Weights & Measures

57 years ago, the misnamed United Kingdom formally adopted the metric system of measurement. The British imperial system of measurement continues to be used to this day but has, in many ways, been superseded by the simpler decimal based system.

That was 10 years before I was born, I think 1965 is also the nominal birth of Generation X, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I am a fan of the metric system. It just makes sense to me and I believe it does to many of those born in or after the 1970s.

Now, I’ll apologise in advance as much of what is to follow in this post may come across as ageist. Please believe that I am not a “black and white” kind of person; I know that not all of those over the age of 57 are die hard Brexiteers, in the same way that not all of the “yoof” are anti-establishment libtard anarchists. I do mention the over 50s a bit though… so apologies if you feel I’m painting you with an inappropriate brush. (I.e., I don’t mean you Dad).

It will also be of no surprise to those who know me that I am a card carrying remoaner; one of the 48%. That being said, I had missed the Brexiteer memo saying that one of the reasons we should “take back control” was to “take back the imperial measurement system that Europe stole from us”. With that in mind, our so called “Leader” and party guy, Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, recently pledged that we would move back to the imperial system of measures as one of the “benefits of Brexit“.

It’s worth noting at this point that the aim of those “benefits” allow the government to “use its new freedoms to transform the UK into the best regulated economy in the world”. That seems to be going well so far does it?

With that in mind, the UK Government have opened a consultation on “Choice of units of measurement: markings and sales”. You can take part in that consultation by clicking here. If you feel strongly on this issue, I encourage you to do so.

I completed the survey myself, earlier and thought I would share my extreme lunatic leftist response here. Not to encourage debate, as my mind is made up on this one but mainly for my own amusement. The survey covers 4 main areas and can be anonymised, those areas are:

  1. Questions for everyone
  2. Questions for businesses
  3. Questions for consumers
  4. Questions for trading standards

The options to answer are largely multiple choice: Yes, No or Not Sure for example. The survey is subtly weighted though, introducing a 4th option, and that influenced how I answered. The survey also encourages you to “explain further”, offering a comments box with each question.

I include my own responses below.

Q 1a. Are there any specific areas of consumer transactions that should be a priority for allowing a choice in units of measurement, and why?

A 1a. No. We already have a choice in the use of units of measurement. The reason that the metric system is so prevalent is that most folk under the age of 50 have been brought up with the metric system. Pretty much every consumer transaction that can be measured is metric with the rare exceptions of enjoying a
“pint” in one of the fast-disappearing public houses. Unless I enjoy a glass of wine (served in millilitres) or a spirit (served in millilitres).

Q 1b. Are there any specific areas that you think should be excluded from a choice in units of measurement, and why?

A 1b. Yes. I would exclude all of them, the exercise is an utter waste of time and money. We already have a choice in the use of units of measurement. The reason that the metric system is so prevalent is that most folk under the age of 50 have been brought up with the metric system. Pretty much every consumer transaction that can be measured is metric with the rare exceptions of enjoying a “pint” in one of the fast-disappearing public houses. Unless I enjoy a glass of wine (served in millilitres) or a spirit (served in millilitres).

Q 1c. If an item is sold in imperial measures, should there be a requirement for a metric equivalent alongside it?

A 1c. Yes. My personal opinion is that an item should not be sold in imperial measures. But I’m not going to fall for your trap and tick that box. If I tick that box, you’ll class me as a “not sure” when it comes to the “If an item is sold in imperial measures, should there be a requirement for a metric equivalent alongside it?”. If we are going to continue using the anachronistic and confusing imperial system of measures then we absolutely should show the metric equivalent for those of us born after 1970 that have been brought up using the metric system. If we don’t I’ll end up having to ask Google to calculate the measure in “modern terms” as I have more important things to remember than how many litres there are in a gallon (I assume we’d be using the UK gallon and not the US gallon).

Q 2. What would be the consequences of your business having the freedom to sell products in imperial measures, if you wished?

A 2. Absolutely none whatsoever. We would continue to use the metric system. We would not want to alienate our customer base by using an outdated and confusing system of measures. It would be like us translating all of our written materials to Latin.

Q 3a. If you had a choice, would you want to purchase items (i) in imperial units? (ii) in imperial units alongside a metric equivalent?

It is noteworthy here that the answers offered were “In imperial Units”, “In imperial units alongside a metric equivalent” and “Not in imperial units”. That triggered me for some reason, I’m not sure why.

A 3a. Not in imperial units.

This is yet another flawed and weighted question. Where is the “In metric units” answer? “Not in imperial units” is negative. Using imperial units is a massive step back for the nation. It is like you think the “benefits of Brexit” are to step back to the glory days of the 1950s. Taking back control does not mean having to devolve or regress to a society where you needed a mathematics degree to calculate the change from a five bob note.

Q 3b. Are you more likely to shop from businesses that sell in imperial units?

A 3b. No. No, I feel so strongly about this that I would actively boycott a store that sold in only imperial units. I would make a point of insisting they tell me what the measures are in metric before taking my business elsewhere. I’m sure those businesses will enjoy the patronage of those who wish to live in the halcyon days of post-world-war Britain but not for me thank you.

Q 3c. Do you foresee any costs or benefits to you from businesses being permitted to sell: (i) solely in imperial units? (ii) in imperial units alongside a less prominent metric equivalent?

Note that in option (ii) the description has evolved to place the metric units in a less prominent position. This also triggered me somewhat, I can just imagine a pint being depicted as “1 Great British Pint” in bold with a tiny superscript “0.58 loony left litres” following.

A 3ci. Solely in imperial units: There would be zero benefit to the business. Any business change carries cost. If we were made to change to imperial units then there would be costs in changing weights and the like for deliveries. Paperwork, digital systems.

