So I’ve Finished: Night in the Woods

Well, Kate did. And she’s playing it a fourth time and learning just how much she missed in the first three.

As everyone has noticed, the game has excellent writing. There are moments where the writers’ voices speak a little to clearly and preachily, but on the whole the characters are themselves from the moment you meet them to the moment the credits roll.

For a game taking the slice of the lives of twenty-somethings there is a surprising lack of sex and romance. Gregg and Angus are the best couple, and Mae gets sloshed rather than face her high school bf… but just as there is exactly one bathroom in Possum Falls, there appear to be only two bedrooms. Even Angus and Gregg seem to share a single bunk bed.

Gameplay is mostly light platforming between conversations. The conversation engine is executed confidently, with choices presented in exactly the words that are sent. There’s some inconsistencies where “I can talk with you” indications appearing over characters with nothing to say but a single bubble with a sketch in it instead of the far more common signal of the end of conversations being that the indicator is just absent. It’s not bad, it’s just a little jarringly inconsistent.

In addition to walking and talking there are a few minigames to suck at: Guitar Hero for bass playing, some timing games like knife fighting with your friend, a hunting simulator… sucking at them is in character, so I wonder what the responses are if you’re actually competent at something.

Overall I recommend this heavily to anyone who likes “Walking Simulators” or Interactive Fiction… or if you ever came from a small town and went back at least once (and if so I also recommend that you read Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town).

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Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: October 2018

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Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

The House met for 15 days in October and got some things done. Not much that I agree with, but that’s what I expect at this point. Let’s dive in to the bills, shall we?

Bill 4, Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, received Royal Assent on Hallowe’en. This means Ontario is without a carbon mitigation strategy or system. If you have opinions on what you think the new system should be, there is a consultation open now. I don’t expect to be listened to, but I can at least try. And in the meantime, at least Trudeau is impressing me with his commitment to climate change action by picking up the slack left by the provinces. (If only he hadn’t bought that stupid pipeline).

Bill 30, Fighting Back Against Handguns Act (Handgun Ammunition Sales), 2018, lost on Second Reading. This was the bill that would allow municipalities to forbid ammunition sales in their borders. Nothing of great value lost here, I think.

Bill 32, Access to Natural Gas Act, 2018, still in Second Reading debate. This is the regulatory framework to offset costs to reach expensive-to-reach homes with natural gas for heating by marginally increasing costs on all homes. It’s being debated, but I use that term lightly as it appears to mostly be a platform for grandstanding on particulars. Whatever.

Bill 33, Rea and Walter Act (Truss and Lightweight Construction Identification), 2018, now in committee. There’s broad support for identifying construction more susceptible to weakening in a fire using mechanisms already in use in several other jurisdictions. Fine by me.

Bill 34, Green Energy Repeal Act, 201, now in committee. This is a continuing removal of anything “green” passed by the previous government. It keeps several useful and helpful things, rolling them into other, larger acts. But it enacts barriers to renewable energy projects and generally loses a lot of the stuff that made it green. The Government says the changes are necessary to reduce regulatory burdens (in the face of a growing energy economy, especially in renewables? Bah.). I think it should be left alone, but with it already in committee it’ll be passed whenever the Government wants it to be, so I’d best make my peace with that now.

Bill 36, Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018, received Royal Assent just in time for Legalization Day. This was a rushed piece of legislation that tore up the Liberal’s plan to run pot like the province runs alcohol (public stores, public education, public reach, public profits). Instead it replaced it with a plan to run pot like the province runs tobacco (private stores, public education, private reach, private profits). It’ll be fine, but it’s just such a wasted opportunity for a stream of public revenue.

Bill 37, Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act, 2018, was introduced and killed. This would have established liability for corporations found to be causing climate harms. Good in idea, a little vague in details. Shut down because of course the Government would shut down something applying restraints on enterprise.

Bill 38, Tax Fairness for Real Estate Professionals Act, 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. This allows Real Estate Agents to incorporate in the way that doctors aren’t allowed to anymore. Broad support for this legislation across the aisle, but I can’t see how this helps the province at all.

Bill 39, Accessible Parking and Towing Industry Review Committee Act, 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Stands a committee to review accessible parking systems that are in use and are available. The committee will also look at training and licensing tow truck operators, and into protection of their customers. Seems like a good idea to me.

Bill 40, Human Rights Code Amendment Act (Genetic Characteristics), 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Includes “Genetic Characteristics” as a protected class at the provincial level. Good.

