Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

A Friday feel-good story: The Raptors’ superfan inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame

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Snigdha Bansal reports in Vice:

Two years ago, as the Canadian professional basketball team, Toronto Raptors, headed into their first ever National Basketball Association (NBA) finals, all eyes weren’t just on the team, but also on their fans who’d waited almost 25 years for this moment.

Perhaps the most notable of them was Navdeep Bhatia, a Canadian businessman of Indian origin, popularly known as Nav, or the Raptors’ “superfan.” When the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks to secure their place in the final, a Bucks fan referred to Bhatia as an “annoying Raptors fan” and a “fat Indian guy with the underwear on his head” in a tweet.

“What I wear on my head isn’t underwear,” Bhatia, who migrated to Canada from India in 1984 to escape the Sikh genocide, tells VICE. “But he was 50 percent right – I am fat.”

Perhaps it is this wit and ability to take things in stride that made him take the miffed Bucks fan and his son out for a meal, instead of adding to the outrage against the man that made the racist tweet. They’re now “the best of friends.”

This incident wasn’t the first time Bhatia was targeted for his turban. Having returned to India in 1982 with a degree in mechanical engineering from California State University in Los Angeles, he was looking to start a business when the anti-Sikh riots broke out.

“At that time, they were singling us out because of our turbans – cutting our hair off on the street, putting burning tires on our heads. When I escaped to Canada, I felt like I was in the safest country in the world,” he says.

But his struggles were far from over. After working many odd jobs, including janitorial and landscaping work, Bhatia was hired as a car salesman. On his first day, many people refused to work with him. Not one to get fazed easily, he saw it as an opportunity to prove himself and change people’s perception of him.

“In my first three months there, I sold 127 cars. It was a record then, and it is a record today,” he says. The achievement earned him a swift promotion. Today, the Mississauga-based businessman runs car dealerships in both Mississauga and Rexdale, the branch where he started his journey. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s heart-warming.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

When Earth was in beta

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TierZoo is a YouTube series that presents the history of life’s evolution on Earth presented as a giant multiplayer video game. Real lifeforms are presented as “builds” and “upgrades.” Entertaining and will appeal to those who have experience in playing video games. Here’s the intorduction:

And here’s a sample video on the Cat dynasty tier list:

And here’s an investigation of a specific build:

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2021 at 9:02 am

Posted in Evolution, Games, Science, Video

Why It’s Almost Impossible to Do a Quintuple Cork in Tricking

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Like so many things, many I have yet to discover, tricking is new to me. This brief video gives a little history before diving into the details of a particular trick.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games, Science, Video

One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball

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Brendan I. Koerner has in Wired a profile of a bowling ball designer, which includes a deep dive in the physics of the bowling ball’s core: a dense asymmetrical weight. The article begins:

THE SWEET CLANG of scattering pins echoed through Western Bowl, a cavernous 68-lane bowling alley on the edge of Cincinnati. It was day one of the 1993 Super Hoinke, a Thanksgiving weekend tournament that drew hundreds of the nation’s top amateurs—teachers, accountants, and truck drivers who excelled at the art of scoring strikes. They came to the Super Hoinke (“HOING-key”) to vie for a $100,000 grand prize and bowling-world fame.

Between games, many bowlers drifted to the alley’s pro shop to soak in the wisdom of Maurice “Mo” Pinel, a star ball designer for the sporting-goods giant AMF. Pinel had come to Cincinnati to promote his latest creation, the Sumo. The bowling ball had launched the year before, backed by a TV commercial featuring a ginormous Japanese wrestler bellyflopping down a lane, with the tagline “Flat out, more power than you’ve ever seen in a bowling center.” The ball had quickly become a sensation, hailed for the way it naturally darted sideways across the lane—a quality known as flare. To congratulate Pinel on the sale of the 100,000th Sumo, AMF had given him a chunky medallion embossed with writing in kanji, a bauble that dangled from his neck as he held court at the Super Hoinke.

