Monday, June 30, 2014

Reality TV That Isn't Terrible

"The Bachelor" has had 18 season. This is a sad commentary on the quality of human being who watches TV. Here's a proposal on how to take the formula and make it something not miserably awful:

Start with one guy/girl and a team of interested parties, the typical setup. However, instead of fake emotional "date moments," the folks compete to show off their brains. The explicit goal is not for the one person to find a significant other, but to expand their social circle. Winners are thus folks who the person would want as friends. Girlfriend and romance are saved for after the show when the one person has explored who might have the most attractive (and compatible) mind of all the competitors.

For each episode, there's a book they read (chosen by the one person as something important to them). The group then sits around (or in small groups) and discusses the book. The person they're trying to woo selects who presented the cleverest analysis as the winners. Movies and TV shows can also be used, but books are best.

Add in gaming. Video game high scores are obvious, but I would prefer table-top since it's much more social and more purely intellectual, as it omits the eye-hand coordination aspect. Group board games also show who's a good sport and who isn't. Another part of this is that the competitors are put into small gaming groups of RPG's and the one person is the GM. Those who solve problems the best are the winners.

Keep aspects of one-on-one time, so the introverts in the competition have a chance to shine and so the one person can get to know their interests and hobbies, as well as "geek out" over things.

For locales, they go to museums, historical sites, and visit lectures by famous personalities. Get Bill Nye, the Mythbusters, Neil de Grasse Tyson, and other assorted thinkers, inventors, and businessmen to share their thoughts and walk them through experiments and other interesting situations.

No idea what you'd call it. But it would be great to behold.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tidbits

Joke told in Algebra 2 while covering the inverse of exponential functions:

How are logarithms and Skrillex similar?

They both like to drop the base.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Self-Referential Sentences

This sentence is not a sentence.

This sentence is illiterate.

This sentence has no words.

Do you care about this Senten and what it says?

This Senten says many interesting things.

This "Senten says" is false.

THIS SENTENCE WOULD NOT BE JUDGED TO HAVE HIGH COMMUNICATIVE VALUE BY THE AVERAGE ENGLISH SPEAKING PERSON WHO MIGHT HAPPEN UPON IT, BUT ATTEMPTS TO COMPENSATE FOR THAT CLEAR AND OBVIOUS SHORTCOMING USING THE ATTRIBUTE OF VOLUME.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Text Analyzers

English Vocab Profile

Make a game of trying to get as many red words as you can - it means you're using your vocabulary skills. Also remember to put names and such in the exclude list, since those don't really count.

Hemingway App

This one helps you find run-on sentences. Very useful for those who tend to sprinkle in too many commas.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Let It Go (Chinese Extended Mix)

I suppose it was inevitable that I would make a "Let It Go" video. Law of averages and all. This one uses three of the Mandarin Chinese versions. Two of them are given straight up, then a L/R audio mix, and finally the end credit version of one of them.



Friday, June 20, 2014

Tidbits

"'Can' refers to the physical ability to do something. 'May' refers to the permission."

"I ain't care about no grammar!"

A joking exchange between a student and I.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Still a Better Love Story Than...

A new four book fiction series for teenage girls to get them hooked on math:

Book 1: Tangent
Book 2: New Min
Book 3: Ellipse
Book 4: Taking Domain

It features a love triangle involving a circle, trapezoid, and a rectangle (who sometimes turns into a parallelogram).

Monday, June 16, 2014

"My Little Tephra"

"My little Tephra,
My little Tephra,
Aaaahhhhh...

My Little Tephra,
I used to wonder what steampunk could be,
My Little Tephra,
Until you all shared the science with me.

Big adventure.
Tons of guns.
A bio-fluxed heart.
Aether is on!
Crafting clockworks.
These are easy feats.
And gadgets make it all complete!

