2020 has been a shit year for most of us here on Earth. But it may turn out to be a landmark year for science, and the search for life outside of Earth.

The search for extra-terrestrial life has mostly focused on Mars and the icy moons of the outer solar system.

For decades, the focus of the search for extraterrestrial life has focused on Mars, the outter solar system (such as the moon Titan and Europa), and searching for non-natural radio signals from other stars. But a recent review of data from the Pioneer 13 space probe has revealed that the probe detected one of the tell-tale indications of life in the atmosphere of Venus way back in 1978. The review of Pioneer 13's data was prompted by the recent discovery (by scientists using a land-based telescope) of a chemical called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy a month ago, on September 14.

Phosphine is a class of gas that can be produced from atmospheric chemistry under high pressure, or as a by-product of anaerobic biology. Phosphine has also been detected in the atmosphere of gas giants such as Jupiter, where the incredibly high pressure and energy of Jupiter's interior atmosphere produces the compound, which then floats up to the upper atmosphere, where it reacts with other chemicals and oxidized (or dissolves). The atmosphere of Venus, however, lacks the higher pressure of Jupiter that would be continually-creating phosphine. As such, the chemical cannot be produced in Venus' atmosphere, in the quantities detected, by the same mechanisms that produce it on Jupiter. Another explanation is required, and the only other known way to produce this type of phosphine is through anaerobic biological processes.

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In the last post, I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected me personally -- which [thankfully] was not much. This time, I want to present some of my thoughts and opinions on the response to the pandemic from a policy and societal perspective, as well as what I perceive to be the lessons that we (as a society) should have learned.

Some of the most essential workers in our economy are the ones who are paid the least. Health care workers, delivery persons, postal workers, grocery clerks, warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and so forth were the people who had to keep going to work because our economy and lifestyles would grind to a complete halt without them. The median wages among employed individuals in the United States is around $49k per year. Yet according to Salary.com, the average salary for a professional truck driver is only around $42k. Contract or gig drivers (such as Amazon couriers) make far, far less.

Restaurant and grocery store workers also make far less than delivery drivers, often earning minimum wage (or less than minimum wage if you also make tips). Those who maybe kept their jobs, but were reliant on tips were especially hurt during the lockdowns, due to a lack of business and in-person contact.

Low-paid delivery persons and fast food workers were essential,
and had to keep working while the rest of us stayed home and safe.

And then there's the healthcare workers, who were literally putting their lives on the line every day, helping to take care of sick people and possibly exposing themselves to infection on a daily basis. Registered nurses (usually employed in hospitals) make decent pay, but the majority of support staff in private clinics are not necessarily registered nurses. This includes receptionists, phlebotomist, clerical staff, and other assistants. As of 2018, medical support staff earned an average of less than $40k per year!

Remember, these are the people who, during a pandemic, were considered "essential" workers who had to keep working (while everyone else stayed home) in order to keep a bare minimum economy running, and to allow the rest of us to continue to go about our daily lives. When shit hit the fan, we didn't look to lawyers, or corporate CEOs, or hedge fund managers, or brokers, or realtors, or movie stars, or athletes. Aside from doctors, we didn't need any of the traditionally highest-paid classes of workers. We needed truck drivers, postal workers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, and food service workers, and of course medical staff. So I hope you remember this next time you hear someone say that these workers deserve higher pay, or that minimum wage should be increased.

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A few days ago, I received an unusual comment on one of my posts on this blog. The comment claimed to be from a "certified illustrator" who claimed that I was using some of her copywritten images without credit. The comment included a link to a Google Drive document that supposedly contained a list of the offending images, and suggested that the illustrator would sue me if I did not promptly remove the images. The full message is duplicated in text below, and in screenshot form:

Hi there!

This is Melika and I am a certified illustrator.

I was baffled, frankly speaking, when I came across my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without my permission, you must be aware that you could be sued by the copyrigh owner.

It's not legal to use stolen images and it's so filthy!

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at www.megabearsfan.net and my earlier publications to get evidence of my copyrights.

Download it right now and check this out for yourself:

https://sites.google.com/site/case53703/googledrive/share/downloads/
file/storage?ID=6543774982793

If you don't delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next few days, I'll write a complaint against you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn't work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.

This comment was posted on one of my blog posts, claiming that I would be used for the use of copywritten images.

