Sally Yates Calls on Americans to Rise Up in Powerful Op-Ed

“It is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar.”

Americans find themselves at a critical moment in their nation’s history, when they must decide what kind of country they want to have, according to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

In a searing op-ed for USA Today, the Trump foe reveals she tried to warn and help the administration, only to be thrown out of office. Now she is calling on her fellow Americans to uphold the “country’s core values.”

“Our founding documents set forth the values that make us who we are, or at least who we aspire to be,” Yates writes. “I say aspire to be because we haven’t always lived up to our founding ideals — even at the time of our founding. When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, hundreds of thousands of African Americans were being enslaved by their fellow Americans.”

She recalls the Jim Crow South when Americans were forced to choose between segregation and racial justice. And while we have often failed to live up to our ideals, we have always had a shared vision of what the country means and what is expected of its leaders.

Yates asks Americans to look back at the Preamble to the Constitution for inspiration:

“’We the people of the United States’ (we are a democratic republic, not a dictatorship),” she writes. “‘In order to form a more perfect union’ (we are a work in progress dedicated to a noble pursuit) ‘establish justice’ (we revere justice as the cornerstone of our democracy) ‘insure domestic tranquility’ (we prize unity and peace, not divisiveness and discord), ‘provide for the common defense’ (we should never give any foreign adversary reason to question our solidarity) ‘promote the general welfare’ (we care about one another; compassion and decency matter) ‘and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity’ (we have a responsibility to protect not just our own generation, but future ones as well).”

She goes on to explain that the Bill of Rights guarantees individual liberty and other rights that Americans often take for granted.

“But without vigilance, [they] can erode and slip away, such as freedom of speech (our right to protest and be heard); freedom of religion (the essential separation between how one worships and the power of the state); and freedom of the press (a democratic institution essential to informing the public and holding our leaders accountable),” Yates continues.

Yates also notes that one thing that separates the United States from an autocracy is the “strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations.” This ensures the public believes in the legitimacy of the criminal process.

“There is such a thing as objective truth,” she explains. “We can debate policies and issues, and we should. But those debates must be based on common facts rather than raw appeals to emotion and fear through polarizing rhetoric and fabrications.”

She closes with a powerful call to action:

“We are not living in ordinary times, and it is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar…So stand up. Speak out.”



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Elemental Evil: Sessions 17

In the previous session the group entered the Temple of Howling Hatred, trying to stop the prophets of elemental evil from summoning their princes. This session started with a long discussion on the merits of retreating to safety, which I tried to hurry along to stop wasting time. After resting the group returned to the Temple, where I had put 8 fresh Kenku at the gate. On the first run, played as written, the Kenku were just making noises to scare the adventurers; this time they use the defense mechanism of the gate house, firing at the group through arrow slits. Although the Kenku were rather low level, that occupied the group for quite a while.

Finally they made it back to the step pyramid where they were before. Inside they found a bunch of cultists and stairs up. After killing the cultists they went up the stairs and met the prophetess of elemental evil air, Aerisi Kalinoth. Despite being a level 12 spellcaster, the prophetess was a pushover. She relied on concentration spells like Fly or Cloudkill, and that just doesn’t work. The group just ignored her henchmen and broke her concentration immediately after she cast anything, making her not very effective. I find the 5th edition D&D spell system rather boring, as it really encourages you to use only instant damage spells, because anything a bit more interesting is based on concentration and has little effect. For example Cloudkill used to be a very powerful spell in previous editions, but now it affected only the first character starting his turn in the cloud, who then broke the concentration of Aerisi and dispelled the cloud before it damaged anybody else.

The bard who was with Aerisi was even weaker, also due to concentration spells, and so the only serious monster in the encounter was an invisible stalker, who had more health than the other two together, was much harder to damage, and didn’t use concentration spells. Having finally killed that one as well, the group found a lot of monetary treasure and Windvane, the magical spear of Aerisi. However I had had to nerf that one on the request of the future DM of our group, in whose campaign the original wouldn’t have fit. So now it was just a +2 lance that opened the magical portals to the temples of elemental evil. At that point we stopped the session.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms

The last time I wrote about idle games was nearly 2 years ago. In that time the games have evolved further. And if you look at my Steam account, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is a game I have played for over 300 hours. Or rather, not played. Or to be even more precise, played for a few hours, but have left running on my computer for over 300 hours. It’s complicated!

