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On the Bookshelf: Invisible Streets by Toby Ball

Invisible Streets by Toby BallInvisible Streets

by Toby Ball

I have been a fan of Toby Ball’s City since I picked up the first novel The Vaults on a whim at the library just because I liked the look of the cover. I followed The City to the second novel Scorch City where again the cover served as the inspiration for the review. Now we have the third book of the trilogy, Invisible Streets, and it is easily my favorite of the three.

In the thirty years that have passed over the course of the trilogy The City, the real main character of the series, has gone through many changes. In this novel the changes are more visible than ever as The City is in the process of remaking itself. Whole neighborhoods, the patchwork of cultures and flavors that make the city such a compelling quilt of a landscape, are being literally plowed under to make room for expressways and the behemoth of a building they all will lead to, a monolith at the center of The City that is on one hand the keystone of Progress that The City has always embodied, and on the other hand the Tombstone for what in a way makes The City unique. But this is, of course, The City and in The City there is no getting away from the corruption, the dark undercurrents, the power plays, and the complicated, paranoid, devious, intelligent, and interesting characters that inhabit it. The plot of Invisible Streets is a slow, slow burn. It doesn’t hurry, nor does it lag, it smolders. Furthermore, even at that measured pace the reader doesn’t have the sense of being ahead of the characters even with the advantage of seeing the story unfolding from multiple viewpoints. The characters, still the noir archetypes of the reporter, the detective, the fixer, the politician, are vibrant and well written. The reader is made to feel their confusion, their resolve, and at times their desperation and hope. The story itself comes to a conclusion that in itself is satisfying and makes sense when looking back over the course of the novel, and yet it doesn’t really end because The City keeps on going, different but still The City.

Thank you for The City Mr. Ball.

Diversion and Distraction of the Ingress Kind: Tactical Portal Defense / Portal Control

 

Time for another Ingress post, maybe a book post later too.

 

This post is on the topic of portal defense / portal control in Ingress. I am talking specifically about purely tactical, within action range, portal defense / control. I happen to work right next door to a portal (OK, considering how much time I spend at work I practically live within range of the thing), and since I’ve been playing it has more or less been mine. This is not to say that the silly Frogs haven’t tried to take it away from me on occasion and that is what this post is about. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at tactical portal defense / control.

Caveat #1: I am perfectly aware that portal defense / control of this kind, however it is done, is in the end something of a waste of resources, but because of my dedication to the logistics of the game I am well prepared to expend the resources in order to achieve the psychological advantage of this sort of confrontation. If you aren’t loaded to the inventory cap with a full range of resonators, portal shields, power cubes and high level XMP bursters, this is not for you.

Ok, a little background on the situation. I live in a medium sized city and while there are active Ingress players there aren’t enough of us, green or blue, to trip over each other (the iPhone release of Ingress may change that, too early to tell). We, more or less, know who each other are and the areas we tend to play in. I specifically have two greens whose preferred play area overlaps with mine at my work portal. We are all at this point Level 8, though they started about a month after I did so until recently I was a level ahead of them and had a very slight power advantage. Their advantage is that they always play together (though their speed is pretty lacking in my opinion). My city is also situated so that out-of-town players come here to power level so I’ll get the occasional green dropping by to knock on my proverbial door. My work portal makes an inviting target for them as it is usually an anchor for multiple links and fields. Until I fight back, that is.

Tactical portal defense / control ultimately depends upon how fast you get the notification that your portal is under attack and how fast you can pull up your scanner. You first need to assess the situation. If you still have resonators on the portal you are in luck. Your first job is to make sure your portal is fully resonated with the highest level resonators you can place. Don’t start throwing low level resonators on the portal (more on that later). Once that is done turn your attention to the portal mods. Shields are the key. They are expensive in logistical terms but even a common shield will keep your resonator placements coming faster than your opponent can kill them, just make sure you keep at least one shield on at all times. Considering the cost, common shields are your best bet and two is better than one thanks to Ultra Strikes. A common shield and a force amp or turret is nice, but if you lose the shield you will lose resonators faster than you can replace them. With the shield, even in a 2 on 1 engagement (which I’ve had more than a couple of times) you can keep ahead.

At this point you have an XM advantage. Attacks from your portal are affecting your attacker and sucking away their XM. You only have this advantage because, you will notice, you haven’t tried to recharge a resonator, merely replaced them. I think recharging is a mistake for two reasons. First, it sucks away your XM. Second, your opponent is probably going to be able to reduce your resonators faster than you can charge them and speed is key in defense / control. It costs far less to place a new resonator, in XM terms, than to charge one, especially a high level resonator. If you can determine where your opponent is attacking from you should, of course, place your highest level resonators at the farthest point from them. More on physical position later.

