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Bluehole - Let's talk Wellbia/XINGCOD3 user privacy risks for the sake of transparency
For those who don't know.. XINGCODE-3 is a kernel (ring0) privillege process under xhunter1.sys owned by the Korean company Wellbia (www.wellbia.com). Unlike what people say, Wellbia isn't owned or affiliated with Tencent, however, XINGCOD3 is custom designed contractor for each individual game - mainly operating in the APAC region, many of them owned by Tencent. XINGCODE-3 is outsourced to companies as a product modified to the specific characteristics of the game. The process runs on the highest privilegied level of the OS upon boot and is infamous for being an essential rootkit - on a malware level, it has the highest vulnerability to be abused should Wellbia or any of the 3rd Party Companies be target of an attack. It has been heavily dissected by the hacking community as being highly intrusive and reversed engineered (although nowadays still easily bypassable by a skilled and engaged modder by created a custom Win Framework). While most is true for a standard anti-cheating, users should be aware that XINGCOD3 able to scan the entire user memory cache, calls for DLL's, including physical state API's such as GetAsyncKeyState where it scans for the physical state of hardware peripherals, essentially becoming a hardware keylogger. Studying the long history of reverse engineering of this software has shown that Wellbia heavily collects user data for internal processing in order to create whitelists of processes and strings analyzed by evaluating PE binaries - having full access to your OS it also is known to scan and having access to user file directories and collecting and storing paths of modified files under 48 hours for the sake of detecting possible sources of bypassing. All this data is ultimately collected by Wellbia to their host severs - also via API calls to Korean servers in order to run services such as whitelists, improve algorithm accuracy and run comparative statistics and analysis based on binaries, strings and common flags. Usually this is a high risk for any service, including BattleEye, EasyAntiCheat, etc. but what's worrying in Wellbia, thus. Bluehole's are actually a couple of points: (not to mention you can literally just deny the service from installing, which by itself is already a hilarious facepalm situation and nowhere does the TSL call for an API of the service)
Starting off, Wellbia is a rather small development company with having only one product available on the market for rather small companies, the majority hold by Chinese government and countries where the data handling, human rights and user privacy is heavily disregarded. This makes my tinfoil hat think that the studio's network security isn't as fortified as a Sony which had abused rootkits, just due to budget investment alone. Their website is absolutely atrocious and amateur - and for an international company that deals with international stakeholders and clients it's impressive the amount of poor english, errors and ambiguous information a company has in their presentation website - there's instances where the product name is not even correctly placed in their own EULA - if a company cannot invest even in basic PR and presentation something leaves me a bitter taste that their network security isn't anything better. They can handle user binaries but network security is a completely different work. The fact that hackers are easily able to heartbeat their API network servers leaves me confirming this.
This the most fun one. Wellbia website and terms conditions explicitely say that they're not held accountable should anything happen - terms that you agree and are legally binded to by default by agreeing to Bluehole's terms and conditions:" Limitations of Company Responsibility
IGNCODE3 is a software provided for free to users. Users judge and determine to use services served by software developers and providers, and therefore the company does not have responsibility for results and damages which may have occurred from XIGNCODE3 installation and use.
2. Company has no responsibility attributable to user’s computer or network environment-based reasons.
3. Company has no responsibility for XIGNCODE3 and XIGNCODE3 based service errors, XIGNCODE3 and XIGNCODE3 based service prohibition from other services are attributable to user-based reasons."
(the fact that in 1. they can't even care to write properly the name of their product means how little they care about things in general - you can have a look at this whole joke of ToS's that I can probably put more effort in writting it: https://www.wellbia.com/?module=Html&action=SiteComp&sSubNo=5 - so I am sorry if I don't trust where my data goes into) 3) It kinda pisses me that Bluehole adopted this in the midst of the their product got released post-purchase. When I initially bought the product, in nowhere was written that the user operative system data was being collected by a third party company to servers located in APAC (and I'm one of those persons who heavily reads terms and conditions) - and the current ToS's still just touch this topic on the slightest and ambiguously - it does not say which data gets collected, discloses who and where it's hold - "third party" could be literally anyone - a major disrespect for your consumers. I'm kinda of pissed off as when I initially purchase the product in very very early stages of the game I didn't agree for any kernel level data collection to be held abroad without disclosure of what data is actually being collected otherwise it would have been a big No on the purchase. The fact that you change the rules of the game and the terms of conditions in the midst of the product release leaves me with two options Use to Your Terms or Don't Use a product I've already purchased now has no use - both changes ingame and these 3rd party implementations are so different from my initial purchase that I feel like it's the equivalent of purchasing a shower which in the next year is so heavily modified that it decides to be a toilet. I would really like for you Bluehole to show me the initial terms and conditions to when the game was initially released and offer me a refund once you decided to change the product and terms and conditions midway which I don't agree with but am left empty handed with no choice but to abandon the product - thus making this purchase a service which I used for X months and not a good. I really wish this topic had more visibility as I know that the majority of users are even in the dark about this whole thing and Valve and new game companies really make an effort in asserting their product's disclosures about data transparency and the limit of how much a product can change to be considered a valid product resembelance upon purchase when curating their games in the future - I literally bought a third person survival shooter and ended up with a rootkit chinese FPS. Sincerely, a pissed off customer - who unlike the majority is concerned about my data privacy and I wish you're ever held accountable for changing sensitive contract topics such as User Privacy mid-release. ----- EDIT: For completely removing it from your system should you wish: Locate the file Xhunter1.sysThis file is located in this directory: C:\Windows\xhunter1.sys Remove the Registry Entry (regedit on command prompt)The entry is located here: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > ControlSet001 > Services > xhunter For more information about XINGCOD3 and previous succesful abuses which show the malignant potential of the rootkit (kudos to Psychotropos): - https://x86.re/blog/xigncode3-xhunter1.sys-lpe/ - https://github.com/Psychotropos/xhunter1_privesc
No gods, no kings, only NOPE - or divining the future with options flows. [Part 2: A Random Walk and Price Decoherence]
tl;dr - 1) Stock prices move continuously because different market participants end up having different ideas of the future value of a stock. 2) This difference in valuations is part of the reason we have volatility. 3) IV crush happens as a consequence of future possibilities being extinguished at a binary catalyst like earnings very rapidly, as opposed to the normal slow way. I promise I'm getting to the good parts, but I'm also writing these as a guidebook which I can use later so people never have to talk to me again. In this part I'm going to start veering a bit into the speculation territory (e.g. ideas I believe or have investigated, but aren't necessary well known) but I'm going to make sure those sections are properly marked as speculative (and you can feel free to ignore/dismiss them). Marked as [Lily's Speculation]. As some commenters have pointed out in prior posts, I do not have formal training in mathematical finance/finance (my background is computer science, discrete math, and biology), so often times I may use terms that I've invented which have analogous/existing terms (e.g. the law of surprise is actually the first law of asset pricing applied to derivatives under risk neutral measure, but I didn't know that until I read the papers later). If I mention something wrong, please do feel free to either PM me (not chat) or post a comment, and we can discuss/I can correct it! As always, buyer beware. This is the first section also where you do need to be familiar with the topics I've previously discussed, which I'll add links to shortly (my previous posts: 1) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jck2q6/no_gods_no_kings_only_nope_or_divining_the_future/ 2) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jbzzq4/why_options_trading_sucks_or_the_law_of_surprise/ --- A Random Walk Down Bankruptcy A lot of us have probably seen the term random walk, maybe in the context of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which seems like a great book I'll add to my list of things to read once I figure out how to control my ADD. It seems obvious, then, what a random walk means - when something is moving, it basically means that the next move is random. So if my stock price is $1 and I can move in $0.01 increments, if the stock price is truly randomly walking, there should be roughly a 50% chance it moves up in the next second (to $1.01) or down (to $0.99). If you've traded for more than a hot minute, this concept should seem obvious, because especially on the intraday, it usually isn't clear why price moves the way it does (despite what chartists want to believe, and I'm sure a ton of people in the comments will tell me why fettucini lines and Batman doji tell them things). For a simple example, we can look at SPY's chart from Friday, Oct 16, 2020: https://preview.redd.it/jgg3kup9dpt51.png?width=1368&format=png&auto=webp&s=bf8e08402ccef20832c96203126b60c23277ccc2 I'm sure again 7 different people can tell me 7 different things about why the chart shape looks the way it does, or how if I delve deeply enough into it I can find out which man I'm going to marry in 2024, but to a rationalist it isn't exactly apparent at why SPY's price declined from 349 to ~348.5 at around 12:30 PM, or why it picked up until about 3 PM and then went into precipitous decline (although I do have theories why it declined EOD, but that's for another post). An extremely clever or bored reader from my previous posts could say, "Is this the price formation you mentioned in the law of surprise post?" and the answer is yes. If we relate it back to the individual buyer or seller, we can explain the concept of a stock price's random walk as such:
