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Enchilada Recipe

June 19, 2022

Filling Ingredients:
2 lbs meat, 1 can of beans, 1 15 oz jar of salsa, 1 8 oz block of cream cheese, 1-2 onions (depending on size), 1 bell pepper or 3-4 jalapenos, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp salt

Filling Instructions:
Fry onions. After 10 minutes, add peppers. After 10 more minutes, add all remaining ingredients. Cook until cream cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Meat does not need to be fully cooked at this stage because it will be baked later.

Sauce ingredients:

1/4 cup oil, 2 tbsp chili powder, 1 can tomato sauce, olives to taste.

Sauce Instructions:

Heat oil until just starting to shimmer, reduce heat to med-low. Add chili powder, and cook 3 minutes. Add sauce and cook another 2 minutes. Add olives and remove from heat.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a large baking pan. Add filling to 6-8 tortillas and place them in the pan (one at a time). Spread the sauce evenly across the top. Add 1 cup of shredded cheese on top of the sauce. Bake for 30 minute. You can broil it a bit at the end if you want browned cheese.

Commentary: The two things really driving this recipe are 1.) Frying the chili powder in oil. It makes the flavor really intensify. You can use fancier chili powders or even grind your own dried peppers to really take it to the next level. 2.) The cream cheese in the filling, which really adds a lot of richness and cheese flavor. If you like sour flavors, add a whole can of olives to the top. In my opinion the taste combination of spicy + cheesy + sour + umami from meat and beans is amazing. You can also add various vegetables to make it a bit healthier, but this is not a low calorie recipe, so don’t bother if that’s what you’re looking for.

Full ingredient list for shopping:

2 lbs meat and/or beans, 1 15 oz jar of salsa, 1 8 oz block of cream cheese, 1-2 onions (depending on size), 1 bell pepper or 3-4 jalapenos, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp salt, 1/4 cup oil, 2 tbsp chili powder, 1 can tomato sauce, olives, 1 cup cheese, 6-8 tortillas.

The Myth of “No Choice”

March 7, 2022

One pet peeve of mine in regards to history discussion is when a decision made by a leader, which on its face seems to be a major mistake, is presented as that leaders only option. I hear it in regards to Japan quite frequently. Japan had to attack British colonies in the South Pacific and had to attack Pearl Harbor. They simply had “no other choice” because they needed strategic resources. Well, why did they need strategic resources? Because they were in a major land war in China. Why were they in a war against China? Oh, because they FUCKING STARTED IT. If they ran out of resources in 1941, what horrible fate would have befallen Japan? They would have had to negotiate a cease fire with China. Boo frickin’ hoo.

Similarly, but less frequently, you hear about how Hitler had “no choice” but to attack the Soviet Union. Well, why did he have no choice? Because there were Jews and Slavs in the Soviet Union and he couldn’t very well kill all the Jews and Slavs in the world unless he invaded. Ooooooorrrr he could have just not. No one would have attacked Germany had they not rearmed and abided by the Versailles Treaty. Germany in 1942-1945 may have been at the front line of a war against the Soviet Union, but they would have been fighting side by side with the UK, France, and possibly the U.S. instead of against all of them. The problem is, if you take the desires of a dictator as inflexible and worth literally any sacrifice of lives and property to achieve, you’ve already bought into the dictator’s frame of reference of the world (Weltanschauung) and given it priority over reasonable sane ways of looking at the world.

Which brings us to today, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The most absurd justification for Putin’s aggression is geography. The argument goes, “the east of Ukraine is flat and so is eastern Russia, so if Russia doesn’t conquer everything east of the Fulda Gap that leaves them vulnerable to fast Panzer charges across the open plains.” World War 2 is over. No one wants to invade Russia. If Russia had no military at all apart from their nukes, still – no one would want to invade Russia. Maybe maybe maybe if they had no military and no nukes, I could see Georgia and Chechnya getting some kicks in, but how far would they seriously be able to advance? No one invades Denmark, despite it being flat. No one invades literally hundreds of countries around the globe that do not have defensible borders. Sacrificing tens of thousands of lives to move your borders a few miles is both sociopathic and bad geopolitics in the modern world.

Most countries don’t want to go to war over territory.

NATO has never been a threat to Russia provided Russia never initiated war. The whole NATO expansion thing is a red herring designed to distract and intimidate. Without Russian aggression, NATO probably would have faded away a decade ago. Now with their invasion, Sweden and Finland will almost certainly join, and defense laggards like Germany are rearming as quickly as possible. It turns out, randomly attacking your neighbors causes them to form defensive alliances against you. Who knew? Certainly not Putin.

