Animals That Should Have Been Domesticated

Creating fictional animals is hard, but there is another way. Instead of inventing your own animals, just use animals that are dead.

And no, I don’t mean the dead cat that you saw run over in the road. I’m talking about the world’s megafauna. The massive animals that once roamed this world and are now long gone. I know I’m not the only one who has ever looked at a picture of one of those beasts and thought “I wish I could pet that.”

When I see one of those pictures I see a lost opportunity. I see a creature that could have lived alongside humans. Horses and dogs and cats are great, I love them. They have their place in fantasy and I don’t think that they can be replaces. At the same time, why create new fantastic creatures when we can draw on Earth’s past? So here are three extinct animals that I think would have been really cool to have as pets.

Ground Sloths

Modern sloths are cool but I am not sure what they could be used for

Listen, I know that sloths seem useless now. Cute, but useless. But I really think that they are capable of great things. Imagine those claws! Imagine that size! I’m not imagining these things as a mount (but they could be) but imagine how useful those claws would be for diggin or pulling our tree stumps, or how the giant sloths could help to carry heavy loads. A traveling merchant with a ground sloth would be really cool.

Saber Tooth Tigers

I wonder if those teeth could be turned into knives…. Photo from Wikipedia

The decline of megafauna is often linked to the spread of humanity because we tend to kill everything. One thing that may have suffered from the decline of megafauna is the the saber tooth tiger that hunted them.

Now I know, a big cat with teeth that big can be scary, but imagine if we befriended them. They were suited to hunting big things, we were (are) suited to hunting everything. That doesn’t mean we don’t need help. Sure, dogs are great, maybe the greatest, but imagine a giant house cat with giant fangs charging towards your enemy. That beats any dog.

Woolly Rhinos

I’m just saying, one of these would be way scarier than a horse.

Everyone loves a rhino. If you’re like me as a child you only got to learn about the rhinoceroses that are native to far off lands. You might also have been upset to learn that we used to have an animal as ubiquitous as the woolly rhino right here in North America.

If bread in sufficient numbers these animals would have been so much better than horses. They come with horns! Just imagine for a second the rohirrim mounted on rhinos charging into ranks of unprepared orcs.

What extinct animals do you wish were still around today? Let me know in the comments!

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Five Months with the Drop Alt

There are a lot of mechanical keyboards out there. Many of them are “for gamers,” and you can find a keyboard with that gamer aesthetic for under $100. However, if you start looking for enthusiast keyboards, the prices can quickly get into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Why are these so expensive? It’s really a matter of supply and demand. Enthusiast mechanical keyboards are a niche market. Many designs are either made by small companies or by enthusiasts. Many of these kits also need to be assembled by the user. The selection and soldering of components can take a lot of time, knowledge, and tools. So if you have a few thousand dollars you can pay someone to build it for you.

Luckily, as the hobby gains steam, there are more and more options for people who want to dip their toes in the mechanical keyboard ocean. One of these options is the Drop Alt.

What is the Alt?

The Drop Alt is a hot-swappable mechanical keyboard, which means that the switches can be added and taken away without soldering. They just pop into place. As soon as I learned this, I was sold, I ordered the high-profile version without switches, but a low-profile variant is available as well.

Once I had the board picked out I went with switches. I knew I wanted linear switches, switches that press down without a built in “clicky” sound of a tactile bump. I settled on the Gateron reds. These switches were great, but I eventually swapped them out for Gateron blacks. This was just due to personal preference, I knew by this point that I like linear switches but I wanted a switch with more actuation force. This is the great thing about the board being hot-swappable. If you aren’t sure what kind of switch you like you can try another.

The keycaps I picked out were the the Drop + Matt3o MT3 /dev /tty keycap set.

I picked these out because I liked the color scheme and I have been extremely happy with them. The PBT plastic that they are made of is durable and the keycaps themselves are nicely contoured for comfort during extended writing sessions.

Mods

One thing I knew going into this is that some enthusiasts have complains about the sounds that some of the keys on the Alt make. Most of these issues relate to the stabalizers, the metal bars that help hold larger keys like shift and enter steady. They default stabalizers on the Alt have been known to rattle. Now, this may or may not bother you, but eventually, it started to bother me, and so I decided to make a few modifications.

