Choosing to Fish in Times of War

While nearly everyone who plays World of Warcraft chooses to campaign and soldier around, there is a strange little tribe of players who travel Azeroth with no other purpose than looking for good places to go fishing. Blizzard introduced the fishing activity as an easy—though incredibly tedious—way for players to accumulate gold. It was intended to be a secondary activity, a low-risk means of point grubbing that players could engage in between quests. There has since evolved in WoW a sub-culture of apparently very patient people who primarily fish and do very little else. They make pilgrimages to all the various fishing pools trying to collect a complete taxonomy of fish and sea animals. Blizzard stocks Azeroth with an ever-growing number of species, something like 200 in the latest version. Most illusive is the Giant Sea Turtle. Players can spend days trying to catch one.
A typical turtle expedition will require 3000 to 5000 casts over a pool where the turtle resides. At 2-3 casts a minute, this means that players will spend between 30 and 40 hours fishing before finally landing one. Once caught, the Sea Turtle can be used as a mount. It’s supposed to swim very fast.

Elsanglin.com is a guide site and community forum devoted to WoW fishing. It’s interesting to read about the fishing trips that players plan together. By far the biggest concern is evading the non-stop violence that prevails through every meadow and cove in the game. The fisher people are pacifists in an over-populated war game. They tell stories about finding secluded little beaches where they sat peacefully with a line in the water while a Devilsaur stomped around on the cliffs overhead. They’ll spend an hour circumventing a pitched battle to reach a remote fishing pool in a contested area.

Fishing people accumulate gold and skill faster than the traditional player. They are resented by many in the WoW community and are accused of gaming the system, and in a way, what there doing is kind of a reversion of Blizzard’s devised parameters and incentive structure. I think the pleasure that one derives from excessive WoW fishing is that it is unothodox and a departure from how the game was intended to be played. The fishermen play at the margins of the WoW arena. They exist outside of the mindless hack’n slash cycle that motivates continued involvement for most players. They traffic instead in discoveries and the prohibitively rare. Enthusiasts of the odd.

Macro and Micro Management in Strategy Gaming

Watching footage of lobsters walking for Sunday’s post got me thinking about different macro/micro organizational systems. The many-legged gallop of the lobster is a very good example of a coordinated and constantly adjusted complex of parts working together toward a single purpose and direction. The legs of the lobster are so interesting to look at because each seems to be working independently of the other, feeling the seafloor to find its footing, and yet, it’s action contributes to the same forward thrust produced by the others.

Today I was watching footage from last year’s Starcraft 2 Intel World Finals , which is the major Starcraft competition in the United States (nothing compared to the big tournaments in Korea, naturally). I decided that abstract comparison could be made between lobster locomotion and the micro vs. macro dynamic of real-time strategy games. Fundamentals of the strategy game genre involve developing supply conduits to support tactical units which are used either to defend or attach. Macro gameplay refers to management and allocation of resources. The macro game is about economy, making sure you have he requisite strength and the proper units when the time comes to strike. Micro game play is how you control and maneuver those units.

The average reader may have little interest in the intricacies of strategy gaming, but I posit that the macro and micro management of actors and resources are an accurate metaphor, if not simulation, for societal organization. You begin the game by establishing fixed roles and sort of get the preliminary micro part out of the way. Then you build and build and build at the macro. The assigned roles become increasingly irrelevant as your colony grows and changes, so you are constantly having to go back and reassign. And while you may come to develop a very effective macro strategy for collecting and moving resources, if you aren’t effective at managing on the micro-level your colony actually becomes weaker the larger you become.

There are a number of non-competitive games that actually make this macro/micro organizational tension the central conflict. Pretty much all the Sim games work this way. A personal favorite is Bay 12’s Dwarf Fortress, where every game is destined to end in failure once a point of excess complexity is reached and some devastating crisis occurs.

Dolphins Decide Their Own Names

This article in the National Geographic Online reports how marine biologists have been able to prove that dolphins devise unique whistles which essentially function as names. A dolphin will use the same whistle for the duration of its life to announce its presence and introduce itself to new, unfamiliar dolphins. The study found that dolphins who hear the whistle of a family member or pod mate express recognition, even if they had not seen the dolphin or heard its whistle for years. I’ve read elsewhere one dolphin will perform another’s whistle as a means of summoning and engaging with it. And when two dolphin pods encounter each other in the open sea, a representative will break off from the group and introduce the entire pod by just performing his or her own whistle.

