I've just read a medical article that seems to be what we have been looking for since this whole Covid thing started: an detailed explanation of what it does in the body. And no, it didn't come from doctors in lab coats, it came from a supercomputer analysing statistical data. Take that, humans! Anyway... First of all, read the article: A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged. And before you go all "Oh, it's on Medium! I don't go to that crap, they use a paywall!", know that this is a free article. (also you can read anything on Medium if it seems to be coming from Twitter)

  Long story short (you should really read the article, though) is that the virus binds to the ACE2 receptors - and degrades them, then tricks the body to make even more ACE2 receptors (even in organs that normally don't express them as much) to get even more virus in. The virus also tweaks the renin–angiotensin system  which leads to a Bradykinin storm which causes multiple symptoms consistent with what is seen in hospitals and leaves many a doctor stumped: dry cough, blood pressure changes, leaky blood vessels, a gel filling one's lungs (making ventilators ineffective), tiredness, dizziness and even loss of smell and taste. Also, because of a genetic quirk of the X chromosome, women are less affected, which also is shown in statistical data on severe cases.

  Quoting from the article: several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once it’s already in the body.

  Good stuff, people! Good stuff! The person responsible for this is Daniel A Jacobson and his research assistants should take all the credit! Just kidding.

  But how new is this? Bradykinin is not an unknown peptide and we have known from the very beginning what ACE does and that Covid binds to it. My limited googling shows doctors noticing this as soon as the middle of March. In fact, the original article that the Medium article is based on is from July 7! Here is a TheScientist take on it: Is a Bradykinin Storm Brewing in COVID-19?

  For more info, here is a long video talking about the paper: Bradykinin Storm Instead of Cytokine Storm?


  If you really are into medicine, check this very short but very technical video about Bradykinin, from where I also stole the image for this post: Bradykinin | Let the Drama begin!


  I hope this provided you with some hope and a starting point for more research of your own.

  I didn't want to write about this. Not because of a false sense of security, but because everybody else talked about it. They all have opinions, most of them terribly wrong, but for me to join the fray and tell the world what I think is right would only put me in the same category as them. So no, I abstained. However, there are some things so wrong, so stupidly incorrect, that I can't maintain this silence. So let's begin.

  "The flu", "a cold" are not scientific, they are popular terms and they all relate to respiratory infectious diseases caused by a variety of viruses and sometimes bacteria or a combination thereof. Some of them affect us on a seasonal basis, some of them do not. Rhinoviruses are the ones most often associated with the common cold and they are seasonal. However, a whooping 15% of what is commonly called "a cold" comes from coronaviruses, thus named because of their crown-like shape. Influenza viruses, what we would normally call "flu" are a completely different type of virus. In other words, Covid-19 is more a common cold than a flu, but it's not the seasonal type. Stop wishful thinking that it will all go away with the summer. It will not. Other famous coronavirus diseases are SARS and MERS. The SARS epidemic lasted until July, the MERS epidemic spreaded just fine in the Middle Eastern summer weather. This will last. It will last for months from the moment I am writing this blog. This will be very important for the next section of the post.

  Also, there is something called the R-naught (R0), the rate with which a virus spreads to other people. It predicts, annoyingly accurate, how a disease is going to progress. This virus has an R0 probably twice as high as that of the influenza virus, which we all get, every fucking year. Draw your own conclusions.

  The only reason we got rid of SARS and MERS is because they are only infectious after the symptoms are apparent and the symptoms are pretty damn apparent. Covid-19 is very infectious even before the first cough, when people feel just fine. Surely masks will help, then? Not unless they are airtight. Medical masks are named so because medics use them in order to not cough or spit or breathe inside a patient, maybe during surgery. The air that the doctor breathes comes from the sides of the mask. So if you get sick and you wear the mask it will help the people that have not met you while you had no symptoms yet.

  Washing the hands is always good. It gets rid of all kind of crap. The primary medium of spreading Covid-19 is air, so you can wash your hands as often as you'd like, it helps very little with that. Stopping touching your face does little good, either. There is a scenario when someone coughs in their hand, touches something, then you touch it, then you pick your nose. Possible, so it's not all worthless, it's just statistically insignificant. What I am saying is that washing your hands and not touching yourself decreases the probability a very small amount. That being said, masturbation does increase the activity of your immune system, so be selective when you touch yourself.

  The idea that old people are the only ones affected is a myth. Age statistically correlates with harsher symptoms because it also correlates with negative health conditions. In other words, people with existing health conditions will be most affected. This includes smokers, obese people, people with high blood pressure, asthma and, of course, fucking old people. The best way to prepare for a SARS-Cov-2 virus (the latest "official" name) is to stay in good health. That means healthy food, less alcohol, no smoking and keeping a healthy weight. So yes, I am fucked, but at least I will die happy... oh, no, I am out of gin!!

