Sunday, October 23, 2011

Interstellar Spreadsheet Overdrive!

The barkeep placed my order in front of me, and taking it, I stood to look for a decent place to sit.

There was no denying: I had been somewhat grumpy ever since our WH operation got crippled a few days ago, more than actually warranted by the loss. But I knew a recipe against this mood: find a place with other capsuleers, and just kick back with a drink for a while.

A soft drink, that is. History had shown that inebriation does nothing to ungrumpy a Druur, just to cause her to undock in too-shiny ships.

Finding a nice spot next with a good view over the room, I relaxed and let the sights and sounds wash over me.

Suddenly, the conversation at the table next over caught my ear.

“Wait, say that again: you think that POS refineries are useful?” A young’ish voice.

“That’s what I said.” Old, grizzled. “If you look carefully enough.”

“But why? Even the Intensive array only gives you 75% yield. Why waste 25% by refining at the POS?”

“In a word: Opportunity Cost. Imagine you’re in a wormhole with only sporadic safe connections. Now imagine you don’t get a good connection for a long while, the corp hangars fill up, and you have to go let Grav sites to waste. Depending on the circumstances, these sites you can’t mine can be worth more than the 25% the refinery loses.”

“Hmm, I can see that.” Young voice wasn’t quite convinced yet, though. “But if you have a good connection, or enough hangars, then this wouldn’t be an issue.”

“Well..., now you also have look at the time you spend. Let’s say you have enough raw ore that it takes you 8-12 hours to move out of the WH - refined down to minerals, it would take you only an hour. That’s 7 to 11 hours you could have used for mining more, shooting some sleepers - or cuddling with your sweetie.”

“Hey, leave me out of this!” New voice, young, amused.

“But then tell me this: if refining arrays are so good, why isn’t everyone using them?”

“Because of fuel cost.” I could almost see Old Voice smiling. “Running an Intensive refinery costs you 0.2 ISK/m3 of ore, a Medium refinery 0.4 ISK/m3 of ore. That is if you have a suitable tower running anyway. If you set up a tower just for the refinery, the costs would be...” I heard tapping on a padd “... 12.8 ISK/m3 for the Intensive, and 28.1 ISK/m3 for the Medium. And that is before defenses.”

“Riiight...” You could hear the Young Voice’s gears turning. “So depending on the setup I’d have to make sure that my ore is worth more than the fuel. On average, and taking yield into account.”


“Ok, I’ll bite.” This was Sweetheart. “How about using a Rorqual to compress the ore?”

Old Voice was unperturbed. “Good question. But keep in mind that a Rorq is a 1 Billion investment: you will have to mine a lot just to pay off that investment. Especially if you’re in a lower-class WH which the Rorq can’t leave. But true - if you know you have the time and/or people, a Rorq could be the better choice. Don’t ask me for numbers on that one, though!”

“You’re no fun!” mocked Sweetheart. “But what then about normal refining arrays - those with 35% yield. Those you will agree are useless.”

“Trying to make my evening difficult, eh?”


“I should have known.... Right, then. One primary application: Ninja mining. You only need a small tower to run a normal refinery. Actually, you can put two on them, but let’s keep it simple. Just a couple of transports, or an Orca, can transport the tower, refinery, and fuel. Run it of for a few hours or a day, then take it down again. And if it gets popped - heck, it’s cheap.”

“You said ‘in theory’...” Sweetheart. “Let me guess - fuel cost vs. ore price?”

“Right. At the moment...”, more tapping, “... a Ninja refinery would cost 5.2 ISK/m3, so your ore better be worth 16 ISK/m3 or more. Which at the moment applies to all of them - but that changes with the fuel prices, and with how many Ninja POSes you lose. And with how correctly I typed in those numbers. But you get the idea.”

“Fun!” Young Voice, sarcastically. “How do you know when to use which setup, if at all?, wait, I’m going to regret asking this, am I?”

“Spreadsheets, son!” Old Voice was chuckling. “Lots and lots of spreadsheets!”

“God, I hate those. Takes all the fun out of things. - Death To Spreadsheets!”

And I started quietly laughing into my drink.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

16 Months

“no no No No No NO NO!”

A calculator flew threw the air in our common room, impacting the wall right next to the door I just entered through, shattering into dozens of pieces.

I sighed - only one person could get angry enough to violence a harmless piece of corporate machinery...

“Ok, Sis - spit it out.”

