VLC hangs on OS X when playing anything

I had a strange issue with VLC on OS X: Whenever I tried to play anything, it would hang and needed to be force quit.

The culprit was that by default, it tries to remote control iTunes, basically stopping iTunes playback when VLC wants to play. However, my iTunes was unresponsive (currently moving my Library folder) and thus any attempt of VLC to communicate with iTunes would just lead to a hang.

The solution is to start VLC, go to Preferences and disable controlling of external players.

Self-driving cars, Uber, and the public transportation revolution

Everyone expects self-driving cars to be the next world-changing revolution, and it is easy to see why. Image recognition has made insane improvements in the last decade – Facebook’s face detection is sometimes uncanny in its ability to differentiate people from objects. Google Maps routing features have improved leaps and bounds since the first release, and with cellphone connectivity becoming more and more ubiquous, it’s feasible to monitor traffic in real time.

We have electric cars that aren’t complete crap anymore. Hybrids like the Prius have been pretty normal for years now, and both BMWs i3 and eventually Tesla’s Model 3 are fully electric cars set to break the price barrier, making them more than a gimmick for the hipster crowd.

These cars don’t have to be electric, but it will be an important factor in the actual revolution. I grew up in Europe, lived in Paris, France for a few years. I’ve seen what public transportation can do – buses, trains, subways – to reduce the need for a car. In the US, public transportation is mostly shit, except in some cities (never been to New York, but Los Angeles has somewhat functional public transport).

Self-driving cars will be the public transportation revolution that America needed, the biggest push since building the train system in the 1800s. Right now, car ownership is the norm for people in America. A lot of families own a car per adult family member. The belief is that those families will buy self-driving cars in the same manner, essentially keeping the car market as-is and just remove the need to personally drive.

I think that people aren’t going to buy as many cars in the long run. Self-driving cars are essentially like trains, except that their “tracks” are ubiquous. Companies like Uber (or maybe Lyft or maybe some new company that hasn’t been founded yet) will go after Amtrack and similar companies with the same force as they are going after the taxi business.

Why own your own car if you can just call one? Right now, even the cheap Uber option costs enough money to not be a serious primary means of transportation for most people. But imagine if Uber no longer has to pay the driver of the car. At that point, they basically pay for repairs, fuel, and insurance, plus their profit margin. Instead of being a company that subcontracts thousands of drivers, they would be a company that buys tens of thousands of self-driving cars.

This is where the fact that they are electric cars is important – apart from having charging stations all over the place, we should look at upgrading busy streets to help charging the cars. Solar Roadways is an early attempt at converting streets into huge solar panels, and if someone comes up with a way to charge a car from the street (metal contact plates in the tires?), the range of electric cars could increase a lot. And since it’s solar power, there is potential to really bring the prices down after the initial investment.

Of course, there is a lot of Utopia in this – Electric Self-Driving Cars, charged in part with free, unlimited energy through Solar Roadways, available for hire at a price that makes car ownership a status symbol instead of a neccessity.

Undoubtly, lobbying will be severe, from car makers in Detroit to unions of drivers that are facing unemployment, People will claim that owning a car is owning the freedom to go wherever, whenever, and that a gas guzzling V8 truck is patriotic.

But in the end, I see the end of car ownership for millions of people. The “freedom” argument won’t hold much once you can call a car to be with you in five minutes, at any time of the night. Self-Driving Cars don’t need to sleep, they don’t fear driving into shady areas and they won’t complain if you need a fifty mile ride at 3 a.m. Especially not if it will be significantly cheaper than owning one. We might even seen more carpooling since an intelligent routing system can just pick up a bunch of people on the way.

This will happen in my lifetime.

The new Macbook (2015)

My local Apple store happened to have a Space Gray Macbook in stock, so I picked it up. I think that a lot has been said already about the new Macbook, but here are some thoughts of mine. I primarily wanted a laptop that is as small and lightweight as possible, and the Macbook fits that. People called it an “iPad running OS X” and mean that in a negative way, but this was essentially what I’m looking for. And it fits that bill – it easily fits into the sleeve of my old Asus eeePC 1000HE and thus also in my little messenger bag. And yet, it runs OS X, which means that I can run iDraw, XCode, do .net Core 5 development (with Visual Studio Code) and a bunch of other development related things I simply cannot do with an iPad. It even runs Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, although of course, performance is limited.

