner. I'd know what loot could drop before I went, without having seen it before. Still, for a while this was okay. I could wander about as a mostly noob and have fun.

There was a tipping point. A point when I began to optimize more and more. The fun started to fade. When I didn't get loot, my plan fell apart. When I did a quest at the wrong time, my plan fell apart.

It's a stupid state to be in. It is optimizing just enough to get the negative effects, without getting the fun benefit. I did play 'better', but what's the point of that if I'm having less fun?

I should have gone all the way, immersed myself in optimization, doing everything in a planned, perfect manner. Get this and this and that perfectly aligned. Go all the way. At that point I could have enjoyed the optimization itself. But I didn't go far enough.

Instead I got stuck in the middle. I had some idea of better ways, but wasn't quite motivated enough to get to all of them. I had some ideas of better results, but lacking the ways, wasn't quite there.

Smart people can know they are smart. Stupid people, as a blessing to them and curse to the rest of us, often do not know they are stupid. Incidentally, that's a scientific fact, that generally speaking at low ends of the scale, confidence and ability are inversely related. But I had the worst of all worlds. I was a stupid person given the knowledge of what he was.

Ignorance of one's own ignorance is bliss.

It didn't end there. In Starcraft I'm finding myself loving the theorycraft and tactics and just having this new set of rules to play with. But I'm not so great at execution. My mouse speed and accuracy aren't quite where they'd need to be. I get distracted by shinies. Doubtlessly, time will help, but in the meantime I'm stuck in the situation of being fully aware that I'm not particularly good. I really should just pick a side. I could be hardcore and practice and learn and get it all right. Or I could care less (meaning reduce my amount of caring, not to be confused with the often incorrectly stated phrase "couldn't care less") and clap my hands with glee if I make my first marines at ten minutes.

Incidentally, who else associates the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" with a cop getting his ear cut off, all thanks to Quentin Tarantino?

Balancing the budget on the tip of a finger

| Thursday, July 14, 2011
I have a radical idea for you: The US should default on its debt. Not just the bits and pieces that will come calling in August, but all the bits and pieces before and after that. All 11 trillion of it. Many people will be very unhappy about this, but I suggest that the balancing finger be the middlemost one.

Under this scheme, government would continue all functioning, or malfunctioning as the case may be, paying out promises such as medicare and social security and salaries, but setting debts as the lowest possible priority.

The budget would need to be instantly balanced, possibly by dramatic cuts in services (possibly a contradiction of my earlier "paying out promises such as medicare and social security" which needs to be resolved) and certainly with substantial increases in taxes and reductions in loopholes and exemptions. Why? Because after this there's little chance that anyone would loan money except at unacceptable interest rates. The US would have to balance the budget, even without a so-called balanced budget amendment (which is a stupid idea anyway), due to the high cost of borrowing. On the other hand, a fresh balance sheet could mean a possibility of being able to pay off any new debts, so maybe it would be less dire than I expect. The process of balancing would be made significantly easier by not needing to pay interest on the debt.

If somehow there remain money in the budget it would go to debtors, but in a certain order. Foreign debtors would have the absolute lowest priority. Semi-national, such as debt held by multi-national corporations, would be next lowest. Next would be debts to national banks or other holders. The highest priority would be individuals, in reverse order of the size of the debt they hold, meaning that the smallest debts are paid back first.

This order is not arbitrary. It is instead structured to serve the dueling needs of national interest and social need. Paying foreign citizens or companies while allowing our own to be shortchanged makes no sense from a nationalist perspective. Then the goal is to pay back those who are in most need of money, most likely those with the fewest holdings, since it's logical that someone breaking even in their budgeting will not be buying up much debt whereas the well-off can afford the temporary loss.

I see only one minor problem with this idea. That is that it would possibly destroy the world economy. Currently Treasury bonds are the safe bet. Everyone buys them if they want a safe place to put money. They're as good as gold, except possibly better because they don't have dim-witted hacks shilling them on TV to scared sheep (BUY GOLD NOW!!!). A complete default and refusal to pay any debt would be the end of that.

