#6: Sao Paulo, Brazil

My work recently started up a new worldwide tournament series, and part of the rollout was sending observers to see how it was going. My boss needed someone to go to Brazil for a long weekend, and I leapt at the opportunity. (Strangely, no one else in my department did – maybe they don’t love travel as much as me?) It did a take a couple stressful weeks to get my (10-year!) visa approved, but then I was off on a 20 hour airplane/airport adventure!

I have never been down to South America, although it’s been on my list. Due to my short time there, I was only able to see Sao Paulo, but wow, what a city! It felt like an enormous, old European city. The people, especially the Magic playing community in town for the event, were beyond friendly – they were amazing! During part of Sunday, I walked down the central financial district street that had museums, restaurants and a giant rainforest park. More than any other trip I’ve taken in recent memory, this one whet my appetite for seeing more of the country and hanging out more with the people. (Also, every kind of food – including pizza and sushi! – can be found as a rodizio, or as you may more commonly know it, all-you-can-eat buffet a la Brazilian Steakhouse churrascurias.)

It may be on the other side of the world, but it was so nice to visit that Brazil will be on my short list of places to return.

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#7: Lucerne, Switzerland

Svitzerland! I went on a three week tour of Europe with my high school European History class between my Sophomore and Junior years, and we visited a ton of amazing places – Germany, Austria, Italy, France, England and of course, Switzerland. Lucerne was basically right in the middle of our trip.

Lucerne was very peaceful – the kind of tourist destination where it feels quiet and calm and rejuvenating (as opposed to loud and in your face, like many cities do). The people were kind and walking everywhere felt like the correct speed (this is a common feeling I have when wandering in Europe). Our group spent a few days recuperating there, plus a couple treks to ski and to tour the mountainlands. The hotel we stayed in felt grand, like a mansion, with giant rooms that held at least 4 if not 6 of us (my memory on this bit is a little hazy).

It was great to have this de-stressing time, because the first half of this trip was kind of a nightmare for me. Although I enjoyed seeing Germany, Austria and Italy, there was this strange dynamic on this tour – my group which was all-girls-plus-me and another group that joined us, which was all-boys. I tripped into being an outsider on it and being in high school, this felt awful.

Luckily, Lucerne offered a welcome respite and a new beginning – the second half of the trip was much better!

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Credit Card Game

Let’s say you are out to lunch or dinner with a group of friends. Maybe this is even a subset of the people you normally go out with. Unfortunately, not everyone has cash on them! Splitting the bill is a hassle for the server and for the group, so instead: use the Credit Card Game (sometimes called “Credit Card Roulette”).

Each player puts their credit card in the middle. Players may opt out – they pay cash to the central pot instead. The cards are shuffled and removed one by one, usually with the most recent player out to name a number (1 through “number of cards left”) for the next player out. Whoever remains at the end pays the entire bill for the table.

(Remember the cash in the middle? The original version of the game gives that cash to the “winner” – so that the game is only for the amount owed by all players – but since then, the popular “next level” game has taken hold, and instead the cash goes to the second-to-last player. In the next-level game, you can actually MAKE money! I’ve been trying to get the next level of variance – recruit other tables in the restaurant and add their bills to the mix – but nobody’s biting.)

The credit card game is an interesting risk study, because assuming everyone orders comparable amounts, the expected value between playing and not playing is equal – you pay the cost of your meal – but the variance in playing is MUCH higher: a (N-1)/N chance of paying $0 and a 1/N chance of paying the full N times the cost of your meal!

I’ve had the credit card game on my mind because we are eating pre-Cruise tonight at famous Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chao, and I expect I’ll get pressured into playing this particularly high-stakes and ill-timed game. Can I afford to? Can I afford NOT to? (In terms of excitement and hilarity, that is!)

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Travel Advisory

I take more than a few trips (which is awesome, and I am grateful I am able to do so!) but I always am unsure exactly how much stuff to bring along when I fly. This mostly boils down to: how am I going to spend my time on the airplane?