It only has a single USB-C port – this is something you have to carefully think about if you’re interested in buying one, since that is also the charging port. I’ve looked at my stuff, and while I wish there was a second port, I can live very well with the single port. My iPhone tethers wireless, my D-SLR has an Eye-Fi Wireless Card, when I need a mouse or keyboard I use bluetooth, if I need to transfer data I use AirDrop or Dropbox and if I need to back up data, Time Capsule does that wirelessly. Around here, there are enough Apple TVs to allow me to share my screen wirelessly. There are exceptions of course, for example my NanoKORG Controllers required me to buy the $19 USB-C to USB adapter. I do think I’ll return that in favor of the $79 adapter that has USB, HDMI and a USB-C port that allows me to charge the Macbook and use a USB device.

I like the touchpad a lot. It basically fells the same as the old touchpads, and after changing some settings (Scroll direction, right click when tapping the bottom right etc.) I don’t see a difference compared to the previous touchpads. Which of course means that Apple is still the only laptop manufacturer in the entire industry that makes a good touchpad. The keyboard is interesting. There is almost no hub, and yet the keys feel positively clicky. It’s a full size keyboard, and while I only had a few hours to use it so far, I like it.

But as you can see, this is not your primary computer if you do anything that requires power. It lives in an ecosystem and it shines if you have a lot of other Apple products. I can code perfectly fine and do enough stuff with Logic or GarageBand, but if I want hardcore video/audio editing or running a Windows VM with the full Visual Studio, the Macbook isn’t the right system. In fact, the Macbook is inferior to the 11″ Macbook Air in almost every single category – the Air is cheaper, faster, has better connectivity, can drive a 4K monitor, and is the sane choice if you want to do pretty much anything. But the Air only comes in boring 2011-silver-design, cannot compete with the gorgeous screen on the Macbook, is significantly bigger and heavier and has a cooling fan. I still keep my Lenovo E440 as my Windows 7 portable.

To quote Hawkeye: None of this makes any sense.

But I like the Macbook.

Macbook

Size comparison with the 10" iPad Air
Size comparison with the 10″ iPad Air

Through the Fence

I shot my first two rolls of 35mm film in 15 years or so, and as expected, the majority of pictures only serve as a way for me to understand what the different camera settings do.

One of the photos that came out well is this shot of the Sand Canyon Bike Trail in Irvine, CA, shot through the fence on the Bridge over it.

It was shot on Black & White film (Ilford XP2 Super 400) on a Nikon FG 35mm SLR Film Camera with a 50mm lens at an aperture of f/22. That way, the background is in focus (I have a photo with f/3.5 and blurry background as well, but it’s not as effective).

The one thing that I dislike is that the right side lacks detail – I think that underexposing it a little might have been a better choice. I love the way the film grain looks. Unlike Digital Camera Noise, the grain doesn’t look like a compression artifact and gives it a nice, vintage note.

Might & Magic X – Legacy

One of the first role playing series that really got me was the original Might & Magic series. The series started in 1986 with Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum but my first game was Might and Magic V: Darkside of Xeen.

The voice acting may be a bit cringe-worthy, but just look at the intro in all its glory:

Might & Magic V: Darkside of XEEN Intro

The first five games were part of a story arc that involved Fantasy and Science Fiction (a very common mix in the 80s/90s – Ultima and Wizardry also combined these) and the battle of Corak and Sheltem which concluded in Darkside of Xeen.

If you owned both part IV: Clouds of Xeen and part V, you could combine these games to one big game called World of Xeen which allowed travel between these and opened secret areas (and a new ending) that was only possible with the two combined.

The games look amazing (for their time, but still hold up) and play well, but most importantly, they had great lore. Again, the Corak/Sheltem story was neat but even when you were trying to get Castle Kalindra back into the phase of the physical realm and rescue the queen.