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms combines the idle game genre with the RPG genre, and sprinkles a bit of an endless runner into the mix. You start out with one dwarven warrior, Bruenor (who is “famous” in the lore of D&D) on a side-scrolling screen encountering endless hordes of monsters on his way. The dwarf kills monsters, and you can help by dealing damage through clicking on monsters. Every monster drops gold. And that gold can be used to increase your click damage, or to increase the level of Bruenor, or unlock additional heroes and level those up. Once you have fulfilled certain requirements, e.g. kill 25 monsters, you can advance to the next level, where there is the next endless stream of monsters.

Because that is the point of an idle game, there isn’t a whole lot to do. However the game has more strategic depth than one would think, because you need to arrange your heroes in a formation. And with levels each hero acquires special abilities which influence his neighbors in the formation. At one point you will have more heroes available than there are slots in the formation. And selecting the best heroes in the best formation is far from a trivial task. In addition there are some story elements, mostly in the form of friendly banter between the heroes. So for an idle game it is the most interesting and strategic game I know. Yeah, I know, that isn’t saying much. But, anyway, I keep “playing” this.

The math behind the game is interesting in as far as it is exponential, and human brains have problems with exponential. Your stats and gold found quickly go up into million, billions, trillions, quadrillions, etc., until you switch to scientific notation in the settings because you don’t even know the units any more. The one thing that remains linear is gems, with just a handful of them dropping every 5 levels at each boss. With gems you can buy chests, which contain things like helpful potions or gear for your heroes. And, because this is a free-to-play game, of course you can also buy those chests for real money. I probably spent more than I should have, but sometimes when I feel down I use buying special offers in free-to-play games as a sort of retail therapy, and this is my current game of choice for this. I don’t claim that this is rational behavior. 🙂

One of the more interesting choices to do in this game is choosing when to stop a run and to start over. At the end of a run you get divine favor in function of the amount of gold you gathered. And that divine favor increases the amount of gold you will find on the next run. The exponential math is tuned in a way that your divine favor basically determines how far you get in a run, because at some point gold gathering and level gaining becomes very slow, while the monsters keep getting harder and harder, until you can’t beat them any more. So the ideal strategy is doing a run until you hit a progress wall, and then reset to collect divine favor and start the next run. The game is organized in a way that this also over time gives you access to different stories and locations. To make this trickier you can also spend your divine favor for bonuses, but of course if you spend too much the lack of divine favor hurts you more than the bonuses help.

The reason for my 300+ hours is something that I am not really happy about: Idle offline gives far less rewards than idle online. For example while the game is running online, you can set the levels to auto-advance. The latest patch even added “familiars”, which are legal click-bots, but also only work when the game is running. Thus one is pushed towards leaving the computer on for example at night. The whole thing smacks a bit of mining bitcoins, only that the rewards of the game are less valuable than bitcoins. Offline you still gather gold and divine favor at the level you currently are, but with diminishing returns. If you are on holiday and offline for a week you don’t come back with a huge amount of divine favor collected, you’d have gathered more online in a day or two. Still it is nice to get at least some rewards while offline.

Overall I like the game for the D&D Forgotten Realms theme, and the relatively large number of non-trivial decisions you need to make to advance. But it remains an idle game, and I am well aware that this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

Sand in my story

I don’t believe in black and white. 99.9% of everything is a shade of grey, and absolutes are at best naive simplifications and at worst dangerous traps. That is not a very trendy opinion. To my great despair the internet has not led to people to discuss their differences, but has isolated them into echo chambers where black and white are the only colors available. Whether it is politics, culture, or gaming, nobody wants to discuss the pros and cons of any issue any more, they just want shared outrage at whatever they believe is wrong. This is why blogging is in decline and tweeting is on top, Twitter just does outrage so much better.

In spite of these modern trends, I’m still trying to discuss issues, especially in gaming, by looking at them from both sides. And today I would like to talk about sandboxes and linear stories in Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the official Wizards of the Coast published adventures. Now none of them are perfect sandboxes or completely linear, as neither of the extreme cases works very well in pen & paper roleplaying. But if we compare the shades of grey of today with the shades of grey from the past, the current selection of adventures since the release of 5th edition is way more on the sandbox side as adventure modules from previous editions were.

The sandbox style has certain advantages. I believe that the best 4th edition adventure that Wizards of the Coast released for Dungeons & Dragons is Madness at Gardmore Abbey, which is more sandbox than the other 4E adventures. And so I am currently playing a 5E adaptation. However from the adventure books that WotC released in 5th edition my favorites are the Lost Mines of Phandelver from the Starter Set and Curse of Strahd, and both of these are more linear story than the others. My experience with the more sandbox adventures isn’t so good: As a player I watched a less experienced dungeon master flounder with Out of the Abyss; I spent hours to prepare Storm King’s Thunder, only to finally give up because the adventure was just too bad; and the Princes of the Apocalypse took me many hours of rewriting and changing into something a bit more linear in order to make it playable.