“The Oxy-Tope market!”, she bellowed, waving a bundle of spreadsheets at me. I couldn’t read any of the writing from this distance, but the diagrams were visible enough: colorful curves of averages and channels, and all pointing upwards. “Might as well not bother reacting anything,” continued Eta, “by the time it’s done, I can be lucky to just break even. Damn Goons!”

Suddenly I had a strong feeling of deja-vu.

“One sec, before you go any further.” I walked over to her, pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. “You are not, by any chance, considering joining Hellfleet again?”

She looked puzzled. “No, why would I? Why do you ask?”

“Nothing,” I waved dismissively, “just checking. Besides I think they closed doors. Anyway, talk to me.”

She leaned back. “You remember the Goon’s new campaign - Goonswarm Shrugged - targetting the Gallente ice miners?”

“Yep. I noticed the Oxy-Tope price wobble somewhat precariously...” - something clicked in my mind - “...oh, that’s the stuff you use.”

“Right. My fuel cost almost doubled - and if the Goons continue their campaign, it may climb even further. Right now there are a few things I can react for profit - but who knows what happens in two months?”

I rubbed my face tiredly. I had just finished a hauling trip to our local market hub, and was actually longing for a shower and my bed. But this took priority.

“Well, how about you switch to a tower using different isotopes?”

“I thought of that.” She tapped onto her console, and a number of tower configurations started flickering over the screen.

“For my purposes, pretty much only the Caldari are suitable - the others don’t have enough CPU.”

I nodded - our corp tower Next Door had the same limitation.

“However,” she continued, “if I go with a plain Caldari, the fuel cost is about the same as my current one. Plus I wouldn’t have the powergrid to anchor proper guns - I’d have to make it a Dick Star and hope for the best.”

She interrupted herself. “Actually, that might not be a bad idea in general.” She made a note to herself, then continued her thought.

“A faction Caldari would reduce the cost, but I’m not sure it would pay itself off in time.”

“I see - so what are you going to do?”

She sighed. “I’ll keep my current towers, maybe try the Dick Star configuration - and wait what happens in two, three months. Besides - did you read this?”

I took the printout she held out, and glanced over it. Then I read it again, and whistled through my teeth.

“Nasty. Capsuleer-Owned Custom Offices - that’ll throw the fuel market into a frenzy.” Possibilities ran through my mind. “We’ll have to reconsider our research POS. Try to pre-produce the gantry materials, and hope that the BPCs get onto the market quickly. And I don’t even want to think about our WH operation...”

“Precisely.” Eta snagged the printout back, crunched it up into a ball and threw it violently into a corner of the room. “We might make some money playing the market at first - but long term?”

“Great.” I slumped into my chair. “Anything else?”

“Well, since you ask...”

I tried to stop her, but she had already entered more commands into her console. The display flickered briefly, and the system started playing a recorded message. According to the time stamp displayed, it had been received just five hours ago, originating from our WH operation. No visual, so it had been sent directly from a ship.

A bad feeling came over me.

A hiss of static, then Lance’ voice became recognizable.

“Hello folks. Unfortunately I have some bad news.
About three hours ago the POS ran out of fuel - right in the middle of our rest period. The reason why we didn’t refuel it in time is because the indicators malfunctioned: we didn’t see anything amiss when we called it a night. But that is only half of it.
One hour ago, a Stealth Bomber and a Battlecruiser attacked the then-offline POS. While they couldn’t break the tower itself, they destroyed both hangars. Our ships are lost, but worse: so are all materials we collected in the last months. Luckily we had made it a habit of sleeping in our ships, otherwise we would have taken the pod express home.
Anyway. We have enough fuel left to power the tower for an hour or two - but I don’t think that’s very useful at this point. So for now we’re just going to hold station, until we hear from you.
Lance out.”

I leaned back, let my head flop over the back of the chair, and closed my eyes. While we had pondered closing down our WH operation before, the loss of the goods had not been part of the plan.

And we had just managed to make back the ISK we lost in the two wars this year!

Eventually Eta softly cleared her throat. “I hear the Tuskers are recruiting?”

I straightened up and looked at her sternly. “Don’t toy with me, Sis! Besides, we both know that I don’t have the right stuff for that!”

“Well, in that case...”, she handed me a calculator, “I suggest that you throw this. It relieves immensely.”

