Saturday, January 22, 2022

Horizon Zero Dawn: a very short review

For much of the last six months, one of my pandemic companions has been Horizon Zero Dawn, the richly-imagined, deeply-realized, beautifully-executed, eerily-compelling video game from the Dutch game developer Guerilla Games.

HZD is five years old at this point, as it was released in 2017. It was a Playstation exclusive at that point, and it quickly became known as one of the signature games for the PS4, and it was credited with substantially boosting PS4 sales.

I originally bought HZD for the PS4, and even tried it once or twice. But I find playing games on the PS4 directly to be hard. I find the Sony controller to be awkward and I've struggled to learn how to use it properly. It often slips out of my hands, and I don't have the coordination, sadly to execute multi-finger combination key sequences with fingers and thumbs of both hands simultaneously, with the result that, sadly, the controller generally ends up in a corner of the room and the (human) controller stomps away in frustration.

Over the years, my kids continued to play the game, and would regularly tell me and show me how wonderful it was, so every so often I'd pick up the controller and try again, only to set it down again.

But in late 2020, Guerrilla released a PC version of the game, and my interest was rekindled.

I don't know, in detail, how the PC version differs from the Playstation version, but I can certainly tell you that the PC version is just gorgeous! It's essentially bug-free, very very stable, very responsive on my six-year-old PC, and oh so very much fun to play.

The overall story arc of Horizon Zero Dawn is quite well known, and you can read about it everywhere, so I encourage you to do so. The game executes that story extraordinarily well, immersing you in a world that is both foreign and familiar, real and yet fantastic, current and yet remote.

As the story is unveiled, and you begin to put the pieces together, the decisions you make as you play take on more and more importance, and you quickly find yourself in something that's much, much more than just a hack-and-slash typical adventure game of quests and monsters.

The story comes to a very interesting conclusion, which will certainly leave you thinking about our modern world, and its modern technology, for quite a long time.

For me, it's hard to decide on a tie breaker, but I think by a slight margin the best quest was Maker's End, where you learn all about Elizabet Sobeck and her relationship with Ted Faro, and the second best quest was The Mountain That Fell, where you learn all the details of the great betrayal and its consequences.

The collectables quests that I most enjoyed were the Banuk figurines, because I loved the mountain climbing and ropes courses, and the Vantages, because again I loved the world exploring. The Vantages quests also provide the loveliest alternate plot line, I think.

And I can't stop without observing that the Frozen Wilds DLC, which came bundled in the PC version I bought, is far and away the most visually appealing of the world landscapes to me. The snowy peaks and valleys and the lovely color pallette of whites and blues and grays combined with some very different background music made that section of the game really immersive to me. The DLC also has the single most appealing location to me, namely the enormous dam and waterworks with its deep underground areas.

Lovely game, through and through. I really, really enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Death at La Fenice: a very short review

I'm, as usual, exactly 30 years late to the party, but let me just be one of the most recent to tell you about Donna Leon and her lovely series of detective novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police.

The first in the (wow! 31!) novels in the series is Death at La Fenice.

As the first novel, it spends a certain amount of time helping us get to know the major characters, including Brunetti, his wife Paola, and his various other colleagues on the Venice Police.

Death at La Fenice is a lovely detective novel by itself: never rushed, never forced, never awkward or clumsy. Leon's tale proceeds through both time and space as Brunetti's investigation leads him to explore how events in wartime Germany continue to affect Italy today.

As so many other reviewers have remarked, the best part of Leon's books is how Venice comes alive. Leon, an American writer, talks of the city with a tenderness and respect borne of her own many years living there, and lets us see Venice through her eyes.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Wordle

I really enjoy Wordle.

But somehow, my brain is busted from years of playing games like Jotto and Mastermind as a child, so I keep making dumb mistakes.

Today, for example, I got stuck because I thought that Wordle's word list did not allow repeated letters; that is, that a valid Wordle word was five distinct letters.

I, of course, was wrong. Repeated letters are in fact allowed in Wordle.