I find the transitive relationship between subject and object in this case of naming fascinating. That individuals are given agency to determine their own names and that presentation of a single individual’s name is sufficient to represent the entire group is probably indicative egalitarianism in dolphin social systems. Dolphins do elect leaders, and they also fight each other for rank and mating rights. But obedience does not seem to be so rigidly enforced in dolphin pods as it is among primates or other terrestrial predators. Dolphins in the wild are free to leave their pods and rejoin them at will. Because there is such flux in their social groupings and relationships, dolphins are very difficult to study outside of captivity and not much is known about their rules and social organization. However, one thing that is immediately obvious after watching the footage above of a coordinated strike against a school of herring is that dolphin social groups are rigorously organized. There is a dialectic at work in dolphin society, but it is difficult to see how it is constructed. How do they know when to dart and when to plunge? Who determines which dolphins drive the school and which intercept their escape? How do they divide the spoils? Do they have politics? If so, how are they expressed?

Amnesty Between Whale and Man

There are few stories of whale attacks in early maritime lore. After the rise of commercial whaling in the 17th century, reports of whale pods antagonizing shipping lanes in the North Atlantic became common. It was normal for whales to attack harpoon boats out of self-defense. The fight of the whale was a custom of the trade. But, as if out of spite and a desire for retribution, certain whale species would sometimes strike peaceful merchant vessels which were not in any way involved in the whaling. For much of modern history, it was considered unsafe to swim in waters where whales were present. Often, if they found a diver, they would try to bite him in two or shatter his bones with a tail swipe. This seems, however, no longer to be the case. Whale attacks are a thing of the past. We now hear stories of how whales have saved people in the open ocean. They do not attach boats anymore, but can be seen following in their wake and breaking the surface of the water without fear.

Whaling remained a regular practice when finally, in 1986, responding to dwindling stocks and near eradication of some species, the International Whaling Commission instituted a ban on commercial whaling in order to allow the population to recover. Every coastal nation agreed to enforce the ban, with Norway and Japan being the ignoble exceptions. In the years since the ban went into effect, the big whale species have become recognizably more docile when encountered by human beings. One must wonder: perhaps whales have something like a shared cultural memory. Perhaps they warn each other about human beings above the water and describe us as enemies. Maybe they pass this information on to future generations. And maybe, when given peace and freedom from threat, they are able to reciprocate.

Most marine biologists are hesitant to identify in whales that level of sentience. It is known that many whale species possess incredible cognitive capacity and exhibit more brain activity than human beings. We know that they communicate and that individuals seem to have unique behaviors and expressions. We’ve witnessed them engaging in what appears to be play with other species. One could conjecture that they might form opinions and knowledge about the world that is learned and subject to alteration.

Humpback whale lifting dolphin out of the water… just for fun:

Industrial Whaling

In my last post I mentioned how during the 17th and 19th century piano soundboards were fashioned out of whale bone. This should not at all be surprising given the many consumer products that were contrived from whale parts during the period of the piano’s invention and refinement. Like the mercantile slave trade and the cultivation of opium, commercial whaling is another proto-industrial enterprise that seems astonishing that people even considered doing it as a way of making money. It must have been a strange kind of avarice combined with remarkable invention that caused people to see in the thick sheet of fat blanketing big sea creatures a splendid fuel source and industrial lubricant.

The actual process of extracting blubber from the whale’s body and rendering oil would be cartoonish if it wasn’t so gruesome. After doing the long day’s work of killing the whale with a thousand tiny stab wounds, men would pull its carcass along side the ship and for the next 72 hours set about peeling blubber away from the body like an orange. First they would hack out the blanket piece, which is a strip of flesh and fat about five feet wide and six inches deep. They would attach it to a hook hanging off of the mast and use a wench mechanism to pull the blubber from the body. Meanwhile, two or three men would slash away at the connecting tissue between the fat and muscle. Slowly, they would turn the body in the water as they peeled away the blubber in a spiral. The weight of the blubber is so great that the boat tips toward it as the men crane it around over the deck.