Most market participants have an idea of an asset's truevalue (an idealized concept of what an asset is actually worth), which they can derive using models or possibly enough brain damage. However, an asset's value at any given time is not worth one value (usually*), but a spectrum of possible values, usually representing what the asset should be worth in the future. A naive way we can represent this without delving into to much math (because let's face it, most of us fucking hate math) is: Current value of an asset = sum over all (future possible value multiplied by the likelihood of that value)
In actuality, most models aren't that simple, but it does generalize to a ton of more complicated models which you need more than 7th grade math to understand (Black-Scholes, DCF, blah blah blah). While in many cases the first term - future possible value - is well defined (Tesla is worth exactly $420.69 billion in 2021, and maybe we all can agree on that by looking at car sales and Musk tweets), where it gets more interesting is the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring. [In actuality, the price of a stock for instance is way more complicated, because a stock can be sold at any point in the future (versus in my example, just the value in 2021), and needs to account for all values of Tesla at any given point in the future.] How do we estimate the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring? For this class, it actually doesn't matter, because the key concept is this idea: even with all market participants having the same information, we do anticipate that every participant will have a slightly different view of future likelihoods. Why is that? There's many reasons. Some participants may undervalue risk (aka WSB FD/yolos) and therefore weight probabilities of gaining lots of money much more heavily than going bankrupt. Some participants may have alternative data which improves their understanding of what the future values should be, therefore letting them see opportunity. Some participants might overvalue liquidity, and just want to GTFO and thereby accept a haircut on their asset's value to quickly unload it (especially in markets with low liquidity). Some participants may just be yoloing and not even know what Fastly does before putting their account all in weekly puts (god bless you). In the end, it doesn't matter either the why, but the what: because of these diverging interpretations, over time, we can expect the price of an asset to drift from the current value even with no new information added. In most cases, the calculations that market participants use (which I will, as a Lily-ism, call the future expected payoff function, or FEPF) ends up being quite similar in aggregate, and this is why asset prices likely tend to move slightly up and down for no reason (or rather, this is one interpretation of why). At this point, I expect the 20% of you who know what I'm talking about or have a finance background to say, "Oh but blah blah efficient market hypothesis contradicts random walk blah blah blah" and you're correct, but it also legitimately doesn't matter here. In the long run, stock prices are clearly not a random walk, because a stock's value is obviously tied to the company's fundamentals (knock on wood I don't regret saying this in the 2020s). However, intraday, in the absence of new, public information, it becomes a close enough approximation. Also, some of you might wonder what happens when the future expected payoff function (FEPF) I mentioned before ends up wildly diverging for a stock between participants. This could happen because all of us try to short Nikola because it's quite obviously a joke (so our FEPF for Nikola could, let's say, be 0), while the 20 or so remaining bagholders at NikolaCorporation decide that their FEPF of Nikola is $10,000,000 a share). One of the interesting things which intuitively makes sense, is for nearly all stocks, the amount of divergence among market participants in their FEPF increases substantially as you get farther into the future. This intuitively makes sense, even if you've already quit trying to understand what I'm saying. It's quite easy to say, if at 12:51 PM SPY is worth 350.21 that likely at 12:52 PM SPY will be worth 350.10 or 350.30 in all likelihood. Obviously there are cases this doesn't hold, but more likely than not, prices tend to follow each other, and don't gap up/down hard intraday. However, what if I asked you - given SPY is worth 350.21 at 12:51 PM today, what will it be worth in 2022? Many people will then try to half ass some DD about interest rates and Trump fleeing to Ecuador to value SPY at 150, while others will assume bull markets will continue indefinitely and SPY will obviously be 7000 by then. The truth is -- no one actually knows, because if you did, you wouldn't be reading a reddit post on this at 2 AM in your jammies. In fact, if you could somehow figure out the FEPF of all market participants at any given time, assuming no new information occurs, you should be able to roughly predict the true value of an asset infinitely far into the future (hint: this doesn't exactly hold, but again don't @ me). Now if you do have a finance background, I expect gears will have clicked for some of you, and you may see strong analogies between the FEPF divergence I mentioned, and a concept we're all at least partially familiar with - volatility. Volatility and Price Decoherence ("IV Crush") Volatility, just like the Greeks, isn't exactly a real thing. Most of us have some familiarity with implied volatility on options, mostly when we get IV crushed the first time and realize we just lost $3000 on Tesla calls. If we assume that the current price should represent the weighted likelihoods of all future prices (the random walk), volatility implies the following two things:
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the current price
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the future price for every point in the future where the asset has value (up to expiry for options)
[Ignore this section if you aren't pedantic] There's obviously more complex mathematics, because I'm sure some of you will argue in the comments that IV doesn't go up monotonically as option expiry date goes longer and longer into the future, and you're correct (this is because asset pricing reflects drift rate and other factors, as well as certain assets like the VIX end up having cost of carry). Volatility in options is interesting as well, because in actuality, it isn't something that can be exactly computed -- it arises as a plug between the idealized value of an option (the modeled price) and the real, market value of an option (the spot price). Additionally, because the makeup of market participants in an asset's market changes over time, and new information also comes in (thereby increasing likelihood of some possibilities and reducing it for others), volatility does not remain constant over time, either. Conceptually, volatility also is pretty easy to understand. But what about our friend, IV crush? I'm sure some of you have bought options to play events, the most common one being earnings reports, which happen quarterly for every company due to regulations. For the more savvy, you might know of expected move, which is a calculation that uses the volatility (and therefore price) increase of at-the-money options about a month out to calculate how much the options market forecasts the underlying stock price to move as a response to ER. Binary Catalyst Events and Price Decoherence Remember what I said about price formation being a gradual, continuous process? In the face of special circumstances, in particularly binary catalyst events - events where the outcome is one of two choices, good (1) or bad (0) - the gradual part gets thrown out the window. Earnings in particular is a common and notable case of a binary event, because the price will go down (assuming the company did not meet the market's expectations) or up (assuming the company exceeded the market's expectations) (it will rarely stay flat, so I'm not going to address that case). Earnings especially is interesting, because unlike other catalytic events, they're pre-scheduled (so the whole market expects them at a certain date/time) and usually have publicly released pre-estimations (guidance, analyst predictions). This separates them from other binary catalysts (e.g. FSLY dipping 30% on guidance update) because the market has ample time to anticipate the event, and participants therefore have time to speculate and hedge on the event. In most binary catalyst events, we see rapid fluctuations in price, usually called a gap up or gap down, which is caused by participants rapidly intaking new information and changing their FEPF accordingly. This is for the most part an anticipated adjustment to the FEPF based on the expectation that earnings is a Very Big Deal (TM), and is the reason why volatility and therefore option premiums increase so dramatically before earnings. What makes earnings so interesting in particular is the dramatic effect it can have on all market participants FEPF, as opposed to let's say a Trump tweet, or more people dying of coronavirus. In lots of cases, especially the FEPF of the short term (3-6 months) rapidly changes in response to updated guidance about a company, causing large portions of the future possibility spectrum to rapidly and spectacularly go to zero. In an instant, your Tesla 10/30 800Cs go from "some value" to "not worth the electrons they're printed on". [Lily's Speculation] This phenomena, I like to call price decoherence, mostly as an analogy to quantum mechanical processes which produce similar results (the collapse of a wavefunction on observation). Price decoherence occurs at a widespread but minor scale continuously, which we normally call price formation (and explains portions of the random walk derivation explained above), but hits a special limit in the face of binary catalyst events, as in an instant rapid portions of the future expected payoff function are extinguished, versus a more gradual process which occurs over time (as an option nears expiration). Price decoherence, mathematically, ends up being a more generalizable case of the phenomenon we all love to hate - IV crush. Price decoherence during earnings collapses the future expected payoff function of a ticker, leading large portions of the option chain to be effectively worthless (IV crush). It has interesting implications, especially in the case of hedged option sellers, our dear Market Makers. This is because given the expectation that they maintain delta-gamma neutral, and now many of the options they have written are now worthless and have 0 delta, what do they now have to do? They have to unwind. [/Lily's Speculation] - Lily
[OC] Punt Rank 2020: Week 5 - Brett Kern Appreciation Club, the continued painful existence of Kevin Huber, PUNTERS THROWING TDs and the birth of Air Townsend. All this and the best video highlights of the week...
Welcome back, Punt Fans, to your slightly later than usual but there's no Thursday Night Football so what else are you going to be doing edition of our weekly hunt for the King of Punt – it’s /NFL’s own Punt Rank. If you haven’t been here with me before, the concept is both simple and fantastically over-engineered. Lemme break it down: Each punter’s performance against five vital punting metrics is ranked against every other punter in the league. Those rankings are combined into a weighted average ranking – the 2020 NFL Punt Rank. Punt Heroes rise to the top; Punt Zeros sink to the bottom. Last week’s post and Week 4 standings are available here for the archivists, and all of this week’s stats analysis and highlights and lowlights in video form are just moments away. As always I’m excited to get your perspectives on your team’s punter, and you can point me to things that I may have missed or overlooked, so please hit me with your feedback and questions in the comments!