The paunchy, shaggy-haired Pinel spent hours regaling the pro-shop crowd with his opinions on the Sumo and all things ball-related. His blunt commentary, delivered in the thick Brooklynese of his youth, ranged from the correct technique for drilling finger holes to his rival designers’ failure to appreciate Newton’s second law. The audience lapped up his acerbic takes on how to improve the sport’s most essential piece of equipment.

Fifteen-year-old Ronald Hickland Jr. was among the enthralled. A gifted math and science student who was falling in love with bowling, Hickland was captivated by Pinel’s zest for breaking down the technical minutiae of why balls roll the way they do. He was equally impressed by the flashiness of Pinel’s jewelry: In addition to the gaudy kanji necklace, Pinel sported a top-of-the-line Movado wristwatch—a luxury he was able to afford thanks to the $3-per-ball royalty he was getting from AMF.

Hickland had traveled from Indiana to cheer on his dad at the Super Hoinke. Listening to Pinel, he found his calling in life. “It was like lightning,” he recalls. “And I was like, well, how do I get your job when I grow up?”

Pinel cautioned the teenager that the road ahead would be difficult. He would first have to earn a degree in mechanical or chemical engineering, after which he’d need vast amounts of persistence and luck: The number of full-time bowling ball designers in the world could be counted on two hands.

Hickland took that advice to heart, and he would eventually become one of the fortunate few to carve out a long career in ball design. He knows many would dismiss his chosen profession as frivolous. Bowling is easy to shrug off as a mere leisure pursuit—a boozy weekend pastime in which anyone with decent hand-eye coordination can perform well enough. But hardcore bowlers have a very different take on the sport: To them it’s a physics puzzle so elaborate that it can never be mastered, no matter how many thousands of hours they spend pondering the variables that can ruin a ball’s 60-foot journey to the pins. The athletes who obsess over this complexity also understand the debt they owe to Pinel, whose career as a ball designer was just beginning when he attended the Super Hoinke in 1993. Notorious as a bit of a colorful crank, he is also the figure most responsible for transforming how bowlers think about the scientific limits of their sport.

IN THE EARLY days of the pandemic, when ambulance sirens wailed nonstop in my hard-hit Queens, New York, neighborhood, I often soothed myself by bingeing YouTube clips of bowling. I can’t remember how I first plunged down that rabbit hole, though it might have involved clicking a “Recommended for You” video in the sidebar next to the Jesus Quintana scene from The Big Lebowski. My personal experience with bowling amounted to little more than a few madcap nights with friends, yet I devoured hours’ worth of highlights from professional matches, marveling at the athletes’ ability to arc their shots with such precision. Flair atop flare. There was something hypnotic about the physics of the balls’ movement, how those sleek orbs danced along the gutters before gracefully breaking toward the pins as if nudged by unseen hands.

Gorging on this content piqued my curiosity about the role a ball’s physical properties play in determining the outcome of each shot. A bowler’s prowess is clearly what matters most, but I assumed the composition of the balls must factor into the equation—arguably more so than in any other sport, given bowling’s simplicity. I became keen to learn how bowling balls are constructed and how much of an edge a bowler can glean by using a ball that’s been tailored to enhance their skills.

Grasping the basics of ball design turned out to be more complicated than I’d imagined. When I waded into the archives of Bowling This Month to study the magazine’s ball reviews, I was overwhelmed by . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And there’s also a video on the virtual impossibility of converting a 7-10 split. (Though the Greek Church is converted less frequently, the reason for that is psychological: choosing a sure thing over a risky bet.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 1:19 pm

Sinuous: Free web-based fun game

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Try this game. You are the white dot. Use your mouse to avoid the red dots. Dots of other colors you should hit because they give special powers. (Mouse over the title of the page and you’ll see what special dots do.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2021 at 7:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

Code Miko

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Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 5:12 pm

The Tech Elite’s Favorite Pop Intellectual: Julia Galef on bringing the rationalist movement to the mainstream.

