Soylent emeralds is made of … dragons?

I said it but I didn’t do it, but here is one of those …. anomalies I mentioned earlier.

Spike is eating a “Soylent Emerald” snack.

Again, who is this for? It’s bizarre. But it exists.

(There are many more, I just haven’t taken a pic or sorted them or anything like that)

Anyway, this is from the sixth “Friendship is Magic” graphic novel I was reading with my daughter.

(Yes, I pre-ordered it 😐)

A time of transition

I’ve been at Confluent for a year and half now, and it was fun in many ways, but I’ve decided upon a change, and I’m joining Sigma Computing next week.

Another instance where I was looking for a different “local maxima” but ended up finding a global maxima instead.

Everyone wants different things at different points, but Sigma feels like a sweet spot for me right now.

It’s not too big and not too small, with a rapidly growing engineering team, there is a whole different bunch of tech to learn from scratch, an opportunity to work on an end-to-end full-stack product while also having significant infrastructure challenges.

I’ve learnt a lot from the folks I’ve worked with at Confluent, and I’m excited to begin the new year on a new adventure 🙂

Nostalgia corner: Urban Assault

Showing the floating Resistance Host Station, inhabited by SDU 7
Showing the floating Resistance Host Station, inhabited by SDU 7

Many games have come and gone, and I haven’t actually played anything for about five years now (!), and looking back, I can barely recall most of what I played.

Some names that do stand out though (I’m sure I’m missing atleast one or two big personal time-sinks here), are:

  • Wolfenstein
  • Quake
  • Urban Assault
  • Age of Empires (2)
  • Drake: Uncharted

I was surprised (or perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to find that I wasn’t alone in the specific nostalgia for this game.

Here is a bit of gameplay as an example, though as I looked at it, I found it a bit boring now.

I don’t think it was the mechanics of the game (unique though they felt at the time) that was attractive anyway, but rather (at the risk of being too autobiographically revealing here) the backstory to it.

Update 1: I was able to track down the “Intro movie“, which is … yes, quite un-watchable today — but for some context, this came out in 1999, one year after Dark City, and the year of The Matrix.

It isn’t just the usual post-apocalyptic landscape, with warring “factions” (which feels like elements of Starcraft-like Zerg/Protoss, Star Trek TNG Borg) — the player too is post-human, transformed into a “Synaptic Donor Unit” in order to “play”, giving up their humanity forever.

In return, they get cybernetic command over every deployed piece of military hardware, able to both direct them in the “usual RTS style”, but also enter a given vehicle for a “direct FPS style”.

(Obligatory Wikipedia link for more details on the plot and characters etc)

This isn’t very novel as a general metaphor for gaming — after all, every time you “direct units” in a strategy game, who are you, if not some abstract spirit that controls these people or animals or vehicles or whatever — but it was novel in being so explicit about it.

Within the story of the game, then, you as the player are already “physically dead”, and your outcomes are bleak too: either annihilation at the hands of the enemy, or a victory that preserves the human race (but … leads to you being decommissioned?)

Of course, this backstory is over in a few minutes and the rest of the game can be played and enjoyed in complete ignorance of it too.

Update 2: I found at least one example of fan fiction for it.

Update 3: I also found the text strings used in the game

One gem from it:

“Jan says some hackers are putting together a big war machine. It’s called Synaptic Donor Unit – SDU. Jan says I better lay low at the Arcades, or else Resistance is going to come looking for me.
Weird cookbook they’ve got going: Wire together the computers of the free world, add connectivity to all automated armament plants, then upload one human. Sounds like a dream I’ve been having.”

On Airtable and Numbers

I tried out Airtable for a year, for a simple personal spreadsheet that I’ve been keeping for a few years now.

It’s slick, and quick to enter data, but in the end I’ve decided to go back to Numbers.

Yes, boring.

Things I liked:

  • I really liked being able to easily add images when needed
  • Having single-select and multi-select lists are useful and intuitive. I miss this the most in Numbers.

Things I didn’t like:

  • To do something as simple as making a little chart, I needed to pay $20 a month! Yes, the Pro plan had far more than charts, but I just cared about this one small feature, and it seemed ridiculous to me.

Things I didn’t care for:

  • I realized I wasn’t going to use the 3rd party Airtable plugins or integrations.
  • There is an intermediate Plus plan ($10/mo). I expected to use it, and would’ve been okay with it, but surprisingly didn’t hit the size limit on my bases.

Adaptations in Numbers

I was able to get most of the way to a single-select box by a combination of

  1. Setting the data type for the column to “popup”
  2. Adding a conditional highlighting (this is surprisingly easy to do)

Conclusion

I’ve always been one to try out new apps, and new tools, because there are always ways of doing things better, and the satisfaction that comes with that.

Recently though, I’ve been very sensitive to my personal info becoming siloed in a bunch of different places, and I want as much of it as possible

  1. Open format
  2. Local
  3. Index-able

Moving from Airtable to Numbers involves giving up a few features, but it satisfies these requirements I’m placing on my tools these days, so I’m quite happy about it 🙂

Youtube and Spotify

Youtube is always goiong to be superior to Spotify just because … it has more stuff.

The downside is that it’s hard to know wtf is real any more, when searching for something.

The upside is that the “tail end” of what’s available is much longer on Youtube.

Today, for instance, I discovered Jun Fukamachi
(electronic jazz music, sort of. Like a lot of people I end up really liking, a dead person. Anyway.)

Spotify, for instance, shows just three albums:

Youtube has … many, many albums. This particular one was an album made in 1984: Starview HCT-5808.

Now, many of them might be fake, but … as long as there is something I can get on Youtube I can’t get on Spotify, well, I’m going to add to my playlists there, aren’t I?

Sky Guide

Showing Jupiter and Saturn in the sky together.

Apps on our smartphones get a bad rap for wasting our time, and deservedly.

It’s true that most are either harmful or neutral, or a distraction, or a minor convenience.

One set of apps that are genuinely something that exist only because we have “computers in our pockets” are apps1 like Sky Guide, which have this magical ability to tell me which stars are in the sky, highlight them for me as I move my phone around, and display helpful connecting lines, the ecliptic, etc

I can’t believe I paid the price of a cup of coffee2 for something that’s mine to use forever, and that works so well and is delightful every single time I use it!


  1. A larger list of similar apps here ↩︎
  2. $2.99 on the AppStore right now. Compare with a Grande Freshly Brewed ($2.10) or a Tall Caffe Latte ($2.95) at Starbucks ↩︎