After the blubber is removed from the body, the men then decapitate the whale. They hoist the head onto the ship’s deck and gauge a hole into its side from which the men ladle prized sperm oil into buckets on the deck.

Whaling ships in the 18th and 19th centuries had iron furnaces installed on deck called tryworks. Pieces of blubber were thrown into the trypots. Under high heat, the fat would begin to liquefy. The flesh and fiber would char into carbon and float to the top of the caldrons. The whalers called this the “cracklins.” They would scoop them off the surface and feed them back to the fire.

Whaling vessels were like floating factories. They would remain at sea capturing whales and processing oil for years at a time. They returned to port with hundreds of barrels, which were immediately sold to merchants in New Bedford and Nantucket. The oil would be used in lamps and lanterns. It was the brightest burning fuel available. It burned hot and slow. Candles made from whale oil were said to be favored by Benjamin Franklin, who preferred writing by their light over standard paraffin.

How Do Pianos Work?

The piano is a fabulously complex mechanism. It is a systemization of an older, manual convention of striking the strings of a lute with tiny soft hammers. Later, musical device makers fashioned the harpsichord, which plucks the strings with quills at the push of a key. The harpsichord was intended to replicate the sound of a harp but replace the human hand as the as the active initiator for the string. Touch, after all, is inconsistent and characterized by error. The piano, rather than plucking the string, strikes it with a felt-covered mallet, about as wide as a finger. When the musician depresses a piano key, the following mechanism is activated:

Sitting as it does on a fulcrum, the key’s opposite end raises and applies upward force to a system of levers.

The lever system produces a flick of pressure upon a hinged hammer, causing the hammer to launch upward at the string. Each hammer has its own string of varying length and tuned to a specific pitch.

The hammer strikes the string and, since it approaches from beneath the string array rather than over it, immediately falls away under the force of gravity, allowing the string to vibrate without interference.

As you might imagine, the tiny hammer and the flick that activates it are both delicate and the sound they produce on the string is faint. The real genius of the piano is how it sustains the string’s vibration and amplifies the sound it generates. At the end of string array is a block of wood, upon which the strings rest. This is called the bridge, and it as a conduit capturing the vibration coming off the string and releasing it into the soundboard that sits at the bottom of the piano’s frame. The soundboard is ribbed and made of very fine wood. It absorbs the vibration given to it by the bridge and distributes it across its entire breadth. The planar soundboard has much more surface area than the single string and can agitate a great deal more of the air surrounding the instrument, allowing it to resound throughout a hall or auditorium.

Typically, the soundboard is made from light, pliable balsam. The very best soundboards every manufactured were made from whale cartilage. Piano makers would shave a razor-thin panel from the whale’s lung cavity and leave it to dry until it was rigid and capable of keeping shape. Sometimes, for stability, they would rib the sheet of cartilage with bird bones, which they grafted together under intense heat. The process was incredibly laborious, but the music made by these cartilage soundboards was otherworldly. When the last piano manufacturer to use this practice went out of business in 1896, Debussy is said to have contemplated giving up the piano altogether, saying that playing the instrument with just a simple wooden soundboard felt like eating bark.

Myopia

During my vacation to the hot springs I lost my glasses in a waterfall and was blinded for much of the trip. Luckily, I wasn’t doing anything besides sitting in water, so I found the loss of acuity to be mostly unimportant. I wasn’t able to see anything about the people around me beyond their figure and color of clothing. I had conversations with some of these people and might have been aided by being able to see their body language. I was unable to make out what their faces were doing; this was somewhat disconcerting. They could have been celebrities, they could have been of different races. I wouldn’t have known. Apparently, after night fell, I was unknowingly sitting in an unlit pool where a threesome was being enacted only a few feet away from me. I would have liked to see it.

On the way home, I took the risk of driving. It turned out to be fine. Colorado is a place of very wide spaces and everything is far away. I found that my experience of the landscape was not drastically different from what it would have been if I could see perfectly. The American west is made of vast shapes and blended color. Very little is lost by removing the detail. The road stretches really far and when it turns, the turns are wide. I didn’t encounter problems until I reached Denver, where it was necessary that I read signs and attend to pedestrians walking in the street. Nature is forgiving of the ill-sighted. Most of what’s in it is far away anyway. Civilization on the other hand, with its signals and silent cues, is where keen vision is really needed. And off course, it is exactly this demand on the eye that causes it to strain and ruin itself.