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Benjamin Wallace writes in New York:

n 2012, Julia Galef, the host of a podcast called Rationally Speaking, moved from New York to Berkeley to help found a nonprofit called the Center for Applied Rationality. It was the early days of the rationalist movement: a community formed on the internet whose adherents strove to strip their minds of cognitive biases and subject all spheres of life to the glare of scientific thought and probabilistic reasoning. Galef and her CFAR co-founders — mathematician Anna Salamon, research scientist Andrew Critch, and math and science educator Michael Smith — wanted to translate these principles to everyday life. They did this through multiday workshops, where participants could learn to make better decisions using techniques like “goal factoring” (breaking a goal into smaller pieces) and “paired debugging” (in which two people help identify each other’s blind spots and distortions).

Over the next several years, as rationalism became not only the de facto brand of self-help in Silicon Valley but also an intellectual movement followed by pundits and executives alike, CFAR’s profile grew; soon, the nonprofit was running workshops across the country and teaching classes at Facebook and the Thiel Fellowship. But for CFAR’s founders, it was the empirical confirmation of their work that mattered most. Early on, they began conducting a controlled study to determine whether the workshops were demonstrably helpful. They surveyed 40 participants, assessing their before-and-after answers to questions like “How together is your life?” and “How successful do you feel in your social life?” The study found that, one year after the workshop ended, participants showed decreased neuroticism and increased self-efficacy, but to Galef, the results weren’t sufficiently rigorous. “What was it about the workshop?” she says. “Was it the classes or hanging out with like-minded people that makes the difference?” Conducting more tests would have been too expensive. “My vision was we’d come up with hypotheses about techniques, keep the ones that work, and discard the ones that don’t. It turned out to be much harder than I’d realized.”

In 2016, Galef left CFAR, unsatisfied with what she had been able to accomplish there. Instead, she began working on her first book, which, after five years, will be published by Penguin on April 13. The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t is a fitting debut for someone who has considered herself a “populizer” of the rationalist movement. “I take these ideas I think are great and try to explain them to a wider audience,” she says.

When we speak over Zoom, Galef is in Franklin, North Carolina, her face evenly lit by the ring lamp she travels with. Since she and her fiancé left their San Francisco studio this past July, they’ve been doing the digital-nomad thing. Right now, they are near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a golf-course Airbnb. Galef holds her laptop camera up to the window, revealing a burbling creek outside. “It suits our personalities and lifestyle,” she says. “We both work remotely” — he’s a program officer focused on artificial intelligence at the effective-altruism organization Open Philanthropy — “we’re both introverts, we’re both minimalists, and we both like novelty.”

To the extent that the rationalist movement has been written about, its eccentricities have tended to get outsize attention: Some rationalists live in group houses with names like Event Horizon and Godric’s Hollow; polyamory and a preoccupation with the existential risk posed by AI are both overrepresented. In opposition to mainstream online culture, which believes that certain arguments should be off-limits, the rationalsphere wants to be able to talk about anything. Slate Star Codex — recently renamed Astral Codex Ten — the most prominent rationalist blog, has caused controversy by countenancing free-flowing discussion of topics such as race science and female harassment of men. And because of their devotion to hyperanalysis, some members of the community can present as arrogant and lacking in EQ.

Galef, however, is an amiable ambassador for the movement, adept at distilling its concepts in an accessible and plainspoken manner. The speech of rationalists is heavy on the vernacular, often derived from programming language: “updating your priors” (keeping an open mind), “steel-manning” (arguing with the strongest version of whatever point your opponent is making), “double-cruxing” (trying to get to the root of a disagreement). But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2021 at 3:11 pm

Bradley University’s Game Design Program Ranks Top 10 in the World Again

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Here’s the report. I’ll mention in passing that The Son is departmental chair.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2021 at 3:41 pm

How a ‘beginners’ mindset’ can help you learn anything

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David Robson writes for BBC:

Tom Vanderbilt’s fascination with the process of life-long learning began with his daughter’s hobbies: piano, soccer, Tae Kwon Do. He wanted to encourage her new pursuits, and accompanied her to the lessons or tournaments. As she exercised her mind, he would answer emails, play with his phone or stare into space until his daughter had finished.

