November 28, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: April

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won our first attempt at March
  • We unlocked South America
  • We spotted the lost haven from Los Angeles, but have not yet visited it
  • The number of epidemic cards will now increase, according to how many city cards are in the deck

April (First Attempt)

It’s been nearly 4 months since our last play session, so setting up the board and reminding ourselves of the lay of the land took nearly half an hour. There’s nothing new to report in the Legacy deck, though the new “stretched too thin” rule means that we’re now putting 6 epidemic cards into the deck instead of 5. To be honest, this seems only fair – as we add more and more city cards to the player deck, if the number of epidemics had stayed at 5 then they would have come up less and less often, so this is an essential rebalancing.
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Pete
August 4, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: March

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won our first attempt at February
  • Chicago fell to “forsaken” status
  • We built a permanent supply centre in Cairo

March (First Attempt)

Starting a new month meant some new briefing information. We received a mysterious message about needing to recon South America soon, something to do with a threat from the Hollow Men. No explicit deadline was given. Best hurry up and do that then.

The Hollow Men are going to sabotage something important if we don’t recon South America soon. Apparently.


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Pete
June 2, 2023

The end of reddit

In January this year, Twitter shut down their API without warning, rendering third-party clients inoperable. I was one of those affected, but in many ways it felt more like a relief than an inconvenience to me. During the last two months of 2022 I had been bracing for my exit anyway, so in many ways it just helped to make that easier.

In some senses I can see the business case for this. Users of third party clients, who access data via the API, do not see adverts. Therefore Twitter was not directly making money from those users, and in principle removing those users would have no cost. However, in mainstream social media, having as many users as possible is the name of the game. Culling your userbase based on how profitable they individually are will eventually lead to a social media platform with just one user left.

Yesterday I discovered that reddit are planning to introduce a new pricing system for their API on the 1st July 2023. Fine, you might think, they’re entitled to do that. But the numbers are exorbitant. No third-party client could possibly hope to survive while paying the stated fees. It seems like reddit are trying to do exactly what Twitter did in January – ensure that the only way that users can access the service is via their official app, where they will see the adverts. And, unlike with Twitter, I’m seeing that I might be a bit more affected by this.

For the last 15 years reddit has brought a lot into my life. From way back in the day, when I first joined it as a sort of post-Slashdot tech site, I’ve gradually found more and more uses for it. Cute cat videos, of course. Discovering new video games (hey, have you heard about this game made by one guy in Sweden? It’s called Minecraft). Becoming a better computer programmer. Getting recommendations for music, films, TV shows. Joining communities of people who share my interests, and then having to leave because I find myself accumulating huge stockpiles of shaving soap. And, of course, general news. I’ve also been a moderator of a subreddit which has grown to over 230,000 members and I’m pleased to say that it’s remained one of the most positive and supportive communities on the internet.

So what’s the problem, you ask? If I love the place so much, why not do what I have to do to stay? Just suck it up and use the official app, Pete. Well, one problem is, I’ve heard that the official app is an utter dumpster fire in terms of usability. But the bigger problem is the forced adverts. And I’m conflicted here, because I’m conscious of the fact that the business model for most large websites these days is “we let you use our service for free, and in return we harvest your data and show you targeted adverts” but this doesn’t feel like a fair exchange to me. I consider my attention to be valuable, and don’t see why I should have to give it up so easily.

I’ll survive fine without reddit. I was fine before it came along, and while it was enjoyable to travel with it for a while, I think it has changed and we’ve grown apart. I’m sure that somewhere out there there is, or will soon be, a website that captures the magic of how reddit used to be in 2008. Or maybe not – maybe I’m about to spend a whole lot less time on my phone.

Pete
May 10, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: February

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won our second attempt at January
  • Since we’d successfully reconned North America in our first attempt, we only had to build three supply centres for the second attempt

February (First Attempt)

Our mission briefing for this month was revealed – in addition to building three new supply centres, we’d also need to complete one of the following two optional objectives:

  • recon another new area
  • connect 2 cities to the grid

Of these, it seemed like the second would be easier, as it only requires 4 supply cubes. To recon a new area would require us to build a supply centre in one of a few specific locations, and also gather a bunch more city cards of the right colour. But there was no need to commit at this stage – we could wait and see how the chips fell.
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Pete
April 17, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: January (Part Two)

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

In October we started playing Pandemic Legacy Season 2. And then for one reason or another it has taken us 6 months to get round to scheduling a second session. Disgraceful.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost our first attempt at January
  • The mission briefing for January was to build three supply centres and recon North America
  • We were unable to complete both objectives, so focused on the latter (as it would leave us with only one necessary objective for our second attempt)

January (Second Attempt)

Setting up for this game took a long time, as we needed to refamiliarise ourselves with what the heck all of this nonsense was.
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Pete
January 22, 2023

Stockpiling

I have a tendency to build small stockpiles. I get into a thing, and before I know it I have accumulated a stockpile of that thing, and have to force myself to stop buying that thing in order to use up the stacks of thing that I gathered during my initial fascination.

