Posts Tagged series

Review: Aaron’s Random Card Comment of the Day

Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe posts his thoughts on a variety of cards in Gatherer using the Random function.  I wanted to review this because (a) I think it’s a great idea and a great tool for discussion of Magic cards, and (b) Aaron told me he was inspired by my blog, so mise.  Also I enjoy talking about stuff my friends create if the stuff they make is sweet.  Aaron posts his comments using Gatherer’s comment system, which has flaws but in general does good things, and then tweets that he has posted for maximal distribution.  If you want to check out the ones he’s done so far, you can check the #arccd hashtag on Twitter or do the Gatherer search for his comments.

I think Aaron is doing a lot of things right with his series.  By posting about 3-5 paragraphs on each card, he’s not drowning out other discussion (as an essay might) and there’s enough room for him to give personal opinions or tell short stories about the card.  It’s a great way to release his general thinking about Magic into the aether without the drawing the same ire that an explicit article might; basically, players who care get some insight into his thinking, and I think that’s net positive.  Also, by using the random function, no one can read into his selection, so the comments stand on their own.  I have seen both the number of comments and the length of comments from other folk go up since his series began.  Add to that the fact that the content is perfectly associated with its context (the card) and its audience (Magic players) and you have a big win.

On the other hand, using random means if he did want to theme his comments over a period of time like a week, it would mean breaking the routine.  I think it’s also worth noting that Aaron must be having the same issue I have with my blog sometimes, which is that you have to self-censure when you know you are going to say things your audience shouldn’t hear.

Gatherer wasn’t designed for threaded discussion, and it has a variety of bugs that cause trouble now that Aaron’s Comment of the Day is shining light on that feature of the product, but I don’t consider that a negative on the part of his series.

I’m glad Aaron has this series, and I’m mad at myself for not thinking of it on my own!

Overall: A
Frequency of Homeland Cards in Supposedly “Random” Hits: Very High
Expected Ratio of Good to Hidden Information in Aaron’s Comments: Medium-High

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Review: Vacuum Diagrams

When I made trips up and down the length of California, to visit home in Santa Cruz area while I went to school in Los Angeles area, I would sometimes stop at a highway convenience exit for food, bathroom, etc.  At one such stop, I ended up finding a Wendy’s and a bookstore within a gas station convenience store, and I picked up a collection of short stories called Vacuum Diagrams, by Stephen Baxter.  I really enjoyed reading them, having been hooked by the first couple of stories involving sentient creatures on an ice asteroid that had superfluid blood, and metamathematical nanobots as part of an experiment in quantum phenomena that ended up breaking free of the experiment to become grey goo.  I was in love with his universe.

Baxter writes hard sci fi, which is to say that he attempts to remain consistent to known or extrapolatable principles of science in his writing.  I eat this up because of my unique position as a former student of science and as a lover of high-tech fiction.  Vacuum Diagrams in particular is so great because it sketches out a cosmology and a wider universe around humans in the future through a number of interconnected short tales that are compelling on their own.  Not to spoil too much, but his primary conceit of an ancient elder race that’s kind of patronizing toward humans, and another ancient elder race of true aliens that (as a by product of their life cycle) are destroying the universe is really interesting to watch unfold over the course of (essentially) human’s future-history.

I recommend picking it up if (a) you enjoy seeing some of the weird parts of real science woven (faithfully) into fiction, and (b) you enjoy seeing a science-fiction world constructed from a series of stories that are each wonderful on their own.  Reading Vacuum Diagrams inspired me to pick up another one of his novels, Ring, which occurs in the same universe – it was okay, but not amazing – and I should see if Timelike Infinity, another in this universe, is any good.

Overall: A-
Number of Short Stories (Approx): 20
Secret to Ancient Elder Race’s Superiority: Time travel (obviously)

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Review: Fringe

I am only really watching one TV show right now, and that’s Fringe. (I would be watching Glee as well, except that I am out of space on my iPad and I wanted to watch the first two seasons first.)  Unsurprisingly, the first thing I compare Fringe to is the X-Files, since the two are related in genre and in architecture: a through-line of conspiracy and global secrecy and strangeness, backed up by one-off “monster” episodes where the team investigates something strange/weird/horrifying.  I basically stopped watching X-Files because I went to college and had no TV/little time, not because I didn’t want to watch it anymore, so I was interested enough in Fringe when I discovered it to pick it up on DVD and begin watching it in its 2nd season.