He soon recognised the hypocrisy of the situation. “I was impressing upon her the importance of having a broad education in all these different skills,” he says. “But she might have easily asked me, ‘Well, why don’t you do all these things then?’”

Starting with chess lessons, he decided to spend a year pursuing a range of new skills himself. He learnt to sing, draw, juggle and surf. At no point did he hope to fully master the abilities or to show off his prowess with an extraordinary feat, such as winning American Idol.

“As adults, we instantly put pressure on ourselves with goals,” he says. “We feel like we don’t have the luxury to engage in learning for learning’s sake.” Instead, he wanted to revel in the pleasure of the process.  [I generally do have a modest goal — e.g.,  to be the best on the block at doing x. – LG]

Vanderbilt details his journey in his January 2021 book Beginners, which combines his own personal revelations with the cutting-edge science of skill acquisition. Keen to find out more, we discussed the myths of adult learning, and the substantial benefits that the “beginner’s mindset” can bring to our lives.

How to learn well

Beginning the project in his late 40s, Vanderbilt knew that he would struggle to match the learning abilities of children like his daughter. Children are especially good at picking up patterns implicitly – understanding that certain actions will lead to certain kinds of events, without any explanation or description of what they are doing. After the age of 12, however, we lose some of that capacity to absorb new information.

We shouldn’t be too pessimistic about our own abilities, though. While adults may not absorb new skills as readily as a child, we still have “neuroplasticity” – the ability for the brain to rewire itself in response to new challenges. In his year of learning, Vanderbilt met many people, long past middle age, who were still exercising that “superpower”.

What’s more, Vanderbilt’s research revealed some basic principles of good learning that anyone can use to make our learning more effective. The first may seem obvious but is easily forgotten: we need to learn from our mistakes. So, rather than just mindlessly repeating the same actions over and over, we need to be more focused and analytical, thinking about what we did right and what we did wrong. (Psychologists call this “deliberate practice”.) Vanderbilt noted this with chess playing. You could put in the hours with hundreds of online games, but that was not going to be as effective as studying the strategies of professionals or discussing the reasons for your losses with a chess teacher.

A second principle is more counter-intuitive: we need to make sure that our practice is varied. When juggling, for example, it helped to switch the objects, or to change how high you throw them; he tried it sitting down, and while walking. As one scientist told Vanderbilt, this is “repetition without repetition” and it forces the brain’s learned patterns to become more flexible, allowing you to cope with the unpredictable difficulties – such as a mistake in one of your earlier movements that could lead you to lose control.

Even more intriguingly, Vanderbilt discovered that we often learn best when we know that we will have to teach others the same skill. It’s not clear why this is, but that expectation seems to increase people’s interest and curiosity, which primes the brain’s attention and helps ensure that it lays down stronger memory traces. (Vanderbilt had lots of opportunities to teach what he had learnt, since he often included his daughter in his projects.) So, whatever you are personally trying to master, consider sharing that skill with someone you know. And while you may find it helpful to observe true experts executing a skill, Vanderbilt found that it can also be useful to watch other novices, since you can more easily analyse what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.

With this knowledge, Vanderbilt made good progress with each of the skills that he set out to learn. Singing, he says,

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

At the end are the credits:

Tom Vanderbilt’s book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning (Atlantic Books/Knopf) was published in January. 