I bring my iPad on basically all trips these days, so either e-books or games are reasonable plans. I tend to get a bit bored after a while, distracted. I could watch an in-flight movie but quality (both in terms of movies available, and the audio/video components) makes this kind of painful. And since I’m on a redeye this very night, sleep could be an option, but I have a really hard time sleeping on planes.

I wonder if I could design myself a game to keep me entertained on a flight. Maybe a system of incentives for puzzles that other friends could create the content for? Not sure. I’ve tried the “game” of programming a website/game before, but the incentives for work don’t line up right in my head. It’ll take some further thought to diagnose the problem. I’ll take some notes on the flight!

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Economic Epiphany

(An epiphany about economics, not an affordable epiphany.)

As I was thinking about some of the discussions I have about government, markets and utility with Lee, Max and others of my libertarian friends, I was trying to resolve in my head how I believe systems built on top of people should handle externalities. This led me to thinking, “what is an externality, exactly?”

I think of externalities as side-effects of otherwise normal transactions. If you and I make a deal about something, generally speaking we affect each other and probably the good/service in question (since we transacting about it). But many times, as an unexpected, unintended or ignored consequence, others not involved in our deal become affected. Generally speaking, you are I aren’t concerned with those people – we are making the deal for ourselves. Even if I’m particularly magnanimous and include other people’s happiness in assessments of my wants and needs (i.e. what I would be making deals about), there will potentially be folk affected I didn’t include.

The core problem is not that “external” parties are affected, but that we don’t factor that into our calculations. And that led me to these parallel conclusions – what libertarians see wrong with government and what I (and many other liberals/government-supporters) see wrong with regulation-free market agents is actually very close to the same probem!

  • Government folk who represent folk are insulated from those folk. They are not incentivized to care about those folk, and therefore (by default) they act in accordance with their own regular interests (power/happiness/what-have-you), or those interests who do properly incentivize them (lobbyists, reelection donors, etc.)
  • Free market folk who provide products/service to those who want them and can pay are insulated from the folk who the product/service could impact as a side-effect. They are not incentivized to care about those folk, and therefore (by default) they act in accordance with their own regular interests (profit), or those interests who do properly incentive them (one could argue the customers who are not affected by these externality costs, because they are deriving benefit without paying as many costs themselves, and so it’s a good deal for them, naturally incentivizing them to incentivize the provider and so on).

I hope I communicated my thoughts here in a way that makes sense. They aren’t the same, clearly, but they seem more parallel than I had originally expected.

It’s interesting (as a psychological quirk, or indicative of my mindspace) that I basically extended this idea to game design immediately in terms of designing the right incentives: games are in essence structures that incentivize potential players to take into account indirect consequences (effects on a game board, as opposed to e.g. dollars or happiness) for their direct actions (their own interaction with the game) that in turn leads to direct reward (fun) – a method that directs them to incorporate “externalities” into their mind-model.

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OMGOMG

Ever get a moment where you have kind of been deep in the trenches ignoring a big thing about to happen, and then all of a sudden something clicks, and you have a realization about how CLOSE upcoming events are?

Yeah, that happened to me yesterday. I was at a work conference helping out /observing folk, stress-fully checking lists of work things to do before I leave Friday and in my head I heard this voice, “Wait, Friday? That means we’ll be on a boat in only a few days!”

“A FEW DAYS”

I felt a lot less stressed after my brain made that little connection, and it was easier to get things done in a sane, less stressed manner. I mean, after all, I’m going to be drinking the drinks, gaming the games, and friending it up on a cruise in only a few days.

A FEW DAYS, GUYS OMGOMG

(p.s. I should have posted this last night but again my blog was misbehaving and omgomgomg)

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Scaling Up

I went to an interesting get-together that was co-organized by Brandon and attended by many of my game-designer-y friends where we took part in a few proto-game experiences involving projection on the inside of a portable “geo-dome.” It was pretty cool – saw some interesting simulations. And like in a fixed-location planetarium, the folk running the program showed us one of those “powers-of-10″ style videos that they had created themselves where you zoom out from Earth to the limits of the observable universe.

When we zoomed out to about intergalactic scale, I felt huge vertigo, as I usually do, while my brain tried to process the scale involved. It makes me kind of queasy.