Beside potentially destroying the world, I don't see many downsides to this idea.

P.S. In regard to taxing the rich, is it really accurate to call them the "job creators" when they're clearly not doing so? Might as well call me a job creator.

Sorry, Britain, but that's a load of bollocks or habsnachery or somesuch else phrase

| Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Why do some Americanisms irritate people?
An interesting opinion piece, with some good points, some bad, and a terrible ending.
Britain is a very distinct country from the US. Not better, not worse, different. And long live that difference. That means maintaining the integrity of our own gloriously nuanced, subtle and supple version - the original version - of the English language.

That boat has sailed. You've long ago stopped speaking the original version of the English language. Or even something just next to it. It didn't even start with your generation, or the one before.

Ever since German and English split it's been straight downhill for language and society. Though one might make a case for the barbaric grunts of the earliest languages. Simple, to the point. They got the job done. One might have called grunting an elegant language if such a word or even concept existed back then.

I'm not sure if my title is anything other than gibberish.

Operation Underpowered is a Success

What is Operation Underpowered? It's a top=secret, highly-classified and not commonly known operation to attempt something which could be refereed to as underpowered.

The computer my friend gave me is great, but had two problems. First, no hard drive. This was not really a problem since I can just stick mine in there. But that brings problem two: power supply. Somehow she had no plugs for a SATA drive. This only confirms my belief that she is crazy.

Originally I was going to put both the new and old power supplies in. This would have been Operation Overpowered. But it fell apart in the planning stages when it was found that one of them wouldn't even turn on, due to not being plugged into the motherboard.

A simple swap of power supplies was out of the question. For some reason, Dell uses a monstrously over-sized power supply that does not even come close to fitting. But a complex swap still had potential. So I did what anyone else would do: created a hideous abomination.

The PSU is now stationed in the front of the case, taking up all of the spaces for DVD or CD drives. It's not really attached. By which I mean not at all attached. The way the cords are twisted causes it to slightly fall into the case. Fortunately the external power cord fixes this, since it has to be run through the front of the case to get to the PSU, where it acts as a counterweight and tension in the other direction. You might have figured out that this also means it is facing in the opposite direction as usual.

There aren't enough molex (the 4-pin things that my friend told me not to call 4-pin because that's something else) connectors to fit a DVD drive, not that one would fit anyway.

Windows decided it did not like this. Specifically, it decided that I was probably some sort of terrible pirate. After a total of four tries at activation it decided that I had indeed legally acquired my copy of Windows. But that didn't mean it was going to just talk to my new motherboard like they'd met before. So then came driver time. I'd done this before with no problems: looking up drivers on the nearby Mac, downloading them to a USB drive, and copying them over. That didn't work. Somehow the majority of them ended up corrupted and then DOS decided to join the whinefest with complaints about programs being too big for the memory. My other friend (yes, I have just indirectly counted my friends as 1 and 2 and stopped at that point) suggested that it was something to do with downloading. Normally I'd call him a socialist for even suggesting such a thing (I also say this for good morning and hello), but I was trying to make my computer be less fail.

So I unplugged everything and stuck the hard drive back in my old case, at which point it decided it no longer wanted to be referred to as boot drive, since that was apparently offensive. A bit more convincing and by convincing I mean randomly renabling nonexistent SATA drives, which it whined about, and I'd managed to get it to start and function just like normal. At which point Windows decided to complain again, which at least this time I could say "ask me later" and it didn't respond with "okay" followed by a log out. I used my now-functioning computer to download the drivers and unpack them. Switch everything back to the new, install them, and finally, a working computer. XP even recognizes the majority of the new RAM. Pretty awesome, right?

Here's the picture of the abomination.

