Normal is Weird

The other day I grabbed a coffee and muffin while out walking, and found an out-of-the-way outdoor place where I could unmask and eat without being near anyone else.

It was weird! It felt like I was getting away with something. This sort of thing used to be normal, but now it isn’t… and that’s weird too!

I haven’t eaten at a restaurant in nearly a year. Not even outside on a patio when health orders have allowed it. (Though I have bought take-out.) This was only the second time since last March that I’ve eaten anything away from home except the occasional travel mug of coffee in the car. Not that I bother with that very often, since I rarely drive farther than the grocery store. I’ve even stopped carrying my Epi-Pen everywhere. I know I’m not going to eat until I get back.

I think the last time I ate at a restaurant was when I went out to lunch with some co-workers the first week of March, and we were talking about whether we wanted to switch to working remotely early, before the order came down. We knew it was coming sooner or later.

As it turned out, all of us who were there ended up spending just one more day onsite. The other two both started working remotely the next week, and I came down with the flu that weekend (at least I think it was the flu) and didn’t recover until the office closed.

I’m still at the same job, but that office? Gone. They’re moving to a new location for when onsite office work is a thing again. I haven’t been to the new office either, because it’s not ready yet, and everything’s in storage for now, presumably including the clutter I would have taken care of if I hadn’t been sick when the work-from-home order came down.

I hope I rinsed out my coffee mug.

And didn’t leave any food at my desk.

But hey, at least I know I didn’t need all of those hand-written notes!

Two Years Without a Con

Surprising no-one, WonderCon will be online-only again this year. Last year’s event was canceled just as we all started to realize that Covid-19 was spreading in California. And while the winter surge in cases is finally slowing down, the coronavirus is still more prevalent out there now than it was last March.

They’re still hoping to do San Diego in July, but even with multiple vaccines, there are still too many variables (vaccine distribution, mutation speed, mask and distancing practice, etc.) to know whether it’ll be possible to hold a convention by then. I guess we’ll see.

Well, other people will see. Much as I miss going to comic cons, SDCC feels unsafely crowded in normal years. Even in the best-case scenario, my anxiety would go through the roof.

Besides, I’ve already read The Last Stand of the California Browncoats.

No Fair(e)

Anyway, the local Renaissance Faire canceled this season again, too. On one hand, it’s all outdoors, which helps a lot — and you know the Faire folk would be serious about safety — but on the other hand, it’s still a big gathering, and April isn’t that far off.

I could maaaaybe see doing a smaller convention in fall, if things improve by then. Long Beach Comic-Con’s and LA Comic Con still show their September dates. For now. (I was worried about LBCC for a bit since their website was offline when I checked a few days ago, but it’s back now.) But again, way too many variables in the war between public health and the virus to predict whether it’ll even be possible for them to hold it. Though I’m pretty sure LBCC will be more responsible than LA Comic-Con.

Of course, even if someone can hold a convention safely by then…would it actually be fun? Or would it be a day of white-knuckled agoraphobia as we plunge into a crowd after a year and a half of semi-isolation?

Maybe we’re probably better off not trying to hit a convention until next spring anyway. We’ll need time first to re-acclimate to being around people!

Repair missing UEFI entry for Fedora Linux

After a windstorm led to multiple power dropouts*, I found that my computer would no longer boot to Fedora. It booted to Windows still, but wouldn’t load GRUB.

Fixing it was confusing, because it wasn’t clear where the problem was. I found lots of references to how to reinstall GRUB2 or how to regenerate a GRUB boot menu (which you can fix by booting to a live USB stick and mounting the system image or using specialized recovery tools), and lots of references to how to modify a Windows boot menu (depending on whether you are using UEFI or MBR), and so on, but the problem turned out to be that the UEFI firmware had lost the menu item, so it wouldn’t load GRUB, so GRUB couldn’t load Fedora.

This is how I added back that missing menu item:

  • Boot to a Fedora Live image off of USB in UEFI mode.
  • efibootmgr -v to see if there was actually a boot entry in the firmware for Linux. (There wasn’t. Only an entry for Windows. Which I’d managed to accidentally rename as Linux somehow, but it was pointing to the \EFI\Microsoft\Boot\bootmgfw.efi file, which is why the system was able to boot to Windows.)
  • Use the Gnome Disks tool to identify which partition on which disk has the EFI boot system.
  • Create a new entry pointing to the shim.efi in the Fedora folder.
    sudo efibootmgr -c -w -L Fedora -d /dev/sdb -p 1 -l /EFI/fedora/shim.efi
    -L is a label, which you can assign whatever you want.
    -d is the disk with the EFI partition.
    -p is the number of the EFI partition.
    Make sure you write the path to shim.efi in UNIX style (/), even though EFI stores DOS-style paths (\), or you’ll end up with it trying to point to EFIfedorashim.efi, which still won’t work!
  • efibootmgr -v again to make sure the entry is present and points to the actual file (it should point to \EFI\fedora\shim.efi now).

