2013-12-31

Why World of Warcraft?

Jana and I started playing World of Warcraft in early 2010. It pretty much immediately became and stayed our main hobby, and a major source of our enjoyment.

Most people - including us before we started playing - have the idea of WoW players as insufferable nerds, addicted to a game, with poor hygiene and no social contact. In addition to that, there's the concern about paying $15 per month for a game.

So let me tell you why I think World of Warcraft is the perfect hobby.

First off, the price. $15 per month is probably the biggest bang for the buck you're ever going to get for entertainment. Compare it to the cost of a single dinner with friends, or tickets to a movie. Then consider that you're likely to play WoW a lot more than the two hours it takes you to watch a movie.

WoW occupies as much or as little of your time as you want it to. You can play it 3 hours a week, or 30. There's always something to do - raiding and battlegrounds if you feel like high-stress action. Dungeons for a medium-stress activity. Questing for a low-stress way to spend time.

The main character you play is a lasting investment. Once you find the class that most fits you, the skill you develop with it allows you to enjoy the pleasure of mastering something you love, and it pays out for years. One of the main payouts, for me, is the smug satisfaction from when I see how much better I'm at it than people who haven't played as long as I have.

You can play alone, play socially, or play to test yourself against other people. You can play the game every day for years, and still not explore everything.

Some self-control is necessary to enjoy it. The game is so huge, you can't eat it all in one sitting. It's better if you don't try. For it to be a good part of your life, you need to treat it like a long-term hobby; something you can separate from, and come back to. Something that's going to be part of you for a while to come.

I've played other games; I've even quit World of Warcraft for a while. But I keep coming back to WoW because it's an enjoyable game that's not ephemeral; a game where your investment is worthwhile.

World War Z vs. The Last of Us... and other games

World War Z came out the same week as The Last of Us, but I only saw the movie now. I played the game in August.

World War Z is a movie version of the game. You got your deserted hallways with flickering lights, inhabited by clickers, who trudge around with zombie steps and are disadvantaged in the vision department, but are keenly attracted to sound. Once they hear you, they rush at you and you're dead unless you bash them with a crowbar, or hit them with several bullets (they never stop after just one).

If you're going to play the game, you obviously also have the time to watch the movie. It's not bad. But if, for some reason, you had to choose - play The Last of Us. The relationship between Joel and Ellie; the story that unfolds; the genius melancholy music... it comes together so well. If you only watch World War Z, it's... a much more plain and shallow play at the topic. The game is intense, frightening, moving; the movie, Jana and I watched as a comedy, laughing at how much it's like someone ripped off the game.

Yes, by all means, play the game. Sadly, it only runs on PlayStation 3. For me at least, though, it was worth buying a PS3 for.

Assassin's Creed IV is pretty good, except I'm not really into the pirate fantasy. It's cute, it's fun, it's well done, it has things going for it; but I still have more fun playing World of Warcraft.

GTA V, on the other hand... that really sucks. You would probably have fun with that if a life of crime is something to which you aspire. For me, there's just no way I can identify with low-life scum who go around robbing and killing and stealing. Yuch. Disgusting. I have zero motivation to play past the point where you finish that first joyride, and bring the guy to his house.

Oh and, gosh - the above is mostly games released this year, but I can't not mention one of the most amazing games ever: Portal 2. I still have fond memories of going up through the old, decaying remnants of Cave Johnson's test sites.

2013-12-30

Insulin, diabetes, exercise, and frequent urination

I've been meaning to get around to this follow-up for a while.

I posted in May about how I got scary glucose and insulin results in a blood test. This was a sign of growing insulin resistance, which would lead to Type II diabetes if allowed to progress. I suspected two factors might be to blame: (1) the high quantities of zero-calorie soft drinks I was ingesting, and (2) despite my strict diet and general fitness, a lack of aerobic exercise.

