Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Fallout 76: A Guide to a Bloodied Build

Posted in howto, video game by commorancy on March 3, 2021

It seems a lot of people don’t really understand how to manage a Bloodied character build in Fallout 76. It’s not terribly hard once you understand the details. Let’s explore.

Bloodied Weapons

There are many different types of legendary weapons and armor in Fallout 76, but none really more rare than Bloodied weapons. In fact, there are a number of relatively rare spawning legendary items in the game including Unyielding Armor and Bloodied weapons. Just visit Purveyor Murmrgh at the Rusty Pick and roll your chances to find out. You’ll find that it’s quite rare to roll a Bloodied weapon or get a piece of Unyielding armor. The most common armor received from the Purveyor are Assassin’s, Bolstering and Zealot’s, with the most common ranged weapons being the Zealot’s Gatling Laser and Zealot’s Laser Pistol.

What exactly is a Bloodied weapon? This legendary weapon effect increases damage of the weapon as the player’s health decreases. To get the most out of this legendary weapon effect, you must keep your as health low as possible. Unfortunately, Fallout 76’s developers didn’t offer the player a way to manage the character’s health directly. Instead, the player must find substances in the world to keep the player’s health low.

Combat?

One might initially think that combat is the way to do this, but no. Well, it is one way, but it’s not the most optimal way. There are easier ways to do this, but it will take just a little effort to find the necessary items to manage a low-health character situation.

Toxic Goo

There are few items within Fallout 76 that confer a substantial amount of health reduction on the player. One of these mechanisms is radiation. As radiation increases, health points (HP) decrease. By keeping radiation of the character high, the HP always remains low no matter what foods or medicines are consumed. In fact, this game mechanic is really the only mechanic that functionally works to keep your character’s health at a specified level.

One foodstuff item that can impart a boatload of radiation onto the player rapidly is Toxic Goo. This consumable is found primarily at one location in Fallout 76. That location is WestTek Research Center in the Savage Divide. This consumable adds 125 radiation points per vial consumed (more if you suffer from Radworms). It also does it even with the Lead Belly card in place, which means you can leave the Lead Belly card on while still consuming and taking 125 rads per vial. It takes about 3-5 vials (depending on your HP bar length), to get HP under 60. Don’t take too much or else your character will die.

To obtain Toxic Goo, head to WestTek Research Center, which houses a lot of super mutants. You’ll want to enter through the back door of the building. Going in through the front is pointless unless you really like mowing down lots of super mutants to get to the large cylindrical vats of goo in the back. If you enter through the rear of the building, the vats are right there. On the outside of the rear of the building, there are about 5 super mutants, a turret and a dog. Once inside, you only have to clear out one or two dogs and about 5 super mutants to get to the vats. If you have the Sneak card, you might even be able to get away with only one or two kills and then sneak your way up to the vat and grab a bunch of goo and fast travel out of there.

You’re also going to need the perk card Traveling Pharmacy or the backpack equivalent perk to reduce the weight of aid items. This will reduce Toxic Goo weight so you can carry a bunch with you. I usually stock up and carry about 150 of them at a time. When I get down to about 20, I head over and fill up again.

Under 60 HP?

Keeping your character’s health under 60 is the magic number for a Bloodied build. Over 60 and you don’t reap the rewards of a Bloodied weapon or Unyielding armor. Though, you can still reduce your health more and gain a few more damage points. This number exists for several reasons. A Bloodied build is a bit more complicated than simply drinking Toxic Goo and grabbing a Bloodied Gatling Gun. While that will work, you’ll want to also outfit your character with some damage and radiation resistance to avoid mucking with this build. This number is also optimal for keeping most creatures from one-shotting you instantly. Though, recently, Bethesda has given a major buff to too many enemies in the game and too many enemies can one-shot your player, regardless of either’s level, depending on their attack method.

Armoring up for Bloodied Build

Note, there is no Bloodied legendary effect on armor. This effect only exists for weapons. There are several armor effects which work well with a Bloodied build, including Unyielding and Bolstering armor. Sentinel armor formerly existed in Fallout 76, but was removed and replaced with a crappy equivalent.

Sentinel armor formerly afforded 100% protection while standing still (effectively god mode armor), but this legendary armor effect was removed from the game. Sentinel armor was a fan favorite for a Bloodied build for the first 12 months of the game’s existence until Bethesda did away with Sentinel as a primary effect. Bethesda’s developers replaced and updated a tertiary Sentinel effect equivalent, which is literally worthless (75% chance to reduce damage by 15% while standing still). Not only does it reduce damage resistance down to a max of 15%, it will only offer that protection 75% of the time… which with Fallout 76’s developer math will actually occur less than 10% of the time. Worse, you won’t even know if the effect is working or not. There’s no notification to the player if the legendary armor’s effect has actually worked. Worthless.

Unyielding and Bolstering are the armor legendary effects of choice for a Bloodied build. These effects operate 100% of the time as you would expect of any legendary effect. How can you call something a legendary effect when it only works no more than 75% of the time? Why even add something that crappy to the game? Simply just get rid of it from the game entirely. I digress.

Unyielding works not only by having damage resistance (limited to the armor piece worn), but by increasing all SPECIAL stats (except Endurance) by up to +3 for each piece of armor worn. This means that you can gain up to +15 to every SPECIAL stat if you wear a full set of Unyielding (two arms, two legs and chest piece). Why is this important? Because you’ll get a permanent +15 buff to strength, perception, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck so long as you maintain low health. You can raise up Endurance in other ways, but not with Unyielding armor. If you happen to find 5 pieces of Unyielding Marine armor, you can really get your damage resistance up there.

Bolstering armor, on the other hand, doesn’t buff any SPECIAL stats, but it does increase damage resistance the lower your health. By keeping your health low, whatever armor type you are wearing will see a buff to damage resistance and hopefully keep your character alive even up against large foes. In this case, you won’t necessarily need to wear Marine armor to get a higher amount of damage resistance. Though, wearing Bolstering Marine armor wouldn’t hurt.

Personally, I prefer Unyielding armor because of the +15 extra charisma points means I don’t need to worry about putting on the Hard Bargain card to get the best buy and sell prices at vendors. Unfortunately, any extra points cannot be used to place more perk cards on the stack. Only applying a Legendary SPECIAL card and ranking this card up will afford extra points for card use, but that means you’ll need your character to be at least level 200 to have enough spare slots and enough perk coins to spend. You can mix and match Bolstering and Unyielding in whatever proportions work best for your character.

Damage Resistance

Because a Bloodied build requires keeping health low, that means your character is constantly vulnerable to certain types of attacks, like Suicider Super Mutants whose mini nuke can easily kill your character in one hit. Additionally, being hit by the Scorchbeast Queen or Wendigo Colossus or even just a plain old Wendigo can probably take your character out with one hit. For this reason, Bloodied builds will want to combine with Sneak and other sneaky features to remain hidden while attacking. Not only does this keep you at distance from your enemies, it affords you 2x or more bonus damage from attacking while hidden.

Brahmin Milk

One trick to maintain to a Bloodied build at just the right amount of health is Brahmin Milk. Before this consumable came along, there was no way to tweak your health in small amounts easily. This consumable is the only foodstuff in the game that not only increases health, it simultaneously removes a small amount of radiation. This means you can nudge your health up by a tiny amount while reducing rads. I believe each Brahmin Milk adds about 8 HP and removes an equivalent amount of radiation. Best of all, drinking Brahmin Milk has no chance of removing mutations from your character. This means you can combine Toxic Goo and Brahmin Milk even with characters below 30 and run a Bloodied build.

Unlike Radaway which affords a chance to remove a mutation without having a maxed Starched Genes card in place, drinking Brahmin Milk doesn’t do this. Though, without a maxed Starched Genes card, you can still gain more mutations. Here’s where wearing Unyielding armor becomes a major benefit.

Milking a Brahmin is entirely dependent on your character’s luck. With the +15 buff to luck while wearing Unyielding armor, you are guaranteed to get at least one milk every time. Typically, you’ll get 3 or more. Wearing Unyielding armor, I have occasionally received 5 milks from all 9 of the Brahmin in Flatwood… that’s 45 milks! With the additional 3 Brahmins now at the Wayward, that adds a possibility of 15 more milks for a possible total of 60. Typically, I pick up no less than 30 milks, and with Unyielding + Low Health, there’s zero chance of seeing that kicking behavior from the Brahmin, meaning you failed to milk it.

To carry this much milk around, you’ll need to have the Good with Salt perk card. This card reduces food spoilage by 90%. This means you can carry around a lot of Brahmin milk for a long time, though Toxic Goo doesn’t expire.

Perk Cards

As mentioned above, there are a number of perk cards you’ll want to consider while keeping rads high and health low.

Low Health + Unyielding:

  1. (I) Nerd Rage — While below 20% Health, gain 40 Damage Resist, 20% damage and 15% AP regen (3 star)
  2. (A) Dead Man Sprinting — Sprint 20% faster at increased AP cost when your health is below 50% (3 star)
  3. (L) Serendipity — While below 35% health, gain a 45% chance to avoid damage (3 star)
  4. (E) Lifegiver — Gain a total of +45 to your maximum Health. (4 star)
  5. (L) Last Laugh — You drop a live grenade from your inventory when you die. (1 star)
  6. (A) Evasive — Each AGI point adds +3 Damage and Energy Resist (Max 45). [No Power Armor] (3 star)

High Radiation:

  1. (E) Radicool — The greater your rads, the greater your strength! (+5 Max) (1 star)
  2. (E) Ghoulish — Radiation now regenerates even more of your lost Health! (3 star) (only somewhat effective)

More Damage:

  1. (A) Adrenaline
  2. (I) Nerd Rage
  3. (P) Rifle, (A) Pistol, (S) Melee, (S) Heavy Gun and/or (S) Shotgun damage multiplier cards
  4. (L) Better Criticals
  5. (L) Bloody Mess
  6. (I) Demolition Expert
  7. (C) Tenderizer

Damage Evasion:

  1. (E) Rad Resistant — +40 Radiation Resistance (4 star)
  2. (E) Nocturnal Fortitude — Gain +40 to Max Health between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m (2 star)
  3. (E) Ironclad — Gain 50 Damage and Energy Resistance while not wearing Power Armor (5 star)
  4. (E) Fireproof — Take 45% less damage from explosions and flame attacks (3 star)

Sneaky + Bloodied + Unyielding:

  1. (A) Sneak — You are 75% harder to detect while sneaking.
  2. (A) Covert Operative or (A) Ninja — Ranged or Melee sneak attacks do 2.5x normal damage (3 star)
  3. With Unyielding, take advantage of ALL luck cards to gain better chances to repair armor, weapons, better VATS chances and better critical damage. Too many Luck cards to list here, but take advantage when wearing Unyielding.

Cards and Armor to avoid:

  1. (A) Born Survivor — Falling below 40% health will automatically use a Stimpak, once every 20s. (wastes Stimpaks)
  2. (E) Sun Kissed — Slowly / Quickly regen radiation damage between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (ensure teammates DO NOT share this one).
  3. (Legendary Perk Card) What Rads? — X Rad Resist, restore X Rads per second. (like Sunkissed, avoid)
  4. (Legendary Armor) Life Saving armor — This armor, like its sister card Born Survivor above, wastes Stimpaks.

Other Legendary Effects

Another legendary weapon effect that’s extremely useful in low health situations is Vampire’s. This legendary effect gains a brief amount of health regeneration per bullet. This effect is particularly pronounced with high fire rate weapons.

Weapons such as the Minigun, Gatling Laser, Gatling Gun and most other automatic weapons work exceedingly well with Vampire’s. It also works reasonably well with fast melee weapons, such as small knives and a Vampire’s Mr. Handy Buzz Blade. The best weapons, however, for the Vampire’s effect are shotguns. Because shotguns spew out up to 30 pieces of shot at a time, each piece of shot offers a regeneration effect, with up to 30 pieces acting like consuming a Stimpak. With a high fire rate shotgun, you can maintain your health even while being struck by gun fire or by melee attacks even from larger creatures like the Mirelurk Queen’s acid spray. Some consider these high fire rate Vampire’s weapons god mode weapons. However, you have to be cautious because while it does keep your health high, you can still be staggered which can then open you up to attacks.

Nuke Zones and High Radiation Areas

If you’re in a Nuke Zone, you’ll need to wear Starched Genes at max level and wear some form of high radiation resist armor (Chinese, HazMat, Power Armor or Diving Suit). If you don’t rely on Speed Demon (see bugs below), you can wear Power Armor. However, you’ll want to drink a radaway to keep your rads at a lower level, but also leave your health low. Don’t drink food or take stimpaks, though. Eating or drinking any HP increasing foods, will halt your bloodied build. If you lose any health, drink water only. This will increase health by only a little and allow you to maintain a Bloodied build. Also, remove any cards like Dromedary, Good Doggy and Slow Metabolizer that yield more HP for food eaten while in a radiation zone.

Putting It All Together

Toxic Goo increases radiation by +125 for each vial consumed. Each Brahmin milk decreases radiation and increases health by about 8. These two together allow you to maintain your character’s health just below 60. You can keep it lower than this if you prefer, but this combination of foodstuffs is the only way I’ve found to achieve and maintain consistently high rads and low health at a specific level.

Weapons that boost your abilities at this low health include Vampire’s and, of course, Bloodied. Armor like Unyielding and Bolstering enhance the Bloodied build to allow this build to be maintained without constantly dying, particularly in combination with the above listed perk cards and properly configured legendary armor.

Finally, a low health Bloodied build works best with a sneaky sniper build which doubles the damage level of the weapon and maintains a distance from the enemy.

Bugs

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning various bugs in Fallout 76 when maintaining a Bloodied build.

  1. When your character falls in battle and respawns, your character’s health resets to a default value of between 70 and 80 HP. This is frustrating if you’re trying to keep your health at or below 60. The game forces this reset upon respawn… which leads to the next bug…
  2. Toxic Goo fails to work for approximately 1 to 3 minutes after respawning or logging into a server. This means that if you were in a heated battle and you want to get back to it quickly, you can’t lower your health until Toxic Goo begins working. This can be particularly problematic if your character has become overencumbered as a result of respawning with higher HP when combined with losing strength buffs from wearing Unyielding armor.
  3. Some world servers load your character in with HP and Rads different (and higher) from how you last logged out. This is similar to bug #1 above. You may need to wait for Toxic Goo to work to apply the +125 rads to lower your health and begin playing.
  4. While not exactly related to this build, it can affect your Bloodied build. Many players rely on the Speed Demon mutation to increase reload speed and to run faster. Wearing Power Armor breaks this mutation. If you enter any Power Armor set, Speed Demon stops working while in it and for a time after exiting. The game will eventually correct itself after a couple of fast travels. The takeaway is, don’t use Power Armor if you rely on Speed Demon for faster weapon reloads. Instead, opt for the Cave Diving suit, Chinese Armor or a HazMat suit to avoid radiation damage in nuke zones and avoid broken mutations… and rely on being a sneaky sniper to remain far away from enemies and still do maximum damage.

One workaround for a broken health situation when combined with the Toxic Goo failure is to drink Brahmin Milk first. This can force a change to HP and rads and sometimes allows the Toxic Goo to begin working faster. Sometimes this workaround doesn’t work. Dirty water may also work. Carrying around dirty water isn’t as optimal for this purpose as Toxic Goo, but it may avoid the Toxic Goo failure-to-work after respawn bug, but it also means carrying and drinking a crap ton of Dirty Water to match the 125 rads you get from drinking one Toxic Goo.

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What is Critical Thinking?

Posted in howto, rationale, reasoning by commorancy on February 6, 2021
The Thinker by Rodin

Critical Thinking, when taught in a classroom setting, teaches something that approximates critical thinking, but isn’t actually critical thinking. In fact, what is taught is more deductive or logical reasoning than critical thinking. Let’s explore.

This article is 6647 words. At an average reading speed of 200 words per minute, this article will take slightly more than 33 minutes to read it. Grab your favorite beverage and let’s get started.

Critical Thinking Tests

Here’s a test example:

“Some men are definitely intelligent, others are definitely not intelligent, but of intermediate men, we should say, ‘intelligent’? Yes, I think, so or no, I shouldn’t be inclined to call him intelligent.”

Which of the following reflects the intention of the writer well?

A. To call men intelligent who are not strikingly so must be to use the concept with undue imprecision
B. Every empirical concept has a degree of vagueness
C. Calling someone intelligent or not depends upon one’s whim
D. There is no need to be as indecisive as the writer of the above

While there is an answer to this question, I’m not going to go into what it is just now for a number of reasons which will become apparent shortly. Instead, let’s analyze this type of question for its appropriateness for critical thinking skills.

First, let me start by saying that the grammar on this question is absolutely atrocious. Without proper grammar, you can’t make heads or tails of what the question is actually asking. The grammar forces you to trip over the question which then forces you to become distracted by the grammar. This fact alone leads to confusion and interpretation problems. Once we’re off track for the interpretation, we can’t easily arrive at a correct answer. Is this a test writer trick? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Second, this question has multiple choice answers. I vehemently dislike multiple choice answers for a number of reasons. The first reason to dislike multiple choice answers is that they offer a limited selection of choices. You can’t be free to think through the question critically… which is the whole point in this exercise. Instead, you must keep your thoughts constrained to only 1 of 4 answers. On the plus side, the question author didn’t include the absolutely horrid trick answers, “All of the above”, “None of the above”, “Answers 3 and 4” or any similar type answer tricks.

