Life with COVID as Life on Mars

How can we count the ways Covid-19 has changed our work and social lives, and the ways we cope? My partner and I started a haphazard Mars simulation at home, complete with indoor exercise rigors, decontamination area for groceries, etc, which has added some fun to the quarantine. With all that’s going on right now, and plenty of others to speak to it, I’ve decided to keep things light with this article, and talk about a few amusements that have sprouted during the isolation.  

It was an accident really, the path that sent some colleagues and me back to gaming. The journey began when we started sharing computing resources with the Folding@Home project. Folding@home ( is a distributed computer cluster, made of up idle home computers belonging to whomever is signed up and has elected to contribute their idle CPU or graphics card time. Each node completes “work units” that run protein folding simulations with the goal of finding vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 Corona virus (that causes Covid-19). One can choose to donate their computer’s time for various diseases including cancer, Covid19 or let Folding@home assign you to the highest priority project. At the time of this writing they show 98.67% progress on the current sprint to evaluate a batch of potential drugs, which began on Sunday July 26th at 06:31:13 UTC 2020.

To this end, I began folding back in March 2020 with my regular office grade CPU and video card. It took no time at all before I was curious about what a modern, more powerful gaming video card might be capable of. A friend kindly donated a not-so-new Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super for the project – a reasonably powerful card. Following installation of that graphics card, my workstation produced 1.7 million work units per day, up from ~200,000! When I spoke about this with other engineers on my team, one, an avid gamer, spoke up. She suggested that I also try to have some fun with a nicer video card. Needless to say I’m grateful for her advice, which has led to some astonishing, educational and entertaining discoveries. 

There are some excellent space-themes games on Linux/Steam that fit our “living on Mars” pastime, which you can find here: (Linux is now a pretty decent gaming platform. Who knew? I’m using Linux Mint and Steam.)

Vector 26 – Racing pods on the Martian Surface, the artwork is brilliant and the game is engineering-based. You can build skimmers and must be cognizant of mass, power vector distribution, etc. It’s easy to build a skimmer that looks great, but won’t fly. One can spend hours adjusting and changing parts until it does. 

Eversspace – Released in 2016 and reasonably priced on Steam, this is pure eye candy. It offers a bit of action, resource strategy, and just looks really nice. There’s a new release of this one coming up “soon”. 

X-Plane –  This flight SIM is one of the games that’s stronger on Linux than Windows 10. I’ve been piloting the add-on P51-D Mustang from Skunkcrafts, generally around Kona HI. I’ll probably renew my pilot license after Covid because of this game. 

Stellaris – A detailed, 4X grand strategy game in which you build and rule a future galaxial society based on the policies you choose. There’s a lot going on in this game and it’ll take over your life if you’re into strategy and not careful.

Surviving Mars – A classic SIM based on exploring, building and terra-forming Mars, a nice distraction you can play in-window.

These five take up ample time, so I haven’t even begun to explore the many other games available for Linux/Steam. As a side note, I have a Windows 10 drive on this same desktop for comparison and one might even say that the games I’ve played so far do seem to play a little better on Linux.

In short, this project has been exceedingly valuable in providing some escape. I wonder what avenues everyone else is exploring for leisure and relief. 

Back IRL (in real life), I’m aware from my walks and in talking with folks that we have some areas of concern. I miss seeing you openly to talk about things, and I’m looking forward to the day we can visit safely again. For now we’ll have to settle for occasional passings-by at the grocery store, or out walking, and the virtual Zoom Safety and Livability and SNA board meetings. 

The next Safety and Livability Meeting is September 1st, 2020 at 6:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m., followed by a general board meeting September 10th, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Both meetings are public.The information on how to join us via Zoom is on our website, Let’s keep talking. Please join us; if we’re going to discuss problems, please come with some ideas for solutions too. 

I just want to say, make sure you’re taking time for yourself, and finding avenues of relaxation and ways to decompress. Everyone be well and stay safe. Cheers!

Russell Rinaldi