taw's blog

The best kittens, technology, and video games blog in the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Modern Times mod for Crusader Kings 2 - Conclave release

The Devil Himself by inspiring! from flickr (CC-NC) Modern Times mod is updated for 2.5.x and Conclave DLC. (Steam WorkshopDirect download).

Changes are mostly just compatibility, but also include:

  • taking advantage of new character selection screen
  • Kazakh and Uzbek cultures, to get Eastern Europe / Central Asia a few more steps towards sanity (it's not there yet)
  • if you're playing with Conclave enabled, administration and status of women laws will be automatically determined based on your religion (Muslim or not) and starting technology. I could probably tweak it a lot more, and maybe even add some new interesting laws.
  • bug fixes for de jure map and holy orders
All my CK2 minimods on Steam Workshop got also upgraded to 2.5.x.

Unfortunately it seems that Conclave doesn't allow naming kings "presidents", "fuhrers", "ayatollahs" etc. based on laws as I hoped it would. It only allows changing what laws tab describes the realms as (like "Hereditary Despotic Kingdom" and such), but that's of fairly little use. Maybe next time with China DLC.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Let's Play Civilization 5 on Tamriel as the Khajit


It's new year and it's time to play some video games after six weeks break with nearly none.

For this campaign I grabbed Tamriel civilization pack and Tamriel map pack, with every civilization starting in its historical part of Tamriel, and unusually high number of 13 civilizations on standard-sized map which normally holds just 8. On the other hand the map has relatively little water, so number of land tiles is probably high enough to support 13.

It will still be harder to win with so many competitors.

Civilizations fighting over control of Tamriel are:
  • Cyrus (Hammerfell / Redguards)
  • Gortwog gro-Nagorm (Orsinium / Orsimer)
  • Haymon Camoran (Valenwood / Bosmer)
  • High King Emeric (High Rock / Bretons)
  • Hlaalu Helseth (Morrowind / Dunmer)
  • Keirgo (Elsweyr / Khajit)
  • King Dumac (Dwemereth / Dwemer)
  • Mehrunes Dagon (Oblivion)
  • Queen Ayrenn (Summerset Isles / Altmer)
  • The An-Xileel (Argonia / Argonians)
  • Tiber Septim (Cyrodiil / Imperials)
  • Umaril the Unfeathered (The Ayleids)
  • Ysgramor (Skyrim / Nords)
They're generally all fairly strong, even if somewhat less so than Ravnica civilizations.

Here's episode one. Episodes will be released one a day at same time on this playlist:


As Khajit we're getting double land caravan range, +1 movement and +1 sight to all military land units (not great generals, workers etc.), and two special buildings - caravansary replacement which lets us be trade-oriented civ, and workshop replacement, which allegedly produces some skooma.

Full list of mods used:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review of The Manga Guide to Biochemistry by Masaharu Takemura

Following highly entertaining The Manga Guide to Statistics, I decided to grab another book in the loose series - The Manga Guide to Biochemistry by Masaharu Takemura.

The book is taking its role as a textbook somewhat more seriously, and is packed with higher ratio of information to manga than the Statistics guide. They obviously had a lot to say, and I'd say they covered it fairly well without any obvious mistakes or oversights. A good amount of it feels poorly integrated into the plot, especially bits towards the end which feel almost like a disconnected appendix.

The plot puts a lot of effort on putting all that information in context, but it still manages to setup some manga romance action - pretty lady professor of biotechnology tries to manipulate high school girl and university student boy tutoring her into realizing their feelings for each other. Oops, spoilers.


Overall, I'd say it does its job pretty well, not just as a novelty item, but arguably even as a legitimate textbook.

tl;dr 4/5 stars

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Modern Times mod for Crusader Kings 2 - 2016 release

Happy New Year by travel oriented from flickr (CC-SA)
Modern Times mod is keeping up with times, and it's now time for 2016 release. (Steam WorkshopDirect download).

Changes beyond just updating date and rulers are mostly modelling Eastern Europe a bit better - Belarus got kingdom tier title and own culture, de jure map got tweaked accordingly, and Buddhist Kalmyk enclave in Caucasus is now in the game.