Brett Kern (TEN, +1 to #3). Eh what do you want to know. If you’re reading this it means you like punting. If you like punting, you know that Brett Kern is a really, really great punter. And, Q.E.D – Brett was demonstrably great against the Bills on (the other) TNF. His three punts this week for the no-longer-significantly-infectious-Titans pinned Josh Allen and his shorts at the 9, 9 and 3 yard lines – covering 86% of Average Available Field which is GOAT tier punting. Here’s the pick of the bunch (his 41 yard precisiobomb corralled at the 3 yard line by Chris Milton) covering 93% of Available Field, and measuring in 7.6 yards better than an average punt from the opposing 44 yard line. Tidy. In addition to his really really really great punting, the Kerninator also wrangled at least two uttely horrible snaps into decent holds for Gostkowski to continue his kicking renaissance tour, which is a majorly underrated part of the punter job description... Logan Cooke (JAX, +12 to #13). SPEAKING OF PUNTER HOLDS AND THE EFFECT IT HAS ON KICKERS. Now I’m not saying that Chef had anything to do with the end of Stephen Hauschka’s NFL career on Sunday (0 for 2 within less than two minutes at the end of the first half, not called upon again, then cut PDQ after the weekend), but then I’m not not saying that either. Luckily for Logan (shoot I think I used that joke last week as well) the punting element of his game was without such ugly question marks. 100% of his three punts ended inside the Houston 20 yard line, covering 73%, 83% and 89%of Available Field, sneaking him up to 13th overall. Now let’s see if he can hold onto it. Geddit? Hold?! Pah.
Bad Week for
Kevin Huber (CIN, -8 to #24). On a game where the Bengals only managed the paltry total of 12 first downs (an average of one, yes ONE first down on their 12 offensive drives), K-Hub’s Bad Day was at least somewhat salvaged by the first half holy trinity of Turnover on Downs, INT and Fumble on consecutive drives (2, 3 and 4 – if you’re counting). Without that magical offensive incompetence, he could have been looking at double figure punts (I see you, Tress Way in Washington). As it was, he escaped with just the seven (!), but he takes a slide in the Punt Rank rankings as two of those (admittedly 57 and 60 yard boots) snuck for touchbacks, taking his season touchback percentage total to 26.1% which is second last in the league, just behind Tommy Townsend (more on him later). None of the magnificent seven made it inside the 20, wiping 13% off his season long percentage. However, in Kev’s defence, the first of his two end-zone-botherers this week was another case of coulda woulda shoulda from his coverage team. Alex Erikson heroically made up all the ground to reach the ball as it took a hop into the end zone, but his flailing scoopitty-scoop only managed to floopitty-floop the ball into the wrong side of the pylon. Bengals bungle. Football is a game of inches, and those couple cost Kev. And, after last week’s feature in Egregious Touchback of the Week where basically exactly the same thing happened, it’s entirely possible that Kevin Huber is stuck in some kind of awful groundhog day based time loop. That would at least explain this instagram account. Ty Long (LAC, -5 to #23). Ty Long was the victim of the binary brain of Saints rookie receivereturnerobot automaton Marquez Callaway this week. In Marquez’s awesome little computer mind, he’s going: IF punt_catch_loc > 15THEN SELECTReturn_Like_CraycrayFROMReturn.Options ELSEFair_Catch_That_MF Unfortunately for Ty, six of his seven punts were outside that 15 yard threshold and the big red light on Robot Marquez's head went off like WOO WOO, and he went HAM on bringing those suckers back. 69 (nice) return yards on the day with a long of 19 wiped almost ten yards off Long's Gross Average for the day and left him at just 53% of Average Available Field covered. The Chargers have now leaked 149 return yards for the season which is second worst in the league (behind those irrepressibly awful Jets) and almost three times the league average of 56 through five weeks. Ty will be hoping that they can turn that around before… long. Sorry.
Punt of the week – Week 5
Corey Bojorquez (BUF) continues his wild oscillation between the sublime and the ridiculous. It’s an odd-week so I guess this week it’s Sublime Corey, whose 71 yard scud missile from his own ten yard line in the second quarter of this week’s edition of Tuesday Night Football Bought To You By COVID-19 was an astonishing 28.3 yards longer than my Expected Net Gain model for an average punt from that spot. Look at this baby fly! Bojorquez booms one.
Punters doin’ shit – Week 5
Hey, it’s Corey Bojorquez again! Guess he can do sublime AND ridiculous in a single week now. It’s Puntception. Corey’s first punt of the day was coming alllll the way back for 6 until he decided to put his face on the line to put an end to Kalif Raymond’s 40 yard return. BLOOF. Look at him putting on his cap all swag afterwards like yeah I blew that dude up… Yeah I think tackling with your head is good form? But that’s not all for Punters Doin’ Shit in Week 5, oh no. We have a bonus double edition! and I include this clip with great enjoyment but also great sadness. Gentlemen and Gentlemen (just being real here), this week Riley Dixon (NYG) threw a Touchdown pass! For Giants fans reading this is when someone on your team throws the ball into the big painted area at the end of the field and a player (also on your team) catches it. I know this sounds strange and unusual, but it can happen. And it did happen for Riley on this awesome fake field goal toss to Evan Engram, brilliantly narrated by the incomparable Tony Romo in the clip below. Seriously, this call is outstanding… Nobody look at me, doo doo do, you cant see me... Jim Nantz, don't talK to.. IM OPEN, THROW IT Unfortunately, the play itself was called back due to a player not lined up on the line of scrimmage and the Giants had to settle for a 50 yard field goal. For Chargers and Jags fans reading, this is when your kicker kicks the ball and it goes between the two big tall standy uppy line things. I know this sounds strange and unusual, but it can happen. No TD for Riley, but we have the memories…
Egregious touchback of the week – Week 5
I might start calling this the Kevin Huber Touchback Memorial Column, after ANOTHER narrow miss by the Bengals coverage left Kev high and dry this week against the Ravens (see Bad Week). Outside of that shambles, there were only 6 touchbacks on the other 102 punts in Week 5, and most of them were fairly ordinary so there isn’t much egregiousity (not a word but I’m going with it) to discuss. Instead today we’re going to take some time to appreciate Tommy Townsend (KC) who has apparently got some kind of nuclear powered leg and is playing a game called “look how far away I can kick a touchback from”. For those who haven’t been paying close attention, here’s how Tommy’s rookie season has gone so far in touchback terms. Week 1 – 44 yards, modest. Week 2 – 55 yards, expressive. Week 3 – only punted once so gave myself a week off from this. Week 4 – fucken LOLs this is, how about a 60 AND a 65! Week 5 –hold my beer… Oh my god Becky, look at this punt. 67 yards! SIXTY SEVEN! And that’s from the line of scrimmage - that sucker went almost EIGHTY YARDS in the AIR. It bounced at the two and I think the returner just never even saw it. He probably thought it went into orbit or something. Absolutely ludicrous distance and hangtime here from Tommy. And, thus, I think we have our new moniker for the lad: Air Townsend. Which is also funny because it sounds like hair and he has got long hair. I’m wasted doing this.
Future of Punt Rank: desperate data plea
So part of my data collection for this analysis used to come from the brilliant Pro Football Reference gameplay finder. Which, as of this week, appears to have been absorbed into Stathead. And they’re now charging $8 a month for access to these individual play description tables, which is a massive punt in the balls. Without this data, I’ve got no way to calculate Average Available Field coverage, no plus/minus performance against the Punt Expected Net Gain, and no data on punts inside the 5 and 10 yard lines – all of which come from that analysis of the individual punt plays. Whilst this data doesn’t feed the actual rankings (which come from free NFL.com data tables), they are all metrics that really help add context to the basic stats, and are things that people reading have commented on in the past and said they found interesting. So, if anyone knows of anywhere else where I can access and download these play descriptions for each individual punt (without manually sifting the ESPN play by play reports!!), then please please let me know in the comments below. Alternatively if the eight people who read this each wanna chip in a buck a month on an ongoing basis so we can pay Stathead then that’d be cool too. A sad day for punt stat fans to be sure. Fucken big corporate… And on that note, all that's left is to say I will see you again next week for a likely more analytically constrained but still enthusiastically trying my bestest edition of Punt Rank. Yours, Eyebrows.