Bill 41, Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Helmet Exemption for Sikh Motorcyclists), 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Exempts Sikh from the requirement to wear motorcycle helmets (as those who observe the tradition of unshorn hair often wear turbans which make helmets impossible). I hope this doesn’t lead to increased mortality on our roads, but this is what tolerance demands.

Bill 42, Ending Discrimination in Automobile Insurance Act, 2018, received First Reading. This will prohibit automobile insurers from pricing differently based on your location.

Bill 44, Ending Automobile Insurance Discrimination in the Greater Toronto Area Act, 2018, also received First Reading. It is materially similar to Bill 42, but is about treating the GTA as one giant zone instead of permitting insurers to price differently. This bill was killed in November.

Bill 43, Freeing Highways 412 and 418 Act (Toll Highway Amendments), 2018, received First Reading. This prohibits the connector highways between the 407E toll highway and the 401 untolled highway from being toll highways. This is a bit wasteful as the 412 has already been built and has been operating as a toll highway since February 2017. Also, it may be already be too late to recoup any costs for the under-construction 418 to account for its changed designation. I’ve previously been in favour of roads being free for use, but tolls are an excellent means of internalizing costs of maintenance (and to the environment, if we chose) that otherwise would be external. And I’m offended by the pandering.

Bill 45, Child Care and Early Years Amendment Act (Not-for-Profit Corporations), 2018, received First Reading and failed Second in November. Forbade corporations from receiving public childcare funding unless they were not-for-profits. Killed because of course it was. Seemed like a reasonable requirement to me.

Bill 46, Terrorist Activities Sanctions Act, 2018, received First Reading. This is about forbidding anyone convicted of terrorism charges from being eligible for provincially-funded stuff (like welfare, health insurance…). It also marks their children as “is need of protection” (which means they’d likely be removed from the home). Seems legit so long as the definition of terrorism crimes in the Criminal Code of Canada is narrow enough and applied sparingly enough that we never falsely convict. (Yes, even if that means some terrorists can only be convicted of lesser charges)

Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, received First and Second Reading. Basically undoes all of the good stuff workers had thanks to last year’s Bill 148 which finally, after two years of investigation and consultation, expanded protection to workers in Ontario. In addition, it applies sweeping restrictions to how unions can be formed, operate, and provide capable oversight of employers. I think this is blatant and foolish garbage that doesn’t belong in Ontario. We should be extending workers’ rights in this province. We should be improving protections and mandatory benefits. GAH.

Bill 48, Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that codifies what sexual abuse is and ensures any teacher so abusing a student will have their license revoked. Good. So long as it’s careful.

Bill 49, Charter Rights Transparency Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that requires the Attorney General examine any Bill with a notwithstanding clause for any contravention of the Charter Rights granted to all Canadians. No way is this going to see Second Reading.

Bill 50, Cutting Red Tape for Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that allows auto dealerships to get stuff online in addition to by mail. Good. Welcome to 2018.

Bill 51, Long-Term Care Homes Amendment Act (Preference for Veterans), 2018, received First Reading. As it says on the tin, it prefers veterans for placement in long-term care homes. This is fine by me. I’d prefer we adequately care for our veterans so that by the time they need long-term care they aren’t as much veterans as they are just Old Canadians like the rest of us will be. Y’know, instead of making our guilt in failing to do this manifest in ways like this kind of preferential treatment. Just a thought.

That’s about it for government business. I’ve likely missed out on entire scandals worth of nonsense by only looking at the Bills, but that’s about all I have the energy to do each month, so here we are.

Til next month.

Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: September 2018

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Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

The House met for 10 days in September. My previous coverage only takes us up to day 4, so let’s start over.

The biggest topic early in the month was the Better Local Government Act and its successor, “Bill 31, Efficient Local Government Act, 2018” which was materially the same but included the Notwithstanding Clause so it could be passed despite being ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

But then the appeal was upheld, and the original act was ruled constitutional. Bill 31 remains on the books, but is unlikely to see further debate. Toronto will have 25 wards this coming election. And Ontario’s government has shown its willingness to invoke constitutional privilege over such a matter.

But what else did the Legislative Assembly do this month besides start a constitutional challenge?

Bill 4, Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, saw two days of debate in September. It’s the same thing going in circles: The Opposition says it is better than nothing and The Government says it is worse than nothing. I’m with the Opposition on this: make polluting industries pay and use the collected money to improve lives for people.

Bill 6, Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), 2018, was referred to committee. I like the idea of having a Poet Laureate of Ontario to champion the arts in the province.

