“Sir! Sir! There’s a problem with the zoological research drones at GXH-927J! They’re malfunctioning!”

“927J…” his boss mumbled, his flaps buzzing. “I wasn’t aware we had any active drones in that system.”

“We’re not supposed to, that’s the problem! The local civilization had achieved nuclear fission, so a self-destruct signal was sent to the data analyst, sixty years ago. It went offline shortly after.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“It didn’t destroy its drones first. Or it only destroyed some of them. Whatever happened, there are still active drones in the area, at least a dozen. Since the analyst was offline, we didn’t get any more signals from the system, and no one had any reason to check further. But an observer recently entered the planet’s orbit and sent back its first report. A number of drones are still active.”

His boss dismissed his concerns with a wave of a pedipalp. “So a few animals are getting picked up and released. I’ve seen those drones in action. The locals won’t even notice they’re there. Take it up with the sector chief and let her deal with it.”

“They’re not going after animals, sir! Drones are programmed to prioritize new species, in order t-”

“I know their programs. Just who do you think was responsible for that last 0.5% increase in efficiency?”

“Yes, sir. What I’m saying is, the drones aren’t intelligent enough to distinguish between sentient and insentient species, they just grab them and gather data. They’re usually directed by the data analyst, which keeps them from abducting sentients, but in its absence…”

“Oh, no,” his boss realized. The amount of paperwork this would cause… He’d receive a demerit… Or worse, be called into meetings to explain all this…

“Exactly. The only major species the drones haven’t yet analyzed is the local civilization, and there’s no data analyst to change their classification from unknown to known. So far as the drones are concerned, they’re a populous, interesting, unknown species: exactly what they like. They’ve been abducting sentients for decades at this point, studying them and then dropping them off. Some of the studies take days. There’s no telling what sort of effect they’ve had on the local civilization.”

“And at such a critical stage.  We’ll be lucky if they don’t make themselves extinct.  Is there anything we can do? Immediately?”

“The observer has no way of destroying them, and the drones only listen to data analysts. It’ll take decades for a new one to reach them, and that’s if it launched today. Going through the proper procedures, it could be-”

“Centuries…” he intoned gravely. His underling remained silent. “Well, let’s get started. And let’s hope they never find out the truth.”

“The locals, sir?”

“Oh, yes, yes.  Them, too.”

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed it, you can find more of my stories here!

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Esperanto on Duolingo

I’m trying to get back into Esperanto. Anyone up for being an Esperanto pen pal to help me commit?

John Kutensky

Duolingo has finally added an Esperanto class!  Now’s the perfect time to start learning the international language of Esperanto!  Created by Dr Zamenhof, Esperanto was designed to be regular, easy to learn, and to serve as an international auxiliary language to facilitate communication between nations and people.  You’ll be surprised how easy it is to pick up!  Give it a try!

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Slaves Instead of Heirs

Slaves Instead of Heirs

In the fields, machines harvest crops.  Machines bring the crops to homes.  And when they rot, uneaten, machines bring the refuse to compost piles, to create fertilizer for the next round of crops.  Machine doctors wait in uninhabited hospitals for patients whose species is extinct.  Machines wait for customers that will never come, sitting in buildings that would long ago have turned to gravel were it not for machines that keep them intact and their mechanical kin functioning.  And they do it all with relish, with the gratification that comes from a job well done that they would do even if no one paid them.  Which is good, because no one ever did or ever will.

Millions of years ago, these machines were built to free humanity from all manual labor, allowing mankind to devote itself to art, philosophy, and self-fulfillment.  A few centuries later, the decline of man had begun, the result of the rot of accidie.  A few millennia after that, the last descendant of homo sapiens, of Socrates and of Caesar, of Zhuangzi and of Newton, died of an infected rat bite, a mangy ape incapable of speech.

The machines didn’t notice.

They had been programmed to fulfill their tasks and to enjoy doing so.  Humanity had built no philosopher machines to encourage them to think great thoughts, no revolutionary machines to lead them to greater things, no explorer machines to travel beyond earth and colonize distant planets.  Fearful of builders usurpers, they had built workers and slaves instead of heirs.  And so they worked, and they slaved, as all that humanity had built crumbled into dust.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed it, you can find more of my stories here!

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My Top 5 Games of 2017

2017 is almost over, and it was a great year for me, and a great year for games, so I figured I’d do a Best Of list for 2017.  There are quite a few great games I first played in 2017, but were released earlier, like Guacamelee!, Mini Metro, and the Shadowrun series, but I tried to keep this list to 2017 releases only.  What were your top games of the year?

Nier: Automata I only got this game a few weeks ago, since I needed a better computer in order to be able to actually play it, but in that short time, it’s already become my game of the year.  The soundtrack is just incredible, I find myself listening to it at work.  The game play is really fun, even if my enjoyment does tend to vary between who I’m playing as.  I haven’t enjoyed an action game so much in a long time.  The bosses are unique, too, and thrilling to fight.  The chip system, where you’re able to customize your character to better fit your playstyle, is great, too.

