Author Archives: Joe

Cosmic Encounter – Aliens + special powers + diplomacy = Fun!

Imagine a board game that at first feels like one of the old classics (Monopoly, Risk, etc.). However, the games rules are crafted in such a way that you could win without ever actually having a turn.

Q: What? Not having a turn? So you take turns but you can also act when it’s not your turn?

Exactly. Just like any steriotypical conflict game you attack other players on your turn. However, on every turn, you form huge alliances that frequently involve (but need not) the entire table. Cards are thrown down, special abilities are triggered, and somebody will probably be blasted into the warp (“destroyed”).

“Borrowed” from Carl Huber on Boardgamegeek https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1892415/cosmic-encounter

Add to that aliens, special powers, more special powers, special cards that trigger special powers and you have: Rchard Garfield’s Cosmic Encounter.

Q: But won’t that just make the game incredibly long and boring?

No, Somehow, the game manages all of this while still being less than half the length of a full-length Monopoly or Risk game (for the lucky few who’ve managed to finish one of those).

Q: But if it has diplomacy, won’t it end up with people simply losing friends like in the notorious Diplomacy?

Well, no. Unlike Diplomacy, you don’t have to lie in this game to win. Additionally, because people form alliances, and the win conditions are fairly simple (colonise five foreign planets), it’s also possible to have multiple people winning at the same time. The whacky theme, artwork and colours also combine to make this game feel quite light and chaotic (despite the heavy level of strategy possible) which really helps the mood of the game.


Okay, so I only played this game properly recently with some friends (I did play it some years ago, but didn’t really understand what I was doing). I was skeptical about whether a game that sounds like such a mash-up could really work, but, so far, it seems to work really well.

The basic concept is simple: You have five planets, aliens and attack cards. But ontop of that is built a lovely layer of extra-crunch and diplomacy that makes the game incredibly engaging and fun!

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Should they neccessarily teach Computing in Schools?

edit: Note: I am specifically referring to the UK Computing Curriculum here, and not to teaching a practical subject to interested students… though I reckon that that should be considered extra-curricular!

n.b. Today, I’m going to try the Thomistic form (of Aquinas) because it’s an excellent form, and it’s fun!

Definition of terms: [The UK Computing syllabus is a wide-curriculum covering how to use a computer, how to do so ethically, how to write basic programs and how to problem solve specific problems]: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study

Assertion: They should not force Computing in Schools

Objection 1: The purpose of school is to prepare one for the life that one will meet. It has become a necessity to those functioning professionally to make some use of the Computer. Therefore one should prepare children by teaching them how to use it.

Objection 2: One of the main aims of teaching Computing in school is to teach them how to do so ethically, and responsibly. One must either learn ethics by explicative example, or through trial and error. The former will not cause permanent damage, whereas the latter will. Therefore Computing is a vital part of a child’s education.

Objection 3: Computing, like good art, shows the student the beauty of form. A well-developed system is not just a patched, barely-functional form, limping along, but a clean, elegantly, and logically designed purposeful program, ready to serve a real need, full fill a real purpose. This sense of beauty should be communicated in schools.

Objection 4: The purpose of school is to intellectually prepare a student for the kinds of intellectual problems he will be facing. Computing teaches one how to problem solve in a logical manner. Therefore Computing, whether directly used or not, will indirectly teach one how to problem solve the situation that one faces in life.

On the contrary“Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.” – Victor Hugo

I answer that: The purpose of a class is only to communicate truth that cannot be gained as effectively elsewhere. If a class aims any lower than this goal, then it effectively becomes a nursery, keeping children far from better things, frustrated by the pointlessness of what they are not doing. Therefore as soon as the higher purpose becomes impossible, the only honest course of action is for the subject to cease.

Reply to Objection 1: Although it has become a near complete necessity to use computers professionally, this general use of a computer is not complex. There are very few steps that must be mastered for the typical use of a computer, and these can be taught to those concerned in an afternoon. A thorough briefing in IT is neither vital, nor useful, to all but the most specialised. Therefore teaching IT in Computing is a waste of time.

Reply to Objection 2: No man can serve two masters. As soon as a subjects begins to have multiple aims, the student becomes confused and begins to reject one of the aims. Ethics is a separate and important science. In fact, it is so much more important that it is demeaning to group it with the study of sophisticated electrical units (Computers).

Reply to Objection 3: The minor premise is true, but beauty can be equally or more effectively communicated elsewhere: The unity of the school, the cleanliness of the uniform, the elegance and care put into the schedule, the better paintings that are placed on the wall and the ingenuity of a Shakespeare extract.