Caveat #2: Whatever the level of your portal when you start out at the end of the contest, should you prevail, your portal will likely be reduced to the highest level portal you can field by yourself. Your fields will probably be gone. Your links will probably drop. Any that you manage to keep are bonuses in your favor, but assume they are gone, don’t chase keeping them. That is why this is portal defense / control.

So what happens if you get the notification and your portal is already gone. Hopefully it hasn’t yet been fully resonated because you need to stop it before it does. Why? Because you need to be killing resonators before your opponent deploys a shield. You have lost the defense fight already, but you may still control the portal. You are essentially now playing the other side of the previous engagement but you have the advantage of surprise and preparation. To put things in Boydian terms, you have an OODA advantage.

Caveat #3: There is a delay in your scanner between what your opponent does and what you are doing. If you are on the resonator placement side of the engagement your resonators will dissappear suddenly when, to your scanner, they look to be at full power. You have to keep in mind how many of what level resonators are deployed and switch very quickly between them. Again speed is key. On the attacking side your scanner may show few to no enemy resonators. They are probably there, you just can’t see them yet. You can recon by fire, do it, assume there are resonators and act accordingly.

So the idea on the attacking side of portal defense / control is to, obviously knock down the resonators to keep the portal from being fully resonated. Note that it isn’t as to kill resonators as fast as they appear. It is a delicate tightrope to walk, but even with logistical superiority you need to be hitting more than one resonator with each XMP. I would recommend using Level 7 bursters if 8s are harder to come by in your area, but if you have a pocket full of 8s go right ahead and use them. Usually in my battles so far the resonator destroyed notifications come in groups of 2-4 and that’s about right I think. It is tempting to try and jump back to the resonator placement side of the battle, but be careful. Because of the delay in your scanner you may waste valuable, irreplaceable, time trying to slip a resonator on the portal while your opponent (who is already placing resonators) blocks you with their own and potentially fully resonates and shields while you are poking at your phone trying to get back into attack mode. My thinking is that once they give up and go away you can resonate all you want. Keep up the pressure. In a 2 on 1 engagement, if your opponents aren’t communicating (and I don’t think mine do very well) they may be trying to place resonators over top of each other, all to your advantage.

Note: A common mistake that many players will make is that they start using lower level resonators because they feel like they are wasting their higher level gear. They are probably logistically insecure, and it is also easier to just keep throwing out Level 1 and 2 resonators than switching back and forth and keeping track of how many higher level resonators they are using. It just means they are easier to kill, so keep at them. You might be able to downgrade to Level 6 bursters though and still keep up the same pressure. It depends on how fast they are.

Position: Because of where I usually am in relation to the portal and where my opponents have typically positioned themselves (Usually in the parking lot of the building next door, sometimes positioned almost on the portal in order to use their Ultra Strikes) I have had the outer position. With Level 7+ XMP bursters and the ability to deploy resonators at greatest distance from the portal itself. The further they are from the portal, the more likely you are to need higher level bursters on the attack side of the engagement. I also have the possible advantage of playing from wi-fi though I think it is pretty negligible. Many times if you take a physical position where you can wave politely at them and give them a big shit-eating grin they will give up and go away. It also keeps them from thinking you are a spoofer which is good. I don’t do it unless I don’t know the attacker.

 

So that is my take on tactical portal defense / control. The goal is to keep the portal tuned to your faction, and more importantly hand your opponent a psychological (strategic) defeat. They might decide to leave you alone, or they might decide to come back when they know you aren’t there and take your portal anyway (Big deal, you still beat them, they know it, and you can take your portal back at your leisure. No portal is safe in this game and you get game points for taking it back). The point is to not make it easy for them and to make them expend resources they can’t afford to waste. Good luck and happy Ingressing.

Diversion and Distraction of the Gaming Kind: Ingress

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Those who know me, who have played games with me anyway, can tell you I don’t like to be restricted by a small board. For example, I dislike chess because I find the board too small and crowded. I think I may have found the game that really suits my personality, Ingress.

Ingress is an augmented reality game (really an overlay of Google maps created by Google’s Niantic Labs) that uses the real world as it’s game board and an Android smart phone as it’s interface. Nominally the point of the game is to link portals that appear at notable locations to create fields that either control (for the Enlightened/Green/ Frogs team) or protect (for the Resistance/Blue/Smurfs team) the population using/from the influence of XM, or exotic matter. Control of territory by way of insurgent warfare sounds very strategic, and it is, but the true heart of the game is logistic. To me this is the future of gaming.

Maybe I’ll find time to post about some of my Ingress adventures, if I stop playing long enough.