The first thing I did was lube all of the stabilizers so that they would move more smoothly. I used a small paintbrush and some Teflon grease I keep around for my trombone slide, but many recommended some kind of krytox grease.

Then I did the bandaid mod. This was considerably more annoying to do, so I only did it on the space bar, which was the one that still annoyed me the most when I was done lubing the stabilizers. The bandaid mod is simple. All you do is cut the pads off of a couple of bandaids and place them between the base of the stabilizers and the circuit board to cushion the stabilizer’s impact against the circuit board when you type.

These mods might sound complex, but they really aren’t. I just made them difficult because I did them impulsively and didn’t really think about what my plan was before I started.

Is the Drop Alt Worth Buying?

In my opinion, absolutely. I wanted an excellent keyboard, one that I could customize to my liking and occasionally tinker with. I was not disappointed. If you don’t want to dip your toes into assembling your keyboard, you might be interested in something like the RK61, but I whole heartily recommend the drop alt.

Buy the Alt if you want:

  • To experiment with different types of switches.
  • To customize your typing experience without a soldering iron.
  • To have a quality mechanical keyboard that you will likely enjoy for years to come.
  • To have something that you can both enjoy and occasionally tinker with.

If you go with the high-profile variant I recommend getting some kind of wrist rest as well to enhance your typing experience.

Three Titles that Prove Academics Do Have A Sense of Humor

Even for academics, it’s easy to assume that academic publications and conferences have to be dry, stuffy affairs where everyone pretends not to be bored out of their minds. In many cases, this is true. Fun and passion are thrown to the wayside and replaced with “formality” and “professionalism.” Luckily for us, there exists an elite cadre of academics who try to inject some fun into their work.

Now I realize that some older academics dislike this disregard for decorum, but I think that it’s a good thing. For two reasons.

  1. Fun titles grab a reader’s attention.
  2. Many people pursue advanced degrees out of a passion for the field. There’s no reason that passion can’t be put on display.

So let’s all take a moment to appreciate these three wonderful academic paper titles.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Flow Chemistry

I’ll be straight with you. This is not the only review paper titled “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to ___” that you can find. But it is the first one that I have come across. Other papers following this theme include subjects such as virology and particle imaging.

I like this so much because these are all review articles. Articles meant to describe the state-of-the-art and serve as an introduction to the important work being done in a particular field. Someone trying to familiarize themselves with a new field will read these reviews first. And familiarizing yourself with a new field is hard. That’s why I like these titles so much. It’s the equivalent of the authors offering novices in the field a kind reassurance of “DONT PANIC.”

Rocks are heavy: transport costs and Poaleoarchaic quarry behavior in the Great Basin.

I learned about this paper just the other day while listening to Tides of History. In short, rocks are heavy and because their weight influences how they are prepared at the quarry before being taken to their destination. If home is far away, more work will be done on the rocks at the quarry to reduce their weight. It’s a great reminder of how important practical and seemingly mundane concerns have shaped human history.

Will Any Crap We Put On Graphene Increase Its Electrocatalytic Effect?

This article is a perspective. It’s similar to an op-ed in many ways. The authors did collect data to help make their argument, but the article is in many ways an opinion. In this case, their opinions concern graphene.

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon and is a popular thing to study these days. What makes graphene so interesting is its electrical conductivity. By adding other elements to graphene, a process known as doping, scientists can change these conductive properties. Doped graphenes are frequently studied for use as catalysts.

The authors of this paper basically argue that just about any element appears to increase the electrocatalytic efficiency of graphene and that many researchers who publish these results are looking to increase their publication count rather than contribute to their field. In order to make this point, the authors took bird droppings, added them to graphene, and observed an increase in its electrocatalytic effect.

I love this article. You can almost taste how salty the authors are.

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Win A Free Mug

I love coffee. I love mugs. I have far too many mugs. That shouldn’t be a surprise though, writers are basically required to own too many mugs and drink far too much coffee. Coffee is to writers what ants are to anteaters.

To celebrate the sacred bond between writers and their coffee, I have decided to hold a giveaway.