The second half of the second reason to dislike multiple choice answers is that you must decipher what the question author is asking you to do and then keep your thoughts constrained to only those 4 answers… even though your own critical thoughts may lead you to additional answer conclusions not included. This means, you have to put yourself into the shoes of the question author to try and determine how the question author expects you to answer this question. In fact, this makes answering this question less about performing actual critical thinking and more about trying to get into the head of the question author to determine the test author’s motives. That’s not a critical thinking exercise at all. No.

That’s test taking 101. Meaning, it actually becomes more important to understand the test author’s tricks than it is to actually utilize critical thinking skills to answer the question. This is an important distinction to understand about test taking. This is why multiple choice test taking is less about what you know and more about how best to decipher the test author’s motives for the inclusion of the question… and more importantly, how they are expecting you to respond (correctly or incorrectly) to their biased notions. In other words, test authors leave you just enough threads of logic to lead you in multiple directions. Only one thread, if you follow it, leads to the correct answer. Other thought threads, if you are tricked by the question author’s lead, will lead you down the the wrong answer path.

This means you may be betrayed by your very own thought processes. You may postulate the wrong answer simply because the question author led you down the wrong path based on reaching the wrong conclusion. Again, this is test taking 101. You have to become a savvy test taker to understand that the test author is intentionally leading you down the wrong answer path. You have to be smart enough to understand this aspect of test taking to rethink your conclusion to lead you to the correct answer. Again, this has nothing whatever to do with critical thinking skills and everything to do with avoiding test author traps.

Third, this snippet of text is too small to draw any real conclusions. It’s like taking two sentences from the Star Wars novel and then expecting you to understand the author’s intention behind the story. You can’t do this with only two sentences. This question text lacks the bigger context of why it exists in a larger text. If the “author” behind this question included this small statement in a romance novel, for example, and was then talking about a specific character with this statement, you could much more easily draw conclusions to the correct answer because you have wider context surrounding its reason to exist. However, pulling a small snippet out of a larger story, then expecting a test taker to rationalize conclusions without the necessary larger context means jumping to conclusions mostly by guessing. Guessing isn’t the way to critical thinking. Guesswork is best left for situations where the outcome is more or less meaningless. Guesswork shouldn’t be part of or required as a strategy when taking any standardized multiple choice test of any kind. For test taking, you either know the answer or you don’t.

Free Form vs Multiple Choice

Free form answers range in difficulty, but at the same time, require more actual critical thinking. You have to be able to articulate into words the answer to the question. These word answers can then be read by the teacher to understand the student’s thought rationale. That’s the point in critical thinking. For some, writing a free form answer can be easier. For others, it can be more difficult. One thing is certain. Writing a free form answer means you’re not constrained to a limited set of answers… which takes trick answers by wily question authors off of the table. It also takes misinterpretation issues off the table. However, it won’t solve poor grammar problems, such as in the question above.

There, I Fixed It

The question above should have been correctly worded as follows:

“Some men are definitely intelligent, others are definitely not intelligent. Of intermediate men, we should say, ‘intelligent’? ‘Yes, I think so’ or ‘No, I shouldn’t be inclined to call him intelligent.'”

Which of the following reflects the intention of the writer well?

A. To call men intelligent who are not strikingly so must be to use the concept with undue imprecision
B. Every empirical concept has a degree of vagueness
C. Calling someone intelligent or not depends upon one’s whim
D. There is no need to be as indecisive as the writer of the above

In fact, the text of this question, now that this question been grammatically corrected, is technically an alternative form of the classic “glass half-full” vs “glass half-empty” argument. Let’s examine.

Of intermediate men (meaning, men who fall halfway between intelligent and not intelligent), do we call them intelligent or not? Again, this situation illustrates another version of the “glass is half-full” versus “glass is half-empty” argument. Thus, such situations can be both rationalized and stated either way.. and correctly I might add. It’s particularly true when extenuating circumstances are present (i.e., how thirsty you are, for example).

Recognizing that this is a case of “glass half-full vs glass half-empty” should be the critical thinking challenge. Once you recognize this fact, the answer should become obvious. Yet, it doesn’t. There’s no answer here that immediately rewards the critical thinker for recognizing this fact. Instead, we are still left with 4 bland answers… answers that don’t adequately or obviously sum up the question author’s reason for writing this question.

However, according to this test author, the answer is A… “To call men intelligent who are not strikingly so must be to use the concept with undue imprecision”. There is nothing in the snippet that describes a man as “strikingly so”. This “strikingly so” concept was added in the answer and was not part of the question. In fact, the correct answer should be C… “Calling someone intelligent or not depends upon one’s whim.” Why?

Why Indeed

The answer A works only from a utility perspective, but the answer breaks down under scrutiny. The “strikingly so” text, which was only present in the answer and not in the question, was added as a qualifier for the intermediate man. This qualifier didn’t exist in the original text and was incorrectly introduced as a new concept in the answer. This violates answer protocol.

A man who is of intermediate intelligence can’t really be called unintelligent unless someone who is much more intelligent stands next to him. Intelligence is a matter of degree. This means that so long as the intermediate man is the most intelligent man in the room, then the glass is half full… or more specifically, the man is intelligent. However, if the intermediate man isn’t the most intelligent man in the room, then the glass is half-empty… or more specifically, the man is considered unintelligent. It’s all a matter of context.

The label is then applied based on the context (or whim) of the situation… which means answer C, “Calling someone intelligent or not depends upon one’s whim”. Even though neither C nor A correctly or adequately describe this situation, C is the most correct of all of the included weak answers, because C doesn’t introduce new information.

Let’s also keep in mind that the definition of “undue” means “excessive”. Calling an intermediate man intelligent isn’t, in any way, excessive. Anyone who is not unintelligent must be, by their very nature, some amount of intelligent. We all understand that intelligence is a matter of degree. It is not an absolute. Calling someone intelligent doesn’t immediately conjure up images of Einstein and Mensa when using that word to describe someone. Instead, calling someone intelligent means to recognize that they are not stupid. For this reason, this question is better served (as a critical thinking exercise) by recognizing that it is, in fact, a form of “glass half-full” vs “glass half-empty” and then treating the test taker accordingly with an appropriate answer. That is the reason for this answer’s existence… an exercise that the test writer him/herself wasn’t intelligent enough to realize.

Critical Thinking

The above proves that this form of test taking isn’t sufficient to demonstrate if a student really understands critical thinking. This form of test only tests if the student can take tests, not that they understand the concept of critical reasoning.

Critical thinking and reasoning is designed to compare ideas, learn the most you can about it, apply logic and determine if what someone is saying is true, partly true, partly false or entirely false. Again, there are degrees to falsities and truth. Understanding and being able to critically find these half-truths or half-falsities (seem familiar?) is the art of critical thinking. It is a concept that the question author above failed to understand. It is a concept, however, that is the reason critical thinking skills are very important.

To ferret out truth from fiction using logic and reasoning is, by its very nature, a skill that everyone needs to master. Sure, you may know when your kids are lying, but can you tell when your co-worker is lying? Your boss? Your doctor?

You can’t just blindly go around thinking that all of these people are telling you the absolute truth any more than thinking they are outright lying. You need to be able to determine degrees to their truth and their deceptions. This is where critical thinking comes into play. Critical thinking isn’t just about reading text, either. It’s also about reading body language, reading into a person’s words and watching how people interact with one another. To become a critical thinker, you must also be able to read human body cues and nuances. Critical thinking skills are rarely ever just about one thing. It’s a combination of cues, text, conversation and rhetoric that combines to create a whole. Once the whole is created, it can be dissected and analyzed by your brain. The point is, to work through not only the logic or irrationality of the situation, but also to combine all aspects to see the bigger picture. Only then can you really think critically about what you know.

Case in point, the above question. If I had attempted to guess what the question author wanted, I would have gotten the wrong answer… because my analysis was not what the question author was seeking. Instead, my thought processes led me down the wrong path because I saw something in the question that turned out to be ignored by the question author. Instead, the question author took the wrong path by introducing information in the answer which shouldn’t have been there. I would have ignored the A answer because of the introduction of information that wasn’t in the original question. In fact, the introduction of that new information was actually the author’s trick to lead you away from the correct answer… to have you select an answer that didn’t introduce new information.

That’s not the critical thinking that the author intended. Instead, you were forced to use critical thinking to deduce which answer is the best based entirely on what you guess the author expected. In fact, there is even less information to go on about the test author than there is in the question. However, taking a test as a whole, you might be able to, through critical thinking, ascertain patterns in the questions and answers. It is these patterns that might lead you back to the above question to later realize the obviousness of the answer.

Unfortunately, you would have to have answered many questions on the test to realize the test author’s scam behaviors. Once you can recognize the test author’s scams on the test as a whole, you can then go back and rework previous answers to fall in line with that new information gleaned from the full test. This is why there’s an art form in taking tests… and while it might utilize critical thinking, it is more dependent on second guessing the test author correctly. I digress.

Critical Information

Critically viewing the world is important. You don’t have to tell everyone your conclusions. You simply need to be able to reach reasoned conclusions based on all information you can obtain. Conclusions aren’t always correct, but critical thinking isn’t an exact science. Because data is always changing and being updated and more information can be found, conclusions may change based on new data. This is the reason to always remain open to new data with a willingness to update conclusions based on that new data.

Jumping to conclusions is easy. It’s just that people tend to jump to conclusions way before having enough critical information. In fact, many people jump to conclusions with only the barest of information. Snap conclusion jumping is the whole reason why TV sitcom programs like Three’s Company (and many other situation comedies) can even exist. With access to the Internet, everyone now has a treasure trove of information right at their fingertips. Don’t just search one thing and call it a day. Spend some quality time searching and digging and reviewing. Look at all sites… even if the site is primarily made up of kook conspiracy theorists. There are always grains of truth tucked everywhere. It’s the commonalities between the various sites that are likely to lead you to those grains of truth.

If you can call and ask questions of people, you can even gain more insight. Nothing is off limits when seeking information. The worst that someone can say to you is, “No” and then you’re no worse off than you were before. As long as you understand this aspect, you can dig for information and sometimes get the information you need. Most times you don’t even need to call and talk to someone. An email will typically suffice. Some people can even be more forthcoming in email because it doesn’t require speaking aloud, which can be overheard by bosses and other staff. Typing, on the other hand, isn’t a problem… which documents yet another critical thinking exercise.

Getting the information to aid in finding an answer is half the fun. The other half is analyzing the data in your brain for even more ideas. Not everyone has the aptitude or desire for this. I get that. But, critical thinking is still very much a useful life skill.

Testing vs Real Life

Understand that the test question above is the kind of question you might expect to see on an aptitude test, like the GMAT. To pass that test, you will need to study similar kinds of questions like the above. You’ll then need to understand how to read and interpret these questions for the appropriate answer. However, know that that kind of “critical thinking” isn’t the same as you would use in everyday life… and herein lies the rub.

Teaching critical thinking skills in a class room will gear the student towards passing an aptitude test. Unfortunately, such tests don’t adequately prepare the student for using genuine real world critical thinking skills to solve actual problems, get to the bottom of a lie or in any other way support any other real life dilemma. We must rely on a completely different set of thinking skills than those taught in a class room. For this reason, relying on academia alone to impart the necessary information tends to come up short in real world applications. It is for this reason that I write this article.

Academia

Don’t get me wrong. Academia is great for learning new information. The teachers are excellent at getting students up to speed on various topics that they may know nothing about. Unfortunately, as great as they are at doing this, you also must recognize the limitations of academia. The biggest limitation is that university and college classes aren’t great at teaching information that’s real world applicable… or more specifically, how you can apply that knowledge to real world, real life situations. Instead, the student is left to his / her own devices for how to tie course materials to every day life.

Some course materials lend themselves to real world application much more readily than others. For example, accounting classes. It’s fairly obvious that the information learned in an accounting class can be used at an accounting firm. Classes like Sociology, Psychology, Art History, History and even Geology glasses don’t always offer up real world applicable information. They’re “great to know” classes, but can’t often be used in real life. Even mathematics classes don’t always have real world applicable uses, unless you’re a video game programmer. Even then, there’s limited use cases for that information. Knowing Calculus, for example, may not be helpful in programming a video game unless you’re designing a new and better physics engine.

In most cases, however, a game developer will grab an existing game engine off of the shelf which doesn’t require a need to know that level of calculus…. because you’re using an existing pre-programmed engine, not designing a brand new one. You will need to know how to use the engine to its fullest, but that won’t require that level of mathematical understanding.

Academia does have its uses. Specifically, it helps you to get a degree. Having a degree is exceedingly helpful in obtaining a job in certain fields. Unfortunately, much of the required academic information learned at a university is lost in time… which means that the money wasn’t well spent. Certainly, you got the degree out of the deal, which is the primary reason to spend the money. However, not retaining the learned information is a loss to not only in what was learned, but to a lesser degree in the money spent in that attempt to learn. That doesn’t mean all will be lost after earning a degree.

Academia isn’t totally a waste for learned information, however. Some of the information learned can be useful in real everyday life… if you can manage to retain it. If you use some of that information on a regular basis as part of a job, then you will at least retain that information. However, keep in mind that learning information during the pursuit of your degree can become outdated years later. Even such topics as history, physics and mathematics can change as new assumptions are made, as new information is uncovered and as new technological achievements arrive. In other words, some information learned in 1995 might be outdated by 2005, just 10 years later. Indeed, computer systems will be far outdated. Learning to use, for example, the WordStar word processor was entirely outdated by the release of Windows 98 and packages like Microsoft Word. As another example, learning to use Windows 95 had become entirely outdated by 2020 with Windows 10 being the most current edition.

Even the introduction of the iPhone and the iPad have changed academia from 1995. For this reason, many professions require refresher courses every year to keep each professional informed of the latest changes in the industry. Unfortunately, too many industries don’t require such refresher courses.

Learning Everyday

The point to all of this is that critical thinking is left to the individual to both address on their own, but continue to learn, grow and expand their own knowledge and contemplation skills. Critical thinking isn’t something that you put down or use occasionally. You must use this skill every time you interact with anyone. That includes watching the news, reading a book, talking to your friends and, indeed, even interacting with your boss.

What you’ll soon learn is that everyone has an agenda. It may be as small and innocuous as attempting to sway your point of view, but it might be as big as attempting to manipulate you into doing something for them. Critical thinking is an important life skill. This can’t be emphasized enough.

You must be both willing and able to see through to a person’s real agenda. Not everyone wants something from you… at least, not something that’s tangible. Television news programs want your attention and they want to sway you to a specific point of view… a point of view that is dictated by only the information presented.

A real world example

COVID-19 comes to mind. Vaccines do have benefit when designed correctly. However, the agenda now is to push the vaccines at all costs. News programs have been pressing this point almost relentlessly… to the point of ignoring the pandemic itself. We now get 5 minute snippets of the death numbers and we get 30 or 60 minute long segments with “medical professionals” espousing how well the vaccines work… yet, how scarce they are.

We know that. We knew that when the vaccine rollout began. It’s as if the news shows each want to insult our intelligence by assuming we didn’t know that the vaccines would be scarce for months on end. Yet, instead of covering the pandemic and showing us the carnage, the news producers instead choose show us a whole lot of nothing about how poorly and slowly the vaccine rollout is going. In fact, news programs have chosen to politicize this whole issue by blaming it on the politicians. I won’t go down into the politicization quagmire that literally has no end. Instead, let’s move on.

These news shows have chosen a one-sided approach to pandemic reporting. Instead of reporting on the actual pandemic, they are reporting on the vaccine rollout and pretending that the vaccine rollout is considered reporting news on the pandemic. Hint: it isn’t. The vaccine is but one small subset of the entire pandemic. The pandemic is about how the virus is spreading, not how well the vaccine rollout is going.

Let’s understand more. The vaccine brings hope. The pandemic brings despair. As a producer, which would you rather report on? Here’s where biased reporting comes into play. The pandemic is not just about the vaccine, it’s about how, when and why people are contracting the virus. It’s about contact tracing. It’s about timely testing. It’s about hospitals under siege. It’s about the resulting deaths. It’s about running out of medical equipment. It’s about all of these things and more…. and yes, it is also about the vaccine rollout.

When a news program chooses to ignore all else to bring the vaccine rollout front and center, that’s disingenuous reporting and it’s the very definition of biased reporting. One might even consider this kind of repetitive reporting as a kind of reporting designed to convince the viewer the vaccine is a “good thing”. This aspect requires critical thinking skills to both realize and understand. If you don’t use critical thinking skills here, you can’t know to visit other news sites to get information about the pandemic itself sans the vaccine rhetoric. Critical thinking allows you to bring all aspects into perspective.

In the last example, trying to convince someone of something by repeating it often is a recent, but definitely not new, trend. As a critical thinker, you must recognize this false strategy to understand just how misleading this trend is. Donald Trump utilized this “repeat often” strategy in an attempt to convince people that the election was rigged. Here we have news programs using this same exact strategy to sway people to the news producer’s agenda about, “pandemic bad, vaccine good”.