David Robson is the is author of The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton) – out now in paperback. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2021 at 11:57 am

Stunning: Welsh Open 2021 Snooker Final Frame Decider

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Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2021 at 9:19 am

Posted in Games, Snooker, Video

Pigs can play — and seem to enjoy — joystick-operated video games

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Candace C. Croney and Sarah T. Boysen have an interesting paper in Frontiers in Psychology. It begins:

The ability of two Panepinto micro pigs and two Yorkshire pigs (Sus scrofa) to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task was investigated. Subjects were trained to manipulate a joystick that controlled movement of a cursor displayed on a computer monitor. The pigs were required to move the cursor to make contact with three-, two-, or one-walled targets randomly allocated for position on the monitor, and a reward was provided if the cursor collided with a target. The video-task acquisition required conceptual understanding of the task, as well as skilled motor performance. Terminal performance revealed that all pigs were significantly above chance on first attempts to contact one-walled targets (p < 0.05). These results indicate that despite dexterity and visual constraints, pigs have the capacity to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task. Limitations in the joystick methodology suggest that future studies of the cognitive capacities of pigs and other domestic species may benefit from the use of touchscreens or other advanced computer-interfaced technology.

Introduction

Cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, and conceptualization permit animals to demonstrate adaptive behavior in complex, dynamic environments (Wasserman, 1993). These processes have been investigated in laboratory animal species, including non-human primates, rats, and pigeons, among other species, but have yet to be fully explored in farm animals (Curtis and Stricklin, 1991Duncan and Petherick, 1991). Over the past 2 decades, however, investigations of farm animal cognition have significantly increased, in part because of their implications for ethical obligations toward them, as well as for decisions relating to their production, care, and management (Croney et al., 2004Mendl and Paul, 2004Birch, 2018Franks, 2018Nawroth et al., 2019). Much of the existing literature on farm animal cognition has focused on the abilities of pigs ( Sus scrofa ; for reviews, see Held et al., 2002Gieling et al., 2011Marino and Colvin, 2015), although emerging studies have been conducted recently with horses (e.g., Brubaker and Udell, 2016), goats (Briefer et al., 2014), and sheep (Kendrick et al., 2001Doyle et al., 2013McBride and Morton, 2018).

Very early studies conducted by Yerkes and Coburn (1915) gave some indication of the pig’s capacity for complex learning. They found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2021 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Games, Psychology, Science

A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon

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In watching the videos of the attack on the Capitol it struck me that it seemed somewhat like a multplayer online game acted out in real life (especially given that such games usually seem to involve combat — as if we are doing simulation training to make people adopt violence as the standard way of solving problems). The parallels — and the effects of learning behaviors from online games — are discussed in a very interesting article on Medium.

Friedrich Nietzche’s famously wrote, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” First I’ll observe that the QAnon worldview does indeed have its converts fighting monsters (cannibalistic pedophile Satan-worshiping liberals), and as we saw on Wednesday, some of the QAnon faithful have indeed become monsters. Moreover, as the following article points out, those playing the game QAnon are being played by the game.

One thing I gleaned from the article is why teaching by the Socratic method is so effective

Reed Berkowitz writes:

I am a game designer with experience in a very small niche. I create and research games designed to be played in reality. I’ve worked in Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), LARPsexperience fictioninteractive theater, and “serious games”. Stories and games that can start on a computer, and finish in the real world. Fictions designed to feel as real as possible. Games that teach you. Puzzles that come to life all around the players. Games where the deeper you dig, the more you find. Games with rabbit holes that invite you into wonderland and entice you through the looking glass.

When I saw QAnon, I knew exactly what it was and what it was doing. I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)

QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.

It is the differences that shed the light on how QAnon works and many of them are hard to see if you’re not involved in game development. QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.

Guided Apophenia

In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

Apophenia is “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it’s not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at. More about this later.

Everyone on the board agrees with you because it’s highly likely they were the ones that pointed it out to you just for that purpose. (more on this later)

“Hey, what’s that?!”

“It looks like an arrow, pointing at the wall.”

