My one-year anniversary of Intuitive Eating. TL;DR: Keep going, this fight is worth it!
Minor TW size/weight mentioned. I’m a frequent poster so likely you’ve already read bits and pieces of this story! But I really want to throw down the whole thing here, just on the off-chance I can inspire one single person to keep going and not give up. One year ago yesterday, I fell hard and sprained the shit out of my ankle while on a punishment run. I was running a 10km trail to punish myself for the excess calories after my 5-year old daughter’s birthday party; the cherry on top of 20+ years of obsessive dieting and over-exercising. I won’t dive too deep into this, because I know all of you that are here will get it. Food and diet owned my thoughts; my day was determined to be bad or good by whether the scale was up or down in the morning. It was hateful. It ruined some of the best moments of my life - beach vacations, parties, dinners with friends where I couldn’t stop thinking about what I looked like and comparing myself with others relentlessly. Anyways, I reached a fork in the road on October 28th, 2019, where I was either going to descend fully into a full-blown eating disorder, or I was going to fix this shit once and for all. With two young daughters, I think I finally had the reason I’d needed to escape the self-imposed loathing and hell of dieting. I came across IE accidentally and connected with the concept instantly. Devoured the books and dove into “eat all the things” mode. Lemme tell ya, this part was messy. I ate allllllll the things. For six whole weeks I ate basically nothing but carbs. Even the sight of vegetables made me gag, after 20 years of force-feeding them to myself. I ate whole meals at 10pm, in order to fully process my restrictive thoughts around “going to bed hungry”. Of course, I gained some weight pretty rapidly, at least 30lbs. I don’t know the actual number because I haven’t weighed myself in a whole fucking year! Omg. That’s wild. So anyways, after this phase things leveled out into this calm space. I would not have got there without my coach, Courtney Hill, who was there with a truck and a winch every time I fell in a ditch. I struggled with body image, initially. But it forced me to find some strategies. Buy some new clothes, change my thoughts. And I totally have. I just don’t really care anymore - not in a “letting myself go” way that I always feared was the binary of obsessive dieting. Nah I just roll around now with a new kind of confidence. Sometimes now whole days will go by where I don’t think about my body once. I just focus on rocking my life and being an amazing mom, wife, and manager. It’s opened up doors for me. I got headhunted by a big company, the cream of the crop in my industry, and I swear I wouldn’t have had the confidence to take it if I hadn’t been well along on this path. I’m so much more calm and present in my life, with my kids. I picked up meditating which has been critically important in this wild pandemic year. I am happier and calmer and more confident than I’ve ever been. My body totally leveled out at a size I’m really happy and comfortable with. Will I ever fit into my wedding dress again? Nah. Do I care? Also nah. I bought new clothes that I feel hot and awesome in. In September, I was finally feeling ready to work out hard again, after a whole year of throwing in the towel. Previously, I’d been an elite athlete and had always exercised obsessively, Crossfitting and running myself into oblivion, ignoring my body’s signals and subjecting myself to one over-use injury after the next. Anyways, I started working out with a personal trainer and absolutely love it. I just smashed a 213lb deadlift yesterday and feel like a fucking beast. I feel healthy. I’m not constantly sick and bedraggled. My hair, skin, and nails are luscious. I have energy. I sleep. I almost wish I’d done some more journaling in the “before” times so I could better comprehend the magnitude of this shift. But I’m also content with just leaving it behind forever. I’ve had a pretty amazing life and have done a lot of incredible things - sailing across oceans, pursuing grad degrees and intense, challenging career options. But I’m proudest of what I’ve done to stomp diet culture to the curb, and, hopefully, break the cycle for my daughters, who will see their mom loving food and being strong and confident and happy. Keep going, it’s worth it.