A 3cii. In imperial units alongside a less prominent metric equivalent?: There would be zero benefit to the business. Any business change carries cost. If we were made to change to imperial units alongside a less prominent metric equivalent then there would be costs in changing weights and the like for deliveries. Paperwork, digital systems. Interesting that you now specify “alongside a less prominent metric equivalent”. It reads as if you actively want to promote a regressive and archaic way of measurement and infantilise the more modern and simple method that has carried the nation forward over the last few decades.

Q 3d. Do you have experience of buying solely in imperial units?

A 3d. No. I was born in 1975. As such I have been raised using the metric system. Sure, I remember buying a pound of bacon when I was a child but bacon is sold by the slice now; it is irrelevant how much the bacon weighs as long as i have my 8 rashers of thick cut bacon.

OK, I accept that the answer to that should have been “Yes” but I don’t really count my childhood years of buying a quarter of mint humbugs as “experience”. I certainly wasn’t going to get into the buying and selling of “nine bars” that seemed so prevalent in the mid 90’s… not in a government survey.

Q 4. What potential impacts might there be on regulatory activity, including any costs or benefits?

A 4. Well there’s a broad question. Firstly, I see no benefit to regressing to an imperial system of measurement across the board; whether displaying a sole imperial measurement or displaying alongside the metric measurement. If anything it muddies the water further when it comes to regulatory activity. Regulatory systems would inevitably have to change and that will always carry a cost. A cost to change the actual standard, a cost to change the auditing of that standard and a cost of handling the inevitable non-conformances to that standard. I also believe that there will be a heavy cost to compliance when it comes to training and education. Whilst the aging workforce may remember those glorious years of food stamps and buying fruit by the 16th of a pound, most of the working population have lived with the metric system that is far simpler to understand.

Those were the answers I gave and I encourage you, once again, to complete the survey if this is something that you feel passionate about.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/choice-on-units-of-measurement-markings-and-sales

I appreciate there’s a lot more to the topic than I included in my own responses. The potential for confusion amongst consumers is very high. There are businesses out there who may use that confusion to make money from those consumers. We would also be making it even more difficult for international businesses to trade with us.

Four seasons in one hour

Clifton Beck Ford, June 2018

Hailstones in my hair are melting,
cold water trickling down my neck.
Salt crusts mark my passing,
asphalt and mud from the trek.
I sit here passively drying,
as the seasons flip, unchecked.
I await an angrier sibling,
as Dudley’s wrath swells the beck.

Black Dick’s Tower

Just under 4 decades ago, I went on my first ever trip away from my family. I don’t remember how old I was, only that I spent the weekend without cutlery and for the first time outside my family, felt that my belief in the paranormal was taken seriously. Full disclosure, my cutlery was packed in my wash bag; I only missed it because I was a scruffy dirty child, away from home without my family for the first time.

I was in the cubs at the time and the troop had gone to Whitley Beaumont Scout Camp in the grounds of the Beaumont Estate on the outskirts of Huddersfield.

What has this got to with Black Dick, Armaitus?

That’s a great question dear reader, I can see how I may have lured you in with an overly sensational headline. You see, that childhood camp with the cub scouts was when I was first introduced to the legend of Black Dick.

The “Temple” (Black Dick’s Tower)

The Beaumont family are an important part of Huddersfield’s history and the patriarch of that family, Sir Richard Beaumont, first built Beaumont Hall back in the 17th century. Along with the Hall, he also erected “The Temple“, a small, hidden folly in the grounds of the estate. Allegedly this “temple” was an egress point, fed by a tunnel from the hall as a means of escape from the Hall, should an escape be necessary. I’ve always tied this to the times that folk turned on each other for worshipping the Christian God in the wrong way – but I have nothing to back that up. In fact, the folly was actually built long after Sir Richard Beaumont shuffled off this mortal coil.

Towards the end of his life, Sir Richard was apparently a bit of a lush. Rumoured to be impoverished by gambling and in some circles he was accused of larceny, even banditry – and so he earned the moniker “Black Dick”. 17th century folk would prefix “Black” in front of anyone’s names as an indicator to that person’s perfidious villainy, with nary a thought for future allegations of racism or innocent blog writer’s Google search history.

That childhood camp was fairly typical, we cooked on camp fires, sang songs and told ghost stories. What made it stand out to me, is that we walked through the fields and woods to the aforementioned “Temple”, to hear tell the tale of “Black Dick” and how his ghost haunts his tower… to this very day.

And it was the “this very day” element that I have wanted to check up on for nearly 4 decades. And so it was a glorious late summer day that I headed out to Grange Moor to find a path to Black Dick’s Tower and see if I could chill out with Sir Richard.

The footpath is fairly easy to find from Liley Lane. If you walk down from Grange Moor (or up from The Hare & Hounds) you will eventually see a quarry entrance to the west of Liley Lane. The footpath entrance is just to the right of the quarry entrance.

Working my way through the small bit of woodland, the tower became visible pretty quickly and when I eventually left that sparse woodland I was struck by a cool wash of air.

The grounds surrounding the Temple appear to be well maintained, presumably by the estate groundskeepers. In contrast to that, the tower itself is in a very poor state of repair.

The inside of the folly is “secured” by loose wire mesh and not without good reason. It would be very difficult to climb out of the lower floor should someone fall in. That being said, it is possible to get into the folly itself, should you wish to. Others have if the graffiti and litter is anything to go by.

I spent just under an hour sat on one of the window sills, looking out over Mirfield and soaking up the atmosphere. The tower definitely had an eerie feel to it but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t meet Sir Richard.