Let me just stop here to point out a prior Randocity article about the vaccine. Again, this is another critical thinking article. I’m not attempting to convince you of my point. Instead, I’m offering up various sides and I leave it for you to decide your own point of view. I also don’t use repetitive reporting techniques to barrage you with the same point over and over and over as a technique of persuasion. I could most certainly use this technique, but then this blog would be no better than Donald Trump or various major news networks.

With this article, I want you to rise above these petty persuasion techniques and see these things for what they are… by using critical thinking and reasoning. However, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I can lead you, but you must choose to understand. I’m not here to convince you. You must make the leap to understand for yourself.

One Last Exercise — COVID-19

Let’s critically discuss the vaccine rollout. The vaccine rollout team has chosen a very specific rollout methodology. A methodology that I have begun to question. There’s no argument that choosing to inoculate those most at risk first seems like the best strategy, but is it? Clearly, those at high risk stand to lose their lives if they become infected. However, how do those at risk become infected? The answer is most likely, by those who are much younger and healthier who bring it to them.

Reasoning this out, it seems that rolling the vaccines out to those at highest risk of carrying the virus around would make the most logical sense, regardless of age. Yes, it’s been stated the vaccines won’t necessarily prevent carrying the virus asymptomatically. Let’s examine who I propose here: children in school. Because children are dependent on adults for their well being and because children must return to school and daycare centers which congregate children into close social groups and because children are not yet capable of understanding the ramifications and risks of carrying around COVID-19, children carriers are the most likely reason those at risk could become infected.

Children congregate socially to play and learn. Because of that, they then pass COVID-19 around and bring it home to their parents. If it’s a multi-generational household with grandparents at home, then those most at risk can easily become infected. The parents can then become unknowingly infected and, for a short asymptomatic time period, carry and spread COVID-19 to work, retail businesses when shopping and others they encounter… even to social events like the year end holiday season.

Many people have presumed this next false logic about children and COVID-19: “Because children are less prone to the affects of COVID-19, this means they are less likely to spread it.” This is patently false. There is no causation between these two separate concepts. Children and adults are both human. Human to human transmission is just as likely from a child as from an adult. In fact, because children are less likely to wash hands often and less likely to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough, transmission of COVID-19 from a child is extremely high. While the child may never get severe symptoms, that may not be true of those to whom the child has transmitted the virus. However, a child doesn’t have the life experience to understand why handwashing is important… why covering their nose and mouth to sneeze or cough is important… why it’s important to take regular baths and to wash clothing. That leaves adults at greater risk from their own child, particularly if they’ve been at school around other children.

I’ve even seen doctors on news programs implying that children can’t as easily transmit the virus to adults as justification of getting the children back into school. I get this want. I truly do. Parents can’t have their children at home 100% of the time. They need their child back in school. After all, school is really treated primarily as a form of free daycare… with the added benefit that the child might learn something. However, the misguided logic of children being unable to spread COVID-19 is patently false and will bite us all in the ass.

Children can pass COVID-19 to an adult just as easily as an adult can pass COVID-19 to a child. There is no transmissibility decrease from child to adult or adult to child for any virus, including colds, flu and, yes, COVID-19. You are just as likely to catch a virus from a child as from an adult or from anyone of any age. Anyone claiming otherwise is flat out lying to you. Human transmissibility of a virus doesn’t change simply because of the age of the human. Believing that lie could get you and your family dead.

For this reason, using this lie to justify school reopening is ripe for a resurgence of the virus… not to mention, the unnecessary loss of teaching staff life that, at this time, can’t be easily replaced. If school districts want to believe this patently false lie and reopen the schools simply to get the kids back at their desks, then don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Vaccination

If schools wish to reopen, children and teachers must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Why? Not because the vaccine won’t stop children from being carriers, but because it will reduce the amount of time they can carry COVID-19 when they get it. In fact, a child taking the vaccine may actually reduce and limit the child’s ability to transmit the virus to others. If their immune system fights off the virus quickly (in a day or two), a child’s ability to transmit is limited to a day or two at most. Because the vaccine kickstarts the immune system into action fairly quickly, a child should be able recover far, far faster from even an asymptomatic infection than an adult. Vaccination can then drastically reduce transmission from child to child in a school setting. It also drastically reduces the chances a child may transmit it to a teacher (particularly if the teachers are also inoculated) or to their parents.

For this reason, the currently flawed strategy of inoculating the eldest groups first and working downward means leaving school age children as the very last group to receive the vaccine. Again, flawed logic. Yet, parents want schools reopened now. If schools want to reopen, then everyone working in schools, including the children, must be vaccinated. There is no other choice. This means modifying the present rollout strategy to send vaccines into schools by having schools be the next group in line to receive the vaccine. Attempting to open schools without a vaccine strategy will lead to the unnecessary deaths of teachers and staff operating the schools… at which point the schools will be forced to close, not because of the virus threat, but because there’s simply no longer enough staff to operate the school system. Then, the choice to reopen schools will have been firmly shut down until such time as staff can be replaced.

Of course, no new teachers will want to hire onto school districts whose leadership so callously let their own teachers and staff die by becoming infected with COVID-19 via the children, particularly when this situation could have been entirely avoided by choosing a safer distance learning approach. In other words, the schools and school districts will have a logistical public relations nightmare on their hands should such a situation unfold. Not to mention, many, many lawsuits from teacher and school children families alike. Opening schools to 100% capacity without any mitigation strategies, such as the vaccine, is ripe for many, many more COVID-19 deaths, not just in schools. Think about the holiday season surge, but then realize it won’t end until schools end up forced closed because of loss of a critical amount of staff. It’s ultimately a no-win scenario. Believing the lie that schools are “safe environments” without offering a vaccine strategy is likely to end up with the same outcome as the year end holiday season COVID-19 death surge. Here you should use critical thinking to think through this assertion.

Reducing the Spread?

The bigger question… Is anything that we’re doing, including the vaccine rollout, actually making a dent in COVID-19’s spread? As of now, probably not. The vaccine rollout might eventually begin to take an effect, but that probably won’t happen for at least a year or longer. Even if the vaccine reduces the symptoms of COVID-19 to a manageable and survivable level, that still means that COVID-19 still has the potential to be fatal in some risk groups where the vaccine doesn’t work properly or can’t be administered. The vaccine may reduce the mortality rate in an eventual way, but we don’t yet as know how far the mortality rate may be reduced.

On the other side, we are also running against the variant clock. I really dislike the term variant and, instead, prefer the term strain. I don’t know why the news programs are using the term variant instead of strain, but here we are. The primary defined difference between a variant and a strain is its functional difference. For example, scientists believe that if a mutated virus is capable of getting past a vaccine, then it is considered a new strain. If a virus has mutated, but functionally hasn’t changed and vaccines are still equally effective, then it is a new variant. However, I’d argue that if the virus hasn’t functionally changed, it isn’t even a variant … regardless of whether its genome has mutated? In other words, variants aren’t important until they are able to get around a vaccine, in which case it’s no longer a variant, but a new strain.

The clock, however, is still ticking. That means that eventually a new strain (not variant) of COVID-19 will emerge that (almost) completely evades the current vaccines. That means vaccine manufacturers will need to rework the vaccine to include the new strain(s) or provide a booster shot that boosts the antibodies to now include the new strain(s). Though, I’d logically argue that a booster shot that intends to combat a new strain is not a booster and is instead a new vaccine unto itself. Additionally, when a new strain emerges, it likely won’t be a single strain. It will be multiple strains. Once this happens, tracking them all down to modify the vaccines can be a challenge. In other words, the vaccine efficacy is entirely dependent on how long the current strains remain unchallenged. As soon as new strains emerge, this whole situation starts all over again.

That’s an example critical thinking, not the test that began this article. The test example above doesn’t actually detect your ability to reason. It tests your ability to take tests. It’s one of the fundamental problems with academia. Until universities wake up to this fundamental disparity, they remain status quo by offering an alternative universe from reality. Universities need to wake up to the realities of the world and learn to teach real world experience. Right now, the best universities offer is book knowledge which, unfortunately, may only offer less than 20% usability in the real world. For this reason, it’s why corporations shy away from hiring recent graduates for critical business roles… which makes recent graduate employment all the more difficult. Graduates may wonder why. Well, now you have your answer. Only real world business experience offers businesses the safety net they need to know the individual understands how to operate in a corporate culture and do the assigned job to the satisfaction of the corporation leadership team.

A Final Word to College Graduates

A recent college graduate has little to no corporate experience and, thus, has no way to know how to time manage themselves or their job efforts. Time management is never taught in college. The recent grad will eventually learn this, but many businesses want new hires to hit the ground running on day one. Managers don’t want to spend hours and hours training a recent college graduate only to find them walk away from the job a year later for significantly higher pay. For training reasons, hiring managers typically hire recent graduates for significantly less pay than someone seasoned. Training is costly both in time and money, which is a significant part of the reason for the lower pay. To invest that time and money into a recent college graduate only to have them walk puts managers on edge… and makes them gun-shy to try it again. That doesn’t mean a raise won’t be forthcoming to get you up to market levels. Don’t assume you’re stuck at the pay rate where you are. However, many graduates are too impatient to wait.

I realize college graduates want higher pay on their first job, but that isn’t usual. Worse, using a new employer simply to put the company name on your resume for a year is callous and manipulative. It may also hurt your future job prospects. If as a new graduate, you commit to a job, stick with it for at least a couple years. Don’t use the company as a stepping stone for resume experience and discard them like an empty bottle. Sticking with the job increases your marketability for new jobs and increases your chances for much better pay opportunities. Walking away too soon will be frowned upon by hiring managers. Hiring managers will notice your itinerant nature is a problem… particularly if you’ve left the job in a year or less after graduation. They may even insinuate there’s a problem afoot with hiring you. Be careful with your first job as it sets the tone for all future jobs.

Again, this is critical thinking and reasoning skills at work. You must think through all aspects of the hiring processes to understand how and why what you do and how you treat your employer can help or hurt your future career. Learn to use all of your critical thinking skills to think through every situation. Critical thinking is a skill that’s difficult to master, but it is a life skill that will greatly aid you in many different ways throughout your life.

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Grahm’s Meat Cook Tips

Posted in tips, video game, video gaming by commorancy on August 24, 2020

If you’re reading this, you’re probably playing Fallout 76. This likely also means you’re playing the Meat Week event, until August 26th, 2020 (i.e., two more days left as of this post). This event runs every hour on the hour. Let’s explore.

Playing Drums and Turning Spits

A lot of people seem to think that these activities don’t matter to the event. They do. In fact, they’re very important to the event succeeding.

Both playing the drums and turning the spit do several things at once. The first important thing these activities do is to majorly slow the decrease of the Event’s progress bar by a lot. This gives those performing collection more time to complete their collection activities in larger quantities. The more people who are handling these two activities, the slower the progress bar decreases. While these activities don’t increase the progress bar by themselves, they aid in reducing the decrease. This is why these activities are important.

Further, these activities significantly contribute to the 100% success of the event (i.e., getting the best prizes from the event). If no one is playing the drums or turning the spit and everyone is running around collecting meat and greens, contributing Chally’s feed and cleaning up messes and fires, that’s not enough to get 100% event completion.

All aspects of the Meat Cook event need to be touched, including turning the spit and playing the drums in addition to all of the rest. More than this, these two activities are important to contributing to the 100% success of the event, which affords the best prizes. When I have played through this event without these activities, even when the progress bar reaches the steak, you won’t necessarily see the best prizes without these stations having been manned.

Not only do these give the best chances at the best prizes, these slow the progress bar’s decrease by allowing the collectors to collect more. Without these being manned, the progress bar decreases quite a bit faster.

Also, manning the spit 100% of the time during the event raises the chances of getting the best prizes. Keep that spit manned at all times!

Collecting

It seems that everyone prefers to run around finding and collecting greens and critter parts. It makes sense. It’s the only combat activity at this event (such that it is). I get this aspect. This activity alone can’t carry the event.

Cleaning up and Putting out Fires

This is also an important activity. Cleaning up dirty messes, putting out fires and picking up after Chally is also important. Don’t forget this activity.

Prime Meat Collection

Here’s one aspect that doesn’t seem to be that important to the event. Grahm makes it a big deal, but the best that contributing Prime Meat does is give you Scrip at the end of the event.

Chally’s Feed

You’ll learn how to create Chally’s Feed the first time you play the event. To make Chally’s Feed, you’ll need 2 Boiled Water, 2 Carrots, 3 Razorgrain, 3 Tatoes, 1 Wood. This means you’ll need to plant carrots, razorgrain and tatoes at your camp or in a workshop. You can use Green Thumb to double what you pick and Super Duper to help in duplicating more quantities when you craft. You craft this recipe on a cooking station.

Contributing Chally’s Feed to the hay pile near Chally will help you gain a better reward at the end. I don’t believe Chally’s feed contributes to the overall reward of the event, but it does give you a personal reward for feeding Chally. You can feed Chally once every minute or so as there is a cooldown timer after you deposit.

Depositing

When you’re done collecting, you’ll need to deposit your collected items into the Critter Chunks or Greens area. Don’t forget to do this.

Here’s where people make the mistake of attempting to drop what they collect in one by one. DON’T DO THIS. You need to collect as much as you can, then drop it all in at once in a large amount. The more you collect and deposit together, the larger of a deposit bonus you will see. This can move the progress bar very far, very rapidly.

This is why sometimes the bar moves from chicken leg all the way to steak with one go. It’s because people are collecting massive amounts of everything and depositing it all at once. Don’t collect and drop one by one. Do it in bulk and you’ll get a bigger deposit reward.

[Update 8/25/2020] One thing I forgot to mention about Grahm’s Meat Cook is … if 3 people are on the drums and 3 people are on the spits during the entire 2 minute countdown timer before the event begins, this can sometimes start the event just past the turkey leg icon (middle of the progress bar). This means that it only takes a tiny bit of work to complete the event. I’ve seen events that have completed in around 30 seconds if all 6 people are manning these two activities before the event begins. Apparently, these activities do contribute to the event even during the pre-event 2 minute countdown timer. I can’t tell if this is an oversight by Bethesda or intentional.

Hopefully, this helps you win this event if you’ve been having troubles. Please leave a comment below if you have questions.

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Health: How to prevent COVID-19

Posted in family, Health by commorancy on March 18, 2020

virus-1280COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, is spreading. The difficulty with this situation is that there is too much conflicting information. Let’s learn how best to protect ourselves from this virus. Let’s explore.

Method of Spreading

There has been a lot of debating and guessing at how this virus is being spread. We simply need to use common sense here. It’s a virus. As a virus, it will spread in all of the same ways as the flu or cold viruses. COVID-19 is not some type of “magic” virus that has the ability to do anything different than any other virus. As I said, it spreads like all other virus types.

How do other viruses spread? There are three primary ways to spread a virus:

  1. Via direct contact with an individual by touching them
  2. Via airborne infection from droplets from an infected person (sneezing or coughing)
  3. Via latent contact of a virus sitting on a surface that you happen to touch

Let’s better understand vectors impact you and the likelihood of infection.

With direct contact with someone who is infected, this has the highest probability of infection. This type of contact is a double-whammy. It has both the latent type of contact, like #3 and can have airborne infection like #2. If they talk to you, cough, sneeze or in any way send spittle in your direction, you could become infected. Direct contact with random individuals should be avoided.

The second highest probability for infection comes from incidental airborne contact. For example, you are flying on a closed ventilation system plane, these droplets could easily spread throughout the plane and infect a number of passengers in the vicinity of someone infected. It could, in fact, infect people throughout the plane. When you’re sitting in a waiting room and someone across the room sneezes or coughs. When you’re standing in line and someone around you coughs. They aren’t near enough to you to latent infect you, but they can aerosolize their body fluids which can land on surfaces or in your nose.

The third highest probability for infection is via latent virus left on a surface after an infected has gone. For example, touching a banister, railing, seat cushion, door handle or even touching buttons on point of sale systems at supermarkets.

These are the same types and methods of infections of cold and flu viruses.

Symptoms or Not?

To be honest, this part doesn’t much matter. Yes, to researchers, people showing symptoms might matter. In reality, there are simply some people are carriers who will never present symptoms, yet they can spread the virus. Others will have symptoms including fever, coughing, sneezing and other visible symptoms.

Some researchers theorize that those who have been labeled as asymptomatic do, in fact, have symptoms. They theorize that some symptoms are so mild as to be shrugged off as a basic cold. I have long believed that there are carriers who never actually become symptomatic. Their systems thwart off the virus quickly and efficiently without ever having a single symptom… with exception of maybe a day headache or something equally easy to be ignored.

This means that these carriers go about their regular daily lives breathing on, coughing on and touching surfaces without ever knowing they have been a super spreader. Yes, there might also be some people who have such mild symptoms that they chalk it up to a cold or the flu. Again, they go about their daily lives spreading it.

Virus Spreading

I’ve always held that people who are visibly sick with fever, coughing and sneezing should firmly stay home. Don’t go out. Don’t go to the store. Don’t go shopping. Don’t do things you normally do. Too many of these people don’t understand that these viruses are highly contagious. Yet, there are many people who simply don’t care or are uninformed. For them it’s, “all about me.” They could care less about whether others become infected so long as they can continue to eat out and shop and do “normal” everyday things.

Having worked at an large theme park a long while back, I saw just how many people showed up sick. I never really understood that. Why would you spend (at the time) $50 (or more) to get into the park while you’re sick? It doesn’t make sense.