Much of the problem is one of presentation. A computer has no problems running a sandbox game, because he has perfect memory. In a game of D&D the information has to go from the adventure book into the head of the dungeon master first, before it can then be told at the table to the players. Humans don’t have perfect memory, and our brains can more easily remember stories than lists of unconnected facts. Human DMs are simply better at stories than they are at sandboxes. Madness at Gardmore Abbey works because it is basically a collection of stories which can be tackled in any order you like. That freedom makes it feel like a sandbox to the players, but the story content is easy to remember for the DM. When I prepare a session for Princes of the Apocalypse, for example my players currently breaking into Rivergard Keep, the presentation of the place by location number and the bits and pieces of story being distributed all over the location descriptions makes finding the stories much harder. I need to read every location back to front, locate the story bits, then read them again to puzzle them together, and finally find where the book simply doesn’t provide much explanation or story and invent some of my own.

I do like the fact that a place like Rivergard Keep has many different options for the players to tackle it. I’ve looked at YouTube videos of people playing that part of the adventure for inspiration, and various groups have done everything from negotiation, to charming the door guard, to infiltration by water, to frontal assault for this “dungeon”. But a better presentation of the power dynamics in that place and their likely response to attacks sure would have helped: In those YouTube videos I also saw DMs overdoing the response, ending with a near total party kill, and some improbable Deus-ex-machina intervention which saved the party but severely mauled the overall story and credibility.

Talking of credibility, I found that many WotC adventures of the sandbox style have a serious problem with experience points and levels. Fundamentally WotC is cheating: If you add up the experience points in Princes of the Apocalypse (the only one for which I have actually done the exercise, but I’m sure the problem is the same for the others) and apply WotC’s own level by experience points table, you fall far short of the levels required in the adventure. WotC sells you an adventure that says “level 1 – 15” on the back, but doesn’t actually have enough content in it to actually get a group from level 1 to 15 if you play by their own rules. The “fix” is a so-called milestones system in which the group gains a level at the end of a dungeon in order to have enough levels to tackle the next dungeon. However such a milestones system only works really well with a linear story and order of dungeons; it falls flat in a sandbox adventure where people can do the dungeons out of order, or do them only partially at one visit to come back another time. In my own campaign I had to double the regular monster xp and hand out bonus xp for certain story achievements in order to make the level system work. If I hadn’t done that, the latter dungeons of the adventure would have become quite impossible to beat.

Overall I believe that the focus on sandbox elements in WotC published adventures is more one of ideology or marketing than one of good game design. The result is that for many of these books as a DM you can’t just take the book and start playing. Even as an experienced dungeon master you need quite a lot of hours of preparation time to first understand all the elements in the book in spite of their chaotic presentation, and then to modify them in order to make them actually work. There is a huge gap in the offer between the very well done Starter Set adventure that can be played by a first time DM with no problem and the following books that can drive even an experienced DM to despair. For an edition which is designed to bring a lot new players and dungeon masters into the game, there really is something missing here.

Invisible Flying Wizards

In one of my campaigns in one future session the group will come upon a castle. The gates are locked, there are guards on the battlements. Thus there is a challenge to the group to overcome: How do they get into the castle? Now this sounds like classic situation for Dungeons & Dragons. However through most of the history of D&D this was more of a headache for DMs if their group was at least level 5: Wizards had spells like Fly and Invisibility, and that made “sneaking into the castle to open the back door” boring instead of a challenge. So why would I put it in one of my adventures? Because 5th edition cleverly solved the invisible flying wizard problem!

Many of the spells in 5th edition are now using concentration, a new concept. If you want to fly, you can cast the Fly spell, but you will need to concentrate on it. Not only does that mean that if you are hit by an arrow, you have to do a concentration check or fall to the ground; it also means that you can only concentrate on one spell at once. Flying, yes, invisibility, yes, but not both at the same time. Thus the Rogue, who *can* be simultaneously stealthy and climbing walls, isn’t put out of a job by the invisible flying Wizard any more.

Having said that, for some classes the concentration concept is overused and ends up making their spellcasting overly weak. A prime example is the paladin, who has very few non-concentration spells, at least at lower to mid-level. Spells like the level 1 smites really shouldn’t be concentration, as they are already not very powerful and concentration means they don’t work with more important spells like Bless or Compelled Duel. For the Warlock the fact that Hex is a concentration spell and the very staple of his existence, makes any other concentration spell nearly useless.