Working on a Ley Line

I’m quickly approaching the 15th anniversary of my current employment; that’s almost a third of my life working for the same business. The other day I discovered that for 2/3rds of that time, I’ve been sat on a ley line!

Ley lines have always been something of an enigma to me. Definitely a topic of Fortean interest, I’d never really pushed my interest further than mentions of ley lines in books. Even when I was introduced to the ley line centric roleplaying game, Rifts, in the late 1980’s, I didn’t spend too much effort in researching the subject in local libraries.

As I traversed through the early nineties and started mingling in more esoteric circles, I recall brief glimpses of alleged ley line maps of West Yorkshire or the United Kingdom but these were often in smoke hazed rooms filled with the kava kava chewing hippies, punks and anarchists that made up the local “occult” scene. My memories are far more romanticised than the reality, I am sure.

I never found those maps in the stores of the time. Sorcerer’s Apprentice had been driven online by literal firebrand fundamentalists and I was yet to discover the marvels of the Mandrake Press or Treadwell’s of London. It was only on a whim the other day that I came across this Ley Line Map of the British Isles.

This image is taken from https://www.higgypop.com/ley-lines/

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as esoterically inclined as the next dweeb but this map seemed a bit of a let down. I’d imagined a whole cracked mirror of lines, slashing their way across this sceptic isle; not a pride flag Union Jack constructed from a game of pick-up-sticks (a game of surprising skill that is both juvenile and divinatory). I’ve always wanted ley lines to be far more spread across the country than they are and maybe they are; maybe it’s just not worth folk investigating the minor lines.

As seems to be popular these days, I did some of my own research… and by that, I mean I googled it for a bit. I found a really nice write up from dowsers who had investigated Arbor Low, for example. Arbor Low is that central hub in the middle of England by the way. It appears to have 9 lines originate from (or terminate at) it.

I say I looked into this “on a whim” but actually, I was planning to visit a local place of interest that has a reputation for being haunted. The “whim” was to check to see if any ley lines passed through that area – spoliers – they do not. That being said, there is a ley line shown to pass right through Huddersfield.

Local folklore suggests that a ley line passes through Huddersfield’s most iconic landmark, Castle Hill and this map certainly lends credence to that suggestion.

If you zoom into that area of the “interactive map” you see the “Northern Ley Line” (173 miles in length, from Arbor Low all the way to Marygate on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne). Those dowsers I mentioned earlier have put together a more detailed map of possible places of interest along the route but sadly, it missed Castle Hill as one of them.

Castle Hill is the area in green above.

The place I planned to visit (and succeeded in doing so) was “The Temple” at Whitley Beaumont, affectionately known as “Black Dick’s Tower”. Too far to the east of this line to be included by the most generous of dowsers. I plan to write that little adventure up later.

Pushing whimsy and disappointment to one side, one thing that jumped out as I looked into these maps was this… for the last decade, I have worked on a ley line.

Whilst no businesses are listed, take my word for it, I spend most of my day, sat on this line.

The Google map created by the dowsers has the line sitting a to the east but does have the line bisect my employer’s business name perfectly. So, when we moved to new premises on the corner of Armytage Road and Sherwood Road, in Brighouse, back in 2011, we inadvertently moved ourselves onto the Northern Ley Line.

What this means is obviously open to interpretation. I like to think that the unprecedented business growth we have experienced over the last decade is entirely down to shrewd business sense, hard work and the optimisation and automation of processes that my team have developed over the years. Then again… maybe the hippies are right…

1’24” to 1’30”

Pokémon GO! An Open Invitation

20200716_Raid1After a couple of months of waiting, Niantic have finally released the ability to invite friends to raids at Pokémon Gyms… and it’s pretty cool.

The release crept out slowly yesterday evening… possibly to coincide with “Raid Hour”.  After seeing news of friends raiding remotely, I decided to try it out with an international gifting group that I recently joined.

Now, where I live, I’m not actually sat on a Pokémon Gym or Pokéstop but I do have 3 to 5 gyms in range, dependent on drift.

Luckily, one of the more reliable gyms was host to a Kyurem raid last night and so I trialled inviting 5 of my new international friends.

20200716_Raid2

It took a few attempts, you don’t get long to send your invites and your guests have just as little time in which to answer the invite.  After a few false starts, myself and 4 others were on the lobby – all of us remotely raiding, 3 of those invited by myself.

Thankfully, Kyurem is one of those rare legendary raid bosses that can be tackled by low numbers of Pokémon trainers; although it is notoriously difficult to catch.

The process itself is relatively painless, it just feels rushed.  The rush starts once you enter the raid, so it’s best to prepare yourself by agreeing a time with the guests that you are planning to invite.  Once you know who you are going to invite and they are ready and waiting, you’re good to go.

Step 1 – Enter the Raid.

20200716_Raid4This will take a pass as usual but you can also invite from gym that you have decided to remotely access.  

Inviting from a remote pass does come with a caveat though: there is currently a limit of 10 remote raiders per raid lobby.  If you’re using a remote pass and invite 5 others, then someone else will be limited to 4 invites.

That limit is only temporary however, eventually it will reduce to 5! At that point you’ll only be able to invite 4 others if you are, yourself, remotely raiding.

You are also not able to daisy-chain invites… if you accept an invite, you cannot then invite others.

Step 2 – Invite up to 5 friends.

20200716_Raid3

This is where things can feel a little rushed.  It’s taken me just under 60 seconds to scroll and invite every time I’ve done it… you only have 120 seconds to start with.

Click the white-on-green invite button to invite friends.

Once your friends receive their invite, they will probably have 60 seconds to click through the various stages of viewing the invite and entering the raid lobby.

From here on in, it’s pretty much a standard raid.  Your friends will show as translucent avatars and in later days, they’ll be weaker against the raid boss.