Going to keep this simple. EDIT: this isn’t simple and I should write a short story on this. I am generally risk averse. I hate losing $100 at the casino, I hate paying extra for guac at chipotles, I will return something or price match an item for a few dollars of savings. I am generally frugal. But, I somehow had no issues losing 10k in options... How I started I remember my first trades like they were yesterday. I was trading the first hydrogen run-up in 2014 (FCEL, BLDP, PLUG) and made a few hundred dollars over a couple weeks. I quickly progressed to penny stocks / biotech binary events and general stock market gambling mid-2014. I was making a few % here and there but the trend was down in total account value. I was the king of buying the peak in run-ups. I managed to make it out of 2014 close to break-even to slightly down. WSB Era March 2015 was my first option trade. It was an AXP - American Express - monthly option trade. I saw one of the regular option traders/services post a block of 10,000 calls that had been bought for 1.3 and I followed the trade with 10 call options for a total of $1300. I woke up the next day to an analyst upgrade on AXP and was up 50% on my position. I was addicted! I day-dreamed for days about my AXP over night success. I think around that time there was some sort of Buffet buyout of Heinz and an option trade that was up a ridiculous amount of %%%. I wanted to hit it BIG. I came up with the idea that all I needed to reach my goal was a few 100% over night gains/ 1k>2k>4k>8k> etc. I convinced myself that I would have no problems being patient for the exact criteria that I had set and worked on some other trades. Remember, the first win is always free. I was trading options pretty regularly from March 2015 until August 2016. During my best week I was up 20k and could feel the milli within reach. I can remember the exact option trade (HTZ) and I was trading weeklies on it. For those who have been in the market long enough, you will remember the huge drawdown of August 2015. I lost half my account value on QCOM calls (100 of them) that I followed at the beginning of July and never materialized. I watched them eventually go to 0. It was another 10,000 block that was probably a hedge or sold. In August 2015 there were some issues with China and all of us woke up to stocks gapping down huge. Unfortunately my idea of buying far dated calls during the following days/weeks after the crash went sideways. I quickly learned that an increase in volatility causes a rise in option prices and I was paying a premium for calls that were going to lose value very quickly (the infamous IV crush). I kept trading options into the end of 2015 and managed to maintain my account value positive but the trading fees for the year amounted to $30,000+. My broker was loving it. I tried all the services, all the strategies. I created rules for my option plays: 1. No earnings 2. Only follow the big buys at a discount (10,000 blocks or more). 3. No weekly options 4. Take profit right away 5. Take losses quickly 6. etc. I had a whole note book of option plays that I was writing down and following. I was paying for option services that all of you know about - remember, they make money on the services and not trading. I even figured out a loop-hole with my broker: if I didn’t have enough money in my account, I could change my ask price to .01 and then change it to market buy and I would only need to accept a warning ⚠️ for the order to go through. I was able to day trade the option and make money, who cares if I didnt have enough? After a few months of this, I got a call from my broker that told me to stop and that I would be suspended if I continued with this. By the way, I was always able to satisfy the debit on the account - so it wasn’t an issue of lack of funds. Lost it all. Started taking money from lines of credits, every penny that I earned and losing it quicker and quicker. I was a full on gambler but I was convinced that 8 trades would offset all the losses. I kept getting drawn in to the idea that I could hit a homerun and make it out a hero. I eventually hit rock bottom on some weekly expiring FSLR options that I bought hours before expiration and said to myself - what the f are you doing? I resolved to invest for the long term and stop throwing tendies away. The feeling was reinforced during the birth of my first born and I thought - what a loser this kid will think of me if he knew how much I was gambling and wasting my life. It was a really powerful moment looking at my kid and reflecting on this idea. I decided at that point I was going to save every penny I had and invest it on new issues with potential. Fall 2016 TTD, COUP and NTNX IPO ‘ed I decided I was going to throw every dollar at these and did so for the next few months. I eventually started using margin (up to 215%) and buying these for the next 6 months. They paid out and managed to make it over 100k within the year. The first 100k was hard but once I crossed it, I never fell below this magic number. 2017 - I did some day trading but it was mostly obsessing over the above issues. I did gamble on a few options here and there but never more than 1k. 2018 - SFIX was my big winner, I bought a gap up in June 2018 and my combined account value had crossed 400k by August 2018. I was really struggling at crossing the 500k account value and experienced 3 x 30-40% drawdowns over the next 2 years before I finally crossed the 500k barrier and have never looked back. I still made some mistakes over the next few months - AKAO & GSUM come to mind. Both of these resulted in 20k+ losses. Fortunately my winners were much bigger than my losers. I thought about giving up and moving to index funds - but i was doing well - just experiencing large drawdowns because of leverage. 2019 big winners were CRON SWAV STNE. 2017 / 2018 / 2019 all had six digit capital gains on my tax returns. At the beginning of 2020 I was still day trading on margin (180-220%) and got a call from my broker that they were tightening up my margin as my account was analyzed by the risk department and deemed too risky. Believe it or not this was right before the covid crash. I brought my margin down to 100-110% of account value and even though the drawdown from covid hit hard, I wasn’t wiped out. I stayed the course and bought FSLY / RH during the big march drawdown and this resulted in some nice gains over the next few months. I am constantly changing and testing my investment strategy but let me tell you that obsessing over 1 or 2 ideas and throwing every penny at it and holding for a few years is the best strategy. It may not work at some point but right now it does. I still day trade but I trade with 10k or less on each individual position. It allows me minimize my losses and my winners are 1-7%. I am able to consistently make between 3-700$/ a day on day trades using the above strategy. I still take losses and still dream about hitting it big with an option trade but dont feel the need to put it all on the line every month / week. I finally crossed into the two , club. I know people are going to ask for proof or ban but I am not earning anything for posting and the details about some of the trades should be proof enough that I kept a detailed journal of it all. I have way more to write but these are the highlights. Eventually I will share how I build a position in a story I love. I still sell buy and sell to early but I am working on improving. TL:DR - I gambled, lost it all and gambled some more lost more. I made it out alive. I have only sold calls/puts lately. The one common denominator in all successful people is how much they obsess over 1 or 2 ideas. Do the same. All the winners on this sub have gone all in on one idea (FSLY / TSLA ). Stick with new stories or ones that are changing and go all in...wait a second, I didnt learn anything.
RESULTS of the State of the Game Survey: September 2020
Hi all, It’s time for the results! Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond - we had over 1,750 responses, which is great! These insights wouldn’t be possible without your time and support. As always, neither myself nor this survey are associated with Intelligent Systems or Nintendo in any way. Please direct feedback about the game itself to the official channels. Now let’s get into it!
PreviousSurveyResults: April_2020_State_of_the_Game_Survey ~ Demographics ~ 53.8% began playing FE:H in February 2017, with 20.0% more joining during the first year of the game. 12.0% of respondents joined during the second year, 8.7% joined during the third, and 4.0% joined during the fourth year (the last ~7 months). The age range breakdown of respondents is as follows:
(2.6%) 12 – 15 years old
(15.0 %) 16 – 18 years old
(23.4 %) 19 – 21 years old
(21.8 %) 22 – 24 years old
(25.8 %) 25 – 30 years old
(8.2 %) 31 – 40 years old
(1.0 %) 40+ years old
75.8% of respondents identified as Male, 18.4% as Female, and 3.0% as Non-binary. 24.6% of respondents have never missed a daily login, while a further 38.8% have missed less than a month’s worth of logins, 11.7% missed 1-2 months, 9.9% missed 3-6 months, 5.8% missed 7-12 months, and 4.7% missed over a year’s worth. 33.5% report being F2P, while 28.7% have spent less than $100, 18.3% spent between $100 - $499, 7.3% spent between $500 - $999, and 8.7% have spent over $1000. 46.6% last spent money on FE:H during the fourth year of the game (the last 3 months), while 6.6% last spent money during the third year of the game, 5.8% last spent during the second year of the game, and 5.1% last spent money during the first year of the game. ~ Summoning ~ “Which of the following banners have you used orbs on at least once?”
~ Summoning Mechanics ~ 33.7% spent orbs on the Hero Fest banner AFTER Intelligent Systems announced how they would be compensating players for the Hero Fest banner glitch, compared to 61.7% who did not. 30.5% say that knowing about the compensation for the Hero Fest banner glitch caused them to spend more orbs on the banner than they would have otherwise, compared to 41.5% who say it did not. 28.0% did not spend orbs on the Hero Fest banner. 34.3% feel positively or very positively about the quality of 4* focuses on regular banners, compared to 26.9% who feel negatively or very negatively. 69.7% feel positively or very positively about the quality of 4* focuses on seasonal banners, compared to 7.8% who feel negatively or very negatively. 53.8% report that the system guaranteeing a free 5* after 40 summons generally makes them summon more, while 5.4% report that it generally makes them summon less and 36.1% report no change in their summoning habits on New Heroes banners. “If all New Heroes Banners used the permanent 40-summons-for-a-guaranteed-5* system that CYL4 used, how would your orb-spending habits on New Heroes banners change?”
