The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

World Building in 128 Bytes

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Pitfall was one of the most sophisticated games released for the Atari 2600. While it may seem a simplistic game in 2021 - in 1983 on a machine with 128 bytes of RAM and 4096 bytes of ROM - it was an amazing feat of engineering. Just how was David Crane able to do it in such a constrained environment?

The way you make a large world without storing much data is by having some code generate it for you.

The biggest problem with this, however, is that you generally need to save the data you generated. This is what games such as Rogue and Minecraft do. They randomly generate worlds in order to give variety to players, but save the data once it's generated. The limitations of the Atari do not afford this luxury.

Crane overcame this in two ways. The first was in the way he represented a room's layout in memory, and the second was the way in which he generated those representations. The way these representations are generated actually obviate the need to store anything but the current room in memory, but we'll get to that later. First we will look at how the current room is represented.


Crane used a single byte to represent the layout of the current room. That may seem incredible given all that's going on in any given room, but it's actually quite simple.

A single byte of memory. Read the details here.

Half Renovated Houses

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When the once burgeoning coal industry in Ruhrgebiet, Germany, began to decline, many of the workers’ apartments were sold off. Oftentimes, new owners only purchased half of the building—miners maintained a lifelong right of residence to their quarters—creating a stark split between the left and right sides of the structure. Photographer Wolfgang Fröhling captures this visually striking divide in a series of images framing the renovated and original designs juxtaposed in a single structure. See the full collection of half-painted facades and disparate landscaping on Pixel Project, and find more of the Bottrop-based photographer’s work on his site.

I see this as a commentary on economic inequality.

What Color Are These Spheres?

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A color contrast optical illusion makes it look like the balls are different colors. In reality they are all the same color and shading.

In a nutshell, we do perceive colors as they stand on their own, but also by contrast with colors around them. If I put up an image of a red square, then (assuming you have normal color vision) it looks red. But if I put up objects with other colors around it, the color we perceive changes a bit. That can be manipulated using stripes of different colors, for example. In the top row, note the colors of the stripes going across the balls. The left one has green stripes, the middle one red, and the right one blue. That changes how we see the balls.

This is called the Munker-White illusion (or sometimes just the Munker illusion), and it’s a powerful one. When you’re not looking directly at the balls, the color of the stripes pulls the color of the ball toward it, in a manner of speaking, so the green stripes make the ball look greener. It’s weird.

Sexual Violence of Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones was on of my favorite show on TV. At least until the Season 8 finally when D&D completely screwed over the audience- but I digress. What really bugged me about the show was the amount of rape, nudity and degradation of women on a weekly basis. Every season trying to top the last one.

Sophie Gilbert writing for The Atlantic:

Game of Thrones, which debuted 10 years ago this spring, has the dubious honor of being the ne plus ultra of rape culture on television. No series before, or since, has so flagrantly served up rape and assault simply for kicks, without a shadow of a nod toward “realism” (because dragons). The genre is fantasy, and the fantasy at hand is a world in which every woman, no matter her power or fortune, is likely to be violated in front of our eyes. Rape is like blood on Game of Thrones, so commonplace that viewers become inured to it, necessitating ever more excess to grab our attention. It’s brutal, graphic, and hollow. It’s also intentional. Daenerys’s wedding night isn’t explicitly written as being nonconsensual in George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel (despite the fact that the character was 13 at the time), and it wasn’t filmed as such in the first, unreleased Game of Thrones pilot. At some point, the decision was made to introduce viewers to the series’s most significant female character via her humiliating assault—with pornified aesthetics for added titillation—by a man who had purchased her.

When Thrones was on the air, each season brought with it ample discussion of its wearying reliance on rape for dramatic fodder. My colleague Chris Orr did a character-by-character breakdown in 2015 of the exaggerated and invented instances of sexualized violence that the show’s creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, introduced in adapting the show; in response to widespread criticism, Weiss and Benioff eventually toned down depictions of rape and assault and sacrificed neither viewership nor Holy shit watercooler moments in the process, proving the show never needed them in the first place.

