2022.02.20

Russia Ukraine Putin Zelensky Biden hovercraft

Here we are on day whatever of this eastern Europe thing. It's kind of interesting though, here's what I'll talk about:

Recent developments

Ukraine Russia comic Putin Olympics

Depending on who you ask, NATO's either played this very well or very poorly.


/u/Good_Morning-Captain
What do world leaders get out of continuously publicly espousing speculation on the potential date of invasion, especially if such claims have been contradicted multiple times and been without acknowledging what intel led to these conclusions? I've heard people say it's to call Putin's bluff, but if anything, aren't statements like this just going to be used to paint the West as beating the war drum and lying about Russia? Is it to accelerate pressure for peace talks?


/u/SingularityCentral
It is an attempt to remove any possible political cover for Russia and paint them unequivocally as the aggressors in a war of conquest. That in turn puts a lot of pressure on other nations to condemn their actions and acquiesce to sanctions. Which makes it a tougher choice for Putin to make, knowing the costs of invasion.
So yes, it is a way to avert war. And if it fails then it likely strengthens the international response.

While the US listed the 16th as the day (or beginning of the window), in my armchair I simply did not see Putin risking Xi's ire. While there are other factors that might have made it worth his while, I was confident enough to hold long positions through Friday.

But now here we are on the back side of the closing ceremonies and, by varying accounts:

A blueprint for the future of conflict?

Twitter Ukraine Russia bunkers shelters

"Per Twitter". Right? It's both a source of unfiltered (but localized) primary information and a hub of propaganda. It's also rife with uninformed speculation *looks directly into camera*. And it seems both the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) and journalists (who cannot easily validate the source data) either ignore these posts/videos or present them with a heavy "as is" disclaimer.

Kind of a shame that all this live information is lost to the fact that it's difficult to validate. Let's solve it with blockchain, amirite?

On the other hand, realtime satellite surveillance is no longer the sole domain of nation-states, so news and think tanks can track armor and artillery movement. And the internet brings live information from everywhere, including the blue force barracks - how does one even pull off a Normandy these days?


/u/Double_Station_6521
/r/Russia went from "Ukraine overreacting" to "the world's a liar" to "oh so every other country can go to war but we can't".

Putin seems to be following the George Orwell/Aleksandr Dugin/Roger Stone blueprint of simply hamstringing his opponents but turning bureaucracy and democracy against them. This may work against Ukraine - eat a chunk of territory, wait until it's the new normal, repeat - but I'm not sure it'll work against a NATO member. That's probably why he's so focused on undermining NATO.

The meta

Reddit worldnews flightradar homer forte Ukraine Russia

The main world news subreddit created an ongoing (multipart) discussion thread for the Ukraine crisis. It's an interesting naptime read. Participants consist of a weird mix of earnest contributors, bored otaku-types, people morbidly wanting to 'be there' for the start of the war, and people shocked or amused by the rest. See: the Reddit and the Boston Marathon.


/u/ChandlerEB
For people called Russians they sure are taking their time.

Naturally, with the slow drip of news, the discussion turned into memeing. One night everyone began watching US, Russian, and Ukrainian planes on flight radar, cheering on Homer and Forte. Meme facts like the Global Hawk flight time were thrown about like Chuck Norris facts and trebuchet stats.

Ukraine flight radar no transponder callsign

Redditors speculated on the more conspicuous transponder signatures. But discussions featured some legitimate-sounding sources of knowledge such as Ukrainians and ex-military. They're difficult to validate, of course, because no blockchain :(

Boat transponder

To paraphrase, "Hey guys, I found flight radar for boats!"


And anything popular eventually gets its own meme.

Global macro/investor's concern/opportunity

Ukraine Russia World War III meme WallStreetBets WSB

In the parlance of our times: positions or ban. Seeing that the Olympics were ending on Sunday and Monday is a holiday, I opened/held a few positions with exposure to a major geopolitical event.

