Posts on the Horizon

I thought I’d give a quick update (as of late-January 2021) on what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of content for this blog.

What’s Upcoming

I’ve pretty much settled on a routine of having “Sailor Speak of the Week” posts go up on Wednesdays. All other posts get published on Sundays and alternate between book reviews and all other types of content.

Naval Tactics Series

I’ve got a series of posts coming up on naval/sailing tactics which I’m excited to bring you. These are tactics like raking fire, doubling the battle line, the weather gage, etc. They aren’t meant to be super in-depth in terms of history, but they should give the reader a quick overview of some of the more common tactics developed and used during the Age of Sail (mid-1600s – early-1800s). Naturally, some of these tactics (and their basic concepts) would persist in usage up through WWII, and many are still applicable to modern recreational sailors as far as maneuvering goes.

Basically, this is an effort to get more content into the tactics section of this blog and to provide some fundamental knowledge for readers. That way people can quickly reference these classic naval tactics and I don’t have to go into excruciating detail every time I refer to one.

Book Reviews

Obviously book reviews have become a thing on this blog, although, it was never my intention to make that the sole topic of my writing because this isn’t a book blog. The books are mostly centered on maritime, naval, and military history topics. However, the reality is that I read far more books than I’m willing to write reviews on. A running list of books I’ve read since mid-March 2020 (the start of quarantine) includes over 40 books, and not only military history, but various types of literature and poetry. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve read this past year:

  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
  • The Inferno – Dante Alighieri
  • Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
  • The Complete Poems and Letters of John Keats – John Keats
  • “I Am” The Poetry of John Clare – John Clare
  • Neuromancer, Count Zero, & Mona Lisa Overdrive (The Sprawl Trilogy) – William Gibson
  • and many more…

For some of these books, I’m rereading them for the first time since middle school and high school. Being older, I’ve actually found that I can appreciate the themes, symbols, narratives, and characters more. Subsequently, I’ve been able to get around to reading many of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for years.

However, not all of them are great. For example, although I have a passing interest in the cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction, and William Gibson is considered to be the literary godfather of the genre, whose work inspired The Matrix films, I find his Sprawl Trilogy to be rather mediocre. My biggest problem is that Gibson’s writing is filled with purple prose which distracts from the narrative and makes it hard to follow. The books are poor at world-building, have overly convoluted plots, and are filled with needlessly confusing dialogue and “hip-sounding” 1980s cyberpunk techno-jargon for which no explanation is given. I guess the reader is just meant to divine the meaning of this mishmash of terms based purely on context and nothing else. Given that it’s my first experience in reading any of Gibson’s work, perhaps I’m a bit tough on him since these books were written in the 80s when personal computers and cyberspace were revolutionary things and not as common as they are today. To be fair, they aren’t entirely bad. They have some interesting ideas and themes in them related to the evolution of artificial intelligence, simulation vs. reality, addiction, and digital and analog capabilities. However, I just don’t like Gibson’s style of writing. Perhaps I’ll appreciate them more if I read these books again in 10 years.

In contrast, I enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? much more the second time around. You probably know that this book inspired the 1982 film, Blade Runner, which is my favorite film, hands down. I read this book maybe 15 years ago and thought it felt pretty dated…it still is. However, this time around, I enjoyed the themes and ideas in the book, and found it to be an interesting commentary on humans’ relationship to/dependence on technology, and the subsequent issues related to people’s loss of empathy and humanity. In short, while the plot of the book and the film greatly diverge at different points, there are thematic similarities between the two. Also, the film (and the sequel) is still absolutely stunning to watch and perfectly encapsulates our vision of dystopian cyberpunk.

One book I want to reread is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which I haven’t read since my senior year of high school. I recall enjoying Bradbury’s descriptive, almost poetic, use of language. Not to mention that the themes of perpetually shallow media consumption and the dumbing-down of the population through the physical destruction of intellectual property has clear resonance, even today, albeit in different forms.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the inability of many people on the internet and social media to think, write, and speak in complete and coherent sentences; not to mention interpret any written language that’s longer than a Twitter post. Ughh! It’s so sad.

“Ideas are dangerous, so don’t think! We’ll censor out all the bad things. Just sit back and mindlessly consume our products.” That might as well be the unwritten rule of Hollywood and big tech, and I’m sure Bradbury would agree.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been staring at when I’m not staring at a screen or working out.