(1.8%) I would spend fewer orbs than I did before
(22.3%) I would spend the same amount of orbs I usually do
(10.3%) I would spend more orbs than I did before
(62.2%) My spending would depend more on the Heroes offered
~ Choose Your Legends IV ~ “Which CYL4 Brave Heroes have you summoned, whether from the guaranteed choice banner or the regular banner?”
Of the summoning milestones on the CYL4 banner:
(20.2%) did not reach any of these summoning milestones
(79.7%) reached 40 summons
(41.0%) reached 80 summons
(19.8%) reached 120 summons
(11.1%) reached 160 summons
45.7% say that the free 5* hero at 40, 80, 120 and 160 summons caused them to spend more on CYL4 than they would have otherwise, while 50.3% say it did not. 22.8% say that the potential use of a new Brave Hero in future F2P Guides for content such as Hero Battles influenced their Brave Heroes summons, compared to 74.0% who say it did not. “If you could only get ONE of the new Brave Heroes, which one would you choose?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe is the overall strongest?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe is the overall weakest?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe has the best art?”
“Which set of Brave Heroes is your favorite overall?”
23.6% feel positively or very positively about the addition of Jorge as the CYL4 GHB hero, compared to 33.0% who feel negatively or very negatively. 86.3% believe CYL5 should add further protections against vote botting, compared to 4.4% who do not. 70.1% believe CYL5 should require Nintendo Account sign-in to vote, compared to 12.6% who do not. ~ Feh Pass and Resplendent Heroes ~ 41.2% feel negatively about the addition of the Feh Pass (down 15.8% from the last survey), compared to 11.6% who feel positively (up 1.5% from the last survey). 46.1% are neutral (up 14.3% from the last survey). 40.2% have purchased the Feh Pass, compared to 59.8% who have not. This is a 9.5% increase compared to the last survey, following a 6.7% increase before that. Of those who have subscribed to Feh Pass, 17.4% have purchased Resplendent Heroes separately (up 12.9% from the last survey), compared to 82.6% who have not. “Which Resplendent Hero has your favorite art?”
“Which Resplendent outfit theme is your favorite?”
~ Miscellaneous ~ 15.8% feel positively about the introduction of Harmonized Heroes, compared to 31.3% who feel negatively. 29.5% have a Harmonized Hero, compared to 70.1% who do not. 14.6% feel positively or very positively about the Resonant Battles game mode, compared to 51.5% who feel negatively or very negatively. 4.6% say that the Resonant Battles game mode influenced them to pull for Harmonized Heroes, compared to 94.5% who say it has not. 34.8% believe the new Arena maps are better than the maps they replaced, while 7.4% believe they are worse, and 36.7% believe they are about the same. “How often do you use Auto Dispatch in Aether Raids?”
(34.3%) All of them, always
(0.2%) All of them, in Light Season
(3.6%) All of them, in Astra season
(24.3%) Only sometimes
(37.6%) I never use it
“IV Mango” is the preferred term for Trait Fruit according to 32.2% of respondents, followed by “IVcado” at 28.9%, “Fruit” at 7.6%, and “Dragonfruit” at 6.6%. The remaining 24.7% prefer to just call them Trait Fruit. 39.3% say they will use their first Trait Fruits on a Heroic Grails unit, while 32.9% say they will use them on a Summonable unit, and 1.3% say they will use them on an Askr unit. 58.7% prefer Stat Boosts for Legendary Heroes, compared to 26.3% who prefer Pair-Up. 56.5% generally prefer Regular Duo Heroes, compared to 8.8% who prefer Harmonized Duo Heroes. 1.8% say that the update that raised the minimum hardware/software required to play the game affected their ability to play FE:H, compared to 95.8% who say it did not. ~ Recurring Miscellaneous ~ “Which game do you want a New Heroes banner from the most?”
(26.0%) Three Houses (-1.9%)
(9.7%) Radiant Dawn (+0.5%)
(7.7%) Sacred Stones (+0.2%)
(7.5%) Awakening (-3.1%)
(6.4%) Genealogy of the Holy War (-1.3%)
(6.1%) Path of Radiance (-0.9%)
(6.0%) Gaiden / Shadows of Valentia (+2.7%)
(5.9%) TMS #FE (+1.9%)
(5.4%) Blazing Blade (+1.3%)
(5.0%) Fates (+1.0%)
(4.2%) Thracia 776 (+0.8%)
(2.4%) Binding Blade (+0.6%)
(0.8%) Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light / Shadow Dragon (-1.0%)
(0.8%) Mystery of the Emblem / New Mystery of the Emblem (-1.1%)
“How much do you care about your rank in the following modes?”
(2.90/5.00 average) Arena
(2.82/5.00 average) Aether Raids
(2.48/5.00 average) PvE game modes with player ranking boards
(1.82/5.00 average) Arena Assault
“How have recent changes to FE:H changed your opinion on the game as a whole?”
(39.3%) My opinion was positive and has stayed positive
(5.7%) My opinion used to be negative, but has turned positive
(9.9%) My opinion used to be positive, but has turned negative
(5.1%) My opinion was negative and has stayed negative
~ Intelligent Systems Approval Ratings ~ The approval ratings are calculated by the proportion of Approve responses compared to the number of both Approve and Disapprove responses. Percent who approve of the way Intelligent Systems is handling:
74.6% - The addition of new heroes / characters to the game (+11.9)
69.4% - The gacha mechanics and summoning banners (+5.5)
59.2% - The story/plot (+9.4)
85.2% - Unranked PvE game modes (Hero Battles, Forging Bonds, Tactics Drills, Lost Lore, Hall of Forms) (-1.2)
50.7% - Ranked PvE game modes (Voting Gauntlets, Tempest Trials, Grand Conquest, Allegiance Battles, Rokkr Sieges, Mjolnir's Strike) (-2.6)
34.6% - Arena (-6.2)
48.0% - Arena Assault (+6.7)
45.8% - Aether Raids (+12.7)
40.5% believe Intelligent Systems cares about its Free to Play userbase (up 10.1% from the last survey), while 34.7% do not. This continues the upward trend from the previous survey, bringing us to 8.8% down from where we were before the February drop). 42.9% approve of the way Intelligent Systems is handling Fire Emblem: Heroes as a whole (up 14.8% from the last survey), while 16.9% disapprove. This continues the upward trend from the previous survey, bringing us to only 2.5% down from where we were before the February drop).
A NOTE ABOUT METHODOLOGY: The overall approval ratings question above has traditionally been the exact percent of Approve responses, as a proportion with both Neutral and Disapprove responses. Note that this is different than the way approval is calculated for individual modes (the proportion of Approve responses compared to the number of both Approve and Disapprove responses), where Neutral responses are excluded. The difference in calculation has continued this way in order to maintain comparability with previous survey results. For comparisons sake, the overall approval rating trend going by raw Approval percentage over the last 4 surveys is: 50.6% (Dec) -> 22.9% (Feb) -> 28.1% (Apr) -> 42.9% (Sept) Whereas the overall approval rating trend going by proportion of Approve/Disapprove with the Neutrals excluded over the last 4 surveys is: 82.2% (Dec) -> 41.0% (Feb) -> 51.3% (Apr) -> 71.7% (Sept).
~ Bonus Questions ~ “Who is your Favorite Hero added since the last survey?”
Dimitri (Brave) is the winner, followed by Edelgard (Brave), then Claude (Brave).
“What would be the best Harmonized Hero (a pair of two heroes from different games) and why?”: Rather than selecting a subset of responses this time, the link below is to a google sheet of almost all unique responses. I cleaned it up a little bit to remove “idk” type answers, duplicates, and partial string duplicates, so don’t worry if you don’t see your exact response in it. [Full Responses]. ~ Feedback ~ As always, I received lots of great feedback, both in your survey responses and in the thread itself. A heartfelt thank you to all participants for your encouragements and criticisms - these surveys wouldn’t be where they are without your feedback. But it’s not all serious; feedback messages also included:
“There once was a CYL4 banner / That hit my orbs hard like a hammer / The very next day / FloomMom Duo came our way / Now I'm stuck bartering with a loan planner”
“bonk, go to survey jail”
“Am I also allowed to put in "Norne and Azura" for a Harmonized Hero pair? No reason.”
“Brace yourself. Winter (armours) are coming!” “Brave Hector's refine has made me so very happy with it's inclusion. Go shove your bow up your butt Legendary Chrom.”
“Give me villager alts or give me death”
“I expect the next survey to come with +12 to attack, null follow up, and special cooldown reduction.”
“The true best Harmonized Hero would be Azura and Roy since it would make me uninstall the game and never want to play a gacha ever again”
“My headcanon for the dream storyline is that the evil fairies have the Summoner off picking up pebbles that look like orbs. Fredrickson would be proud.”
“Where's the most wanted unit to add to the game question so I can shout my want for Seteth into the void?”
“I no longer dab, for Legendary Seliph has finally appeared.”
And greetings from Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, the UK, Vietnam, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Toronto, and St. Louis, as well as from many fictional locations!