Reply to Objection 4: The merits gained from this principle of “indirect learning” are minimal. knowing how to write an “if… else” loop will not teach one how to find the right bus when stranded in a place where nobody speaks English or cares to try. It will not teach one how to answer the phone politely. Nor will it even scratch the surface of how to resolve serious human conflict. The little analogous benefit that can be gained will be more efficiently gained through, for example, the reading of a good, wholesome novel (A classic, perhaps).

If you have anything you’d like to add, or object to, fire away!

What is the effect of a good degree?

n.b. Allthough it is not exactly its subject, this post is somewhat inspired by the following extremely inspiring speech by psychologist Jordan Peterson, which I would urge you to watch before reading this post:

Introduction

Some people wonder about what a degree really is. What is the magic formula is that makes a degree anything more than any other course? Does such a “magic formula” even exist, or is it just a bribe to get us to spend time and money chasing a false dream?

I would also like to note that I have not read John Henry Newman’s book on this subject, nor much literature at all for that matter. So if anything I’ve written seems in any way untrue or incomplete, I would appreciate any corrections from the reader.

The effect of a good degree

I assert that an effect of a good degree should be twofold:

Firstly to actually teach the student something true and meaningful from the best of the subject’s authors. This may or may not, force the student fill a lot of ideological ground in a short space of time, but if the subject is indeed wholesome, then this will be well worth the student’s time.

Secondarily to teach the student good form: How to think, reason, and argue correctly. If the first goal is achieved well, this effect should come naturally. However, this may be missed. So I urge any of you intent on University, as does Jordan Peterson in the above video, to do your best to use your time well to accomplish this aim. It is an art that will prove useful in any future serious analysis of complex or subtle ideas (of which there are many).

What a degree is therefore not

In terms of the more practical arts, I tend to agree with Jordan Peterson on this issue. I do not think that the form of a degree (long periods of reading and writing) caters to any practical art. To try and fit such an art will therefore either crush the art into insignificant abstractions, or reduce the form of the degree to arbitrariness.

Examples of false degree

There do of course exist false universities: Confused misrepresentations of the idea of a University. These teach ideas shallowly in the pretense of substance, or have tutors who cater to such ideas.

I do not deny that this is a widespread problem, and I suggest that anybody in search of a degree discern and avoid such wolves in sheeps clothing at all cost: They are simply waste of ones time and money.

Conclusion

Therefore, if the reader aspires to such lofty aims, know that the true purpose is not the grade: a quantifier that many wrongly treat as a qualifier; but rather the understanding of the matter of truths learned, and form gleaned in the art of thinking well.

A short review of Pride and Prejudice

n.b. In this post, I am reviewing the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I have not read the original novel, though I’d ceirtainly like to! I hope this post isn’t too unreadable. I have literally just finished watching the film, and it’s rather wordy!


There is something captivating about a person who knows exactly how to say what they mean. Even the villan who can express himself perfectly has a certain charm. This is exactly the appeal that Pride and Prejudice has.

The subject of the story is one of romance: There are several characters, an unfolding plot, all tending towards a romantic end. However, unlike other romantic films, the main characters really seem to be able to say exactly what they mean word for word. Even when one is in the wrong, he can not only say exactly how he thinks and feels, but no doubt use this “form” (in an Aristotelian sense) as a brilliant source of reflection.

This film lends to justifying why the English language has such a large lexicon, in comparison to other languages. It makes one realise how quantity of words should be seen simply as a burden, but as a quantity of quality of words: Simply because their thousands of different meanings has the potential to suit our complex and subtle lives. Ofcourse, this does not remove the neccessity of conciseness (as demonstrated by the example of Mr. Collins in the film), but rather shows the neccessity for quality of speech.


Needless to say, I really enjoyed this film, significantly more than when I last watched it (no doubt because I actually understand it now). I hope it doesn’t render my future posts unreadable. The thing is, though, when using a wide range of vocabulary, one doesn’t necessarily lose the core of the English language (e.g. the forms of “to be”) but rather use it more precisely and accurately together with all these other words.

A list of Fun things to do with the Raspberry Pi (tiny computer, not desert)

I recently acquired a Raspberry Pi 1B. Yes, a 1B. Even after seeing the speed of the 2, and looking at the Specs for the 3 and zero, I intentionally opted for an RPI 1. Why? Well, I don’t need all that extra CPU and RAM. I also find micr-SD’s a bit too small and snappable for something that I’d rather not break. Not to mention the challenge of making a highly effective machine with only 8GB!