Bill 7, Fairness in Petroleum Products Pricing Act, 2018, was referred to committee. This is pretty much as expected as it’s adapting what other provinces do to regulate consumer gasoline prices and there’s broad political support for it. I fret a little about anything touching the carbon economy, but I haven’t read anything against it.

Bill 28, Alternative Land Use and Services Program for Agricultural Land Act, 2018, which allows farmers to use parts of their fields as snowbreaks, windbreaks, or other natural features passed second reading and is referred to committee for implementation. It appears to be the first step towards funding farmers for doing so in specific ways. Broad support across the aisles, except on the details of where this might lead. I struggle to understand what this is even about given it doesn’t have funding and it doesn’t actually seem to do anything.

Bill 32, Access to Natural Gas Act, 2018, was introduced. Gas distributors need to invest in infrastructure to deliver natural gas to consumers. Some consumers are cheaper to deliver to than others. This act allows the Energy Board to protect the more expensive-to-deliver-to consumers from paying too much for distribution by allowing the gas distributor to raise rates across its customer base instead of requiring the expensive-to-deliver-to consumers to bear the full weight of the cost of delivery themselves. I’m okay with this so long as it doesn’t give gas distributors the leeway to raise rates in excess of what is necessary to deliver natural gas to consumers.

Bill 33, Rea and Walter Act (Truss and Lightweight Construction Identification), 2018, was introduced. Volunteer firefighters have died when roofs have collapsed on them earlier than expected. This is because lightweight trusses can burn through faster than wood. The bill requires buildings with such faster-to-burn construction to be identified with decals so that firefighters know what they’re facing. This is following the example of other municipalities and state jurisdictions in North America so I guess it’s a good thing? I have no strong opinion on the matter.

Bill 34, Green Energy Repeal Act, 2018, was introduced. It repeals the entirety of the Green Energy Act, 2009 in paper, but keeps several provisions in spirit by moving them to other Acts. The repeal seems mostly concerned with taking all the parts of the Green Energy Act and putting them in different Acts. I’ll need to read the debates to figure out whether there’s anything being left out. If not, I have no problems with the reorganization.

Bill 35, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018, was introduced. It adds “immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records and social conditions” to the list of protected classes. I am 100% behind this and I hope that the fact that it was introduced by a Liberal MPP (Nathalie Des Rosiers of Ottawa-Vanier) doesn’t torpedo it.

Bill 36, Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018, was introduced. It sets out a licensing scheme for private cannabis retail stores, administered by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, while simultaneously forbidding the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation from opening retail stores. Online it will be the OCRC that holds the monopoly. The OCRC will also be the only supplier to the licensed private retailers. It also makes it so the Government appoints the board of the OCRC, not the LCBO board, and separates the LCBO and the OCRC more firmly. I worry this will diminish provincial income from cannabis sales. I also worry this could result is less adherence to regulations of sale, but given that these are basically the regulations under which tobacco is sold these days I’m not too torn up about that part.

Other miscellaneous governmental business:

  • The province put 220 new GO trains on the Lakeshore corridor. It doesn’t help me (on the Kitchener line) but I’m glad to see improved transit.
  • The government scrapped the Anti-Racism Directorate, the Ministry of International Trade, and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Office.
  • The Premier posed for a picture with a far-right Toronto mayoral candidate with ties to neo-Nazi groups. The Premier, after being pressed, denounced “anyone who wants to talk hate speech.”
  • The Minister of Finance released a report that Ontario has $338B of debt, and reclassified $15B of line items in previous budgets that had been improperly classified as assets.

All in all it seems to be more of the same. No one’s answering the others’ questions (except when the Government asks questions of itself). The House continues to fly into disorder whenever the Premier is asked a question.

It continues to be discouraging to keep up with the assembly month-after-month. But I plan on continuing, because I think it’s important.

So I’ve Finished Owlboy, Her Story, The Room, and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

I’ve been less than diligent in continuing this series on games I’ve played and my thinking thoughts I have about them. So here’s a short grab-bag of some recent and not-so-recent completions.

Owlboy

It was a while ago I played this, but what I remember about this shooter-platformer was its charm, its easy climb up the difficulty curve, how pretty it was, and how smoothly it ran. It was exactly as long as I wanted it to be, the characters were fun and empathetic, and I only had to repeat the final boss four times. (I am not the best at video games)

I vaguely remember that there was a completionist percentage mechanism for collecting coins or something that I didn’t enjoy (I went through an area several times and couldn’t find the three coins I was missing), but that didn’t detract from the experience.