Shaving soap

In 2019 I started shaving using a double-edged safety razor. I foolishly subscribed to a pertinent subreddit, and exposed myself to the immense collections of some of the people on that subreddit. A little bit of that acquisitiveness rubbed off on me, and my desire for various shaving soaps quickly got out of hand. My stockpile is now probably big enough that it will keep me going for the rest of my life. I hasten to add, it’s far from the largest collection that I’ve ever seen. But it’s still too big for my own needs. I also have three shaving brushes and two razors, where one of each would be ample.

Notebooks

I’ve always been quite impartial to a nice notebook, but at some stage I must have switched from buying notebooks when I needed one, to buying them whenever I saw one that appealed to me. I now have a stack of fifteen unused notebooks, and that’s just the A5 ones. I have even more, of different sizes, in a drawer. At the rate I get through them, I think I’ve probably got at least enough to last me a decade.

Snacks

Once upon a time I came up with the idea of keeping a snack or two in my desk drawer in case I get peckish while I work. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before this becomes “I must have a diverse range of snacks in my desk drawer that would put a school tuck shop to shame.” Upon realising that this has happened, I then make a conscious effort to run down the stocks to bring things back to a sensible level. After a short while, my memory resets, and the whole cycle repeats itself. Right now I’m in a fairly sensible place, with just two flapjacks and a small chocolate bar in the stash, but I’m sure it won’t last.

Hot Chocolate

This is my latest obsession. Karen bought me a Hotel Chocolate Velvetiser for Christmas. I’d always poked fun at them, partly because of the dumb-ass name, and partly because it seemed like the kind of thing that is done by a struggling company desperate to find a new revenue stream. Well, turns out, it’s actually a really good piece of kit. Over the last few weeks, every time I’m in a supermarket I gravitate towards the chocolate section and assess the products for how well I think they’d work in a drinkable format, and this has resulted in a few purchases that I wouldn’t otherwise have made. The other day we turned a bar of Lindt “Mint Intense” into three mugs of hot chocolate and it was delectable. This could get out of hand very quickly.

Pete
January 1, 2023

2022: Best Books

As I start this post, I haven’t decided how many books it will feature. Last year, I did a neat ten, so perhaps the question is, did 2022 fit itself into a tidy box, or not? As years ago, it had an unpleasant rollercoaster vibe, and I’m not sorry to say goodbye to that arbitrary parcel of time.

Here are some of the 59 books I recorded on my list, which does feature a handful that I didn’t finish, because I’m old now and I don’t keep reading things I’m not enjoying. I did make an exception to this rule for Jasper Gibson’s A Bright Moon for Fools,, and I was right to do so. My list is once again swelled by audiobooks, which I listen to while I’m running and sometimes when I’m doing stuff around the house. I never thought I would get into audiobooks, but it’s been wonderful this last couple of years, to have their company.

Names for the Sea, by Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss writes slightly dark novels, as far as I can tell; I listened to the audiobook of The Fell, set in lockdown, which I also enjoyed. Names for the Sea is non-fiction, the story of her family’s short emigration to Iceland. I found it very relatable, the sense of bafflement trying to figure out life administration in a foreign language, always on the verge of committing some cultural offense, discovering delightful things but mainly finding it all really, really difficult. I’d like to visit Iceland and this didn’t entirely put me off.

Pandora’s Jar, by Natalie Haynes
Natalie (I call her Natalie because I have seen her on stage at Also so many times, she’s like my mate) features on the list twice this year (wait for it…). Pandora’s Jar is non-fiction, but within her usual remit of retelling myths and legends where the female characters are more than just foils and plot devices. She unpacks the origin stories of Medea, Pandora, Medusa, Jocasta, Helen and Penelope, not only through her knowledge of the early Greek writings, but also with reference to contemporary texts – and we certainly share opinions on Clash of the Titans, which pleases me. This was a good warm-up for this year’s Book of the Year.

