Monday 24 October 2016

Playing with the AP score in Ingress

I enjoy playing Ingress. The game has both a global score based on how large an area each faction controls and how populated those areas are, and a personal score called Activity Points (AP). This works just like experience points in any RPG. You need them in order to level up.

Everything you do in Ingress awards AP. Recharging a portal gives a tiny amount, building a field gives a large amount. Taking down a portal with multiple fields attached to it gives the most AP of any single action in the game.

I sometimes play with the AP score, aiming for funny numbers. The key to this is watching the last digit of the score. When I wanted to aim for exactly 28 million AP, like in the screenshot, I first did the actions that gave large chunks of AP until I was getting close. A few thousands away from the goal is usually enough to fine tune the last digit.

The action that gives the least predictable amount is glyph hacking. The score is based on how fast the glyph hack is done. When I was getting close to the goal, I glyph hacked until the last digit of my AP score was 0. Then the rest was easy. Placing a mod gave 150 AP. Placing two mods on two portals gave 300. With only a few hundreds left, I recharged a remote portal until the score was right.

Actions that will leave the last digit intact:

Quick hacking an enemy portal (100 AP)
Glyph hacking and not getting all the glyphs right (50-200 AP)

Actions that will increase the last digit with 5:

Placing a resonator (125 AP)
Upgrading somebody else's resonator (65 AP)
Destroying a resonator (75 AP)
Placing a mod (125 AP)

Actions that increase the last digit with 3:

Making a link (313 AP)
Making a field (1563 AP)

Destroying links and field also gives a variable amount of AP based on how many you destroy at the same time. I usually don't include destruction in the last part of aiming for a certain score, because it is so unpredictable.

Monday 17 October 2016

The tea that tastes like WoW

WoW screenshot of a shadow priestI recently wrote about how smells can instantly trigger memories, and wondered if the same was also true for tastes. The two senses are after all closely related, large parts of what we perceive as taste comes from the nose.

I enjoy playing games, and while games like Ingress and Pokemon Go makes me go outside every day, it is more comfortable to sit inside and play World of Warcraft on a freezing October day like today. (Don't worry, i DID hack a portal today.) I have played WoW on/off since the beginning of the game, and often keep a cup of hot tea next to the computer while I play. Especially in the Burning Crusade area, I consumed large amounts of Chinese smoked tea.

Until this day, the taste of this tea makes me instantly think of WoW, especially a zone in Outland. The connection is so strong that when Warlords of Draenor came out, playing in the remade zone made me crave the same tea again.

When I sat down to play the game today, my SO made a cup of smoked tea for me and placed it next to my computer. It made the experience perfect. I believe that the familiar tea made me immerse myself even stronger in the game.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Chaotic randomness

I have been going through my image files lately, making backups and gathering files together on my computer. Among all the photos of flowers and the sky, I found some half forgotten "art". I call it "art" and not art, because these are randomly generated fractal images. I must admit that I know very little about fractals, but they are still fun to play with, The program I used to use is called Chaotica. It is free. In fact, a lot of the "artwork" on this site is made in Chaotica.

The way I use it, the first step is always a random flame. The program presents you with nine different random outputs, and you choose one. I usually choose the one that looks the most calm and ordered. From there, I tweak individual settings until it looks like I want it to.

This is the Blue Planet Eater. It is inspired by a terrifying dream about exactly that: a planet eater. It looked vaguely snail-like and was the size of a planet.

This is called "Fire Dragons", because after I adjusted the palette, the dragons stood out to me.

I couldn't call this anything else than the Rainbow Nebula.

This one doesn't have a title yet. This one has less randomness and more manual tweaking than most of my images so far.

All of these were made a couple of years ago. I have recently rediscovered and reinstalled Chaotica, because of the backup work. The resolution and size is limited in the free version, but it works well enough for me. 

Thursday 13 October 2016

"The summer we played Pokemon"

This summer, I came over a blog post on a Norwegian news website. It was written by an adult man (I'm roughly 40 years old, and he was older than me, but I hesitate to use the word "elderly")  and complaining about how popular augmented reality games had become. This post, which I can't remember the URL to, came out when the popular game Pokemon Go had been out for a couple of weeks.
Screenshot of Pokemon Go showing a Diglett emerging from the ground

There was one sentence in this post that stuck in my mind. "I don't want to remember this summer as the summer we played Pokemon". I have thought about this, and can't find anything wrong at all with the idea. How is "the summer we played Pokemon" different from "the summer we played frisbee golf"? When I have spent summers with my family on my parents' rural property, there has always been some outdoors game or activity that has been this year's major hit. One year frisbee, one year badminton, one year football...