P.S. I guess I never explained the name. My old Dell PSU is only 350 watts while the newer one is 500, so I'd also been briefly worried that it wasn't enough. But guessing at the specs for a power supply calculator, it said I had plenty. So I ignored that and figured a few flames and smoke could be ignored if it came to that.

Yep, power supply failure

| Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The other day I considered having two power supplies in my computer, to compensate for one lacking sata power. Well, I was punished for even considering it. Major, major power failure. Oh the computers are jut fine. But Chicagoland not so much! There were terrible winds yesterday morning and over half a mllion people lost power. My family is still in the dark, an inconvenient situation for a blogger, worse for my mother who works from home. So now we're at my brothers house, with me not knowing the wifi key so I can't use her spare laptop. Fortunately my iPod remembers it, so I can whine here still.

I don't care for air conditioning, but not even having a fan last night was awful. And I can't play Starcraft! On the plus side, I got to read Game of Thrones by candlelight.

If you give a mouse a computer

| Monday, July 11, 2011
My friend built a new computer, so she gave me her old one. Which is better than my current one. What would you do? I'm guessing you'd pull open the cases and see if you can just jam your old hard drive in the new one and get going. Or that's what I'd do. But alas, where is the very short and thin connector (SATA) like goes to this hard drive? I cannot seem to find it.

Well okay, no problem, I can just plug this other hard drive in that has the usual wide thick connector (they claim to be Ultra ATA, but I see nothing particularly ultra about them), tell it to pretend to be my current hard drive, and put it in the other one. Okay that one didn't work, let's try the other one. No luck. Two dead hard drives. It's a good thing I wasn't using them. But maybe... yes, it appears that the motherboard does in fact support my hard drive. Even better, it has a bajillion (give or take six) sockets. So I can just plug it in after all. Sweet! But I guess it needs power. Hm. Power supply only has those stubby, hard to insert/remove four-pin thingies.

I guess a new power supply is called for.

But wait... I have a perfectly good one right now! It's just... 150 watts lower. I wonder if that's enough. But maybe I'm not being creative enough. Not at all. I should pull out the old power supply, stick it in the new computer, not really attached, just floating there in the space where a normal person would have a DVD drive, and plug that in to the SATA. I'm sure that can cause all manner of horrible problems.

In the meantime I pillaged the video card, so now my Windows XP is much uh... XPer.

I'm going to Madison tomorrow

| Friday, July 8, 2011
It's a halfway last minute almost planned as part of a preliminary preparatory search for housing and housing-related information in anticipatory preparation for the semi-imminent departure of myself and transplantation of residence from the suburbs of Chicago to the places in close proximity of the city of Madison near the area of the campus of the University of Madison.

In other words, I'm driving up to see if I can avoid being homeless this fall.

Anyone have any suggestions in regard to housing or places I should eat?

With luck I won't get mistaken for a Republican and stoned to death by a passing anti-Walker rally. Or maybe I'm thinking of Syria.

Finally, an application for a BS in Psychology: Starcraft

Specifically, BS in Starcraft.

I'm a harasser. My friend is a macroer. She can manage the constant building of massive armies of doom (usually their own doom, judging from the casualty numbers). But me? I'm an asshole. I'm a manipulative, irritating, passive-aggressive, jackass who does not ever give you a break but you can't quite lash out at me because oh poor little me what did I ever do to you?

As a bad player, I am well aware of the concept of negative momentum. You're losing and off-balance, so you keep losing and stay off-balance. Economy wrecked? That means a slow recovery and reduced aggression. Economy threatened, but not actually damaged? Reduced aggression too, there's defense to do! And then the other side has the initiative. They can now choose where to attack. They can build anywhere they want, because you're holed up, waiting for the next attack. Meanwhile you cannot expand, because expansions are vulnerable, so you starve in a little hole, wondering if you can ever escape.

I've been on this side. It doesn't help that I'm often overly defensive, not expanding until I think I can fully defend, which is a ridiculous notion, since failure to expand means limited resources which make it harder to build up a force to defend with, meanwhile the lack of pressure means my enemy can build up more as well.