Unfortunately even with Ukrainian and Belarusian cultures added and various tweaks, Eastern Europe is still the worst modelled part of the world. Belarus is the first new title I added to the mod, not counting Sunset Invasion scenarios, but I might get a lot more aggressive about making map match modern reality.

Also somehow ISIS still stands in 2016, so play it before President Trump nukes the whole region, forcing big map update in 2017. As caliphate it has a lot of unique mechanics which other countries don't have access to.

Future plans

Now that we know that China won't be in next DLCs I'm seriously considering setting up some kind of Chinese (or possibly Japanese etc.) intervention event similar to what Aztecs, Brazil, Canada, and USA got - all of course only if you have Sunset Invasion DLC enabled.

Depending on what next patch and DLC bring, perhaps we'll be able to setup governments and laws with a bit more modern flavor, even if still feudal in character.

By the way one thing the mod could really use which would be relatively easy to contribute are random events and event chains appropriate to modern times. If anybody's interested, just contact me.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Z3 Puzzle Solvers repository

It's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. シ by Trish Hamme from flickr (CC-BY)
Logic programming was once the next big thing, and like most next big things it fizzled. One useful thing which came out of it were constraint solvers, but because price of using them was writing Prolog, very few people bothered.

There was never any strong reason why constraint solver engines couldn't be used in other environments, and Z3 sort of does that - by working in Python 2.x. I'd obviously prefer if it supported Ruby, or at least Python 3, but it's still better than trying to remember how to parse strings in Prolog.

I played with Z3 a bit, wrote a bunch of puzzle solver scripts, and they're on github now. You probably won't need just another sudoku solver, but Z3 for Python has very few examples in its documentation, so this collection might actually be useful if you want to learn constraint solvers in some reasonable language.

Of course pull requests with more solvers or improvements to existing solvers most welcome.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review of A History of Venice: Queen of the Seas

Cat loves only fresh water by CelloPics from flickr (CC-BY)

I keep disregarding over 1000 hours of audiobooks and podcasts already in the queue and adding new titles. I'll probably never go to end of the queue, even listening at 180% speed (the rate keeps increasing every few months) and dropping unpromising books easily aggressively.

Of course as soon as I've seen this book about Venice, it jumped right to the front of the queue, and I'm actually a bit surprised that's the first book specifically about Venice I've ever read.

The book covers long history of Venice - its founding myths and facts, its relations with Byzantines and Karlings, trade connections, evolution of its government, its involvement in attempts to remove kebab, asshole popes, ecclesiastic jurisdiction conflicts, claimants, plots, and its ultimate destruction by the Big Blue Blob.

Surprisingly interesting part was one about all the relic theft, trading, and fabrication going on - subjects strangely under-explored in all games. There's so much DLC potential here.

I feel the book devotes far too much space to time after fall of Venice, which feels about as pointless as including a Berlin tourist guide chapters in a book about World War 2. I guess technically it's a book about city of Venice, not just republic of Venice, but the city without the republic is just a dead historical relic, not worth writing about.

The most obvious missing thing is any kind of serious analysis of randomness amplification design of final system doge elections - instead of straightforward system of just choosing 41 members of Great Council to be electors, they had three stages of taking lots to choose electors, electors choosing next group from which electors were chosen by a lot and so on. The book treats it as paranoid historical curiosity, but this is clearly some next level cryptographic protocol, and I'd love to read serious analysis of it.

tl;dr 4/5 If you like Crusader Kings 2, you're likely to like this book. Not sure who else would this book be for.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review of Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Mustang Enjoying His Saturday by CC Chapman from flickr (CC-NC-ND)

The book is not terribly long, but it really has no reason to exist as a book at all. Everything it says could be written just as well as a blog post.

Here's the content:
  • innovations are "sustaining" (targeted at same markets) or "disruptive" (targeted initially at different markets, usually smaller lower margin markets) - it's not clear at all how slightly smaller disks were somehow inherently "disruptive", like 3.5 to 2.5 inch, I'm not even talking SSDs or anything crazy like that
  • there's huge first mover advantage for "disruptive" innovations (claim backed by absolutely nothing in the book, or real world)
  • existing corporations have trouble targeting "disruptive" markets (claim backed by a few anecdotes)
  • setting up independent organization within company is not just the best, but basically the only way to deal with "disruptive" innovations (claim backed by a few anecdotes, strangely book also includes a few anecdotes to contrary, then tries to handwave them)
  • disk drive industry is totally 100% representative of all industries, so anecdotes from it are basically natural laws
That's not summary - that's pretty much all of it, repeated over and over, with different anecdotes each time, but almost all of them from a single narrow disk drive industry.

