Friday, October 26, 2018

Eclipse Phase

While I haven't been playing games lately (other than a round of Tiny Epic Galaxies), I've been trying to normalize my sleep cycles by reading. In particular, I've been trying to read through the Eclipse Phase RPG corebook. Overall, the game has a lot of interesting ideas, and makes a darker counterpart to GURPS Transhuman Space's realism. However, there are some flaws in the setting as written:

  1. It doesn't deal with the implications of the transfer of human minds as data. Just like with transporters in Star Trek, whether the original mind is Cut-and-Pasted or Copied-and-Pasted is never dealt with in the setting book. This is a more detailed discussion of the problem.
  2. The setting seems a little too much of a kitchen sink. The addition of psionic abilities and extra-solar planetary exploration (or "Gatecrashing") sort of seem tacked on to me. Come to think of it, EP is maybe another case study of SciFi writers' compulsion to have FTL or "Stargate" technology in their setting. 
The above is not to say I dislike the game. However, were I to run a game of it (unlikely in the foreseeable future), I'd probably make a few changes:
  1. No Gatecrashing - unless it's a campaign focused on extrasolar colonization. The solar system, even without Earth as a population center, (Did I mention Eclipse Phase is post-apocalyptic horror?) has more than enough interesting stuff for player characters to explore. Some truly alien environments can be found on Europa, Titan, or in areas contaminated by the apocalypse/singularity
  2. No psionics, or possibly lessened psionics. I need to think about this one. It is possible that psionics was added to the game by developers in order to make biological bodies a more interesting option than they otherwise would have been. Unsurprisingly, robot bodies have quite a bit more utility in combat and space exploration than fleshy bodies; adding psionics (Eclipse Phase calls them "sleights") gives biological characters more options. However, this line of reasoning is suspect because sleights cannot be used against digital entities, despite the fact that the nano-virus origin of Psi can also affect them.  
  3. Less casual resleeving (transferring consciousness into a new body). This is probably the biggest change to the setting, as a lot of it is predicated on a fairly loose relationship between mind and body that is incomprehensible to modern humans without severe dysphoria. Resleeving can be replaced, at least in part, with brain-in-a-tank deliveries. I've read some of the game fiction, and resleeving is pretty casual in them. It's honestly a little bit of a turn-off, as discussed above. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

LEGOs for tabletop games

Why should I buy minis when I can use LEGO or similar toys? Much more customization options and you can actually behead a minifig with a vorpal sword.

I used to have a lot of LEGO pieces lying around, and still have some collecting dust at my parents' house. At some point, I will be using them for my hobby gaming again.

BrickQuest is a particularly clever way of doing so, as even the adventurer's character sheet is elegantly communicated in the form of ABS plastic.

LEGO bricks also hold together a lot better that a lot of miniatures, as a the studs will simply click together. Objects on inclines will be a lot less...inclined to fall over, which is a perennial problem with miniatures at more than a slight angle.

From free brik-focused games like BrickQuest or BrikWars to fan-made accessories like BrickArms (also made of ABS plastic), there are plenty of options for converting a game into equivalent pieces.

Another brik-based game of note is Mechaton, which although not longer available, developed into Mobile Frame Zero, which, like BrickQuest, actually makes use of the studly nature of the playing pieces with little-bitty custom-built doom robots. Sadly, I haven't had the opportunity to play it yet. Maybe when I can actually move with my LEGO collection?

Admittedly, the actual LEGO company isn't selling a huge number of sets that are particularly relevant to my past gaming interests right now. If I were in a Star Wars game, that would naturally be a different story. I suppose it's just as well that I'm too absorbed in homework to worry about LEGO right now, anyway.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A new(ish) way of considering Historic Preservation

I still have a blog, really!

Part of the reason I haven't been writing more is that I've become really really busy again. I've gone back to graduate school, this time for Historic Preservation. My girlfriend is trying grad school out for the first time; she's doing Architecture and working 16hr days, 7days/week. I don't know how she's doing it, but she is. Luckily, our programs are in the same building so we can eat lunch together.

Engaging with the philosophical and ethical aspects of Historic Preservation is somewhat new to me. My previous experiences have been practical/material, or legal/policy-related. However, a lot of the philosophical/ethical issues have been addressed in past classes I took on anthropology and museum studies, so this stuff is fairly comfortable, just not exciting.