I have been lurking on this board for a few years. I decided the other day to finally create an account so I could come out of lurk mode. As you might guess from my id I was able to retire at the beginning of this year on a significantly accelerated timetable thanks to the 20x return from my AMD stock and option investments since 2016. I spent my career working on electronics and software for the satellite industry. We made heavy use of FPGAs and more often than not Xilinx FPGAs since they had a radiation tolerant line. I thought I would summarize some of the ways they were used in and around the development process. My experience is going to be very different than the datacenter settings in the last few years. The AI and big data stuff was a pipe dream back then. In the olden times of the 90s we used CPUs which unlike modern processors did not include much in the way of I/O and memory controller. The computer board designs graduated from CPU + a bunch of ICs (much like the original IBM PC design) to a CPU + Xilinx FPGA + RAM + ROM and maybe a 5V or 3.3V linear voltage regulator. Those old FPGAs were programmed before they were soldered to the PCB using a dedicated programming unit attached to a PC. Pretty much the same way ROMs were programmed. At the time FPGAs gate capacity was small enough that it was still feasible to design their implementation using schematics. An engineer would draw up logic gates and flip-flops just like you would if using discrete logic ICs and then compile it to the FPGA binary and burn it to the FPGA using a programmer box like a ROM. If you screwed it up you had to buy another FPGA chip, they were not erasable. The advantage of using the FPGA is that it was common to implement a custom I/O protocol to talk to other FPGAs, on other boards, which might be operating A/D and D/A converters and digital I/O driver chips. As the FPGA gate capacities increased the overall board count could be decreased. With the advent of much larger FPGAs that were in-circuit re-programmable they began to be used for prototyping ASIC designs. One project I worked on was developing a radiation hardened PowerPC processor ASIC with specialized I/O. A Xilinx FPGA was used to test the implementation at approximately half-speed. The PowerPC core was licensed IP and surrounded with bits that were developed in VHDL. In the satellite industry the volumes are typically not high enough to warrant developing ASICs but they could be fabbed on a rad-hard process while the time large capacity re-programmable FPGAs were not. Using FPGAs for prototyping the ASIC was essential because you only had one chance to get the ASIC right, it was cost and schedule prohibitive to do any respins. Another way re-programmable FPGAs were used was for test equipment and ground stations. The flight hardware had these custom designed ASICs of all sorts which generally created data streams that would transmitted down from space. It was advantageous to test the boards without the full set of downlink and receiver hardware so a commercial FPGA board in a PC would be used to hook into the data bus in place of the radio. Similarly other test equipment would be made which emulated the data stream from the flight hardware so that the radio hardware could be tested independently. Finally the ground stations would often use FPGAs to pull in the digital data stream from the receiver radio and process the data in real-time. These FPGAs were typically programmed using VHDL but as tools progressed it became possible to program to program the entire PC + FPGA board combination using LabView or Simulink which also handled the UI. In the 2000s it was even possible to program a real-time software defined radio using these tools. As FPGAs progressed they became much more sophisticated. Instead of only having to specify whether an I/O pin was digital input or output you could choose between high speed, low speed, serdes, analog etc. Instead of having to interface to external RAM chips they began to include banks of internal RAM. That is because FPGAs were no longer just gate arrays but included a quantity of "hard-core" functionality. The natural progression of FPGAs with hard cores brings them into direct competition with embedded processor SOCs. At the same time embedded SOCs have gained flexibility with I/O pin assignment which is very similar to what FPGAs allow. It is important to understand that in the modern era of chip design the difference between the teams that AMD and Xilinx has for chip design is primarily at the architecture level. Low level design and validation are going to largely be the same (although they may be using different tools and best practices). There are going to be some synergies in process and there is going to be some flexibility in having more teams capable of bringing chips to market. They are going to be able to commingle the best practices between the two which is going to be a net boost to productivity for one side or the other or both. Furthermore AMD will have access to Xilinx FPGAs for design validation at cost and perhaps ahead of release and Xilinx will be able to leverage AMD's internal server clouds. The companies will also have access to a greater number of Fellow level architects and process gurus. Also AMD has internally developed IP blocks that Xilinx could leverage and vice versa. Going forward there would be savings on externally licensed IP blocks as well. AI is all the rage these days but there are many other applications for generic FPGAs and for including field programmable gates in sophisticated SOCs. As the grand convergence continues I would not be surprised at all to see FPGA as much a key component to future chips as graphics are in an APU. If Moore’s law is slowing down then the ability to reconfigure the circuitry on the fly is a potential mitigation. At some point being able to reallocate the transistor budget on the fly is going to win out over adding more and more fixed functionality. Going a bit down the big.little path what if a core could be reconfigured on the fly to be integer heavy or 64 bit float heavy within the same transistor budget. Instead of dedicated video encodedecoders or AVX 512 that sits dark most of the time the OS can gin it up on demand. In a laptop or phone setting this could be a big improvement. If anybody has questions I'd be happy to answer. I'm sure there are a number of other posters here with a background in electronics and chip design who can weigh in as well.
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
Living 'low income' in the Bay Area. What's it really like? Can it be done?