Her Story

Mystery video games are often like point-and-click adventures. Try everything everywhere until you progress, then repeat. Through the necessity of giving you what you need to tell the video game you’ve solved it, you can accidentally spoil the mystery for yourself. And if you’ve solved the mystery, but don’t have the one piece you need to prove it to the game, it’s frustrating. Mark Brown covers it in this excellent episode of Game Maker’s Toolkit:

Her Story gives you a database full of interview clips chopped into pieces and indexed by the words the interviewee speaks. Type “murder” and you get all the clips where the word “murder” is mentioned. Through listening for key words and repeated phrases you can dig through the database and watch these clips to piece together a complex story of who murdered whom and why.

It’s ingenious, but imperfect. How do you then prove to the game that you’ve solved it? How, other than by not ending, can the game explain to you that you missed something?

There’s a mechanism in the game I didn’t experience where, after watching enough of the clips, a chat window pops up and gives you the last piece of the story before it ends. I didn’t experience it because I already thought I had it all worked out.  And then I checked a wiki and found out I was right… but the game didn’t know I had it. And I couldn’t prove my knowledge to it.

An interesting piece of art, this game. I look forward to seeing what refinements the follow-up “Telling Lies” will have when it arrives (if it arrives).

The Room

A point-and-click puzzle box game. Far shorter than I thought it’d be, and far less interesting. I’d recommend Windosill over The Room: it has a much more approachable and appropriate-to-the-mechanics tone… and most crucially its toy puzzles are far more rewarding to tease apart (it reminds me a lot of The Manhole, of all things).

So, uh, yeah. Play Windosill and The Manhole.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

A worthy successor to the first game, this is a charming JRPG romp with a fiendishly-diverting kingdom-building mechanic. I do love to watch those numbers go up.

It is comfortably easy on Normal, the hardest thing about it is the grind in the postgame. I don’t mind it, though, as the atmosphere is aided by it.

On the negative side is the sadly-mandatory squad-based strategy portions. Uneven difficulty and underwhelmingly-undeveloped mechanisms made for a shallow experience. There was also the Tactic Tweaker for weighting how much money vs loot you get from battles or whether you’re stronger against fire or ice enemies… but it was introduced and then abandoned, so I mostly just forgot it was there.

All in all a lovely way to spend some dozens of hours, with visuals that maintain a Studio Ghibli style without just slapping a cell shader on the GPU and calling it a day.

Next:

I’ll probably pick up the demo to Octopath Traveller as it’s right in my wheelhouse… though its similarity to I Am Setsuna might make it a game my wife plays instead. (and its price might make it something we wait to buy in any case).

I tried to start Tacoma, but my computer refuses to play past the intro without seizing up. Come to think of it my computer had problems with The Room, too, but mostly in the performance angle, not stability. Maybe something’s up on my PC.

Elections Canada as a Mental Health Initiative

While discussing Electoral Reform (and a certain federal party‘s failure to do what they’d promised about it), my fellow Canadian made an interesting point. He mentioned that one knock-on benefit of the existing multi-party first-past-the-post system might be psychological.

The more I think about it, the more I think he might have a point.

One criticism of first-past-the-post is that it encourages “tactical voting” or “vote not for the party you most agree with, but with the party most likely to win that you can most tolerate.”

An example: Given three choices Orange, Red, and Blue, you agree most with Orange’s platform and disagree most with Blue’s platform. Red is fine, you guess. Unfortunately, you live in a riding where Orange has little support. So you can vote for Orange, but only knowing that you’re “wasting your vote” by casting it for a party that will likely not win. So, instead, you might vote for Red because it has the best chance of defeating Blue, whose platform you disagree with most.

My fellow Canadian’s point is that this tactical voting might have a small, secret benefit.

The idea is that, by strategically voting for Red (the party with the most tolerable platform that is most likely to win in your riding), you have pre-emptively made your peace with a more likely future and have signified your tolerance of a more likely platform. So if Red wins the seat, you have more buy-in to the result and have already developed the compromising mindset that makes you more accepting of Red’s platform. Also, it is unlikely that your minority preference for Orange would ever be successful in the system, so by forcing you to abandon it early it encourages you to prepare for the more likely outcomes earlier.

This could make a voter less upset with the result, teach them how to compromise for a greater good, feel more in control of their government, and possibly even feel more engaged with the process as a whole.

I’m not 100% behind this idea, mind you. For one, it hand-waves over the resentment you feel that your preferred party was unelectable in the system as it stands and the belief that it would be different if the system were changed. Also, I could find no study of this effect (if present) and I would assume there would be if there were evidence. There’s a lot of money and feeling invested in the current system (and the cynical among you might believe that to be a contributing reason why certain campaign promises haven’t been kept) so I’d expect research to exist and be aimed in a supportive direction if it had merit.