  Medically, the only good strategy is to develop a vaccine as soon as possible and distribute it everywhere. It will lead quicker and with less casualties to the inevitable end of this pandemic: when more people are immune than those who are not. This will happen naturally after we all get infected and get healthy (or die). All of the news of people who got sick after getting healthy are artefacts of defective testing. All of it! Immunity does not work like that. You either got rid of it and your body knows how to defend itself or you never had it or you had something else or somebody tested you wrong.

  That being said, fuck all anti-vaxxers. You are killing people, you assholes!

  Personally, the best you can do is keep hydrated and eat in a balanced way. You need proteins and zinc and perhaps vitamin C (not sure about that). Warm bone broths will be good. Zinc you get from red meat and plant seeds. There was a report of drinking green tea being negatively correlated with influenza infections (different virus, though). And don't start doing sport now, if you haven't been doing it already, you can't get the pig fat one day before Christmas. Sport is actually decreasing the efficiency of your immune system.

  This is the end of the medical section of this post. There is nothing else. Probiotics won't help, Forsythia won't help, antibiotics will certainly not help. The only thing that fights the virus right now is your immune system, so just help it out. If there was a cure for the common cold you wouldn't get it each year every year.

  But it's not over. Because of people. When people panic, bad things happen. And by panic, I mean letting their emotions get the better of them, I mean not thinking people, not zombie hordes, although sometimes the difference is academic.

  Closing schools and workplaces and public places has one beneficial effect: it makes the infection rate go down. It doesn't stop the spread, it doesn't stop the disease, it just gives more time to the medical system to deal with the afflicted. But at the same time, it closes down manufacturing, supply chains, it affects the livelihood of entire categories of people. So here is where governments should step in, to cover financially the losses these people have to endure. You need money for medical supplies and for keeping healthy. Think of it as sponsoring immune systems.

  The alternative, something we are seeing now in paranoid countries, is closing down essential parts of national economies with no compensation. This is the place and time for an honest cost vs. gain analysis. Make sure the core of your nation is functioning. This is not one of those moments when you play dead for a few minutes and the bear leaves (or falls down next to you because he really likes playing that game). This is something that needs to work for months, if not a year or more. This is not (and never was) a case of stopping a disease, but of managing its effects. Some people are going to die. Some people are going to get sick and survive. Some lucky bastards will cough a few times and go on with their day. Society and the economical system that sustains it must go on, or we will have a lot more problems than a virus.

  Speaking of affected professions, the most affected will be medical personnel. Faced day in and day out with SARS-Cov-2 infections they will get infected in larger numbers than the regular population. Yes, they will be careful, they will wear masks and suits and whatever, but it won't help. Not in a statistical way, the only way we must think right now. It's a numbers game. It's no longer about tragedies, it's about statistics, as Stalin used to say. And these people are not regular people. They've been in school for at least a decade before they can properly work in a hospital where Covid-19 patients will be admitted. You lose one of these, you can't easily replace them. Especially in moron countries like my own, where the medical system is practically begging people to leave work in other countries. The silver lining is that probably, at the end of the outbreak, there will be a lot more medical people available, since they went through the disease and emerged safe and immune. But there is a lot of time between now and then.

  Closing borders is probably the most idiotic thing one can do, with perhaps the exception of countries that had real problems with immigration before. If sick people don't crowd your borders in order to take advantage of your medical system, closing borders is just dumb. The virus is already in, the only thing you are stopping is the flow of supplies to handle the disease. Easter is coming. People from all over the world will just move around chaotically to spend this religious holiday with their family. It will cause a huge spike in the number of sick people and will probably prompt some really stupid actions taken by governments all over the place. One could argue that religion is dumb at all times, but right now it makes no difference. It's just an acceleration of a process that is already inevitable, Easter or no Easter.

  Statistics again: look at the numbers and you will see that countries get an increase of 30% in infected cases every day. It's an exponential curve. It doesn't care about your biases, your myths, your hopes, your judging. It just grows. China will get infection cases as soon as travelling restrictions relax. Consider the ridiculous situation where one somehow protected their country against infection when the whole of the world went through a global pandemic. It doesn't even matter. It's not even healthy, as sooner or later that virus will affect only them. The best they can do is manage the situation, bottleneck it so that the medical system can cope with it.

  Do you know what the most important supply chain is in this situation? Medical supplies. A lot of countries get these from China and India. Because they are cheaper. So they can sell them to you at ten times the prices and make those immense profits that generated the name Big Pharma. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's common knowledge. What do you think happens when you close your borders with China and India?