I am reasonably certain that this message is a scam. If you see this message in your comments, or receive it in an email, do not open the link!

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to keep my job and work from home. At least, so far... It's one of the benefits of working in computer programming: you can often work from anywhere, so long as you have a functioning VPN. One of my tasks over the quarantine period was to try to configure an application to support automatic updates. These applications are UWP apps built for a Windows IoT installation on a Raspberry Pi (RPi). It's an internal application that is still in a Beta stage, so it's not suitable to release over the Microsoft Store (at least, not yet). We had been manually updating the handful of devices in the field for the past two years, and as the number of deployed devices has grown, having to send someone out to manually update them was becoming a pain. Even moreso in this new era of social distancing.

Many Windows apps can be built in Visual Studio to support automatic updates.

Windows IoT has not been the best of environments to work in. It lacks a lot of functionality built-in to other Windows environments, and documentation for it is spotty, at best. Back in 2018 (shortly after we had started deploying the apps in the field), Microsoft released an update for Windows and Visual Studio that allows UWP apps to be built such that they automatically periodically check a specified server location for new updates. Awesome! It sounded like there would be a simple solution!

Be sure to update the version number.

I built the app with auto-updates enabled for every hour, deployed it to my test RPi over the Windows Device Manager, and deployed the update package and .appinstaller file onto our test server.

Then I waited.

Select an appropriate frequency to check for updates. I set it to check every hour while testing.

And nothing happened.

...

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Terraforming Mars

Steam recently released a digital version of the board game Terraforming Mars. I haven't played the digital version (which is getting "mixed" and negative reviews at the time of this writing), but I have played the board game version. It's pretty fun, and in celebration of the latest NASA probe landing on the surface of Mars, I thought I'd launch a review of the board game.

Terraforming Mars has a wide variety of gameplay mechanics, which makes it kind of difficult to clearly categorize it. It also makes it a little difficult to teach the game to new players efficiently. It's not an overly-complicated game, however. It's just a lot of different concepts that you have to explain. Regardless, I've been able to get through learning games with new players in about three or three-and-a-half hours (including the rules explanation). So it's not overly burdensome to learn and play. It's also not terribly hard to simply play a sample round to teach the game flow, and then mulligan the game if any players feel they dug themselves into a hole.

Terraforming Mars has multiple distinct mechanics, ranging from tableau-building to tile-placement.

There's tile placement with adjacency bonuses. There's resource management. There's action economy. There's a little bit of tableau building and hand management. There's even a certain degree of bluffing. Playing with the non-basic corporations adds variable player powers, You can even optionally play with card drafting! Pretty much the only thing that we're not doing is loyalty / betrayal mechanics. Despite including so many varying game mechanics, nothing feels out of place, and everything fits together well.

The rulebook includes footnotes explaining the scientific basis for the rules and mechanics.

Depending on how you play, however, the actual game board and your tableau of cards can sometimes feel very disparate. If you're not actively placing tiles on the board, then the whole board can pretty much boil down to a score and prerequisite tracker. However, if you're avoiding placing tiles on the board, then you're probably going to lose, as I've yet to see a predominantly card-based strategy win the game.

The board itself includes a map of Mars' surface, and has notable landmarks on Mars clearly labeled. Unfortunately, the board only covers one half of Mars' surface, so there's some notable landmarks that are not included at all (perhaps the other side of the planet is an expansion?). The resource cubes are very shiny and pretty, and have an appropriately sci-fi aesthetic to them. The rulebook also includes little footnotes that explain some of the scientific bases for the game's rules and mechanics. it's like the kind of thing you might expect if Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote a board game. Science and space nerds will probably really appreciate these efforts at scientific accuracy.

The resource cubes are pretty, but shift around very easily on the flimsy, card stock economy boards.

Other components besides the resource cubes are kind of cheap and flimsy though. The player economy boards are printed out on basic card stock. There aren't any slots or grooves for the production cubes to sit in, so they slide around very easily if the table is jostled, or if the economy board is shifted around. You may want to invest in some third-party replacements or overlays in order to solve this problem.

The box also doesn't have any inserts of any kind for storing components -- just a handful of plastic, zip-lock bags. They expect you to just drop all the cards in a plastic baggie and just toss them in the box haphazardly along with all the other pieces!

At a price point of $70 (USD), I expect more from a game's components! Fortunately, where the game lacks in production value, it more than makes up for in entertainment value!

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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