Running Commentary 5/22/2023
11 min read

Running Commentary 5/22/2023

BattleBots (S7E18), One Good Turn by Witold Rybczynski, Warframe (The Duviri Paradox), Rose-breasted Grosbeak,


There's a new collection of Star Wars: Visions out that I still haven't watched. I'm thinking I might do what I did last year and look at one a week here starting in June. By then BattleBots will be done for the season, and I'll have the "Watching..." section wide open for something.




The second round of the tournament saw a couple more upsets, though the top 4 seeds are still in. Let's look at the fights:

  • RIBBOT v BLACK DRAGON - Black Dragon took its second knock-out ever courtesy of Ribbot, who I'm almost suspecting of sandbagging this year. I guess if you're going to be good, be good in the tournament.
  • WITCH DOCTOR v LOCK-JAW - Lock-Jaw's luck ran out here, a double blow from Witch Doctor and one of the Pulverizers leaving it sitting dead in a corner.
  • MINOTAUR v MALICE - This fight was closer than I thought it would be. Malice deserves a lot of credit for flipping Minotaur and keeping them flipped at the beginning, and for surviving the match.
  • COPPERHEAD v END GAME - The biggest upset of the night saw former champ End Game fall to Copperhead, a bot that few people expect to take a Giant Nut. And this wasn't like the loss to Ripperoni, where End Game got stuck, this was a fair-and-square loss. Copperhead kept End Game from hitting them anywhere but weapon-to-weapon, and managed to take out the kiwi team's disc. From there, they spent the rest of the match chewing off End Game's front hardware. They never made it into the internals, but they did manage a lucky move to leave End Game set up on its side, which would have been a knockout had there been a full 10 seconds left in the match.
  • SAWBLAZE v MONSOON - This was excellent work by Sawblaze. Monsoon showed up with their most Uppercut-like weapon, which we know is enough to take down Sawblaze if Jameson Go makes a driving error. He didn't here. Monsoon never really touched Sawblaze. Like the last fight, this ended in a positioning win, although this time there was enough time for a knockout.
  • HYDRA v WHIPLASH - A rematch that went about like last time. Hydra is almost uniquely suited for beating Whiplash, as the latter is dependent on getting under and pushing against its opponent, and Hydra just doesn't present opportunities to do that in its design.
  • HUGE v MATCATTER - This wasn't the most spectacular fight of the night, but it was the first one of the tournament to really make me re-think my bracket winner. I'm still pretty sure Minotaur will win, or else Riptide, but Huge has nothing but low-set vertical spinners left between it and the finals, and as we saw in this fight, there's not a whole lot such bots can do to Huge given how well Schultz has been driving this season. So, maybe they could take the Nut?
  • RIPTIDE v HYPERSHOCK - Ethan Kurtz managed to give us both a bot slamming into the arena ceiling and a gracious post-match interview in two huge historic firsts for his sophomore team. While it did seem like Hydra got Death Roll to brush the ceiling last week, Riptide sent Hypershock high enough that the ceiling actually had to stop its upward trajectory. Riptide moves on to face Copperhead next in what should be a good look at what a match-up against Minotaur could be like.


One Good Turn by Witold Rybczynski

This book is essentially what you would get if magazines didn't have page count constraints or editors. Actually, that's literally what it is. At the opening of the book Rybcyznski takes us back to 1999 when the New York Times Magazine approached him asking for a short essay on whatever he considered the best tool invented in the past thousand years, as part of a special retrospective issue covering the second millennium A.D. Rybczynski, who is an architect and professor besides being a writer, initially wanted to write about eyeglasses, which are indeed a sort of tool, but the editor wanted a tool like what's in a toolbox, so Rybczynski went to his toolbox and found that the only tool therein not first invented back in the days of Sumeria, Rome, or ancient China was the screwdriver. He wrote a piece for the magazine about the fastening screw itself (to which the screwdriver is simply a needed accessory) and then, from what I can tell, he continued writing that short essay until it became this short book.

One Good Turn is sort of the Stuart Little of microhistories, in that it's well-written, an engaging read, a memorable read, but also a narrative that meanders without a central thesis and that just sort of ends without properly concluding. The selection of the screw fastener as Rybczynski's Tool of the Millennium isn't really argued for outside of the fact that it's the only widely used mechanical element not to have been developed sometime before A.D. 1000. The meat of the book is Rybczynski tracing the screwdriver and screw back through history to the middle ages, then describing how screw-making technology improved in the Industrial Era, and then tracing earlier uses of screws in presses, worm gears, and water lifters back to Archimedes of Syracuse, an ancient engineer who was the first to mathematically describe a helix and the first to use a screw in a machine (as a means of lifting water from a body such as a lake or a channel for irrigation, not as a fastener). For this feat, Rybczynski uses his final sentence to declare Archimedes the "Father of the Screw". This is all well and good, but the book does not open asking who the father of the screw was; it opens asking what the best tool of the millennium was. So while I think the book had good content, its structure felt very amateurish for a published author.