  In this situation, the globally economy will stagger. It will be worse than the 2008 crisis. But while that was a crisis generated by artificial and abstract concepts that affected the real economy, that of people working for other people, this one comes as real as it gets, where people can't work anymore. That means less money, less resources, scarcity of some resources, less slack to care of the old and sick in your family. It's a lose-lose situation: the most affected by the pandemic will be affected either by people not being able to care for them or people giving them the disease while caring for them because they must make much more effort and human contact to get the supplies needed. Now, some countries can somehow handle that by employing a healthy transport infrastructure and care system, but in others, where they can barely handle normal quantities of sick people that come to hospitals themselves, they will never be able to cover, even if they wanted to, the effort to give supplies to previously affected people.

  So does that mean you have to go to the supermarket and get all the supplies you might need for months to come? I am afraid to say that it does. The reasonable way to handle this is for the governments of the world to ensure supply and financial support for everybody. Then people wouldn't need to assault shops to get the last existing supplies. If you can trust your government to do that, by all means, trust you will always have a nearby shop to sell you the goods you need to stay alive and health. But I ask you this: if you got to the farmacy and bought their entire stock of some medicine that you might need and then you hear your neighbor, the person you greeted every day when you got to work, died because they couldn't get that medicine, what then? What if you hear they need the medicine now? Will you knock at their door and offer it to them? Maybe at five time the price? Or maybe for free? What if you are the neighbor?

  And you hear that some country has isolated the virus and are making a vaccine. Oh, it's all over, you think. But before they even start mass producing it, they need to test it. People will die because of how overcautious and bureaucratic the system is. People will die when corners are cut. People will die either way. It will take time either way. This thing will be over, but not soon. After they make it, you will still have to get it. That means supply chains and money to buy things.

  Bottom line: it's all about keeping systems going. In your body, the immune system has to be working to fight the disease. In your country, the economy must be working in order to handle the effects of the disease. Fake cures and home remedies are just as damaging as false news of the crisis not being grave, getting over soon or going away by itself.

  Here is a video from a medical professional that is saying a lot of the things I've listed here:


  One more thing: consider how easy it was for this panic to lead to countries announcing national emergency, a protocol that gives extraordinary powers to the government. A few dead here, a few sick there, and suddenly the state has the right to arrest your movement, to detain you unconditionally, to close borders, to censor communications. Make sure that when this is over, you get every single liberty back. No one it going to return freedom to you out of their own good will.


Istanbul is a beautiful lie. You are being served, begged of, you can haggle any price and no one will get upset, you are a king among serfs, everything is ancient, colorful and traditional. But as you walk around in the high but pleasant sea-side heat you can't help but wonder: how high was that initial price if you can lower it again and again and again? How are you a king while walking in the most populous city of one of the most powerful countries in the region? Why are there armored cars here and there, watching you while you unsuccessfully try to reach Wikipedia on your cell phone in Democracy Park? How can all these traditional shops sell the exact same thing all over the city? Why are there so many types of tea in the bazaar, but when you go to a cafe they only serve one?

Now, I enjoyed my visit to Istanbul. My hotel was sub par, but I didn't care about it too much because the staff was doing their best to be accommodating. Yet there are some things I would have liked to know before going there. Here are my thoughts.


The first thing to consider when going to Istanbul is if you want to rent a car. The answer to this is "I do not want to rent a car, because I want to survive this vacation". The driving is chaotic and the roads are steep and crowded. Most of the time you don't even want to take cabs. People cross the street randomly and there are scooters that speed onto any temporarily free surface. Yet, except a motorcycle guy that probably died on the freeway, I have not seen even a car bump in this mess. To be a driver in Istanbul is both a badge of honor and skill and a psychiatric condition. You've been warned!

The second thing you need is select the part of Istanbul you want to be based in, because the city is vast and split by the sea into three parts: two in Europe and one in Asia. If you are a touristy kind of person, go to the Sultanahmet, Eminonu side. If you want more authenticity, real people living their lives, go to the Asian side, while the other European side is more for the city lifestyle and shopping, like in Taksim square. I haven't been to the modern part of the city, but from afar the buildings there look tall and beautiful and I am told it's great, too.

You've got to be careful choosing your hotel. Istanbul is so chocked with them that when you look at the map you feel that you have not zoomed in enough. In fact every building in some areas is a hotel and all that separates them are small windy one car streets: no side walk, no parking spaces, no green space. You have to pay attention to the pictures of the hotel, to how may rows of windows they have, for example. It will tell you how tall they really are and how many windows your room will have. A lot of these places have large lobbies and terraces, but it's where you enter the hotel and where you get breakfast in the morning, while your room might have just a window overlooking a fence. I've seen rooms that had no windows. So it is vital you speak directly to the hotel and discuss the conditions of your rooms (do not trust they will get the information from Booking or act on it). It's not that they want to cheat you, but everything in Istanbul is negotiable. You need to speak to an actual person. The city abhors algorithms.

