Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What science doesn't know

I read something recently that caught my attention.

I picked up a recent special edition of TIME magazine related to this year's discoveries in science. (AFAIK)

It had many articles in many subjects, but anthropolgy caught my eye.
It had to do with new finds of early homonids in Africa, and especially with the ecosystem and time period they were found to be contemporaries of.

The new finds debunked a science standard that I had long heard. Perhaps you've heard it, too. In the supposed evolution of Man, the theory goes, apes in Africa adapted to stand erect as a result of tall plains grasses which emerged when Africa became more of a savanna. This was so thuroughly accepted that I always heard it off-hand and in passing, as almost inconsequential and self-evident.

Well, from what I gleaned in the article, the new finds placed erect hominids (pre-humans, post-apes) BEFORE Africa became largely savanna, or at least in a jungle setting. Anyway, that served to basically railroad the whole idea.

It all comes back to blood-letting, doesn't it? For much of human history, blood-letting was a respected, medically-sound practice.

A good scientist would freely and easily admit that theories are just that ... working assumptions, only accepted with a large grain on salt. To learn something new that debunks a theory should be received with enthusiasm. And in many quarters I suspect it is. It's just that so often the preachers of science fail to treat a supposition as what it is, an idea maybe true maybe not.

I came across a quote in a book recently, by Timothy Keller "Again, we see lurking...[a foolish] faith in one's own cognitive functions." If one can't see any better reason besides one's pet theory, then it must be so. (I will look up and fill in the quote soon). It is hard for me to beleive how many people can't see past the end of their own nose, so to speak.

Kill Doctor Lucky rules observations

I have been "tweaking" my house rules for Kill Doctor Lucky for some time, in fact even before I owned the game. I have some new additions to my ongoing tweaking.

The original rules for Kill Doctor Lucky are very very good, but I simply realize that accomodation needs to be made for speed of understanding with new players AND for adjustments needed due to player numbers.
That was the original games' rules' short-coming: too few rules variations for larger numbers of players.

A game that can easily accomodate 7 players is a prize, and for good reason. It is difficult to manage a game with that many players that keeps everyone's interest. The original game designers did very well in that regard.

Specifically, allowing a "witness" to "see" through up to six rooms in a row makes the game last forever, unless players become extra crafty. Experienced players would possibly prefer the original rules, but even then I think my ideas have merit.

The game goes endlessly unless accomodations are made for large groups of players, but also for small groups. Each set needs their own rules variants.
So, I have begun to think of this, and my earlier experiments were actually too cautious.

Thus (besides my "free swipe" rules variation):
For 2 or 3 players, standard rules apply (unlimited sight-lines within doorways).
For 4 or 5 players, "witnesses" only see up to two rooms away
For 6 or 7 players, "witnesses" only see one room away, i.e. only rooms adjacent

My "pissed off" token explanation worked very well. Everyone "got it" rather easily. A character gets more and more pissed off each time they fail.

And my idea for the Good Doctor winning at the end on the draw stack was a nice twist, which timed the game, also. It releived anyone who wondered.

This time I tried to add a possibile free card draw to the "free swipe" action, triggered by Doctor Lucky moving into a player's room, but that was too confusing in this game. I have reconsidered the card draw, and revert again to merely a "free swipe at the old man". The original rules' "free turn" interrupting regular turn order took confusion a degree past my free draw experiment, so it was worth a try.

This whole blog is partially (if not wholly) for my benefit, and as a journal of my "tweaks" to the game.

Evil is Effective

People don't like to admit it, but evil is effective. I would need to research the matter more thuroughly (and it could take a lifetime) but it seems to me that Hitler was pretty damn effective in making Germany strong. I mean, yes, the Allies had a lot to do with the rise of a strong Germany, but is seems to me that Hitler was pretty effective.

What got me on this line of thought was today's broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show featuring guest villian and author, Pat Buchanan. Villian, as in "vile".

I have to applaud NPR and Ms. Rehm for having this man on the program, as a balance to certain liberal-minded guest such as Johnathan Stewart. This was one of the most powerful broadcasts I have ever heard on her show, mainly because it made my blood curl and boil at alternate times.

And it is a frightening reality that his opinion represents a large swath of America.

I am using strong words, and perhaps unfairly. Maybe his heart is in the right place, as I am wont to forgive many wrongheaded types. However, I don't think so. And even if that's so, is villany maked by what is intended or what is done?

I thought about calling in, or e-mailing, but I didn't know the number, and managed to keep missing it each time it aired. I have written in down, now.

Also, in calling in, I would have had a hard time keeping my anger at bay. If the man had his way, America wouldn't be very far removed from Nazi Germany. There was at least one caller who disgraced themselves (and discredited their anger) by allowing their vemon to show through.

He did have a few good points, however. Mostly, a simple truism that a polite orderly community is easier to live in. Duh. That's one of the few points I would agree with. I agree with his in unity over diversity, but I do NOT agree that diversity is the antithesis to unity. Yes, diversity can bring disorder, but unity WITH diversity IS possible, and is an ideal worth striving for. It isn't an easy road, that's for sure.

What I found most startling was his fairly clear hypocrisy in advocating an extreme patriotism that reproached even loyal criticism, while his own book was as "unpatriotic" as it gets, in the sense of saying the America is in decline. I forget his examples; I need to relisten to this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Havoc on Parade: The Parade continues...

Three quick interjections: I received an e-mail rejection from Target following my (flawless) interview, I just placed an order on eBay for HADON OF ANCIENT OPAR, and my other seasonal job and volunteer position are both going swimmingly.