“Why do you think it’s there? Do people just leave arrows pointing to things randomly? What does your common sense say about that?”

“It says there must be something there.”

“Yes. You are right. Maybe you should look at it more closely?”

Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.

Even Q-Anon was only one of several “anons” including FBIanon and CIAanon, etc, etc. Q rose to the top, so it got its own YouTube channels. That tested, so it moved to Reddit. The theories that didn’t work, disappeared while others got up-voted. It’s ingenious. It’s AI with a group-think engine. The group, led by the puppet masters, decide what is the most entertaining and gripping explanation, and that is amplified. It’s a Slenderman board gone amok.

Let’s go back to the arrow on the ground again.

It was not an arrow on the ground, pointing to a clue in a wall. It was just some random bits of wood. They did not discover an arrow. They created it. They saw random pieces of wood and applied their intelligence to it, and this is everything.

It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.

Propaganda and Manipulation

Another major difference between QAnon and an actual game, is that Q is almost pure propaganda. That IS the sole purpose of this. It’s not advertising a product, it’s not for fun, and it’s not an art project. There is no doubt about the political nature of the propaganda either. From ancient tropes about Jews and Democrats eating babies (blood-libel re-booted) to anti-science hysteria, this is all the solid reliable stuff of authoritarianism. This is the internet’s re-purposing of hatred’s oldest hits. The messaging is spot on. The “drops” implanted in an aspic of anti-Semitic, misogynist, and grotesque posts on posting boards that, indeed, have been implicated in many of the things the fake conspiracy is supposed to be guilty of!

Q is also operating in conjunction with  . . .

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2021 at 12:30 pm

Learning concentration through playing chess

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Jonathan Rowson, the co-founder and director of Perspectiva, a research institute in London, and the author of The Moves that Matter: A Chess Grandmaster on the Game of Life (2019), writes in Aeon:

Arriving at the chess board is like entering an eagerly anticipated party. All my old friends are there: the royal couple, their associates, the reassuringly straight lines of noble infantry. I adjust them, ensuring that they are optimally located in the centre of their starting squares, an anxious fidgeting and tactile caress. I know these pieces, and care about them. They are my responsibility. And I’m grateful to my opponent for obliging me to treat them well on pain of death.

In many ways, I owe chess everything. Since the age of five, the game has been a source of friendship, refuge and growth, and I have been a grandmaster for 20 years. The lifelong title is the highest awarded to chess players, and it is based on achieving three qualifying norms in international events that are often peak performances, combined with an international rating reflecting a consistently high level of play – all validated by FIDE, the world chess federation. There are about 1,500 grandmasters in the world. At my peak, I was just outside the world top 100, and I feel some gentle regret at not climbing even higher, but I knew there were limits. Even in the absence of a plan A for my life, chess always felt like plan B, mostly because I couldn’t imagine surrendering myself to competitive ambition. I have not trained or played with serious professional intent for more than a decade, and while my mind remains charmed by the game, my soul feels free of it.

In recent years, I have worked in academic and public policy contexts, attempting to integrate our understanding of complex societal challenges with our inner lives, while also looking after my two sons. I miss many things about not being an active player. I miss the feeling of strength, power and dignity that comes with making good decisions under pressure. I miss the clarity of purpose experienced at each moment of each game, the lucky escapes from defeat, and the thrill of the chase towards victory. But, most of all, I miss the experience of concentration.

I can still concentrate, of course, but not with the same reliability and intensity that a life of professional chess affords. In fact, from a distance, chess looks to me suspiciously like a socially permissible pretext to concentrate for several hours at a time. In The Island from the Day Before (1994), Umberto Eco composes a love letter that includes the line: ‘[O]nly in your prison does [my heart] enjoy the most sublime of freedoms’ – that could be said of chess, too, and the experience of concentration is what makes it possible. I believe concentration is a defining feature of a fulfilling life, a necessary habit of mind for a viable civilisation, and that chess can teach us more about what concentration really means.