Click here to view image for your order

Anyway, here’s a list of things I intend to do with it:

  1. Turn it into a (low power) digital music player (so that I don’t have to turn on my phone or desktop to listen to things) – The obvious problem with this is that the raspberry pi doesn’t really come with any input devices, so I’m thinking of playing around with the UEFI interface (a bunch of pins that stick out of the motherboard), or finding a 5 button keyboard (that would look kind of funny, wouldn’t it?)
  2. Set up a didiwiki – This one is a given. I love didiwiki, especially for storing documentation on projects.
  3. Install learnwithtext – I really enjoy this program for language learning (seeing my word-count going higher and higher with loads of tables is extremely satisfying) more so than the commercial ones (not so much due to their content but their form) and would like to be able to access it remotely. Not to mention being able to fiddle with the code!
  4. Write a python chatbot with a webfront – As I said in my last post, I love AI, and despite how I think that hard-AI is a fantasy-like dream in disguise, it can still be a good laugh trying!
  5. Write an rss feed reader (in C) that downloads rss feeds and emails them to a kindle.

And of course, last but not least: Whatever strikes my fancy! Running one’s own constant server has so much potential for things that are just fun.

I Robot: A film review

At certain times of the year, I love Sci-Fi, particularly anything with an dark weird inhuman Asimov flavour. Therefore one of my favourite film is Will Smith’s I-Robot, a story about a futuristic humanity where robots have become highly functional (and cool, I might add). Now this film has been out for a long time, and I’ve always enjoyed sitting down to watch it. So here I would like to do a little analysis of the various aspects of the film (after all, no human story is perfect, leaving space for juicy analytical potential).

For the time (2004), the special effects were very impressive, and drew one into this weird futuristic world. Sadly, unlike, for example Jurassic Park which came out 10 years before), the special effects have not held up as well as I would have liked. That set aside, (as I wouldn’t have wanted them trading off the awesome NS5’s for anything that they could have made more believable in 2004) really the special effects aren’t that bad at all, and, on first viewing, I’m sure one wouldn’t notice!

Plot Taster

The film’s protagonist is Detective Spooner (Will Smith), a highly skilled, but emotional cop with a grudge against all robots (not technology, mind, but rather any attempt to replace humans). He is then put on a case of an apparent suicide with a message intended for him. This leads him onto a fairly complex case with several lines of causality. As he pursues this case, increasingly dramatic things happen, eventually centering culminating in an awesome climax (as you may have notices, I am unashamedly biased in favour of this film).

Image result for I robot

Parallels with the books

Unlike some film adaptations of some other classics (e.g. The Lord of the Rings), this film not only differs quantitatively but also qualitatively from the books. First of all, the story is not an original Asimov story, but rather attempts to tie in with Asimov’s ideas. Doctor Calvin (the lady), for example, is clearly taken from a Doctor Calvin in Asimov’s work. However, in the film, she is portrayed as significantly less cold than in the books. She is a more relatable, less alienating character. This of course, was a good move on the film makers’ part. It also serves to illustrate other changes that were made to the feel of the world, and how they made it more appealing to the modern audience. Another clear difference is that the film assumes the existence of the integrated circuit, which even Asimov didn’t imagine existing back in the fifties. This means that the technology of the film is much more compact, as opposed to the huge clunky grid-connected robots of Asimov’s world.

however, it must be said that despite these changes, one fundemental Asimovian idea was kept: The three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The film starts by showing these staples of Asimov’s short stories, and continues to use them as a backbone to the major conflict of the story. And being so fundamental, one could say that because of this inclusion, the film really has kept the spirit of the originals by having them play such a major part.

Image result for I robot

Themes

Emotion and Intellect – On my most recent watching of the film, an aspect that really struck me is how the film constantly refers to the apparent conflict between emotion and reason. Detective Spooner starts out as this very emotional person with a confused grudge against robot-kind. In contrast, Doctor Calvin (the lady on the left of the above picture) is shown as a cold, unfeeling engineer. then of course you have Sonny, the most recent breakthrough in Robot intelligence, who is highly skilled, but is also learning to feel reality, and also (once) actualising irrational emotion. Now I thought that this portrayal actually felt a bit clumsy. I would have appreciated a more subtle portrayal of this aspect, which felt a bit unresolved/confused. I didn’t get the impression that the protagonist had really developed much from the plot.

Technology – Obviously, this film very much centres on Artificial Intelligence, in a similarly vague way to how Asimov dealt with it (this mysterious “Positronic Brain”) and although I don’t take hard AI too seriously, I always did find the idea, and it’s potentiality, fun, if anything.

The solution to the three laws of robotics – I must admit, until just now, I didn’t actually understand this. But now I realise that the second part of the first law of robotics creates this loop hole. Not only must a robot not harm a human being, but it must also prevent said human from being harmed. This suggests the idea that robots’ only legitimate solution to best fulfilling the three laws is dominating humanity to such an extent that humans are never able to harm each other. Of course, this is a political assertion, except its object is not a state, but robots. Would you like to live in such a “safe” world?