It’s interesting – in the abstract, I can imagine traveling between stars, but I have a really hard time imagining traveling between galaxies. It’s like my subconscious has a sense of the realspace distance between things at that scale, and just refuses to believe in what I’m seeing when the camera moves from galaxy to galaxy. Even though I believe one day humans (or some offshoot of us) will find a way to travel faster than light! It’s weird.

Another thing: I get kind of angry when I start to process the raw resources available at that scale and frustrated with how little we have to work with at our current technology. Grrr!

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Comedy

I joined Bill and Andrew (along with new friend Kris) on a trip to Comedy Underground this evening for open mic night. Open mic is pretty hit or miss on the funny, but some of the stuff is truly hilarious. On a previous outing, I went with Bill and Jess and couldn’t stop laughing on some comedians. (I’d love to give example, but my memory for stand-up is pretty short. Most were hilarious sex jokes, let’s be honest.)

I’ve found the funniest stuff to be the suprising-in-how-honest/obscene stuff. There’s something really enjoyable about having an idea about where the comedian is going, realizing a split second beforehand how incredibly crazy it would be for them to go there, and then they just go for it. The best is when they do and they just don’t stop, keeping on the gag for the next full minute or so. (This one girl started her 3 minute set with “this is my impression of a woman who can’t stop silently farting” and made faces until she said “this is a 3 minute joke, people.” I could not stop laughing!)

Anyway, long story short, I am likely to organize an outing to comedy because laughing with friends sounds like the best.

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Double Feature

Today is a kind of double blog, although both parts will be shorter so maybe it’s… 1.5 blogs? Anyway, here we go!

I joined in for Amanda’s karaoke birthday party last night, thereby doubling my karaoke for the week. Met a cool lady (Katie), danced along with the tunes, sang some good ones, and general merriment was had! The songs I sang were:

  • Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness: This is a nice crowd-pleaser and hence a good starter song for the evening. First time I performed it! (I always sing along though.) Easy melody, right range for me (high-ish).
  • Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man: By request (kinda), a great alternative song that most people know. Haven’t sung it before either, except along with the radio like every morning. Went into the crowd with the wireless mic for this one.
  • All-American Rejects – Swing Swing: My voice was shot, it was 1:30am, and all of my friends had left, but dammit, I had a song to sing. The remaining crowd was too kind, I didn’t really hit the highs on this one. Still, one of my favorites from them.

I’m looking for a theme, specifically a grouping-of-seven, to write blogs on for the week I’m gone on the Magic Cruise! (Since I won’t have Internet – just Faceboat – I’ll write them beforehand and time-release them to the public.)

Do you have any ideas? Here are the ones I was mulling over so far:

  • Seven Deadly Sins – I’ll talk about each one and how I feel it’s been represented/a challenge in my life.
  • Top 7 places I’ve visited
  • A specific story, either a memory or a piece of fiction, in 7 parts

Thoughts?

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How I Love/Hate Web Development

So I often enjoy exercising my programming and design skills in doing little web projects, especially ones that I can share with other folk. I made Breeze (a Magic draft simulator), a very prototypey version of Evil Geniuses (a board game my friend Nate and I designed for Todd and Tory), and various login/forum-style systems. What I have found is that I both love and hate doing this, and today I kind of analyzed why, in the course of putting finishing touches on Faceboat.

I divide web programming into three phases in my mind – initial design, substructure programming, feature programming. The first phase is really fun: imagining a sweet website in my head never really goes wrong, and it’s easy! The third phase is also fun: the beauty of the web is it’s super rapid to see your changes, and as I add features, I can see and interact with them immediately in a wonderful way. But the second phase – BLECH. I hate hate hate programming a database and the object model that lies on top of it, and in the end, that makes me kind of a lazy/bad programmer.

However, today, I did the first phase of Faceboat design and then remembered I had already completed the second phase, two years ago, and the code/data is all still sitting on my web server. Huzzah! So I got to do just the fun parts, and it was awesome. All web development should be like this!

(Honestly, maybe there’s some universal “here’s all of the substructure you need and it automatically works” system I have just never found, but in my experience, the tweakiness involved in doing phase 2 work is so aggravating!)

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