Fringe does a lot of things right.  The dynamics among the main three characters – Olivia, the cop/Mulder; Peter, the skeptic and requisite shady-connections guy/Scully; and Walter, Peter’s father and the mad scientist – is really pretty interesting, and keeps a lot of the less plot intensive episodes going strong.  I am in love with the primary conceit of the series (which, minor spoilers, involves a parallel universe), and I feel like they have the right pace to revealing things about the overarching plot.  I also really like the positioning of unexplained mysteries on the periphery – unlike Lost (another Abrams show), Fringe keeps things connected enough that I never feel like I am being pushed from mystery to mystery, and even when not everything is explained, I have a good feeling about the world created.

On the other hand, Fringe has recently restarted and I am bothered a bit by the pacing of action.  If the entire season progresses along the arc created in the first few episodes, which is a trite sort of infiltration plot, I’ll be pretty upset, because it is breaking apart the character dynamics that I have come to appreciate.  I almost think said plot would have been waaaay better earlier in the series, as a means by which to increase closeness to the characters as opposed to the reverse.

Overall: B+
Authenticity of Crazy Scientist Character: A
Ratio of Conspiracy/Overarching Plot to Monster Plot: B+
Future Prospects: B- (but I still highly recommend watching seasons one and two!)

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Gamer 1

I am a gamer at heart: I love playing games and I love thinking about games.  Games are more than just an entertaining diversion – they are a way to explore the way your mind works, or sometimes to peer into the minds of others (the other players, and the game designers).  I wanted to make a list of some of the things I love about the games I play (which, most recently, include Starcraft 2, Magic, World of Goo, Bioshock, Agricola, Catch Phrase, and Drop7).

  • Depth of strategy. For a couple of reasons, actually: I really enjoy the process of personal discovery, where I am moving beyond the stated rules and finding paths to victory.  The games that require you to develop longer-term strategies often frustrate me at first (a lot of front-loaded work involved!) but they are consistently my favorites.  The key is…
  • Entertaining even when I am losing. I am quite prone to leaving game objectives when they punish me because I made a mistake (poker is a good example of this).  So, if there’s a way for me to remain interested within the game even when I am not really in contention for the game’s primary objective, I’m way happier.
  • Engaging aesthetically, like with pieces or art or what-have-you. I much prefer real Magic cards to stickered ones, or handwritten proxies, because much of the game’s enjoyment to me are the aesthetics that all together set the tone for the play experience.  I also heart iconography and little resource cubes.  Part of games to me is an escape from actual-reality into a generated-reality of the game… and the whole construction that comes in a box or via cards etc. is what generates that experience for me.  I love books more than movies, for example, because they let me imagine the world of the fiction in my head.  Game pieces are merely guides that aid such imagination.
  • Easy to share. This is an interesting point – I really enjoy games that EITHER let me easily play with my friends, or that let me play on my own and easily relate my experience with friends who have also played on their own.  I think this way of sharing with respect to games is a defining aspect of “gamer culture,” such as it is.

More on being a gamer later!

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Frantically trying to finish work for the week so that I can jet for Oregon to see Jeremy and Rose!  I was, however, pondering self-image again in the shower this morning, so I wanted to write that out a little more.

Nate suggested that the correct thing to do is to align your outer self with your ideal self – that is, behave like who you want to be.  I think it’s a very admirable goal, but I also think it is the opposite of easy.  The reason I believe that is that I think one’s outer self is very volatile in response to control – both from inside and from outside.

Here’s an (appropriately themed for the month) example:

In my Junior year, when I was still kind of recovering from Katharina telling me she definitely didn’t want to be involved with me (in a relationship), I turned to running as a way to get my mind off of it.  Well, to be clear, I wanted to find something to get my mind of it, but couldn’t.  It took a good friend, Robin, to convince me to get my butt in gear and get running.  And even then, as I continued to run each morning, I was unable to keep my mind from returning to the Katharina “problem” (only really a problem in my own head) whenever I (a) saw her or (b) saw something that reminded me of her or (c) happened to think about any experience involving her.

I don’t think it’s impossible to do what Nate suggests, but the pressure of emotions (and emotional response to what’s happening around you) does a ton to shape your outer self sub/unconsciously.  This is the danger of utilizing the outer self as a tool to change yourself – it cleaves in both directions.  There have definitely been times in my life (like, now, for example) where my outer self is emotionally turbulent and it is dragging me around with it.

It seems a much safer, if much more difficult, method to work on the inner self while maintaining some measure of stability in one’s outer self.  Or, at least, make small changes rather than large ones (advice that could apply to lots of scenarios, not just those about image!)

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I believe each person holds at least three versions of themselves inside.  The most important is the inner self, who you really are.  The most visible is the outer self – who you appear to be to the people who interact with you.  But there is also another piece, for thinking feeling people: the ideal self, or who you want to be.  There is usually a gap between who a person is and who they want to be, so they are not the same.  I know that Ideal Dave is still just a projection in my head; I am not there yet.