It's all about the mind games.

While my friend builds armies that knock at the front door, I'm somewhere else, killing workers, hitting expansions, knocking out a building here and there. I won't win the game. I can't. I'm not an existential threat. But I cannot be ignored either. "Pay attention to me!"

It's trolling without words.

My reapers blow up a bunch of workers and sure, it hurts, it's an economic setback, but it's hardly a death blow. Well, unless your attack gets delayed by the need to defend. Unless you get nervous and have to keep more units back to defend against this. But which angle? Better cover them all. Now you're not attacking, but defending, but defending what? I dare you to leave and you don't dare to. This is what happens when facing bad players. They get totally paralyzed. I tell them sit and stay and they sit and stay, while my friend walks up with a hammer. They see her coming but they obediently sit and stay and wait.

Somewhere in there I transition to banshees, pretty much directly after, possibly taking the tech labs and abandoning the reaper tactics entirely. They're really just a filler until I can get the more flexible banshees.

Better players fare, well, better. They might not hide quite so much. But they aren't immune. Gotta deal with the harassment. Better leave a few units back. Maybe too many. Better build a few more anti-air. Maybe too many. Better get more detectors. Maybe too many. But never quite enough. But cannot not build them.

In this latter scenario my harassment isn't physical, but mental. I'm effectively neutralized as a threat. In one particular game I was almost certain that at any moment I'd get rolled over by one serious attack, but I kept the banshees out there and visible in a false show of strength. I still cannot be ignored. So my enemy tweaks his unit mixes, changes the build slightly, isn't quite comfortable. Or fully effective. Too much anti-air is trouble when a ground army rolls in. That ground army was my friend's, terribly expensive and easily lost, but with momentum, and expansions, who cares about lost resources? A 2-1 loss ratio means nothing if the resource income is 3-1, or more.

It isn't even necessary to attack a player to influence them. They can see what happens to their ally. They react to what didn't happen to them, but could.

I've pushed protoss into spamming stalkers or photon cannons. Depleting resources, hundreds or thousands, merely to deal with a few hundred worth of banshees. Missile turrets spammed. One zerg player rushed for hydralisks before realizing that it would be siege tanks, not banshees, that would ultimately destroy him, and of those I had no shortage (at least as far as he could tell!), so he quit.

It's a bit like the adage of how we always prepare to fight the previous war. I'm the first attack and very visible. So enemies prepare for that. Meanwhile my ally is barely noticeable, might as well not exist at all, until they show up with tomorrow's war.

It was a good day. I wonder what the next day, back to a comfortable losing streak, will be like. Win, lose, still pretty damn fun.

Could I play vanilla or BC WoW?

| Thursday, July 7, 2011
It's a proven truthiness that BC and vanilla were far superior to LK and Cataclym. But I'm left with a nagging doubt. Not about their superiority, but their playability. If Blizzard released classic or BC servers, would I play again? I'm certain I'd resub, but for how long?

While I had no problem with the manual group formation, I think I would now. The idea of trying to form a group and possibly not succeeding, an event which was not rare, is hard to imagine now. LFG! *crickets* Huh. Now what?

And while I find the notion of interchangeable instances to be silly, would I want to say LFG Scholomance and really mean only Scholomance? Though I don't think I was ever so specific, since there always seemed to be something to get from another place, it just wasn't my highest priority. So let's say Scholo, dead Strat, and Maraudon (need NR for AQ!), what if for some reason people are only running UBRS? Maybe I'd go there too, since my dungeon chest never dropped.

Speaking of resistance, would I enjoy it? While I like the idea, and I liked the system back then, would I actually enjoy farming specific bits of gear for one or two raids and then stashing it away forever? I am going to assume that if resistance gear stayed we'd have gotten some sort of storage system for it, so bag space won't be the ruination of the resistance concept, but it may still fail to be any fun.