Now, back to gaming:

I have developed a better way of explaining Havoc on Parade (my adopted title for my own experimental modification of the poker-style game Havoc with the linear game Parade) which I would like to share. It has worked quite well in play-testing.

I am currently signed up to GM (teach and lead games) at MACE, a gaming convention. I plan to show off my modifications there.

To wit:

This is a thoughtful combination of the game Havoc and the game
Parade. Well, Havoc cards with Parade rules meshed with Rich game
logic (oh, dear). Anyone mildly familiar with either might be curious
to see this unique (as far as I know) modification. All welcome. Each
player represents a general for the advancing French army during the
Hundred Years War. Each player sends troops (card plays) to face the
English, and any troops (cards) beaten under your leadership are
counted as negative points.

Each player represents a general for the advancing French army during
the Hundred Years War. Each general (player) sends troops (card plays)
to face the English, and any troops (cards) beaten under your
leadership are counted as negative honor (points). Cards are
eliminated (score negative Honor points) if they are weaker (not a
higher number than card played) AND if any cards are in the same
regiment (same color). Usually "strong" troops "protect" weaker ones,
although troops of the same color all are eliminated regardless. Each
soldier (card) eliminated under your leadership (on your turn) is
counted as negative honor (points) equal to their rank (printed
number), unless their regiment (color) becomes heroes. Whichever
general (player) has the most of any regiment (color) eliminted under
his leadership (in his/her points area) converts those troops to
"Heroes," which are not as dishonorable (not as negative). Heroes are
counted negatively as follows: -1 for 4 or more players, -2 for 3
players, and -3 for 2 players. New troops (the one card played during
your turn) are fresh to battle (immune from elimination themselves)
and simply affect the course of the battle for existing troops
(provide the benchmark for what is elimated that turn). Once new
troops are unavailable (draw deck exhausted), there is one more sally
(one more round, which each player playing his/her last card to reach
a hand of 4). Now, we tally honor (points), with each player adding 2 out of 4 cards in hand to negative score pile, while the remaining two are removed from the game. This allows a final element of unpredicatability.

Each player is dealt 5 cards to begin the game. Their hand limit can
never be modified and should never change (except in the last round).
If it does (thru player forgettfulness) they may, at any time, simply
explain themselves and draw up to 5. The complete deck of all cards is
casually divided into a part to enter play and a half to set aside.
The size depends on the patience of the players, and game length
desired. At least half of the deck should be used, but never the full
deck (missing numbers/colors add to the unpredictability of the game).
Choose a player to go first. Their card is fresh to battle (immune
from elimination the turn played), battle losses are counted (none in
early play), current player draws a card to refresh to 5, and play
moves to the next player.

problems in American child education

I am not an expert by any means, but I just got through a troubling tutoring session and I feel the need to post this while the subject is fresh in my mind.

Just to be clear, the troubling part was mostly not the student (my 4th grade cousin), but rather his academic (and thus mental, and physical) suffering due to a public education and popular culture that has failed him.

I have three (3) observations in the matter:

1) His education being public is at the whim of politics, so I cannot quite hold the public educators themselves responsible for this debacle. I have long heard the phrase "No Child Left Behind" has turned into "Every Child Left Behind" and I am beginning to think they are correct in saying that.

It has become clearer and clearer to me that his teachers aren't teaching him what he needs to know (and more particularly aren't giving proper explainations). I am making a broad generalization here assuming that his experience is commonplace and widespread. I may be wrong about that.

2) Low standards are the rule of the game, sad to say. When I was in college (yes, college) my half-baked efforts on some assignments still garnered an "A" grade, even while I myself knew I deserved a "C". Except for certain "hard" classes, where I felt I was more honestly tested. I actually had to work for a good grade.

In high school, I had the same experience.

Now this was at a public university. My above observations have been true in my experience in all public schools, but are quite possibly not universally true.

Part of this is due to popular culture, partly due to political correctness. Which is also popular culture, in a fashion.

But I think it is a tragedy, simply put.

3) Popular culture (in America, at least) has convinced children that learning stops when the school bell sounds. This is one area that I feel qualified to speak in. A precious minority of children (and their families) do not beleive that particular lie, and populate extracurricular academics.

Academic obesity, if you will.

I'm not sure that a child's laziness is really a culprit.

This is an even worse tragedy, as I see it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

College isn't designed to find jobs

I'm one of the lucky ones. I saw through college long before most other people I know. But, even though in my head I knew college wasn't the answer to my chronic job-dissatisfaction, in my heart I always hoped I was wrong (kinda like I hope I am wrong about WWIII).

I guess I am in a sour mood. Chronic unemployment is my excuse, fair or otherwise.
I have deep-seated frustration/anger at anything to do with the Ivory Tower of academia, and really it isn't completely justified. But not completely unjustified, either. University education was falsely advertised to me (and many thousands of others) as a direct means to emploment. That, in turn, was mostly a response to the popular (and equally false) misunderstanding of colleges. Colleges were never quite intended to do anything more that self-actualization, and any employment benefits derived are a matter of personal talent.

There are a few exceptions, I suppose. But for the most part, if college prepares someone for the employment arena, that is because a student prepares him or herself. In my case, university education gave me tools, tools I used to make myself quite prepared...but it didn't help. Much.

The interesting point here (to me, anyway) is that except for the marketing people (and their masters) we (meaning: I) should hold no grudge against academia. It's not at all their fault they teach self-actualization. That's what they've been doing since the time of Chaucer. It's largely society that has placed foolish faith in them. But it's also a failure on their part to modernize and cater to the actual needs of students, rather than simply lip-service to job-preparedness.