With Part VI, the game shifted to a 3D free roam world. The Mandate of Heaven was praised at the time. It certainly was a great game, but to me, it was a big departure from Might and Magic. I guess it was because of the Art Style. The 3D graphics were certainly expected in the late 90’s, but they weren’t on par with other games and haven’t aged well. It also seemed to be too realistic whereas III/IV/V were comic-style. I can’t really complain about customization and skill systems though.

VII and VIII were more of the same – great games, but not up to par with technology (I guess most of VIII’s bad ratings were because it really looked 4 years too late) and for me they just didn’t have the same feeling. I liked how they got the heroes from Part 3 (Isles of Terra) incorporated into the storyline of Part VII For Blood and Honor. Part VII is possibly my favorite “new” Might and Magic.

Part IX… Well, let’s just pretend that never happened, m‘kay?

So, today I saw Might & Magic X – Legacy on Steam Early Access. I’m always a bit wary of early access, so I haven’t bought it yet. Instead, I saw that a guy named Gerugon made a Let’s play series. It’s in German, but if you just want to look at the video to get a feel, it does a good job. Part 4-7 are possibly the ones you want to watch then.

Let’s Play Might and Magic X Legacy 01 (Early Access)

So far I have to say it looks great. First of all, it’s turn and grid-based like Parts I to V. In fact, everything in the game really channels the first five games more than the next three.

This is what I love. There have been a few old-school RPGs recently – most applicable would be Legend of Grimrock – but these were more dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder and very light on story. In fact, I got bored of Legend of Grimrock quickly because there was no real story. It’s a great game with a level editor made by awesome developers (so buy it right now on GOG.com or Steam), but it lacks the rich lore and overworld that made Might & Magic so awesome.

The Early Access version still lacks a lot of content. There are 4 races with 3 classes each, but only 1 class per race is playable right now, so your party is pretty much predefined. Also, you are limited to 4 characters which is in line with the later games, while the earlier ones allowed 6 characters. That meant a lot of Bow & Arrow spam, a fighter and barbarian, some rogues, a mighty caster and a cleric.

If your first Might & Magic was Part VI or VII, you may be disappointed. When it comes to retro it’s arguably a matter of taste and even though Part VII did so much great stuff, I personally prefer the way IV and V worked, so seeing X go back to these roots is amazing.

I’m not sure if the Early Access is worth it yet and it should be noted that it comes with UPlay which sucks giant half-orc balls. But I have to admit: I like what I saw so far, and I’m cautiously optimistic for the game. With a $30 price tag it’s also not a bad deal.

Ubisoft, I gave you a lot of crap over the past few years and to be honest, most of it was deserved. But with Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and Might and Magic X, you’re giving me hope that you actually got interesting games in the pipeline that aren’t afraid to do stuff away from the mainstream.

Keep it up!

Buy Might & Magic I-VI on GOG.com
Buy Might & Magic VII on GOG.com
Buy Might & Magic VIII on GOG.com
Pretend Might & Magic IX never existed
Buy Might & Magic X – Legacy (Early Access Alpha) on Steam

2013 Steam Summer Sale Postmortem

The 2013 Steam Summer sale is over and my wallet survived it. Here’s a little post mortem about my summer sale purchases (sidenote, it felt weird visiting Steam this morning and not seeing any new deals):

Hotline Miami
This game is crazy, but also crazy awesome. The Music is reason alone to buy it (you can get the soundtrack for a bit extra), the 80’s throwback is amazing looking as well. Hard as nails are over the top gory, but one of the best indie games this year.

Endless Space + Disharmony
Haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but 4X games are always awesome if you have an hour to get into them and a day to play them. TotalBiscuit did a WTF is… about it which describes it very well.

DiRT 3
I love Codemasters racing games, and DiRT 2 is one of my longtime favorites. DiRT 3 isn’t as good as the predecessor IMHO, I just miss the atmosphere and I felt that the rally tracks were better. Still, great racer if you like the dirtier type of racing.