How do you sign up for this giveaway? It’s simple! Just sign up for my newsletter by April 15th. On April 16th, I will select one person on the mailing list at random, and they will receive one of these mugs. Whichever mug they want, in fact.

Just make sure that you remember to check your spam filter for the confirmation email. Only people who are fully signed up for the newsletter will be eligible to win.

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Magic Systems: Soft Versus Hard

crop female future teller with tarot cards on table
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

Everyone wants to be a wizard, right? You know, the squishy caster who cowers at the back of the party and throws fireballs through every open door?

Magic is at the heart of the fantasy genre, so it’s no surprise that writers and worldbuilders spent a lot of time designing their magic systems. It’s hard.

Designing a magic system is all about finding a balance between power and plot. The magic should empower characters and in some cases it may even resolve conflicts, or cause them.

The hardest part of designing a magic system is making it feel like it’s an integral part of the world. Magic is more than just a tool, in a world where magic exists it would become an integral part of religion, culture, maybe even science.

There are many, many varieties of magic you could make for your world. But one of the first things you should decide is whether you want a soft magic system or a hard magic system.

Soft Magic Systems

Soft magic is, well, magical. Soft magic systems have few defined rules and may not have formal spells. A practitioner of soft magic might be Gandalf for example. We know Gandalf is incredibly powerful, but we don’t really know what his limits are. Much of this is because he uses magic rarely, but you get the idea.

A soft magic system might draw power from creativity, psychic energy, or feelings. The limits of the caster may be defined by their physical or mental stamina. Soft magic systems are best for settings where the magic may be rare. In order to preserve the suspension of disbelief, a small number of practitioners who appear rarely or use their power sparingly. Otherwise the magic becomes a crutch and the audience will begin to lose interest.

Hard Magic Systems

Hard magic is hard because it has hard, defined rules. You could think of these magic systems as a bunch of “if then statements.” For example, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn features practitioners who know that if they consume x metal they will gain y power.

Hard magic systems are great for settings where magic is common and will be used frequently. Set rules let your audience know what to expect, but they don’t have to be boring. Let’s say you magic has five core rules and each of these rules is used by most characters in just one way. This doesn’t mean your characters are limited to just five spells. New uses for magic can be interest by new combinations or applications of these five rules.

Which One Is Better?

I tend to prefer soft magic systems myself. I’m a big fan of The Force and of the magic of the Farsala Trilogy. But that doesn’t mean soft magic systems are the best. Hard magic can also be incredibly interesting. Just because magic has defined rules does not mean that it can’t be “mystical.” Rules don’t have to be explicitely shown to your audience. If your magic is consistent your audience will begin to pickup on what the rules are. In this case the rules are more for your own use to make sure that you do not get carried out.

In the end, whether you should go with a hard or soft system depends on your story and your story’s needs. How common do you want magic to be? How powerful? Who uses it? What is it good for?

What’s the best magic system you’ve seen? What was so great about it? Let me know in the comments below!

You Need These Mugs

I have too many mugs and now I’m looking at more. Because I am suffering and my wallet will soon suffer I’ve decided that you all have to suffer too.

There will also be a lot of amazon affiliate links here, so by suffering yourself and buying a few mugs you will be helping me to un-suffer. Thanks in advance.

Stardew Valley Coffee Mug

If you’ve ever played Stardew Valley then you know how important it is to keep your energy up while you’re working in the fields. I’ve always thought that some of the things, like eating flowers to get energy, is a little weird. But coffee, now that’s REALISM.

Lego Coffee Mug

I love Lego, and I love mugs, so this one seems like one I need to have. I am a little curious how it holds up to the heat, but it would still have a good display piece. Plus I could use all my spare pieces.

This Is The Way

I know its official name is now Grogu, but he will always be Baby Yoda in my heart. I can imagine Grogu guzzling a gallon of coffee when Mando isn’t looking.

Pour Your Coffee Pot Into A Smaller Coffee Pot

It’s pot-ception! Although this listing makes me wonder if someone could make a lid that makes drinking from coffee pots possible. Is this an untapped segment of the market? Possibly.

Check Out This Mathy Mug

I don’t get some of these references, but I’m not an engineer. I do like to make fun of engineers though. Mainly because they can make more money with a bachelors than I will be able to make with a PhD. It’s okay though, I’m not bitter or anything. Unlike coffee.