On a slight tangent, I do believe that many of the flaws of early WoW could and would have been fixed up a bit. In other words, I'm not advocating or comparing to the worst of the problems, but what I feel would have been the evolution of WoW, if it had been patched and improved, but maintained a similar philosophy. So things like awful talents would have been fixed, along with class balance and some of the strangely stupid diminishing returns on reputation.

Then there's my beloved and long lost Alterac Valley. I loved the ridiculously long games. My first game turned out to have lasted 25 hours (I wasn't there the whole time) and I'd been in there for a few, which I later learned was fairly short for old AV. Would that still be fun? The futility of an instant win promoted playing just for the fun of it, and encouraged any attempt at all at creative tactics, such as when my warlock summoned half our team behind the enemy line (back before ritual of summoning). But now, I might just wonder "will this ever end so I can get my points?"

It makes me wish I had more (or perhaps any) experience in other MMOs, to see what they do over time, how they change, but also, how the player changes. Do games get worse (or better, but for a different audience)? Do players burn out? Or do they learn new expectations and those are the true problem?

Only noobs think I'm elitist

| Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Tobold is making grand claims again, telling us all what to do and the correct way to think. Check this one: Winning is not the purpose of playing.

He almost gets it, but continues straight past. "It is the playing itself which is the purpose of a game, not the winning."

Playing for what? Children play to learn. Adolescents play for fun. But adults play to win. Why? Because winning is a source of fun and a way of learning. It's a two-for-one deal.

However I do agree with his support of the 50-50 win-lose condition. We all start in the middle and then lose or win our way to a bracket with our skill peers. At that point we'll run about 50-50, with possible slight movement if we're getting better or worse, relative to other players. If we look at the overall sample, we will almost never see a perfect 50-50, nor should we expect it, since it would only be achieved by a player being placed perfectly in their skill bracket. But we will see a trend toward 50-50.

But to get back to the title of my post, "They believe that they are superior to the rest of the players." Uh, yea. It's called being better than everyone else, and only noobs strive for anything else.

"By de-emphasizing the importance of winning, we get back to the true purpose of playing, the playing itself and having fun. A good match is one where you had fun, regardless whether you won or lost. If you manage to mentally disconnect having fun from winning, you can get a fun:unfun ratio of much better than 50:50, in spite of the perfectly balanced win:loss ratio."
Good idea. Let's not just reward losers, but also not reward winners.

Or we could ask Ghengis Khan whether he unified the warring Mongolian tribes and kicked some serious ass by "having fun, regardless of whether he won or lost" or if he focused on winning, thereby defeating all the losers and securing a place in history. But maybe Tobold already has his place in history. He's the e-blog-famous apologist for losers.

User Interface

| Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Also known as "UI, but UI is too short of a post title, since we all know the title must be more than two letters. For other examples, see 'FU' and 'H8', neither of which make particularly great titles, due to saying very little except some sort of generic dislike." On the other hand, run-on titles aren't so great either.

Does WoW have a good baseline UI? I have no idea. Maybe? Perhaps it is what scares away those 30% who don't get past level 10. Or those 30% just don't like MMOs or whatever you prefer to call WoW.

But who cares? WoW has a customizable UI. If it doesn't get the job done, we change it. Can't heal? UI! Can't tank? UI! Can't use the AH? UI! Can't DPS? UI!


You-eye. Ooo-eee.

I don't much like this approach. It's not merely a bandaid; it's a lie. Yes, a lie. What does a custom UI say? Well okay, it could just say "I want something prettier" and that's fine. But beside that, what does it say?

"You can't play this game well enough and the problem is not your skill or the game design; the problem is that you're not looking at it correctly."

Now maybe I'm crazy, but shouldn't the default game UI be the correct way to look at the game, or at least sufficiently close that everyone (+-100%) do not feel the need to change it? Can you imagine a car like that? Oh sure, all the stuff works, and you can customize it, but maybe the windows should be at eye level, rather than foot level, by default. Of course we could drive with the windows that low, but the angle would mean a really short visual range, so drive slowly!