I think there’s a lot of really interesting depth to this perspective on identity (hence the “1” in today’s blog post title) but I wanted to focus on describing two very interesting effects of the interrelationship among them.

The first is identity trending: over time, your inner self will become more like your ideal self… given that you have some conception of your ideal self (consciously).  I think this is really just me restating that “people can change” and “you can change yourself for the better more ideal.”  I know, for example, I strive to be very honest with my friends about my thoughts and feelings – because Ideal Dave is honest with and trusting of his friends – so my inner self has taken actions (like this blog) to be more like that.

The second is identity assumption: if we are not careful (meaning taking conscious action against it), if our outer self and inner self don’t match, we will become more like our outer self.  This is kind of a restatement of “if you keep making faces, your face is going to get stuck that way.”  Our, in more useful terms, when you pretend to be somebody you aren’t, you start to become that pretend version of yourself.  I don’t think it happens for everyone, but I have certainly noticed it happening to me – it is really tough to keep three selves in your conscious mind and also keep them separate.

As usual, these were thoughts in my head… I’m sure someone has written about this before!

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Month in Review: February

The lateness of this post is the first criticism I have of myself: this month, I let myself become less routine and therefore more of a procrastinator.  I am still getting a blog done a day (with vacation trips, they have sometimes been erratically posted, but it’s still one-a-day, so that’s good).  I am not really hitting on a few of my other resolutions: cooking, side projects, exercise, physics and stress are not really at the levels I want them.

I did excellent on travel and going out this past month, with a plethora of new friends from the Magic Cruise, plenty of time out dancing and singing (both here in Seattle, and on my recent trips to the Caribbean and to San Diego), and generally getting out of the house.  The flip side of this is that I haven’t really found a plan that works for me for cooking meals or exercise.  The sporadic nature of “going out” (it tends to be unscheduled because the people I go out with – friends, and great people – are not super organized, nor have I been, about scheduling) has made my time at home very unorganized.

My plans for the upcoming (current) month:

  • Keep organized around my planned trip this month (GDC in San Fran, next week) so that both before and after, I am still on track to cook-exercise-side project.
  • Finish cleaning / unpacking so that I can move on with my furniture plan, making the second bedroom into an actual bedroom, and get visitors.
  • Choose nights beforehand where I know I want to go out and do something.  I’m sure, even if there’s no plan, that I can find something to do on those nights, and figuring out which ones I want to do in advance will reduce my overall stress AND work better with the cook-exercise-side project track.

Overall, February was a great month, but I feel like I’m slipping on my resolutions and need to redouble my efforts.

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Who am I?  Who is anyone?  How do you tell if, after going through some transformational experience, you are still you?  These are the sorts of questions about identity that keep me up at night.

One of the core issues of identity to me is the difference (or gap, I guess) between the way I make my thoughts (let’s call it agency) and the sum of my experiences (let’s call it memory).  Throughout my life, as I experience new things, I am continuously altering myself in tiny ways.  I like to think of myself as the combination of my memories, but this immediately leads to a problem: if I somehow lost my memory, or if, in the course of aging, I became unable to recall some memories, am I a different person entirely?  This bothers me – I think that I have an unbroken chain of identity through my life, so that each moment I can still lay claim to being “me”.

On the flip side, if I were to suffer some huge shift in personality or ability to think, would that alter my agency and thus my identity?  This seems like a more likely candidate to change Dave from “me” to “someone else”.  Of course, once again we consider the case where over time, I subtly but surely alter my thought patterns in response to experience.  Is this different than the radical shift I proposed first?  My guess is it’s not very different at all.  So where alteration of memory seems irrelevant to my identity, alteration of agency seems highly relevant.

There’s another factor – the continuity of my physical body (by which I mean brain) – but I choose to discount it (see my posts on Free Will).  That’s because I think the relevant factor in identity is some combination of memory and agency, and not physical being.  I think that if a person could somehow be transferred into pure energy or information (as in, running on a computer system), the chain of identity for that person could remain unbroken and they would still be “them” (curse you, English, for no neuter third person singular for individuals!).

This brings us to the extreme cases:

  • Teletransportation – I think I am still me.  The continuity of the physical body is not relevant to me… but there’s yet another factor here: my BELIEF that I am the same person.  Dennett considers this in his essay Where Am I? In the case where the teletransport can make a copy, which is the real me?  Are both the real me?  What does that mean for my conception of identity?
  • Replacement of Brain with Machine – This one gets me thinking again about how agency is represented.  Maybe there’s something really complicated about natural brain changes over time that this replacement with machine parts couldn’t capture.  Another random thought – this means that a computer simulation could potentially model me and claim to be me… would it be?  I want to say “no” but I can’t really give a reason – I don’t think that the initial biological organism has any special claim of primacy here.
  • Soul Removal – When the issue is forced, and I have to say whether I believe in a nonphysical soul, I have to say not really – there’s no particular evidence to convince me, and I feel like the universe is complex enough to handle all of my existential questions without the need for hidden variables.  As to my answer to the question, I think I am still me… but I would feel bad.