And some personal/meta comments:
“Any chance we end up seeing another Super Serious Survey in the not-so-distant future?” -> I could not believe it’s been over a year since the last one! We’ll have to do one soon!
“Feels like the end of an era, not having to count all my five stars” -> I know, right? I may have it return in a side survey for the most hardcore of respondents at some point, since some people are asking about it and it would be good to get data on it every once in a while.
“I was looking through your Nornes skills and saw you haven't given her live for bounty yet! It's the best skill for her, what are you doing!?” -> I am a fraud :( I have given her Live for Honor though :P
“What do you hope for in FEH?” -> Norne alt, Resplendent Jaffar, and Shamir
Multiple people mentioned that they had returned after a long break and were surprised to see Norne instead of Azura! Welcome back!
I also missed a bunch of other possible Trait Fruit nicknames, which I knew would inevitably happen. Sorry!
Note: Please don’t ask me to feature your feedback comment; it’s the only guaranteed way to not have your comment added! Finally, the suggestion to have separate options for serious vs non-serious feedback was a good idea, I’ll try that out on the next survey! ~ Closing Remarks ~ If you missed out on responding to this survey when it was available, consider subscribing to FEHSurveys. This subreddit serves as a place to organize FE:H-related surveys, make new releases more visible, and make it easier for users to see when surveys are active. Thanks again to everyone who participated! I hope you find the results interesting, and if there’s anything else you think can be discovered from the data, let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige!
Crypto scams are hitting YouTube again. Beware of these Elon musk fake Bitcoin giveaways that are running on YouTube. The Ad somehow beat the algorithm by merely uploading one on Musks speeches and adding their scam links in the description.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
The narrative of Euro Truck Simulator 2 or why Spec Ops: The Line isn’t the only best single-player campaign of 2012
Too long, won’t read: I see stories and moral choices in a game that has neither. Obligatory sorry for my English. For this whole post to make sense (to me at least), I want to preface that I am the kind of casual/hardcore gamer that plays casually only a few games that do not fit any “perceived” genre. Put it simply, the list of games I have played for more than 200 hours each includes League of Legends (mostly with bots nowadays but still), Monster Hunter World, World of Warships, Skyrim, Witcher 3, Spec Ops: The Lines (yes the 2012 depressing single-player game for over 200 hours), Call of Duty 1 and 2 (only the single-player campaign, yes again for more than 200 hours), Civilization 5 and 6, Shogun 2 Total War, Islanders, Cities Skylines, Banished, Valkyria Chronicles 1 and 4, and Guild Wars 2 (MMORPG, I was a raider). From this list, I tend to think of myself as a “young” gamer that wants a lot of stimulation and excitement from gameplays and can perform quick reaction or demanding mechanics. It also shows my interest in storytelling (within games and in general), watching Yatzhee’s Zero Punctuation and Raycevick in addition to, for example, Lessons from the Screenplay (screenplay, duh), Lindsay Ellis (academic theory on films and musicals), and Sideways (academic theory on music). So if you know Euro Truck Simulator 2 (ETS2), you’ll be wondering what the hell am I writing here. For those that don’t know, ETS2 is a purely mechanical game with no narratives or moral choice. The primary gameplay loop is you are a trucker, you pick a job and drive the cargo across Europe. The secondary gameplay loops contain configuring the truck so it can run faster and smoother. And with each job, you earn money to buy garages, hire drivers and expand your fleet of trucks. But the intended value of the game is in the driving and modding the truck. In the word of Yatzhee of ZP, this is a “dad’s game”, games that aim for realism to the point of grindy and boring that reminds “dad” of his boring accountant job before he retired. Yeah, it goes well in my game list. I came to ETS2 completely coincidental. Last week, I was looking for a new game when I see Bus Simulator is free on iOS (yes, I play gacha on mobile too, thankfully never cross the 50 hours mark). After ramming my bus into the first car I see, I remembered “hey there’s this game called ETS2” and Steam was having a discount. So I played the demo, bought the base game, and nearly 24 in-game hours and 3 interesting insights later, here we are. 1/Mechanic I don’t even know how to drive in real life. But I can braindead driving 900km from Poland to France in half an hour and it’s relaxing. 2/Stories This is the main reason why the game captivates me. The first “revelation” when I boarded a ferry to go from France to the UK. I instantly ran into a car as soon as I drove out of port, not realizing that the UK is this backward country that drives on the left side instead of on the right side like every other civilization. Then it made me question how truckers deal with this issue when they have to make frequent delivery across the English Channel. And then the floodgate opened. Perhaps this is more me being nostalgic than the game “having a story”, but the game did well putting me in the shoes of the trucker and reminded me of all of the stories I heard about the trucker life. In my home country, truckers drove from north to south in mere days, driving at night with a co-driver to make sure they deliver on time or stopping quickly at a rest stop for a bite or a nap. The game doesn’t have a co-driver, doesn’t have a “hunger” mechanic, only tells you to stop at a gas station and hit buttons to imagine “sleeping”. But in the routine stops for gas and sleep, I subconsciously roleplayed those stories I heard, imagined the real lives of people having to run at night to avoid traffic or speeding on the highway to make deadline. I remembered the truckers sharing knowledge of which roads to take to avoid toll or take detours, which roads have cameras or polices, or even which rest stop has nice food. I even remembered horror stories of truckers having a family in one city and flirting and impregnating waitresses or innocent local girls. The game doesn’t have any of these. It just has driving. I guess I appreciate how the game doesn’t try to force a story. It just mimics lives to an extent and let me fill in the blank. In a weird way, it plays like a Grand Theft Auto sandbox where following the traffic rules and imagining the complex life of the person whose car I just take is as fun as actually running over that person. 3/Moral choice I hope I am a good in-game person. I pondered my choices while playing the Witcher to make the NPCs happy. I imagined the nonexistent lives of citizens in all the city-builder or empire-building games I play to motivate me to become a benign ruler. I try to do the same in ETS2, following the traffic rules, trying to deliver the cargo in time so a kid will have a computer for a birthday, or a farmer gets the much-needed tractor for work. And then I discover “Option”, which can remove the speed limit and traffic offense. The moment I ram my truck headfirst into a sedan in a roundabout in downtown Amsterdam at 20:32 then laughed maniacally as I drove away onto the highway was when I kissed my Reddit lurker life goodbye. It was a trivial yet paradoxically fantastic moment for me when I realized how I was “making a choice” in a game that doesn’t have this bucket of choice. The car I just rammed into does not have a person inside, does not have a life, isn’t running home for dinner after a long day of work. It was just a game mechanic designed to take 400 Euros away from me. Yet, I kept thinking about that moment for the rest of the drive to Paris. While ramming into the firefighters trying to clean up a traffic accident on the highway. I remembered the discourse on binary choice mechanic back in the day when games force players to choose between “good” and “bad” as if life is as straight forward as that. Or games like Frostpunk or This War is Mine that forces a consequence on your decision, hinting that what you did was morally wrong, even if you agree with it or not. Euro Truck Simulator 2 does not have this mechanic. It isn’t even designed to take part in this discussion. All it has is driving. So either I am deranged enough to be a novelist or Euro Truck Simulator 2 tells a greater horror than a First Person Shooter military shooter does. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
The first official release of the ZOIA Librarian app is now available!