RPG Maker VX Ace
Mainly bought it because it was cheap. To the Moon was made with it, so it has a lot of variety. Never discount a game because it was made with a “Game Maker”, since there’s some amazing games made with these.

Total War: Shogun 2 Collection
I played several Total War games, but I never really got into them. I always buy them when they are cheap because they give me an hour or three of fun, so that’s worth it, right?

The Sims 3 + A lot of Addons
A guilty pleasure of mine. The ultimate Sandbox game, especially with all addons. You can activate the Steam keys on Origin. Why would you do that? Because addons that you buy on Amazon (I bought Supernatural since it was cheaper on Amazon) cannot be activated on Steam, but they work on Origin.

Not much to say about it that most people don’t already know – if you like The Sims, then The Sims 3 is awesome, otherwise it won’t convert you.

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
An hommage to The Oregon Trail and the zombie apocalypse. Fun little game, well worth the 1.50$ I paid.

Dust: An Elysian Tail
Haven’t played this too much yet, but definitely one of the bigger indie releases. Fun action game.

The Last Remnant
I played this on the XBox 360 before. It’s a great JRPG with a good fighting system, but undoubtly a JRPG.

Spellforce Complete
An RTS/RPG Hybrid, not really Warcraft III or Baldur’s Gate but something in-between. Great games.

Orcs Must Die! 2
Fun Tower Defense/Action game. Great coop.

Galactic Civilizations Complete Pack
Two of the greatest 4X games ever made. Both show their age (Low Res Excel Sheets) but if you’re willing to dive into them, there is a lot of depth and long-time fun.

Serious Sam 3 BFE Gold
BFE wasn’t as good or impactful as the First and Second Encounter, but still undoubtly a Serious Sam shooter. Shoot a lot of stuff, then more stuff, then more stuff and finally a huge boss.

Anno 2070 – Deep Ocean
Haven’t had a chance to play Anno 2070 yet, but picked up the Expansion anyway. I was a huge Anno 1602 fan back in 1998 (wow, that was 15 years ago. Time flies…) 2070 is interesting because it’s the first in the series set in the future (after 1602 we had 1503, 1701 and 1404), but it’s essentially true to its origins.

SimCity 4 Deluxe
The last good SimCity so far. It aged pretty well if you can get it to run. Cities XL may be an alternative, but SimCity 4 is an amazing game and still great in 2013.

Risen 2: Dark Waters Gold Edition
I could write long article about the history of Gothic, the god-awful Gothic 3, the breakup of the dev team that led to Arcania: Gothic 4 by a new dev team and Risen by the original developers. Neither is as good as Gothic 1 & 2, but Risen is still an enjoyable game, especially at a low price that makes rough edges bearable.

Syberia Collection
Great adventure games. I love French writers and artists because of the crazy ideas they come up with and run with it. Syberia was written by Benoît Sokal and features a great victorian/steampunk-ish atmosphere with a European touch. Some amazing scenery. Puzzles can be hit and miss, but amazing games nevertheless.

Sine Mora
Classic side-scrolling shoot ‘em up. Get a gamepad to play it and enjoy a beautiful game with interesting storytelling and a difficulty that’s surely challenging but not unforgiving. Instead of health you have time – every time you get hit, time decreases. Time also decreases naturally. That allows you to sometimes just fly through stuff while in other situations you have to be extra careful.

GRID
As said above, I love Codemasters racing games, and GRID is possibly my favorite buy during the steam sale. Whereas DiRT focuses on rally and related disciplines, GRID is about racing on concrete tracks with disciplines like a 1on1 race where you get penalized for hitting your opponent of a drift challenge where you get points for drifting, along with your normal race mode.

If you like racing games, GRID is a great buy.

Guacamelee!

In 1997, there was a game that was not simply great but truly genre-shaping – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It took Castlevania but turned it into a deep, open world action RPG not unlike Metroid but with it’s own unique RPG elements. Thus, a new genre was created: Metroidvania. Games in which you had a broad world to explore with many, many hidden rooms that require you to gain powers and then backtrack, all to be rewarded with secrets (in case of SOTN, they literally hid half of the game behind one such secret).