I'm not sure how true book's claim is. It's an interesting and coherent point of view, and it could have some degree of validity to it, but it's not argued terribly convincingly, and I can come up with a lot of anecdotes on both sides of all the subclaims.

tl;dr 2/5 The author should adopt disruptive innovation of blog posts, instead of trying to stick to dying book publishing industry.

2015 Retrospective for my Youtube Gaming Channel

She's Playing Xbox! by BrotherMagneto from flickr (CC-NC)

I late May 2015, I decided to start a gaming channel on youtube. It's good time to look back at how it's been going so far.

What I recorded

Before holiday break I ended up recording over 500 videos, mostly Civilization 5, and so far the channel got 37 subscribers and 7265 views, which aren't exactly massive numbers. By comparison this blog gets about 1000 unique visitors a day.

Let's Play series I made were:
  • 8x Civilization 5 (2 of them in Polish)
  • 2x Factorio
  • 2x Puzzle Quest (well, not really, first one got broken after two episodes due to hardware issues)
  • 1x Darkest of Days
There was no content other than let's plays.

I thought about live streaming as well, but BT's crappy uplink would maybe work with DOS era games, it can't even do 720p30.

Technical issues

The biggest surprise was just how many technical issues I ran into. Achieving decent audio quality was a massive pain, and it took months to get even more or less there.

My first Puzzle Quest series died to hard disk failure (videos were backed up, saves as well, but restoring saves wasn't possible), Civilization 5 Germany series died to save game corruption.

I think all of my Civilization 5 games except the last one had some problems with mods not being setup quite the way I wanted due to incompatibility between mods or between mods and map script - generally it was tolerable, but it led to many nasty mid-campaign surprises. Obviously I could play with fewer mods, but where's the fun in that?

With early Civilization 5 games I had music on, and apparently 30 seconds of background in-game music mid-episode is enough for the bullshit Content ID system to slap copyright claim on a 30 minute video. After that nonsense, I disabled in-game music.

I had a lot of "cat on keyboard" episodes, which was mostly fine.

I'm using the interface on youtube's website to fill in video data and schedule daily releases, and it's been absolutely dreadful. Does everybody use that and take the pain, or is there some secret way nobody told me about? I even checked Youtube APIs to maybe automate that, but they're fairly miserable as well.

Episode announcements

I usually announce any new series on this blog.

I've been using youtube's feature to post episodes on twitter/facebook/google+ when they're published as well - I'm not sure if that's not simply annoying to people who follow me, but then again, people sometimes watched some random episodes mid-series. I'm not sure what would be a better way.

There's also a small silliness that my channel is about 80% English 20% Polish content, and that probably annoys everybody, but I don't do enough to make splitting it into multiple channels worth it.

Future plans

I definitely still like Civilization 5, but I plan to diversify what I record a bit. I think I played Crusader Kings 2 just as much as Civilization 5, but it never seemed like something terribly interesting to record to me.

For some specific plans, I'd like to record XCOM 2 once it comes out.

I want to record some non-let's play videos like modding tutorials.

Right now I'm just back from holidays, very busy, and with nothing recorded, so it will probably be a few weeks before the channel goes back to life.

I might move to another place sometime halfway through 2016, so hopefully I'll be able to get fibre there, and then I'll give live streaming a try as well.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Legal & General has probably the worst website in history of websites

Cally, my little ray of sunshine on a rainy day by hehaden from flickr (CC-NC)

So yesterday I got email from Legal & General (pension provider at my previous place of work) telling me that "Your pension benefit statement is now available online". Of course they couldn't email me the document or even provide some kind of one-click link, nope, I need to go through the whole process.

Whatever, I'll just go there and... website is not available because it's in maintenance mode. Right, that kind of stuff happens I guess. Not to anybody competent who've heard of rolling restarts, but it happens.