And that's true of Jotto, also, I guess, although in my family I recall that we disallowed repeated letters in our secret words (though, importantly, not in the guess words). Wikipedia notes that this was a common "table rules" decision when playing Jotto. And the version that MentalFloss describes was quite strict about the no-repeated-letters rule.

I guess I'm not the only person who sees Wordle in this historical context: Wordle’s massively popular (Jewish) predecessors

I am a child of the 60's, after all (though not Jewish).

My parents played Mental Jotto with me as well; it was quite the mental workout! We didn't take walks to the synagogue, but, living in Southern California, we did often find ourselves going on multi-hour drives (that's what Southern Californians do for fun, after all), and Mental Jotto definitely passed the time! Clearly we weren't the only ones who did this.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Dead and Company winter tour upheaval

Bill the drummer has a Twitter account? How did I not know this?

Bummer of a way to find out, though.

And John Mayer is ill as well, oh dear.

I'd never heard of Tom Hamilton before, although my tour buddies are quite familiar with him, as they've seen Joe Russo's Almost Dead multiple times.

Chasing those links led me to see that JRAD are headlining the High Sierra Music Festival. This looks great! Maybe I should check it out next summer? (Check out the Guidelines for important Hula-Hoop information!)

I bet Quincy is wicked hot in late June, but I've been there before in the summer and, being at moderate elevation (3500'), it was lovely in the evenings, and even pretty decent in late afternoon.

Gotta keep on truckin...

UPDATE Now they're starting to cancel the shows. They haven't canceled the entire tour yet, but ...

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Project Zero on the iMessage zero-click exploit

Three months after Apple released the patch for the exploit, the Project Zero team have released a fabulous detailed description of how it worked: A deep dive into an NSO zero-click iMessage exploit: Remote Code Execution.

The Project Zero team, who most certainly have seen it all, dryly observe:

Based on our research and findings, we assess this to be one of the most technically sophisticated exploits we've ever seen

This is an extraordinarily interesting article, well worth a read. (And note that it's only part of the overall explanation; the Project Zero team promise further details in the future.)

They provide a wealth of background links and reference material as well.

Highly recommended.

Friday, December 10, 2021

WCC 2021 is complete

... and Magnus Carlsen is World Chess Champion for two more years.

After a quiet draw in the previous match, Ian Nepomniachtchi had the white pieces, and with his back completely against the wall he had to take some chances. In a wild sequence starting around move 19, Nepo forced the relatively closed position open, after which Carlsen quickly saw that he could sacrifice the exchange for a ferocious attack. 15 moves later, Nepo had defended against the attack, but ended up in a hopeless endgame which Carlsen won with seeming ease.

It was a wonderful match, overall, with many beautiful games.

And it was very exciting to see how the worldwide interest in chess continues to grow!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Up, up, and away

As I noted just three weeks ago, the first test of the new Millenium Tower stabilization procedures was completed and "a second test will follow".

Not a promising early result from the new test, though: SF Millennium Tower Tilts Quarter Inch in Four Days

Newly released monitoring data shows that San Francisco’s Millennium Tower tilted a quarter inch during the four days it took to install the first test pile to bedrock last month.

...

The latest data – including the four days that the test pile was installed from Nov. 15 to Nov. 19 – shows a quarter inch of new tilt, as well as a tenth of an inch of settlement at the time the test installation occurred. At the same time, there was marked fluctuation of water pressure below the foundation on the Mission Street side of the structure.

...

While the data shows plunging pressure level quickly came back up, Pyke said the brief loss would likely generate settlement.

...

“You can accidentally remove soil that you want to stay in place,” said Rune Storesund, a geotechnical engineer who runs UC Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. He says the water pressure data suggests engineers could clearly do more to refine their methods. “You’re always going to get settlement, obviously you want that to be as low as possible.”

It's not like they didn't expect there would be some impact; they're just discussing how substantial the measured impact was.

I guess that if the building settles evenly, that's the most important thing; the tilt is far more of a challenge than the settling.

Not that this is easy, but it sure would be nice if the overall result were successful.