25-26 August

25 August: Spent most of the day helping Ted and Pamela put a finishing coat on their living room windows.  Lots of hand wringing over what finish to buy and taping everything not wood and climbing on ladders.  To cap the night, we played Princes of Florence.  It was a learning game for all of us.  I played a builder strategy, Ted spammed professions, Pamela did a bit of both.  Ted eked out a one point win, and I bet we all learned something to do better if we played again.

26 August: I took 9.5 hours to drive home, including a stop at a Trader Joe’s for snacks, then later for some gas and a Starbuck’s frappachino.  The latter two were in Buttonwillow, CA, which has at least two gas stations where they have a sign saying $3.79 but the pump reads $3.979.  Sneaky.  I was driving 65 mph and following trucks most of the way back, so I averaged 44+ mpg, bringing my average for the trip to 42.1 mpg.  Is driving 10 mph faster worth the 10% drop in mpg?  Dunno.  I amused myself by practicing ballroom posture, though there isn’t room extend side-to-side.

It took Bunbury some minutes to remember what I smell like.  Silly bunny.


24 August

Drove up to the Bay Area today.  Google Maps said it would only take 7.5 hours.  It took about a third of that time to clear LA traffic.  I didn’t really mind since I have more than enough HPMoR Podcast to make the roundtrip.  I’m pretty sure the only way to make the Google Maps ETA is to drive above the speed limit, and I collected enough empirical evidence to conclude that driving 75mph is a waste of gas.  Also, someone really wants to tomatoes in San Francisco as I passed half a dozen double trailers piled high with them.

Met up with Franklin and Arendse and Danny in SF.  Grabbed some Indian food and played Cartagena a couple times.  Interesting game.  Would like to collect data to develop a heuristic for good play.  Then it was back on the road to Ted and Pamela’s.


I’ve collected a number of articles about China recently.  They are anti-China, as most articles on China are.

Chinese Hacking Team Caught Taking Over Decoy Water Plant

I have a feeling that the next big war will involve powers using each other’s infrastructures to hold civilians hostage.  Can you imagine what would happen to modern super-dense cities if the water failed or to the economy if power was disabled?

MI6 and MI5 ‘refuse to use Lenovo computers’ over claims Chinese company makes them vulnerable to hacking

I don’t blame them.

Why China’s banning new singing shows

The US government is afraid of terrorists killing Americans and Edward Snowden embarrassing them for what the government does to fight terrorists.  The Chinese are afraid of popular singing reality TV shows because the idea that people can vote and have a say in what happens around them is a dangerous idea.

I am a little worried at how readily I accept bad news about China, but even if I have confirmation bias, that doesn’t mean these are false.  It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Milgram experiments

This weekend’s Radiolab was on Evil.  In particular, why people do things that they know to harmful or deadly to others.

The first third of the show or so was on the infamous Milgram experiments, and every HP:MoR reader knows the role it plays in the fic.  Every psych undergrad knows the experiment for its result on obedience: that normal humans will inflict potentially lethal shocks to another human because someone tells them to.  This is probably because the context for the Milgram experiments is the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the Nuremberg trials.  “Just following orders” is now known as the Nuremberg defense.

However, the guest make two important comments.  First, Milgram’s follow-up experiments altering the scenario show that level of compliance varies depending on the circumstances.  In particular, compliance is lowest when the subject witnesses disagreement about whether the experiment should continue.

Second, Milgram scripted four prods to see what was needed to get compliance:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

The guest noted that the fourth prod, the direct order, never made any subject continue.  If the subject resisted continuing the experiment, the most forceful wording did not change his mind.  From this, he concludes that the real lesson in the experiment is not that humans obey orders.  Rather, there’s something else that caused normal people inflict potentially lethal shocks: namely that they were helping to further science.  That people will do bad things if they think there is a for a good cause.

I readily accept that humans use “the higher cause” as a justification for their actions.  Look at pretty much every war and atrocity perpetrated in the name of religion.  However, I think prod #3 is pretty forceful: “absolutely essential” is very strong wording.  The “must” in #4 is not as strong.  The difference in #4 is the “you have no choice.”  It may be that using the word “choice” reminds the subject that this actually is a choice.

Back to the first point, I think this underlines the importance of people being able to express their disagreement with the government and authorities, especially to other citizens.  Edward Snowden is still in the news.  The NSA might read what I write more closely because I included those two words.  Snowden is a guy who said no, the experiment should not continue.  (Note: in debriefing questionnaires, many Milgram experiments didn’t say all experiments should be stopped, but that they personally would not continue being a part of them.)  However, he could have picked secrets that didn’t put people’s lives in danger.  That seems to be what the US government thinks is Snowden’s and Bradley Manning’s worst crime: “aiding the enemy.”  Was there evidence that embarrasses the US out of some of its more heinous acts (done for the greater good, I’m sure) without putting operatives at risk?

Firefly game update

A follow-up to my post involving the Firefly game: the Kickstarter has been cancelled.  Some fans are heaping abuse on Toy Vault, and I think some is justified.  There’s some doubt as to why the KS was cancelled.  Some think it’s because KS was being used as a pre-order system since the game is at the printers already, and the KS targets were so low because they were nominally trying to fund expansion cards, but really they were trying to create buzz.  Others think the license owner didn’t like some of the material used in the game and pulled it.