A few years back in 2009, my personal favorite game in the genre was released, the brilliant Shadow Complex. Seriously, if you own an XBox and you are a gamer, you owe it to yourself to buy it if you haven’t done so.

Today, another Metroidvania game was released, Guacamelee! I’m playing it on my Vita right now. The game is heavily nodding towards Mexican culture, specifically the Dia de muertos (Day of the Dead) and Mexican wrestling. It looks very stylized and has you play as a reborn luchador who has to rescue the daughter (and your childhood friend) of El Presidente.

The setting is a lot more lighthearted than Metroid, Castlevania or Shadow Empire, with special moves like “Downercut” or “Rooster Uppercut” and the combat is based on melee-combos rather than weapons (hence the name, in itself a light-hearted pun on Guacamole). It does a great job to tease you with locked passages (red, green, blue and white blocks that require a special ability to pass) and secrets (e.g., heart containers) which already makes me excited about backtracking and unlocking these passages (that is one of my favorite things about Zelda games).

The music is good, definitely with the Mexican flair you’d expect (yes, that includes trumpets). It’s available on Playstation 3 and Vita for $15 (or $12 if you’re a PS Plus subscriber) and it’s cross-buy, so one purchase will give you both platforms. It also supports cross-save through the PSN cloud, which means that you can play on both platforms on the save savegame. This is super neat!

I haven’t finished the game yet, so I don’t know how it holds up compared to Shadow Complex, but if you like Metroidvania games, Guacamelee! is worth it.

Dime Fiction: The Sun Engine

(Note: This is a work of fiction that should normally go on Dime Fiction, except that I’m closing that blog because my inspiration comes in waves and isn’t focused enough yet…)

Nurob was woken in the morning by a strange noise. Strange noises weren’t uncommon in his line of work, but today they were especially strange. He quickly got dressed and spoke to Nahira, his best foreman. She was working for the engine since several years, but what made her stand out was her ability to analyze even the most subtle of issues.

He remembered when one of this engineers would just look at a slight deviation from the norm as a “minor malfunction of the sensors”, but later on it would actually cause a major Hurricane on some remote planet, and he remembered the locals calling it “Sandy” for whatever strange reason.

To be fair, that “remote planet” was more important to them than anything else. it was the one planet in this system that currently bore life. Nurob remembered a careless predecessor in his job that ignored warning signals which turned out to be genuine, and it cost them a whole planet of life.

As Engine Guardians, they were technically not responsible for anything out of the Norm, but losing the planet that was commonly called “Mars” caused a big investigation from the Creators and eventually led to Nurob’s appointment to guardian. So he knew that the last remaining planet with life was sacred to him. The creators were reasonable people that liked to experiment, but at the same time they were also serious about what they were doing. They knew that creating life was non-trivial, and that creating sentience was even harder. Wasting sentient species for no good reason was pretty much the only reason why he got his job, and Nurob had no intention or losing it.

It amused and concerned him to equal parts how Nahira was treated by her peers. Their species did not really differentiate between Males and Females, but there were subtle differences, and the Creators made a point of splitting any species into two halves, but all of the Males discounted Nahiras observations as simple female intuition that was as misguided as the human concept of Religion. But Nurob learned to trust Nahira a long time ago when she predicted a giant impact that almost lost them the last remaining planet.

He quickly dressed in simple pants and robes to avoid any accusation of indecency and ran down the hallway. On his way, he looked at the giant dials that were showing details like temperature, rotation speed, solar power output and other less important numbers. These numbers looked good at first glance, but Nurob knew that something, somewhere must have been off. As he entered the monitoring chamber, Nerakul took notice.

“Nurob! Why are you here? Your shift doesn’t start yet!” he asked, but Nurob was too concerned to answer in a meaningful way. “Where is Nahira? I need to see her immediately because she sounded the alarm!” Nerakul was visibly disgusted. “Do you really believe in that nonsense? You saw the numbers on your way. The Jewel of Life is getting supplied with enough solar energy to sustain for several thousand years! Nahira is just having one of her intuitions, you know how women are!”