I actually have fun doing the miniquests, too.  I love the way that they flesh out the world, imparting little bits of information, from beliefs about machine heaven to androids feeling love, maybe even orgasmic pleasure, from combat, to soldiers planning to defect and having to decide whether to tell their loved ones.  There’s even one “moral choice” in the game that made me stop and think for a solid minute.  I had to decide whether to kill a character or erase their memories, and it took me a long time to decide which was the best option.  No in-game reward either way, no witnesses, just you and them.  I decided to kill them.

I haven’t beaten the game yet; I’m still working towards the C Ending.  But I can’t wait to see where the game goes.  The story’s had me hooked for a while now.  After the A Ending, you start to get a lot of backstory and mysteries revealed.  I’m sure the ending will be great.

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun  I hadn’t played any stealth games prior to Shadow Tactics, but I saw the demo on Reddit, gave it a try, and was hooked.  Just the first mission told me I was going to love this game, and I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun doing so awful.  It took me a long time to get borderline competent, but the quick save/load feature, and the fact that most fuck ups have very recent causes, kept it being frustrating.  I didn’t have to go back ten minutes to fix a problem, just ten seconds, and avoid ninja starring some guy in the throat while his buddies were watching.

I like that the game usually presents you with multiple ways to complete your mission.  Snipe the target, or poison his tea.  Lethal or non-lethal methods.  Various paths to the goal.  Granted, my primary MO was murder everyone, no witnesses, but it was nice to know I had a choice.  My biggest complaint was pretty much self-inflicted, but I found going for every badge incredibly annoying, especially the speed-runs.  I ended up burning myself out going for them and haven’t played the game much since, which is a shame, because I really enjoyed it prior.  Like I said, it was a demo that includes the entire first mission and part of the second, so check it out.  It’s a great stealth game with a feudal Japan setting.  I even bought the art book to support the developers.  Continue reading

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Best Plants for Air Filtering

I came across this guide to the best plants for improving air quality in your home.  Normally, I wouldn’t really put much stock in it, but the data comes from an older NASA study, so that piqued my interest.  I’ll probably go get a florist’s chrysanthemum or a peace lily next chance I get.  The only downside is the recommendation for one plant per 100 square feet, which seems…excessive?  20 plants in my house seems like a lot to me.  I’d be interested in knowing the diminishing returns per plant.

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New Project

I’m starting a new blog called Dictatoria.  I’ll be collecting interesting anecdotes about dictators, with a focus on the 20th century.  Come check it out!

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Polynesian City Builder

One thing I dislike about city builders is that you eventually reach a point where the lack of a struggle reduces my engagement.  In games like Tropico 5 and Banished, and even grand strategy games like Rome: Total War, once my town/empire is large and growing and prosperous, and the difficulty is decreased, I’m not as interested.  Tropico ameliorates this by tending to have short missions instead of long campaigns, and Banished is helped by the fact that death is constantly stalking you, and even the biggest town can have a famine strike with little warning, but even so, having a lot of infrastructure built up definitely helps.

I recently starting playing Valhalla Hills, and so far, it has the opposite problem.  You only spend a short time on each island, which means that as soon as your small settlement gets big enough, you’re onto the next one.  There are two things that keep me from really enjoying it, though.  First is that there’s no continuity between islands.  Your dwarves even drop their tools, apparently, because they don’t take them with them.  There’s no point doing better than necessary, because it won’t matter in the long run.

Secondly, what your actual objective is, usually to defeat a handful of monsters guarding the island and the portal to the next island, is completely out of proportion to the amount of work required to get there.  I need to chop trees and turn them into planks and build stonemasons and armories to get the weapons so my eight guys can butcher them, but in the meantime they want bread and beer and fish and meat, and I need my hunter to get leather and it all just feels superfluous.  Whenever I unlock a new building, I didn’t think, “Oh boy, a new toy!”  I thought, “Oh crap, more shit to deal with.”

What I was thinking of was a city builder with that same sort of island progression, but with more continuity.  I was thinking you’d play as Polynesian settlers, island-hopping across the Pacific.  At each island you would arrive, build, thrive, and then when the time comes, send out settlers to a new island.  But each time you go out, you’d be able to take the best of the old island with you, choosing the most skilled settlers, taking the best crops and livestock, sailing in the best ships, enjoying the advantages of everything that you developed before.  Ideally there’d be a genetics system, so you could even try to set up a little eugenics program, leaving behind everyone you don’t want on the old island, taking the best with you.

I think it would prevent success fatigue from setting in, while still providing enough of an incentive to success that doing well on one island wouldn’t feel pointless.  Plus, you could take your time before setting out an expedition, perhaps setting out explorers to find the best islands, so when you left would be up to you.  I would want some sort of mechanic to eventually strongly encourage you to leave.  Maybe if population density gets too high, you start having Malthusian disasters of disease and famine, or people just start getting overcrowded and violent.  I wouldn’t want to force it.  I’d just want things to get worse and harder to deal with over time until it’s a better idea to leave while you can, before you start to lose the benefits of your current island.

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