For the following 3 months, I addressed both suspected causes. I eliminated most artificial sweeteners from my diet, and I started to exercise heavily. I believed exercise would work because: (1) studies show that regular aerobic exercise mitigates the risk of Type II diabetes; (2) all pregnant women develop insulin resistance, yet 99% get better afterward, so the condition must be reversible; (3) it would be compatible with my hypothesis about the workings of the underlying mechanism.

My hypothesis is naive, but it's compatible with my experience, and it might help someone, so here it goes. When your muscles have full energy stores, they move insulin receptors away from the cell surface. By doing so, they stop extracting glucose from the blood stream, because they have nowhere to store it. When all the muscles in your body have full energy stores, glucose stays in the blood stream. The pancreas detects this, and starts pumping out more insulin to clear the glucose. Your muscles react by hiding their insulin receptors even more, so the pancreas starts to crank out even more insulin. In effect, the pancreas is saying "come on, this glucose has to be cleared from the blood stream", but every muscle in your body is saying "I'm full, someone else take it". If you don't do something about this, eventually the pancreas burns out, and then you have Type II diabetes. But if you do regular aerobic exercise, the insulin receptors in your muscles move back to the cell surface; the pancreas doesn't have to crank out as much insulin, and your glucose and insulin levels stabilize.

In May, I put my hypothesis to the test by immediately starting a heavy-duty exercise regime. The first month, I did 40 minutes of aerobic exercise nearly every day of the week, burning about 480 kCal per day. After the first month, I reduced this to 30 minutes, or about 360 kCal. As soon as I started this, all subsequent blood tests came back clear. But not only that; I also noticed a major improvement in an embarrassing symptom that's been going on for years. Suddenly, I no longer had to pee every 90 minutes.

For years, my urination problem has been getting worse. Like many people, I ignored it. Only after the blood test, I became aware that frequent urination is a sign of insulin resistance, and a herald of Type II diabetes.

What's happening is, because of the insulin resistance, your body has continuous high levels of glucose and insulin, which are toxic in high concentrations. Your kidneys have a threshold at which they will start expelling glucose into urine. When this is happening, you notice that you're often thirsty; you have to urinate often; your pee is relatively clear; and the pee is sweet. (This last one might be awkward to verify; I didn't.)

At the peak of this problem, I would have to take a bottle of water with me wherever I went. I wasn't able to sleep through the night without getting up and peeing before going back to bed. When I went to the movies, I urinated immediately before the movie, and by the time the movie ended, my bladder was hurting again and ready to burst. But after a few weeks of heavy aerobic exercise, the problem was gone completely. I was now able to go to dinner, followed by a movie, and didn't have to pee the entire time, until after I got home.

After about 3-4 months of exercise, during which my symptoms went away, there were personal events which plunged me into several months of depression. I was in emotional agony, which was worse when I didn't have something with which to occupy my mind. This made it difficult for me to exercise, because my mind would wander and think about things that were very painful. For the 3 months from September to November, my aerobic activity dropped to near zero. It took until December for me to start noticing the insulin resistance creeping back. One morning, I had to get up an hour before I intended, because my bladder was about to burst. I finally started exercising again, and the symptoms again improved quickly.

I'm now using an exercise bike for 30 minutes at a time, burning about 340 kCal every other day. This seems to be sufficient to keep the symptoms of insulin resistance at bay. I'm still avoiding artificial sweeteners, but not as religiously as in the first few months: my diet includes Greek yoghurt and protein bars. I've also started eating chocolate again, while staying within the bounds of my controlled calorie intake, high-protein diet. So far, as long as I exercise, what I'm eating doesn't seem to be hurting.

Subsequent News


A study published in 2014 found zero-calorie sweeteners cause diabetes through changes in gut flora.

2013-12-29

Unnecessary engineering

Look at this guy.