Good evening guys, gals, and non-binary pals. I'm a potato with anxiety and I'm bad at intros but I might be your new neighbor soon? So hello from the other coast! I'm using my throw away reddit account because I haven't discussed this with my family yet. I'm currently in Washington, DC but I'm originally from Philadelphia (where Bad Things Happen) and I've lived all over but never farther west than Texas. My spouse has just been presented with the opportunity to relocate to San Jose for their job, with the other alternative being somewhere in the deep South. Staying in DC is not an option for multiple logistical reasons. Neither one of us wants to end up in the deep South again, we did that for several years in our 20s and I don't imagine Yankees are anymore welcome there now than we were 10 years ago. We joked we'd never live in a red state with hurricanes again but now my queer ass doesn't find it funny anymore because I'm just tired and scared and the homophobia and climate change are real. Both of us are in the service industry, my spouse in retail management and customer service and me in education and social services. Our friends and family, most of whom are in a completely different (higher) tax bracket than us are saying they don't think we could manage it. I get the concern because spoiler alert, the type of social work I can do without an MSW doesn't pay shit and retail right now has its own problems. But they said the same thing when we moved to DC and we've been relatively comfy during the pandemic on just my spouse's salary when I got laid off and FWIW, the housing costs in DC are nearly as bad as they are in the Bay Area. DC is the 5th most expensive city in the country but we've managed okay by making lifestyle adjustments, including selling our car and taking public transit and changing our eating habits. We also don't have kids but we do have pets. When we crunched the numbers, San Jose is apparently only 7% more expensive overall than DC but anything less than 100k a year is considered low-income for the Bay Area? I'd love an opinion on the accuracy of this from someone who doesn't make twice what we do in a year, lol. We used several COL calculators and resources but would still like to hear from actual people. My spouse currently makes 55k a year salaried, I was doing temp work at a rate of $15/hr before I got laid off but I would expect a similar salaried position might be about 25-30k a year where we are now. When I scanned indeed in SJ jobs similar to what I do now were paying $22-35/hr, so quite a range. We know there will be some kind of a COL adjustment to my spouse's pay but we don't know how much yet and I'll need to find work when we get there. We've always been the token poor friends, I think our friends and family take it for granted that things they might consider essential have always been a luxury or optional for us. I usually end up living in the areas where my clients most need services and I'm okay with that because it helps me build rapport that's important to the work I do. The perception that an area is low-income or higher crime doesn't phase either of us because we've lived our entire adult lives hood adjacent. We're basic af admittedly, we just like to cook and chill, we don't really go out much and we don't really spend money on non-essentials, although we do enjoy some electric lettuce here and there. We're also both eager af to get off the East coast right now so we're committed to doing what we need to do to make this work. Are we insane? Probably. But we don't take vacations because we're poor Millennials, so having a company foot the bill for us to move to a new state every few years is the next best thing. ;) So reddit, can it be done? What's it like to be low-income in the Bay Area? Can you realistically live in the area without a car as long as you're in the city (meaning San Jose, not SF)? I have no frame of reference at all so any insight you can offer about San Jose in particular would be appreciated. Thanks!
Gravity's Rainbow Reading Group | Sections 66-69 | Week 20
Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now... Section 66 "You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality. We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker (think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII. (An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.) Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems. We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface? But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany. I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before. Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice, as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers... Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy. Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust. Section 67 Man, how do I even start summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes. We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive. Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour." (674) How can you win at chess when there's no King? How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced? Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal. This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made - at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well. Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out - instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight. We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message. You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0. Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant. The Low-Frequency Listeners The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway. Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers... On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards" An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets. My Doper's Cadenza It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end. Shit 'n' Shinola Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle. We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural. An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next. This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet. A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be. Streets Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return. Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts. Listening to the Toilet As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War. Witty Repartee A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down... Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era. Some Characteristics of Imipolex G We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700) My gods, I made it through this section... Section 68 Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching. Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be. Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person... We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal. Tchitcherine's Haunting Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real - no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death. Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens - one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death. But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it or at least not using the weapon isn't even an option...). Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party. We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature? Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee. Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this,thank you. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections. Questions
In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
Retard Bot Update 2: What is there to show for six months of work?
What is there to show? Not shit, that's why I made this pretty 4K desktop background instead: 4K On the real: I've been developing this project like 6 months now, what's up? Where's that video update I promised, showing off the Bot Builder? Is an end in sight? Yes sort of. I back-tested 6 months of data at over 21% on a net SPY-neutral, six month span of time (with similar results on a 16 year span) including 2 bear, 2 bull, 2 crab months. But that's not good enough to be sure / reliable. I had gotten so focused on keeping the project pretty and making a video update that I was putting off major, breaking changes that I needed to make. The best quant fund ever made, the Medallion fund, was once capable of roughly 60% per year consistently, but in Retard Bot's case 1.5% compounded weekly. "But I make 60% on one yolo" sure whatever, can you do it again every year, with 100% of your capital, where failure means losing everything? If you could, you'd be loading your Lambo onto your Yacht right now instead of reading this autistic shit.