To put this into perspective, the summer of 2015 was the summer we played Ingress. 2015 was not a good year for us. We needed an excuse to get out and focus on something else than the Big Bad Thing that was going on. Ingress was invaluable.
Screenshot of Ingress showing blue and green portals and fields

Ingress has a function that tracks the number of unique location visits. The summer of 2015, we made it our mission to increase that stat as much as possible. We went exploring in towns and cities close to where my SO grew up, visiting parts that even he had never seen before. With our phones in our hands, we learned so much about this area's culture and history. We also went on a fielding op with other people. How many games bring people together, physically, like this? When we need to stand on a real, physical location in order to do our thing in the game, we are bound to sooner or later meet other players. We are still in contact with those people, even now that we live in another country.

Pokemon Go appeals to a younger audience than Ingress, in average. Most Ingress players I have met average around 40 years old. Pokemon, on the other hand, has attracted large groups of teenagers on bikes. Many players have been even younger, even if the game has an age limit of 13. My point is: It makes people go outside. It makes people walk. In fact, in Pokemon Go, walking several km is the only way to hatch eggs.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

I travelled in time through a smell

I walked into the shop and got my things. The radio was playing a well known song from the 80s. I know this song very well. A local radio station used to play it several times a day through the early 90s, when I was a teenager and often getting some privacy in my bedroom listening to the radio. It made me smile because of the memories.
The smell of a campfire brings back memories

I queued up behind an older woman. The smell of her perfume instantly hit my subconscious. It was the same one as my grandmother used in the 90s. The combination of sound and smell was so powerful that I could vividly remember not only the look and layout of my bedroom, but the mood it had at night.

In our brain, the area that is responsible for the sense of smell is directly connected to parts that control emotions and memories. Scientists have proven this connection.  Only the sense of smell has this direct connection, the other senses have to be processed through the consciousness first, if I read these articles right. Since much of what we perceive as taste really comes from the nose, it is easy to think that eating certain foods can also bring back powerful memories.

I was originally in that shop to get a bag of coffee, but I walked out with coffee and a chocolate bar. The same brand as I used to get in the small town I grew up in. The memory faded quickly as my mind focused on playing Ingress, and I can't even recall exactly what that perfume smelled like now.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Ingress: the game that physically changed my life

I live in a relatively cold part of the world, where it is usually below freezing for several months every year. This is traditionally the time for indoor activities, unless you are one of those health obsessed people who just have to exercise every day. My physical activity in winter used to be limited to the walk to and from work...or to and from the bus stop. Computer games was something I played in front of my computer.

In the spring of 2015, my SO had to go abroad for several months. I was alone, and filled my days with long walks on the numerous paths surrounding our home. It was a beautiful, warm spring day when I sat down next to a small campsite in the woods. It suddenly fell into my mind: This is a portal in that game he plays on the phone. I should take care of it for him. He had played it enough that I knew he was on the green team.I went home, downloaded the Ingress app, and was instantly addicted. Since that day, I have gone outside every day, at least once a day, without a break. I have walked over 3000 km.
Screenshot of Ingress, SpecOps medal

Ingress is a mobile phone game, which uses the real world as its game map. Specifically, it is based on Google Maps and a list of public places of interest. In the first two or three years of the game, players could also submit their own locations. These spots are known as portals in the game. I'll not get into the complicated story, but Ingress has two factions: the Enlightened (green) and the Resistance (blue) Portals can be captured by players and turned green or blue. It is possible to link two portals of the same colour, and if you link three together in a triangle, the area inside the triangle turns green or blue. The main goal of the game is for your faction to own as much land as possible. More populated areas are worth more, and scores are counted every five hours and reset once a week.

