Posts Tagged ideas

Unexpected Party

I was on the Carnival Glory, and we had set sail (after an arduous safety briefing). Our group of Magic players and significant others were set to meet in the conference room (Green Room) on the 4th Deck. To get to it, I decided to walk through the bar on 4, the Ivory Lounge. When I came through the doors, my keen sense of observation immediately detected something amiss:

The place was packed with 200-300 men and women, all sitting, standing, talking, all of roughly college age.

I have never seen that many people packed together in one place on a boat, except maybe the first day on the top deck, and the safety drills. Baffled, I walked through until I caught a young lady’s eye. I asked, “So, are you all part of one group, or…?”

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “It’s this group of 300 singles, and this is our first meet-up.”

My jaw dropped a bit, but I recovered and made a cool exit. “Cool! Well, I’ll hopefully see you guys later!” I went through into the Green Room, met all of the Magic folk, and then went wandering.

After some hours at the martini bar (man, best bar ever), I went up to the top deck with friends for some 24hr pizza. Up next to the pool, about 100 of these singles had arrayed a circle of chairs and were playing some sort of crazy game. “Get in there, Dave!” said Amanda B and Lee. Yeah yeah, ok. I pulled up a chair, and immediately found out what was going on from my neighbors: Never Have I Ever Musical Chairs.

(Aside: What a wonderful merging of two well-known games! In Never Have I Ever Musical Chairs, there is 1 fewer chair than participants, so 1 person is always standing in the center. That person states a thing they have never done – “Never have I ever smoked pot” – and then each participant who HAS done the thing gets out of their chair and finds a new one to sit in. Whoever is left standing at the end states the next thing!)

It was during this game where I chatted a bit more with some of the friendly singles and found out that they were all Mormon. So, our ship had been invaded by a group of singles, which seems awesome, but they were all Mormon, which seems slightly less awesome in the drinking-and-debauchery sense. They were having a good time, though, and it was infectious!

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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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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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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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Faceboat, Redux

A few years ago, before I went on the Magic Cruise, I envisioned a digital bulletin board we could use on the boat (without actual internet access!) that would allow us to plan and meet up when it’s been historically kind of awkward to roam the ship for people. I dubbed this tool Faceboat. I made a pretty reasonable v1 of it, but when I tried to get it to work on the boat, I failed. (I hadn’t really tested the network connectivity stuff. Oops!)

Now as the fifth Magic Cruise approaches (getting super excited!) I’d like to reexamine the goals of Faceboat and see if there’s a way to make something simpler that satisfies my goals for it.

Goals:

  • Something digital
  • Each person can use it to communicate with any other person on the boat
  • Must work without cell service or internet (local wireless is fine)

I’m thinking that the SWEET version would be a self-contained app that you leave running and that pops a notification if you get within range of the hub and someone left a message for you.

The LESS SWEET BUT STILL PRETTY COOL version is a simple webpage with a comment form that you can filter by poster, in order to find messages left for you.

I wonder if I have time between now and next weekend to make a sweet iPhone/Android app…

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#11: Financial Times

As I kind of alluded yesterday, I wanted to kind of define where I went wrong with money this year.  I wasn’t really keeping track of how I spent what I had, so even though I didn’t particularly overspend (I mean, no more than my usual technology impulse buys) I wasn’t aware of the status of my finances at any given time nor was I really planning in any long-term sense.  My lack of planning is bad enough that I had an essentially empty bank account at the start of December (possibly because I bought stuff – like a new couch and plane tickets – at an inopportune time, but definitely because I willfully didn’t care about my money situation).

So, what to do?  Do I need to change this mentality at all?  As I have stated numerous times in the past, I hate thinking about money, but I think it’s worthwhile to come up with a general plan for a year (or at least monthly) so that indeed I can think about even less.  Plus, I will feel a lot better about my ability to take on larger projects and/or longer timeline plans if I have a solid underpinning in my head of where my money is at.

In my rough analysis, I think I’ll set a budget for “essentials” (food, bills, gas, etc.), for “electives” (travel, entertainment, etc.) and then try to track everything else in a simple way to be able to plan better.