Russia is burning all of this goodwill, military power, soft power, etc to get a naval base in Crimea (that they literally could have just kept as normal by leasing it from Ukraine), but does the Bosphorus Strait not exist? If you hear someone talk about how this gives Russia a warm water port with access to the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, no it does not. Crimea gives Russia access to the Black Sea and that’s it. Turkey gives Russia access to the Mediterranean and England gives Mediterranean countries access to the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar, both of which would be shut down in a WW3 scenario. Turkey right now shut down the Bosphorus, so all that warfare got Russia exactly zero additional naval access. Congratulations Putin, you played yourself.

Oil: the eternal black chalice of geopolitics. The Alsace-Lorraine of natural resources. Just like in the days of colonialism, it seems tempting to simple seize natural resources from other countries, but modern military operations are expensive. We don’t know the final tally of Russia’s military expenditure on the Ukraine war, but it is safe to say that between the losses of military equipment and sanctions, they have lost more than they could possibly get from selling all the natural gas in their newfound territory. Furthermore, greed is not sufficient to invoke “no choice”. If you murder your next door neighbor to steal his car, will a jury be convinced you had no choice but to steal it because it was really nice and you really really wanted it? But that same logic gets applied to dictators using military force to seize things from their neighbors and gets treated like they are just the victims of circumstance. Lastly, oil and natural gas are on the way out. Solar, wind, and other clean energy sources are advancing very rapidly so it is only a matter of time before the demand for oil and gas peter out. This green energy transformation will happen all the more quickly because of Russian aggression, so Putin hurt himself even from a profit maximizing sense in that he will likely not make as much from gas sales in the next 10 years as he would have had he not invaded.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If61baWF4GE

Ethnic/cultural justifications. Oof this one’s a doozy. Pretty much every country in the world shares borders with other countries that have similar ethnicity and cultures to themselves simply by cultural diffusion and immigration over time. This is the same justification Hitler used to annex the Sudetenland and it’s been used by China regarding Taiwan and at other times throughout history. But it’s not a good justification, because if applied evenly, it would mean eternal war, especially when those groups that share culture are willing to fight and die to stop the aggressor from conquering them, as we see in Ukraine. How many dead Russians is it worth to add a single Russian speaking Ukrainian to the Russian Federation? Because we are seeing that question playing out right now in real life right now and it’s not pretty.

The historic borders argument is just as absurd. Borders have been in flux since the dawn of time. Europe has been eternally soaked in blood by men trying to gain territory under their control. If you look back far enough, you can justify almost any allocation of land today and taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean a war of all against all with no end.

So at long last we come to the real reason, domestic politics. Putin is better at being a dictator than I, or probably anyone reading this, could ever be. It takes a distinct skill set to survive and consolidate power in the most brutal political climate in the world. Russian history is littered with the corpses of men who couldn’t quite maintain their grasp on power and Putin has thrived for over 20 years, punching well above his weight geopolitically. Who am I to question whether his moves are good for him in terms of his own geopolitical survival. Until he gets assassinated or deposed, we’ll never know for sure. But the thing is, I don’t particularly care about debating that now. I do care about clearing out the weak arguments mealy mouthed Putin apologists use to pretend like what he is doing is justifiable or good for Russia. It is not. It is pure evil and it is bad geopolitics. Russia will be broken by this war, win or lose. Their military, economy, reputation, and diplomatic status have been utterly annihilated and it is all because of a conscious choice made by a single man. Stop pretending he had no other options.

Compensating Differentials and Warframe Weapon Balance

February 14, 2022

In Economics, there is an idea of a “compensating differential” in wages. It means that if there is an unpleasant aspect of a job, people will have to be paid more in order to get them to do it. More generally, if you want two options to be equal in value, if one of them has a disadvantage, it must also have some advantage to compensate. This idea can be applied to video games and item/weapon/ability balance. If a weapon has a positive aspect that players like, it is balanced with another weapon iff the other weapon has an advantage over it.

The ultimate baseline for guns in most games is damage per second (DPS).

Here is a basic framework of how to determine weapon DPS based on weapon characteristics:
Mastery rank: +5% DPS per mastery rank to use

Quest related/difficult to acquire: +1-5% depending on how difficult it is to acquire.