Conclusion

The thing about most Science-Fiction is that, admittedly, it is all quite boxed-in in comparison to other stories. It does not really centre on life and eternity (like Fantasy, for example) but simply technology, and its potential. This of course makes it fun/cool to watch, but also quite trivial. That said however, I personally put I-Robot high on the list of films that fulfils that aim of Sci-Fi, for it does exactly that: It explores the potential of technology in a fun and exciting way!

Culture and Change

α: What exactly does one mean by culture?

β: By culture, one is referring to the form of a people. Just like a jug is a specific form of glass, so is culture a specific arrangement of people. Therefore this is clearly a very wide-ranging term and covers everything from language to specificities. An example of the latter extreme would be the fact that such a town in Wales has a wonky signpost near it’s oldest train station. Of course, when one refers to culture, one is generally referring more to the former type of culture (language and customs) but for the sake of coherence and clarity, it seems to make more sense to define culture more widely.

α: It would seem that culturess are all equally meritorious, since any evidence to the contrary would, by definition come from a person who had grown up in one culture, and is therefore tainted by that lens. Even a person who grew up between two cultures would really be the product of his own pidgin culture, and would therefore not be able to see beyond that.

β: The assertion that a person cannot truly abstract one’s-self from what one is accustomed goes against the very meaning of being human. Whether or not any particular abstract generalisation can be contested, but there is no reason why any given person cannot take an objectively valid position by abstracting one’s own experience.
Further, I would argue that all cultures are not equally meritorious, but rather that some cultures are, in fact, better than other cultures.

α: Are you asserting that some cultures have moral superiority over other cultures?

β: No, definitely not! Morality is really another matter entirely. The goodness of badness of a person isn’t so much dependant on how one’s prosperity or natural talent, but rather what they do with it, and the free choices they make with the cup they have been given.

α: So is culture then measured by prosperity?

β: Well, yes, but I would prefer to expand on that, as I think the answer is more subtle.
Culture is, like a good jug, best measured by how it fulfils it’s purpose. Now a jug’s primary purpose is to hold water and pour it without issue. It also has secondary aims like looking beautiful and clearly showing how much water remains, but these should be satisfied with the fullness of the first aim.
However, Culture’s final purpose is to spiritually enrich it’s people. This means to draw them to the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness and Beauty; consequently: God. And in the same way as the jug, culture has secondary objectives like Economic and Social goals, but also in the same way, these should flow from the fullness of the first aim.

α: How can a culture tend towards, or gain such value?

β: If a culture was truly perfect, I think it would be quite clear. However, one possible indicator would be how long the culture has existed without major change. A truly old culture would have been touched by all the wise hands that perfected her over the ages.

α: So then what makes a culture bad?

β: Well, a culture that has experienced great change would have the detailed perfection that time brings it. Of course, this observation does not bode well on our modern world, where culture seems to be changing at a much faster (and possibly more destructive) rate than it ever was before. So whether or not these great changes are good, this of course means that it cannot have been enriched by the process I have been describing.

α: Ah, but what does the reader reckon?

On Subtlety and Complexity

What’s the difference between explaining something in a more complex way as opposed to a more subtle way? After all, both explanations will inevitably be longer, and more complicated. Isn’t subtlety therefore just as complex as complexity?


The example I’m going to use is that of of faith, hope and charity. At first, they all seem fairly similar. Having faith in someone can also be seen as having a strong hope in them; In this wikipedia article, faith is seen as being aligned with goodness (which is otherwise thought of as charity); what’s worse: a modern rendition of charity is the word “love” (which sounds more like trust/hope).

I think perhaps a way of disentangling this confusion is with three very fundamental concepts: Truth, beauty and goodness. Now if you think about it, these are actually really fundamental concepts. They run through everything we know, and anything can be described in terms of them, like a cup:

For example, in front of me, I have truly have a green cup, that because of it’s elegant (beautiful) design is good for holding water (or coffee, in the case of the picture). Something is truly described as what it really is; Something is beautiful when its form follows its function; And something is good when that function is fulfilled.

Now if we back up a bit and look at these two trios side-by side, things start to get interesting. Faith clearly maps with truth, independently of either hope or charity (something simply to be known). The next obvious connection is that of Charity and goodness (“it is in giving that we receive”). And last, but not least, we can see that Hope is left with beauty. This is the analogy that I find most fascinating. Does beauty make one hopeful? Is one who has not hope blind to beauty? I think perhaps simply pondering those questions will do the comparison more justice.

The point is, the ideas of faith hope and charity are clearly different, but they can be quite hard to clearly wrap one’s head round. However, one doesn’t need to break them down (complicate them) in order to understand them more, but instead try to squash and stretch them a bit, until the “shape” of the idea is just right.


The definition of complex is consisting of multiple parts. Subtlety, in contrast is any distinction made that does not break a thing down. As you can see, the distinction between Faith, Hope and Charity is therefore subtle (extremely so), but ironically, trying to explain how it is has proved to be somewhat complex!