Types of Sick People

What I’ve come to learn is that, psychologically, there are several different types of virus infected sick people and the way they handle their sickness (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t Give A Damn — These people are the types of people who really don’t care about others. They hop in their cars, eat a restaurants, go to amusement parks and do whatever they please while in the throws of a virus. Instead of staying home in bed and nursing themselves back to health, they are out running around spreading their viruses to others. These people aren’t intentionally infecting others, but they are incidentally infecting others due to their reckless nature. These people aren’t sociopaths, but they are ignorant of what they are doing.
  2. Stay At Home — These sick people are the cautious types who stay home and stay in. They don’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary, such as to get medicine or something similar needed to combat their symptoms. They limit their interactions to necessary trips only. These people are cognizant of spreading their illness to others. They aren’t necessarily overly cautious about it, but they don’t run around with wild abandon.
  3. Plan Ahead — These people are sick folks who, like #2, stay home. However, these folks do not go out at all until they are much better. These are also the types who plan ahead by stocking up on necessary medicines, tissue and foods during times when they are sick.
  4. Sociopaths — These are the most dangerous type of sick people. These people are similar to #1, but with the added twist that they actively and intentionally seek to infect others. They intentionally interact with random people and readily leave body fluids behind so as to infect others. These people are intentional super spreaders. These people know that they are sick and they actively seek to infect others. They really have no remorse and honestly don’t care how many people they infect. They may even believe, “I’m sick, so I need to make others sick.” For example, they might go to a grocery store and intentionally sneeze and cough all over products in the store. It’s gross, I know… but these folks are sociopaths. They actually derive joy from knowing that they’re doing this. The danger with these folks is that they are masters at hiding symptoms. These sociopaths can appear normal and healthy and happy, yet be massively sick.

I know it can be difficult to avoid going out when you’re sick, but prudence is always warranted when ill. Staying at home helps you get well faster and prevents making others ill. Nothing is worse than going to work only to find the person sitting next to you has a raging cold or flu… coughing every few minutes.

Prevention

Now we arrive at the section that you have been patiently awaiting. Let’s get started.

With COVID-19, panic has more-or-less ensued. This means that stores may be running low on food, drinks and other essentials. What that means for you is the possibility of heading to multiple stores to find the things you need. You may need to resort to purchasing some foods from Amazon for 1 or 2 day delivery.

While this section isn’t really prevention per say, it does contribute to it. If you have to run out to go get foods and whatnot, you’re putting yourself at risk of infection. Each time you leave the house, you could run into an infected person, but it’s more likely you’ll pick up an item that has a latent virus on it. Let’s get started with those things you can do to help prevent you from getting COVID-19.

1. Social Distancing

This is the act of staying at least 6 feet away from others when out and about. This may be easier said than done depending on the situation. Let’s understand what it means for store owners to fully understand what I mean here.

For store owners, the act of Social Distancing means reducing crowds within their stores so that people can remain 6 feet away from others. The difficulty is that if stores begin limiting how many people can enter and shop in the store at one time, that forces people to remain outside of the store in a crowd. Sure, you can sit in your car, but the store likely doesn’t have any way to accommodate those waiting in their cars. If you want a place in line, you must stand in that line. Standing in crowded line doesn’t afford social distancing.

Worse, some stores have reduced their open hours. For example, Safeway and Walmart formerly offered 24 hour locations. During the height of COVID-19, these stores have drastically reduced their open hours. What that means is, again, damage to social distancing. When you could formerly shop at 2am when there were but a handful of people in stores, you must now shop during these much more limited hours when everyone and their dog must also shop. This doesn’t afford social distancing. In fact, reducing hours has the exact opposite effect.

This means that you have to carefully consider all trips to stores now. You also need to understand their open hours. The best time to shop is usually immediately when they open or within 15 minutes of closing. The problem is, when these hours are firmly within “prime time” hours, you will be unable to perform proper social distancing.

Stores are, in fact, contributing to the spread of the virus by not keeping their regular store hours. For you, as a consumer, you will need to consider these aspects when you head out to the store. If you normally shop during 6am to 9pm hours, it might not affect you. But, if you were hoping to perform proper social distancing, this may no longer be possible due to stores reducing their hours of operation.

2. Wash Hands Frequently, Wear Gloves and Use Hand Sanitizer

With all of the stores selling out of hand sanitizer, gloves and other protective gear, you may find it hard to take advantage of these extra steps. But, you can wash your hands frequently. When you get home after a day of shopping, take your cloths off and wash throw them into the washer using hot water wash. Then, dry them in a hot drier if at all possible. Don’t leave clothes you’ve worn out sitting around unwashed for you to touch again. Then, after starting laundry, wash your hands before you finish dressing and sanitize the washer knobs.

3. Tanning Beds

The UV produced in tanning beds (UVA and UVB) will kill viruses on the surface of your skin and clothing. If you visit a tanning salon and hop into a tanning bed for 3-5 minutes (not enough to burn you or fade your clothing), you can kill any viruses on your skin and clothing. If you use a standup tanning bed, you don’t have to touch many surfaces. Just be sure to wear protective eye gear. After done, wash your hands. This can help you prevent viruses from entering your home. You’ll want to do this just before heading home for the day.

4. Avoid Bars with Restaurants

Bars sanitize their glasses rapidly through a three water bath. These baths are soap water, bleach water and rinse water. They are then allowed to dry. Depending on the bleach concentration of the bleach water, it may or may not be enough to fully kill COVID-19. If you visit a bar, the bartenders follow this glass washing practice because it is the “norm” at bars and recovers dirty glassware quickly. Unfortunately, using a glass washed like this could leave you infected with COVID-19. You’ll want to avoid heading to a bar, if not only for the social interaction reasons, but also for how bars wash their glasses during busy times.

If you’re unsure exactly how a bar washes their glassware, you should ask the bartender. Only drink beverages from glasses which have been properly washed via a commercial dishwasher and not through the quick three bath solution utilized at most bars. Better, perform social distancing and avoid bars entirely. If you must drink, buy your liquor at the store and mix your own drinks at home using your own properly washed glasses.

If a bar is also a restaurant, the server may order your drinks from the bartender (even if they don’t contain alcohol). This may mean the bartender can potentially use glasses sent through the three bath solution instead of through a proper hot washed sanitizing dishwasher. For this reason, it is best to avoid the restaurant + bar combo establishments. Instead, visit places that either serve paper cups or that serve you on glassware that has been properly sanitized in a dishwasher.

5. Avoid Buffets and Restaurants

This one goes without saying. Buffet bars are some of the most unsanitary restaurants in existence. With serving spoons that may have had hundreds of hands touching it, this can easily infect you. During the height of the flu season, let alone COVID-19, you should always avoid buffet bars. Flu season begins around September and doesn’t end until around May. You should avoid buffet serve-yourself restaurants during these months. Until COVID-19 is under control and subsiding, you should continue to avoid buffet style restaurants.

In fact, it’s probably wise to avoid all restaurants. If you must have restaurant food, use the drive-thru or have it delivered. Both of these options avoid the use of glassware and, instead, provide disposable containers which are less likely to hold latent viruses. It also avoids the need to enter the interior of the restaurant and interact with the staff or other customers. It can be difficult to practice social distancing once inside of a restaurant.

6. Close All Windows

While this one might not seem obvious, it will make sense once you understand. If you live in an apartment complex or in a house that’s close to your neighbor, someone coughing or sneezing could have their virus carried into your house. If you want to open your windows, do so during off-peak hours (after midnight, but before 6am). Close your windows during the day to keep the viruses out.

The same goes for driving in a car. If you’re out and about, keep your windows closed and your car’s A/C system on recirculated air. Don’t allow external air to blow inside. Even HEPA filters can’t filter out viruses. The best bet is to keep your car closed up tight.

7. Work from Home

If your company allows, work from home. Don’t head into the office unless you absolutely need to be there. If you have a client meeting, attempt to schedule these through video conferencing. Avoid face to face meetings unless absolutely necessary.

8. Don’t eat or drink after someone else

This should be common sense. Don’t drink from anyone else’s glass or eat food from their plate. It doesn’t matter if it’s your brother, sister, wife or mother. Don’t do it.

9. Take a shower

When you get home after work or after having been out and about, throw your clothes in the washer and then take a shower. Cleaning your clothing and taking a shower will remove any possible latent viruses you have picked up, not only from your hands, but any other portion of your skin or clothing.

10. Cover All Sores

If you have a cut, scrape or scab anywhere on the surface of your skin, cover it with a bandage. If it’s a fresh cut or scrape, be sure to use an antibiotic ointment on the bandage. This gives you two layers of protection. While the antibiotic ointment won’t kill a virus, it does help put up a barrier between the skin and the bandage that a virus will find hard enter. Simply, make sure to cover all cuts and scrapes. Don’t leave them open to the air.

If you have a liquid bandage that you use, I’d recommend covering the liquid bandage (after it’s dry) with a cloth bandage to, again, afford two layers of protection.

11. Wash All Packaging and Cook All Foods

After buying any prepackaged foods from a grocery store and because of the sociopaths of the world, wash everything in hot soapy water, if possible. Toss any outer packaging immediately, then wash hands. For example, many items are packaged in plastic. These are easily washable in the sink. Wash them thoroughly.

For produce (such as lettuce, celery, tomatoes and so on), these may be more difficult to wash. Instead, don’t eat these raw. Cook all produce until such time as COVID-19 subsides. Cooking produce with sufficient heat will ensure that any latent viruses are dead, including COVID-19. Cook all foods.

12. Microwave Takeout

When you get home with your bag of takeout, carefully remove the food from its packaging (preferably without touching the food itself with your hands) and place it onto your own dishware. Use chopsticks or tongs and avoiding touching the grabbing end with your fingers. Throw away all packaging immediately. Place the food into the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute to increase the temperature to ensure that the food will be disinfected. Wash your hands while the microwave is running.

If you’re buying raw food like Sushi, Poké or salad, avoid this type of food until COVID-19 subsides. It is recommended not to eat raw cold foods unless you’ve purchased the ingredients yourself from a grocery store and you’ve properly washed them. Still, I’d recommend cooking all foods until COVID-19 subsides.

13. Dishwasher and Dinner Parties

If you have a dishwasher, wash your dishware in a dishwasher to properly sanitize. This is particularly important if you choose to have people over for dinner. Better, avoid having people over at all. If you must, then be sure to wash all dishware in a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle.

14. Avoid Parties and Social Events

This one should really go without saying. Social events should be taken off of the table. Don’t go to parties or visit any large social gatherings. This includes gatherings like conventions and expos, movies, sporting events (whether for your kids or professional), concerts, parades, caucuses and primaries or any other event designed to lure in many people in close proximity. Stay away from these events until such time as COVID-19 has subsided.

15. Don’t borrow someone else’s phone

This section is not exclusively about borrowing phones, but this one is a common request. Your phone’s battery is dead, but you need to make a call. What do you do? You ask your friend to use theirs. Don’t do this. If your phone is dead, find a place to charge it (like in your car) or head home. Better, bring an extra battery with you to refill your battery on the go. Don’t rely on borrowing stuff from others. Not only does using someone else’s stuff break social distancing, it also means you’re touching something which could have latent COVID-19 on the surface and then putting it near your face. If it all possible, avoid touching something owned by someone else. This means, yes, avoiding picking up stuff for someone who drops a bag. Let them pick up their own stuff. Courtesy is all well and good, but you don’t want to risk your life over helping someone pick up a bag of spilled groceries.

16. Public Transportation

If you must travel on public transport, stand up. Don’t sit down. Hold onto the hand rail with only one hand if possible. Make sure your hand doesn’t have any cuts or scrapes and if it does make sure they are properly covered. Wear a glove if necessary. Sitting down means you will touch more surfaces that could be covered in COVID-19. Standing means touching far fewer surfaces.

17. Avoid Touching Anything

This can be very difficult. When purchasing, if you carry exact cash with you, you can drop that cash down and not touch anything in the process (put it onto the counter, not in the cashier’s hand). Giving exact cash means no change in return and nothing to touch. Note that I talk about ATMs including paper and coin money infection just below. The only thing you’ll touch is the receipt, but you can request that the cashier drop that into the bag without even touching it. The fewer things you touch, the less likely you are to get infected. If you use a credit card, you’ll have to touch the screen or press buttons to complete the transaction. If you can avoid this process, you have less chances of contracting COVID-19. If you need to touch a screen, buy and bring with you a touch sensitive pen.

Avoid touching your face including your eyes, nose and mouth. If you must scratch an itch, then wait until after you’ve washed your hands with soap and water or after using hand sanitizer. If you are wearing dispoable gloves while out, toss the glove before you scratch. Then, don another glove.

ATM machines are also ripe for COVID-19. If you must touch the screen or press buttons, carry with you a touch sensitive pen and touch the screen with that pen. Use that same pen to press buttons. Try not to touch any of the ATM with your fingers. If you have gloves, you can use them, but be sure to toss the gloves immediately after or wash cloth gloves when you get home. Note that paper or coin money itself can carry COVID-19.

There’s no easy way to solve this money dilemma other than through UV disinfection. If you have a UV lamp at home, you an place the paper and coin money under UV for a few minutes and kill any viruses on the surface of that money. If only banks would invest in a UV lamp system in their ATM machines to properly disinfect the paper money before it’s dispensed. Perhaps with COVID-19, this will send a wake-up call to ATM manufacturers and banks will follow suit with money disinfection.

18. Receipts and Photos

When you do receive a receipt from a purchase, the best option is to use your phone’s camera to take a picture of the receipt immediately and have the cashier toss the receipt. Though, you can choose keep the receipt if you wish. As long as you retain the photo of the receipt, it should be enough for the store to accept an item’s return. Carrying a photo of the receipt avoids having to touch that paper again in the future.

With stores like Target and when using the RedCard, you don’t even need the receipt. All of your purchases are stored with your RedCard which can be viewed within the Target app. The receipt may not show up until the next day, but you can toss the paper receipt and go with an electronic receipt when shopping at Target using a RedCard. Hopefully, more stores will move in this paperless direction, doing away with the paper wasting receipt.

19. Grocery Delivery

The best way to handle not going out is to order groceries for delivery. The fewer people you have to see, the better. That doesn’t negate the need to wash the items you receive from the grocery store as described in #11 above, but it does mean you don’t need to leave your home to have groceries delivered. For those in the highest risk group, grocery delivery is the best answer. There’s a caveat and risk here, based on the economy. I’ll discuss this aspect last.

20. Face Mask Deception

Loose fitting face masks can’t protect you against viruses. Many people think a mask can, but it can’t. The only masks that are less likely to see you get infected by an airborne pathogen is the one that fits tightly against your skin, not allowing any air to seep through the seal. This forces all air through the mask’s filters. Even these filters, however, may not filter at small enough sizes to keep certain particulate matter from entering your respiratory system.

The only thing the loose fitting masks do is protect others from YOUR coughs and sneezes. If you are sick and you wear a mask, the mask can prevent aerosolizing your sickness onto others. These masks don’t protect you from others who are sick and not wearing masks. The only thing that protects you from others who are sick is staying as far away from them as possible.

Economy

Because much of the US is now shutting down as a result of the fear of COVID-19, it appears that the US may be going into a recession. Because so much of the world culture thrives on large gatherings, cutting down on large social gatherings means less business for those businesses.

It also means that people are now more likely to cook and eat at home rather than dining out. Dining out keeps restaurants afloat. When that stops, restaurants lose. For now, COVID-19 means the economy will need to transition back to less restaurants and more home cooking. This transition was inevitable at some point. This means that grocery stores will need to stock more foods to handle this drastic increase in home cooking. As people transition to cooking for themselves, it means the need for stocking up mostly empty fridges and cabinets.

Stores like Target are bearing this transition out. Just visiting Target, you’ll find bare grocery shelves. Target was never one to stock large quantities of grocery items. For a store like Target, it doesn’t take much for these items to disappear from the shelves. Visiting my local Target, the fresh meat area is bare, the fresh produce area was nearly bare, the fresh fruit area, save for some apples and grapefruits was bare. In effect, this transition is being born right now.

Of course, it didn’t help matters that Target also decided to go ahead with their 2 for $10 weekly sales on specific foods like frozen pizza. Target should have suspended all of their two-for sales amid area lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. They can resume their planned sales after this situation is resolved. In fact, they should have limited quantities and stopped the sales. Having these two-for sales in place incites people to buy large quantities… something that caused Target’s shelves to become bare faster.

Shelter In Place

With some areas of the country on full lockdown and other areas enforcing shelter-in-place (an action just short of a full lockdown), this will force people to stay at home and make and eat homemade meals. Restaurants for delivery may still be open, but even those businesses may tank… forcing them to send their workers home and possibly to even shut down.

For shelter-in-place and lockdown orders, it’s difficult to move about. It also means absolutely no social gatherings at all or face jail time or fines. This means staying inside.

If you live in an area of the country which is not yet under lockdown or shelter-in-place orders, you should still practice the above preventions. Even after COVID-19 has subsided, you should still practice the above. In fact, even during regular cold and flu season you should practice the above precautions. Some of these are definitely a bit over-the-top for a standard cold. If you wish to stay healthy, then the above suggestions offer your best protection.

Caveats — Can the US transition back to what it once was?