The Labor Shortage

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In the media, their is a growing voice that the Covid-19 benefits are causing workers to be lazy. That is certainly one view - but Anne Helen Petersen makes a great point:

Refusing to prostrate yourself on the wheel of work is not a failure. Nor is it self-care — at least not in the narrow, individualistic way we conceive of it. It can be a means of advocating for yourself, but also your peers, your family, even your children. But here’s the thing about a reshuffle: you’re still playing with the same deck of cards, and the game of American capitalism is still rigged against the worker. Which is why business models in everything from tourism to early childhood care need to be fundamentally reconceived — and built in a way that doesn’t hinge on workers making poverty-level wages.

We should ask ourselves, our communities, and our government: if a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business? If it’s too expensive for businesses to provide healthcare for their workers, maybe we need to decouple it from employment? If childcare is a market failure, but we need childcare for the economy to work, how can the government build that infrastructure? If the pay you provide workers doesn’t allow them to live in the community, what needs to change? Collectively, we should be thinking of different funding models, different ownership scenarios, and different growth imperatives. Failure to do so is simply resigning ourselves to another round of this rigged game.

If you can’t find a way to pay your employees a living wage and provide them a dignified work environment - why should you be allowed to exist as a business? This perverse attitude in America of profits over Americans needs to be stop. And the only way that is going to happen is by the citizenry demanding laws that enforce those changes.

And the Winner Is ...

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From The Economist:

The bigger challenge may be persuading viewers to tune in from home. If other awards shows are a portent, the Oscars are in for a difficult night. Last month the Grammy music awards got just 9.3m viewers in America, less than half the number who watched last year. In September the Emmys, television’s equivalent, notched 6.4m, another record low.

The pandemic has not helped: most of last year’s big films were postponed because cinemas were shut, dimming the Oscars’ allure. But the decline of interest in arts awards has been long in the making (see chart). It signifies growing boredom with ritzy galas, in an age when lots of stars broadcast directly to Instagram themselves. It betokens frustration in some quarters with a lack of diversity in judging panels and nominees—and, in others, with the perceived left-wing bias of the industry. More than that, though, it is evidence of a deeper shift in the entertainment world, in which the common popular culture that awards shows celebrate is itself being eroded.

Could it simply be that the general population no longer wants to see the entitled rich and privileged preach about Covid, racism and wealth inequality?

Life in Color With David Attenborough

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A new on Netflix - Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

Apple Is Redifining the Importance of the CPU

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Joel Hruska writing over at Extreme Tech:

If that doesn’t seem like a fusillade across x86’s metaphorical bow, consider the issue from a different perspective: According to Apple, the M1 is the right CPU for a $699 computer, and a $999 computer, and a $1,699 computer. It’s the right chip if you want maximum battery life and the right CPU for optimal performance. Want the amazing performance of an M1 iMac, but can’t afford (or have no need) for the expensive display? Buy a $699 Mac mini, with exactly the same CPU. Apple’s M1 positioning, evaluated in its totality, claims the CPU is cheap and unremarkable enough to be sold at $699, powerful and capable enough to sell at $1699, and power-efficient enough to power both a tablet and a pair of laptops priced in-between.

I have said it in the past - when Apple enters a market place with their own product, they don’t compete in the traditional sense. The redefine and tilt the market to its advantage.

In a world of command line machines, they jumpstarted the modern computer interface with the Mac:

The did it with the music industry with their Rip,Burn,Mix ad campaign:

They redefined the mobile industry with the iPhone:

In each of those instances, they completely changed the tech environment to their advantage. The Mac made every other DOS based machine look ancient. The iPod and the Rip, Mix, Burn campaign re-imagined the music distribution industry to an all digital mobile delivery. And the iPhone upended the status quo in the mobile industry.

And now they are taking away the importance of the CPU in the desktop. Apple is relegating the CPU to just another bullet point in the long list of tech specs. It is no longer the central driver of performance or price differentiator. Apple is making the form factor the driving differentiator.