He crashes his old Citroen in an African desert. He's 20 miles away from the nearest village - about a day of walking, perhaps 2 on rough terrain - but he "didn't want to risk making the trek on foot". Instead, he spent 12 days in the desert, surviving on scarce supplies of food and water, sheltering under the car's chassis during sandstorms. He used that time to convert the Citroen into this ridiculous, dangerous motorcycle. Then he rode the motorcycle to the nearest village, arriving about 10 days later than if he just walked on foot.

This reminds me of how programmers often go about things... Instead of doing an awkward task by hand, we think of a clever way to do it with a program! Then we spend three times as long writing and debugging that program, as it would have taken to do it by hand. :)

2013-12-23

Rick & Morty

I just discovered Rick & Morty. It's ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean it's awesome. :)

Here's a quick GIF, just so you get the idea:

2013-12-22

Oblivion

Just watched Oblivion.

Wow.

If you haven't seen it, this is a very good film.

2013-12-17

More photos! #3

Aaron is now nearly 7 weeks old. :-)

Here's a third set of photos from last time - oldest to newest:
















As you can see, he's starting to get blond hair. :)



Paintings!


Also, we finally received, and were able to get help to hang, the paintings from our St. Kitts apartment!

This is how they look in our new place:








Monogamy kills

Check out this awful story:
Wife and I have been together for 14 years, and on October 24th we celebrated our 12 year anniversary. Together we have 3 children: Martin 10 years old, Casey 7, Tiffany 4. Wife was a fantastic woman, and even better mother.

A month before her suicide she was acting very strange. She began withdrawing affection from me. It has always been a routine that before I would head out for work I would give her a kiss. However, whenever I went for a kiss she would always pull away.

When it came to talking, she would rarely give me eye contact. I tried many times to try to see what was going on and she would just play it off.

Last week, when I came home. I noticed that the kids were home alone. I started calling my wife, after 3 hours of no answer. We ended up calling the police. The next day she was found in her car dead; she had committed suicide. There was a suicide note, where she confessed to cheating on me, and that she could no longer handle the guilt.

My heart froze then and there; all I could think about was having her back. I would have worked things out with her, this could have all been saved. I want her to know that she wasn't alone.

Right now, my kids are taking it really hard. My youngest daughter, still asks when mommy is going to come back and it breaks my heart. My wife left me all alone.
Here's a great woman, a good wife and mother, driven to suicide because she's conflicted between what she feels (love for her husband and children, as well as love for another person) and what she feels everyone is expecting of her (to be "loyal" to her family by never loving anyone else).

This is tragic and unnecessary. There was no reason for this woman to not love freely.

2013-12-10

Zero-tolerance schools kill

I don't normally post stuff that's on top of the Reddit front page anyway, but - this really pisses me off:

Ontario mom urges schools to let asthmatic kids carry puffers

Ryan Gibbons, 12, died after a severe asthma attack during recess at Straffordville, Ont., school

Many schools in the US and Canada have zero-tolerance policies, in which everything - including essential emergency medicine, like inhalers and epi-pens - is considered a dangerous drug that must be kept out of kids' hands, whatever it takes. An asthmatic kid can't carry an inhaler. An allergic kid can't have an epi-pen. Instead, if an emergency arises, the kid has to go to the principal's office, or to the school nurse, and kindly ask for her emergency medicine. You know - if she doesn't die on the way there.

Obviously, this is dangerous. At the very least, the delay makes any health incident worse. Reasonable parents work around this policy, and give their kid a spare inhaler or epi-pen, to hide. Reasonable teachers pretend they don't notice.

Well, Ryan's mom did that. He's had his contraband inhaler confiscated many times. Then one day, he experienced an attack, didn't have an inhaler, and had to be carried to the principal's office. The office was locked. He died. Because, you know, keeping drugs out of kids' hands is more important than that they live in the first place.

How schools are able to get away with this is beyond me. Designing and enforcing this policy is outright, deliberate child endangerment. Every official who took part in confiscating inhalers from this child directly contributed to his death.