Checking it again next day, website is online. It wants User ID and password - somehow missing the point nearly everybody else got by now that email is universal user identifier, but let's not get too nitpicky.

Well, let's check with my password manager - right, here's user ID, here's password, good to go. And nope, somehow didn't work. Did I copy&paste that incorrectly somehow? Let's try again, now with captcha - and now I get error message that after 3 attempts at incorrect login I'm locked out of my account and I need to call some number. WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?
  • I definitely didn't even make 3 login attempts of any kind
  • Details were definitely correct both times
  • Who the fuck locks people out after 3 attempts? That's the dumbest security policy I've ever seen.
  • The site already has captchas to protect from bots, and bots don't do 3 tries, bot's do thousands of tries, that's the point. Not like any bot would even bother getting someone's pension benefit statement.
  • Calling a phone line, like what the fuck? There's no email, no chat, no twitter, nothing, just phone calls. In 2016.
  • Phone line is "Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 6.00pm" obviously just to be even more shitty.
  • I'm going to remind everyone that it's 100% their fault here, and I'm supposed to make a fucking phone call now.
  • Can someone just write a bot to lock out random people out of their accounts?
Well, they also have "Forgotten your password?" link, so I tried that even though my password manager definitely did not forget it - and obviously it asks memorable question I never answered in the first place (I got those recorded in password manager as well). That's possibly because the fuckers decided to lock me out of my account after 2 correct login attempts.

This is the shittiest usability I've seen I'd say ever, on any website, in about two decades I've been using Internet.

Of course I can't do shit about it, moving however much money I have there (no idea, because it's all locked out) to another provider would be massive pain in the ass, if that's even doable.

And that's why you should ignore silly "benefits" and insist on getting cash.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review of The Manga Guide To Statistics by Shin Takahashi

It's been a long time since I last did any book reviews on this blog, or for that matter any other reviews. I usually just use Twitter or G+ for this as it's faster.

Here's a book I bought for the lulz - The Manga Guide to Statistics by Shin Takahashi and it turned out to be better than novelty value I expected.

Plot

The book follows a story: dad invites a cute coworker for dinner, who does some statistics at work for marketing reasons or something like that. The high schooler daughter wants to meet him again because he's cute, so she gets the idea in her head to ask her dad to get someone from work to tutor her in statistics (because she's totally interested in what dad is doing at work, honest) - and the dad obliges except getting some completely different dude as tutor. Basically it would be not out of place in any high school manga, but then again the last one I seriously followed was Aa! Megami-sama back when I was in actual high school million years ago, so what do I know.

The story is not breaking any grounds, but it's way more amusing that in any statistics textbook.

Also I'm reasonably sure that's already more plot than Mad Max: Fury Road had, and that was a really good movie.

Educational Value

The level of statistics in the book is fairly introductory, and unfortunately the book has some annoying mistakes, such as:
  • completely incorrect explanation of what it means to reject a null hypothesis (also knows as the most common error in statistics textbooks)
  • assuming normal distribution for data which is definitely not normally distributed such as normalized school test scores (also extremely common error)
Most concepts like histograms, distributions, correlations, etc. are explained relatively cleanly, but book's attempt at explaining what chi squared distribution is used for and what's the meaning of independence testing feels like a total miss, and I doubt anybody would have more than just a vague idea what the hell they are just read after that.

There's a bunch of math formulas, and I was not impressed by typography - with parentheses not being correct size to match enclosed content. Of course one could make a valid objection that this is a manga not a math textbook, and it was probably not typeset in TeX, which is fair enough I guess.

Am I the only one annoyed by bad typography here?

Of course this leads to obvious followup issue - is it even possible to teach non-Bayesian concepts like null hypothesis testing at this level beyond just "run this calculations, don't worry what they mean"?

Another problem with the book is that it probably focuses too much on the kind of silly content that predates spreadsheet software like formulas and looking up stuff in distribution tables.

Oh the books also has exercises for the reader and appendix on Excel, which are both potentially useful too.

Summary

Overall I'd say the book is probably not the most amazing textbook, but it'd be a pretty sweet novelty gift. Now non-Bayesian statistics is a particularly messy subject to teach, so I guess other books from the series might do better.

tl;dr 4/5 stars