This is a great question, but one that doesn’t yet have an answer. We simply don’t know. Once people understand that they can make and eat foods at home, they may be willing to stick with this regimen going forward while still remaining a little bit cautious. What this means to grocers is the need to increase their orders to their suppliers and then increase stock on shelves to fulfill this newly increased cook-at-home demand.

Stores like Target must take this into account. Currently Target’s ordering of grocery items was perfectly acceptable for the shopping amounts before COVID-19. However, Target’s buyers will need to reconsider the amounts of grocery items they are now ordering and shipping to stores amid the COVID-19. They need to do this quickly. Other grocery stores will also need to consider their ordering process.

The difficulty is that stores may not be willing to place bigger orders for fear that much will go to waste, especially with some areas of the country under lockdown and shelter-in-place orders.

Grocery delivery may only last as long as they have business. However, I fully expect home grocery delivery to surge during this crisis. This means that Safeway, Whole Foods and Instacart will likely see a huge boom in deliveries. They may also take advantage of this by increasing surcharges and delivery charges. For this reason, be cautious of delivery services. Make sure you fully understand the surcharges and delivery charges being applied to your grocery delivery order. You may find that it could be 10% or more of the total bill. Also note that some companies like Instacart mark up the grocery items themselves. This can also add to the overall cost of your grocery delivery order. Personally, I call it price gouging, but so far no government organization has taken issue with these delivery markup scams.

Will the economy revive? Sure it will. It will take time for this virus to run its course and subside. It happens with cold viruses. It happens with the flu. It will happen with COVID-19. The question is, how long will it take?

With lockdowns and sheltering in place, it may take less time for COVID-19 to disappear than anticipated. If left unchecked, it will definitely continue to spread. Locking down social gatherings will prevent the spread via latent and active spreaders. The worse case is probably until the hot weather arrives. Hot weather has a way of killing off viruses. Unfortunately, cold and rainy days leaves latent viruses sitting around on surfaces to be picked up by someone’s finger. Once the heat arrives, it will bake these viruses and they will eventually disappear.

Normally, the heat arrives sometime around May or June for much of the US. Hopefully, these lockdowns will slow the spread and give time enough for the economy to recover once they are lifted. I’m not sure that April will be appropriate enough time to make that happen. If April is still rainy and cold, the virus could still flare back up after the lockdowns end. We may have to wait until the summer heat begins before we see COVID-19 begin to fade.

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How to get the Living Starship in No Man’s Sky

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on March 6, 2020

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You’ve recently updated No Man’s Sky and you’re wondering how to get the new Living Starship? Let’s explore.

Instructions

It all starts with the Void Egg. There may be several ways to obtain the Void Egg, but let’s discuss the most straightforward way to get one. Before you start, make sure you have the prerequisites.

Prerequisites

  1. 3,200 Quicksilver
  2. Literal days of time to kill
  3. One free Starship slot
  4. A Starship that shows you planet coordinates on the HUD screen

If your starship obscures the coordinates off screen, much of this questline will be even more of a pain in the ass. Choose a ship that has the coordinates front and center and fully visible.

No Man's Sky_20200306075049Further, if you don’t have a free available Starship slot, you may not be able to accept the Living Starship once it’s available for pick up. If your slots are full, you will need to free up a slot by salvaging one of your Starships. I’d highly recommend doing this step WAY BEFORE the game allows you to pick up the ship.

Obtaining a Void Egg

  1. Head into space and call the Space Anomaly station
  2. Enter the Space Anomaly station and land
  3. Open your inventory and see how much Quicksilver you have
  4. If you have 3,200 or more Quicksilver, you’re all set and you can skip Step 6
  5. If you don’t have enough Quicksilver, you’ll need to head to the Nexus and complete Quicksilver missions until you reach 3,200 Quicksilver. Note, weekend events can award anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 Quicksilver. These start on Fridays. Complete these missions to get you to 3,200 Quicksilver faster. Otherwise, you’re limited to ~250 per day. Though, the game will gang up QS missions if you play the game daily, but don’t perform the QS missions daily… thus allowing you to do several QS mission in a day.
  6. With 3,200 Quicksilver in hand, head over to the Quicksilver store and shop. Inside this shop, you’ll find the Void Egg for sale. Buy it.

Once you own a Void Egg, you’ll perform a new set of actions to unlock its secrets.

Unlocking the Void Egg

To begin unlocking the Void Egg, follow these steps. There may be many ways to get this to work, but these are the easiest steps. Though, I’m not going to say that the steps are in any way “easy” or “fast”. In fact, it literally takes days to complete most of the steps.

Before you begin this process, you might want to jump down to the bottom of this article under “Living Starship” to get a better understanding of what you’ll be getting out of this deal. That way, you can determine if you think this process is worth the time for you.

Step 1 — Getting the Egg to Sing

  1. To begin the process and with the egg in your inventory, hop in your ship and head to space.
  2. Once in space, use the Pulse Drive between any two points in a solar system. Eventually, you’ll get a notification to drop out of pulse for an Anomaly. Once you do, any of a number of things may happen. You may see a living ship just in front of you. If you get this one, then your Void Egg will begin singing. If you get anything else, admire it if you wish, but that isn’t what you want. You’ll want to keep using pulse drive between points until you get a Living Ship anomaly. This one happened really quick for me once I had a Void Egg.
  3. Once you see the Living Ship anomaly, it will either give you a set of coordinates to a new solar system or it will have the egg send you to visit one of the planets in your current system.
  4. If it has to jump to a new system, once there is where the “hurry up and wait” starts.

Step 2 — Visit 4 worlds and find 4 Monuments

These steps are tedious because this portion of the Starbirth quest vaguely leads you to various worlds. Once on the world, it will give you a set of two coordinates to a monument on the planet. This is the pain in the ass portion of unlocking an egg. In the past, they would mark a point on your map and you could simply fast travel there. With this questline, Hello Games has you pilot your ship manually to a set of coordinates. It’s a pain in the ass because it’s entirely slow, manual and requires a lot of mucking about with flying the ship in and out of the atmosphere to speed up and slow down.

  1. Once the egg is singing, open your inventory and hover the cursor over the egg. The egg will reveal a “type” of planet to visit. Read the “type” carefully and then find world that matches where you presently are… or jump to the system where it wants you to search and look there.
  2. Once you land on the world it is wanting, the quest will switch to a set of coordinates on the current world that will look something like +45.??? -170.???
    Sometimes the coordinates are static and sometimes they hop around. They will stabilize as you get closer to the monument.
  3. To locate the monument, I’d suggest getting as close as possible to the coordinates, then hop out of the ship and locate it on foot. You will need to use the Survey device to find your current coordinates.

Step 3 — Final World

Once you have received and matured / hardened all 4 components needed for the living ship, you are led to the final world. To reach this world, the Void Egg will sing one last time. Continue reading down to “Final Wait” to see what you need to do.

Step 4 — Assemble and Pick up your ship

Inhospitable Worlds

Many of the planets that the egg leads you to are inhospitable worlds with frequent storms. This can make locating a monument even more difficult. This is why it’s recommended to do the last locating portion on foot or in an Exocraft.

Once you reach the monument, it will have you supply it with one of the newly crafted items listed immediately after this section. In fact, it will ask you to supply it with something that you won’t, at the time, know how to make. You will need to “Leave” the monument menu and then it will teach you the recipe. After that, you may need Hexite (or other unique resources) to make the recipe. If you need something like Hexite, it will lead you to a location to pick up the Hexite. This part is easy, but you’ll still need to go get it, craft the item and head back to the monument.

Once you have found a monument, it does put a marker onto the HUD so you can get back there easily. Otherwise, you’d be forced to drop a Save Beacon to easily find your way back. Thankfully, you don’t need to place a Save Beacon as a game marker is set up. It’s always worth keeping enough resources handy to create a Save Beacon so you can easily mark and then head back to a unique planet feature without having to build an entire base.

Once you’ve crafted the required item from the recipe the monument has given you, head back to the monument and supply it with the item you’ve just crafted. The monument will give you a new component. This is where the “hurry up and wait” part begins. The item it gives you will be something like an Immature Neural Stem or a Fragile Heart. These items require maturation of between 22 and 27 clock-on-the-wall real world hours. Yes, that means you can’t make any progress on this quest for at least 22 hours.

You can’t do anything else with this quest until these items have “matured”. You might as well put the game down and go do something else while that timer ticks down. You can do other things in the game, but you cannot progress the Starbirth quest until that timer has expired. Note that the timer ticks down regardless of whether you are playing the game.

Four Items to Craft

You will need to craft 4 different items for the Living Ship, each with unique components required to craft the recipes:

  1. Consciousness Bridge
    • 250 Hexite
    • 80 Pugneum
    • 1 Korvax Casing
  2. Pulsating Core
    • 250 Liquid Sun
    • 100 Gold
    • 80 Mordite
  3. Impossible Membrane
    • 100 Chromatic Metal
    • 1 Hypnotic Eye
    • 150 Living Water
  4. Seeds of Glass
    1. 100 Magnetized Ferrite
    2. 100 Fragmented Qualia

To locate the items which are “unique” like Liquid Sun, Living Water, Hexite or Fragmented Qualia, the game will lead you to a deposit. For standard items like Gold or Ferrite, you’ll be expected to locate or have these yourself.

Once the items are crafted, you will give each to a monument and that monument will give you an immature ship component in return. You will then wait, again, for the item to mature before you can make any further progress on this quest line.

Rinse and Repeat

After you have received your first ship component, likely the Immature Neural Stem, it will take a fair amount of time (22 hours or more) to mature into a Mature Neural Stem. Once you’ve waited for it to mature, the item is closed with nothing else to do with that item until you assemble the ship. From here, it’s simply rinse and repeat.

  1. Hop in your ship and fly into space
  2. Pulse drive between any two locations and wait for a Living Ship anomaly to appear
  3. Once it appears, the egg will again sing and tell you which type of world it wants (hover over the egg in the inventory).
  4. Search the local worlds, then head to the coordinates, locate the monument, get the recipe, source its unusual requirements, craft it, give it to the monument and get a new item that needs to mature.

All told, you’ll need to repeat this around 4 times to assemble the ship with its Neural Stem, Shell, Singularity Core, Membrane and so on. I believe that it is 4 times, and each one is at least 1 day apart. All told, it takes at least 5 real days to finally get to the point where you can assemble and pick up the ship. Most of that time is spent waiting for something to “mature” or “harden” or whatever. This ship is easiest to obtain with Creative Mode and more difficult when using Normal mode or harder.

Hello Games would have done this quest much better to allow us to continue to find the rest of the components without waiting on the previous components to “mature”. Let us pick all of the items up and wait the time it takes for the longest component to “mature”. This would have meant waiting up to 2 days rather than 5.

Note, some players have stated you need to hyperdrive travel to trigger singing. I haven’t found that to be the case. Simply pulse drive between two points and wait for an anomaly “Living Ship” to appear after dropping out of pulse drive. Finding a living ship anomaly is all you need to trigger the egg to sing.

Final Wait

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With the final “Cracking Void Egg” step, the egg will again sing once more. However, this time instead of giving you a vague description of a world to locate in your local system, it will give you a set of portal coordinates in the form of words. In my case above, the “lyrics” are:

  • The Hunter
  • The Reflection
  • The Hunter
  • The Spiral of Reality
  • The Star Over Water
  • The Ascending Orb
  • The Obscured Companion
  • The Hunter
  • The Lowly Insect
  • The Anomaly
  • The Sailor
  • The Ocean King

If you’re looking for how to translate these words into symbols, you can either guess based on the symbols or the easier method is to visit this page. The three “Euclid” means that it’s in the Euclid Galaxy somewhere. The Starbirth quest also states that you’ll need to use unconventional travel, indicating travel by Portal. The above also implies that you need to know where a portal is so that you can use it to travel to the final world to, again, locate a monument and complete the final steps.

SoulChamberOnce you reach the final world by portal, you will be required to locate four sets of different coordinates on this portal planet. The final three coordinates may take you some time to reach as you have to locate the coordinates manually by flying to them. The first set of coordinates (the only to have a planet marker) will lead you to an abandoned building. Here you will obtain a Soul Chamber, which you are given by accessing a terminal at the abandoned building. Once you receive the Soul Chamber, you will then need to locate three gravestones each at separate specific coordinates given to you in a small panel on the screen. You will then interact with each gravestone, which will fill the chamber by 33.3%. Once you have filled the Soul Chamber with 3 souls (channeling The Elder Scrolls here much?), you will then be asked to head back through the portal to your origin world.

Once you are back at your origin world, you will then fly into space and use the pulse drive to make contact one final time with the living ship anomaly. It will sing one last time then the egg will crack open, disappear from your inventory and give you a set of coordinates to your new starship shell on a planet. Head to that planet marker to claim your new ship.

It is here where you’ll need to make sure you have a free Starship slot available. Once you reach the Living Starship coordinates, you will drop in all of the “matured” or “hardened” components you have received over the previous 4-5 days or so, including the Soul Chamber. This will then outfit your Living Starship to be fully functional. Once it’s functional, you can then claim it (assuming you have a free slot), enter and fly away in it. Just be aware that it has limited functionality due to its small Hyperdrive capacity and low gun damage levels. Don’t expect a hugely overpowered ship here. Don’t expect that you can upgrade it quickly, either. I’ll talk about those limitations next.

Living Starship

No Man's Sky_20200306074852Is the ship worth it? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. The “Living Starship” is a new class of Starship. However, there are definitely drawbacks. Specifically, notice that the ship’s areas are called “Storage Sacs” and “Organ Chamber” unlike standard ships where you have “General” and “Technology” areas. Here are the drawbacks around this new class of starship:

  • Cannot use existing “Technology” from “regular” ships for this new living ship.
  • Cannot expand the ship using the Starship upgrade tool at a space station
  • Cannot use storage augmentation to increase slots
  • Cannot extend base Hyperdrive range because “regular” technology doesn’t work
  • Cannot pay to increase slots like a standard starship
  • Cannot scrap the ship, but you may or may not be able to trade it for another

Basically, the ship you get is all that you get quickly. However, you can get new components by using the pulse drive between two points. If an egg appears, crack it open to reveal a new starship component to install. It will be a random component with a random class. You can then install it. After installation of the component, it takes Nanites to upgrade the level of the component. You can find components for the hyperdrive, weapons systems and shields. However, getting these is a very slow process. You can’t get these items in any other way than by using pulse drive between two points and it can sometimes literally take an hour or more to find one component.

It’s possible that Hello Games may introduce a new living starship upgrade system and merchant some time in the future. Hello Games may eventually open up more details about the Living Ship such as the world where the eggs come from, where the ships are likely to be found and so on. This means that we may be able to enter star systems where the living ships are easily found and can be augmented. There might even be star systems that may only be entered by the living ships.

For now, though, you can’t add on a Positron gun or any other “standard” Starship weapons to a Living Ship… even though this new “Living” technology type is basically the same as the old technology, just with a new name and new description. The weapon type it has is all it has. Same for the Hyperdrive with its base drive range at 164.9 (at least on mine), but can be extended by finding components. Considering I’ve gotten some ships to around 1,800+ Hyperdrive range, the base Living Ship’s range is next to nothing.

Even though it is a living ship, it doesn’t really need to be “fed”… you know, like living creature. I guess Hello Games thought that might be taking things a bit too far. Though, considering it is a type of living creature, it should need to be fed.

Why this ship now?

I’m not entirely sure the reason for the introduction of this new class of starship. It’s interesting, yes, but what’s the point? As bare bones as this new ship is, there’s very little it’s actually useful for, other than being a novelty item in the game. Until Hello Games decides to introduce vendors that sell Living Ship technology upgrades, it’s not very useful.

Regular ships are still way, way better options than this Living Ship for functionality, combat, upgradeability, support and travel distance.

Is it worth having? Perhaps it is… as a novel collectible simply so you can say you’ve gotten it. But, it’s not a very useful starship at this point. Until or unless Hello Games decides to add more quests and features into the game that only activate or become useful when you’re using a living starship, the ship doesn’t really have a point to exist.

The point to adding any new feature to a game is that you have also have planned a whole wider set of other features around that item and which are “unlocked” by obtaining access to the ship. Until Hello Games introduces those additional pieces to support the usefulness of a this living starship class, as I’ve already stated several times, it’s simply not very useful addition.

I was actually hoping that this new ship class would offer a completely new and different faster than light (FTL) drive technology, such a technology that could go twice or three times the distance of travel using new ways that standard ships can’t. Or, perhaps, a better class of weapon. But, no. No such luck. Effectively, the Living Starship is basically the same as any other “standard” bare bones basic ship that you can find. Except that now you have to jump through about 5 days of hoops to get it. In fact, standard ships can be outfitted much, much better than the Living Ship can. This ship needs a whole lot more game support and effort by Hello Games than it presently has. Here’s what the interior looks like:

No Man's Sky_20200306074923

The interior looks much the same as a regular ship, wouldn’t you say? If Hello Games is going to make us spend all of this time and effort to build this ship, they should have at least had the decency to give us something improved over regular Starships. Yet, Hello Games doesn’t offer us something better here. I’m not calling this exactly a fail, but it leans heavily in this direction.

Should I Get A Living Ship?

That’s up to you. I’d suggest reading above if you’re unsure if it’s worth your time. Perhaps in time Hello Games will make it more useful, but for now it’s mostly a novelty ship. Hello Games is going to be required to do a whole lot more quest building work to create a game that better supports the Living Ship and that gives us reasons to want to use this ship over regular ships.