Healers like to whine. About how they are fighting the UI rather than playing a game. Psh. Everyone is fighting the UI. Every class has the information it needs not where it is needed, which is to say, where we are looking. Why are my cooldowns hidden away at the bottom of my screen? Why is the health of my party over on the right? The action is in the center!

We could say that these are skills to learn. Well sure, we can go with a "learn the UI" approach and block extensive customization. That sounds awful, right? Maybe. Or maybe not. Most games use this approach. Such as Starcraft 2, which I hope is an interesting topic for you, because I'm going to be talking about it a lot (or I might suddenly stop after this post, it could go either way).

Starcraft has a pretty awful, inefficient UI. If I want to build a marine, how do I do that? There's no "build marine" button. Instead I have to find a barracks, select it, build the marine. The particular barracks matters as well. It's some crazy complex stuff (not really, but let's pretend for the sake of exaggeration). I'm attacking over here (lower left), but building over here (upper right), see the problem? Just awful. But.

That's the UI that we all use. That is what we learn. We can tweak it slightly with some hotkeys and control groups, but none of us have a fancy light that pops up and says "carrier group spotted in minimap, build marines." Which may be a good thing because I'm not sure how well marines counter carriers. Maybe vikings would be better? Pretend I didn't go on that tangent (I wonder what this button labeled "backspace" does).

There's another layer to it: the actual game. The UI is not layered on the game, it is the game. The barracks builds marines. Let's say that again: the barracks builds marines. The build unit menu does not build marines. There is not so much a UI that I fight to build marines, but the game, and that game within the world simulation that it simulates. Of course with careful use of hotkeys and rally points players can halfway imitate a build unit menu despite using barracks, but ultimately the barracks builds the marine, so I have no choice but to be aware of the world and what is going on, rather than the UI. If that barracks is on fire, I do not have an alert of burning buildings, but instead the place that builds marines also can burn, so again, I am not playing the UI, but the game.

I guess what it ultimately comes down to is this: When I see someone playing, I want to think "wow, he's really good at this game" rather than "where did he get that UI?"

You may now commence commenting about how you healed hardmode something with the default UI and I'm just bad.

Being gold level doesn't mean you're remotely good at Starcraft

| Monday, July 4, 2011
I finally got Starcraft and before finishing the single-player campaign, decided to delve into the scary world of getting zealot, zergling, or ze marine rushed, also known as multi-player. The first step is to say, "no, I am already awesome, I don't need practice matches." Then you do a few games to figure out an initial ranking.

It sounds like a great system. Win a bunch and you're probably a good player. Lose and you can go in the copper bracket (it's like bronze, but worse*). This way when you're playing for real glory and fame, you're playing for the correct amount of glory and fame and against people with similar capabilities in amassing glory and fame.

Sure sounds great. But me? I like to ruin the system. I didn't mean to, but it happens.

My placement matches were mostly filled with me rolling over mediocre players in about 15 minutes. I wasn't playing great or anything. Okay. Average, I'd say. Not especially fast or with any great strategy. My micro is pretty good, but that doesn't compensate for my awful macro. But my opponents... Impressively bad.

So I ended up in a gold bracket, which I think is supposed to be good. Ranked 8, which sounds pretty good to me. So of course I was frightened. Gold? I'm not a gold level player! I watch Day9 and he's talking about how really basic stuff like having a plan for your buildings is how you get out of silver or bronze, and that's what I fail at. My fail is silver-level, not gold. I should be bad at, I dunno, reaper kiting, not basic construction.

But maybe I'm expecting too much. Not only does me being at gold not mean I'm good, other players being at gold doesn't mean they're good either. My first few opponents were awful. I faced an enemy who, based on the replay, built no offensive units for at least 5 minutes, until finally he built: one reaper. His refinery went up before his first supply depot. The next opponent wasn't awful, but a slightly slow zerg player, which is disastrous for a race that must expand quickly.