Nurob ignored him. He was used to Nerakul’s dismissive attitude and he knew that it was mostly justified, but the risk was too high. Everything related to that strange planet the locals called “Earth” was top priority because a loss would be catastrophic. He finally found Nahira in a corner, monitoring some solar flare activity. “Nahira, you rang the alarm! What is wrong?” She was visibly nervous, and Nurob was wondering if it was because of him or because of the situation at hand. He had some time thinking about her, so he knew that she only just started her job a few cycles ago and never had any special occasions to deal with. “Sir, I saw that the Solar Energy output dipped by 16% to only 1012.24 units. What made me concerned is that the engine temperature also dropped by 17 degrees. I fear that we may not get the Solar Energy up again within the next three or four cycles.”. He listened carefully and took a moment to think. The last time the Solar Energy dropped by more than 10 percent, the planet they all cared so much about went through something called an “Ice Age”. Nurob was only a simple worker back then, a Grunt that kept the machine running. But he remembered the big commotion that was going on at the time. People were panicking about losing the planet, even though everyone knew that a lot of mammals would easily survive. Nurob could not let this happen.

After going through some more diagnostic checks that were available in the monitoring chamber that didn’t lead to any meaningful results, he knew that he would have to go where none of the guardians went in a long time. He had to look at the core of the Engine. To a primitive mammal from the planet Earth, this might have been extremely impressive. But the Guardians knew that the Engine was just an extremely old design that was kept alive through good maintenance and sheer luck. He noticed Nahira on the other side of the corridor. “Nahira!” he shouted “I could use a hand to fix this. Since you’re the only Guardian who seems to notice this stuff you’re also the only one I trust to help me”. She was visibly impressed and hesitated for a moment, then nodded and walked towards him. “Grand Guardian, I have no experience with the Engine itself, are you really sure?” He just looked at her and waved his arm towards the hatch. “You have as much experience as I do, which is to say, not very much. But fools like Nerakul don’t notice small differences, so how would they be able to adjust an Engine of this size?”

The Engine was indeed massive. Built billions of cycles ago, it was made with ancient technology that required several hundreds of components for even the simplest tasks, but it also had a certain nostalgic beauty to it. Nurob had worked on much more modern engines, but he always felt that the new stuff lacked personality, or as he called it, “soul”, a word he learned during his studies of the planet he was appointed to guard. This old engine was a piece of art, build by the creators when they had their Bipedal phase of creation. Duality was a recurring theme: Two Legs, Two Arms, Two Eyes, Two Genders, Two Personalities. Over time, they experimented a bit more with different numbers, and while some experiments were successes (increasing Gender diversity worked really well in more civilized areas of the world) there were also a lot of failures (increasing the number of legs to four created some truly useful species, but going past that only caused creatures everyone universally hated). Nurob often wondered why the two personalities were allowed to exist (he personally preferred the personality that loved life and embraced fun over the more protective one), but the Creators made it clear that any disturbance would have severe implication to the Guardians, so he obeyed.

They spent several hours investigating the mechanical part of the Engine, but everything seemed in order. It was an elegant (if somewhat verbose) design and thus easy to troubleshoot, so they moved over to the software side of things. Nurob often admired the humans for their naiveté, believing in omniscience of their Creators even though they are really just trying out a lot of genes to see which work and then leave the hard work to the Guardians. At the same time, being in the heart of the Engine was something no human would ever accomplish. Nahira had to smile when she logged in to the Administration Interface. Primitive races are easy to impress, and what could be more impressive than the power of light? It took only a little Energy to light up the sphere they were in, but Humans were impressed by what they called the “Sun”. And that was only the light! Nurob often wondered what would happen of Humans would see the real power behind Solar Energy, the giant Engine? He had witnessed the discovery of electricity, the realization that the Earth was round, the first Lunar Landing and the end of the Curse of the Black Sox. But as belief-shattering these events were, they couldn’t compare with the realization that there was a giant engine at the core of the most important celestial body, build by sentient beings and used for experimentation.