One more important thing is your infrastructure. You need information and transportation. In Istanbul a lot of transportation works with an IstanbulKart, an electronic card you can put money on and then pay for trams, buses, ferries, etc. Cabs, of course, are different. Careful with the cabs: you might get a perfectly good one from the airport, with a meter and a credit card reader, then get another that only accepts cash and you must negotiate the price. Now, it might feel like a waste, but I recommend you get one kart for each person. While you can very well use only one for an entire group, I got into the situation where my wife passed and I didn't, so she had to wait until I found a recharging station and had to negotiate with the Turkish only interface.

That gets me to the information portion: Turkey is not in the EU. That means that calls and SMS messages are very expensive and probably mobile Internet as well. While most shops have WiFi, when you are on the road you need Internet. If you have a dual SIM phone (and even if you don't) I recommend you buy a prepaid Turkish card for your Internet and local calls. I didn't do that, so I got stuck a lot of times. As so many translation systems work online, too, I think it's a good idea. Everything in Istanbul is in Turkish, with occasional afterthoughts about other languages. People there know very little English and when they do, you are not sure if they understood what you told them or they simply don't want to appear stupid.

The fun

The fun is all on you! I won't tell you what is good and what is not, because not one of the people that prepared me for my trip had an experience even close to mine. It's not that I am special, but people really are different and Istanbul provides differently depending on your style. What I can tell you is that it is a city worth visiting, but perhaps not for the usual reasons. It feels different. It's not a clone of all the other cities I've been to. It really has its own culture, it's not overwhelmed with the same multinational corporations, it doesn't have banks and pharmacies everywhere, and the lack of rules (or the difference in them) opens the mind to possibilities.

For me the mosques were all the same, the palaces were just buildings with old furniture in them, the museums collections of objects with little life to them. For example I went to the Royal Kitchens in Topkapi; there was nothing to reflect the life that went on there. Just random kitchen implements nicely ordered inside transparent cages. I didn't find the haggling with shop owners pleasant or the ice cream seller antics entertaining. The food was nice, but not extraordinary. The bazaars were full of shops that sold the exact same things. I couldn't get close to a shop without someone harassing me about buying or entering. These are not the reasons why I enjoyed Istanbul.

Instead, it was the weird combination of new and old, of people living their lives differently, the all present sea breeze which made the heat bearable. It was the way people did all of these annoying things and yet I felt no malice from or toward them. It all felt viscerally eternal, like this city had the power to survive the world encroaching on it.

I don't know, maybe you just need to have played Quest for Glory II to feel this way. Or maybe it's just me. I don't think I would want to return soon, but it's an experience I recommend. And now, try to get this out of your head:

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari is one of those isekai animes where a normal Japanese boy is summoned in a magical realm to fight monsters. Once there, he realizes that the world and his character work exactly as in a fantasy video game, complete with items with upgradeable stats, waves of monsters and revealing female armor. He is summoned there with three other heroes, also from Japan, only from alternate universes, each of the heroes having their own magical item that defines their style. His item is a shield and immediately he notices that he is treated differently, with all honors given to the other three and only disgust for him. Long story short, he is forced to hone his skills through his will and efforts alone, while the others, spoiled by their environment, make no effort and therefore level up less.

I liked this anime and I will continue to watch it, although it's a bit ridiculous. I've read the manga as well, which is also new, and there are slight differences in the sense that the anime is a little more serious. If you want a mindless game like experience in anime form, go for it. Here is a trailer:

Violet Evergarden is set in a steampunk universe in which technology, other than metal prosthetics, is at the 19th century level, and the main character is a girl that was used as an elite child soldier in a terrible war who now has to find a purpose in a civilian life. She takes on the job of a "auto memory doll", a person who needs to put into words the feelings of others. That's a bit of a stretch, because she doesn't know how to feel herself... it's like me taking on a job in psychology or artistic design so as to learn a new skill. Certainly great for me, but kind of sucks for my employer!

Anyway, the animation is really well done and the acting is top notch. The story itself is beautiful, even if at times inconsistent. After watching the 14 episodes of the first season, I was itching for more, only to hear from a colleague that the studio responsible for the animation, Kyoto Animation, was destroyed in a terrible arson attack. That doesn't bode well for a sequel, yet a spin-off film had already been announced, so who knows?

Bottom line: it's not for everyone. PTSD romance, I would call it. But it nicely animated and I liked the story. I felt that the characters were a bit off, but not annoyingly so. Here is a trailer, in English:

The talk is a bit overreaching, doing more things than it should have tried to do, in other words not very efficient, but it contains some really interesting ideas and it's extremely well articulated. As a software developer, I always thrive for efficiency, but what Margaret Heffernan says is that efficiency is good only when the future is predictable. In a fast changing world (and getting faster), efficiency doesn't just not help, it makes things worse. Sometimes you can't plan, but you can prepare.