Your guests will need remote raid pass to join the raid.  Their “nearby” bar will change to a solid orange background when they have an invite.

20200716_Raid5

Clicking there and into the raid tab will display your invitation and a countdown of how long is left to accept.

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Step 5 – The Battle

20200716_Raid8The battle is pretty much as you’d expect.  You fight the boss as usual.  In the long run, Niantic plan on restricting the damage done by remote raiders but for now they have “boosted” your damage to negate that affect.

If your team does happen to faint though, and you’re a remote guest, you will not return instantly to the lobby.  Instead, you must navigate to the raid tab of the “nearby” window and re-enter the raid that way.

I haven’t yet been unlucky enough to faint as a guest though, so I’m taking that on faith.

Step 4 – Catching the Raid Boss

One of the interesting things to fall out of our experiments is that the Pokémon you catch at the end of the raid, is geographically from the area you were raiding.  A friend from Indonesia took part in an Australian raid and the boss they caught showed as being from Australia.  This could be a good way to gather long distance Pokémon for trading purposes.

20200716_Raid7

One final note of interest… I now have a gym badge for the gym I was attended to battle at… this could up the stakes for those who like to ensure that their gym badges are gold!

 

 

 

Niantic Wayfarer

Screenshot_20191116-100804

I recently wrote about a new feature available to level 40 Pokémon GO players and Niantic‘s replacement to Operation Portal recon (OPR), Niantic Wayfarer.

One of the things that seems to be frustrating many newcomers to Niantic Wayfarer is how the Wayspot approval process works and how to prevent themselves from falling “into the red” when it comes to their own rating as Wayfarers.

As such, this post is most likely to only be of interest to Pokémon GO players or Ingressers that are new to the Niantic Wayfarer programme.

My aim here is to give an overview of the Niantic Wayfarer programme and how to effectively review wayspot submissions.  This is all my own opinion and may differ to the opinion of other Wayfarers.

What is Niantic Wayfarer?

Niantic Wayfarer is a tool by which Niantic farm out the rating and approval or rejection of points of interest (POI) submitted to the global POI database that sits behind their popular augmented reality games: Ingress, Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

Any Ingress player that has reached level 10 (of 16) or Pokémon GO player who has reached the level cap (level 40) can register for access.  Once in, players can manage their own POI submissions (Niantic call these Wayspots) and also rate submissions made by other players.

Once a player has registered to join the programme, they then have to pass a test before they can continue.

Why do I have to pass a test?

Niantic have strict criteria as to the POI that they will accept within their global POI database.  There are rules in place to ensure the safety and security of the general public as well as players and there are rules in place to ensure a certain quality of POI.

Niantic’s overall goal with their GPS based games is to inspire players to get out and discover the world about them – the POI in their games are intended to be hooks to attract players to do just that.

wf_profile_2

The test to gain access to Niantic Wayfarer is kind of like a combination of a tutorial in what makes a good wayspot with an exam to ensure that the end user understands that.

Reviewers are continually assessed by comparing their responses to those of the community as a whole.

If your ratings are in line with the majority of the community then you’re personal rating stays in the green; if you find yourself at odds with the community, you’ll slip into the yellow and then the red.

Reviewers with a green rating have a heavier weighting than reviewers in the red or yellow.

How should I be rating wayspots?

Well, that’s a good question.

Niantic have published guidelines on what makes a good wayspot but the guidelines alone aren’t enough to make sure you’re rating things effectively.

The first rule when reviewing wayspot submissions is this: don’t rush.

Yes, the screen can timeout after several minutes but you still get enough time to analyse the submission and pass judgement.  If you rush through ticking 5 stars to everything, you’ll end up approving some thoroughly awful submissions.  Likewise, think twice before rejecting something.

I used to blanket reject the red UK post boxes and playing fields but it turns out that some of them are perfectly valid candidates, worthy of approval.

wf_cooldown

Don’t be tempted to power through quickly, Niantic have built a speed bump into the process and you could find yourself locked out for 24 hours as happened to a member of our local community (Thanks AG).

Take time to check for duplicates, check the location is correct and check that the postbox is a valid King George or Genuine King Edward or Queen Victoria one and not an EIIR one.

The second rule when reviewing is kind of like the first: take time to look at every angle.

Does the wayspot actually exist where it says it does? Most submissions now require that the player submits a photograph that shows the surrounding area of the submission is safe to play in.  This photo should match up with Google maps and Street View in some regard.

I’ve lost count of the number of submissions that I have rejected because the POI had been flagged outside somebody’s house rather than where it actually existed.

Is the wayspot blocking access to an emergency service or is it close to a school?  Quite often you may click an acceptance on a wayspot that others have rejected because of this and that will mark you down on your personal rating.

The third and final rule: Don’t fall for sob stories.

The rest of the Wayfarer community couldn’t care less that there are no Gyms or stops in a particular cell.  Old school Ingressers are unlikely to care that the player submitting a candidate needs one more stop to trigger a gym in the area.  All they care about is the validity of the wayspot candidate.  Don’t be tempted to let a poor candidate through because there are no other wayspots around.

But how do you do it Armaitus?

Another good question and one that isn’t as easily answered.  I was going to try to record a video of myself running through some wayspot nominations but I chose to screenshot a few examples instead.

Example 1, a rejection.

wfreject1

This looks almost legitimate.  I’m not too keen on the submission being an empty field but it is a place of local interest.

I then check the next section, checking for duplicates.

wfreject2

Here, we see that the suggested POI is already present, albeit in the form of a sign identifying the complex.  That renders this submission just a field… the actual POI is already flagged.

wfreject3

Therefore, the answer (my answer) was to mark with 1 star and set it as an ineligible wayspot nomination.  Note that I also take the time to explain my reasoning.