But as with any experiment, the Software made by the creators had flaws. Sometimes, it would allocate resources in the wrong places. It would do that a lot, actually. The common case would just result in slightly larger bones, but there were uncommon cases where a pregnant woman would give birth to two children that were joined in one body structure. At first, this was seen as a major issue, but upon closer investigation it became clear that the solution won’t be easy. There was an issue if multiple births happen at the same time, and the solution would cause a potential slowdown in births. As the earth population grew and grew, the issue would occur more and more often, but the Creators did not want to reduce the birth rate out of fear of the planet. Instead, they decided to intervene. They decided to inject knowledge about a workaround into the fetus of a man later known as Ben Carson and were delighted when he later on managed to resolve the issue after it happened to people. Of course, this workaround wasn’t viable for the general case and had some risks on its own, but compared to the risk of decreasing human birth rate, it was deemed acceptable.

Nahira saw the issue first. “It seems that the Creators didn’t expect this race to live past last year, or at least the past earth year” she said. “It looks like there is another Ice Age planned, although the documentation says that the next one should be pretty far off.” she finished before Nurob took a look at the data. Indeed, the Earth was due for a Reset, which meant hefty storms followed by cold temperatures for thousands of years. But that seemed inappropriate at the time. Those Humans had proven willingness to improve. Several times in the past, Nurob considered pushing the reset button, but someone somewhere always evolved one step further and saved the race. And even though there were many things he didn’t like, the current humans seemed a lot more evolved than any of their predecessors. In fact, they even started to treat their breeding gender as equals, something which the Guardians still struggled with.

They discussed several alternative solutions. Slowing down the Earth’s rotation around the Sun was the most promising solution, but the humans would very likely notice it and react like any other animal whose cage was disturbed – panic would spread and potentially cause irreparable damage. Moving the Engine closer to the Earth would have similar ripple effects to other planets and would be equally visible. Ever since a guy with a Mohawk shot a robot 300 million miles to space to land in a target area the size of a sheet of paper, the Guardians knew that the humans would notice every small change. “I remember writing code like this in school” Nahira eventually said. What concerned Nurob was the thing she hadn’t said. It was a high risk, this codebase was written a long time ago, and none of the original Creators were available for guidance. There was no test environment and no easy way to rollback any changes. There was no documentation as to why some of the choices were made. But there was also no way to add more duct tape to it. (Nurob once heard that expression from human engineers. He didn’t know what Duct Tape was, but the humans were so excited about it, Nurob would use the phrase a lot.)

Nahira sat down in front of the archaic terminal again and studied what she saw. “I can see what they are doing. This is a very verbose way of doing things and I’m too afraid to change it too much. But see this?” She pointed at a part of the code. Nurob had never worked on the Software side of the engine. He was primarily a mechanic, and even though he could read enough to understand what’s going on, he admired her ability to actually make sense of it. “This seems to be… depending on some timing? The timing of that giant magnetic platter in section C of the engine? I know the platter slows down over time, so I assume this part also executes slower over time?” She nodded. “Indeed. This is a common issue on older engines like these. But it is a relatively easy fix with some of the new methods we developed in recent years. See these two things here? They need to happen before we can continue, but they are not dependent on each other. So I can just…” She started typing frantically. Nurob knew the look in her eyes too well. Absolute immersion, focus on the thing one is working on. Being “in the zone”, to use another term he learned from the humans. There are many Guardians in the engine, but most only did what they were told to do, very few had the ability to completely dive into the inner workings with passion and genuine interest. Eventually, she looked at him again. “So this is now executing in parallel, which should buy us another three or four billion earth years to come up with a proper solution. Should we deploy this change to the engine?”

This was the hard decisions a person in his position had to make. It is what everyone expected from him. His job seemed so easy to the other Guardians who were doing the real work, but his decision right now could destroy the project or make it succeed. Success was one of these things no one could measure because it just meant the absence of catastrophic failure. This is what he had to avoid now. But after watching Nahira work, he was confident that this was the right decision. “We’re going to emit some Solar Flares while we’re deploying. That should keep the brief outage hidden. Push it!” he declared.

