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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Borders in Civilization VII

In the Civilization games, players attempt to lead a culture's progress from ancient times to the near future. Since Civilization III, the games have drawn borders around your cities to indicate the fluctuating borders of your nation. Generating culture with libraries, works of art, and so on, cause your borders to expand outward. 

Unfortunately, to date the Civilization games have drawn borders using a pretty simple formula: your culture generation slowly fills squares or hexagons out to an arbitrary limit. This method doesn't really reflect the way borders are created in the real world. 

Civilization VII should be released in the next couple of years, and I'm hoping that border generation might be more sophisticated. It would be nice if the game drew borders along natural barriers such as rivers or mountain ranges, in combination with lines of latitude or longitude. Even better, perhaps the developers could add a negotiation element to the game, where you meet with other leaders to determine boundaries in disputed regions. And of course, borders will shift during wars, a mechanic that already exists in the most recent games, but using the imperfect square/hexagon formula. It would be more interesting if borders ebbed and flowed with the tide of combat...

I'd also love to see a way for nations to peacefully merge or break up, as sometimes happens in history. And maybe a one-world government could be a new victory condition as you make borders disappear, one by one...

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Studio 54 Diffusion

A little earlier tonight, at 7:37 PM MT, I completed my 54th trip around Sol. I had a very pleasant day, visiting with Mom and Sean and Sylvia, enjoying a really glorious lunch of chicken, scalloped potatoes, and stuffing at Mom's place. She also prepared an ambrosia salad, which isn't normally my kind of thing, and I tried it and it was delicious. And last night, Sylvia's parents had us over for a lovely lasagna dinner. 

By the time Sylvia and I returned home, I felt rather spoiled, sated, and sleepy. But before heading to bed, I prompted Stable Diffusion to create an image of "Earl J. Woods celebrating his 54th birthday with family and friends." With a prompt that open ended, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by these results, and yet . . . 

I like to imagine that Stable Diffusion is pulling images of different iterations of me from across the multiverse. Sometimes I resemble the "me" me in those other universes, but in still others I'm Black, or Asian, or an Indigenous person, or a woman, or a different species altogether. It appears I even belong to superhero teams in a couple of universes. 

Well, happy birthday, everyone. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

10 Monsters I could Outrun If I Had To

1. The Mummy (Boris Karloff version) 
2. The Blob (original version) 
3. Frankenstein's Monster (Boris Karloff version) 
4. The Bride of Frankenstein
5. The Invisible Man (Claude Rains version) 
6. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (on land) 
7. Standard Dalek (no antrigravs installed) 
8. The Creeping Terror
9. Romero-style zombies
10. The Green Slime

The key in all cases is to ensure you don't get cornered. Given an open playing field, the average healthy human being who doesn't panic or take stupid chances or box themselves in should be able to escape any of these guys without too much trouble, although there's a chance you might get shot in the back by a Dalek with a death beam.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Flasher

I visited Letterbox today to see if I'd added The Flash to my watchlist. I had, but for some reason the film's description caught my eye. I read it, and came as close to a literal double take as I ever have. Clearly someone is having a bit of fun at the expense of Warner Brothers and Ezra Miller, who plays The Flash in the film.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Other Side of the Theatre

For most of the 1970s, I lived in northern Manitoba. My paternal grandmother lived in Cranberry Portage, so sometimes we drove a little further, to about 10 km south of Flin Flon, to the Big Island Drive-In. Because the summer days in northern Manitoba are so long, the shows tend to start pretty late. On a clear night, the stars were amazing; light pollution was, and is, pretty low up there. These days you listen to the movie's audio via your FM tuner, but back then we had to attach giant metal speakers to the window, and boy, were they heavy, at least for a small child like me. There was something really special about sitting in the front seat between Mom and Dad, sharing popcorn, a small soda clutched in one hand. 