11. I resolve to track my spending for at least month to create a simple budget.

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Faster than Light

I’ve written at length about teleportation and how it might be achieved (along with the virtues and perils of those forms of travel), but since I just finished rereading Dune, with instantaneous transport across the stars, I thought I’d talk a little bit about faster-than-light travel for transit through space.

The speed of light is a curious thing.  As one approaches it, external time dilates (that is, expands) and your trip takes longer and longer to an outside observer.  That means you can’t cross the speed limit because there literally isn’t enough time – it stretches out to infinity.  So how then does one move around “faster than light”?  Generally, we think of the teleportation solution (here one moment, there the next) and of the shortest-path solution (travel at normal speeds but take a shortcut).  Of course, science fiction has come up with innumerable ways of defying the speed-of-light barrier but always by fiat.

In my head, I feel like we haven’t explored all the options yet, as a species.  We aren’t really *exploring* them at all right now, but that has more to do with the building blocks of what’s necessary (you have to crawl before you can walk).  Once upon a time, something smaller than an atom would have been inconceivable, and quantum mechanics would have been preposterous.  There will be more scientific revolutions to come, and some of them may involve the potential for FTL technology.

(This problem interests me so much because I think the best solution to our world’s environmental problems is to find more worlds.  Getting a species to slow reproduction seems a practically insurmountable problem, and without population control, we will one day outstrip this planet regardless of how green we can be.  Gotta think long term!)

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Crafting (Regular, IRL)

I didn’t really want to frame this as a review, because it’s more of a catalogue of discovery and my associated learnings/feelings.  Today, basically as a side project while we drafted another rotisserie, I created my costume for the Birthday/Halloween party lovingly referred to as “Birthoween,” over at Casa de Davidson.  My plan was clear in my head: Repeater, from Plants vs. Zombies.  As with most plans, the execution is the tricky part (the devil is in the details) and I feel like I really reconnected with some of my crafting behaviors of high school and backward.

One of the things I love about creating an arts & crafts project is the MacGyver-ish phase where you kind of inventory your available materials and skills and determine whether you will be able to make the picture in your head into the item in reality.  I feel I am well-off in some areas (duplication from reference, innovative use of materials) and poor in others (general lack of “crafty” skills, aesthetic sensibility).  Still, it’s kind of like a little puzzle for each step of creation, trying to figure out whether I need to learn to do something new or if I can cleverly assemble what I already have into the solution.

For this project in particular, I found it amusing that many folks suggested I sew together the Repeater-hat I wanted, but in the end I ended up using staples as the “poor man’s sewing kit.”

I think this activity has inspired me to create more.  I definitely feel like I should have taken more opportunities to build stuff while I was in college, since so many folks in Blacker were into doing so, especially Nate.  The key to keep me interested, I think, is the subdivision into many smaller tasks and a separate part of my brain keeping track of the overall strategy.

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Fantasy Football

I can’t really do a review about fantasy football because (a) I am not a particularly good fan of football (in that, I have watched some games, and I have watched the Superbowl, and I have attended some games, but I am not invested in the sport), and (b) I have never participated in a fantasy football league.  So instead, I ask the reader: have you had good experiences with fantasy football?  What compels you about it as a game?  What about in relation to the sport?  Are they separable?

One issue I have with team sports is that I never really feel invested in the team.  I have felt very invested in the people competing, especially with individual sports and when my friends (or I!) are on a particular team, but I can’t seem to find the “fan bone” that would make me devoted to one in particular.  The closest I came to team devotion was living in Boston when the Red Sox went nuclear during 2003 and 2004, and even then I feel like I was held up by the tide of fandom and not really a part of it.

Lee and I were chatting about fantasy football after work / during dinner, and I got the sense that I am missing out on some interesting social gaming… not to mention the system he outlined is kind of like build-your-own-team.  And if I care about individuals, and not teams, then surely a team of my own construction from individuals I care about would be the solution?  I think I have commented before that I don’t really feel like I can connect with friends on the sports axis, and maybe this is a step in an interesting direction.

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