Classic Sci-fi / Fantasy Distraction

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When you come in to work and find boxes full if classic Sci-fi and Fantasy paperbacks sitting out, (Chalker, Hambly, LeGuin, Asimov, Harrison, Heinlein, Card, among others) don’t be surprised when the store almost doesn’t open on time.

Just sayin.

On the Bookshelf: Influx by Daniel Suarez

Daniel Suarez is one of those authors that in a few more years (or after one of his novels reaches the big screen) is going to be talked about as one of the top authors of contemporary science fiction. His latest book, Influx, while I wouldn’t say is his best novel (that honor in my mind goes to Daemon) it is probably his most cinematic.

The plot is based around a “what if” scenario. What if humanity was in reality far more technologically advanced than we thought we were? What if we had already perfected fusion power, created true nano tech, found the cure for cancer, created Artificial Intelligence, vastly expanded human longevity and physical and mental limitations, and made huge advances in materials science? What if the human race had all these things but they had all been hidden from us by an organization that hides them from us for our own good because the consequences of their discovery would do more harm than good?

When you put it like that it sounds noble. However, as the main character of the novel, Jon Grady, finds out it is far from anything of the sort. Jon is a thinker with a unique mind and discovers a technology that could represent one of the greatest technological shifts in human history; the Gravity Mirror, a device that can harness the most powerful force in the universe. That’s when the BTC, the Bureau of Technology Control, arrives and destroys his lab before any news of his accomplishment can spread.

You see, while the BTC may be protecting us from rampant change it has also been taking all of this revolutionary technology and hoarding it for itself, abducting those who created it and attempting to turn them to its own research agenda. Those scientists who decline their offer are imprisoned and tortured. Jon is one of these Resistors.

Influx is a roller coaster read with a wide-ranging scope and well thought out premise. A summer blockbuster waiting to happen.  I think I killed the book in about two days because it is one of those page turners that you don’t want to put down. I only have a few quibbles. 1) While most of the book has dead-on pacing the finale seemed a little rushed, but that may only mean it will translate even better to the big screen (including the epilogue that I think could have tied up some loose ends with just a few more words . 2) One of the characters is improbably able to acquire and adapt the BTC’s advanced technology and provide it at the most opportune moment. 3) One simple answer invalidates every single disaster model the BTC produces: Space Colonization. The last scene is good and I like the feeling behind it, but all I need is an orbital elevator or space launch to make me feel better.

On the Bookshelf: Bolos

Bolo Mk. XX

I haven’t, lately, been much into writing but since I have a few minutes I thought I would ramble a bit about some reading I’ve been doing lately. On a whim I picked up a paperback that has been on my bookshelf a while (an old friend already well read) and since have read through most of its series brethren. This book was Bolos Bk 1: Honor of the Regiment, a collection of short stories set in a universe created by Keith Laumer that features huge self-aware tanks known as Bolos.

It may be kind of a small thing but the very first time that I read these books the aspect that probably hooked me was the name for a Bolo’s main offensive weapon, a kind of plasma cannon that in the books measures its destructive output in megatons-per-second; the Hellbore. The picture above, a Mk XX Bolo (the first marks that were considered to be fully self-aware), features two Hellbore cannons as well as a suite of point defense and anti-personnel turrets (known as Infinite Repeaters), a bank of mortars, and magazine fed VLS missile cells behind an armored hull strong enough to resist the fire of virtually anything except for another Bolo’s Hellbore. Furthermore, this arsenal is powered by a pair of fusion reactors, and rolling on multiple, independent, track systems capable of cruising at 55mph and spiriting at 75 mph. It is a fourteen thousand ton juggernaut and later marks just get bigger, smarter, and more powerful.

Now, there is something to be said for the utility of tanks this size, especially in the current era of warfare where the tank seems to be falling by the wayside (the earliest Mk. I Bolo was essentially a late-model variant of the Abrams tank) but I always saw it in the context of where the Bolos fought, which is mostly not on Earth. No, Bolos are the human’s sword and shield on battlefields among the stars, against aliens who see us as prey, wish to take our resources, or stand in our way.

After all is said and done the very coolest thing about the Bolo universe is that most of the books are collections of short stories written by a whole host of sci-fi authors. While this does lead to a bit of confusion at times as the different authors sometimes are inconsistent in the capabilities of the Bolos themselves, it leads to many voices exploring different aspects of the universe and as a reader I love that.

Diversion and Distraction of the Amusing Kind: The Killing and Firefly

I was watching the first episode of the new season of The Killing on AMC. We meet Detective Holder’s girlfriend played by Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee on Firefly) who reveals Holder’s “Serenity” tattoo.

I had to pause my DVR. That’s just about as funny as Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) dressing up as Mal for Halloween.

By the way, though the first two seasons of The Killing seemed to drag on interminably, the third season starts a whole new case and it is looking incredibly interesting based off just the first two episodes.

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