My Little Tephra,
DIY for your very best crafts."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review: "Oriental Adventures"

Title: Oriental Adventures
Year: 1985
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: TSR

Background:

Oriental Adventures is one of the first of its kind: an attempt to bring an eastern influence into the western fantasy dominated area of fantasy RPG's. Many of the tropes found in later attempts stem back to this book. The book is more than a supplement to AD&D, including new rules such as honor system.

Thoughts:

As one of the first attempts to bring Asian culture into fantasy RPG's, a lot of forgiveness and leeway can be given to the structure of the book. First, like many similar work, Japan is the primary focus of the book rather than China: ninja, samurai, and the naming schemes are largely Japanese.

David Cook acknowledges this in the preface:

"The bulk of this material deals with Japan, with China a close second. This is not due to any oversight. Most of the material available deals with Japan, through the choice of various writers. Japan's history and culture provides greater opportunities for adventure and advancement...Of course, anyone who looks carefully at China will find the same occurred there. However, fewer people cared to write about it."

A bias in favor of Japan back then was born of academics: Japan at the time was more readily accessible to scholars, so the bulk of books in the 1980's dealt with Japanese culture. There are some notable exceptions to this - Needham's Science and Civilization of China and others - but the reason for their favoring of Japan is understandable, if disappointing.

As with Mystic China, the focus on the book is fantasy, so science is all but absent from the series. Instead, the focus is on Asian magic and mysticism, with material drawn from several folktales, such as animal spirits and monsters. Interestingly, though, the magic spells are presented in the western style of discrete spells and incantations, while Asian magic tended to favor less compartmentalized approaches.

The honor system they implement is fun and an interesting addition to the rules. Many of the creatures do accurately reflect Asian folklore and tales, providing some nice encounters to the campaign possibilities. And while today ninjas and samurai have been reduced to cliches for Asian gaming, the version of ninjas implemented here is a genuine attempt to capture their hidden assassin role.

Religion is largely missing from the book. The wu jen are similar to many Taoist hermits in Chinese history and the monks are nominally Buddhists, but there is very little religion given to the characters. This is a surprising oversight given its usefulness in world building.

One minor point is that anime shape shifters are not allowed to be samurai in the book. For those who read Bleach, the example of Komamura - a humanoid fox whose powers follow a samurai theme - this exclusion is puzzling.

Takeaways:

As one of the first attempts to bring Asia to the western gaming scene, Oriental Adventures definitely set the tone for developments decades down the line. The classes it offered, the focus on fantasy and magic over science, and the overall tone have all been carried down the line by works such as Rokugan and Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade.

In our modern day case, the preference for Japan over China is not due to dearth of materials (Sinologists have produced numerous authoritative work documenting every period of Chinese history), but familiarity. Anime has generally skewed things in Japan's favor in such a manner. Even Tephra takes more cues from Japanese pop culture than Chinese culture. In this manner, Oriental Adventures remains very mainstream.

Daizhong's heavy Chinese focus and its emphasis on technology and science over mysticism, though science done in a manner consistent with Chinese philosophy, should help expand some of the well tread ground Oriental Adventures first broke.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a good film. However, I have to say that I prefer "First Class" for a number of reasons. This is a spoiler free review.

The movie ran into the same issue as other movies with a broad scope, namely juggling a lot of plot threads and sacrificing character building for screen time. "First Class" was great because you felt the bond between Eric and Charles, which made the inevitable betrayal sting (but at the same time it was believable). They also made you care about each of the kids in that class and the background cast, so you felt bad when some of them died or were injured.

There are shining moments, certainly. Trask has some solid scenes and Peter Dinklage was a great choice, especially for the contrast of having someone afflicted by dwarfism comment on genetic mutation and its impact on society. Quicksilver has a great scene where we see things from his perspective in high speed. The future scenes with Stewart and McKellen remind you why we care about Magneto and Xavier in the first place.

The problems, though, is the lack of establishing motivation. Mystique's motives are the only ones that are fleshed out to a significant degree: she wants revenge for her fallen colleagues. We see Xavier fallen on hard times, the Vietnam draft having taken many of his students (the writers apparently forgot about the student exception to the draft), but while we see the consequences we don't see the setup. There's no feeling of loss to match Xavier's mood, so he comes off as destitute without just cause. We're told, rather than shown, that he's suffered "too much loss."