I Donut Care

A good pun is like good whiskey. It burns, but it burns SO GOOD. Donuts are the same way. Except it does the opposite of burn, because you’re gaining calories as you eat them.

Bitch Better Have My Bells

Like Tom Nook, I love money. So if you buy this mug, you’ll help me get money.

Planet_Insert Name

I’ve been working on a new setting. It’s a grimdark science fantasy setting inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune. I will not offer specifics at this time.

But I have had ideas for a planet. A planet that is relatively young and dominated by volcanoes and magma flows. This planet is called Corsan.

The humans on this planet care most about the valuable ores that are continuously pushed to the surface by the constant eruptions. The ruling class live in large citadels, anchored to the planet’s crush by deep pylons.

From their citadels they reap the profits of an army of slave and convict workers who are forced to work the dangerous lava fields. These workers are in turn watched over by an army of cloned janissaries.

Five years from now I will be free.

Five years from now I will walk into the Overseer’s office.

Five years from now I will receive my pittance.

Five years from now I will leave.

Five years from now I will go somewhere cold.

Five years from now I will be free.

Miner 44-0372 died in a sudden pyroclastic event 4 days after writing this.

Constant eruptions make mining easy, and this planet excels in the production of weapons and ships. But this planet’s population remains low. Too low to risk open war.

What scares the rest of the Empire is this world’s willingness to depend on clone soldiers.

Clone is not the right word, but the best word. The Citadels do not just grow soldiers. They grow servants and maids and gardeners and whatever else they need. These clones are very expensive, which is why House Gravin refuses to use clones in the mines.

To do this they do not draw on any one genome. They pick and choose from the specimens that enter their prisons. Because of this their clones are not true clones. Their clones are amalgams of those who pass through. From one batch to the next there are subtle differences introduced by the engineers. But no matter the differences all are unflinchingly loyal to House Gravin.

The most concerning part of this is therefor not the number of clone soldiers, but the potential of the clone soldiers if House Gravin ever decides to grow more.

So why does this planet matter?

Well, it doesn’t. Not in intrinsic worth at least. House Gravin buys criminals from other houses. These criminals are then set to work in House Gravin’s mine for a much shorter term than they would have served otherwise. But the real value is in the genes.

House Gracin depends on cloned soldiers. Something that most other houses would not want to risk. By bringing in greater amounts of genetic stock the House’s gene wizards have more choices to choose from.

There are some places on this planet that remain free. Escaped prisoners and occasional escaped clones have found refuge in the poles of the planet. In these relatively cool areas they have made their home in the empty magma tubes. They sell ore to smugglers and hunt native insectoid lifeforms for sustenance. Their lives are hard, but they live their lives the way they want to.

House Gravin is brutal, but I think I could imagine brutal-er. This setting is still in its early phases, and there is a lot of room to grow. What kind of house would you imagine? Let me know on twitter @expyblg.

Five Things I Learned Playing Age of Empires II

For the past year I’ve been playing a real time strategy game called Age of Empires II Definitive Edition with a group of friends on the weekend. Let me be clear, I am terrible at this game, but I have gotten less terrible as time went on. Here are five things I’ve learned.

1. Your friends will always hurt you.

There can only be one winner. Their are no true allies, no peace, just truces. Other players might be helping you at the moment, but at soon as they get the chance they’ll destroy your town center while you’re off fighting their battles.

2. Attack early.

This is a mistake I make a lot. RTSgames are about gathering resources. If you gather a lot of resources you can buy a lot of army. It’s easy to think that you have time at the begining to grow your strength, but you should always be prepared to fight. A handful of combat units in the early game is often enough to convince would-be attackers to find someone else to pick on. Why is this important? Because a small disruption in your economy can cause huge disruption later on. For this reason it’s also worth attacking your openent’s farmers and other workers if you get the chance. It will give you an excellent chance to move ahead.

3. Always hurt your friends.

Remember, there are no friends here. Once they have outlived their usefulness you should dispatch them quickly. It’s easy to get distracted by the bigger enemy. Use the time you have to position troops near your Ally if possible and do it carefully. If you unally and attack quietly you will have a brief window where the other player’s units won’t attack because they still have you set to “Ally.”