It is not known why we develop nearsightedness. Most optometrists believe that there is nothing one can do to halt or reverse the distortions in the cornea that result in myopia or that there is anything in particular that causes it. Be that as it may, there are a lot of scientists who maintain that it has entirely to do with the modern necessity to examine things up close nearly all the time. Reading causes it. Being indoors causes it. Watching TV. Looking at street advertisements. They say that habitually forcing the eye to focus on objects that are shallow in the field of vision encourages the eye to grow abnormally. The cornea becomes elongated so as to lessen the strain on the eye as it struggles to focus on a thing up close. Scientists point to correlations between education and IQ and an increased occurrence of nearsightedness. It’s because nearsighted people tend to read. Myopia is incredibly rare in illiterate populations and in people who live in open nature. Apes, whose eyes are very much like ours, almost never show signs of nearsightedness. An experiment was conducted by a some monstrous scientists where a number of chimpanzees were restricted with a helmet and a shade over the face to look only at images and objects that were 15 inches away from their faces. After 72 days, most of the test subjects showed signs of myopia, despite its being very rare in chimps.

The gradual destruction of one’s vision over time is a relevant and poignant metaphor for what civilization does to human beings: the very act of conforming and submitting ourselves to its conventions is damaging and burdensome to us, and the toll that it takes on our senses and our minds is continually rendering us less capable of conforming and submitting.

Baths

Taking off the next few days to visit hot springs in the Rocky Mountains. The sensation of floating in a temperate spring is unparalleled. If you can find a pool that approximates your own body’s temperature, prolonged soaking will begin to feel like being in the womb. You center upon a state of almost perfect neutrality: neither hot nor cold, not hungry or thirsty or in need of anything. No pressure is applied to the body in any of its quadrants. You feel nothing, and in the absence of feeling, one’s nerves become inactive and inert. The mind drains of thought. Hours can pass like this and you barely notice it. Next to sleep, it is the closest thing to being dead.

People have been attracted to thermal hot springs since the beginning of history. They were a rare comfort to the Ute Indians of the Rocky Mountains. The very spring to which I travel tomorrow was frequented by the mountain people of Paleolithic Colorado and likely used as a coping mechanism for the interminable winters of the Western Slope. The waters are saturated with lithium, a compound whose molecule is so small that it can permeate through the skin’s dermis and enter the blood stream at the capillaries. After a period of about an hour, the lithium produces deep, oblivious calm: like being drunk but still having your wits about you. I’ve heard stories about a spring in Montana with a lithium content that is so high that it actually intoxicates bathers. People who visit can develop a chemical addiction in just a few days. Apparently there is a community of bathers residing in the area who have left their old lives behind to be near the pool. They had first visited on vacation and then never returned home. They are like the scouts Odysseus sends to explore island of the lotus-eaters and who never return.

The Esoteric Wisdom of thriceholy.net

Totally great website of the day: http://www.thriceholy.net/home.html.

You’ll notice the page title reads, simply, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” I can’t fully tell what this website is and or what its author’s agenda might be. Its theological position is ostensibly predicated on a fairly traditional trinity doctrine. One might be led to think it Catholic, somehow, but in the section, “Answering Roman Catholicism,” we find a treatise condemning the old church in four awesome chapters about things like necromancy and fetishization of relics. The site’s other sections go on to discredit a long parade of “heresies,” including Pentecostalism, Unitarian Universalism, Latter-day Saints, Islam, ect. I would not want to give the impression that these arguments are in any way unhinged or motivated by delusion. Their theses are logical and legitimate, and the writing is very well-composed. The author is quite conservative, really. She claims that her writing aligns with orthodox belief, but the project is so sprawling and esoteric, so overflowing with creative energy that it is anything but orthodox. I think Thrice Holy is the product of orphic delirium. It is vision is so vast that it might as well be real.

Part of the pleasure of experiencing Thrice Holy is following its ever-varying design and naïve presentation. If a prophet does indeed live among us in this modern era, her or his ideas would most certainly be transmitted via nineties-era html web pages. All its iframes and the reluctant use of css indicate exceptionality.

Follow the author on twitter: @TrisagionSeraph

It appears that she is an older German woman who lives in Mainz.