Rate of fire: -5% for beam, 0% for automatic, +5% for semi automatic, +10% for slow rate of fire (snipers/bows/etc)

High critical chance: -20% to -10% base (unmodified) DPS. With mods, this will overtake a low critical chance weapon, so it is balanced by requiring a more limited build.

High status chance: -20%-10% depending.

Area of effect: You have to consider how many enemies, on average, a player will hit per shot. Some advantage should be given for players hitting more enemies than average by grouping them and some penalty should be applied to using AOE weapons against single targets. A large AOE weapon that normally hits 5+ enemies should have 30% or even less DPS against single targets. A moderate AOE weapon that typically hits 2-3 enemies should have a DPS about 60% of a single target weapon. Beam weapons that jump to the next target should have a DPS about 120% of a single target weapon when all the targets are added together. So for example, if a weapon hits the first target for 100% and two additional targets for 50%, that gives a combined damage of 200% max. This should reduce the base DPS of the weapon by (120/200) to compensate.

Accuracy: +5 to 10% DPS for bad/horrible accuracy weapons. Weapons with projectiles should get an additional +5% to DPS.

Ammo economy used to be an issue with some weapons but because there are so many tools to mitagate it, I would hesitate to give more than a 5% bonus damage to only the very most ammo inefficient weapons.

A note on power creep: Developers are always looking to add new better items to games to generate excitement. By using higher MR requirements/making items more difficult to acquire, they could fulfill this desire while maintaining a balanced game. They could also decide to apply a flat 1% per out of game month bonus to new weapons, that way newer weapons would still be mostly balanced but would slowly increase in power over time to generate new sales.

Broken Speedometers and the Zero Lower Bound

January 28, 2022

Imagine you had a car with a broken speedometer that could not go above 50 mph. The engine, breaks, steering, etc. all worked perfectly well but any speed above 50 would just register as 50 on the dashboard. Your car can techincally go faster than 50, but if you stop hitting the gas when it hits 50, it won’t.

The Zero Lower Bound (ZLB) is like that car. Central banks do open market operations to increase inflation. Open market operations lower interest rates. Central banks communicate their policy primarily through announcing inflation targets. For cultural reasons, they do not announce targets less than 0%, although economically it would be possible to do so. Here’s the key though – they can still “hit the gas” when inflation is too low and interest rates are 0%.

People say the central bank can’t raise inflation when interest is 0% are like people who insist the car described above couldn’t go faster than 50. The speedometer is an indicator, it is not the reality. The interest rate is the communication device, it is not a policy stance, nor does it strictly determine inflation. When interest rates hit 0%, if the central bank just keeps buying billions of dollars worth of assets with newly printed money, inflation will eventually increase. To believe otherwise is sophistry. Imagine a world where the vast majority of assets were owned by the central bank, which was paying 200% or 300% face value for them. Would it really be plausible that inflation wouldn’t budge at all just because the Fed Funds rate was unchanged? Would inflation really not increase if the central bank monetized the entire federal debt? If so, that would be great since any time interest rates hit 0, the central bank could simply announce all taxation (and future taxation) was abolished since they intend to just print enough to fund the government forever.

Cauliflower Crab Cakes

January 18, 2022

Take 1/2 head of cauliflower, trim off the leaves and stem, rinse. Steam for 12 minutes or until soft and mashable. Drain thoroughly and mash.

Mix in a large bowl: Mashed cauliflower, 1 lbs precooked imitation crab, 4 eggs, 1 cup shredded mozzerela, 1 cup flour, 1.5 tbsp Old Bay seasoning, 1/2 tbsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder.

Spoon out 1 cup servings into a pan with 1/4 inch of preheated oil and fry until golden brown.

Serve on a bun with pickles, tomatoes, mayo, hot sauce, tartar sauce, lettuce, sliced cheese, or whatever other toppings you like.

An Ode to Frittatas

September 9, 2021

If you could design the perfect food, what characteristics would it have?

  • Inexpensive
  • Healthy – plenty of vitamins, minerals, protein
  • Delicious
  • Easy to cook and forgiving to mistakes
  • Can be made in large batches and stored in portions for later easily
  • Flexible with ingredients – can be made with whatever you like and have on hand.
  • Can be made with a single pan and is easy to clean up.
  • Doesn’t take long to cook.

There is such a food and its name is frittata.

Start by cooking whatever vegetables and meat you like in a large pan to about 75% doneness. Add enough scrambled eggs and shredded cheese to cover them and cook until the bottom is browned. Either flip and continue cooking or bake at 350 until the eggs have solidified. And that’s it. Of all the foods in the world, I would say this is the best one for amateur cooks to try.