As expected, I wasn't as interested in the humanistic part of the talk as I was in the technical aspects: algorithmic efficiency is only good with things that can be measured. If you want to innovate or to adapt, it's trial and error that works best. I got that giddiness I get when people tell me "you can't do THAT in software!". Oh, ye of little faith! But there is something there, something extremely useful, a tool that I can use whenever I get stuck in logic loops or some manager tells me that he needs data in order to make a decision about the project that would generate the data.

Margaret Heffernan: The human skills we need in an unpredictable world

I was browsing the selection of films on HBO Go and I have to say, for someone who is used to the options available on torrent sites, the films and series that are available there are both incredibly diverse and woefully inadequate. But if there is something that I am grateful for with that particular network, it is Billy Crystal's autobiographical play. It's called 700 Sundays and it is everything I have come to love about actor biographies... in video format. Within two hours of wonderful acting and playwriting, Billy finds the way to tell the story of his childhood, adolescence and adulthood without once getting into the things we actually know him for: acting, comedy, Hollywood. It's so wonderfully personal that is feels a bit too intimate, like someone describing in detail their love life.

Boy, does this guy love. There is this cliche about comedians that are essentially depressed and fight it, for a while, with humor, until their inevitable depression and subsequent suicide. Billy Crystal is nothing like that! He owns every scene, he fights for his audience and he is proud of his legacy. He is blessed, even while he mourns the death of his parents, because while they were alive, they loved him with all their strength and while he is alive, love is what defines him.

Bottom line: it is two hours of wonder. Whether you watch it on HBO Go or download it from somewhere, it is a must, it is absolutely necessary that you watch what a 67 year old master of storytelling and comedy will make out of his life story. I like biographies and this it one of the best, created in the medium Crystal feels most at home: stand up comedy.

I was half expecting the show to be freely available on YouTube or something similar, but in this day and age, quality is always behind some paywall. I leave you with a trailer to the show and I urge you to see it:

In 2015 I was so happy to hear that Cory and Lori Cole, game designers for the Sierra Entertainment company, were doing games again, using Kickstarter to fund their work. Particularly I was happy that they were doing something very similar to Quest for Glory, which was one of my very favorite game series ever. Well, the game was finally released in the summer of 2018 and I just had to play it. Short conclusion: I had a lot of fun, but not everything was perfect.

The game is an adventure role playing game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and it's about a small time thief who meets a mysterious bearded figure right after he successfully breaks into a house and steals, as per contract, a "lucky coin". The man gives him the opportunity to stop thieving and instead enroll into Hero University as a Rogue, rogues being a kind of politically correct thieves, taking from the rich and giving to the poor and all that. You spend the next 40-50 hours playing this kid in the strange university and finally getting to be a hero.

You have to understand that I was playing the Quest for Glory games, set in the same universe as Hero-U, when I was a kid. My love for the series does not reflect only the quality of the games, the humor, the nights without Internet where I had to figure out by myself how to solve a puzzle so that I could brag to my friends who were doing the same at the time, but the entire experience of discovery and wonder that was childhood. My memories of the Sierra games are no doubt a lot better than the games themselves and any attempt of doing something similar was doomed to harsh criticism. So, did the Coles destroy my childhood?

Nope. Hero U was full of puns and entertainment and rekindled the emotions I had playing QfG. I recommend it! But it won't get away from criticism, so here it is.

Update: I've finished the game again, going for the "epic" achievement called Perfect Prowler, which requires you don't kill anything. I recommend this as the start game because, if you think about it a bit, it's the easier way to finish the game. To not kill anything you need to sneak past enemies, meaning maxing your stealth. To defeat your enemies (which is also NOT the rogue way as taught at the university) you need to have all sorts of defenses, combat skills, magical weapons or runes, etc. By focusing on stealth you actually focus on the story, even if sometimes it is annoying to try to get past flying skulls for ten minutes, saving and reloading repeatedly, until your stealth is high enough. Some hints for people doing this:
  1. Sleeping powder is your friend, as it instantly makes an enemy unresponsive and does not alert other enemies that are standing right next to them
  2. Sleeping powder works on zombies, for some reason
  3. Demolishing a wall with a Big Boom while guards are sleeping next to it does not hurt said guards, even better, they magically disappear letting you plunder the entire room
  4. If someone else kills your enemy, you didn't kill anything :)
  5. The achievement says you have to not kill things, you can attack them at your leisure as long as you flee or use some other methods to escape

Anyway, the second run made me even more respectful towards the creators of the game, as they thought of so many contingencies to allow you to not get stuck whatever style of play you have. And this on a game that had so many production issues. Congratulations, Transolar!

