September 2015 news

N/A (newsletter)
created: 1 Sep 2015; modified: 29 Sep 2017; status: finished; confidence: log; importance: 0

This is the September 2015 edition of the gwern.net newsletter; previous, August 2015. This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with Changelog & Google+ & LW media threads; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.

Writings

Media

Books

Nonfiction:

Film/TV

Live-action:

  • The Theory of Everything (2014 biopic movie of Stephen Hawking, focusing on his first marriage to Jane Wilde as a student until the divorce. Flaws include the standard Hollywood portrayal of geeks and some lamentably missed opportunities for explaining the ideas involved in Hawking’s life-work - for example, in explaining Hawking radiation, which is probably one of the easiest and most interesting possible ideas in 20th century cosmology to explain in a few seconds for laymen, the director instead decides to cut back and forth between Hawking’s lecture and an incoherent pub discussion of same. I also have to wonder if debates about God were really as central to their lives as the movie made them, as they felt shoe-horned in; physicists tend to only bring up God in a Noble Lie way, for funding. What is good - perhaps even great - about the movie, is (a) the remarkable job Eddie Redmayne does in acting out the physical deterioration of Hawking, so uncannily well that my suspension of disbelief became absolute and I totally forgot that he was not really Hawking himself, and (b) the decay of the Hawkings’ marriage and eventual divorce, which is an unexpected topic to focus on but made sense once I learned it was based on Jane Wilde’s memoirs. I was not sure it was worth watching in the early part showing the romance, but once Hawking’s ALS enters the plot, then it became gripping for me.)

Anime:

Other Media

  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown: 2012 turn-based tactical strategy (isometric 3D) game; on Steam for Linux. You kill aliens. Very heavy on the atmosphere and moody graphics, with many special effects and little cut-scenes. As a tactical strategy, it has weaknesses; units must be trained & upgraded over many missions so they are worth their weight in gold, one-shot kills are always possible, getting in the first shot is critical, and the level layout has the standard mechanism where clusters of aliens are triggered when one moves, all of which combine to force on you an extremely conservative gameplay style where you move as slowly as possible through the level with all your soldiers always in cover, lest you trigger 3 or 4 groups of aliens simultaneously and lose one or more near-irreplaceable units. It is quite an incentive to reload levels that go badly and one well-placed enemy or even-slightly-aggressive move costs you 2 or 3 elites of your squad (I didn’t reload… much.) As such, the snipers level up with the greatest of ease as they do most of the killing, and they only get more overpowered when Archangel armor is developed and they can now shoot across almost entire levels without having to move! The levels themselves are not very imaginative either, with all of them boiling down to search-and-destroy in levels which are copies of each other, even the hostage-rescue and bomb-defusing missions (where the best strategy seems to be to, yes, just killing the aliens as fast as possible). Tech upgrades are doled out sparingly, so that one only gets the funnest weapons like the Ghost armor (temporary invisibility) or Blaster Launcher (rockets that go around corners) as the game is ending. (Holding Ghost armor until the end is particularly unfortunate, since it helps reduce the incentive for ultra-conservative explorations and the 4-turn limit makes it a challenge to use optimally.) I have to contrast the tactical strategy aspect of XCOM unfavorably to the last game I was playing, Advance Wars: Dual Strike: units can be risked in gambits and attacks because losing them is not so devastating, the first-attacker still has a huge advantage but this makes for interesting ambushes and tactics rather than forcing passivity, and since the enemy is always in motion, you are constantly under pressure to act too. Overall, I enjoyed it, but don’t feel any need to play it again.

Music

Touhou:

Doujin:

  • youthful (スズム; 青春の味と空論の君 {C84}) [instrumental]