Example 2, an EIIR Postbox.

wf_e2r_1

All postboxes are royal in the UK but not all are eligible wayspots in Wayfarer.  Queen Elizabeth II postboxes are deemed too modern to be eligible; Postboxes from the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII or King George VI are fair game.

The way to check is to look at the wayspot image for a royal cipher, in this case:

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Definitely from the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and so…

wf_e2r_3

… give it 1 star and reject it.

Example 3, it’s OK to be unsure.

You don’t have to 1 or 5 star everything.  In fact Niantic encourage you to use a wide range of star ratings dependent on specific criteria.  There’s a Google Doc that maintains current guidance for the UK.  This has tabs explaining what star rating fits certain criteria.

To be honest, that’s too deep a level for me, I like to go with my gut on these things.

wf_unsure_1

In this example we see a rather uninspiring photo with very little to it.  The title and description indicate that it could be a valid wayspot candidate.  A historic POI on a woodland trail, all good.  I just have a niggle, is it really what it says it is?

Well, its a good story so I won’t just dismiss it.

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It’s historic, visually unique and safely accessed.

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I can’t guarantee that it is in the right place though.

So I rated 3 stars overall, I think it should be a wayspot but have a doubt.  Note that I’ve also filled in the optional “What is it?” bit, in the hopes that Niantic see my reasoning.

Example 4, one I might have rejected on first glance.

wf_younglambs

Traditionally, road signs are a 1-star rejection.  This isn’t any old road sign though.

On second glance after reading the description and supporting information, this is an art installation of sorts.  Unique art signs marking a trail.  Exactly the kind of thing Niantic are after.

So after checking for duplicates and safety it gets a 5 star thumbs up from me.

wf_younglambs_2

I’d like to add that I questioned the anonymity of submissions at this point.  A local walker has taken a 360 degree photo of the sign in the past.  I know this particular photographer and he didn’t submit the wayspot.

Example 5, grist for the mill.

And now we get to the final example for this post.  This example is pretty much par for the course, certainly for UK towns and villages… the village notice board.  It’s not pretty, it’s fairly generic but it is a valid candidate.

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wf_notice_2

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I 5-starred the location accuracy and updated the “What is it?” information.

There you have it, a glance into the mind of an infrequent Niantic Wayfarer reviewer.  I may get round to recording a video of a review session but there are plenty to view on YouTube already.

Pokéstop Go

TL:DR – This post contains some of the history behind Niantic’s POI (point of interest) submissions and an overview of how submissions work in Ingress and Pokémon GO.

For over a week now, level 40 Pokémon GO players have been able to submit new POI to Niantic, in the hope that their submissions will become Pokéstops or Gyms in what is arguable Niantic’s most popular AR enabled GPS based game.

I’ve played Niantic’s original GPS capture-the-flag-esque game, Ingress, since December 2013 and my first submission to their POI database was made very early in 2014.

myfirstingresssub

As you can see, it was rejected as a duplicate of an existing submission.

Since then I have made hundreds of submissions, some of which were rejected and some of which made their way through to Niantic’s games. To date I’m responsible for 297 Ingress portals and a single accepted submission via Pokémon GO!

The history of Niantic’s POI submissions has been rocky.  Back in the halcyon days of early Ingress, there was no limit or level cap on making submissions. Any and all players weer welcome to suggest new portal locations to Niantic.  This led to a massive backlog of submissions to review.  IT could take several months for a portal to be accepted or rejected.

Niantic made the decision to remove the feature from Ingress.

Over a period of several months, the team at Niantic slowly worked through the backlog before announcing a new programme “Operation Portal Recon” (also known as OPR).  This came around the same time that portal submissions were made available to higher level Ingress players, albeit capped at limit of 14 submissions every 13 days.

OPR allowed Ingress players to review portal submissions, voting on whether a portal candidate should or should not be brought into the game.  Players had to be a certain level and to pass a test before being granted access.  OPR has since been replaced by a programme called Niantic Wayfarer, I intend to write more on this over the weekend.

Over the year or so that submissions have been available again, I found myself called upon, by players amongst the Pokémon GO community, to submit various POI in the hope that they become Pokéstops or Gyms.

As I’ve written about previously, I play all 3 of Niantic’s GPS based games: Ingress, Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.  So, I didn’t mind going out of my way to enhance the games for other players – I was effectively enhancing the games for myself anyway.

That being said, with a limit of 14 submissions every 13 days, the local backlog had grown quite large, with over 100 suggestions from players across the local community.

Other Ingress players had stepped in also, using their submissions to help other players gain POI in areas close to their daily routines.  When Niantic announced that submissions would be coming to Pokémon GO, we were over the moon.

I created a Facebook group to try co-ordinate local submissions, prevent duplication of effort and to help educate people as to what makes a good “wayspot” (as Niantic now refer to their POI).  As I’ve already mentioned, I intend to write more on Niantic’s Wayfarer programme, later.  The purpose of this post is to discuss the submission of wayspots through Pokémon GO.

What makes a good Wayspot?