Any skilled endeavour entails concentration, but chess is unusual in requiring that we concentrate not for a few minutes at a time, but for several hours at a time, within tournaments, for days at a time, and within careers, for years at a time. Concentration is the sine qua non of the chess experience.

In chess, concentration usually unfolds in quick succession through perceiving, desiring and searching. But it’s recursive, so I often find something I didn’t expect in a way that leads me to see my position differently and want something else from it. My perception is pre-patterned through years of experience, so I don’t see one square or piece at a time. Instead, I see the whole position as a situation featuring relationships between pieces in familiar strategic contexts; a castled king, a fianchettoed bishop, a misplaced knight, an isolated pawn; it’s a kind of conceptual grammar. The meaning of the position is embedded in those patterns, partly revealed and partly concealed, and my search to do the right thing feels fundamentally aesthetic in nature.

I could describe the feeling as a kind of evaluative hunting  not so much for a particular target, but for trails of ideas that look right and feel right. I am drawn towards some transfigurations of the patterns that make me look deeper, and repelled by others. Good moves have the qualities of truth and beauty. They are discoveries of how things are, and should be.

However, chess invites me to deepen my concentration a few centimetres away from another being who is also trying to concentrate; someone I can smell, sense moving, and hear breathing. I often know, even like, these people, but they loom within my psyche in a relatively impersonal sense – a familiar energy, not friends as such. I sometimes think of chess opponents as psychopathic flatmates with whom I have to share a living space. They look harmless, but I know we signed the same contract that says they need to try to get inside my room, steal my possessions and hunt me down, before killing me; naturally, I am obliged to do the same to them. Together we create a story, and narrative themes such as attack and defence are both reduced and reified into particular moves with particular pieces on particular squares, which we record like stenographers, into our own arcana of algebraic notation. The climax of a game’s story might be ‘Brutal counter-attack!’ but the record merely reflects the logical power of a short sequence of moves, for instance: ‘…34. Bf3 Nh3+ 35.Kh1 Qg4!! Resigns.’

The forces on the board are always . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2020 at 7:32 am

Posted in Chess, Daily life, Fitness, Games

Blob Opera: Watch, Listen, and Experiment

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Google engineers having fun. Go to this page, then click on everything to see what happens and click-and-drag the blobs. More entertaining than you might expect.

More experiments here.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2020 at 10:32 am

10 fun chess games for beginners to enjoy

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2020 at 6:41 am

Posted in Chess, Games, Video

If you liked “The Queen’s Gambit,” then watch “Searching for Bobby Fischer”

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The movie (from 1993) is on Netflix and is based on the true story of Joshua Waitzkin. It’s a feel-good movie with an amazing cast: Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, David Paymer, William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya, Laura Linney, Tony Shalhoub. No drug use in this one.

It’s listed now with the title “Innocent Moves,” but you can search for it under that title or the original and find it. (Netflix no longer enables direct links to titles.)

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2020 at 4:51 am

Posted in Chess, Movies & TV

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond

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When I first learned to play chess I knew no chessplayers, so I tried to figure it out with the instructions that came with the little plastic set I received. I only knew checkers, and from that got the (mistaken) idea that knights captured pieces by jumping over them (rather than as they do: by landing on them).

Nowadays the resources available are manifold. For those who already know the game, I have at the right a link to a excellent on-line book providing instruction in tactics: Predator at the Chessboard. But that assumes you know the game and have some experience in playing it. What if you have never played?

Open Culture has an excellent round-up of free on-line resources available to those who want to learn the game from scratch. And I’ll note that there are many opportunities to play on-line so that your opponent need not be physically present or even close.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 10:24 am

Esperanto Scrabble tiles

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At last. They also have sign language tiles (Australian, British, and US) and Aurebesh.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2020 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Esperanto, Games

Ward Farnsworth’s “Predator at the Chessboard: A Field Guide to Chess Tactics” — very good and totally free

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With the (excellent) Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” based on the novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth), being popular and with pandemic isolation, chess is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, particularly since (like Go) online play is easy to find.