What I didn't expect, and what got me so instantly addicted, was the fact that I play in the real world, with and against real people. Every time you do a significant action in the game, it is broadcast in the in game comm. At any time, a real person could walk up to the portal I own and attack it. Any random person could in fact be an Ingress player! Before I learned to recognise the local players, this added a new and very exciting layer to my normal daily routine. Now that I know the players, it just adds an extra smile to the day when I stop and talk with them, It is still a very good thing.

The game also keeps track of how many unique portals you have visited. This has been a very good motivation for us to explore new places. It can be something as simple as walking a street we don't usually walk. One night this summer, we had to wait for a night in a city, between the last night train and the first morning train. Thanks to Ingress, we were constantly occupied with exploring. We actually got so caught up that we had to run back to the station. I could go on and on about how this game has made me go out more, see more places, and meet more people.

My in game name is Siiw. Anyone who reads this is welcome to give me a ping in comm if you try it out.

Official Ingress site, where you can download the app and watch the map

Google+ page

Reddit forum

Wiki with good help for beginners

Saturday 1 October 2016

Why don't we sing in public?

NSB Di4 diesel locomotive on passenger trainI was sitting on the train, to visit my sister. The trip takes seven hours, and I had thankfully been left alone for most of it. About halfway there, a man got on the train and sat down next to me. He took his phone out, placed it on the small table in front of his seat, and put on some football scoring service. "Great", I thought. "He is a football fan and will stay occupied with this and not bother me". When the football phone was all set up, he took out a second phone, and started playing music on it. Then he started singing along. I had to control myself to not stare at him. He obviously didn't know all the lyrics, or even the right notes, so he substituted the missing parts with loud humming. This went on until he got off the train, two stops later. 

When I told this story to my sister, we both laughed at the strange man. "I guess he was a foreigner?", my sister asked. I had to admit that yes, he was African. My talking about a man singing on the train had given her an image of a foreign person. It was apparently unthinkable that a native Norwegian would sing in public.

I was at work, late on a Friday evening. It felt like only my coworker and I were left in the mall. Suddenly, we hear a loud voice from the common area of the mall. He was singing "Halo". His voice wasn't bad at all, he could follow the complicated rhythm of the song well. We couldn't see the man, only hear his voice. My coworker and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. This made our day.

It was strange and unusual for us to hear an adult man singing in public like this. The fact that he was singing a well known song by a female singer made it even stranger. I have later thought that if it had been a child, or even a young woman, the scene wouldn't have been so weird.

Why is it seen as so strange to sing in public? At which age are we supposed to stop singing? When a child sings, people usually think it is cute. Of course, children are also "allowed" to do other things that we adults can't, such as running in public, climbing trees, and generally exploring places without a purpose or excuse.

I sometimes hum while working or walking, without a thinking about it consciously. It comes naturally. It is usually just a sign that I'm feeling safe, since I usually stay quiet in the presence of other people. Sometimes, a coworker or my SO will point it out. I usually apologise! Thinking about it, I wouldn't expect somebody who has been "caught" humming to apologise. I don't mean the kind of people who hum while people talk to them to demonstrate their ignorance. I mean just humming, as in adding background music to whatever they are doing at the moment. In some cultures, it is perfectly OK and common to sing while working. It used to be a common thing for sailors, for example.

Showing happiness in public is a good thing in my eyes. There is nothing shameful about it. The next time I catch somebody singing in public, I'll maybe smile with them instead of laughing at them.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Melatonin changes my sense of time

I work shifts, and that isn't good for my already unusual sleep rhythm. To battle the sleeplessness and following zombie state every time my schedule changes, I got some melatonin pills. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body when it is dark. It is a part of the system that signals the body when it is time to fall asleep.
The first sunrise of the year over snowy fields

It does, usually, make me fall asleep faster. It also makes me wake up earlier, which is a good thing when the alarm rings at 6 AM. After taking a melatonin pill before midnight, it feels like I have had a fuller night of sleep early in the morning. It is easier to drag myself out of bed.

What I didn't expect was the effect the drug had on my experience of time. I don't just wake up as easily after 6 hours with melatonin as after 9 hours without, it also feels like it has literally been 9 hours since I fell asleep. I have often woken up at 3 or 4 and thought I have overslept, because my sense of time has been wrong. I have woken up half an hour before my alarm in a panic, because I have been certain that I overslept!