Version 1.0 is now out for Windows 10, Mac OS X, and Linux (Ubuntu)! It can be downloaded here https://github.com/meanmedianmoge/zoia_lib - see the "How to Install" section. EDIT: Mac 1.0 release has been updated (see the link above to download the zip), and it should open successfully upon double-clicking the .app file! Apologies for any inconvenience. If you have a GitHub account, feel free to create an issue regarding any performance issues you encounter. If you don't have a GitHub account, send feedback and bugs to me at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]). Overview and tutorial video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLOUrWtG1Pk User Manual: https://github.com/meanmedianmoge/zoia_lib/blob/mastedocumentation/User%20Manuals/ZOIA%20Librarian%20-%20User%20Manual%20-%20Version%201.0.pdf Changelog is below. Special thanks to our beta testers, contributors, and supporters for the interest in this application! Patch NotesVersion 1.0 (September 25, 2020) New Features - Finalized ZOIA binary parsing implementation. Again, massive thanks to djigneo/apparent1 for the initial C# code. As of this release, all features of the patch are fully exposed and can be decoded into a JSON object for further use. - Patch visualizer has been updated with more information to help you understand patches at a quick-glance. - Added the ability to search and sort for patches by author name. This applies to Local and Bank tabs only. PS tab author search and sort will not be supported at this time due to the API structure. - Updated patch importing so that patches with near-identical names are merged upon import (instead of strictly identical names). - Updated the behavior of the SD and Bank tables so that multiples can be selected and moved in different ways: Hold Shift and click the start and end patches to move and/or Hold Ctrl/Cmd and click on each patch you'd like to move. - Patches can now be moved into a bank in the following ways: Dragging single or multiple selections (similar options as above) at once and/or Clicking the Add to Bank button for single selections at a time. - Added a Clear Bank button to wipe the bank tables clean. - Added a new Help toolbar which allows users to access documentation and useful ZOIA resources. These will display in the PS tab browser panel. You can also search for different commands/shortcuts. - Added a Reset UI menu option in the event that users mangle the UI panels or tables. - Updated the light theme colors to give it a more muted look. - Alternating row colors is now a saved preference. It will save whatever is the current setting upon closing the application. - Added a step-by-step guide for how to compile the application from source for developers, contributors or users who were unable to open the beta builds. - Added our first Linux build! We aim to support the latest stable version of Ubuntu going forward. If you are a Linux user who prefers other distributions, please contact me. Fixes - Fixed an issue that occurred while importing a version history (Mac). - Removed the threads used with menu action multi-import functions (Mac temporary fix). - Fixed an issue where the dates of imported patches were back-dated to the history of the SD card. - Fixed an issue with SD card imported files having mangled filenames (Windows). This also caused patches to not export properly. - Fixed an issue where changing the font/font size didn't apply to themes or buttons. Known Issues - Certain patch binaries cannot be fully decoded due to being saved on deprecated ZOIA firmware. - Saved UI preferences are not being applied correctly for the Local Storage tab - specifically the vertical splitter (Mac). Future Plans - Expansion view of routing for patch visualizer. Right now, the connections are displayed on a module-block level, but not from a general patch level. The expander would provide an in-depth visualization of audio and CV routing, likely to be displayed in a new tab. - Extend the binary decoder methods into an API for other applications/programs to utilize. - Simplify and automate code structure for releases (currently, a minimal-working version of the code needs to be created for the app-building process). - Allow for custom themes/colors in the UI. - Actually fix threading issues associated with menu action multi-imports. As always, we welcome any feedback you may have. Thanks for being awesome :) - Mike M.
A proposal to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 in Ireland
This is a long one. There is no TL;DR, but Google tells me it should take about 10 minutes to read. Or, you can skip to The Plan - Summary if you want the bullet points. But why should you give this any time at all? My background is in data analysis. Making sense of numbers is what I do for a living. I have been studying COVID-19 since I was locked down in March and the experience has been frustrating in equal measure. The difference between what was happening on the ground, and the story that the media told was genuinely alarming. The government / NPHET never even tried to stop the virus getting into the country, and no one held them to account for their (non)decisions. The disastrous consequences are all around us, and much of it was preventable. Six months later, and the country has barely moved on. The ‘experts’ have no goals and little control over the virus. The media frame every issue as a crass binary choice between more or less restrictions and are otherwise happy just to have people to point their fingers at. The government / NPHET has nothing to offer the people, other than admonishments to do better and repeated cycle of restrictions. Meanwhile students, artists, the over 70s, small business owners, the entire events and hospitality industries, and regular people who cannot WFH have been left swinging in the wind. Some have been evicted, others are relying on drugs to get by. This situation is not just a problem for one or two parts of our society: this is a widespread degradation of our quality of life. If I can do anything to help, I feel obliged to try. Context As I see it, we have three choices:
Give up = ‘herd immunity’ / Great Barrington Declaration
Take the path of least resistance = ‘Living With The Virus’ (living in fear of the virus)
Solve the problem = elimination / eradication
I won’t argue over technocratic definitions like ‘elimination’, ‘eradication’ or ‘suppression’. These distinctions are semantic in an environment of oppressive civic restrictions, mass unemployment, waves of business closures, and general misery. Whatever gets us to a place where we can live our lives as normal (or close enough), and the public health infrastructure can take care of the virus, that’s what I’m aiming for. This proposal cannot work without public support. No proposal can work without public support. Public adherence is the single most important variable in the equation, yet it is the one that the politicians and the media and the ‘experts’ have ignored. FG burned through a lot of goodwill in the first lockdown (and money, and resources, and lives…). Instead of vilifying people who aren’t adhering to the rules, policymakers need to recognise the sacrifices that the people made (which were subsequently squandered) and they need to earn that trust back. This proposal cannot work without support from the North. That doesn’t mean that we need to convince them to adopt our plan. It means we need to convince them that the goal is worthwhile and achievable. From there we can work together to coordinate our policies. Managing our own affairs with competence, would be a good start. Picking up the phone to talk to them, instead of trying to browbeat them through the media, would also help. Irrespective of your goals or beliefs, some facts are certain: there will be lockdowns, there will be government spending to support the economy, and the virus will demand public health resources. All of that will happen in the coming months and years, whether we have a plan or not. The question is whether those resources are used to solve the problem, or whether they are wasted on a plan that keeps us going around in circles. So yes, there will be lockdowns in this proposal, but they will not be FG lockdowns i.e. lock them down and throw away the key. Through intelligent policies and a greater mobilisation of resources, we can do so much more with our lockdowns to reduce the burden on the people and make their experience more tolerable. Indeed, that trade-off always exists in public policy: better policymaking = happier people. Which is why the politicians usually get the blame, and rightly so. We need to move to a more ‘war time’ mindset. Not because we need a shared enemy to unite us, but because we need to mobilise every possible resource at our disposal and focus it on the single most important issue affecting us all. We need more tests, we need vehicles for mobile testing units, we need facilities for quarantines. Wherever there is spare capacity, we need to find a way to put it to good use. We need to take most of the power away from the narrow-minded medics, and get the rest of our society and our civic infrastructure involved in planning e.g. community representatives, legal experts, business leaders, An Garda, the army etc. People want to invest in their communities, they want to help their friends and neighbours. There are people all over the country who would rather be volunteering as part of a national plan to get rid of COVID-19, than to be sitting at home on the PUP, going crazy listening to the ‘experts’ – who failed to prevent this – talk about more lockdowns. We need to harness that latent energy and build it into the plan. One of the most important factors that is within our control, is the degree to which policymakers communicate with the people. And I mean real communication, not press releases or attention-seeking speeches from the other side of the world. We need to talk to the people, listen to them, answer their questions, take their feedback on board. The people aren’t stupid. They know a good plan when they see it – which is why few are paying attention to the ‘Living With The Virus’ stuff – and they have valuable information that can help make that plan work. Underlying these points is a need to create intelligent rules, and to enforce them strictly. Strict does not mean harsh. Strict enforcement is not authoritarianism, and it is not an invitation to a fight; it is simply administrative competence. In the context of a contagious outbreak, administrative competence is the difference between life and death. I’ll finish this section with the caveat that all parameters are suggestions or placeholders. The exact numbers will depend on resources, on more data and further analysis, and on input from communities and other stakeholders – all of which is within our control. The Plan – Summary Like any problem in life, if you can’t solve it directly, you break it down into smaller, less complex parts. Instead of putting the whole country into lockdown and trying to eradicate the virus from the whole island at the same time – a miserable experience for all – we should go county by county until the job is done. We seal off a county, flood it with resources, clear it of COVID-19, and then let it reopen as normal. We repeat the process for neighbouring counties and then combine them when they are cleared, to create a larger ‘Cleared Zone’. The process continues and the Cleared Zone keeps growing until it covers the whole island. This approach allows us to focus our resources on one area at a time (nurses, doctors, tests, volunteers etc) instead of spreading them over the whole country. We can be more comprehensive in our testing and quarantining measures, and more confident in our plans. Short, sharp, strict lockdowns work best. By maximising the ratio of resources to population, we also lower the burden on the people. In particular, we minimise the amount of time that people spend in lockdown, and the less time they spend in lockdown, the more likely the plan is to work. This structured approach also makes it easier for us to measure our progress and make reliable forecasts. We can allocate our resources more efficiently and plan our responses more effectively. Observers can watch our progress and judge for themselves whether it is a good idea (i.e. politicians in the North and / or protestors in Dublin). Perhaps most important of all, the structure makes it easier to explain the idea to the people and get buy-in before anything happens. We can outline the plan, explain how it works, explain how it compares to the alternatives, and then give them realistic estimates of what would be required and how long it would take. Then we can hear their feedback and take the conversation and