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Perfect Sushi Rice from the Microwave

Posted in cooking, howto, kitchen, tips by commorancy on December 9, 2019

sushi-rolls-2.jpgCan Sushi rice be cooked in the microwave? Yes, it certainly can. But, you do need the correct cooking tool. Let’s explore.

Electric Rice Cookers?

There are plenty of rice cookers on the market, including those very expensive electric cookers you can get in Japanese or Chinese markets. Do you need one of these very expensive cookers to cook rice? No, you do not… particularly if you already own a microwave.

The difficulty with electric rice cookers and (in general) cooking rice using heat sources is that it bakes much of the rice (and that starchy glue) onto the container surface, wasting at least some of the rice. Sometimes, even a portion may become overcooked or burned while much of the rice is just fine. However, when you cook rice in the microwave using an appropriate rice cooker, you will get 100% of the cooked rice out of the pot. Some Sushi rices can be very expensive, so throwing away a portion in the trash due to the cooking method is wasteful and expensive.

Additionally, cleaning up heated rice cookers is quite tedious. Because of the baked on starches which act like glue, it can be almost impossible to clean up this glued-on starchy mess. Soaking is the usual method. How do you avoid the messy cleanup? Use a microwave cooker.

Microwave Rice Cooker

When using the microwave to cook anything, you’ll need to use the correct cookware. You can’t just slap rice and water into a random bowl and hope for the best. You’ll end up with a gluey mess all over the interior of your microwave (yuck) and the rice won’t actually cook properly.

Sistema Rice CookerYou definitely need to choose and use the correct cookware. For cooking rice in the microwave, I suggest this Sistema Rice Cooker a-arrow. This rice cooker cooks about 2-3 cups of rice at a time. You may only be able to cook up to 4 servings in this microwave cooker. If you need to cook a larger amount of rice than this, you may need to choose a different cooker. This is where the electric cooker sizes can be a benefit.

You’ll also want to read the instructions for this rice cooker with regards to top lid orientation. This rice cooker has two lids: an interior lid and an exterior lid. This design helps prevent some boil over. It’s not a perfect design, but it does work decently if you align the two lids in the appropriate fashion. Read the instructions for proper lid alignment.

To put this in perspective, 1 cup of uncooked Sushi rice yields enough cooked rice to produce 3 large sized California rolls or at least double this number of smaller rolls. If you’re planning on making Nigiri or hand rolls, you’ll need to wait until the rice has sufficiently cooled to be handled.

You don’t want to overload the cooker with too much rice or you’ll end up with a microwave mess. Speaking of …

Microwaves

How well this Sistema Rice Cooker works depends heavily on your microwave’s wattage. You’ll want a microwave of about 1000 watts. This is optimal wattage to cook rice without risk of a huge microwave mess (or worse). Wattage of 1200-1500 risks burning, melting, overcooking, boil-overs and huge starchy and sticky messes. Let’s understand why.

A 1000 watt microwave boils the rice just the right amount on max power. This means that while there might be a little dripping that comes from the cooker, it’s easily cleaned up. A 1200-1500 watt microwave will much more vigorously boil the water causing boil-overs. A high wattage can also cause the water to boil dry in the container risking a fire hazard or even melting the plastic of the cooker. You don’t want this.

Stick to a wattage that works properly for rice. You can use a 1200-1500 watt microwave as long as you set the power level to 7 or 8. It will take longer to cook, but it prevents boil-overs or the possibility for drying the rice out.

If you have the choice of a 1000 watt microwave, you’ll be happier with the final results. I’ve personally tested 1000 watt microwaves and 1500 watt microwaves. I prefer the 1000 watt microwave for cooking rice in the Sistema.

Rinsing Rice

When cooking sushi rice, you always need to rinse the rice of starches. This is an important step for this microwave cooker. Don’t skip it. You’ll need a good strainer to hold the rice while you successively performing a soaking rinse of the rice multiple times. The water won’t ever become perfectly clear while rinsing, but it will become much more clear than the first time. You want to ensure you get a good amount of the starch off the rice to avoid starch overload in the cooker. There will always be a certain amount of starch build up, but rinsing will reduce this problem.

Timing for White Sushi Rice

To cook Sushi rice properly in the microwave, you need to understand a little about rices. All rice cooks at about the same rate, but timing may have to be adjusted a little due to variances in dryness and the rice type.

Sushi rice cooks properly when using the following rice to water ratio:

  • 1 cup rice to a tad more than 1¾ cups water.
  • One cup of uncooked rice yields enough cooked rice to make 3 California-sized rolls.

In fact, most white rice follows this same ratio in the Sistema Rice Cooker. However, brown rice will take longer to cook and will need a full 2 cups of water. For this article, I will focus on white sushi rice. If you intend to cook brown sushi rice, you will need to use a full 2 cups of water and it will need a longer cook time. You will need to experiment on timing for brown rices. I’m not a fan of brown rice, so I don’t have a definitive cooking formula for it.

Cooking time for white Sushi Rice is 13 minutes and 30 seconds. Not all Microwaves are identical even with the same wattage. So, you may need to adjust this timing a little. It may take less time or it make take longer depending on the results at the end. If you find that your rice overboils, your microwave may provide higher wattage than 1000, even if it states it is 1000 watts. You may need to lower the power setting on your microwave if you find that it boils over.

Once the microwave cooking cycle has completed, the cooking is not yet complete. Remove the Sistema Rice Cooker from the microwave and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This will allow the rice to soak up any remaining water. Resist the urge to open the cooker to take a quick look. Allow the rice to remain in the cooker unopened for the full 5 minutes. You may need to tip the cooker just a little over your sink to allow any collected water on the top to run off into the sink. You can even wipe it down with a towel if it’s a bit too messy.

If you are using older rice, it may be drier than fresh rice. This means a longer resting cycle after cooking. For extremely old rice, you may need to allow the rice to rest for at least 15 minutes undisturbed. It will cool down, yes, but it will give time for the water to soak in fully to the core. If you don’t like how the rice feels at the end of 15 minutes, try cooking the rice longer by 1-2 minutes. However, you may need to add a bit more water for this extra cooking time.

High Wattage Microwaves

Updated October 24th, 2020 for high wattage microwaves. I’ve recently visited my brother and his microwave is likely 1500 watts or higher. Suffice it to say, it’s an extremely high wattage microwave.

I was able to work out a method to use a high wattage microwave, but it requires a little bit of hands-on activity.

To use a high wattage microwave, perform all of the basic steps as below. When you place the cooker in the microwave, place it onto a plate. A dinner-sized Corelle plate works very well because these plates don’t get too hot to handle. The plate also needs an indentation to catch any water overflow while cooking, keeping the microwave clean. The total cooking time remains the same: 13 minutes, 30 seconds.

  1. Start by placing the Sistema Rice Cooker onto the center of a plate in the center of your high watt microwave.
  2. Cook the rice on max power for 5-7 minutes or until the water begins spewing out of the top holes.
  3. Once the water begins spewing out, stop the microwave, remove the plate and cooker, open up the rice cooker and dump any water collected onto the plate back into the cooker and close it back up. Careful as the water will be hot.
  4. Place the plate and cooker back into the microwave.
  5. Start the microwave again. However, change the power level to 4 or 5 for the remaining cooking time. Lower power levels on microwaves pulse the microwaves on and off. If you choose the correct power level, the pulsing should prevent further spillovers. The boiling will start, then stop soon enough to let the water settle before spilling over. Then start again and continue this cycle until the end.
  6. After the cooking is complete, let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes up to 15 minutes to soak up any remaining water.

Rice Brand

While there are many short grain sushi rices available for sale, this author prefers Nishiki brand sushi ricea-arrow. This rice always cooks well, tastes great and makes awesome Nigiri and rolls. You can choose whichever brand you prefer, but it’s worth trying Nishiki brand as I’ve never made bad sushi using this rice.

Consistency

If Sushi Rice is cooked properly at the end of the cooking cycle, the rice should not have liquid water visible in the container. The rice on top will show empty holes and spaces between some of the grains. When you use a rice paddle to move the rice around, it will have a sticky appearance and clump a bit, but it should not have any loose water in the container. It should appear exactly like any other Sushi rice from any other cooker. If the rice still has liquid around it, you’ve added too much water. If the rice is too dry, you didn’t add enough water.

The rice should be moist, but also a tiny bit sticky. Once you add rice vinegar seasoning for sushi, it will add some liquid back to the rice and increase the stickiness. The rice should have a good bite, but still be fully cooked through. You can taste test it after the 5 minutes resting period. If there is any crunch in the rice, it’s not cooked enough. A crunchy center may indicate old rice. You may need to extend your cooking time in 30 second increments to allow for full hydration of older rice. If you can’t get rid of the crunchy center, you may need to toss that rice and buy fresh rice.

Now that you have your perfectly cooked sushi rice, you’re ready to create your favorite Nigiri, sushi rolls or even your favorite Donburi. Just don’t forget to season your rice with Seasoned Rice Vinegara-arrow before making your sushi.

Cleanup

Cleaning this plastic rice cooker is a breeze so long as you do it quickly. Some warm water, dish soap and a sponge is all you need to wash it off. I highly recommend using unscented dish soapa-arrow when washing plastic to avoid tainting plastics with unnecessary perfumes. Perfumed dish soaps can leech into plastic and impart bad flavors to foods when cooked using plastic cookware. I also strongly recommend cooking ONLY rice in this rice cooker. To preserve this cooker and avoid tainting your rice, refrain from cooking foods or other savory flavored and spiced foods in this cooker, buy and use a different microwave container. Spicy and highly flavored foods, like curries, can impart unwanted flavors into your rice. Avoid this by using this cooker for rice only.

I also highly recommend washing this cooker immediately after removing the rice from the tub while the cooker is still sticky. Don’t wait until it dries on. If you wait, you’ll have to soak it to get it off. If you wash it immediately after cooking, it’s much faster and easier cleanup.

Happy Cooking!

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Getting the most out of Black Friday

Posted in black friday, howto, shopping, smart by commorancy on November 29, 2019

black-friday-tagBlack Friday is a quagmire of sales prices across many stores both online and brick and mortar. It can be difficult, if not impossible to navigate your way to the best deal on any specific item. Let’s explore how to find your best deals during Black Friday.

Focus on Specific Products

While you can run to Target or Walmart or Kohl’s looking for random deals, and sometimes this can be great fun just to “see what’s out there”, if you’re looking for the best deal on a specific item, make a list of items you want. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Electronics.

Electronics Deals

Clearly, electronics or technology items are the biggest sellers in any store during Black Friday. These include the immense flatscreen TVs, earbuds, cell phones, game consoles and even video games themselves. In fact, so many of these deals are really about splitting hairs… and here is where your best deals come.

So, what is it that’s important to you? Do you want instant savings today, this very moment or can you be satisfied with savings on a future order? Here’s where the nuances come into play.

Black Friday deals are no longer about the door buster 50% off deals. Now, many stores throw in store gift cards and additional store coupons to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, it’s not simply just getting a great percentage off, it’s about getting the most savings you can get… so take advantage. Let’s start with Target as an example.

Target’s Deals and Reward Cards

Target is a company that is out to offer savings in many different and subtle ways. If you have a Red Card (credit or debit) store loyalty card with Target, Target will automatically give you 5% off of your total purchase 365 days a year. That’s an amazing savings every single day. Better, this savings stacks with all sales deals which offers you even more savings. This is particularly useful during Black Friday. So, whip out that Red Card and take advantage. Granted, if you’re using a Cash Back or Rewards card, here’s where these savings can get murky.

Unfortunately, you can’t double dip between the Target Red Card and using a Cash Back credit card, so you’ll have to take your pick: 5% discount using Target’s Red Card or ~%1 Cash Back using your credit card. For me, it’s a no brainer, 5% is a better deal. If you really want that cash, go for it. And then there are reward credit cards…

Reward credit cards offer rewards instead of cash back. Here’s where things get a bit more murky. If you’re using a Delta credit card to get miles and you fly a lot, those miles might make a huge difference. This is where you need to decide what’s important to YOU. In the case of flying frequently, miles may be way more important to you than a 5% instant discount using the Red Card. So, choose your rewards carefully when shopping. Of course, when you’re shopping at many stores, you can pick and choose which payment method to use, so you can spread the rewards across many cards if that’s your best option. You will want to examine all rewards systems you have and what’s most important to you during your Black Friday shopping.

When visiting a store that doesn’t offer a discount or reward program (such as Walmart), you’ll want to use any reward cards you have in your wallet. For example, Walmart, while they do offer a wallet pay system, does not offer any rewards for using their wallet. Walmart assumes that their in-store savings should be enough and so they do not offer a loyalty program. Walmart, however, assumes wrong as their prices are typically no better than other discounters who do offer discount systems and loyalty programs, such as Target.

Read Coupon Terms Carefully

Some stores offer in-store savings, coupons and instant rebates. But, read those terms carefully. Many items are not included in the savings even though it appears they should be discounted. Retailers have obligations to their suppliers, such as Apple, Samsung, Haggar and Hanes. Always read the terms of discount coupons carefully as it might not apply to that thing you’re looking to buy.

For example, many discount coupons given almost never apply towards gift cards. They may not even apply towards Apple, LG or Samsung products. You might find that the only things you can buy in the store with added discount coupons is the in-store brand. Be cautious when a store offers you a 20% off coupon good on your next order. It may not be as great a deal as you think… unless you’re willing to make concessions.

Even instant savings coupons found by scanning an item’s barcode in the store can have important limitations. For example, Target’s Circle program (formerly Cartwheel) typically limits the discount to 4 of the item. However, you’ll want to read the Circle small print terms. In those terms it will tell you exactly how many items you can buy discounted… sometimes it may even be just one. You can buy more discounted, but you’ll have to separate the items out across several separate orders at the check-out lane. It might be easier to do multiple orders at self-checkout than when using a staffed register… particularly if you have 3, 4 or more different orders. Target doesn’t limit how many times you can apply a Circle coupon on separate orders… but they do limit how many discounts it will apply on a single order. Don’t bother trying to argue this issue with the Customer Service desk. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. If you want to buy a large number of items discounted via Circle, be prepared to separate them out into multiple orders at the checkout lane.

Membership Discounts / Loyalty Programs

Target is a store that not only offers sales and instant in-store discounts, it also has a discount program / loyalty program called Target Circle (formerly known as Cartwheel). Circle offers additional savings on in-store items, though items chosen for discounts are almost always Target’s House Brands, such as Up & Up and Market Pantry. It’s rare that Target Circle discounts apply to major brands, but it can happen occasionally. However, they will occasionally apply to soft goods major brands, such as Hanes or Jockey, but more often than not it will apply Target’s house brand, Merona.

If you’re happy using Target’s house brand items, you can rack up fairly substantial savings towards these items. Savings such as 5% Red Card + 20% Circle + 20% Promotional savings coupons. That’s a whopping 45% savings off of whatever price is listed. If it’s also on sale, then that’s likely an additional up to 50% savings. You won’t get the item for free, obviously, but you can reduce the price by up to 80% just by stacking. This stacking almost never applies to major name brands. The best you can do here is typically 5% Red Card + any in-store applicable discounts (perhaps up to 15% off). Don’t expect to run over to Electronics to get that 80% discount, but sometimes it can happen.

I picked up a Vizio 55″ 4K TV for $768 at a time when the full price was around $1200 in-store. That was a mid-summer price, too. It was not during the holidays. This stacked Red Card savings, an in-store electronics coupon and a sale price. All three stacked to give me a whopping $432 instant discount or a 36% discount. Today, a similar TV might sell for $500-600 which is still not far off the discounted price I paid several years ago. With Target, you don’t necessarily have to get your best deals during Black Friday, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Free Gift Cards and their Benefits

Another promotional system is offering free gift cards of a certain amount for specific purchases. Here’s where you can get a great deal, if you’re cautious and you are willing to invest in the cost of whatever items are needed to get that card.

For example, Target offers a Black Friday deal that will give you a $400 gift card for the purchase and activation of a modern Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ smart phone. If you’re in the market to buy this specific item, then you can certainly take advantage of this deal. However, be cautious. There are a lot of terms and expenses in buying a smart phone and in being under contract with a carrier. Those terms have fees attached. Fees that you may need to pay for up to 2 years. Even though Target may be willing to hand you a $400 gift card to spend at Target, you may end up spending $5000 over the term of that 2 years. $400 isn’t that great of a deal considering you can only use it at Target and not towards paying down that expensive phone you just purchased.

However, a $400 gift card could be useful towards accessories such as a case, extra charging cables, better earbuds and so on. This is where value to you becomes important. If you’re willing to live with the terms of a new phone contract, then that $400 could come in extra handy during your next shopping trip at Target. And yes, you can use that gift card towards anything in Target (yes, even Apple products).

Gift cards are ways for stores to allow for discounts without restrictions. Looking for deals that offer you gift cards is better than looking for percent off coupons… so long as you’re okay shopping at that specific store. However, I have found that by and large, there are very few deals in Target that offer gift cards for purchase. When they do exist, it’s usually tied to a large purchase, such as a tablet, smart phone, expensive large screens or bulk sized household cleaning supplies (mega size toilet paper rolls, bulk paper towels, monstrous jugs of detergent, etc). Usually, you’ll need to spend at least $30-45 to get a $10 Gift Card.