What I can say is that this book is not padded. It's a short volume, and Rybczynski stays focused on whatever that chapter is about, at least. He gets in, tells you every story he could find about the development of a screw, and then gets out. So even though it comes to a weird halt, I still recommend it.

Screws are not the most obvious solution to the problems we solve with them, and their ubiquity is a great example of how a brilliant device can become mundane, advancing human knowledge in an underappreciated way. Once, it took a mechanical genius to think to fasten something with a screw. Today, without having to be taught in classes even, it's a choice intuitive to almost everyone.

I give One Good Turn 7/10.


Update Art from

Warframe (The Duviri Paradox)

After 4 years of buildup, previews, and hype, "The Duviri Paradox" has finally been released in Warframe. I've played the new...missions, I suppose would still be the right word, though this is a bit of a departure from the usual structure of Warframe gameplay. Actually, that's been the pattern for a lot of recent Warframe updates: "The New War" had you play as Kahl, Veso, Teshin, and the Drifter, then Kahl returned in the archon hunt update. Before that was railjack. I think Duviri is the most successful attempt to shake up Warframe's gameplay thus far. Kahl's missions are strictly side-content, and railjack, as much as it was supposed to be the future of Warframe, has suffered from being integrated only partially and from being a less quick-paced version of the same core game.

Duviri is, of course, being widely played at the moment, since it's the new thing. But I think it stands a decent chance of staying active, compared to the other alternate gameplay loops in Warframe. For one thing, it's put up in front of new players right away, while railjack is locked behind a few quests. For another, it's not built around the usual gear-farm progression system. You don't just play Duviri to get better at it or at main-game content. Actually, it's a bit the other way around; progressing in the main game and building up an arsenal of 'frames and weapons allows you to get better mod load-outs for the gear in Teshin's cave. And while there is some permanent progression through the earning of Drifter intrinsic upgrades, much of the Duviri experience is randomized. As such, it avoids the late-game Warframe issue of everything being incredibly easy or else tediously difficult to chip away at. The Tenno gets progressively stronger in-between missions, through developing mod load-outs and building better gear. The Drifter gets progressively stronger during the mission, through the decrees, and has to start over in that progression with each new run. It's not just a matter of farming once and then being done.

The quest itself is, I think, even better than "The New War". (That largely comes down to the fact that "The New War" had a lot of instant-death stealth sections, which I personally really hate.) I did notice that scenes in this quest seemed to spoil some of the twists in the main game's storyline, but I suppose that might just be me picking up on some things that a new player would miss. As an introduction to the new game mechanics, the quest is a partial success; I'm still not sure what to do when I see an owl with a puzzle, but otherwise, I've understood what I'm supposed to be doing. As a story, the quest is certainly surreal, but it pulls it off and I think new and old players both should be entertained.
Now, one thing I will say is that, at release, Duviri had more mission-ending bugs than I've seen in a Warframe update since "Operation: Scarlet Spear". The game never crashed on me, but, in the Undercroft especially, defense objectives wouldn't spawn in, or else enemies wouldn't; after defeating the Orowyrm, sometimes a host migration would send the remaining squad back into the boss arena with no way to leave. Thankfully, progress is saved incrementally through the run, so I didn't completely have my time wasted when these bugs happened. So even the bugginess has been improved over past updates.

A playthrough of one of the Duviri spirals. Note how a bug left me stranded in the boss arena at the end.

I have found Duviri to be a lot of fun and a real breath of fresh air that I didn't even realize Warframe needed. This update serves as a clean break from the game's Halo-clone origin, a chance for DE to make something really new. I think it's enjoyable beyond just as a farm for new gear; I actually presently find it better than the main game, which is my all-time favorite video game. That's probably just novelty talking, but I'm seriously impressed by how well DE's effectively launched a second (third? fourth?) game inside their game.

One other thing: the Circuit is...odd. It doesn't feel especially connected to the rest of the Duviri stuff, and it has an odd reward set. The Steel Path rewards are the better thought-out: upgrades to early-game classic weapons like the boltor or the bo staff, that late-game players will get a kick out of using again. The regular reward path awards warframe blueprints, which is more odd to me, since warframe blueprints are already the thing that pushes the main game's initial quests and progression. While I think that the difficult farms of some 'frames having a more dependable alternative is a welcome change in some cases (Saryn & Yareli, especially) I do find it a weird move on DE's part.