And this plays into Apple strength. No one else can really compete with Apple on the form factor. If I were Intel I would be afraid. Very afraid.

M1 iMac 24-Inch

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John Grubber on the new iMac 24-inch machines:

These new iMacs are just 11.5mm thick. How thin is that? Apple Watch Series 6 is 10.7mm thick. These new iMacs are less than 1mm thicker than a goddamned Apple Watch. They’re so thin Apple had to put the Ethernet port on the power adapter — the iMac itself is too thin. I’ve seen a bunch of Debbie Downer-type reactions to this, asking “Who cares how thin a desktop is? Just make it thicker and put more ports on it and stuff.” That’s the same sort of perspective that, 20+ years ago, had critics asking “Who cares what color plastic your computer is?”

Making these new iMacs super thin is cool. It’s a statement. From the side they look like big 24-inch iPads. If you don’t think that’s cool and that cool is something Apple should aspire to in its design and engineering, I have no idea why you’re reading anything I write.

India's Descent Into Covid Hell

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Dr Amit Thadhani, director of Niramaya hospital in Mumbai, which is only treating Covid patients, said he had given warnings about a virulent second wave back in February but they had gone ignored. He said now his hospital was “completely full and if a patient gets discharged, the bed is filled within minutes”. Ten days ago, the hospital ran out of oxygen, but alternative supplies were found just in time.


Thadhani said this time round the virus was “much more aggressive and much more infectious” and was now predominately affecting young people. “Now it is people in their 20s and 30s who are coming in with very severe symptoms and there is a lot of mortality among young people,” he said.

The haunting blare of ambulance sirens continued to ring out across the capital almost non-stop. Inside Lok Nayak government hospital in Delhi, the largest Covid facility in the capital, overburdened facilities and a shortage of oxygen cylinders meant there was two to a bed, while outside patients waiting for beds gasped for air on stretchers and in ambulances, while sobbing relatives stood by their sides. Some sat with oxygen cylinders they had bought themselves out of desperation. Others died waiting in the hospital car park.

It’s breathtaking how quickly COVID can erupt. India had just 11,000 cases a day in early February. As of yesterday, they set a record with over 310,000 cases. A warning to all of us in the United States to keep wearing masks and following the social distancing guidelines.

Ingenuity Liftoff!

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The Ingenuity helicopter took off and hovered for about 30 seconds in its first flight early this morning.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) — 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) — a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous — piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

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A modern trailer to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan:

This is the best Start Trek movie they every made. Nearlly 40 years on, it still holds up. Even though the special effects are looking dated. If Paramount used this before a re-release of this to the theaters, I would go see it. I’d bet a lot of people would.

Do We Still Need to Wear Masks?

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With 25% of the people fully vaccinated and 39.5% with the first dose, does it still make sense for use to wear a mask at all times? Science says that indoors - we should be masking up. But what about outdoors?

Shannon Palus writing for Slate:

In other words, as the pandemic has progressed, so has our understanding of what safety measures are truly most useful, and which aren’t worth the alcohol wipes. And I would like to calmly suggest that now is the time we should consider no longer wearing masks when we walk around outside.

I am not suggesting this simply because I am very sick of wearing a mask at all times outside my home. When it comes to coronavirus spread, evidence shows that being outdoors is very, very safe.


While it’s important to mask in outdoor crowds or if you’re hanging out close to someone in a park, Chagla explains, the main message should be that the outdoors is a safe place to be. He gave me a rough sense of how unlikely outdoor transmission is in the scenario where you’re walking unmasked on the sidewalk and briefly pass someone. First, you or the person you’re passing would have to happen to have an asymptomatic infection, he explained, and then everyone would have to be exhaling and inhaling at just the right moment, and also, exchanging enough particles to actually seed another infection: “You’re talking about a probability of getting hit by a car, and being struck by lightning.”

While I can’t really argue the points made here - it is probably safe to be outside without a mask. However, beating the epidemic at this point is more about social behavior. Collectively wearing a mask outdoors will be a constant reminder that we are not out of the woods yet, that we still need to keep our guard up.