The End Goal
1.5% compounded weekly average is $25K -> $57M in 10 years, securing a fairly comfortable retirement for your wife's boyfriend. It's a stupidly ambitious goal. My strategy to pull it off is actually pretty simple. If you look at charts for the best performing stocks over the past 10 years, you'll find that good companies move in the same general trajectory more often than they don't. This means the stock market moves with momentum. I developed a simple equation to conservatively predict good companies movements one week into the future by hand, and made 100%+ returns 3 weeks in a row. Doing the math took time, and I realized a computer could do much more complex math, on every stock, much more efficiently, so I developed a bot and it did 100% for 3 consecutive weeks, buying calls in a bull-market. See the problem there? The returns were good but they were based on a biased model. The model would pick the most efficient plays on the market if it didn't take a severe downturn. But if it did, the strategy would stop working. I needed to extrapolate my strategy into a multi-model approach that could profit on momentum during all different types of market movement. And so I bought 16 years of option chain data and started studying the concept of momentum based quantitative analysis. As I spent more and more weeks thinking about it, I identified more aspects of the problem and more ways to solve it. But no matter how I might think to design algorithms to fundamentally achieve a quantitative approach, I knew that my arbitrary weights and variables and values and decisions could not possibly be the best ones.
Why Retard Bot Might Work
So I approached the problem from all angles, every conceivable way to glean reliably useful quantitative information about a stock's movement and combine it all into a single outcome of trade decisions, and every variable, every decision, every model was a fluid variable that machine learning, via the process of Evolution could randomly mutate until perfection. And in doing so, I had to fundamentally avoid any method of testing my results that could be based on a bias. For example, just because a strategy back-tests at 40% consistent yearly returns on the past 16 years of market movement doesn't mean it would do so for the next 16 years, since the market could completely end its bull-run and spend the next 16 years falling. Improbable, but for a strategy outcome that can be trusted to perform consistently, we have to assume nothing. So that's how Retard Bot works. It assumes absolutely nothing about anything that can't be proven as a fundamental, statistical truth. It uses rigorous machine learning to develop fundamental concepts into reliable, fine tuned decision layers that make models which are controlled by a market-environment-aware Genius layer that allocates resources accordingly, and ultimately through a very complex 18 step process of iterative ML produces a top contender through the process of Evolution, avoiding all possible bias. And then it starts over and does it again, and again, continuing for eternity, recording improved models when it discovers them.
The Current Development Phase
Or... That's how it would work, in theory, if my program wasn't severely limited by the inadequate infrastructure I built it with. When I bought 16 years of data, 2TB compressed to its most efficient binary representation, I thought I could use a traditional database like MongoDB to store and load the option chains. It's way too slow. So here's where I've ended up this past week: It was time to rip off the bandaid and rebuild some performance infrastructure (the database and decision stack) that was seriously holding me back from testing the project properly. Using MongoDB, which has to pack and unpack data up and down the 7 layer OSI model, it took an hour to test one model for one year. I need to test millions of models for 16 years, thousands of times over. I knew how to do that, so instead of focusing on keeping things stable so I could show you guys some pretty graphs n shit, I broke down the beast and started rebuilding with a pure memory caching approach that will load the options chains thousands of times faster than MongoDB queries. And instead of running one model, one decision layer at a time on the CPU, the new GPU accelerated decision stack design will let me run hundreds of decision layers on millions of models in a handful of milliseconds. Many, many orders of magnitude better performance, and I can finally make the project as powerful as it was supposed to be. I'm confident that with these upgrades, I'll be able to hit the goal of 60% consistent returns per year. I'll work this goddamn problem for a year if I have to. I have, in the process of trying to become an entrepreneur, planned project after project and given up half way through when it got too hard, or a partner quit, or someone else launched something better. I will not give up on this one, if it takes the rest of the year or five more. But I don't think it'll come to that. Even with the 20% I've already achieved, if I can demonstrate that in live trading, that's already really good, so there's not really any risk of real failure at this point. But I will, regardless, finish developing the vision I have for Retard Bot and Bidrate Renaissance before I'm satisfied.
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