So, yes, concentration is a useful new concept. But I think it is currently applied to too many spells and could be better balanced.

SailCraft Online

The game of Battleship as played with pen and grid paper is a hundred years old. 50 years ago Milton Bradley turned it into a board game with plastic pegs. There have been various computer versions, and even a rather horrible movie in 2012. Now I found a mobile game called SailCraft or SailCraft Online, which is basically Battleship on speed with all modern Pay2Win conveniences.

The original game is strictly symmetrical, except for the player moving first having a slight advantage. But in SailCraft the two players don’t have the exact same fleet, nor do they even have the same size of grid. Instead your grid size and your special abilities depend on the ships you choose for your fleet, limited by the level of your mothership. Ships come in common, uncommon, rare and legendary types, and the more of the same ship you find, the higher you can upgrade them in level. Each ship has an active and a passive ability, and stats for how many spaces it adds to your grid and how much “luck” you have going first. Active abilities allow you to do different things than just targeting space D4 and hoping you hit the battleship: For example you can fire a torpedo, send out a bomber, or use a telescope to scout some grid spaces. There are also counter-abilities like a torpedo-net or anti-aircraft guns.

Overall that makes the game a lot more dynamic to play than the original. But obviously the player who has collected more powerful ships has a distinctive advantage, having more powerful active abilities and a larger grid on which to hide his ships. Fortunately there is a matchmaking system that prevents you getting paired against the top players while you are still in the lower leagues. Which makes the game okay playable without paying any money, or just buying the occasional special offer. Having endless amount of time isn’t much help, as you can only grind a certain number of chests full of ships every day.

I don’t think there is any game left that didn’t get this sort of monetization make-over in a mobile version, frequently based around collectible items. I’ve even seen coin dozer games that work like that. SailCraft has the advantage that the underlying game of Battleship is a relatively intelligent one, and you can actually outthink your opponent to a certain degree. I just don’t think I’ll ever make it to the very top, because that appears to require some serious spending, which I am not willing to do.

Test Your SQL Basics – Part_1

The SQL SELECT Statement Questions

1. Determine the output of the below query
SELECT ‘6+9’  FROM dual;
A) 15
B) 6+9
C) 6
D) 9

2. At least how many clauses must be present in a SELECT statement?
A) 0 (Zero)
B) 1
C) 2
D) 5

3. Which of the following statement is correct?
A) EVERY table expression is a part of SELECT statement
B) Each SELECT statement does not consist of a table expression
C) Every SELECT statement is built from a table expression
D) All of the above

4. Which of the following are the optional clauses?

5. Which of the following is the last clause that is executed in a query?

6. Which of the following is the correct basic syntax of SELECT clause?
A) SELECT column1, column2,….columnx WHERE table_name;
B) SELECT column1, column2,….columnx
C) SELECT column1, column2,…columnx ORDER BY table_name;
D) SELECT column1, column2,…columnx FROM table_name;

7. Determine the output of the below query
SELECT 36/2-5*10 FROM dual;
A) 130
B) -32
C) -120
D) 175

8. Determine the output of the below query
SELECT sal + NULL FROM emp WHERE empno = 7369;
A) sal + NULL
C) 0
D) 1250

9. Which command is used to display the structure of a table?

10. Predict the output of the below query
SELECT 50 || 0001 FROM dual
A) 500001
B) 51
C) 501
D) 5001

1-B,   2-B,   3-C,   4-B,  5-D,   6-D,   7-B,   8-B,   9-C,  10-C

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Restricting and Sorting Data Questions

1. What are the elements NOT contained in the WHERE clause predicate of the SELECT query?
A) Comparison operator
B) Comparison condition
C) Column Name
D) Table Name

2. Which of the following values can NOT be returned after evaluation of WHERE clause condition?

3. Which of the following statements are correct about the WHERE clause?
A) Column Alias can be used in WHERE clause to refer a column
B) Comparison operator is an optional element in WHERE clause condition
C) Functions can be used as operands in the WHERE clause
D) There can be multiple WHERE clause in a SELECT query

4. From the below operators, which one of them holds the highest precedence level?
A) Division (/)
B) Multiplication (*)
C) Brackets ( () )
D) Subtraction

5. What does the selection of columns in a SELECT statement known as?
A) Retrieval
B) Selection
C) Projection
D) Limiting

6. Which of the following WHERE clauses will NOT fit in the below SELECT query?
SELECT ename, deptno, sal  FROM emp;
B) WHERE SAL IN (‘1000′,’4000′,’2000’);