In Niantic’s own words:

High-quality nominations are those that help users discover and enjoy their community, such as:
    • A location with a cool story, a place in history or educational value.
      • Interesting story behind the location/object
      • Signboards with educational information
      • Historical significance (apart from just being old)
    • A cool piece of art or unique architecture
        • Statues, paintings, mosaics, light installations, etc.
        • Venues that showcase fine art (e.g., performance art theaters and museums)
    • Buildings designed by renowned architects/structures famous specifically for their architecture
  • A hidden gem or hyper-local spot
    • A popular local spot that you would take a friend visiting your community for the first time
    • A popular spot where locals gather, but may be lesser-known outside the community
    • Tourist spots that showcase local flavor and culture and that make your city/neighbourhood unique
    • More off-the-beaten-path tourist attractions (i.e., if you weren’t a local, you wouldn’t necessarily know to go here)
    • Adventurous tourist attractions – think lookout towers, observatories, signs or markers atop mountain peaks, etc.
In addition to using the above acceptance criteria, we often add nominations that are a special nod to industries and networks that connect people around the world. These include:
  • Public parks
    • Public parks are great, high-quality places for Wayspots: they are common all around the world and encourage players to walk, exercise and enjoy public spaces
  • Public libraries
    • A nod to education and discovery, a cornerstone of Niantic
    • Includes little free libraries, provided they are not on private residential property; does not include mobile libraries
  • Public places of worship
    • A nod to the spiritual
  • Transit stations
    • A nod to the transportation industry, which also connects and unites people around the world
    • Accept transportation hubs (like Grand Central Station), but not every single small transit stop (like a subway station or a bus stop)

I feel bad for lifting that from Niantic’s own description but I genuinely couldn’t put it any better.

How to submit in Pokémon GO

Last weekend I placed my first wayspot submission through Pokémon GO.  The process is all but identical to submitting via Ingress, except Pokémon trainers only have 7 submissions every fortnight, as opposed to Ingress’s 14.

Yes, that does mean I get 21 per fortnight as a player of both games.

From the settings menu, I selected to submit a new Pokéstop.

The next few screens walked me through the basics of the process.

Step 1: Choose a location.

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I was walking into Huddersfield on my usual weekend route and spotted a King George V era postbox that was ripe for submitting.  These never used to be acceptable POI for Niantic but apparently the older postboxes are classed as “historic” and so are fair game.

This particular box is really close to an existing Gym, so is unlikely to come through to Pokémon GO (it has since been accepted as a wayspot).

Step 2: Take a photo

Actually, you’ll need to take two photographs:

The first is the photo that will be displayed on the portal/pokestop/gym/inn/greenhouse/fortress.

The second is used to provide evidence that your submission is safe to access and won’t put players at risk of being run over or assaulted by villains.

I didn’t take a screenshot of my supporting photograph, it was basically a shot of the clear pavement and pillar box.  Some people like to use the Google street view app to take a 360 photograph to upload here.

Step 3: Give it a name

The next step is to give your wayspot a name and description.  This is what will appear when players click on this POI.

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You are also asked to confirm the location at this point.

I called this one “George Rex Pillarbox”.  The important thing is to make sure your name is unique.  I’ve seen (and submitted) comedy names in the past but always related to the POI itself; comedy names can get a submission rejected.

Step 4: Justified

The 4th and final step is to add justification of why this is a great POI to include in Niantic’s games.  Here is where you can explain more about what is special about this submission or how it is safe to play near.

Many new users seem to be using this section to state “We need more Gyms” or “Meets criteria” with little thought put to the intended use of this step.

Screenshot_20191116-100225Here you can see that I have put a great deal of effort into my own submission.  Paying little or no attention to spelling or content.

I could have mentioned how George V emblazoned pillarboxes are valid under Niantic’s “historic importance” criteria.  I could draw attention to the pillarboxes GR cypher.

Instead, I wanted to carry on walking… Community days don’t play themselves you know.

Once your submission has gone through, you should receive an email, like this:

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If you have a Niantic Wayfarer account, you’ll also see your submission in there.  It can take a week or more for a response and if successful there is no guarantee that your wayspot will appear in Pokémon GO.

Unlike Ingress and Wizards Unite, Pokémon GO limits the number of POI that can appear within a specific S2 cell.  If you ever want to see what’s in an area as base POI, check out Ingress Intel.

S2 Cell? Whatchootalkinabout?

Here’s where things get pretty funky in Pokémon GO.

S2 cells are a mathematical mechanism used in cartography to help computers translate the 3D shape of Earth’s “sphere” into a 2-dimensional map.

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Pokémon GO sees the world overlaid with S2 cells sized at L14 and L17.  If you click here you can see sunny Huddersfield as it appears with the relevant S2 cells overlaid.

Pogomaps is a community-fed tool used to track POI in an area.  There are other tools out there that you can use but some of them are technically against Niantic’s terms of use within their games.

Each L14 cell is made up of 64 L17 cells.  Pokémon GO will only allow a single POI to appear within a single L17 cell.  If a cell contains more than one wayspot, only one of them will appear in Pokémon GO.

This can be frustrating but there is no way round this, it’s just how Pokémon GO choose to handle the POI available to the game.  It can take a day or so for a wayspot to pull through to Pokémon GO.  I’ve been told that new Pokéstops pull through at 18:45 Tuesday to Friday with an update of POI across all games around 18:45 on a Monday.  No new submissions pull through over a weekend.  Any new POI accepted before 08:45 that day should pull through.

There are other mechanics at play when it comes to gyms.  When you hit certain quantities of Pokéstops within an L14 cell, a Pokéstop will become a gym.  This is usually the oldest Pokéstop but can be influenced by up-voting photographs on portals in Ingress.

If there are 2 POI within an L14 cell, one of them will become a gym; once there are 6 POI, another gym triggers with a 3rd and final gym being triggered at 20 POI.  I’ve read conflicting views on a 4th gym, with some sites reporting that 35+ POI will trigger another gym.  I have not seen that in my experience however.

All in all, this is an exciting time for Niantic’s player base. Hopefully we’ll see an increase in POI in out of the way places, making it easier to play all 3 of Niantic’s games.

The Outer Worlds

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Say “Hello” to my little friend…

I’ve really missed playing decent console roleplaying games.

