16 December 2014

Out of Aestivation

Aestivation is like hibernation, in that an organism slows its metabolism to a trickle and avoids all activity, but during the summer months. As such it usually refers to animals who take a break in especially arid environments to avoid the most scorching months rather than people who work summer jobs with insane hours, but it's close enough. Will this blog now return to "regular" updates (as much as that term ever applied to it)? I'm not sure, actually. But in the interest of catching up a little, here's a song that was stuck in my head on repeat a month or two ago; enjoy.

26 February 2014

Getting started in Banished

This guide as a whole is intended for people who have little or no experience with the game. If you've played a bit and think you're doing everything right but still have failing settlements, the "Distribution" and "Miscellaneous advice" sections might be good places to check.

The PC strategy game Banished from one-man-show Shining Rock Software was released last week. I'd been looking forward to the game for quite some time, as it scratches a particular city-building itch that I've had for years. Part of why I've anticipated it so much is that to group it in with traditional "city-builder" games is actually a bit of a misnomer: it's decidedly a village- and town-builder. The goal isn't to expand into a bustling metropolis through long ages: it's simply to get your small group of settlers to survive through each winter.

The game's causality and timing are also more realistic than your typical city-builder. For instance, plopping down a house doesn't cause a new family to materialize from nowhere, and instead gives one of your young couples a place where they'd be comfortable to raise some kids, encouraging natural population growth. And planting that orchard today will give you a nice yield of fruit, sure... three or four years from now when the trees have grown. To some this may sound tedious, but for others of us it's a godsend.

It's not flashy, it's not grand—but it's committed and it's grounded. It has no combat, but you'll instead find yourself locked in battle with the elements. When things go wrong it's brutal: an early frost can destroy your yield from farms, and whole families and neighborhoods can succumb to disease. But when things are going well it's downright cozy: smoke drifts up from chimneys and the townsfolk go about their work in the fields and forests. If you ask me, it's the perfect game to play with a big mug of tea.

It's not a game I'd necessarily recommend to everyone, but if what I've described sounds appealing to you, I'm here to offer a few tips for getting started in Banished. I'll note that these tips are based on my experience with the game so far and advice I've seen on the forums and wiki (and you should definitely play the in-game tutorials to learn about the interface, building placement, etc.). There may well be other approaches to the game, but they're likely more challenging and could discourage new players from the game. I'd recommend starting according to the following suggestions, and then after you've gotten a feel for the game, if you want to see if you can get away with breaking these rules, by all means do so (I know I will be). My suggestions also assume that you're on a valleys map with a fair climate and disasters turned on.

My primary piece of over-arching advice for this game is this: You're better off drawing your assumptions from the real world instead of other strategy games. Specifically, make sure you keep in mind that Banished takes place in the pre-industrial world (most people seem to think it's medieval-era while it strikes me as clearly colonial-era, but at this scale they're not terribly different). The game's not perfectly realistic but it skews farther that way than many others, and so by remembering the setting you'll have a much better chance of guessing the proper course of action. We'll see how this applies in several particular cases below.

Your settlers have three main needs: food, warmth, and shelter. Most of what you do in the game is going to be related—directly or indirectly—to keeping up with those needs as your population grows. We'll start with the basics of those needs and then move on to other important concepts.

05 February 2014

Answering creationists' questions on behalf of Bill Nye

This Buzzfeed list has been bouncing around Facebook, showing questions posed by creationists for Bill Nye* before the recent debate he had with Ken Ham. I don't know if Nye will actually go about addressing them himself, but if I might be so bold I'm going to answer them here on his behalf. The fact that these folks made it through a high school education without learning the answers to many of these questions left me too frustrated not to respond.

*On re-reading the article it seems the questions are posed to non-creationists in general, not Bill Nye specifically, but I'll leave the title and my responses as they are.

You can see all the original images at the Buzzfeed link, and I'll just transcribe the questions for this post.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way? 

He encourages kids to use logic, think for themselves, and to get excited about the world we live in, so I'd say yes.

2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator? 

I can't speak for Bill Nye on this, but there are a couple good common responses. One is that if there is a God why would He give us logic and the ability to discern things about our world if He didn't expect us to use it? 

Another outlook is offered in this quote: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” (It's often attributed to Marcus Aurelius, but I believe that's incorrect.)

3. Is it completely illogical that the world was created mature, i.e., trees created with rings, Adam created as an adult? 

10 August 2013

MS MR - "Hurricane"

I quite enjoy this song—the verse in particular—and have been listening to it over and over. If you decide to check out more from the band just be ready for things to get kinda weird/creepy/dark in their official videos. :P

18 June 2013

Miscellaneous thoughts related to base-twelve

If you haven't already, read my previous posts, "The case for base-twelve" (Part 1 and Part 2)

FINALLY we can get this whole
counting thing sorted out...

So no, I don't think switching to base-twelve is a feasible idea. I do lament the fact that it's not what we're using right now, though. It strikes me as a more elegant system, and it's a shame that happenstance has pretty much dictated that it'll never be the system we use. Unless, maybe, all of civilization collapses and the society that rises from the rubble happens to use it... But wishful thinking will get me nowhere.