We all wake up several times every night. Many people can't remember this. I usually do. When I take melatonin, I notice the awakenings even more, because there is usually some anxiety involved. It is harder to fall back asleep when my stomach is a tight knot and my mouth is dried out. Sometimes, I am sure that I have been lying still in bed, trying to sleep, for more than an hour. Then I look at the time. It has only been 20 minutes.

The altered sense of time lasts into the morning sometimes. It can feel like I have spent half an hour in the bathroom, and that I have certainly missed my bus, when it has only been 10 minutes. This is really fun when work is slow.

I have asked other people on IRC and on LD4all for their experiences, and nobody else has experienced this side effect. It isn't stopping me from using the pills now and then. I'd rather have a moment of panic in the morning than a full shift as a zombie.

Thursday 22 September 2016

The body knows

Today, it is time for my annual review meeting at work. It is something we all have to go through, and I don't expect anything shocking or bad to come up. All my coworkers have come out of the manager's office with relieved expressions. I don't fear it. I keep reminding myself that there is nothing to fear here.
Foam on top of a fresh cup of coffee

When I woke up today, my left hand had broken out in a rash. This thing, atopic eczema,bothered me in my early childhood. I had to see a dermatologist for it when I was 3 years old. It has mostly disappeared since then, but for the last couple of years, it has occasionally popped out in stressful situations.

No matter how much I try to convince myself that the meeting is no danger, my body seems to have a different opinion. The rash says what I sometimes don't want to say out loud.

This reminds me of a story my grandmother told me. She had just started a new job, and she was about to move into her new room in the town where she got the job. The night before her first day, she had a dream about rash covering her entire body. It was disturbing to her. When she woke up, she found her body covered with hives. My theory was that the itch must have leaked into her dream. She thought the stressful dream was the cause of the rash. With what I know now, I wonder if the stress was the cause of both,

She would also frequently experience sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations in that room. That is a story for a different post.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

A late night walk

I was just out for a late night walk. This September has been unusually warm, and I need the exercise. Walking, for me, is almost a form of meditation. While my body moves with its own automatic rhythm, my thoughts flow freely.  I lose track of time.
Purple sunset over Bodø

Something made me look up at the sky for a split second. I saw stars, and looked at the road again, but something felt wrong. Fundamentally wrong. My subconscious was feeding me a sense of dread, as if I had seen something impossible happen. This confused me; I had just seen stars?

I stopped and peeked at the starry sky again. Then I saw it. One of the "stars" was in fact a high flying plane, slowly moving across the sky, too slow to be noticeable but too fast to be anything else than a plane. Somehow, my subconscious had registered this subtle movement and interpreted it as wrong, because stars don't move.

It is amazing how the subconscious can filter the enormous amounts of sensory information we take in every day, and only pass on the relevant part to the conscious mind. It makes me wonder how much we miss because it isn't weird or dangerous enough to be noticed.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Synesthesia and the Beer Spectrum

I have a condition called synesthesia. That means that my senses are more or less linked to each other in my mind. Different people get it differently. For me, it is mostly sounds, smells and tastes that get "translated" to shapes and colours in my mind. I can say that a scented soap "looks purple, but smells yellow", and that makes perfect sense to me. The smell gives me a mental image of "yellow".

I like beer, and trying out different kinds of beer. Beer tastes multicoloured. Almost all beer has a dark red to orange flavour from the kinds of malt used, yellow-green tones from hops (Cascade is intensely lemon yellow!) Some dark beers taste more brown than others. The best pilsners have a very pleasant, golden orange taste of fresh bread. Wheat beers and sour beers can even have blue tones, but bright blue usually means strong carbonation.

The idea of a beer spectrum came into my mind when my SO and I had a conversation over a beer in a local pub. "This stout has a more even spectrum than the Guinness. Guinness has a peak in the red part and the top green part, while this one has more orange" My SO gave me a strange look. He obviously didn't have this kind of mental image of beer. Now, he usually asks me for a spectrum when we try a new beer.

Beer Spectrum: Guinness
Beer Spectrum: Clausthaler Wheat
Clausthaler Wheat
Beer Spectrum: Staropramen
Beer Spectrum: Mack Bayer
Mack Bayer

After a beer or two, the mental image becomes more pronounced. It tends to fade from my mind and get harder to recall afterwards, so in order to build up a collection of images, I should draw them while actually drinking the beer. The images above are easy to remember, because they represent favourite beers which I often drink.