Over the last few years there has been a dearth of good RPG content on any platform and I find myself incredulous that the gaming community has become so accepting of the swill being fed to us by the big players in game development.

It took the release of Obsidian’s “The Outer Worlds” to make me realise that.

It’s simply beautiful… In fact, to use a phrase my old buddy Beaknasty uses:

It’s AMAZING!

The last game that grabbed my attention to this degree was Mass Effect: Andromeda.  I’d actually put The Witcher 3 or Skyrim ahead of those but neither of them are really comparable to Obsidian’s latest space opera.

The thing is, The Outer Worlds, in and of itself, isn’t really that amazing.  I know I’ve just said that it is but what I mean is, it feels amazing.  It stands out as amazing because we’ve become used to the steaming ordure that is being squeezed out and onto our gaming platforms these days.

After months of dragging myself through the ongoing farce that is Fallout 76 and a reluctance to continue with games aimed at a multiplayer or co-op market, The Outer Worlds is a breath of fresh air (albeit with a hint of Saltuna).

For one, it’s a simple single player RPG.  You can play at your own pace and each area you visit feels open world enough to allow for a wonderfully immersive experience.  It feels very much like the early Bioware offerings like Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire.

save_1It has some really nice RPG mechanics: a simple yet effective character development system with skills and perks; a scaled down version of the same for companions and the ability to play through without companions if that’s your bag.

Inventory management, quest management and in game lore are all really well thought out and handled in an easy to use interface.  There is even a simple stealth system, if that’s your play style.  In fact that’s probably what stands out for this game – it’s so well polished.

The story is relatively original with nods to science fiction classics such as Agents of Chaos and The Stainless Steel Rat; it starts out like a mashup of corporate style 1984 dystopia and Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

Plot decisions really matter, you can quite easily turn different factions against you if you don’t think your actions through carefully.  The reputation system, like everything else in the game, seems both simple and well thought out.

The only down side is that the game is quite short, with an estimated 30-40 hours playtime.  Some players have reported lower times than that but I suspect they’re not completionists.

save_0I’ve played around 25 hours so far and suspect that I’m close to end game. I’ve reached level 28, 2 levels away from the reputed level cap at 30.  I’m also down to 2 quests… so I’m fairly sure I’m close to end game.

I’ve only encountered one bug so far, where a protracted battle with a mega Mantiqueen left me with an 11 second burning effect that never decayed.  That led to around 6 minutes of Benny-Hilling around the Monarch Steppes, whilst leading a conga line of Mantisaurs and Marauders and snorting Adreno. 6 minutes of blazing glory before finally expiring to weapons fire.

All in all, The Outer Worlds is a sterling example of what a console RPG should be and I am eager for news of the inevitable slew of downloadable content to come.

 

 

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

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Mandrake’s one hell of a drug…

Like some kind of bizarre mashup of the worlds of Rick James and J. K. Rowling, “Augmented Reality” game maker, Niantic Labs, release their latest money spinner to the UK today.

Well, actually, I think you’ll find they quietly released “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” into the UK yesterday.

I still haven’t had an alert from their mailing list but I am already a Level 8 Professor in House Ravenclaw (naturally).

The game is available from Google’s play store here and the Apple store here.

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I’ve played Niantic’s previous offering Pokémon Go since it’s release 3 years ago and Ingress since discovering it a month or so after its release in 2012.

Over the last 6 years I’ve contributed to both communities and consider myself responsible for a large number of places of interest in Niantic’s games.

I’ve been looking forward to this latest venture, my Father and Nieces are big Potter fans and I’m not averse to dipping into the Potterverse (although I still haven’t read the books).

In the same breath, I’m concerned that I may become torn between the 3 games.  I already play far less Ingress than I used to and may even drop it when Niantic remove support for the original GUI in September.

I got word of the early availability of Wizards Unite through the local Pokémon Go community; full disclosure, I was in the pub enjoying a post-work pint and natter with the chap that got me into Ingress.

On first impression, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (HP:WU) is far more complex than either of Niantic’s previous games but that complexity lends itself well to the world of Harry Potter.

Screenshot_20190621-154317On the face of it, the regular game-play centres around the discovery of “confoundables“, reagents, seeds, water and port-keys and places of interest (POI) as you walk around playing the game.

Confoundable encounters are similar to the random wild Pokémon encounters in Pokémon Go and trigger a simple single glyph matching game, to free an important item, creature or person from the confoundable.  Glyphs are used to depict the casting of the relevant spell required to defeat the confoundable.

The POI interactions are centred on quick actions that can be accessed from those places familiar to us as Ingress Portals or Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops.  Niantic have pulled through far more POI from Ingress than they did in Pokémon Go but I’m not sure on why certain POI have been omitted.

I’ll be interested to see if my next Ingress Portal submissions make it through to HP:WU as quickly as they do in Pokémon Go.

POI in HP:WU (oh the acronymity) take the form of Inns, Greenhouses and Fortresses.  There may be other forms but I’ve not found them yet.

Screenshot_20190621-123940Inns can be “hacked”, (to use an Ingress term) by swiping as imple “smile” glyph, to refresh your spell power.  Spell power is used when casting spells in combat or when dealing with confoundables.

Greenhouses can be hacked by knocking a plant-pot over to release reagents that can be used to craft potions.  You can also plant seeds at greenhouses, these then release specific reagents into the area in a manner very similar to “lures” in Pokémon Go.

Potions craft over time and can be very helpful in battles.

Fortresses are the closest kind of POI to Pokémon Gyms.  They are venues for multiplayer battles against various creatures.  Battles are tough to handle solo and could be a good source of team based play.  They increase in difficulty but the rewards are worthwhile.