And now for the original analysis:

What is great about the game is that it makes you want to achieve as much as possible in a rather subtle way. It doesn't show you X points out of Y the way old Sierra games did, but it always hints of the possibility of doing more if you only "apply yourself". Yes, it feels very much like a school. And I liked it. What's wrong with me?

I liked the design of the game, although I wish there was a way to just open a door you often go through, rather than click on the door and then choose Open from the list of possible and useless options like Listen on the door or Look at the door. I liked that you had a lot of actions for the objects in the game, which made it costly to just explore every possible option, but also satisfying to find one that works in your favor.

And the game is big! A lot of decisions, a lot of characters and areas to explore, a lot of quests and a lot of puns. Although, in truth, even if I loved the QfG series for their puns, in Hero-U it feels like they tried a little bit too much. In fact, I will write a lot about what I didn't like, but those are general things that are easy to point out. The beautiful part is in the small details that are much harder to describe (and not spoil).

The biggest issue I had with the game was the time limits. The story takes the hero through a semester of 50 days at the university and he has to do as much as possible in that time. This was good. It makes for a challenge, it forces you to manage the time you have to choose one or the other of several options. You can't just train fighting skills for weeks and then start killing critters. However, each day has several other time limits, mainly breakfast/class, supper and sleep. You may be in the depths of the most difficult dungeon, took you hours to get there, if it's supper time, your "hero" will instantly find his way back so he can grab some grub. You don't have the option to skip meals or a night's sleep, which would have been great as an experience and very little effort in development, as he already has "tired", "hungry", "injured" and other states that influence his skills.

This takes me to the general issue of linearity of story. The best QfG games were wonderful because you had so many options of what you could do: you could explore, do optional side quests that had little or nothing to do with the main story, solve puzzles in a multitude of ways (since in those games you got to choose your class). Hero-U feels very linear to me: a lot of timed quests with areas that only open up after specific events that have nothing to do with you, the items you get at the store change to reflect the point in time you are in, a choice of girls and boys to flirt with, but really only one will easily respond to your attempts at romance, the only possible ending with variations so small as to make them irrelevant and so on. And many a time it is terribly frustrating to easily find a hidden door or secret passage, but be unable to do anything with it until "it's time". You carry these big bombs with you, but when you get to a blocked door you can't just demolish it. I already mentioned the many options you have to interact with random objects in the game, but the vast majority of them are useless and inconsistent. QfG had some of these issues, too, though.

An interesting concept are the elective classes, which are so easy to miss it's ridiculous. Do not miss the chance (as I did) to do science, magic or healing. It reminds me of QfG games you played as a fighter and then started them again as a mage or thief. The point is to take all your tests (and since you get the results a few days later) you need to know your stuff (i.e. read the text of the lectures and understand what the teachers are saying). Unfortunately, the classes don't do much to actually help you. Science gives you a lot of traps and explosives, healing gives you a lot of potions and pills and magic gives you sense magic and some runes. You can easily finish the game without any of them and it is always annoying to have to run from the end of your classes (at 14:00) and reach the elective classroom on another floor, having to dodge Terk and also considering that you might want to do work in the lock room, practice room, library, recreation room and reception, all in one hour (you have to get to the class by 15:00). And the elective eats two hours of your time, just in time for (the mandatory) dinner.

And then there is the plot itself. I had a hard time getting immersed in a story where young people learn at a university teachers know is infested with dangerous creatures that students fight, but do nothing to either stop or optimize the process. Instead, everybody knows about the secret passages, the areas, but pretend they do not. Students never party up to do a quest together. There are other classes in the university, not only Rogues learn there, but you never meet them. Each particular rogue student has a very personal reason to be in the university, which makes me feel it's amazing that the class has seven students; in other years there must have been a maximum of two. You get free food from all over the world, but you have to buy your own school supplies. There are two antagonists that really have absolutely no power over you, no back story, and you couldn't care less that they exist. Few of the characters in the game are sympathetic or even have believable motivations.

Bottom line: I remembered what it was like when I was a child playing these games and enjoyed a few days of great fun. I felt like the story could have had more work done so that we care about the characters more and have more ways to play the game. The limits often felt very artificial and interrupted me from being immersed in the fantastic world. It felt like a Quest for Glory game, but not the best ones.

It is worth remembering that this game is the first since the 1990s when the creators were working in Sierra Games. They overcame a lot of new hurdles and learned a lot to make Hero-U. The next installments or other games will surely go more smoothly both in terms of story and playability. I have a lot of trust in them.