Bird of the Week

The Spring migration is waning from its peak a few weeks ago. Most of the summer birds in Michigan (grackles, orioles, catbirds) are back already and will continue making regular appearances until they return to their wintering grounds. More rarely, another summer resident will be seen, one who is a prize migrant sighting in more southern states: the Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The term "grosbeak" comes from the French "gros-bec", which simply means "large-beak", and it has been applied to various songbirds of the finch, cardinal, and tanager families. The various grosbeaks are not especially closely related, but they all share similar thick, blunt beaks with which they break into sturdy seeds. The rose-breasted grosbeak is a cardinalid, and it actually eats a quite varied diet of insects, fruit, and grain alongside seeds.

Male rose-breasted grosbeaks are fairly unmistakeable: boldly-pattered black-and-white with an oddly pale beak and a burst of red running down their front below the base of their necks, a feature that gives them both their poetic common name and their much more lurid nickname "cut-throat". Females are less distinctive, mottled brown with white brows and wing bars. They might be confused with other female grosbeaks of the same genus, with the smaller female purple or house finch, or with the sharper-billed, darker female red-winged blackbird.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks spend their winters in Central America and the Caribbean, passing through the southeastern United States to get to and from their breeding grounds in the deciduous forests of the northern states and Canada. While they will come to backyard feeders, grosbeaks are shy and prone to staying very high in trees, making them rarer sights in their range than their numbers and preference for open woodland might suggest. As for myself, personally, I can generally depend on seeing one once or twice in May, but any appearances beyond that are an unexpected treat.

The rose-breasted grosbeak was first described by M. J. Brisson, a Frenchman who had been sent a dead specimen from Louisiana. Linnaeus gave it the binomial Loxia ludovicianus, or "Louisianan crossbill", though it and several other cardinal-grosbeaks were later placed in the genus Pheuticus, whose name means "shy", deriving from the ancient Greek "pheugo", meaning "to flee"; the English words "fugitive" and "fugue" (a piece of music composed of an initial theme "pursued" by repeated variations on its melody, or else form of reversible amnesia wherein one suddenly leaves ones regular surroundings and takes on a new identity elsewhere) both derive from the Latin form of pheugo, "fuga".

The Strange Life of Glass | Katy Kelleher, Nautilus

“From a thermodynamic point of view, he explains, glass wants to become a solid. When observed on a molecular level, glass behaves more like a viscous liquid than a solid, yet we experience it like a solid because of how slowly it shifts…There, right under our noses, is a scientific marvel—a material that behaves in a fascinatingly unique way, a substance that resists easy categorization. It makes up our lenses, our microscopes, our telescopes, our screens, our glasses. It allows us to see the world clearly, yet so rarely do we really see glass.”

All That Was Mortal | Scott Samuelson, Lapham's Quarterly

Excerpted from Samuelson's travel book Rome as a Guide to the Good Life, an episode of Napoleonic history as recorded on a tombstone in Rome's "Protestant Cemetary", where all the city's non-Catholics (Protestant or otherwise) were traditionally buried.

Your IQ isn't 160. No one's is. | Erik Hoel, The Intrinsic Perspective

Hoel is, of course, shamelessly stealing my format, but this is a good article cutting through both nonsense about IQ being an empirical, immutable measure of intelligence and nonsense about IQ tests being baseless pseudoscience. IQ scores are not unchanging, and beyond about 140, they’re imprecise enough to be meaningless. But that’s true of much psychology at present.

LOL, Said the Scorpion | Rich Larson, Clarkesworld

" 'Does it come in any other colors?' Maeve asks, eyeing herself in the smart glass. 'No,' the salesperson admits. 'You look quite elegant in eggshell, though.' She’s undecided. The holiday suit is a cooperative swarm of microorganisms, a pale paramecium shroud that coats her entire body, wetly glistening. 'Full-spectrum UV protection, internal temperature regulation, virus filtration, water desalination, emergency starch synthesis.' The salesperson has a comforting sort of murmur. 'Ideal for any sort of live tourism. Where will you be off to?' 'Faro,' Maeve says, and saying the name conjures immaculate white buildings and deep blue waters onto the smart glass behind her, displaying the paradise she’s dreamed of for entire weeks now. 'Faro,' the salesperson echoes. 'Oh, I’m so jealous.' "

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