There was a large observation window in the engine room, and Nurob stood there watching the planet Earth through it. Whenever he looked through one of the windows that were part of the Engine complex, he believed that someone was watching him as well. These primitive mammals with their limited intelligence and capacity, yet with more creativity than any other species he knew. Their enthusiasm for the Universe was what made him love them so much. The Flares would surely give them some headaches and he could already imagine them running around, looking at data and worried about the things they shot into space. And as he stood there and watched, Nurob wondered if someone else was watching him right now, in an Engine that really is powering him and the Guardians?

He knew that he would have another billion earth years to ponder that thought.

Let’s talk about the third best thing in the World

Beer. One of the great things about the US is that homebrewing is legal. It kinda needs to be because the prohibition killed off so many American breweries, we’re still living in the aftermath where the beer with the biggest market share is not American at all (It’s owned by a Belgian-Brazilian* company) and also tastes like urine.

But once you start looking past Bud, you realize just how awesome American Microbreweries are. If you’re in SoCal, I highly recommend the Orange County Beer Festival in Silverado to sample the goods that people brew here. If you’re visiting, I recommend anything from Kona Brewing Co, most Sam Adams or a Shiner Bock.

Homebrewing is one of those things that are easy to pickup and start and then offer a lot of room to master it. I started out with a simple starter kit that contained almost everything I needed, except for a 5 gallon kettle and some bottles (5 gallon results in ~45 12oz bottles).

After checking your local laws, you start out by boiling the beer for an hour, putting in any special ingredients that come with the recipe kit and stirring a lot. If you have a lawn and an outdoor burner, awesome! A gas stove works well enough as well, just expect it to take longer, but the risk of nasty boilovers is lower.

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After that, you need to chill it as quickly as possible. An ice bath works perfectly well for the start, although once you get serious I’d recommend a Wort Chiller.

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You then move the chilled wort into a fermenting bucket, which can be a glass carboy or a plastic bucket. Make sure that stuff is sanitized (the starter kit comes with sanitizing solution).

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This then goes into a cold, dark, quiet place for 2-4 weeks, depending on the recipe. Now you can take the time cleaning up the kettle and all equipment while you’re waiting…

After the fermentation is done, you fill the beer into a bottling bucket, together with some sugar (the recipe contains all the details). From there, you then fill the (sanitized) beer bottles one by one. This may be a bit messy as stuff will drip when you pull out the hose. Having another person helps, but isn’t required.

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The kit comes with a bottle capper and caps, which is a quite fun part of the bottling process. If you want some awesome custom printed caps, Bottlemark sells them for 12 cents a cap. Might be a good investment for the future.

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After you’ve bottled all ~45 bottles, it takes another week or two and you’re good to go! (These beers are bottle conditioned and there will be a small layer of (harmless) sediment at the bottom. It’s recommended to drink from a glass.

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This process is a bit simplified, but not by much, I mainly left out sanitizing and siphoning stuff. Brewing beer from a recipe kit is a really simple process, but one that opens the door into a whole world of experimentation and good flavors. You can also grab a few 1 gallon kits to have several experimental brews in parallel. There is also a StackExchange site dedicated to Home Brewing.

The 21st Amendment to the US constitution was one of the most important decisions in the past hundred years, a true victory of democracy. Let’s not desecrate that by drinking Bud.

*Just to be clear, this is no stab against the countries Brazil or Belgium or their beer culture. Especially Belgium has an amazing culture of great beers like Stella Artois. I don’t know much about Brazilian beers, but people told me that Eisenbahn Weizenbier is awesome.

**Drink in moderation. Alcohol can be awesome (I’ll refer to Korpiklaani who said it better than I ever could), but it also has destroyed lives of people who grew too dependent on it. And seriously, if you drink and drive, you deserve to get into an accident that leaves you paralyzed for the rest of your life.

***I think it’s stupid that the legal drinking age in the USA is 21. I come from a country that legalizes Beer at 16 and even though there is still a lot of stupid drinking happening, Germans are known for having mastered social drinking. Ask anyone who’s ever been to a Hofbräuhaus.