Then there were the possibly good players who quit before the game was anywhere near over. They'd launch one attack which got beaten, and then surrender. I'm not an aggressive player, so it's not as if these were players making their final push for survival or trying to retake the initiative: they already had it. Though the most recent player like that at least made sense to quit, based on his strat failing horribly. He rushed, slowly, with marines and... all his SCVs. It might have worked if he'd been faster, but he delayed and I had a bunker up. So everything died and he had 10 minerals. Recovery wasn't totally impossible, given my defensive nature, since he at least had an orbital command, meaning mules could get him going again if I wasn't quick.

But before long Starcraft realized that I was clearly faced gold-plated players and set be up against solid gold. Those players promptly crushed me into the ground. Painfully. The kind of defeat where you watch the replay and start running through the tactics and seeing what you could have done better, and then realize that the second wave was right behind so you were screwed no matter the tactics.

Despite my losing record, I actually feel pretty good about 1v1. I'm ever so slowly improving. Besides, until I fall into silver, I'm ahead of where I should be, so until then I don't think I'm really losing. Sadly, 2v2 isn't the same story. My first ranking match I was with a pretty good ally and we were able to work together for a solid win. Then I got a string of bad allies who felt more bronze than silver (my 2v2 is silver), so I figured I'd try 1v1 where I could only fail myself.

Happy Independence Day, Americans! Hey Britain, how's it feel seeing your empire get crushed by a bunch of jackasses with poor equipment in a distant land? Is there anything that makes it feel better?

Clean your computer, carefully!

| Friday, July 1, 2011
Spring cleaning and my niece's growing and therefore growing demand for toys led to the partial emptying of the attic at home. My room is right across from the attic, with the computer aimed right at the door. Over the several days of the door open and dust being wiped and blown off boxes, my main fan kept on doing its job of drawing air in the front and out the back. Along with all the dust. This put a nice thick coating on everything from my video card to my heat sink.

In college I had classes in a room down the hall from one of the wind tunnels they used for experiments. It was loud. My computer was louder. Yep, turns out dust interferes with radiation (however this does not make radioactive dust safe) of heat, which meant that the fan had to run faster to try to speed things up. Fortunately, Intel in its finite wisdom decided to make the Pentium 4 throttle its speed if it got too hot, so my computer just ran loud and slow rather than quiet and melted.

But I wasn't going to stand for this. If there's one thing I hate, it's unproductive loud things blowing hot air, which is why I like politics. So I opened up my computer and took out anything that wasn't screwed down. And some things that were, thanks to my screwdriver. That included the video card, RAM, hard drive, other hard drive, main fan, heat sink, and for the hell of it, the CPU itself. Then I did the logical thing: carefully dusted them with canned air in order to avoid damage to the delicate electronics.

Nah, I'm kidding. I used an easily-frayed paper towel and a small bowl of water which I left on the floor near the computer. Sometimes I think I'm trying to make an excuse to buy a new computer. Which I almost needed. After I stuck it all back together it didn't work. Oops. So I rearranged things and restarted and swore a bit. Then it worked better.

But let me tell you about this stuff called thermal cement. You know how oven mitts keep you from getting burned, but if you pour water on them they instead boil your hands off? It's like the water, except instead of your hands it's a heat sink and instead of a pan of delicious chocolate brownies it's a CPU and instead of being a bad thing it's a good thing. And the oven mitts are the poor conductive properties of air. So I replaced my dust-insulated heat sink with an air-insulated processor, thanks to not using enough thermal cement. Or originally, not using a fresh coat. Then I gave a nice thick (but not too thick) layer, stuck it back in place, and viola (not to be confused with a violin), my computer ran quietly.

It's nice when running a game doesn't cause my fan to out-drone political commentators, since I often have them playing in the background while I play Civilization.

The moral of the story is: you can't trust the system. To run quietly without proper cleaning.
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