We Need New Stories, by Nesrine Malik
I’ve done a lot of Very Serious Reading again this year, because at work I have a big Equity, Diversity & Inclusion element to my role (and also because I find it interesting and improving), and I think actually I’ve always exposed myself to diversity in my reading. We Need New Stories slices through such toxic and divisive issues as Brexit and identity politics, showing what nonsense we have told ourselves in order to get to where we are. It doesn’t matter how liberal you think you are, there will be stuff in this book that hits you in the humilities, and makes you re-examine your thinking. I need to read it again.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri
This is the story of refugees, and was just sad, sad, sad. I couldn’t put it down.

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus
I am looking at my list and there are just so many strong novels on it this year, it would be quicker to list the bad books. If you’re in the mood for engaging fiction with a feminist punch, and who isn’t, then you might enjoy the tale of a female scientist in the 1950s, who makes it big as a TV chef – the first TV chef – and her refusal to alter herself to fit the world’s expectations. It also has one of fiction’s best dogs.

Notes on an Execution, by Danya Kukafka
This is an intense and disturbing tale that deconstructs the life and growth of a serial killer, through the stories of the women in his life. Gripping, moving, and so absorbing that it’s perfect to listen to while running. Really got my distance up while I had this playing.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
Another audiobook, another utterly absorbing tale. Piranesi is a character trapped in a strange world, perhaps some dystopian future, where familiar objects and events make more sense to the reader than they do to him. His quest for survival and his search for understanding are heartbreaking, and the answers that he finds feel dissatisfying – I didn’t love the ending, but the vast majority of the book was so wonderful that it still features on this list.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro has the lightest touch, leaving the reader/listener to figure out what’s happening in this sci-fi future, described only from the perspective of an AI being. Klara and Piranesi have a lot in common in their telling, with characters who invest meaning in the mundane, without fully understanding why those things matter. As with many of Ishiguro’s novels, none of the characters are fully likeable, and yet the reader is emotionally invested in their fates.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley
This is a charming and absorbing steampunk novel, with a wonderful cast and a satisfying set of twists that you absolutely do not see coming. I say that, I expect you probably would see them coming; I didn’t. Reminded me in lots of ways of The Night Circus, without the actual magic.

Light Perpetual, by Francis Spufford
I read Golden Hill back in 2017, and if I had written a books of the year post that year, it would have been on it. I had high hopes for Light Perpetual, and it lived up to them. I love a cleverly structured novel, and it’s quite remarkable to be reading a book where you know the ending from the start, which is that none of this can happen, and yet be completely absorbed in the intertwined journeys that the characters never really take. Just read it, it will make more sense.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
I was a late-adopter of Gaiman fandom, possibly because I associated him with Terry Pratchett and never liked those books much. I’m sorry, I know that’s practically heresy, I can’t account for what I feel. Nevertheless, when I finally did first pick up a Neil Gaiman novel, it was a bit of what-were-you-waiting-for moment, and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by him, and I’d really like to see this at the theatre; I understand it’s touring at the moment. Gaiman gives me just the right amount of fantasy, laced with the world that I know and sometimes understand, and I find his writing quite magical.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart
This autobiographical novel of growing up in a poor Glaswegian family in the 70s and 80s seems like a throwback to the Sad Irish Family genre that was popular a couple of decades ago, except it’s not softened in any way at all. The description of the mother’s alcoholism is brutal and at times difficult to read, and I found the violent, philandering, gaslighting father just as horrible. The setting is bleak and there appears to be no possibility of happiness for any of the characters. I don’t think I can honestly say that I “enjoyed” this book, but I did finish it with a sense of having been through something. I guess I am wishing that on you, too.

But don’t despair, you can follow it up with my Book of the Year for 2022. Ideally, listen to Stone Blind on audiobook, as it’s read by the author, and yes it’s Natalie Haynes again, a seasoned performer and the perfect person to read you her own brilliant words. Stone Blind tells you the tale of Medusa, the youngest of the Gorgon sisters, raped by Poseidon, cursed by Athena, murdered by the brat Perseus. The question asked in this novel is, who are the real monsters? I think you know where we are going with that. Once again bringing the women back into their own stories, as though the perspective of half the planet’s population is a radical new lens with which to see the world: any good book will make you think, but this year hasn’t there been a rich crop of books that ask you to really question your place in the world and everything you’ve ever assumed to be true?

Anyway, I’m doing a PhD now, so I won’t be able to read so much in 2023. Have a good one.

Karen