2013-12-09

My experience with an (NSA?) prankster

Remember the movie The Mothman Prophecies? A major feature of the film is Richard Gere's interaction with an entity who calls itself Indrid Cold; a being with supernatural abilities who apparently knows everything there is to know about the present, as well as the future.

A person claiming to be Indrid Cold appeared in YouTube comments one day. It impressed other people who commented, by sharing apparently supernatural knowledge about them. Some people exchanged correspondence with it in private, and it impressed them with its abilities even more. One of those people posted about it on Reddit, and that's how I got to know about Indrid Cold.

I was naturally curious, so I sent Indrid an email. More than a month later, I received this reply:

Hello, Mr. Bider,

Your are the co-founder of a software company called 'Bitvise'. You are originally from Slovenia but moved to the Leeward Islands with your wife, Jana. You both enjoy fresh seafood and online gaming. You recently canceled your World of Warcraft account due, in part, to the mishandling of Affliction Warlock class balance. You use 'Elo' as a prefix for your World of Warcraft characters with the exception being your Undead Mage, 'Creepybones'. Your wife uses 'Rheo' as the prefix for all of her World of Warcraft characters. Your main character is 'Elocyn of Stormrage' and your wife's main character is 'Rheolynx of Stormrage'. You are an atheist, yet are fascinated by the nature and mysteries of perceived reality. Your wife is quite fond of cats. You very much enjoyed the film 'Inception', though, the ending, while seemingly happy, left you wanting. You supported Ron Paul for President of the United States. You wrote a fairly popular user guide for the software 'Crypto++'. You almost broke your ankle, once, near Brimstone Hill Fortress on Saint Christopher Island. You would love to see an explosion of Free-Market Libertarianism sweep across the Balkans. You fancy yourself as an inventor.

Greetings, Mr. Bider. My name is Indrid Cold. I have noticed your interest in a post by the Reddit user known as Griffdude13. How may I be of service?

- Indrid

This is nearly entirely correct, except that at the time I received it, I had no recollection of almost breaking my ankle. What memory I did form since then could very well be false.

I received this a week before any of the Snowden revelations, but one of my immediate suspicions was that this could be a prank played by someone at an intelligence agency. What's especially telling is that, with the exception of the ankle thing - which is dubious - Indrid mentioned nothing outside of what's easily accessible in English and online, with the proper access.

Today, I find this article:

Spy agencies in covert push to infiltrate virtual world of online gaming

(The Guardian, December 9, 2013)

[...]

The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight".

Games, the analyst wrote, "are an opportunity!". According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a "deconfliction" group was required to ensure they weren't spying on, or interfering with, each other.

If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications.

The ability to extract communications from talk channels in games would be necessary, the NSA paper argued, because of the potential for them to be used to communicate anonymously: Second Life was enabling anonymous texts and planning to introduce voice calls, while game noticeboards could, it states, be used to share information on the web addresses of terrorism forums.

Given that gaming consoles often include voice headsets, video cameras, and other identifiers, the potential for joining together biometric information with activities was also an exciting one.

But the documents contain no indication that the surveillance ever foiled any terrorist plots, nor is there any clear evidence that terror groups were using the virtual communities to communicate as the intelligence agencies predicted.

The operations raise concerns about the privacy of gamers. It is unclear how the agencies accessed their data, or how many communications were collected. Nor is it clear how the NSA ensured that it was not monitoring innocent Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealed behind their virtual avatar.

[...]

Since the Snowden revelations, I've heard nothing from Indrid, so I can only assume that the prank ended when the extent of NSA monitoring came into the spotlight.

The NSA claims that abuses aren't common, but pranks like the above are a clear indication of how easy they must be. If analysts could feel free to prank strangers with this kind of data, it's nearly certain they can get the same data, or more, about anyone in whom they have a personal interest.

2013-12-04