And she was right.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

30 Minutes, 5 Lessons

I awoke with a start, opening my eyes to the dim light of my lodgings. Shaking my head, I tried to remember what had woken me ... some kind of noise ...

Damn Minmatar quarters - always something creaking or hissing in them!

I rolled over, intent to return into Morpheus’ embrace, when the shrill sound again rang through the room.

What the... Comm System!

Stretching out my arm, I activated the comm panel - no outgoing visual though. The holo display shimmered and resolved into the face of Eta.

[ Finally you’re awake! Get your ass on alliance comms, and then into a ship. They need a combat scanner Next Door; like, 10 minutes ago! ]

‘Next Door’ - our nickname for the neighbouring lo-sec system; home to the towers of a number of alliances, some of them much larger than us, and also always seeing traffic from random missioners and ratters.

Hmm, combat scanning - I don’t think I ever had to do that outside of my solo WH expeditions... ah, what the heck - she who dares, and so on.

I jumped off my bunk.

“Copy that, I’m on my way.”

Discarding my clothing as I went, I ran towards my pod at the hangar balcony, preferring speed over decorum. As soon as the pod had closed around me and the neural links were hooked up, I instructed it to dock with my Covert Ops, and opened Alliance comms.

“Druur here. Do you still need a combat scanner?”

[ Hell yeah! ], came the immediate response from Tavi, our alliance leader.

The pod entered my Anathema, and the virtual consoles sprang alive before my mental eye. A quick command to the hangar systems, the probe launcher was loaded with combat probes, then I initated the undock procedure.

“I’m on my way. What am I looking for?”

[ A Kronos and a Noctis. We’re holding on this side of the gate, so as not to spook them. ]

I entered space, and with a swift command my engines went to full power, propelling me towards the star gate.

“Any particular reason why we want them?”

[ They’re neutral, and on our turf. ] Amusement tinged Tavi’s voice. [ Plus, they are flying shinies. ]

Heh, there’s a lesson: Our boss really didn’t pussyfoot around our NBSI policy, unlike our previous alliance. I approved, but had to admit that there were still some old NRDS habits I needed to get rid of.

“Fair enough.” I dropped out of warp. “Jumping into system.”

The gate fired, and spit me out in lo-sec space. A quick scan..

“Gate is clear, two in local, no targets on d-scan. Warping to safe spot.”

As I warped, I realized for the first time how big the system actually was - I would have to bounce around a bit to find our targets.

Another lesson: Make scan spots for the next time.

“This may take a while ... ”, I reported, knowing that few things were worse than waiting for Intel. “...hang on, I have the Noctis on d-scan, probably in a safe-spot. No sign of the Kronos yet.”

I was at planet VII, and some quick d-scans revealed that the Noctis was less than 20M km off the planet. Just to be sure, I repeated the scan - yep, it was still there.

Could he really be so dumb?

Back to my own safe spot, combat probes set for 0.5 AU scan radius, sent in formation towards planet VII - and I got a perfect hit on the first scan. Bookmarked, the probes sent far off the ecliptic plane, and my warp engines roared back to life.

“Got a hit on the Noctis, warping to 100.”

[ Just the Noctis? ]

I waited a moment with my reply until I had arrived at my destination.

“Yep, just the Noctis, no sign of the Kronos. Nor do I see any wrecks on d-scan.”

A moment’s silence, then: [ Ok, we take the Noctis at least. Can you get closer to give us a warp in? ]

“Sure - stand by.”

I powered up my engines and started approaching the Noctis, which just sat there, oblivious. Inwardly, I was chiding myself for not warping in closer - old WH habit, which now came back to bite me.

No, this wouldn’t do - it would take ages to close the distance. I selected a nearby celestial, and initiated warp for a quick bounce-off. Too late I noticed that the incoming gate was almost perfectly in line with the Noctis - my gang could have just warped to me at 100.


Arriving at the celestial, I swung my ship around and warped back to the Noctis un-safe spot.

Please be there please be there please be there.... aahhh, Good Noctis!

“I am 20 klicks off the Noctis, you can warp to me... belay that, it just warped away. Damn!”

[ Did you see where to? ]

“Outer system - I will have to search again.”

My d-scan at this spot covered all but the outermost planet, so that’s where I headed next. One d-scan later a smile played on my face - there they were! Obediently my probes came down, and quickly gave me a 40% hit on the Noctis, and a 100% hit on the Kronos.