Energy crisis: BOIL, IXC, USO
Inverse/Volatility: RWM, SH, SPXS, UPRO Feb 25 '22 $58.50c, UVXY
???: Cash, existing positions
Related viewing

Icarus Netflix poster Putin

With the Olympics and Ukraine crisis ongoing, it seemed reasonable to watch Icarus. The tldw is that a cycling enthusiast wanted to prove that doping is prevalent in international competitions. In the process of trying to win a major amateur cycling competition then admitting he had beaten doping tests, he found himself setting up a safe house for a major Russian perpetrator/whistleblower. The documentary did a great job of covering how prevalent and state-sponsored the Russian doping program is, as well as the major governing bodies' toothless response to Putin's unapologetic cheating.

If you can get past the first 20 minutes of cycling-oriented content, it's a pretty neat doc.
Life goes on ten thousand miles away

Regents Pizzaria deep dish chicago Pliny the Younger

Local news: Dani had a birthday, Regents had Pliny the Younger, Shar came to visit, and I tried JITB mini tacos.

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thumbnail Regents Pizzeria Pliny the Younger



2022.02.15

Russia Georga South Ossetia tanks

A global macro strategy is a hedge fund or mutual fund strategy that bases its holdings primarily on the overall economic and political views of various countries or their macroeconomic principles.

Is this yet another reason to go cash/oil gang? The Ukraine saga has taken a few interesting turns since last time.

For one, Russia has kept up the propaganda about NATO being an aggressor. Assuming this move has been planned for years, it paints all of the last administration's anti-NATO rhetoric in a new light. Perhaps Putin expected a more destabilized NATO and figured he'd go ahead with the stress test anyway.

People talk about Crimea, but this seems to echo the Georgia playbook a bit more closely:

During the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, American president George W. Bush campaigned for offering a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. However, Germany and France said that offering a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia would be "an unnecessary offence" for Russia... Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Bucharest during the summit. At the conclusion of the summit on 4 April, Putin said that NATO's enlargement towards Russia "would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country". Following the Bucharest summit, Russian hostility increased and Russia started to actively prepare for the invasion of Georgia.

On 15 July, the United States and Russia began two parallel military trainings in the Caucasus, though Russia denied that the identical timing was intentional... The Russian exercise was named Caucasus 2008 and units of the North Caucasus Military District, including the 58th Army, took part... Russian troops stayed near the border with Georgia after the end of their exercise on 2 August, instead of going back to their barracks. Later, Dale Herspring, an expert on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University, described the Russian exercise as "exactly what they executed in Georgia just a few weeks later [...] a complete dress rehearsal."

How did that one play out? Russia crossed the border to supposedly quell unrest. With Georgian loyalists sufficiently disrupted, Russia agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal. They then recognized the separatists government and returned to provide military assistance. Elegant.

Last week, NATO-affiliated intelligence services claimed to have solid information on a casus belli plot by Russia, much like their Chechen thing.


/u/pretend_writer_
This is a brilliant counterintelligence operation by the US and its allies. They normally don't publish or leak this much detail but they're trying to limit Putin's course of action (remove the power of a false flag attack), deprive him of the element of surprise, remove the effect of misinformation and propaganda, and raise the domestic cost on European countries that might be wavering (Germany) by socializing their publics about the risks of a Russian invasion thereby fortifying the western alliance.

Or, the Polandball take:

Polandball Reddit Russia Ukraine comic
Click for the full strip.

For a little while today, it looked like NATO's strategy had worked. Russia had announced a troop withdrawal. But then a janky-sounding IED was found in Donbass and Putin denounced a 'genocide' there. The Olympics aren't yet over, so we have some time.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Final Sacrifice Rowsdower
Source. Putin, the US and Canada distracted by freedom convoys? Rowsdower would have never abided.
Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven Steam Temple of the Seer Quartermaster stone golem

Ted retired and unlocked the bear dude, so we're heavy on tanks and DPS, light on healing.

thumbnail Gloomhaven Steam Scoundrel Brute Quartermaster cannons thumbnail Gloomhaven Steam Quartermaster bear Scoundrel thumbnail Gloomhaven Steam cannon loot invisible Scoundrel Lost Island

Quartermaster build

Gloomhaven Steam Quartermaster build DPS equipment

I played Quartermaster on the tabletop edition and thought he was an okay support character. On Steam, my level six build went a completely different direction and is pretty great. At low levels, he doesn't do much damage until you unlock his Attack 5 card. Even then, he's kind of meh.