The World is Failing at Morality

August 28, 2021

Would you endure nausea to save a life? Would you endure pain to save a life? Unless you’re a sociopath, you would answer “yes” to these questions. Why then are people unwilling to endure moral discomfort to save a life? There are many moral situations where the right choice from a utilitarian perspective feels “yucky” to some people, but I don’t think there is any real difference between enduring moral discomfort to do the right thing and enduring other sorts of discomforts to achieve good outcomes.

Suppose there were a group of 9 fundamentalist Christians and one atheist in the arctic and because of some accident there were only nine pure wool coats and one coat of mixed fabric. If the mixed fabric coat was unused, one person would freeze to death. Should the group allow the atheist to wear the mixed fabric coat? The Christians would likely feel moral discomfort about being in the presence of someone wearing mixed fabric, but if doing so saved a life, I would argue it is worth doing.

Right now, our society is facing that dilemma with children and covid vaccines. Instead of Christian fundamentalists, we’re dealing with timid FDA bureaucrats. They aren’t really risk averse, since the riskiest option is to allow schools to reopen with unvaccinated children without protection. The riskiest option was to wait a year before approving effective and safe vaccines, which is the option they chose despite it causing massive losses of institutional trust in them. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans will die if no action is taken. Hundreds of thousands have already died. It’s one thing to say that parents should not be forced to give their children a vaccine, it’s quite another to say they should not be allowed to protect their children.

There is no evidence that the vaccine will cause side effects even in the same order of magnitude as getting covid. With the delta variant, we’re not choosing between getting a vaccine or getting nothing, it’s between getting covid with the vaccine or without. Delta is contagious enough that everyone will get it sooner or later. Even if children themselves don’t die of the disease, they will spread it to others who will die. It seems to me that this wave will be even worse than the winter wave of December 2020/ January 2021.

Giving children experimental vaccines is only one area where “risk aversion” is actually the riskiest choice from a society’s perspective. Challenge trials are another. Let healthy volunteers infect themselves with the virus to actually remove all the ambiguity of the effectiveness of the vaccine. Yes, some may suffer serious consequences, but as a society, we will save lives. People had no qualms about sacrificing thousands of lives in needless wars, but somehow getting a thousand people sick to save millions is beyond the pale?

The FDA be far more bold. Allow anyone who wants to try a drug for themselves do so after signing a waiver. Do safety only testing and let the self experimenters provide data on effectiveness themselves. Use data from foreign countries to determine safety. There’s no reason to disregard an experiment just because it took place across a political border. Imagine if each state had to do their own safety testing and we pretended like a test in Virginia was somehow completely inapplicable in Wisconsin. We literally do the exact same thing with tests in Canada or Germany. Lastly, the level of resources spent on prevention/vaccines are tiny relative to other societal goals – there are more dead from covid than all military deaths in the history of America combined, yet the government has spent less on covid than military even in a single year. We should have dumped hundreds of billions out the door to get every vaccine maker into overdrive to vaccinate the world instead of dithering over a million here or there.

This past year and a half has been frustrating, stressful, and difficult for almost everyone. I am thankful no one I know personally has died of covid, but even so, hundreds of thousands of Americans died needlessly. There’s been so much selfishness and carelessness on display, but also much bravery and sacrifice. I hope that we will learn some difficult lessons from this tragedy.

Revisiting Chrono Trigger

July 9, 2021

Intro/rambling: Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved video games from my childhood – one of the many Square titles of the 1990s that I simply could not pull myself away from. Recently, I have been moving away from playing games such as World of Tanks, Warships, War Thunder, Warframe, and Minecraft, that I can sink thousands of hours into, and begun playing games for 20-50 hours and then moving on to a new one. I think it is a more enjoyable mode of playing, but it requires I find a new game at least once a month. I’ve burned myself out on Stardew Valley after about 500 hours (excellent game, btw – highly recommend), so I decided to go back to an old favorite I hadn’t touched in 20 years.

I was shocked at how short it was. It only took me a bit over 18 hours to beat without new game plus and even if one were doing a completionist approach, I don’t think there’s 40 hours of game play there. Compared to more modern RPGs, that’s surprisingly short, but during those 18 hours, the game feels expansive. You’re constantly going from time period to time period, meeting new characters, learning new skills, etc. The dialogue is solid and the characters feel relatable even if they’re a bit tropey.