“Gotcha! I have a hit on the Kronos, warping to it now, and I also see wrecks on scan - they’re probably salvaging.”

My warp bubble collapsed and expelled my back into normal space. Empty normal space.

“Damn, they’re gone.”

[ Gate fire! They’re coming out! Jump! Jump! Jump! ]

In my pod I nodded - the idea was to hide the fact that there had been a gang waiting at the gate, by jumping in before our targets emerged on the other side.

A few seconds later, the gang landed next to me.

“Sorry, I was too slow finding them.” I apologized. “Or they got spooked by my probes.”

[ Nah, don’t worry, it was a long shot - you came closer than I ever would have. ]

That cheered me up a little.

And now that I think about it - the hunt had been great fun. Even though we didn’t get the kill in the end, I did manage to scan them down! Maybe I should look into flying CovOps full time...

[ How many wrecks had been here? ] That was Johanna.

“Six, maybe eight. ” I answered, then realized the meaning of it: there were no wrecks around us, which meant...

[ They finished salvaging before we could get here. ], voiced Johanna the inevitable conclusion. [ Just not enough time. ]

[ As I said, we gave it our best shot - next time we'll do better. And there is a good chance that they’ll be back. You bookmarked the Noctis’ safe spot? ]

“Yes, yes I did.” I replied with happy satisfaction. “And boy, am I going to keep it!”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Way Of Life

[Welcome to Amarr - Emperor Family Station]

It was an old trick, but the soothing, de-sexualized voice of Station Comm’s never failed to distract me from the actual act of undocking - the shutdown of all external sensor feeds, the ejection of the pod, the expulsion back into the real world, into real air.

In the promo videos you only get to see the strapping capsuleer standing proudly on the balcony in front of their current ship, preferably capital class or better; but reality is much less glamorous. The details... let’s say there is a lot of coughing involved. And dry heaving. And ascramble for clothes.

Aaaaaand Cut! for the camera.

On this particular day, however, I was way beyond such trivialities - I pretty much didn’t start registering my environment until I rested my head on the pillow of that ratty old Minmatar excuse for a pillow.

Behind me were two days of roams, of intense fighting.

First, there was the Agony Alumni Roam - advertised as a Frigate-hull roam for alumni, we quickly were recommended to stage a battlecruiser as well... and ended up holding down a Carrier-supported battleship gang long enough for enough DPS arrive from nearby pirate corporations to take down the whole gang. And not even fifteen minutes later, we were back in space, trying to hunt the very same pirates who fought along our side before - and vice versa.

And today, a battlecruiser roam with friends of my alliance - the level of sophistication was below Agony class standards, but the heart was in the right place, and in the end that’s all that counts.

Of course the non-Capsuleers don’t see it that way, which is the reason why for once I chose to stay in these rinky-dink excuse of ‘Captains Quarters’. Facing yet another gathering of placards proclaiming “It’s just a game for you!” or “You don’t give a damn about the Real People!” was not what I had in mind for relaxation.

The protesters weren’t completely wrong, mind you. Some of us really consider it just a game. And in the heat of the battle, most of us capsuleers tend to forget our mortal crews, the danger we put them in. When push comes to shove, we become our ships. And that’s just it.

We feel every impact of an enemy projectile as if it broke our very own skin; the burn-through of enemy ECM as if a haze is lifted from our eyes; and most importantly, we know that the survival of our ship is dependent only on whether we would be able to outsmart our very human enemy.

There was nothing like it.

But even un-podded, like I was now, our capsuleer life didn’t stop. Even un-podded, we never stopped asking ourselves what we could have done better to defeat our opponent. Or, in the case of CEOs and alliance leaders, how to keep our organization alive and humming.

Heck, myself, I even had read up on accounting, just to run my corp!

And if we failed, for most of us, it wasn’t just a statistic on a high-score list - instead, it was personal.

The embarassement you felt when being defeated by a nominally inferior opponent; the pride warming your heart when your alliance boss commends you on your recent battle successes, even though all you did was flying an Interceptor for a gang of random people - all this went beyond the mere identification with your ship.

Everybody knew that being a Capsuleer was not the end-all of things - that sooner or later we all would return to our pre-Capsuleer lives, by choice or by necessity - even myself. But until then, it was fully up to us what to make with our time.

And as far as I was concerned, time was too precious to waste on playing to be something. Either be a capsuleer, or don’t.

Your choice.