One way I console myself over the fact that a modern, real-world base-twelve system will never be is to imagine a fictional society that uses it. Helpfully, I already happen to have a fictional society on hand. I can't recall if I've alluded to it before, but basically my friend and I have an imaginary continent in the North Pacific, on which I have an imaginary country called Morsenia. The whole thing sounds silly—and it is—but it's basically a collaborative thought experiment that gives us a mental playground for all sorts of hypotheticals. It's constantly-evolving geopolitical fan-fiction, more-or-less. Most of the concepts explored are political and historical, but in developing our countries' stories there's plenty of room for mulling on all sorts of subjects, like language, religion, and biogeography. All-in-all it's a fun excuse to learn a bunch of new things in a variety of subjects as you go about the business of building a believable country and culture.

In the past Morsenia was much more of a Mary Sue; I'd basically take all the things I think are good or cool ideas, say my country did them, and things would inevitably work out pretty well (so they were a wealthy, high-tech nation with a huge standing army filled with tilt-rotor aircraft and digital camo; but also they were somehow isolationist and relatively peaceful). I've made a lot of progress griming it up and throwing wrenches into the works to make it a little more believable (now they're poor and use decades-old weapons and equipment), but I still definitely use it as an intellectual testing ground for ideas I think might work well in real life. Base-twelve is one of those.

The case for base-twelve, Part 2

(If you haven't already, read Part 1, where I explain why we're going through all this trouble.)

An important thing to understand before we move on: what we tend to call a "number" is actually comprised of several different aspects. It has a value, which is the count of things it represents; it has a symbol, which is made up of the numerals 0-9 which can be arranged in single- and multi-digit fashion; and it has a name. In day-to-day life, when we don't bother with anything other than the standard base-ten system, the three aspects seem essentially tied to each other. However, once we start considering other systems we find that the three aspects are actually separate. In base-ten the symbol "10" coincides with this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o), but in another system it wouldn't (and it may or may not be called "ten").

In light of those distinctions, I'm going to employ a certain formatting scheme in this post that will hopefully make it easier to compare base-ten with other systems. If I write out the name of a number with letters then I'm referring to the value. So by "ten" I mean a group of this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o). On the other hand, if I were to write "10" then I'm referring to the symbol formed by the digits themselves, and not a specific value or count of something. It gets a little less clear when we get to the name, since I'm already using the spelled-out word to indicate the value. But generally, if I put the word for the number in quotation marks I'm probably talking about it specifically as a name rather than as a representation of the value. A little confusing, but hopefully it'll make sense in context.

Now, if we were planning to switch to any system between base-one and base-nine we'd be all set for symbols: we'd have a few extra hanging around that we wouldn't need anymore. But since we're talking about switching to a system higher than base-ten, we're gonna need a couple more single-digit numerals to fill in the new gap before we reach "10" (which, remember, is twelve things in base-twelve). For now, we can just swipe a couple symbols from the Greek alphabet*. Doing so could give us a series of number symbols that looks like this:  

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, γ, ψ, 10

Two values that were formerly represented by double-digit symbols, ten and eleven, are now represented by single-digit symbols, and the symbol "10" has been reassigned to represent a dozen of something.

The case for base-twelve, Part 1

Image Source
This is going to be another of my pet rants (like this one)—the kind that people who know me in real life may have heard five or six times now. I'm going to go into waaaaay more detail than I ever have in person, though. So maybe getting it all out of my system on the internet will mean they won't have to hear it anymore? (HAH!)

This topic's a favorite of mine because it challenges some of our most basic assumptions, and because the solution I advocate for is at once sensible yet terribly impractical. Basically my point is that instead of ten, we should be counting to twelve.

I'm by no means the first person to say as much but, even so, I don't think it occurs to most people that there's even an option to count to anything besides ten. It's just not the sort of thing you'll encounter unless you're involved in computer science (nope), are really into mathematics/number theory (nope), or are just a huge dork with too much time on your hands (ding-ding-ding!). In fact, I don't want to alarm you, but the ideas in this series of posts may very well BLOW YOUR MIND. :O (They had that effect on me when I was first introduced to them, anyway.)

To start, we need to understand that the symbol "10," regardless of how many things it actually represents, is very important. As the first number with more than one digit it basically says, "Okay, at this point we've finished one 'set' of things, and now we're starting over with a new 'set.'" So a number like "27" basically means, "two complete 'sets,' plus seven."

The big question I'm asking here is, Why is this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o) considered a full set? In other words, Why is ten the first two-digit number?

The truth is that there's no real reason—perhaps other than the fact that we happen to have ten fingers to count on. But you may notice that that's not a very good reason. If human beings were like Homer Simpson, then eight might have been considered a full set and thus represented by "10;" all-in-all, it's troublingly arbitrary.

And so while the way we count seems incredibly natural to us, it's actually just one of many (infinite, really) possible systems. The one we use is called base-ten, or decimal. You could hypothetically have a system based on any value (base-ten, base-seven, base-five-hundred, whatever)—it just means you start two-digit numbers when you've reached the amount named after "base-". They wouldn't all be equally convenient, however. And as you'll see, that's one of my main points in discussing all this: some systems are more useful than others and in my opinion the one we use, base-ten, is not the best. Base-twelve (duodecimal, or dozenal) is far superior.

 "What's so bloody great about twelve?" you may be asking yourself. Well, I'm happy to explain...