But then you get the Proficiency/Reinforced Steel combination that is probably how he's meant to be played. There may be some better late-campaign items, but having continuously-refreshing Eagle-Eye Goggles with a +1 modifier (for item use) is quite nice. Adding to that:
With the Quartermaster's card retrieval actions, he can get by just fine having burned two cards for their persistent effects.
Instruments

Instrument flash cards Ocarina Zelda

My surprise when the instrument flash cards had an ocarina, triforce included.



2022.02.04

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Shepard Citadel space elevator Earth

My Mass Effect Legendary Edition playthrough has come to a close. Since it's wordy and spoilery, I'll put it last.
Real life


Usual fun stuff on the homefront: kickbacks, brunches, and testing the quality of sea walls.

ESPP dis/qualifying disposition

Random? Yes. But it'll help me remember/reference it later and perhaps someone on the internets will find it helpful.

For qualifying (probably most?) employee stock purchase programs, selling date tax thresholds are as follows:
If you're looking to sell earlier than 18 months, the 12 month threshold is better than 11 months. Share price notwithstanding, it's nice to get the ESPP grants primed by not selling for 18 months, then you can sell at the grant dates and have a less painful April.

Tree seeds that look like covid
From mine and Dani's walk recently. Didn't make me think of anything in particular.
Meta/lists


Over the years I've had some list content crop up organically - Speed Nite, J's video game punditry, rants about younger generations, etc. At one point I aggregated them in a side bar link, but I haven't created many new ones (this isn't Buzzfeed after all). Well, I was recently doing site infrastructure work and trawling for images to use in graphics processing so I set aside some of my favorite original image content.
Far Cry, Yaran liberation is nigh

Far Cry 6 Jose Castillo painting riding lion
And the game wants us to believe this is a bad guy?

Led by J and myself, Libertad has gained the allegiance of the three rebel factions and will be taking the capitol shortly. Juan better not be evil.

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thumbnail Far Cry 6 helicopter sunset view pistol
Mass Effect trilogy finale [spoilers/plot discussion]

Mass Effect 3 legendary Space Kid Citadel crucible

I'll start with a brief recap of the trilogy, in case you have never played the game or missed some DLC or are me in three years trying to remember the critical plot points.

Pre-history

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Shepard Leviathan underwater

Millennia ago, the (skyscraper-size and squid-like) dominant inhabitants of the Milky Way created AIs, for all the normal reasons like cleaning and bringing in the newspaper. The creators - called "Leviathans" by their contemporary discoverer - First Lawed their synthetic servants. The problem is, they weren't explicit enough; the AIs decided that organic life will always kill itself if it develops unchecked.

The synthetic space squids took upon the role and title of 'Reapers', giant, sentient ships that hibernate in deep space while life in the galaxy develops. Once each cycle of organic civilization reaches a high level of technological sophistication, the Reapers return to the galaxy, figurative scythe in hand. They wipe out all advanced civilization and leaving primitive organics to begin the next cycle. Equilibrium.

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Mass Relay discovery text

Also left behind are a collection of prehistoric FTL gates as well as The Citadel; a huge, self-sustaining space station that typically becomes a galactic hub during the rise of each cycle. The Mass Effect story starts with humanity discovering one such gate.

The trilogy and Shepard

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Thessia Reaper ending

ME1 begins a few years after the FTL gate discovery brings Earth into the galactic fold. The protagonist, Shepard, slowly unravels the mystery of the Reapers via artifacts from the last cycle. To anyone's knowledge, the creators of these artifacts, the Protheans, were the ones who built the FTL gates and the Citadel.

The trilogy consists of a lot of running around, character development, and worldbuilding. The organic/synthetic/AI theme presents itself in a handful of ways before the Reaper threat even begins to take shape. While the Reapers are the overarching conflict, galactic politics, backstory development, and fetch quests serve as both distractions and rungs in the ladder to the finale.

The finale

ME3 starts with the Reapers invading Earth and other galactic capitols. They are nigh-invulnerable and do the White Walker/Borg/tequila thing of turning friendlies into hostile automata. The only hope for the cycle comes from a mysterious superweapon whose plans were discovered, developed, and then hidden by civilizations wiped out in each cycle. A schematic in a bottle, as it were.