This and the “playtest” fiasco cause me to believe the company was just trying to generate buzz.  Why put out rules and ignore feedback?  Because you never intended to solicit feedback, you just wanted a hook to get people talking about the game.  Dirty pool.

Anyway, I didn’t like what I saw in the rules, so I don’t really care if this game is published or not.  But I do get some perverse pleasure from watching the PR trainwreck on BGG.  Meanwhile, I’m thinking about how I would design my own Firefly game.

In which James plays games

Now and then, I get the urge to log my gaming so that I have something to show for the hours spent besides the hours spent.  And I’ve spent a lot of time video gaming lately due to lack of a regular boardgame group.  So here are a couple Let’s Plays I’ve been working on:

Let’s Play Race Into Space: part 1 part 2 The whole Mars One rekindled my interest in space again, though I did not apply for various reasons.  For instance, how often would the timetable need to be changed because of my GI system.  Anyway, I backed Race to Mars (the Kickstarter failed meet its goal), I’m eagerly anticipating Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager, and in the mean time I decided to try its predecessor, the latest version of which is titled Race Into Space.  The game appears to be straightforward — do these milestone missions on the way to landing on the Moon — but the manual isn’t complete and learning how to do it efficiently is not obvious.  What rocket do you need to do what mission, what milestone penalties apply to what safety checks, etc.  I scrapped a couple false starts before writing up the one on VGG.

The US player is aiming for a historical Apollo/Eagle/Saturn V landing: the Saturn V will lift Apollo and Eagle together into Earth orbit, and Apollo’s built in kicker will get them to the Moon and back.  The US player developed Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo modules and the Atlas, Titan, and Saturn V rockets.  The Soviet player (also me) is way behind in prestige and hence funding and so skipped Voskhod (the Soviet 2-man module in the game) to go straight to Soyuz.  They’re aiming for a joint lunar orbital mission with Soyuz and Kicker-C, which has two benefits: they don’t need to develop the equivalent of Saturn V, which they can’t afford; and Kicker-C obviates the need to develop a lunar module and kicker.  Two Proton rockets will launch the Soyuz and Kicker-C in Earth orbit, they will separately travel using their own power to the Moon.  In lunar orbit, they will dock, and then Kicker-C will land Soyuz on the Moon.  The Americans have pretty much won the game already, but I still want to land someone on the Moon.  As soon as I figure out how to best improve docking safety checks.

Civilization V: I haven’t gotten Brave New World yet; I only buy games during Steam sales, which is my way of limiting my consumption.  But as the game I’ve logged the most hours on Steam (probably because Ticket to Ride was only added to Steam relatively recently), I felt the urge to do a Let’s Play of it too.  I wanted to do something fairly representative of my games, nothing too fancy, so I played as the Egyptians on a Tiny map (4 players) with maxed city states on Prince difficulty.  As the Egyptians, I’m absolutely dominating the Wonders race, and my capital city is so bling it looks like it looted the entire world.  My priorities are roughly from highest to lowest: production, gold, science, culture, happiness.

Usually in Civ games, I do production, science, money, etc., but gold is different in Civ V.  If you invest in economic buildings and social policies, gold is fairly plentiful and you can get 4:1 or 3:1 gold to hammer conversions, even around 2:1 later in the game.  My empire of 4 cities is producing gold during a golden age (pun intended) equivalent to the production of a large city.  And not one of my opponents’ crappy cities, but one of my cities.  Because in Civ V, you don’t really need to make choices and specialize your cities.  You can have it all.  Maybe that’s why strategy gamers say Civ IV is better.

The Let’s Play has hit the point in the game where diplomacy has failed and I go to war, so the pace slows way down.

Crusader Kings 2: I also got 55 years into a play of CK2, which means I’m not even a 1/7th of the way through.  Grand strategy indeed.

In which James talks about games

Firefly: Out to the Black now has a KickStarter.  The game is already at the printers, so the KickStarter is just to gauge interest and get funding for printing promos and expansions.

I’m annoyed how Toy Vault, Inc. handled this game.  They started well, posting playtest rules and playtest cards for the community to try the game.  The combination of Firefly and materials shot the game up to first place on The Hotness, where it stayed for days.  Except any criticism BGG users brought against the game were brushed aside, and it became clear that they weren’t really interested “playtesting.”  Many people commented that the central mechanic was seen in Battlestar Galactica (the company claims it was not based on BSG) except done better there, the decisions seemed pretty trivial, many of the actions were similar, the game felt repetitive, etc.  I read the rules then didn’t bother assembling the game.  Toy Vault, Inc. ignored these comments, thanked the positive comments (textbook confirmation bias), and did nothing to the game.  Whatever.  They probably have a printer schedule, a summer convention schedule, and pressure from the licensee to get the game out.  I don’t have high hopes for the game, so I’m not even going to link to the KickStarter.

Anyway, yesterday I bought Rymdkapsel.  It’s a weird mix of SimCity, tower-defense, and Tetris.  I bought it for $4 without trying it first for the following reasons: 1) it’s gotten great IGF press; 2) reviews have been positive; 3) it looks awesome; 4) they released on Android before the iOS version.  Have to support the home team.  I played it last night and got creamed by level 20.

Oh, hey, another Humble Weekly Sale.  If Vicky asks, I’ve gotten most of the games in my Steam library from Humble Bundle.