planning from there. I have heard any people talking about elimination and ZeroCovid, but do any of them have a plan for getting to zero? Or a plan to get the people on board? Step 1: More structure and responsibility from leaders Step 2: Less uncertainty, easier decisions, better outcomes, less stress for everyone Step 3: Profit. Elimination. The Plan – Implementation We isolate a county and lock it down for an initial 3 weeks. An Garda man the county borders. They are supported by the army, who provide boots on the ground so that An Garda aren’t stretched. Most routes are closed off so that all essential travel goes through a few well-manned checkpoints. If we do a good job with planning and communication, there won’t be much work to do. We test systemically high-risk households and high-risk individuals early and often i.e. large households and essential workers. With help from local volunteers, medics screen as many people as possible every day. We use multiple measures and repeated applications to improve the quality of our results. We want to identify and remove cases at the earliest possible point, both to reduce the chance of further infection, and to protect the individual’s health. Low risk confirmed cases (young / healthy) go to a safe and comfortable quarantine. Local hotels and guest houses could be used, ideally before we invest in building quarantine facilities. Local taxis, kitted out with extra protective equipment, could take them there. High risk confirmed cases (older / comorbidities) go by ambulance to local medical facilities as required. During this period, we work with local politicians, community leaders, residence associations etc to ensure that everyone is looked after (in reality, these conversations will have started weeks before). We get our neighbourhoods communicating, looking out for each other, making sure they’ve got enough food or heating or whatever else they need. Local volunteers and taxi drivers can do odd jobs like sending packages, collecting prescriptions, lifting heavy stuff, or just checking in on people. If it is feasible, we can even invite local artists to play gigs for people in their streets or apartments. Towards the end of the second week, we begin a mass testing program with the ultimate goal of testing every person in the county (scale depends on resources). Once we have completed the tests and cleared the confirmed cases into quarantine, we can begin a slow, staggered opening process. We must be especially conservative at this point to ensure no slippage. When one county is clear, we move to the next one, and repeat the process. When we have cleared two bordering counties, we can join them together in a bigger Cleared Zone and the process continues from there. Eventually the Cleared Zone covers the whole country, except Dublin (or more realistically, the Pale). What would the other counties do while they wait for their turn? I’m assuming that, they would be doing whatever the ‘Living With The Virus’ plan dictates. This proposal succeeds in line with what happens in the sealed off zones, so I am more concerned with them. However, it would speed up the process if the bordering counties could be encouraged to get a head start. If the plan is going successfully, I’m confident they would. With its population density and its complexity, Dublin / the Pale will be the last county to be cleared. However, given that every other county would be cleared by that point, and with so much effort having been put in, it might make more sense just to burn Dublin down. We could go with a concrete mausoleum as per Chernobyl, but it might be easier and quicker if we just raised the city and started from scratch. The country needs to rebalance, so it’d be two birds with one stone. Or maybe we call that plan B. Dublin’s plan A would follow the same principles as for the rest of the country. Break it into smaller parts, focus resources on one area at a time, use layers of risk measures where precision isn’t an option, and get cases as early as possible, using whatever resources available. By that stage the rest of the country would be clear and the demand for medical resources low. We would have learned a lot along the way, and we would have plenty of ammo to throw at the problem. In general, the more resources we have, the faster we can move. The county by county approach that I have outlined above is too slow. With greater resources, we can increase the number of counties that are being cleared at any one time. One option is to work by province. Another would be to define the zones with respect to observed travel routes, in order to reduce the risk of leakage and reduce the inconvenience on local communities. At the end of the day, lines have to be drawn somewhere, and some people will inevitably lose out. The better we communicate with people in advance, the lower the burden on the people and the more of these problems we can avoid. Following on from that, one of the skills we need to take from this crisis is the ability to isolate and quarantine regions. Whether it is a city, a town, a county, a specific building, or even the entire country, we need to be able to seal it off and control movement in and out. This is an essential tool for outbreak management – whatever the outbreak and whatever the disease. The same goes for individuals. We need to be able to create and operate safe, comfortable, and effective quarantines, and to do so at short notice. It should be a matter of national embarrassment that FG and NPHET couldn’t even organise a quarantine in a pandemic. The whole process might take 3 to 4 months. That means we would have cut off all non-essential air travel for that time, but it doesn’t mean the whole country is in lockdown for 3 or 4 months. The lockdown is staggered, and the individual’s experience will depend on their location and their place in the ‘queue’. The first group of counties to go into lockdown will also be the first to come out. Once they have eliminated the spread of the virus, they will return to a normal, although somewhat isolated, society. The experience steadily improves as more and more counties join them in the Cleared Zone (or steadily deteriorates, depending on your county pride). While the first group is in lockdown, the rest of the country continues as normal i.e. living with the virus. Everyone watches as the first group goes through its lockdown (just think of the #banter). Several weeks later, as the first group is opening up, the second group is preparing to go in to lockdown. As the second group comes out, the third group goes in etc etc and the staggered lockdowns roll like a wave across the country. Every county goes from Living With The Virus -> intelligent lockdown (needs a better name) -> Cleared Zone. The earlier you are in the queue, the less time you spend Living With The Virus and the more time you spend in the Cleared Zone. The individual would only be in a strict lockdown for a matter of weeks, maybe 3-6 depending on the complexity of the region and the resources available. For counties with smaller populations that have shown that they can do a good lockdown, it will be quicker. For Dublin, it will be slower. Strengths I think this proposal has a lot of strengths. It’s a plan, for a start. We haven’t had a plan since this thing began (the FG lockdown wasn’t a plan – it was the inevitable consequence of not having a plan). The leaders take more responsibility to lower the burden on the people, it mobilises idle resources, and it fosters communication and community across the country. These are three strengths that I want to emphasise. 1 It provides clarity This might be the most important point. Uncertainty is painful. Uncertainty is a cost. Even if the bad thing is unlikely to happen, just the fact that it is a risk, or that it could happen means that you live with a cloud over your head. Suffering is bad enough on its own, but suffering for an unknown length of time is torture. And if that period is determined at the whim of a politician or an ‘expert’, that is a recipe for society-wide anger and even civil disorder. With this proposal, we can forecast the length of the period of lockdown with greater accuracy. The people will be able to understand what is being asked of them. We can make plans around resources required versus those available. The economists can make forecasts. Businesses can plan their finances. The people can plan their weddings, book their holidays, get back to training, sign up for courses, and have things to look forward to. At the end of the day, any successful proposal must remove the uncertainty and provide meaningful clarity to households and businesses. 2 Never let a crisis go to waste This plan will require tools and capabilities like rapid local testing, safe quarantines, rapid isolation of towns and regions, emergency decision-making frameworks etc. If we don’t have a capability, then we need to build it. When people say ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ this is what they mean: you build the tools in the crisis that will help you protect yourself from the next one. Nature works the same way. You lift weights until the muscle fibres tear, then they grow back stronger. We build aerobic endurance by pushing ourselves to a limit, then our body naturally reacts to increase the limit. A vaccine works similarly by stimulating antibodies for the disease. Well, we need a civic emergency vaccine for Ireland. These tools are the antibodies that will protect us next time. The sooner we build them, the better. Now is the time, not later. 3 It's the only way we can protect the economy The risk to the economy isn’t the next few months of revenue. We can borrow to cover lost income in the short run. The real risk is a wave of defaults that precipitates a financial crisis. As more individuals and businesses are put under financial pressure, more borrowers will default on their debts. But one man’s debt is another man’s asset, so as the borrowers default, the lender’s financial situation also deteriorates. Defaults are contagious, and if a wave of defaults threatens a major lender, the entire financial system will be at risk. Only an elimination plan can protect the economy. Along with the virus and the uncertainty it creates, we need to eliminate the risk of financial contagion. Weaknesses Could ya be arsed The End Goal Think about what’s on the other side of this… This is a massive challenge – the kind that defines a nation. However you think of your community, this would give you something to be proud of for generations. It would be like Italia ’90, except 10 times bigger, because we would be the players, we would be the ones making it happen. We’d become the first country in Europe to eliminate the virus. And of all the countries in the world, we’d be doing it from the largest deficit too. Those Taiwanese and Kiwis made it easy for themselves with their preparation and their travel restrictions and their competent leaders. Our challenge is much greater than theirs, but they show us what is possible. Have you ever wanted to scoff at the Germans for being disorganised? Wouldn’t you love to have a reason to mock the Danes? Aren’t you sick of hearing about New Zealand? Let’s make the Kiwis sick of hearing about the Irish! If we take this challenge on, the world’s media will be on us. The FT, the Economist, the NYT, the Guardian, Monacle, Wired, the New Scientist, China Daily, RT, Good Housekeeping, Horse and Hound, PornHub… all of these international media empires would be tracking our progress, interviewing key people, reporting daily, willing us on. The world is desperate for good news, and we can be the ones to give it to them. We would become a model for other nations to follow. They would take the Irish model and adapt it to their own situation. Instead of us copying other nations, they would be copying us. Instead of a pat on the head for the diddy little Irish fellas, we would be literally LEADING THE WORLD. Back at home, we get our lives back, and society can breathe again, free of restrictions. The over 70s come out of hibernation. The students go back to university. The protests stop because people go back to work and we announce an inquiry into what exactly happened in February and March. The pubs go back to being pubs. Our hospitality industry is taken off life support. The tidal wave of bankruptcies is avoided. We can play sport and celebrate the wins. We stop talking about things we can or can't do. Just imagine that first session... And imagine how good it would feel knowing that you had worked for it, and knowing that you had set the nation on a better path for generations to come... I think it’s worth a lash! Don’t you?
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