Some notes:
  • There is a Hero-U Student Handbook in PDF form.
  • Time is very important. It pays to save, explore an area, reload and go directly where you need to go.
  • Stealth is useful. There is an epic achievement to finish the game without killing anything. That feels a bit extreme, but it also shows that items and combat skills may be less relevant than expected.
  • Exams are important: save and pass the exams so you can get elective classes. I felt like every part of the story was excessively linear except elective classes which you can even miss completely because you get no help with them from the teachers or the game mechanism.
  • Some doors towards the end cannot be opened and are reserved for future installments of the series.
  • You can lose a lot of time in the catacombs for no good reason. Don't be ashamed to create and use a map of the rooms.

I leave you with a gameplay video:

This guy can write! I mean, Peter Brannen is writing about paleontology and climate change and the words just sing to you, make you see worlds that we actually know very little about and feel for ammonoids like there would be the cutest kittens, looking at you with big eyes and begging not to get extinct. As someone who wants to write himself someday, I really hate this guy. He is that good.

That being said, The Ends of the World is a book about the major extinctions in Earth's history, their causes and how they relate to our present lives. It's a captivating read, evoking lost worlds and very carefully analyzing how they disappeared and why. There is humor, drama, interesting interviews with fascinating people. Dinosaurs? Puh-lease. This takes you back to the good old days of the Ediacaran and slowly brings you around our time and even speculates on what could come after us, the hubris filled species that, geologically speaking, was barely born yesterday - or a few seconds ago, depending on how you measure it - and has the chance to outshine all the other species that came, ruled and went.

There is no way I can do it justice other than to say that I loved the book. In itself it's a summary of life on Earth so summarizing it myself would be pointless. I highly recommend it.

Here is the author, presenting his book at Google Talks:

There is this channel I am subscribed to, with various people discussing or demonstrating software development concepts, with various degrees of success. I want to tell you about this series called CSS3 in 30 Days which is very well organized and presented by a clearly talking and articulate developer, Brad Hussey. He's nice, he's Canadian.

And before you go all "I am a software programmer, not a web designer", try watching it for a bit. Personally I am sure I would have solved a lot of what he demos using Javascript. Changing your perspective is a good thing. Note it is about CSS3, which had quite a few improvements over the classical CSS you may know already.

Here is the first "day" of the tutorial:

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is the film that banks on the hunger of Alchemists all over the world after the Brotherhood series ended. It is not a sequel, just a full feature film happening sometime around the 21st episode of the series. The story is complicated: three nations in turmoils, alchemy of all sorts, chimeras and in the middle of it all: Ed and Al, fighting for what is right.

I liked the story, it hit a lot of sour points of the present, with large nations literally shitting on smaller ones, while they can only maintain their dignity by hanging on old myths that give them moral rights over some God forsaken territory. What I didn't particularly enjoy were the characters and the details of the plot. There were many holes and, in all, no sympathetic characters. The few promising ones were only barely sketched, while the main ones were kind of dull. The animation also felt lazy. If this was supposed to be a send off for the characters, it exceeded its purpose, as now I am considering if I would have even enjoyed a series made in such a lazy way.

So, bottom line, part cash grab, part great concept. A promising film that reminded me of the series I loved so much a decade ago, but failed to rekindle the hunger I felt when the series ended. Goodbye, Elric brothers!

Funny how these things turn out. After finishing Proxima, by Stephen Baxter, which was also about humans colonizing the planet of a nearby star, but in the end was very little about the planet itself, I've stumbled upon Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, which does pretty much the same. I don't want to spoil things, but really, just a small percentage of the book is even related to the planet they briefly called Aurora.

Let's get one thing out of the way, though. Aurora is way better than Proxima ever intended to be. It is philosophical and filled with information and science and raises questions that are essential to space colonization. That's the great part. The bad part is that it feels like an old man book. It is introverted, focused on people, their feelings, their shortcomings and ultimately advises we care more about our planet, the one we are perfectly adapted to live on, rather than imagine we can always find a replacement in deep space. That was a disappointment, not only because I am in Tsiolkovsky's camp, who famously said Earth is our cradle and we can't stay in the cradle forever, but also because the future, as seen by Robinson, is stagnant, with no evolution, no desire, no dreams other than those he considers foolish and even criminal. Stay in the cradle till we finally die, enjoying the golden age of our senescence. Bah!

Other than that I really appreciated the attention to details, taken from all kinds of disciplines, that the author put in the book. Stuff like the difference of evolution rate between complex organisms like people and the microbiomes inside them, or mineral balances, the effect of Coriolis forces on the well being of people and machinery, and so on and so on. It was ironic that the person everybody in the book revered was Devi, an brilliant engineer who always thought outside the box and solved problems. When she couldn't do that, everybody else just gave up. There is also a moment in the story when the colonists split into two groups. I found it almost insulting that the book only described the adventures of one of them and completely forgot about the other.