Magneto's reasons for his own inevitable "doing things my way" is also poorly stated. They do a good job of setting up a theme of "old friends" and "reconciliation" in the future scenes, but fail to capitalize on this in the past. You know he's going to take matters into his own hands, since that's his MO, but, given the context of the first half, there's very little reason for him to do so. Sadly, his big master plan doesn't hold up under scrutiny, especially since he does earnestly believe that the sentinels will cause the future extinction of mutants.

So, in the end, it's a movie that had great ambitions, but left out a few pieces here and there (as well as making at least one big error in internal consistency). The result is it hits decently well, but isn't the knock-out punch it could have been. Both "First Class" and "X-Men 2" are better films; I would put this about even with the first "X-Men." It is, at least, a big improvement over the other three films, making it a mid-ranked offering.

All that said, I am looking forward to "Age of Apocalypse!"

Tidbits

Did you hear about the math student who was allergic to infinity?

Yeah, they say his mouth was full of Cantor-sores.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

News Channel Panic

New idea for a manga: "News Channel Panic." It has anthropomorphic representations of the three major news channels in the US: Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. They live under a roof with a hapless guy trying to convince him that they're the best news source.

1. Fox-tan: Ridiculously busty tsundere. She's not always right, but boy does she believe in herself! She believes in America and so can you! The "leader" of the three, she's the outgoing one who flattens any obstacle to stay #1. Main flaws are her tendency to over-sensationalize, jump into stories without all the facts, and say contradictory things. Visual cues from Sarah Palin.

2. Mis-tan: Staid bookish sort with glasses. She's not sure what annoys her most: that Fox-tan runs off at the mouth so much or that Fox-tan is the one most people prefer. She presents a calm and collected exterior and uses large words to present herself as someone for intellectuals - but she's not actually as smart as she pretends (and she is aware of this). Main flaws are that she's more than a little snobby, is more than willing to fabricate things in an effort to make Fox-tan look dumb, and can flip out when confronted over a lie. Visual cues from Rachel Maddow.

3. Cin-tan: The quiet one no one pays attention to. She genuinely cares about the news and wants to do her best, but isn't sure how to do it. She sees Mis-tan and Fox-tan get all the attention for being loud and flashy, so she often tries to copy that with no success. When she does get attention, she has a habit of switching from reliable to prattling on about the most inane things no one cares about, which in turn causes others to ignore her. She could be a great news source if only she went back to basics and didn't get caught up on gimmicks. Main flaws are her tendency to stay quiet when she ought to speak up, her fear of being herself and presenting things as is, and just trying too hard. Visual cues from Robin Meade.

Add to this New York Times and Wallstreet Journal as mother types. When they go to school, two of their teachers are Rule 63 Hearst and Pulitzer, who are always trying to get them to do horrible things to information in the name of ratings. Huffington Post as Cin-tan's younger sister, with CNBC and Fox Business as older sister rivals.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Intellectual Intercourse

Clarity of diamond,
Flawless facets,
Dancing with sparks,
Cascading energy,
Across crystalline lines.

Radiant beauty,
Sparkling warmth,
Channeled and reflected,
Infinite pathways,
Dancing to pulses.

Singular,
As a star,
Shining beacon.

Binary,
As a whole,
Perpetual power.

Speed increasing,
Intensity growing,
Vibrations amplifying,
Heat fusing,
Pulses blend,
Paths join.

Cascading...

Cascading...

The infinite redefined,
Depth is deepened,
Lines become rays,
And the two dance in the light.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tidbits

"One Direction? Heard of them. They used to be called the Spice Girls." - Me, to a student

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"This is my mother..."