The downside, however, of buying these items is that if you need to return an item for refund. The store will deduct a portion of the gift card amount from your refund. In fact, some stores may require you to return the gift card in full along with any items in the bundle before they will allow a refund. You’ll need to talk to the customer service desk for details. While the free gift cards are great for purchases you intend to keep, returns can become a problem. Be cautious with these if you have a tendency to frequently return items.

Importance of the Above on Black Friday

Why is all of the above important during Black Friday? It’s important because these are the nuances of the savings you’ll run into. When you go download a cost savings app, these apps are likely not taking into account these above nuances, such as in-store loyalty programs, membership discount programs and so on.

Apps that compare prices between stores are likely comparing discounts without any added loyalty programs. This means that the price comparisons won’t show you any additional discounts which may apply to you.

This means you could be lulled into thinking that Walmart has the best deal on that TV when Target is actually offering you a 5% Red Card discount, a 10% Circle discount and a $40 Gift Card (assuming you buy something else with it). These are the kinds of added savings that you can get by shopping at Target.

If you don’t or can’t shop at Target regularly, then these added discounts may not apply to you or may not be convenient. However, if Target is a store you frequent regularly, then this deal is likely much better than Walmart’s deal.

Price for Price, however, Walmart’s deal may look better on paper. Now, let’s talk about Black Friday products.

Electronics Brands

To pull off Black Friday, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and even Amazon, swing deals months in advance for specific products to sell on Black Friday. These deals were likely swung early in the year to give the manufacturer plenty of time to manufacture the quantities needed for as many stores as these chains have.

What does that mean for the product itself? It means that these products can be exclusive to Black Friday only. How is that a bad thing? Well, many of these TV brands are lesser known or off-brands (i.e., Westinghouse) trying to their name back into the good graces of the public. This means they’re willing to swing deals with Target and Walmart for Black Friday. They’re willing to sell a 65″ LCD TV for $350 (plus discounts and promotions). It also means these specific product models are likely only made and sold during Black Friday. They are not sold throughout the year. You should ask the store if a Black Friday electronic deal is specific to Black Friday. You don’t want to get saddled with a lemon.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is bad, but it could mean that because it’s not a normally stocked brand / model throughout the year, the quality of the product is unknown. Thus, buying these Black Friday deals could lead you into a product purchase that might break 1, 2 or 3 months down the road. When buying Black Friday electronics, be sure to ask lots of questions and if you purchase, buy an extended return policy / service plan to go with it (when applicable). You just don’t know what kind of quality you are buying when you buy an “exclusive” Black Friday deal. Always be cautious.

This also brings up another point that is related…

Apple, Last Gen Models and Black Friday

Apple is a brand that heavily relies on last gen sales to continue its business forward. However, this situation muddies the water when it comes to Black Friday. Because Apple’s products (and packaging) mostly look alike, it’s difficult to tell an old product apart from its current generation brethren. Be cautious when buying Apple products on Black Friday for this very reason.

The current generation may be the sixth generation, but Target or Walmart are actually ‘clearancing’ out the third generation under the guise of Black Friday. Here’s where the deal is too good to be true.

This situation isn’t exactly deceptive or fraudulent by the retailer, but it definitely skirts that thin grey line towards shady. While an ad might say “Third Generation”, it might not. Even then, the ad DOESN’T tell you which model is the current model. You have no idea if “Third Generation” is the latest unless you keep up on Apple products. The use of this ad nomenclature is shady at best. They tell you its a third gen model, but what they don’t tell you is how many models old it is. If it’s a third gen model and the current is the sixth gen, then that product was manufactured at least 4-5 years ago. It also means that Apple will likely stop supporting it in about 1 or 2 years. You don’t want to buy into a product that has about 1 year left before it becomes obsolete.

Don’t kid yourself, once a product becomes obsolete in the Apple universe, it turns to crap. Apps stop working, apps stop being updated, memory problems begin and the overall device degrades into a potentially useless mess. Don’t buy products that are about to be obsolete, particularly not Apple products.

No matter how great that deal appears to be, no matter how pristine that Apple box appears, no matter what other discounts the retailer throws at you, don’t buy 4-5 year old (or older) Apple, Samsung or any other computer product. Anything that’s about 1 year from being obsolete is worth, at most about $50-100 no matter what it is. If Target or Walmart is selling it on Black Friday for $350, it’s a rip-off! Do your homework and find out 1) what generation is current and 2) what generation is being sold and 3) when that generation was made. Don’t buy old generations of computer products. Just don’t do it. The manufacturer won’t continue to support those products forever.

Smart TVs

If you rely on your Smart TV’s apps to feed you with content, be careful of these also. App developers have already begun dumping apps on lesser brand smart TVs. For example, Netflix and Amazon has stopped producing its app on some brands of smart TVs, particularly older TVs. If you want to watch content on your smart TV, don’t rely on the TV’s built-in apps. Instead, pick an HDMI smart device to plug in. Treat your Smart TV as dumb by ignoring the built-in apps and simply plug in content devices to your TV. Some popular devices are Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick. You can easily replace these low cost devices and get updated apps via these dongles simply by upgrading to the latest.

The Smart TV, on the other hand, is a fad that seems to be fading. Name brand TVs such as Samsung and Sony may be in the App game for the long haul, but lesser brands like Vizio apparently are not. Even then, there is no guarantee that any developer will continue to develop for bigger TV brands like Sony, LG or Samsung. Instead, relay on small plug-in HDMI devices to give you access to your favorite “channels”. You can even find these devices on Black Friday deals for super cheap prices.

Movies and Music Content

The one place where you can get some of your BEST savings deals is on disc based movies and video games. Here’s where $59 priced games can be as low as $20. Here’s also where some of the latest Blu-Ray and UltraHD 4K movies can be had for as low as $6-15. Picking up UltraHD 4K movies for $15? That’s a great deal you’re not going to find at any other time of the year. These deals are great no matter where you find them… whether at Target, Walmart or on Amazon. This kind of content is a winner no matter when or where. I always recommend shopping through movie and music content because Black Friday is a time that offers the steepest discounts of any other time of the year. This is the best time to pick up some of the top blockbuster films for low, low prices. For example, Spiderman, Shazam and Aquaman UltraHD Blu-rays are all priced at $15 at Target in 2019. Normally, these cost around $29-35 per disc. Still, that’s costly for a film at $15 when you can rent them for $2 at RedBox or see them on Netflix at some point, but UltraHD Blu-ray 4K discs at $15 are practically a steal of a deal. Take advantage if you have the disposable income.

Gift Cards and iTunes

Don’t just focus on physical items when you’re shopping. Some retailers will discount gift cards, like iTunes cards, XBox Live or PS4 PlayStation Plus subscriptions. You can then get a decent discount when purchasing one or more cards. For example, Target usually puts iTunes gift cards on a discount every year on Black Friday. For the last two years, they have offered a buy-one-get-one-30%-off deal. This means that $100 in iTunes credit (two $50 cards) will cost you $85. If you’re subscribing to Apple Music at $99 a year, for example, this means you’re only paying $85 for that $100 in credit which you can apply to your Apple Music subscription. Yet more savings simply to use a well established music service. You’ll never get a discount like this from Apple directly. But, when buying iTunes gift cards, that $100 credit spends like all $100 credit… and can be used towards your subscriptions. In fact, Apple has no idea that you bought the cards for $85 versus $100.

Black Friday Savings

Ultimately, to get your best deals, you need to look at ALL of the offers a store is giving. You’ll need a sale paper for that. Don’t just look at the price at its face value. You may find stores are willing to give you much steeper discounts by using loyalty programs, gift cards and coupons for later use. Stores can sometimes even couple items together as a bundle and get deeper savings for both items than you can get by buying them separately.

For this reason, you can’t simply take Black Friday comparison apps at face value. You need to visit the store to find all of the deals they are offering you. This is why it is a bit more complicated than simply visiting an app store and downloading a Black Friday comparison app. Many of these comparison apps don’t consider loyalty program discounts as part of the Black Friday deal. If you’re an active Red Card holder and use Target Circle, you can get even steeper discounts on top of the Black Friday deals. Don’t forget about these extra discounts if you are a member in loyalty programs.

To get your best deals, you’re going to need to get your hands onto a copy of the sale paper from each store, then comparison shop between the sale papers. Even then, some stores offer in-store only deals that you can only find once you are in the store… which means you’ll need to spend time physically heading over to the store to 1) find out what special deals they offer and 2) whether the item is in stock.

On the other hand, be careful of buying older generation computer products which, at face value, may seem to be a great Black Friday deal. Unfortunately, that great deal may turn sour within a year because the manufacturer as stopped supporting the device. It also seems that discount retailers rarely put the latest generation of computer devices on Black Friday deals. If you want any kind of a discount on the latest greatest device, you’ll need to visit a manufacturer’s store, like the Apple store. And yes, the Apple store itself does offer Black Friday deals. They’re not always the best deals, but for Apple they’re some of the best deals available on new Apple products that you can find from Apple throughout the year.

Finally, focus on specific items that you really need. Don’t just go and browse. If you want to find the best deals on those things you need, you’ll need to stay focused on finding the deals on those items. If you spend your time browsing stores and randomly looking, you’ll never get to other stores to see if they have a better deal. I also don’t recommend calling the stores to ask for pricing. More often than not, Black Friday is way too busy for them to talk on the phone. You’re more likely to sit on hold only to hang up. Just head over to the store for yourself. Additionally, many stores do allow you to download digital versions of their Black Friday sale papers. Just be sure to download the one for your specific store so you can see what that store is offering.

Happy Black Friday Shopping!

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How to screenshot on a Mac

Posted in Apple, Household Tips, howto, tips by commorancy on November 26, 2019

office-macEver wondered how to create screenshots on a mac? Creating a screenshot on a Mac should be a simple process, and it is once you know the hotkeys. Let’s explore.

Hot Keys

I could run off into a diatribe about how Apple has screwed with its OSes to make them less intuitive than they once were, but I’ll skip this rant and jump right into what you’re looking for and make this one short.

There are several built-in screenshot options on a Mac running MacOS X. You’ll want to choose an option that makes the most sense for your current needs.

Option 1 — Snapshot to the clipboard (does NOT create an image file)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 3  or simply ⌘⌃⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⌃⇧4

Option 2 — Snapshot file saved to your Desktop (does NOT land in clipboard)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 3 or simply ⌘⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⇧4

Simple (sorta)… and now we’re done. That wasn’t so hard now was it?

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Can you make potato chips in the microwave?

Posted in baking, Health, howto, smart, snacking by commorancy on September 17, 2019

Why yes. Yes, you can. In fact, it’s pretty fast to make homemade potato chips. But, the speed does depend on your microwave. Let’s explore.

Slicer

The critical piece of the potato chip puzzle is slicing them the correct thickness. To do this, you need to get a potato chip mandoline. This is the critical first step to making potato chips. They can’t be too thick, but they also can’t be too thin. There’s a perfect thickness to make proper potato chips.

The slicer I recommend is the Akebono Potato Slicer set. Though, you may be able to get the potato chips the proper thickness with this Ronco mandoline or this Mastrad mandoline. The reviews show that these do work.

Baker

All of these sets offer a round plastic baker which holds the chips vertical. I’m not a fan of baking them this way. I prefer my chips flat. If you use the vertical version, the chips will fold and flop over, sometimes on themselves. This can make for odd shaped chips. If you like that about the vertical baker, then by all means go for it. As I said, I prefer my chips flat.

To get absolutely flat chips, you’ll want to microwave them flat on a plate. I use glass plates because the chips stick less and seem to bake faster. There’s also no chance of burning a glass plate, unlike paper which can smoulder and catch fire in the microwave.

It’s up to you to choose which baking method you prefer.

Preparation

  • Scrub the potato thoroughly with a vegetable brush under running water.
  • Peel potato if you prefer. I prefer them unpeeled.
  • Slice the potato on the mandoline and place the slices into water to soak.
  • When finished slicing, rinse all of the slices on both sides until the water runs clear (i.e., no starch remains).
  • Dry the chips on both sides and lay them on a flat surface.
  • Jump to baking instructions immediately below.

Cooking Times

This is the critical part. If you have a 1200-1500 watt microwave, your baking time will be about 5 minutes. You’ll need to add more time if your microwave has less wattage. For example, a 600 watt microwave might take up to 20 minutes. To bake, follow these instructions:

  1. On a glass plate, lay the chips out flat so that they are not touching one another.
  2. Place into the microwave and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  3. Halfway through the cooking cycle (and while the chips are still just a bit damp), lift them from the plate so they are loose. The plate may be hot, so use an oven mitt.
  4. Continue microwaving the chips until they are slightly brown in places.
  5. Remove the chips and let them stand for about 5 minutes to finish crisping.
  6. Enjoy.

I don’t put salt on my chips and I prefer them unsalted. However, if you like salt, salt them before you begin baking them. You only need to salt one side.

A single potato might yield 5 or 6 small batches. This can be a bit time consuming to cook using the plate microwave method. This means running about 5-6 separate batches through your microwave. At 5 minutes per batch, that’s about 25-30 minutes of baking time to make a single potato’s worth of chips. If you want to do several potatoes, it could take several hours. The flat method may not be optimal for large batches. For large batches, you might want to consider the ring baker which holds more chips.

You might also consider baking them in the oven as you can use multiple cookie sheets to lay them all out flat. Baking them in the oven will likely take 20-30 minutes at 350ºF (or until they are slightly brown).

For making small batches, the microwave is the fastest method and produces chips in as little as 5 minutes.

Doneness

The chips are done when they are both lightly browned uniformly and when they’re fully crispy. If they’re chewy or wet in the center, you’ll need to add more baking time. The chip should be completely dry and crispy when done. The chips will also shrink by about half. If you like monstrous sized chips, you’ll need to buy even bigger potatoes. Average sized potatoes produce smaller sized chips. Be cognizant of this when picking your potatoes at the store. I also suggest russet potatoes because they’re the easiest to slice, wash and bake… and they produce tasty potato chips.

Storage

Store any uneaten (wait.. there are some actually left over?) in a zipper bag and keep in a cool dry place. Moisture may seep back into the chips and make them less crispy. You can crisp them up again by placing them onto a plate and baking them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.

Kettle Chips?

If you’re looking for crispier potato chips, like Kettle type chips, then you’ll need them to be sliced a bit thicker. For this, you’ll need to find a mandoline that provides you with this thickness. However, I’m not certain that the microwave will actually produce kettle style crunchy chips. You might need a fryer for this.

If you’re interested in Kettle style chips, then you’ll have to try it and report back in the comments below for how that went and what you did to make it work.

Healthy Chips

Since these are not fried in any oils, they do not have any of the negative oil benefits of fried foods. However, these are still starchy potatoes and still possess all of the glycemic responses as any other potato products. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you are diabetic or need to restrict your carbohydrate intake.

Happy Snacking!

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How do I make my book a bestseller?

Posted in Amazon, author, best practices, novels by commorancy on September 12, 2019

teddy-bear-book-readAh, that age old question. How do you get anything to sell like wildfire? The answer is, it’s a complicated answer. This article assumes a first time published author. Let’s explore.

Going Viral

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Much of the reason anything becomes a hot seller is ultimately out of the control of the seller. If it’s a book, as suggested by the title, then there are a lot of situations at play.

Sure, the content within the book can make or break a book, but even if the book is the best written, best conceived story and offers entirely fresh ideas, that doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, nothing guarantees success of a book. What makes a book successful is luck (and lots of it) and being in the right place at the right time. You can control your words in the book. You can control where the book is sold. You can control lots of aspects of distribution, paper types (if printed) and so on. But, what you can’t control is how people will receive the book and, ultimately, how many will buy into it. That is a matter of luck.

There are some books that simply become ubiquitous in pop culture. There are others that simply fade into obscurity. There’s no way to know if your book will light the proverbial fire or be eclipsed by someone else’s book. You simply can’t know.

Planning and Control

When considering authoring a novel, there are formulas involved. Such formulas include how many words should be in the book, what genre the book belongs in, how many copies that you can print, how big the font should be in the book and so on. These physical book attributes are within your control. However, it’s doubtful that these physical attributes will play a part in whether book becomes wildfire. Oh, they play a part to be sure, but the biggest factor is still luck. Luck, for example, is entirely out of your control. You can’t force luck, you can only hope that lady luck looks down upon you and smiles.

Your book’s content does play a role in being a bestseller. Meaning, a poorly written, badly conceived novel has no chance of becoming a bestseller. The book content, as I said above, is within your control. What that means is that you need to write your book to the best of your ability and get help whenever your story goes beyond your means of control.

In other words, you need to write your book so that it at least matches the quality of most other bestsellers. No better, no worse. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be of a quality that at least gives it a fighting chance at becoming a bestseller. However, with that said, the pieces within your control do not at all guarantee (even if your novel is excellently crafted and written) success. Success of your novel is predicated on whether readers find pleasure in reading your novel and, more importantly, it resonates with enough people to start the viral wildfire.

Viral Wildfires

These types of wildfires can start anywhere. It could be as simple as Oprah Winfrey reading your novel and inexplicably plugging it on her show. It could be helped by having a 10 million viewer YouTube channel mention and review your novel on their channel. It could be a Twitter account with a huge following who incidentally reads and plugs your book on their channel. It could be all of the above.