Here’s a parting thought: I often stop and think, why is it that I am in this moment, thinking this thought, of all the possible moments I could be living as “now” – and of all the people I could be?  It’s very frustrating to be unable to even consider the question of why in a thorough manner with respect to this problem of identity.

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Teleportation 3

I wanted to conclude my series on Teleportation before moving on to discussions of Identity, since the Identity problem (am I the same entity before and after the teleport?) is most strongly felt in this method – it is the method that is “most classical” and hence easiest of which to grok the consequences.

3. Teletransport (a la Star Trek)

All humans (and in fact, all stuff) are comprised of smaller bits of stuff, and that stuff is arranged in a particular way (we’ll call that information).  It makes sense, therefore, that if you want to move from point A to point B quickly, you just need to move the stuff and the information – no need to transport the full human.  Classical teletransportation involves either the decomposition of a human into a stream of particles (along with the information needed to recreate the human at the other side), or the transmission of just the information (not the particles).  In the former case, the receiving station uses the particle stream to regenerate the human.  In the latter, the receiving station generates a new “version” of the human by using some matter bucket at the destination.  We’ll call these methods Stream and Bucket, respectively.

Star Trek has historically drawn a fuzzy line between the two, but you’ll note that most transports from ship to surface don’t have a receiving station.  This implies something else is going on – the bundle of particles and/or information actually has some programming attached to it capable of reconstructing a human at the destination.  This seems crazy to me, just thinking about how complicated a human is… even if you sent a bunch of nanobots along in the stream, how could they possibly reconstruct the human in no time at all?

The Bucket method is the one most ripe for Identity criticism, since you literally destroy the human at the transmitter and construct a new one at the destination.  Depending on what you believe constitutes “you,” this may or may not be grounds for calling it death.  Also worrying in the Bucket method is the fact that if there’s some malfunction and the origin human isn’t destroyed, we’ve now cloned you!  I much prefer thinking about the QT version of Teleportation since it sidesteps this “accidental cloning” problem due to the destructive nature of measurement at the quantum level.

One thing that thinking about all these methods of teleporation have convinced me of, however, is the relative unlikelihood of “freecasting” or “Jaunting” (to borrow terms from Hyperion and The Stars My Destination, excellent science fiction works that deal with teleportation) – that is, not requiring a station origin or destination… being able to teleport from wherever to wherever.  The complexity of the process – “reading” the information content of a person, deconstructing them, packaging them for transport, reconstructing them – just seems too high to do outside of a controlled (laboratory-esque) setting.

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Time Travel 2

The mutable scenario is nice because it neatly sidesteps most paradoxes.  Time CAN change, in this scenario, and the resulting timeline is {past previous to the change} + {changed timeline that includes a time traveler}.  Of course, in order to understand what’s going on in the changed timeline, we have to consider (as Mark and I discussed the other day) the two unique constructions of mutable time: replacement, and multiply.

The replacement timeline is where the changed timeline just wholesale replaces the original timeline, past the change.  Any time travelers will still “remember” the old unchanged timeline if they lived through it, because their proper worldline (their path through time) – although loopy – is still internally consistent.  This is the first major divergence from the immutable construction, because in that world, there only ever was one timeline (talking of “alternate histories” is sort of meaningless in immutable time).

The multiply timeline is the one I am fond of: in this construction, each change to the timeline splits it in two, and the two resulting timelines are separate universes, A and B.  What is the change we’re talking about?  The introduction of a time traveler, of course!  This implies that a time traveler can’t ever “return” to the original timeline from which he or she originated, but one can assume that if the time traveler is going back and wreaking havoc changing things, going back isn’t foremost in the planning.

It is interesting how the multiply timeline shares traits with the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics: basically, that multiple-possibility states (Schroedinger’s Cat is both alive and dead inside the box) do not become one or the other via observation, but exist simultaneously in separate, noninteracting universes.  Observation merely tells the observer which of the many possible universes he or she is in.  The relationship between a quantum observer and a multiply-timeline time traveler feels weird to me: they clearly share properties, but the time traveler seems both more powerful (can move from one universe to another) and more constrained (can’t get into universes where time travelers aren’t).

Time travel is fun to think about.

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