I should also let you know that I have a problem with buying a lot of books. Like something out of an episode of My Strange Addiction, it’s gotten to the point where my shelves are overflowing and the books are piling up on my floor. (That being said, reading is the best addiction!) I really need to buy another bookshelf, if only for the sake of cleaning the place up. Generally speaking, I only buy books I know I’ll keep and need for research purposes. Nowadays, most popular literature can easily be checked out or downloaded on ebook format from libraries. There’s no need to buy them. My bookshelf is mostly filled with specialist history books that are harder to locate in public libraries, although if I can find a library copy to read before I buy, then that’s good, too. Most of the literature I own are books from my childhood or teenage years.

So on top of the book reviews, that’s what you have to look forward to for the remainder of this winter and into spring. I’ve got a whole list of other topics just waiting to be researched and written on, not to mention more war games to research, design, and play on Command: Modern Operations. I’ll also be doing more research into war gaming and game-based learning. I’ve got some books to read that’ll hopefully give me more insight into how war games are made and what sort of things to look for when they’re being analyzed and evaluated.

Other Updates

In other news, I’m slowly gathering components (and doing research) to build a new computer. Whether or not I’m going to be making a short series of posts out of this is up in the air. Believe it or not, this will be the first computer I’ve ever built. This is something I originally planned to do several years ago (around 2015 or 2016), but life always kept intruding. On the upshot, I was able save up more money than I needed. Of course, by late-2020, the parts list I had planned for my original build were very out of date. It’s crazy how fast computer technology has advanced, even within the last five or six years! Thus, I ended up starting at square one and creating a whole new list with current components. Since I’ve been using a gaming laptop for the past 8 years (yes, really), I’m pretty much having to buy the whole shebang, including the peripherals like the keyboard and monitor. The only thing I don’t need is a mouse.

There’s a number of websites out there that help you systematically choose computer parts and ensure compatibility. I use PCPartPicker.com.

My basic plan is to build a “relatively” high-end gaming PC which is roughly within a $2000 – $2500 budget. True, I have enough money to go even bigger and faster with some of the best components (for a gaming PC), but I decided to stay within my originally planned budget. Computer components have become more efficient, and in some cases cheaper, so that budget can still buy a really good rig.

Here’s a (tentative) list of components I’ve earmarked (some I’ve already purchased):

  • Motherboard: MSI MAG X570 Tomahawk WiFi
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
  • CPU cooler: Noctua NH-U12A
  • RAM: Team T-Force Dark Z 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 3200, CL16
  • GPU: NVIDIA Geforce RTX 3080
  • Storage: Crucial P2 1TB M.2-2280 NVME SSD, Seagate Barracuda Compute 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM HDD
  • Optical Drive: LG WH14NS40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD writer
  • PSU: Corsair RM 850W
  • Case: Phanteks Enthoo Pro Tempered Glass ATX full tower
  • Monitor: LG Ultragear 27GL850 27″ Nano IPS
  • Keyboard: Logitech G413 Silver

True, some these components, like the 32GB of RAM, the 850W power supply (PSU) and the full size tower case are probably overkill and I could easily save some money with lesser components. However, I’m buying some of this stuff with future expand-ability in mind. The case itself is huge and better suited for custom cooling setups, but at least there’s ample space if I want to go down that path in the future.

There’s certainly other options I could do, as well. I could easily use all SSDs instead of a HDD, but 2TB HDDs are so cheap! They’re still a good option for storing photos, videos, and large files. Also, many current PC builders are moving away from using optical drives because so many people use digital streaming services now. However, I do have a sizeable collection of Blu-Rays and DVDs, and I want my PC to retain the ability to play those.

It’s also worth noting that technology progresses so fast that in a few years, some of these components will be “relatively” obsolete. There will always be more powerful CPUs and GPUs being developed. Some things, like the case, keyboard, power supply, etc., have longer shelf lives and can be reused if I want to upgrade further down the road.

For the sake of keeping things within my budget, I don’t plan on putting in the highest-end components. Rather, I’m looking at parts a few tiers down in both power and price. So, I’m definitely not going all out on my PC build.

Heck, gaming PCs aren’t even the most powerful out there. Professionals who work in fields like data processing, video editing, or 3D modelling and animation sometimes require even more powerful “workstation” systems that use the most powerful CPUs and graphics cards. These systems can easily have price tags that are far beyond a high-end gaming computer.

The only problem is…you can’t get processors (CPUs) or graphics cards (GPUs) at MSRP currently because there’s such a high demand for them! Most places are likely sold out!