I believe I saw at least three movies at Big Island, but I only remember two for certain: Heroes, starring Henry Winkler as a suffering veteran of the Vietnam War, and The Other Side of the Mountain, a drama based on the true story of skier Jill Kinmont. All I remember of the third film is a woman in a small brown room sitting at a piano while composing a song. 

I feel as though I also went to a drive-in theatre in Edmonton once, but I can't say for certain; I certainly don't remember what film I might have seen. 

The Big Island Drive-In remains open to to this day, so if I ever head back to Flin Flon, I won't let the opportunity to see a movie there pass me by. And wow, check out the concession offerings

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Sleeper Stirs

Yesterday's dreams of tomorrow
Quietly fade away like phantoms
One of our planets is dying
And we must stay with her for now


Saturday, February 18, 2023

What's Up with Hello, Tomorrow!?

When I first saw the trailer for Hello, Tomorrow! on AppleTV+, I was pretty excited. "They made a show just for me!" I enthused, charmed by the retrofuturist production design. 

But having watched the first two episodes, I find the show's purpose and tone extremely puzzling. So far, the story plays out as a standard dramedy about a man (Jack Billings, played capably by Billy Crudup) trying to reconcile with his son while at the same time playing some kind of long con on people who think they're buying condos on the Moon, not knowing that they're buying nothing but a dream. 

Here's the problem: the creatives behind the show have gone to great lengths to deliver attractive, colourful props, sets, and visuals to evoke an atomic-age America that somehow got to the Moon early and has self-tying ties, hovering cars, and a variety of friendly service robots to boot, all with a convincing 1950s aesthetic. But the story they're telling could have been told in a perfectly ordinary modern setting at far less expense and with far less distraction--because in Hello, Tomorrow!, the exotic setting plays no role at all, as far as I can see, in the show's thesis--whatever that thesis may turn out to be. 

Compare Hello, Tomorrow! to Severance, another show found on AppleTV+. The latter show also has excellent production design and a science-fictional premise, but in Severance, the technology and setting are essential to the questions it's trying to ask: What is the nature of human identity? Who qualifies for basic human rights? Can human rights be surrendered for personal convenience? Is the nature of working for money inherently coercive? 

I cannot yet identify the big questions Hello, Tomorrow! is trying to ask. It's not "How would society change if we built colonies on the Moon?" It's not "How would the widespread adoption of robots in the service industry disrupt the economy?" (We see one character who's lost his job because of robots, but it's a throwaway line, not deeply examined.) 

Based on Jack Billings' dialogue and actions, the show is apparently trying to say something about societal malaise. Billings tells his employees that their efforts to sell Moon condos give people hope, and a better future to look forward to. Setting aside the fact that Billings clearly can't actually get people to the Moon, at one point he confides to his son that he shouldn't buy property on the Moon because going there won't solve his problems; his problems will simply follow him. So Billings doesn't believe what he's selling. 

But more importantly, the show's setting seems not only prosperous, but in some ways idyllic. Everyone we meet enjoys retrofuturistic conveniences in safe, clean neighbourhoods, and everyone seems able to afford a beautiful hovercar. Furthermore, racism seems to be nonexistent, based on how black and white characters, major and minor, treat each other. And yet I don't think this is related to the show's thesis, because the show plays as if there's been no change in race relations; it's just the way this world is. I get the feeling even this artistic choice is more about real-world production; the casting department simply cast a variety of actors of different races, which of course is as it should be. But without some hint of societal evolution, this choice doesn't justify the show's setting. 

I'm not going to write off the show yet; it's quite possible the creators are building a thesis of some kind, and either I'm just not seeing it or it needs further development to become clear. 

I want to like this show, but so far, I'm only puzzled. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Alter Ego

"Alter Ego" was kind of "my" character in the old CHAOS/ORDER BBS days. My power was the raise or lower the ego of others, hence...Alter Ego. Also a pun because an alter ego is, of course, often a secret identity in the superhero genre.