*I forgot that I’d left the computer on sleep mode instead of turned off all the way. After one of the outages it must have turned on — I’m not sure exactly, since I was in another room, but I came back in and it was on, stuck with the drive light active, unresponsive, while the room lights flickered repeatedly. I shut it off completely and didn’t turn it back on until the wind died down and the power settled out.

The Sun Sets Over Minecraft Earth

I like Minecraft Earth, but it didn’t quite hit its stride before the pandemic, and didn’t adapt as well as Pokémon Go has to the pandemic. I’ve mostly stopped playing since hitting the level cap because gameplay is still too awkward, and while it is fun, it’s not enough fun to overcome that when I don’t have a goal to work toward.

So while I’m sad that it’s shutting down in June, it’s more “what could have been” than wishing I could keep playing it.

Live the Adventure!

Adventuring in augmented reality is the clear highlight of the game. You use your phone as a window into a life-size 3D fragment of a Minecraft world where you can fight zombies, mine resources, activate redstone contraptions, and so on. Initially these would spawn out in public spaces, and you could spot them from a distance like Pokémon Go gyms. During the pandemic, they changed to a system with “Adventure Crystals” that you can find or earn through challenges and activate to spawn an adventure at home. Different levels of crystals will spawn different sizes of adventures from simple up through “Epic.” Friends can scan a QR code on your phone to join you and you can play together in the same AR environment.

The main problems are:

  • You need enough space, especially for the bigger adventures.
  • You can’t choose the type of adventure, only the complexity. So you’re never sure if you’re going to get a puzzle, a battle, or just a lot of blocks to mine.
  • You can’t invite anyone to join you until the adventure starts, so if you have an epic adventure with 15 skeletons shooting at you and a half-dozen creepers ready to explode, you can’t take the time to get help.

Building

Build plates let you take a fragment (8×8, 16×16 or 32×32) of a Minecraft world, view it at tabletop scale in AR, and build what you want with it. You can use resources you’ve collected or crafted in other parts of the game. You can populate it with animals or monsters, or a “Mob of Me” that represents you. And you can play a life-size instance of it like an adventure, though again you need enough space for that.

Space is a problem here, too, and the process of actually building something complex in AR is awkward. Sometimes I think it would’ve been nice to be able to build in standard Minecraft UI, then play them in AR. And the real promise of this was being able to share your build plates with other players, which again was ruined by the pandemic.

I ended up mainly using build plates to farm. It’s cool that you can, though! Crops and trees grow, you can milk cows, shear sheep, etc. All on your dining table!

Collecting

That leaves the location part of the game: going out and collecting resources. That part is only really fun if you can get out and walk somewhere, which may or may not be possible depending on how locked-down your area is at any given time. But it’s less like catching Pokémon and more like spinning mobile Pokéstops. You’re just tapping on them as you get close to them, not jumping into a mini-game with actual strategy and skill to it. Once I’d collected enough resources to do all the building and crafting I wanted to, I stopped firing this mode up on walks because catching Pokémon was more interesting.

Challenges

They have at least tried to keep giving players new things to do by running biweekly challenge seasons. You collect or craft items, or solve adventure puzzles, or kill five zombies with a golden shovel (yeah, they get oddly specific after a while) in order to get a reward and unlock the next challenge. Even those get frustrating after a while, though. I keep getting stuck on defeating five skeletons (or whatever specific monster), and then for ten adventures in a row I’ll only find zombies, or spiders, or no mobs at all. Or chickens.

Sunset

At least Microsoft is handling it well. They announced it today, along with an update that includes all the remaining finished-but-unreleased content, discounts to in-game purchases, and nearly six months for us to play through the new features before shutting it down. (I’ve already found one of the new cow variants.) And aside from character items, which are already shared with Minecraft Bedrock Edition, they’re transferring currency over to Minecraft proper. So they’re giving the game a decent send-off and making an effort to keep players happy.