Why is this? Well, it all has to do with that economic concept called supply and demand. For one thing, there’s a supply issue for these particular components because they’re all built in China and (among other problems on the supply side) there are tariffs for electronic goods that are in effect. So it costs more money to import them. On the demand side, the pandemic has forced everyone to do everything from home. So lots of people are building computers right now. Some have argued that building your own PC is now more popular than it’s ever been. Not to mention that AMD recently released their 5000 series of CPUs and NVIDIA released their 3000 series of graphics cards. These things are selling like hotcakes! So demand right now is crazy high, and subsequently, it’s pushing up the prices far above MSRP. No doubt, many teenagers have convinced their gullible and ignorant parents that they need a powerful gaming computer to attend school online. Umm…no you don’t. You can do online video calls perfectly well on a tablet or a budget PC.

When will things normalize again? Well, nobody knows for sure, but the best predictions are sometime around the end of Q1 of this year (for graphics cards, if lucky), but probably whenever we dig ourselves out of the pandemic (insert vague time frame here). By then the kids will be back in school and more people will be back at work and spending less time at home.

Why not just buy a pre-made PC?

There’s advantages and disadvantages to either buying a pre-made PC or building one yourself.

Buying a pre-made PC

Advantages

The biggest advantage to buying a pre-made computer basically has to do with convenience and peace of mind. You know that you’re getting a computer that (ideally) should work right out of the box. All you need to do is plug it in and turn it on. This is probably the best option for the people who are either technology-illiterate, too lazy, or time/money-constrained to do the research and work. Another advantage is that if something goes wrong, then it’s easy to simply call up the tech desk, take your computer in, and have them troubleshoot the problem.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, the disadvantages to buying a pre-made PC are further highlighted if you choose to buy one from a retail store, like Best Buy. The problem is that most retail employees at electronics stores simply don’t know enough in-depth information about the products their company sells, much less about the components and inner workings of them to give you an informed opinion. Anyone who’s worked in retail can pretty much confirm this. You can be far more informed by doing your own research. In the retail world, it all boils down the price tag. More expensive = better, regardless of individual needs or wants. This also means that you’re limited to what configurations you can buy. Sure, you could swap out some parts for your own, but you’d void the warranty. When you buy a pre-made PC from a retail store, you’re also paying for the labor costs of whoever built that thing to begin with. People have also done simple experiments where they’ve built similar (or even more powerful) PCs for far cheaper just by sourcing the parts on the used market.

In my opinion, the biggest disadvantage to buying a pre-made computer is that you have no control over the quality of the individual parts. Many pre-made PCs are mass produced using cheaper and lower-end components wherever money can be saved. These mass produced, cheaply built, PCs are then sold at big box retail stores that slap on marketing gimmicks to reel in unknowing customers. Beware of stickers and tags that say things like, “gaming grade” or “pro/ultra edition.” Those terms mean nothing and they’re too vague to be quantifiable.

Building a PC

Advantages

When you build your own PC, you have full control over the components that go into the system. Therefore, with proper research, you can select excellent parts and build a similar or more powerful rig for the same price tag at big box stores (even when buying the components new at MSRP). Again, Best Buy is somewhat notorious for overcharging and under delivering computers when you could easily do a far better job yourself for the same (or cheaper) price. This control over the parts also means it can be easier to personally troubleshoot any problems in your system. (This is also one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of Mac computers because they lack a lot of user-end serviceability. You always need to take it to a specialist to fix a hardware problem). Finally, building your own PC means that you’re not locked into the warranty for an entire system. In the future, if you need to replace, or want to upgrade, a particular component (like a graphics card) you can just sell your current one, and use the funds to help pay for a newer model. It’s cheaper to replace an individual component rather than paying tons of money for an entirely new PC.

Disadvantages

One disadvantage in building your own PC is that it’s very easy to overspend. Before you know it, the price tag keeps going up and up. Not to mention that you’ll probably buy many parts online and the cost of shipping adds up, too. Of course, the other disadvantages deal with parts compatibility and user error. You need to be very diligent when planning out what components are going into your system to make sure they’re all compatible with each other. In fact, sometimes it’s not even an issue of compatibility, but of efficiency. You can build a system that works just fine, but find out later that other parts would’ve been better and perhaps cheaper. User error is simply the issue of you being your own help desk. It’s up to you to put everything together correctly.

Thankfully, building computers has gotten a lot easier than it was waay back in the 90s. Many things are now standardized, come with decent user manuals, and there’s so much readily available information out there on how to do it. People have compared it to building a LEGO set, but for adults. It’s just a matter of knowing what you want to do with your PC (so you can stay within a budget and keep realistic expectations), making sure all of the parts are compatible, and then putting all of the parts into the correct sockets and plugging in all of the cables correctly. There’s a million videos online that take you through this process step-by-step. You no longer need a Master’s degree in computer science or electrical engineering to understand it. It’s perfect for a person like me who’s been educated to the point of stupidity.

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