7. Choose the WHERE clause that extracts the DNAME values containing the character literal “er” from the DEPT table.
A) WHERE DNAME IN (‘%e%r’);

8. Which of the following is used to end a SQL query?
A) :
B) ;
C) .
D) /

9. What is the default date format in Oracle?

10. Which of the following clause defines a Membership condition?

1-D,   2-A,   3-C,   4-C,  5-C,   6-C,   7-B,   8-(B,D),   9-D,  10-D

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Using Single-Row Functions Questions

1. What will be the outcome of the following query?
SELECT ROUND(144.23,-1) FROM dual;
A) 140
B) 144
C) 150
D) 100

2. Which of the following statements is true regarding the COUNT function?
A) COUNT (*) counts duplicate values and NULL values in columns of any data type.
B) COUNT function cannot work with DATE datatypes.
C) COUNT (DISTINCT job_id) returns the number of rows excluding rows containing duplicates and NULL values in the job_id column.
D) A SELECT statement using the COUNT function with a DISTINCT keyword cannot have a WHERE clause.

3. Which of the following commands is used to count the number of rows and non-NULL values in Oracle database?

4. What will be the outcome of the query given below?
SELECT 100+NULL+999 FROM dual;
A) 100
B) 999
D) 1099

5. Determine the output of the below query.
SELECT RPAD(ROUND(‘78945.45′),10,’*’) FROM dual;
A) 78945*****
B) **78945.45
C) The function RPAD cannot be nested with other functions
D) 78945.45****

6. Which of the following commands allows you to substitute a value whenever a NULL or non-NULL value is encountered in an SQL query?

7. What is true about the NULLIF function in Oracle DB?
A) NULLIF(expr1,expr2) will return expr2 if the two expressions are NOT NULL.
B) NULLIF(expr1,expr2) will return 0 if the two expressions are NULL.
C) NULLIF(expr1,expr2) will return NULL if the two expressions are equal.
D) Expr1 can be NULL in NULLIF(expr1, expr2)

8. Which of the following is not a property of functions?
A) Perform calculations on data
B) Convert column data types
C) Modify individual data items
D) None of the above

9. Which of the following are also called Group functions?
A) Single row functions
B) Multi group functions
C) Multiple row functions
D) Single group functions

10. What is true about Number functions?
A) They return both Character as well as Number values
B) They can’t accept expressions as input
C) Number functions can’t be nested.
D) They accept Number arguments and return Number values only.

1-A,   2-A,   3-D,   4-C,  5-A,   6-C,   7-C,   8-D,   9-C,  10-D

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Conditional Expressions Questions

1. What is true about data types in Oracle DB?
A) They are given to columns for sorting purposes.
B) They are given to columns for a structured representation in a table.
C) They are given to columns to constrain the nature of the data it can store.
D) They are not mandatory.

2. Which of the following functions simplify working with columns that potentially contain null values?
A) Nested functions
B) General functions
C) Conditional functions
D) None of the above

3. How many input parameters are mandatory in NVL function?
A) 0
B) 1
C) 2
D) 3

4. What will be the output of the following query?
SELECT NVL(1234) FROM dual;
A) 1234
B) 1000
D) ORA-00909:invalid number of arguments error

5. What happens during an implicit conversion in Oracle DB?
A) Oracle DB implicitly converts one data type to the expected data type
B) The user has to convert the data type to the expected data type
C) Oracle DB doesn’t convert any data type
D) Implicit conversion can be controlled by the user

6. Which of the following expressions can be used explicitly for a conversion of a NUMBER to a CHAR?
B) Use TO_DATE and then convert the date to a NUMBER
D) Such conversion is not possible

7. Which of the following are the functions for explicit conversion provided by Oracle to convert one data type to the other?
D) All of the above

8. Which of the following is true about the following statement in Oracle DB?
TO_CHAR(date, ‘frmt’)
A) The fmt can be written in double quotes as well as single quotes.
B) Case of the fmt doesn’t matter in this function
C) Fmt can include any character or NUMBER
D) The fmt has to be enclosed in single quotes and has to be a valid date format.

9. How many maximum places for display will Oracle DB allocate to the Month element in the following statement?
SELECT TO_CHAR (sysdate, ‘fmMonth’) FROM dual;
A) 5
B) 6
C) 7
D) 9

10. What is true about the COALESCE function in Oracle DB?
A) It can take only 2 arguments
B) All the arguments in the COALESCE function can be of different data types
C) All the arguments in the COALESCE function should be of the same data type
D) None of the above

1-C,   2-B,   3-C,   4-D,  5-A,   6-A,   7-D,   8-D,   9-D,  10-C

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