The artwork and graphics are outstanding for the era they were released in and time and care is taken to maximize the visual appeal of the limited hardware they had to work with. Characters look stylish and cool, enemies are varied and sprites are very expressive and entertaining. The music is outstanding and ranks among the best video game soundtracks of all time. I found myself humming various music throughout the day from the score, and not just Crono’s Theme or Corridors of Time, but even just the town music, or Undersea Palace, or whatever I had just played. At the Bottom of night is my favorite “sad” video game music of all time and is poignant and moving. You can find dozens of remixes and performances of these songs on YouTube and that stands as a testament to the staying power of such works that people are still remaking them even after over 20 years.

In terms of game play, combat is fairly dynamic, with a lot of special attacks and counter attacks triggered by various events. Many enemies have exceptionally high defenses to various attack types, so you can’t just brainlessly mash the attack button and expect to do as well as someone who pairs the correct attacks to the particular enemy. Chrono Trigger had many innovative features such as New Game + where you could restart the game keeping your old levels and equipment, multiple endings, and combo attacks using two or three characters to perform special attacks together simultaneously. It’s not a particularly challenging game, but there are tricky parts throughout the whole game from beginning to end.

I think the biggest lesson there is for modern game developers in Chrono Trigger is that your game doesn’t have to be particularly long to be memorable. It’s better to make a 20 hour game that is fun the entire time than add 100 hours of boring grind to pad it out. Maybe that’s thought of as outdated these days, but I think with the flood of mediocre games out there vying for attention, it wouldn’t hurt to make the best 10 hours of game play you can first and then worry about padding it out later.

Super Easy Chili Recipe

July 1, 2021
  1. Get a pot and coat the bottom with oil

2. Add 1 bag of frozen onions and peppers, or 1 onion and 2 peppers. If you use frozen vegetables, cook on high until melted, then reduce to medium before continuing.

3. Add 1 lbs of ground beef, or lamb or other meat substitute.

4. Add 1/4 cup of chili powder, 1 tbsp of cumin and 1 tbsp of garlic salt. Add hot sauce and other spices to taste.

5. Cook on medium high heat for 15 minutes until most of the moisture is boiled off and you get a bit of browning.

6. Add a can of tomatoes and a can of beans. The beans are mandatory. Chili without beans is just beef soup.

7. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Veganism, Alcoholism, and Quarantine

April 5, 2021

There is a phenomenon where if one person engages in some morally good action that is above and beyond the societal norms of their group, they are resented by others because the action is a (mild) condemnation of everyone who does not also do it. Morality is judged by the dynamics of the group. If everyone does something, everyone else is expected to do it as well. Slacking is not acceptable because well, if everyone else is doing it, why can’t you?

  • Alcoholics will resent and try to sabotage friends who quit alcohol. Frequently it is better for the recovering alcoholic to just cut ties with all of the alcoholics in their life for this reason.
  • Obese people who try to lose weight will often be criticized by their other obese friends and have them criticize their new lifestyle with insincere concern trolling: “All that exercise isn’t good for you.”, “your brain needs at least 900 g of refined sugar per day to survive”, “you’ll go into starvation mode if you lose so much”, etc.
  • Vegans are often ridiculed and ostracized for being committed to their moral beliefs to the detriment of eating delicious food and following a very strict diet.
  • Hard workers at a company, especially new hires, often attract resentment from less hard working employees. There may be good reasons for this such as rushing poor quality work, or working at an unmaintainable pace, but I think for the most part it’s just resentment for putting more effort in than others and the group wanting to maintain a lower standard. You can maintain a breakneck pace for a month or two, but after several years, you’re not going to want to give the company 100%.
  • Quarantining from the pandemic is hard and it puts strains on social relationships. If one person either doesn’t believe that the disease is a large threat, or other differences in value judgements, avoiding social interaction can be misconstrued as not valuing a relationship as well as an attack on their beliefs and the condemnation that they are not doing as much for society as you are.
  • Trumpism – I think a large reason why the “deplorables” crowd supported Trump is because he puts no moral demands on them. If the president commits crimes, cheats on his wife/taxes, lies, condones violence, is racist etc. then it’s ok for you to do the same too.

I don’t know what to do about all this. If you’re going to go the extra moral mile, sometimes it’s worth trying to evangelize others. By shifting other people’s opinions of what the average person does, you can improve their moral actions. In other situations, it’s better to keep things to yourself to avoid their disapproval, but this phenomenon is a strange quirk of human nature.