With that said, you can’t force any of these viral situations. You can only hope they come to pass. They might, they might not. It all depends on your content choice, the situations and if your content resonates with the right set of people at the right moment in time.

However, you can’t write your content with that audience or set of circumstances in mind. There’s no way to know if your novel will be read by someone famous and plugged. Yes, it can happen, but you can’t be guaranteed this outcome.

Book Topics

If you’ve not yet written a book and you’re looking to do so, you should solidify a list of topics that you think you can spend many hours writing about. You have to like your characters for you to remain interested in spending many hours involved in crafting a tale around them.

Write what you know

In addition to writing about likeable characters, you should write about the things where you have knowledge. Sure, if your novel is about space travel, you might need to research such topics as the vacuum of space, exactly how cold space is and how fast it freezes objects solid, but you might also need to research the latest theories on space travel ideas. Of course, you can craft fanciful new propulsion systems that have never before been dreamed, but you might want to ground those systems in at least some measure of Earth physics. Bringing fanciful ideas back to the real is the way to make them seem genuine to the reader.

You’ll also want to determine your books genre, such as romance, fiction, non-fiction, historical, drama, comedy, etc. You can even write a memoir if you think it has some social significance to other people.

Audience

When crafting your manuscript, you’ll want to always keep your audience in mind. Don’t switch audiences in the middle of your book. If you begin the book assuming a general level of adult intelligence, stick with that. For example, if you’re using “big” words and phrases to describe your situations, don’t change halfway through the novel and start using smaller words and phrases. Your readers will notice. Stick to the formula in which the novel began. If you assume a certain level of adult reader intelligence at the open of the novel, stick through this all the way through to the end. Be consistent.

If your character is from the south with a southern drawl, maintain that character’s drawl throughout the novel. Don’t drop the drawl partway through and assume your readers won’t notice. Consistency in writing is the key to keeping the novel thoroughly readable throughout. It’s all about consistency. If you break consistency, it can break the suspension of disbelief and have readers walk away leaving half of the book unread.

How many words?

This is a question many new authors ask. How many words required for a novel is really all dependent on the chosen genre and how much it takes to tell a story.

If you’re writing a novel with 4 short stories, then your short story lengths will be far shorter than a full novel. A short story might contain as few as 7,500 words up to 40,000 words (on the very high side).

A Young Adult fiction genre novel can get away with as few as 45,000 to 55,000 words. However, a fiction novel targeted at an adult audience should contain at least 80,000 words up to 110,000 words. These are, of course, guidelines. Your novel could be much longer than this if you so choose. However, longer novels may turn off some readers (and publishers). Instead, you might want to break it into a multipart series and cap the words per novel. Then, begin writing a new novel in your series with any remaining story ideas that you have.

For children’s books (aged 7 to 12), the maximum number of words is 15,000 to 30,000. These books should be shorter.

For non-fiction adult genre novels, the number of words start with at least 60,000 words and go up from there.

To be considered by a publisher, your novel should have these numbers of words, depending on genre. If you’re unsure and you have an open dialog going with one or more publishers, simply ask them if the length is sufficient to consider publishing. If you get a rejection letter, you should read that carefully to understand what, if any, reasons for rejection are included. However, the publisher may not include any solid reasons.

Planning your Novel

It’s probably not a good idea to go into the act of actually writing a novel before you have story ideas and story progressions fleshed out. This means writing down your ideas, character names, situations and story arcs. You’ll also want to flesh out how you want your characters to grow, learn and what the ultimate goal is for your character. Are they on a path of self-enlightenment? Do they need to be taught a lesson? Do they need emotional guidance? How is their story going to progress?

Stories that are character driven are the most likeable and the most likely to go viral. Use your characters to drive the story forward. They are the ones who hold your story’s keys and who can unlock the story progression. Use characters to drive your story forward.

Imagination is part of this process, but part of it is using characters in ways to logically progress a story. For example, if your main character is a cop who upholds the law, it wouldn’t make sense for them to continually break the law at every turn and not feel remorse or guilt about doing so. Of course, rules are made to be broken, so perhaps that’s your twist?

Speaking of twists. Does every story need to have a twist? No. Stories can be told with or without a twist. A twist is great if it makes sense during a particularly revealing section, but it’s not required. The problem with twists is foreshadowing… which is a very subtle art. If you foreshadow too hard about events to come, people will see your twist(s) coming way in advance, which ruins the setup. If you fail to foreshadow at all, the twist may not have enough impact and may even seem confusing. Planning your novel for a revealing twist can be difficult. Planning is important here. But, so is….

Feedback

It is important to get feedback on your novel. Let someone read your novel and give honest criticism and feedback. If you include a twist, understand your advanced reader’s comments about that twist. You’ll want to know if they guessed it way in advance and, if they did, what you might do to tone down what led them to that conclusion early.

You want to remain in control of your reader’s thoughts about the characters and story all along the way. You don’t want them jumping to conclusions about your story in advance. Have the reader unfold the story as it’s written and don’t give them too much information that could lead their thinking astray or draw early conclusions. If you’re writing a mystery novel, you always want to keep your reader guessing throughout. In fact, you might want to squash any conclusions they might reach too quickly. That way, if your reader jumped to an incorrect conclusion, you can unfold the story and immediately tell them that their conclusion is wrong. Basically, keep the reader on their toes. Don’t let them second guess your novel’s conclusion halfway through the book.

Feedback is your answer. Let people read your novel in advance and be prepared to edit your novel in ways that reduce such conclusion jumping and improve the overall storytelling.

Wildfires and Bestsellers

Let’s return to original question that began this article. Luck is ultimately your answer. While you can write your best novel with your best situations, the novel may still fall flat with readers. Publishers understand this. Authors, likewise, need to understand this. You can’t know how the public (or critics) will respond to your novel.

Some of the best series didn’t start out as bestsellers. It took time for the wildfire to grow. The Harry Potter series is a good example. The first two novels did respectable sales, but it wasn’t really until the third novel released that the viral wildfire started. At that point, her books flew out of the stores with each successive release. It might take two or three entries into a novel series before such wildfires begin. Even still, there are plenty of novel series that do not get that level of attention. They do respectable novel sales, but they don’t get anywhere close to the magic of Harry Potter.

Don’t go into a writing a novel expecting a wildfire. Go into writing a novel to tell your story… to let other people read about your characters and situations. If it grows into a wildfire and becomes a bestseller, then all the better. But, don’t go in expecting this outcome. Instead, focus on the novel and in low expectations of sales. If it does better than you expect, great. If it doesn’t, you aren’t disappointed. You can’t force luck. It either strikes your novel series or it doesn’t. Because such luck is extremely rare and fickle, you can’t expect it. You can hope for it, a little… but with tempered prudence. Again, don’t go into your novel’s release expecting viral things to happen.

Amazon

A discussion about writing and selling books wouldn’t be complete without discussing Amazon. Sure, Barnes and Noble still exists as a brick-and-mortar book retailer. And, there are other physical book sellers to consider. But, Amazon can ultimately make or break your book single-handedly. It is such a large seller of books today that if you don’t leverage Amazon to sell your book, you can’t really make your book a success. Amazon is, in fact, critical to your book’s success. And, so is Amazon’s review system. Amazon’s review system drives its recommendation engine. You’ll want to encourage your readers to review your book on Amazon. Many avid readers need little prompting, but by getting more and more reviews, Amazon is more likely to recommend your book to its customers.

Apple is also a digital book seller, so you may want to leverage them, but to a much lesser degree. They aren’t nearly as big as Amazon, but your publisher should ensure all such digital book sellers like Google Books, Apple, Kobo (the remnants of Borders) and several other smaller digital sellers are supplied with digital copies to sell.

Having a publisher on your side is critical to ensure that your book is distributed as widely as possible. Only a publisher can ensure your novel gets the wide treatment that’s required for it to become a bestseller. Trying to self-publish, you simply don’t have the level of resources needed to make this a reality. A publisher does. This is why a publisher is important to your success.

A publisher will ensure your book is distributed not only through Amazon, but through all other necessary book outlets to ensure your book has the widest exposure and distribution possible to help your book achieve that coveted bestseller ranking.

Publisher?

Publishers are both a blessing and a curse. They are a necessary presence in the book industry. They help authors get their words into the hands of avid readers… readers who can then turn the book into a bestseller. Publishers help you refine your book’s content into the best that it can be, but they also ensure that your book will hit the shelves in all of the necessary places… both physical and digital.

The difficulty with publishers is not to get burned. Publishers will take a cut of your book’s profits to cover their expenses. Those expenses include their salaries, their office rents, printing of the book itself, advertising and so on. Getting a “book deal” means signing away some of your book’s profits to the publisher to help them stay in business. This means you’ll get far less profits from selling the book than you might realize. Oh, you’ll get some money for each copy sold, but don’t expect much. Most of that money goes back to the publisher to keep their lights on, offices open and staff employed. That’s the bane of using a publisher.

On the other hand, self-publishing means you get to keep 100% of the profits. But, good luck in getting your novel printed and into the physical stores like Target, Walmart and Barnes and Noble yourself. Getting that far would be difficult, if not impossible. That’s not to say you can’t self-publish, but don’t expect to get much industry consideration. Using a publisher, your novel may be considered for prestigious industry awards. Using self-publishing, those awards are almost always off of the table. Getting an industry award can help the viral wildfires burn hotter, thus getting even more copies sold. Using a publisher opens a lot of doors. Self-publishing means more profits, but less doors are opened in the industry.

Publishers are a known quantity in the industry and will do almost everything to see that your novel succeeds. For this investment reason, publishers are extremely picky on which novels and authors they are willing to represent. When they accept an author and their novel into their publishing house, they are taking a risk. That risk could mean an expensive failure. Because publishers want to reduce that risk as much as possible, they only accept limited book types and authors. What this all means is…

Expect Rejection

Publishers are rightly skittish. It’s expensive to publish, advertise and widely distribute a book throughout the country or, indeed, the world. Because of that risk, they only want the best books and the best possible prospects. This means that publisher representatives are extremely picky about what they will accept and when and how they will accept it. Randomly sending your manuscript to a publisher without advance notice, you’re sure to be rejected. In fact, they likely won’t even open the manuscript. Many times they won’t even send it back, even if you include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Instead, they’ll trash it without even opening it. They might or might not send you a rejection letter. If the manuscript was unsolicited, you may not even get a response.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to (once your novel is complete) reach out to publisher editors and determine if they’re interested in your manuscript’s content. You do this in the form of a submission letter. If a publisher’s editor shows interest, then you have an opening. This means you may be invited to send your novel in for review. It doesn’t mean they’ll accept or even read it all, but they might. Reading a full 65,000 word manuscript is not an insignificant amount of time. So, respect the editor’s time they are willing to give you. After all, they’re giving you the length of time it takes to read your book. More than likely, the publisher will reject your manuscript. Expect that you will be writing many submission letters and getting rejections. You’ll need to keep trying until you reach a publisher’s editor who takes interest.

Instead of reading your entire manuscript, an editor might request a detailed synopsis from you. A short description of your novel’s story to determine if it’s something they might have time to read and be able to add to their collection of currently published books. Do whatever the publisher’s editor requests, but don’t be willing to give away the farm. Sure, let them read your novel and give feedback, but know that they are human and as humans, they have opinions. That editor is only one opinion in among many, even if their opinion is that they don’t like your novel.

The Acceptance Rejection

If you get a bite from a publisher, take that as a small win. It doesn’t mean they’ll publish your book, yet. But, it is a hopeful sign. At least they’re talking to you.

Don’t be offended by the opinions an editor might offer you. Simply accept their advice for what it is. You may not agree with their assessment, but at least consider it. If you feel adamant that your book is already in its best possible place and changing it would ruin its current story, yet a publisher’s editor is asking you to make substantial changes in tone and story in your book, you might want to think twice. If you have conviction that your book is already the best it can be, then thank them for their time and move on to someone else. Choose a different publisher. However, you owe it to yourself to at least consider that editor’s advice.

For example, if they offer a suggestion to rework large segments to make the book have a larger emotional impact and potentially appeal to a broader audience, at least consider it. Don’t outright discard their advice. They’ve been in the business for a long amount of time, hopefully, and their advice may have some merit. But, as I said above, don’t fall into spending a large amount of time completely reworking your novel solely on the advice of a single editor… particularly if your rework of the novel doesn’t offer some level of commitment from that publisher. For example, if they’re asking you to rewrite a large section of your novel, you should ensure that the publisher will commit to publishing the book if these changes are made to their satisfaction. It’s a give and take situation. Asking for a time commitment from the author to rewrite should come with at least some strings attached to the publisher. Make sure you get those strings attached firmly.

If they give you advice and then offer no strings and expect you simply to make large changes without even the remote possibility of acceptance, you should view that request with a large amount of skepticism. This is ultimately the acceptance rejection. Instead, you should thank them for their time and suggest that if you do have time to rework the novel, you will resubmit it for review at a later date. Then, go find another publisher accepting manuscripts and submit your original manuscript there. Don’t make the changes to your novel unless you personally think that the suggestion(s) actually will improve the novel in substantial ways or that the publisher is on-the-hook to publish the novel contingent on making those changes. If you commit to making changes for them, they should commit to publishing your updated novel. Get that commitment in writing.

First Time Publishing and Contracts

As a first time published author, however, you are at a disadvantage. In addition to being a new author, a publisher may want to see how business shrewd you are. Sure, you can put words to a page, but can you negotiate? Publishers can take advantage of first time authors simply because the author is “green”. This means because you “don’t know any better” they could ask you to jump through hoops and still not publish your book. Or, they could give you such a small pittance percentage that it doesn’t make sense. Don’t fall into traps like this. If a publisher’s editor seems to be toying with you, but not actually providing any commitments for your novel, again, thank them for their time and move on. Don’t allow them to take advantage of your supposed greenness in the publishing industry.

Instead, use Google and try to learn as much about the protocols of getting your novel published as you possibly can. If they offer you a contract, read it thoroughly and understand your commitments to it (and the publisher). You don’t want to get trapped into a contract that has exclusivity clauses, pays you a pittance or requires you write 3 books over the next 3 years. If it took you 5 years to write your original book, being able to write a book a year may not be possible for you. This is why you will need to understand contract negotiation. You would then need to either strike that verbiage from the contract or modify it to allow you more time to write any further required novels.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge in publishing and contracts blind you to what the publisher is requiring. Maybe you aren’t even seeking to write further novels? Such a contract means you would be legally bound to produce those novels. Read contracts carefully and understand what they are asking you to do. If you can’t read contracts for  yourself, hire a contract lawyer who can decipher the terms of the contract to you and use that contract lawyer to draft alternative terms that work for you. The publisher may not accept the updated terms, but you can then move on without being bound to that publisher.

Payments

Make sure that any contracts you sign stipulate payment terms. More specifically, how often they will pay you your share of the profits from the sale of your book. Is it monthly? Is it whenever the balance reaches $100? Is it yearly? Is it quarterly? Make sure your payment terms are upheld in the contract. You don’t want to be left in the dark as to when the publisher may cut you a check for your share of the profits. You also need to make sure that the contract terms stipulate the ability to audit sales records from the vendors. Make sure you can call, write or log into a site that will give you updated numbers of your book’s sales wherever it’s being sold. You don’t want to be beholden to the publisher to provide you with accurate statistics. I’m not saying publishers are deceitful, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Make sure you can account for your exact sales from the stores directly and correlate those sales numbers to the amount you have been paid during that period.

Accounting errors happen and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an accounting error in the publisher’s favor. Nor do you want to have to turn around and sue the publisher for profits they have kept as a result of an “accounting error”. If you have direct access to each store’s sales data, this transparency keeps the publisher honest. They have to provide you with what you are owed. It’s on you to periodically audit and make sure you are getting what you are owed, but the data is there for you to review if you need it.

If you can swing a deal where the stores are paying you directly without going through the publisher, all the better. Middlemen can get in the way and can dilute your payments. However, it’s more likely the publisher will end up paying you the residuals (after they take their cut). You’ll have to negotiate your payments with the publisher and this should be done contractually, not through verbal agreements.

Luck

Coming back around to the original question once again, luck is the biggest factor in whether a book becomes a bestseller. Sure, the content is important. A publisher’s editor, yes, has read many novels and they usually know what story features are most likely to resonate with readers. However, that doesn’t mean that an editor is always correct. They could think that your novel is going to be the next Pulitzer novel, but in fact it barely makes a splash in sales. No one can know what luck has in store. This means that, yes, an editor’s suggestions might be spot on, but it doesn’t guarantee success. It can put the novel on a path towards success, but it can’t guarantee success. Nothing, in fact, can guarantee success of a novel. Luck is one of those fickle things that factors into pretty much any form of entertainment. Whether it’s a movie or a music CD, a video game or a novel. These are all subject to the whims, ebbs and flows of the general population.

If a topic hits at a very salient point in time, it can take the world by storm. Such lightning strikes are rare, but they do happen. For example, Star Wars, Harry Potter and, to some degree, the Marvel universe movies. These became popular by mostly sheer luck and by landing in the marketplace at the right place and the right time. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t something you can guess. It’s a matter of luck. A publisher can help shape your novel into a something that may resemble a bestseller, but it cannot guarantee that luck or, indeed, success. That still requires a certain amount of plain old dice-rolling luck.

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