4. Don’t ignore the quiet ones.

Sometimes a player will find a quiet corner of the map and fortify. While the other players do battle they will build up their armies and their resources in order to sweep the map clean. Do not let them do this. Even if you are not in a position to make an all out attack, you should send scouts or raiding parties so that you know what they are up to and can be ready to respond.

5. Spain delenda est

Spanish villagers are stronger than the villagers of other factions, and as a game progresses there are multiple upgrades that make them even stronger. Rather than building a military a player using the Spanish can build up a large population and attack when their enemies have their guard down. If your friend picks Spanish just destroy them. Don’t wait, don’t show mercy. Kill all their people and salt the fields.

The Purpose of Small Business

I like small businesses. I like shopping at small businesses, I like supporting small businesses, and my late father owned a small business that I worked in for many years.

Yet small businesses, or rather small business owners, have a way of grinding my gears. Loud complaints about the primacy of Amazon or credit card fees have always sounded disingenuous to me. Not that I don’t understand them. Competing with larger companies is difficult, and doing business can be expensive. But sometimes these complaints veer into “woe is me” territory when voiced by business owners who are honestly just bad business owners.

Summarizing all these thoughts was hard for me for a long time, mostly because of my own biases. Then, awhile back, I listened to episode 111 of Citations Needed.

The hosts of this podcast are very left-leaning, and not everyone reading this will agree with them. However, they make a few points that I think most people will agree with. That is, that much of the rhetoric surrounding small businesses, especially in politics, takes advantage of the fact that the public has a very different idea of what constitutes a small business. Furthermore, this rhetoric assumes that small businesses have a right to exist.

Do not get me wrong. I love walking down mainstreet and see healthy, vibrant, local shops and restaurants, but they are not good businesses simply because they are small. A small business can be just as bad for its employees and for its community as the big corporate chain that just moved in.

So, let’s keep in mind a few things.

  1. Small businesses are not an inherent good.
  2. Owning a small business does not automatically make the owner a skilled businessperson.
  3. A small business does not inherently benefit its community.

Which leads quite nicely into what a small business should aim to do.

  1. Fill some need in the community.
  2. Provide opportunities for members of the community.
  3. Contribute to the betterment of the community.

Business owners can be hardworking, yes, but they can also be entitled. Everyone likes the idea of supporting a small business and for good reason. It’s not some huge faceless entity with its headquarters on the other side of the country, it’s a small shop just down the street. But that does not mean that it deserves to exist.

For me, there are basically two reasons that I would judge as small business to be a bad business.

The first is one that does not fill a gap in its community. If a town has six dress shops does it need a seventh? What makes them superior to the previous six? Competition is a good thing, but if rows of cookie cutter businesses take up space that could be put to better use by better businesses.

The second is one where the owner does not properly credit, support, and compensate their employees. Money at small businesses is tight, often they cannot pay their employees as much or offer as many benefits, but they should offer something. Many businesses owners work hard, but few of them would be able to keep their businesses afloat were it not for their employees. If they cannot offer pay to their employees they should offer something. Community, mentorship, cammeraderie, flexibility. A business owner and employee should have a symbiotic relationship. They don’t both need to get the same thing, but they both need to get something.

The problem in both of these cases, are the owners who feel entitled. They feel entitled to have employees, they feel entitled to be business owners. They wrap their dreams on entrepreneurship so tightly around their identities that they fail to see that it’s their dream. Their employees don’t want to work misserable hours for misserable pay so that the business will succeed in ten years. Their employees need to eat.

Many new businesses go out of business quickly, many bad businesses stay in business longer than they deserve. Only businesses whose owners understand and value their place in the community deserve to stay in business. Rather than begging you not to support Amazon and other online retailers, small business should offer something more than online retailers. A book store should also be a gathering place. An art shop a place to get advice. A music store a place to explore new skills and talents.

Not all business live up to these standards. Too many expect the community to subsidize the egos of their owners. Inevitably, they blame Amazon and minimum wage and rent and taxes and credit cards fees when instead they should blame themselves.

But the fact is, business owners and employees and communities exist in a symbiotic relationship. A business is not just a chance to make money, it’s a chance to make a difference and contribute to the community.