Back in 2010, when I took a trip to Guatemala, I met Alex:
Alex in his art studio in Antigua, Guatemala.
Alex owns a small (very small) restaurant that doubles as his studio in Antigua. He sells an amazing selection of specialty ice cream, such as a Merlot Strawberry mix. I met him on the way back to the hotel after dinner.

The story he told us relates to an encounter he had in Florida with another artist, Lex Cargo. Visiting Lex's website will tell you the kind of person he is. I recount this story because I found it intensely funny; I was near double-over in laughter for several solid minutes, with numerous giggle fits later on. My hope is that this version can inspire a reaction nearly half as enjoyable.

I've tried to remember the details as best I can and have added adjectives of mannerisms based on Alex's own re-enactment of the scene. Though the exactness of the language diverges from the source (as is necessary to translate an oral play-acted tale to pure text), the setup and punchline are true to the original. The "I" in the story is Alex.

--

Some time ago, I was contacted by an artist - Lex Cargo - to take part in a new art movement he was organizing, with the promise of having my art displayed as part of a show in Miami, FL. The theme for the art movement was five paintings of the same subject, each painting reflecting a different interpretation.

I chose the crucifixion of Christ. For my five interpretations, I chose:

"A mother who's lost a son" (Mary cradling Christ's dead body)
"A day's work for two soldiers" (two Roman soldiers hefting the cross)
"Waking up afterward" (Christ looking at his hand in wonderment after returning from the dead, before emerging)
"A helping hand" (One of the people who helped Christ bear his cross)

[Note: Alex told me what the fifth one was, but I've forgotten it. But you get the idea of what he was going for.]

After finishing my paintings, I traveled to Miami to meet with him and showed him my work. His reaction was a flat, "Oh, so you did the crucifixion." This was followed by an excited, "Do you want to see what I did?" I nodded yes and followed him into the adjacent room.

There were five "paintings" in a row. On each canvas, he'd pasted the same photo of his grandmother, cropped and edited to remove the background. Note that he hadn't taken the photo himself but was taking credit for it.

While the photos were identical, the canvases differed by background color. He lead me through each in turn.

First was a blank canvas. "This..." he proclaimed, breathlessly, "Is my grandmother...in air."

Next was a canvas with a red background. "And this...is my grandmother...in fire."

The third was a green background. "This...is my grandmother..."

"Earth?" I interjected, growing increasingly annoyed.

"Yesssss," he said, not catching the sarcasm and looking smugly self-satisfied.

The fourth had a blue background. "And this..."

"Water?" I asked, now with arms crossed and scowling.

"Yesssss," he repeated, still with the same expression.

The fifth canvas, however, was not another color variation. Instead, dashes had been pasted over the eyes of the photos. Around her forehead, a white headband with a red sun in the middle had been added. I blinked a few times.

"And THIS," he said, having clearly reached the climax of his presentation and wanting to make sure I knew this, "is my grandmother..."

He took an extra long pause here, as though allowing a musical crescendo, a torrent of self-praise and appreciation, to build in the background of his own mind.

"As Japanese!"

Japan. The fifth element.

I promptly took my paintings back to Guatemala with me and never spoke to him again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fabulous Confabulating Gentlemen Presents: On the Repeatability of Succeeding in Making a Target Both Stationary and in Motion Act 1

It is a bright day with pleasant weather. The sun shines on the expansive estate of Salviati, an older gentleman of no small degree of established import. On the grounds basking in the sunny day are Mr. Salviati himself and his friend, the younger and less established - though no less gentlemanly - Mr. Sagredo.


The pair are watching a house cat hunt a mouse. The cat pounces several times to no avail as the mouse slips away through some shrubbery.


Salviati: Have you ever wondered what determines if someone succeeds in making the mark?


Sagredo: I assumed it was a skill, determined by practice.


Salviati: Yes, certainly. But how many skills are involved?


Sagredo: Well, the gun and sword would certainly require different experiences. A thrown weapon or a bow, also unique.


Salviati: Ah, but you’re focusing solely on the one making the attack. What about the target? Is there not some skill in avoiding an attack?