Bottom line: I liked most of the book, if not its ending moral. The style is a bit difficult, almost autistic, as half of the story is from the standpoint of the ship's AI and the other from the perspective of the protagonist who is unusually tall (for no reason that has any impact on the story) and a little slow in the head. I understand why some people actually hated it, but as we can learn from every viewpoint, and often more from one that is different from ours, this book has a lot to teach.

Here is an interview with the author, but be careful, only the left audio channel has voice, the other is an annoying music.

I've watched several lackluster recent Japanese animes from Netflix and I was feeling bored and disappointed with the clichés spouted by almost every character, most of them as cardboard as they can be. So when I started with Devilman Crybaby, a very original show both from the standpoint of the manga it adapts and the animation style, I was hoping for not being bored. And I wasn't. The show is fast, jumping from scene to scene and asking the viewer to extrapolate what happened in between. The characters are complex and seldom critical of one aspect or another of society, or representing such negative treats. Violence and sex are everywhere, although they are often depicted as kinds of vices and impulses that people have to fight against. The animation style is weirdly psychedelic. So did I like it? Not really.

Even from the beginning I was off put by the animation style. It's paradoxically both artistic and very simple. It made me think of Aeon Flux (the MTV animated series), which had several other things in common with this, as well. But I didn't let it bother me and I continued watching. As I said before, the characters are complex and the story is meandering around the peculiarities of each of them, which made it interesting. However, the plot was full of holes! Things that were "revealed" later on were evident from the beginning, people acted in weird ways that were eroding the suspension of disbelief. There were fights, but simplistic in nature and more inline with the symbolism that the author was so hard on. There were substories, but kept to a bare minimum. Do you see a pattern already?

Yes, in its entirety, things that were not important to the philosophical message that the anime wanted to make were abstracted, simplified or removed altogether. It is hard to enjoy any of it after you've got the memo. Even worse, perhaps because of its heavy (handed) symbolism, all the articles and reviews online praise it as a masterpiece. I said it before and I will say it again: just because it is not the usual crap it doesn't mean it's good. There are so many sorts of crap. You read two or three of them, discussing "what they meant", and you realize they are as full of shit as the makers of the anime. If you need to explain what you meant, the joke wasn't very good!

To be less of a dick about it, the show has many redeeming qualities, that is why I can't discuss too much the particulars without spoiling it, and you might want to watch it. However, to me, those qualities were wasted in the pseudo spiritual and moral bullshit that suffused the show. One alleviating circumstance is the source material, written in the 70s, which I have not read, so I can't really compare, but it was the 70s. Weird and wonderful stuff came from back then. This is mostly just weird. And I really hated the title.

Here is the trailer:

Unfortunately, being typical is not a good thing. All characters in A.I.C.O. Incarnation are manga clichés and the few interesting sci-fi ideas are obliterated by the lack of courage in showing body horror and the obvious gaps in logic. The most promising, yet underdelivered concept is that of consciousness and identity. What would happen if brains and bodies were swapped, changed, mingled, etc. This could have been great if each episode explored some way the "malignant matter" affected biology and consciousness, but in truth, less than half of an episode really approaches the idea.

In short, the story follows a group of "Divers" who go into a biological infested area in order to stop said infestation and save people. They have to battle amorphous blob like monsters and government officials and mad scientists to get to their goal. Obviously they are all young and rash and falling in love and trying to protect people and making honor bound promises and so on. It was so by the book that it became nauseating. I think a heavily cut video edit of the first and last two episodes would more than cover the entire series.

It is good that Netflix is paying for more anime adaptations, but this one is not that worthwhile. Still 29 to go, though :) Here is a trailer, if you are still interested:

Literally translating to "The town where only I am missing", Boku dake ga Inai Machi presents (what else?) a manga artist with no life or future who finds out he can transfer his consciousness in the past, fixing things that went wrong. Of course, the worse thing that ever happened to him was living through a killer's series of murders of some of his school classmates. Another traumatic experience makes him, now 29 years old, transfer his consciousness in the past, during his childhood years, and determined to find and stop the killer.

Now, this might not seem particularly captivating, only the solution for saving the children is not to investigate clues or stake out locations or alert adults, but using the tools a mere child has: making friends, being around the lonely people the killer seems to target. This has an impact on the man's life, but also on that of the people around. In the end, it's a call to end self alienation by connecting and doing good things to people close to you. The title is a metaphor to the impact a person has on their environment. What if you never were? Would things change? The English title - Erased - is the one licensed for the US market and has little to do with the plot.

The anime is nicely drawn, if not spectacular, the Japanisms are pretty common, the story is sort of predictable, so the only true positive thing about the show is the mood and moral. I can't recommend it to everybody, but I personally enjoyed it. It has just 12 episodes and so it's like 4 hours in total. Here is a trailer: