Schrödinger’s Brexit

I haven’t had much to say about the ongoing disaster that is Brexit, but a couple of articles caught my eye this week, so I thought it was worth making a brief return to the subject.

First of all, Vince Cable asks “Why have Remainers gone silent as the costs of Brexit pile up?” While I am less than convinced about Cable’s conclusions, he is right to point out that the country can’t start to deal with the consequences, or to find away forward, if everyone continues to pretend that Brexit isn’t a thing.

And Rafael Behr provides a reality check by pointing out that the Northern Ireland protocol isn’t the problem, Brexit is. Behr makes much the same point as Cable, that Labour (and, to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats) of being cast as unrepentant remainers that they continue to fall silent in the face of the Conservatives’ attempts to constantly refight the same Brexit battles.

It is a formula for perpetual crisis. The constitutional mess that Johnson has made of Northern Ireland is so far the gravest episode, but unlikely to be the last. The problem isn’t that the protocol cannot be made to work as written, but that it was written to enact a Brexit that doesn’t work.

The result is that we see Boris Johnson and his minions promising to get Brexit done. Again, and again, and again.

Brexit has happened. Britain has left the EU and the mandate embodied by the referendum has been discharged, and then some. It does need to be recognised, though, that this is not a trivial change and there will be many consequences from implementing such a change.

The country is not going to be able to deal with these consequences, however, until people start acknowledging that they exist.

Back to Work

With the ongoing relaxation of COVID restrictions, the office is slowly reopening and I am now travelling to Brussels twice a week. I still have to wear a mask on the train, but the expectation is that this restriction will be lifted next week. Apart from that, it’s surprising just how normal everything feels.

While it is nice to see people again after a two-year absence, I can’t honestly say that I missed anyone. This, as a colleague suggested, may be an age thing — I have never had, nor wanted, a social life based around work and, living with a family of five makes it impossible to feel isolated. If I was still single and living alone, I may well have felt differently.

I didn’t miss the commute, though, and standing on a packed train while trying to avoid ending up with someone’s elbow in my nose reminded me just how much I didn’t miss commuting. Oddly, the journey home is always worse than the journey in.

There are, of course, some advantages to being in a shared office space, the main one being that it is a lot easier to resolve confusion and misunderstandings when you can wander over to someone’s desk and hold a face to face conversation.

It may be related to the fact that I work in corporate IT, but I do find it surprising just how much is simply not understood. The thing is, you never realise just how much people people didn’t understand until you are looking over their shoulder while they try to do what you have just explained.

That said, this is not something I need to do every day, and I really didn’t miss the commute.

I also didn’t miss the experience of discovering that the only coffee machine in the building has stopped working. This never happens at home.

Scythe

This game is big, really big. Big as in there’s a lot to it, so much so that I am not going to attempt to describe this game. Instead I will leave it to the publisher Stonemaier Games to do it for me:

In Scythe, each player represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power in Eastern Europa. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Scythe uses a streamlined action-selection mechanism (no rounds or phases) to keep gameplay moving at a brisk pace and reduce downtime between turns. While there is plenty of direct conflict, there is no player elimination, nor can units be killed or destroyed.

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, deploy mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

This is a game that we acquired at Christmas and I have to admit that, that when we first opened the box and looked through the rules, it all felt a bit overwhelming. There really is a lot to it.

That said, after a couple of sessions, the clarity of the game’s design starts to shine through. There is a lot to it, but the player boards (each player has a different faction) leads you through your options, and you very quickly find yourself focussing on the strategies and tactics that you need to best build your empire.

Not only is the game beautifully designed, but the presentation is similarly gorgeous. The photo at the top of this post really doesn’t do justice to just how much attention to detail has gone into the artwork nor the sheer quality of the pieces. The photo does, however, show how much space the game takes up. With four players, we needed the whole of the dining table.

Scythe is a game that takes a couple of hours to play, but the game itself moves pretty quickly. Each move is relatively short and the action progresses rapidly enough from player to player that, even with five players, no-one is left twiddling their thumbs for long.

If I haven’t already made clear enough, this game really is wonderful. While the mechanics (once you get used to them) are relatively simple, there is so much to explore that I can’t see us running out of options for a very long time to come.

We’re going to need a bigger table.

Dopamine Coins

Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, as well as the underlying blockchain technology, are things about which I have long been cynical. As far as I can see, they have no value, no purpose and no point other than providing yet another economic bubble, profitable for those that get out fast enough but disastrous for the schmucks left holding the things when prices crash.

Then again, I’m quite cynical about most new things — I thought podcasts were a stupid idea when I first saw someone attach an audio file to a blog, and look at how popular podcasts are now. So I have largely ignored all of the cryptohype on the grounds that, if my cynicism turns out to be misplaced I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

However, as the reporting around these things increases, the more sure I am becoming that my cynicism was not misplaced. Indeed, if anything I probably haven’t been cynical enough.

Let’s start with the news that triggered this post, that One bitcoin transaction emits as much CO2 as a household in 3 weeks. I have long been aware that the cost of generating cryptoassets is eye-wateringly high, but it is useful to have some sense of just how much of an energy cost we are talking about. And it needs to kept in mind that this cost is in pursuit of generating something that has no use and no intrinsic value.

But you can trade them. In fact, the only thing you can do with these things is trade them. Which brings me to the second article I stumbled across recently: ‘Trading is gambling, no doubt about it’ – how cryptocurrency dealing fuels addiction.

I don’t have a very high opinion of financial trades or financial traders, but the exchanges that support this do have to comply with various regulations which — in theory, at least — provide some protection. Even casinos have to deal with a level of regulatory oversight, but not cryptoassets:

While some trading platforms that offer digital assets are regulated – because they also offer more traditional financial instruments – crypto coins and tokens are not.

Cryptoasset executives do not have to prove that they are fit and proper people to take people’s money. The companies they run are not required to hold enough cash to repay investors if they go bust. Nor must they worry about the FCA’s stipulation that financial promotions, such as those splashed across public transport in London, are fair, clear and not misleading.

If you get involved in cryptotrading, you are essentially handing large sums of money over to someone who, even if they aren’t actively trying to defraud you, will often prove to be unable to provide anything close to adequate protection. These exchanges are, all too often, being run by amateurs who lack necessary knowledge or skills and who wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near your money if real assets were involved.

Of course, the supporters of blockchain technologies will respond to these issues by claiming that these are just teething issues to be resolved, or some handwavy stuff about new or “disruptive” technologies needing time to prove themselves. But, as Molly White points out, It’s not still the early days.

Bitcoin has been around since 2009, other blockchain-based currencies and applications have similarly long pedigrees. This is plenty of time for any issues to have been worked out and plenty of time, if these things did have any value, for that value to become apparent.

The more you think about it, the more “it’s early days!” begins to sound like the desperate protestations of people with too much money sunk into a pyramid scheme, hoping they can bag a few more suckers and get out with their cash before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Blockchain is a solution in search of a problem. It’s had long enough, and it’s now safe to assume that there are no problems for which blockchain is solution. It’s a technology that needs to be abandoned, sooner rather than later.

Slightly better

A couple of weeks ago, The Guardian published an article on 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying, which is probably perfect for everyone who has already failed to keep up with their New Years resolutions, as well as the rest of us who didn’t even try.

The suggestions are all simple and very easy to implement. While not all of them will be appropriate for everyone, I was surprised at how many of these things I already do.

I particularly liked this one, though:

91 If in doubt, add cheese.

Box in My Head

For a significant part of 2021 I have found myself rediscovering some of the bands that I listened to a lot when I was younger. Mainly Blue Öyster Cult, which I discovered all the way back in the early 80s when I bought Cultösaurus Erectus. I have to admit that I bought this album because I liked the cover, but it has dated remarkably well.

The band is still going and, after something of a recording hiatus, released The Symbol Remains at the back end of 2020. It’s an excellent album, and one that not only demonstrates just how wide a range BÖC is capable of, but also one that improves with each listen.

Not surprisingly, Last.fm informs me that this is the album to which I listened to most in 2021.

There are a bunch of truly stand-out tracks on this album, but I’m going to start the year with Box in My Head, a typically sideways take on the sort of closeness that can develop over time.

Lightly Seared in 2021

As the year draws to a close, now seems as good a time as any to look back over my most popular (more accurately: most read) post of the last twelve months. As ever, my most read posts overall are technical notes written the best part of a decade ago, but if people still find this stuff useful, it’s all to the good.

Of the posts that I actually wrote this year, the most popular (surprisingly enough) is COVID-related. Specifically, when I announced that I was fully jabbed. Of course, I’m even more jabbed now having recently received my booster.

Oddly enough, the second most popular post of the year is Jabbed: Part One, which goes back to when I received my first dose of Pfizer.

Brexit was mentioned on this blog a few times, even though it received a lot fewer mentions than in previous years. It seems fitting, therefore, that my third most popular post is also the last time I mentioned the B-word to mention that a crisis had been averted.

I am still watching the Brexit-related news but I find myself have much less to say. The reason, I think, is that even though a lot of stuff keeps happening, it’s the same stuff happening over and over again. There are only so many times that you can mention the sheer stupidity of leaving the EU, or the fact that now it’s done there’s no way back, without both feeling and sounding like a broken record.

On the subject of going around in circles, COVID. And in March, I mentioned that 2021 was starting to feel like 2020.

On a more positive note, we did take a step towards eating more sustainably with burgers for all. That’s insect burgers, which we can make using mealworm.

And I can’t go a year without mentioning the weather: Flooded. Fortunately, I wasn’t.

Way back in January, Donald Trump tried to organise a coup. In After the meltdown, the climbdown I made (or tried to make) the more general observation that authoritarian impulses exist everywhere — we all need to be paying attention.

Remember OS/2? I did: Digital Nostalgia

Then there is the ongoing discussion about green energy and why nuclear power plants are necessary. I still it’s insane that the Green parties in Belgium want to burn more gas in order to decommission the nuclear power stations we already have.

And last, but certainly not least, is what I said back in May: Don’t Panic!

And with that, all that remains is to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2022.

Seasons Greetings

It’s that time of year again, when COVID restrictions are tightened and we congratulate ourselves on having seen Spider-Man on Tuesday, before the cinemas were closed.

Today is my last day at work until next year. I have two weeks off which we will all be spending at home, around a table, playing games. The boys started expressing an interest in Dungeons & Dragons a few weeks ago and we have agreed to give it a try while we have plenty of time for a few lengthy sessions. I’m not sure who is most looking forward to this.

In other news, I had my COVID booster yesterday — Moderna this time. They really have the process working smoothly now: it’s literally a case of walk in register, get jabbed and go.

Life goes on, the freezer is full, and the presents are all wrapped and under the tree. We’re ready for the next two weeks, so all that remains is for me to wish anyone reading this a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the season.

Inspiration

I spent most of yesterday struggling with an application to which I needed to make a few small changes. And the changes were small, which is why I found it so incredibly frustrating that the end result didn’t work. I tested and tested and tested again and, while all of the individual components worked perfectly, it completely failed when I tried to put it all together.

Today, while out walking, I suddenly realised why it wasn’t working. I won’t bore you with the details, but it relates to the difference between Development, Test and Acceptance environments. What is more interesting is just how much I can solve when I let my mind wander.

I really need to get out more.