Finally, there are also “amplifiers” that aren’t based on POI but can have “dark detectors” deployed on them, again like the lures in Pokémon Go.  I think these attract or reveal more confoundables but I’ve not tried that side of the game yet.

Screenshot_20190621-133657Niantic have put some thought to the walking side of the game.  certain items can only be won by accessing secret areas through port-keys (the weird teleport items that wizards use to fast travel around the world).  Port-keys can be found at random throughout the world but need to be walked for certain distances to activate.  This is similar mechanism to hatching Pokémon  eggs.

I’m not sold on the port-key quests when they’re activated.  You have to use your phone to find items in the secret area and that’s not always easy to do when you’re on your daily commute.  I’ll probably use my port-keys at home when I don’t look as daft spinning my phone round.

The levelling process seems pretty well paced.  In around 4 hours of play time I hit level 8 and this has unlocked a variety of cosmetics for my “Ministry ID” as well as lore and information in a variety of quest-lines.

The items, creatures and people you save from confoundables also increase a level in certain areas of the game.  Rescue enough students and your Hogwarts School level increases.

Screenshot_20190621-133608You can also educate yourself in various skills to advance a profession, which actually makes the game feel like a proper role-playing game (RPG).  There are also a number of in game currencies that have to be gathered to slowly progress various elements, which adds to the RPG feel.

Performance wise, HP:WU is definitely a battery suck but the same can be said for Pokémon Go and Ingress.  A 45 minute stroll at lunch took the battery down by 22% and that was only casual play as I was chatting with people on my lunchtime walking club.

One frustration that arose during casual play, is that the screen does not have an option to stay active like Pokémon Go does; like Ingress, you have to constantly keep your screen refreshed.

All in all, I think this is a really good offering and I’m looking forward to playing as the game evolves throughout the year.  For a fresh release, the game feels really polished.

Screenshot_20190621-134159I’m not sure it will hold my attention as much as Pokémon Go did, that depends on how addictive the levelling remains and what new features Niantic throw in later on.

I think the sheer volume of references to Pokémon Go in this blog post speaks volumes to my current devotion to that game.

I’ll still be playing Pokémon  Go but definitely need a new phone to play both games.  My Huawei P20 Lite plays both games but Pokémon Go reloasd every time I switch between – which is something of a chore.

A warning to the curious: not all devices are capable of running HP:WU.  Many of the local Pokémon Go community are unable to install the game, despite being able to run Pokémon Go.

I did find a list of compatible/incompatible phones here and detailed requirements here.

One final concern is that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite appears to be heavily pitched towards making money – as many free to play games are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve paid money into both Ingress and Pokémon Go over the years, less so with Ingress I grant you.  From the get go, I can see many opportunities for hard earned cash to be thrown at the game: be that to increase storage capacity or just to buy in game currency that can be used to hurry along port-key and potion progress. That’s an observation, not a criticism.

Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit (Days 5 to 7)

Buck’s adventures were put on hold somewhat by an impromptu server update that Bethesda ran to coincide with UK workers returning home after a hard day’s working hard to make more money for the people that employ them.

I took a break from the wasteland of West Virginia to finish the latest Laundry Files offering by Charles Stross.

The weekend, however, saw Buck head off alone, following in the footsteps of Vault 76’s “Overseer” and exploring the wider expanse of the Appalachian wilderness.

Buck finally got into the basement of the Mothman Museum and picked up a Mothman Cultist outfit and so the world was now, very much, Buck’s oyster.

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Eagle eyed readers may notice that my quest list isn’t reducing but that’s because there are timed quests in the game and if I wanted to play racing games I’d install the latest Forza or Daley Thomson’s Decathlon.

Over the weekend, Buck encountered the darker side of PvP, when 4 players chose to goad him into PvP and then returned to his base again and again to murder him, time after time.

Buck also encountered his first “Glitched Quest”, a traditional entry into any Bethesda game.

To start with, the PvP was actually quite unsettling.  I’d setup C.A.M.P. next to Flatwoods and had been dropping unwanted Ammo and Junk for nearby players.  A couple of players came into my shack and decided to hit me a couple of times.

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It was irritating, I was crafting at the time and so took this as being a little unsporting.  Thankfully, JiggyBeastZero had gifted me a Ski Sword a few nights prior and Buck is built for melee combat.  Like the eponymous Butcher Pete, I hacked and whacked and slashed the culprit to pieces and then his friend who tried to avenge him.

What I didn’t know was that there were two more players in that group who decided that the next 10 minutes were a “Let’s kill Buck Frexit in his shack” special event.

Taking a tip from my zombie apocalypse survival lessons, I quickly entered “build” mode and removed the stairs to the upper floor I was hiding on.  I then patched the hole with a floor piece.  The players (soon to be griefers) couldn’t target me or reach me with melee and so I decided to take a moment to re-equip with explosives.

Armed with a missile launcher and plasma grenades, I started to plan a strategy when one of the players found a way up to me.  Two more player kills and I realise one of their party was in power armour and more than twice my level… I was killed in one hit.

The problem didn’t end there though.  They hung around waiting for me to return.  At that point the became “griefers”, spawn camping to troll the player protecting their C.A.M.P.

It left me a little angry to be honest.  Shook up and unwilling to engage again.

Thankfully, the game allows you to block players, which I did.  I then moved to a new server for good measure.

The quest glitch contains spoilers but needless to say, Buck had to kill a baddie to end the quest but only one player per server can kill the baddie.  Cue several restarts of the game to find a server where that baddie hadn’t been killed yet.

Spoilers in the video:

So I now have a new shack, with 3 storeys to make it harder for griefers to get to me.  This one is more portable too, I think maybe next time I’ll write more about the crafting side of the game.