Ward Farnsworth has made his guide to tactics freely available. He writes:

Chess tactics explained.

This site teaches chess in words. It has two parts.

1. The first part is a book that explains chess tactics (that is, how to make winning moves). It assumes no prior knowledge of the subject. Everything is explained progressively and in plain English. You can read it by clicking anyplace in the table of contents below. The headings can be expanded one at a time by clicking on the [+] signs, or click here to expand all of them at once. (And then you can click here to collapse them all at once.) There are 20 chapters, about 200 topics within them, and over 1,000 positions discussed.

2. The second part is a trainer: a set of puzzles shown without solutions that you can use to practice. Click here  to use it. You can try a random position from the book or one that involves a particular topic. The trainer allows you to ask for a hint if you’re stuck, and to see the answer when you are done.

You can always come back here by clicking the “contents” button in the upper right corner of every page. If you arrived by a different route, the best address for returning is http://www.chesstactics.org. This whole site has now been made much friendlier for mobile devices thanks to the help of a kind and ingenious reader.

Book versions of this site are available: over 700 pages in total in a two-volume set. Here are links to book one and book two. You can check out other books by the author about philosophy here, language here, metaphor here, and law here and here.

1.Introductory Matters.
[+]1.1.A Short Guide to the Site.
[+]1.2.Rationale for the Project.
[+]1.3.The Elements of Tactics: A Primer.
[+]1.4.Notation; Jargon; the Look of the Site; Hard Copies.
[+]1.5.Acknowledgments and Bibliography.
[+]1.6.Chess in Literature.

2.The Double Attack.
[+]2.1.The Knight Fork.
[+]2.2.The Queen Fork.
[+]2.3.The Bishop Fork.
[+]2.4.The Rook Fork.
[+]2.5.The Pawn Fork.

3.The Discovered Attack.
[+]3.1.Bishop Discoveries.
[+]3.2.Rook Discoveries.
[+]3.3.Knight Discoveries.
[+]3.4.Pawn Discoveries.

4.The Pin and the Skewer.
[+]4.1.Arranging a Pin.
[+]4.2.Exploiting a Pin.
[+]4.3.Other Patterns and Applications.
[+]4.4.The Relative Pin.
[+]4.5.The Skewer.

5.Removing the Guard.
[+]5.1.Capturing the Guard.
[+]5.2.Distracting the Guard (The Overworked Piece).
[+]5.3.Attacking the Guard.
[+]5.4.Blocking the Guard (Interference).

6.Mating Patterns.
[+]6.1.The Back Rank Mate.
[+]6.2.Other Classic Mating Ideas.

At the link, the TOC shown above consists of links to the pages of the book. Clicking a [+] displays the relevant pages for the heading. For example, clicking the [+] for “5.3 Attacking the Guard” displays:

5.3.1.Introduction.
5.3.2.Checks to Drive the King Away from Guard Duty.
5.3.3.Flush Checks (the Decoy).
5.3.4.Decoys on the Diagonal: Bishop Check Sacrifices.
5.3.5.Driving Off the Queen with a Threat.
5.3.6.Using the Priority of Check.
5.3.7.Attacks on the Queen to Loosen a Mating Square.
5.3.8.Flush Attacks Against the Queen.
5.3.9.Threats Against Rooks and Minor Pieces.
5.3.10.Forking the Guard and Another Piece.
5.3.11.Using Pawns to Threaten the Guard.

Each of those is also a link to the study page.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2020 at 9:47 am

Posted in Books, Chess

Good example of a Plachutta in the wild

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A Plachutta is most often encountered in a problem, but here it occurs in a (famous) game:

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2020 at 10:45 am

Posted in Chess, Games

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