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Crucible Citadel docking Earth

At the climax of the series, Shepard activates the weapon with the help of military forces she united throughout the game(s). The superweapon (a big sphere) joins with the Citadel and summons an AI whose role is to oversee the Reapers. The AI tells Shepard that the organic-synthetic status quo is now in peril and that she must activate a deux ex machina device that will either:
Mass Effect 3 Legendary destroy control synthesis choice
Control, synthesis, destroy, respectively.

Meta

When it was originally released, ME3 caught some serious fan backlash. The players' primary qualm was that each of these three endings played out identically, except that the deus ex machina sparks were different colors.

Mass Effect 3 legendary Citadel Crucible destroy
Here you have the red/destroy energy color. Also available in blue/control and green/synthesis.

Story aside, this stood in contrast to promises made by the developers about having a wide variety of endings impacted by decisions made throughout the trilogy.

The outrage prompted Bioware to scramble to release an "extended ending". The revised ending didn't change any fundamental outcomes but added narration and a few short scenes that explained more about the fate of the galaxy.

Space kid

Mass Effect 3 Legendary The Illusive Man indoctrinated finale

Disgruntled players also panned "space kid", the holographic form chosen for the Reaper watchdog AI. Space Kid appears early in the game and then in dream sequences throughout ME3, but feels a bit silly after Shepard vanquishes the Martin Sheen-voiced Illusive Man.

The Matrix Architect

I'm actually less annoyed by the Space Kid than I was the first time around. In a scene that is functionally like Neo meeting the Architect, I guess any representation is plausible but both a kid and an ash-haired man with a pleasant voice are a bit tropey.

Tiers of goodness

Mass Effect 3 Legendary ending finale Normandy repaired flying

I don't know if the original ending had it or if it was introduced with the extended version, but on this playthrough I found out that there are better and worse versions of each ending. E.g. the low-tier 'destroy' ending basically EMPs the galaxy, killing everything synthetic (Reapers, AI, FTL gates, mass effect field toothbrushes). With enough galactic unity points that you accrue throughout the game, the FTL network remains functional and spacecraft can be repaired. It's ultimately the difference between sending the galaxy back to the stone age and lightly damaging everyone's cellphone.

It's a little weird that galactic unity somehow impacts how bad the damage is. Its primary purpose in the original release was to unlock the synthesis option and was difficult to obtain without online play (an extremely EA thing).

Destroy

Mass Effect 3 Legendary destroy ending choice

On my first playthrough (way back when), I went with 'synthesis' because even Space Kid says "it's the ideal outcome". This time around, it seemed like 'destroy' was the right play. I had enough galaxy points to get the least destructive flavor and it even ends with a teaser that Shepard survived. The other two endings explicitly require Shepard to die.

Mass Effect 3 Legendary RIP Shepard plaque Garrus memorial
Even with just three-ish endings, Bioware still kind of goofed by having the Normandy crew declare Shepard KIA rather prematurely.

And another thing

Mass Effect 3 Legendary ending Citadel damaged Earth

My remaining qualms come from the handwavey stuff associated with the ending:
Mass Effect 3 Legendary updated endgame dialog thank you
In the original release, the last thing you'd see after the credits rolled was a dialog encouraging you to buy the DLC. Already discontent with the ending, fans didn't like the EAness of it. Legendary Edition revised this a bit.

Final thoughts

Mass Effect 3 Legendary end moon Buzz Aldrin child

Despite some creeping flaws that progress with the trilogy, it's my all-time favorite single player game and one of my favorite sci-fi stories. And I would be remiss not to say that the writing and gameplay improved each game (save for some really tropey stuff near the end of ME3). I'm super happy to have replayed the trilogy, my only regret is that I couldn't let both Kaiden and Ashley stay on Virmire.

thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary Illusive Man room EDI Tali thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary Tali London Big Ben Reaper thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary London Reaper space elevator
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thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary Liara London goodbye mind meld thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary London Reaper space elevator thumbnail Mass Effect 3 Legendary Crucible Anderson
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