Sagredo: Yes, I suppose so. Are you proposing we measure it? How?


Salviati: I have a few experiments in mind. How are you at cricket bowling?


Sagredo: That brings back memories! I wasn’t a top notch bowler, but I had my moments. I saw a fair bit of play in my days on the Aldamiir University Cricket Team.


Salviati rises and motions for Sagredo to follow. Around a corner of the building is a cricket set and a patch of ground outlined in white. Salviati hands Sagredo a red ball. There are quite a few more in a sack to one side.


Salviati: That area there is 5 feet by 5 feet. I want you to roll this ball so that it lands in that patch, while standing 25 feet away.


Sagredo: Surely this is too easy. What do you expect this to reveal?


Salviati: Humor me.


Sagredo rolls the ball and it falls into the patch. At Salviati’s urging, he takes another ball from the sack and repeats the process multiple times. The balls meet and clank in the center of the patch.


Salviati: How did you do?


Sagredo: Complete success! My arm is slightly sore, but that was a nice practice routine.


Salviati: And that one?


Salviati points to one of the balls. It’s still within the patch of ground, but well away from the others.


Sagredo: Ah, had a random muscle cramp there. Came out of nowhere. Still not much to worry - it went in as well as the others.


Salviati: True, but it is an outlier regardless. Discounting it, I’d put your success rate at 91.67%, in fact.


Sagredo: Still an A, eh?


Salviati: Of course. And a good baseline.


The two pick up the balls and return them to the sack.


Sagredo: This wasn’t very sporting, though. The ground couldn’t move. Didn’t you suggest that a moving target was more interesting?


Salviati: So I did! Let me show you what we’ll use for that.


Salviati removes a remote from his pocket and presses a button. There is a whirring of noise and an automaton comes into view with a large flat spatula connected to both arms. The automaton digs the spatula into the ground and lifts the patch up neatly.


Salviati: This is an earth moving automaton.


Sagredo: Why do you have an earth moving automaton?


Salviati: To shift the garden plants when we’re redoing the landscaping.


Sagredo: Of course.


Salviati: I’ve had this one modified, though. Watch.


Another button is pressed, and the automaton begins to move the patch side-to-side.


Salviati: It’s programmed to shift the ground. I had it observe your earlier motions - it’s set to match you and present a much more “sporting” challenge.


Sagredo: Fascinating! I shall give it a try!


Sagredo bowls a ball again, but finds his efforts stymied by the automaton, which actively moves the patch out of his way. He manages to compensate for its motions after a few tries. Eventually, he has pitched the same number of balls.


Salviati: How was the experience this time?


Sagredo: That was significantly more difficult! I am glad I managed to land as many as I did, however. I think I got about half of them in there? 50% is what I’d expect if we’re evenly matched as you said.


Salviati: Yes, your success rate did take a hit. However, I’d estimate your success rate at 54.17%.


Sagredo: I made it more times than I thought! I wonder why!


Salviati: Fortune favors the bold, my friend. When you moved, the automaton could only react in response. That made it slightly harder for it shift properly - and gave you a small edge, all other things being equal.


Sagredo: Fascinating. That implies that the best offense is to attack first.


Salviati: You may be correct. Now, let’s try again. But this time, I will turn the automaton to its highest setting.


Sagredo: Oh, my! I doubt I’ll have much of a chance! But I’ll do my best!


Sagredo resumes the activity. This time, the automaton moves deftly and he misses over and over.


Sagredo: That was as challenging as I thought! I stood very little chance of success!


Salviati: You did manage one ball in, though.


Sagredo: True. The automaton seized a little, so I was able to take advantage of it.


Salviati: You earned an 8.33% success rate. Better than 0%. I guess it shows that even the best dodger may still make an error now and then.


Sagredo: How true! Certainly I can see how much room for improvement there is. I think I’ll take up practicing again at Hofstadter Fields.


Salviati: I am certainly glad I’ve inspired some new dedication to physical exercise, friend. I’ll see you again tomorrow, then!