Look I hate wearing a mask as much as the next person. Let’s keep up the effort for a little bit longer. We have already turned the corner - keep on wearing a mask so that we can finally have our lives back this year.

Another US Mass Shooting

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In the last month, the US has reported at least 45 mass shootings. Most of these horrifying events don’t even get reported on the news. And why would they? In the United States more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

We have become numb to the daily onslaught of death and carnage that rages across our streets. Having the most heavily armed society in the world will not lead to a free society.

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

It will lead to a fearful, paranoid, and frightened society. For the future of our children and our democracy, lets stop worshipping our great Gun god.

Twin Pines Mall => Loan Pine Mall

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Back To The Future is one of my favorite movies of all time - and quite possibly the best script ever written. The writers thought about every minute detail.

Todd Vaziri documents one such detail brilliantly:

mRNA Vaccines Are Looking Good

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Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic:

mRNA vaccines are similarly new, but they have so far racked up a good safety record. So many doses have been administered that these unusual blood clots—or any serious one-in-a-million event—would very likely have shown up by now. Back in December, experts quickly noticed and warned the public about a handful of severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which is why vaccination sites now monitor recipients for 15 to 30 minutes after the jab.

At the end of the day - its is all about managing risks. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have both demonstrated 100% effectiveness preventing serious disease and hospitalizations. Just get vaccinated!

'21 All-Star Game, Draft Moved From Atlanta

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Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it will relocate the 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft, originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta, to a to-be-determined location. The decision comes a little more than a week after the passage of S.B. 202, a Georgia law that President Joe Biden criticized earlier this week, saying that it will restrict voting access for residents of the state.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that the decision to move the All-Star Game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and was made after consultation with teams, former and current players, the MLB Players Association and The Players Alliance, among others.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

Good on the MLB. Note to Republicans: If you pass restrictive laws, society will retaliate. The downside to this is that it hurts exactly the people that we are trying to protect the rights of.

Fears of Technology Are Fears of Capitalism

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An interesting by Ted Chiang from an (author of Exhalation) interview with Ezra Klein on our fear of technology:

I tend to think that most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism. And I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.

Let’s think about it this way. How much would we fear any technology, whether A.I. or some other technology, how much would you fear it if we lived in a world that was a lot like Denmark or if the entire world was run sort of on the principles of one of the Scandinavian countries? There’s universal health care. Everyone has child care, free college maybe. And maybe there’s some version of universal basic income there.

Now if the entire world operates according to — is run on those principles, how much do you worry about a new technology then? I think much, much less than we do now. Most of the things that we worry about under the mode of capitalism that the U.S practices, that is going to put people out of work, that is going to make people’s lives harder, because corporations will see it as a way to increase their profits and reduce their costs. It’s not intrinsic to that technology. It’s not that technology fundamentally is about putting people out of work.

It’s capitalism that wants to reduce costs and reduce costs by laying people off. It’s not that like all technology suddenly becomes benign in this world. But it’s like, in a world where we have really strong social safety nets, then you could maybe actually evaluate sort of the pros and cons of technology as a technology, as opposed to seeing it through how capitalism is going to use it against us. How are giant corporations going to use this to increase their profits at our expense?

And so, I feel like that is kind of the unexamined assumption in a lot of discussions about the inevitability of technological change and technologically-induced unemployment. Those are fundamentally about capitalism and the fact that we are sort of unable to question capitalism. We take it as an assumption that it will always exist and that we will never escape it. And that’s sort of the background radiation that we are all having to live with. But yeah, I’d like us to be able to separate an evaluation of the merits and drawbacks of technology from the framework of capitalism.

Malcolm Gladwell on Saturday Night Live

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Malcolm Gladwell talks about Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Donald Trump. He is not a fan. The thing that stood out to me is his commentary on Saturday Night Live in general:

You can't be an effective satirist if you are so deeply complicit in the object of your satire.