Friday 1 July 2016

How do I explain synesthesia?

"Sundays are white" 
"December is at the bottom of the year" 
"This song looks like a white brain"

As a child, I used to puzzle my parents with expressions like these. I couldn't understand what they thought was so strange about this. They couldn't understand what I meant. As I grew older, it became clear that almost nobody else shared these experiences. I wrote it off, stopped speaking of it and hid it inside my mind.

Not until I was an adult, almost 30 years later, did I first hear of synesthesia. My mother had heard it mentioned on TV, and reminded me: "Do you remember that Sundays were white? You should look at this..."

I experience most of the forms of synesthesia that are discussed in the Wikipedia article, but the strongest association is the one that shows sounds and smells as visual images. When a word has a colour, I don't see the colour strongly when I look at the letters of the word, but I see it when it is spoken out loud. The shapes are usually in 3D.

The song that looked like a white brain was an upbeat, big band version of a famous jazz song. A well known radio show in my country uses it as its intro. I can't find this specific version of it online, but I have found several others. Interestingly enough, they look different. Where the big band recording looks like a white brain, a slower version with the main melody played on a clarinet looks more like a dark green fractal tree. The general "winding" shape is the same, but the faster version has a lighter and more compact visual.

The moon generated in ChaoticaSmells have even stronger associations than sounds. I have learned that the sense of smell has a strong connection with the primitive, subconscious part of the brain, especially with old memories. I can often visualise a smell before my conscious mind can come up with the name for it. The smell of blood, for example, is a semi transparent iron grey blob.

I experience synesthesia stronger when my mind isn't fully alert. When I am very sleepy, intoxicated, or sick, the associations become stronger. This is especially an issue with (lucid) dreaming. The connection between a word, its sound, and its shape and colour is sometimes so strong that it makes the dream hard to type up.

One peculiar thing I have noticed is the fact that the lower quality the sound recording is, the less colourful and detailed is the image, unless the recording is of a sound I know very well. It is as if the brain fills in the blanks, and gives me the image I expect.

The article also links synesthesia with misophonia. I don't know if that is universal, but I definitely have misophonia too. Some sounds translate to fear and/or aggression. I wonder if that works in the same way as the connection between smells, memories and emotions.

Wikipedia article about synesthesia

A good article on Google+

Monday 22 February 2016

My favourite thing to do in a lucid dream

I am a natural lucid dreamer. Staying on LD4all for many years has greatly improved how often I lucid dream. A lucid dream is a dream where you are aware of the fact that you are dreaming. This mental state, although limited in time, is complete freedom and privacy. If you can imagine it, you can do it in a lucid dream. With some experience, training, and mental focus, it is possible to make a lucid dream last for several minutes, and you can do literally what you want.

In their first lucid dreams, many people will typically want to do the same things. It is common to want to lucid dream about flying, other superpowers, and fulfilling one's desires. I have done those things. It works just like daydreaming, just in full virtual reality 3D.

When we are asleep, our senses are turned down. We don't pay much attention to the world around us, because we are sleeping. This means that everything that happens in a dream happens inside our own heads. This also means that our experiences aren't limited to what our senses can process. I have read lucid dreams where people have had 360 degree vision, where they could follow scent trails, and where they could see and hear from the point of view of two people at the same time.

View of far away islands from a mountain
Flying and singing in my own private world
I love music. I love making music, singing and drumming random rhythms when I am alone. Unfortunately, I'm not very talented. This is where the lucid dreaming comes in. In a lucid dream, my voice sounds good. It becomes deep, expressive, and powerful. It is as if I listen to a skilled singer, and can perfectly control what they sing, because I am that singer. The dream environment can also provide background music. Since my mind isn't limited by my ears anymore, I can clearly hear and follow multiple voices and instruments playing together. In a lucid dream, the harmony is always perfect. Sometimes, the music comes from my surroundings, from people around me, or even from the planet itself. The euphoria from this is impossible to describe with words.

Apart from all the other good sides of lucid dreaming, it is this that makes me keep trying. There is simply nothing like standing on a private world, singing a song you make yourself as you sing it, loudly and freely.