And even if we’re extremely generous about this effect even existing let alone being beneficial, it can’t overcome the drawbacks of FPTP which include actively excluding minorities and women from legislature.

However, it’s the system we in Canada are stuck with so I find it interesting that there could be a small benefit hidden in an electoral system other successful democracies ditched a century ago.

I still want my ranked ballot, though.

So I’ve finished Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

I expected a game that gave Mario a gun to be less bland. XCOM: Mushroom Kingdom this isn’t. Nintendo characters, but without Nintendo-levels of polish.

All that pithily said, I still enjoyed it. Especially when I started thinking about it more like a small-screen puzzle game than a big-screen campaign.

It went on about two levels longer than it ought to have done. And I was never given an incentive to use the different characters. And I swear it ate through my Switch’s battery faster than Zelda (and Zelda had a lot more to do each frame, I would think).

But it was fun. Bouncing and drop-kicking and taking pipes really adds to a feeling of mobility. The choice to not measure movement range in path length but in radius made things much more predictable. And the puzzles (once I saw them that way) were engaging and interesting to pull apart.

I could’ve used a “whoops, wrong button” one-step undo. And I’m still not sure which of the shoulder buttons is L and which is ZL (and this game uses them more than the d-pad buttons).

But overall, not a waste of the, say, 15 hours I put into it.

TIL: Water Softeners

We wake up to hear an odd sound carried through the forced-air ducts. Furnace is loud, I think. My wife precedes me downstairs and, finding the sound louder, heads to the basement.

“Water in the basement!” comes her yell. I bound down the stairs two at a time and start shutting off water valves to stem the flow of a 3/4″ coldwater supply emptying through the water softener and onto the floor.

Water softeners are a piece of almost necessary equipment in the part of Canada where I live. Hard water is water that contains dissolved minerals (usually Calcium and Manganese) that, when present in sufficient amounts, can form “hard water scale.” This usually shows up on heating surfaces (the inside of kettles and water heaters) and on drying dishes (in the form of cloudy spots). Hard water’s not toxic or anything, but it’s a pain, and our water’s well into the category the USGS calls “very hard.” So we soften it.

Conventional water softeners work by exchanging those dissolved mineral ions (mostly Calcium around here) for salt ions (Sodium or Potassium) in tiny little resin beads kept in a column called the “resin tank” (or “mineral tank”) which you hook up to your water supply. The beads are made up of a compound to which salt binds less strongly than other ions (because it prefers ions missing two valence electrons, if you remember your High School Chemistry). Thus, when a bead with a bound salt is presented with a free-floating Calcium ion, the bead ditches the salt into the water and snatches up the Calcium.

The resulting water does not taste salty and does not meaningfully contribute to dietary salt intake, in case you were wondering.

Eventually these beads become full of these mineral ions. To return them to previous performance levels, they are soaked and flushed with a salt brine. Due to the brine’s high concentration of salt ions, the hardness ions leave the resins to form an equilibrium between the beads and the brine. Then the waste brine (now full of hardness ions as well as quite a lot of the salt) is sent down the drain.

To generate the brine, water is pumped into a salt storage tank (or “brine tank”) and then is left to dissolve salt. This salt is the only consumed quantity in this process, and must be regularly topped up (usually by purchasing 24kg bags of softener salt pellets at local grocery stores for under $6 a bag).

The whole recharge process takes about two hours.

Water softeners have an operating lifetime similar to that of the plumbing fittings you need to install it: ten to fifteen years.

Near as I can figure it, the water softener that decided to flood my basement was 14 years old when its resin tank decided to rupture catastrophically during a 2am recharge cycle. Two hours later, recharge cycle complete, it flipped the valve back to supply the house with soft water and then supplied itself with all of the house’s water.

Luckily my floor drain was nearby and could handle the water flow, so the only “damage” was a little splashed carpet in the next room and some garbage I’d been meaning to throw out. I’m not looking forward to the water bill next month, but I’m happy my furnace is installed on feet for just this sort of occasion.

I did get a nice close-up view of those tiny ion-exchange resin beads, though, as they had been spread all over the basement floor. They look like transparent cornmeal. When wet they kinda have the consistency of mashed potatoes.

One on-sale water softener from Canadian Tire and one plumber’s visit later, I’m once again living in the land of soft water. For the next ten to fifteen years.

So now I know rather more than I previously did about water softening. And so do you.