Something that came up in a random research dive is the Ship of Theseus Paradox, or more simply the Theseus Paradox. In it's shortest form, the philosophical paradox reads:
"If an object composed of multiple parts gradually has its parts replaced over time, at what point does it cease to be the original object, and becomes a new object?"
I was absolutely gobsmacked that I had never encountered this concept in its named, simply-stated form, as I had been unwittingly been addressing this paradox since my first year of college! The first class I took as an undergraduate was called "Primitive Skills in the Modern World," where we demonstrated and discussed traditional skills like pottery, woodcarving, and hair-braiding to each other. My undergraduate adviser is a renowned expert in the making and throwing of stone-tipped spears, and he guided my senior research in non-synthetic, traditional adhesive recipes.

More after the jump...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fiona the hippo

The Cincinnati Zoo's social media strategy over the past year has been fascinating. Last year, the loss of their gorilla Harambe became so deeply viral that the Zoo was effectively unable to do anything online without being spammed or hacked.

Luckily, they've had some replacement news, now that "Team Harambe" has accomplished its goals of making people miserable before getting distracted.

Fiona, a Nile Hippopotamus, was born several weeks premature, but besides her medical care, her social media presence has been brilliantly managed by the zoo, with various multimedia being posted on a consistent basis on multiple websites, including her own

While being naturally photogenic (she loves to photobomb her mother), I think that her web presence has been brilliantly-managed.

Since hippos vulnerable to habitat loss/fragmentation as well as poaching, she and her parents are excellent spokeshippos for conservation in Africa as well!

While I wish I could've gotten a picture of myself with Fiona (probably the most famous Cincinnati resident right now), the line to see her up close was quite long, and she was hiding behind her mother.

But that's okay. As long as she's happy, and we all learn what matters most in life from her - enjoy your time with those you love, and to protect nature.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Anti-Utopianism (is this even the right term?)

In my last entry, I briefly mentioned my drifting away from Utopian idealism as I became an adult. Right now, I'm working to formulate a theory of anti-Utopian government. In my last blog entry, I said:
  • "As a youth, I was definitely a starry-eyed Utopian liberal, but have since seen the error of those ways. A perfect society cannot be created out of inherently-imperfect individuals. Instead, politics is an eternal contest between forces that adapt to each other, and everyone aligns themselves with those forces based on incomplete or false information."
I'm going to try and elaborate on that a bit more here.

Basically, every time someone thinks they have the way to create a perfect society, or return to an idealized previous social state, bad things happen. Much of the mass death of the past 100 years are due to Utopians of various stripes - Fascists, Communists, Nationalists, religious Fundamentalists, etc, etc.

Therefore, the best society is one that acknowledges the impossibility of perfection. Striving for an ideal state/State is worse than pointless, it's dangerous! Better would be something that is adaptable to changing circumstances, because nothing forms in a vacuum. Historically, governments are among the most static human institutions, as they are either based upon the decree of a ruler or a code of written laws. However, corporations, religious groups, and militias are increasingly running circles around government, siphoning resources away from the latter. What can be done?

I've read some pieces that seem to be stepping in the direction I'm looking for, but so far haven't found anyone that's out-and-out blasted Utopian thinking overall. Chuck Marohn and Steve Hilton seem to be going in the right direction, in that both advocate a nimble, responsive, bottom-up approach to governance, especially at the municipal level. However, I'm not sure if either of them are still caught up in the Utopian paradigm of free-market capitalism, i.e. that "the free market will solve problems," or that "government should be more like a private business." Remember Americans: market capitalism is not the natural state humans! It's an invention, just like weekends and banking!

Many historical dystopias arise out of an effort to create utopia. American society today could be argued to be a dystopia, a product of trying to create a capitalist utopia - see Kansas and other states going down the path of privatization, government shrinkage at all costs, etc.

What really got me into thinking about Anti-Utopianism was reading about the origins of Salafist Islam in Vali Nasr's The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.
Salafi Islam is supposedly based around emulation of the "devout ancestors" (Salafim). How it was originally formulated as an Islamic response to modernity in the 19th century. The idea was to integrate a few of the "best" elements of "Western Civilization" with Islam's "original/purest" values
It was ultimately co-opted by Wahhabi Islam (the often-violent sect that the Saudis export everywhere), as returning to the "pure original" values came to mean Quranic literalism, wiping out folk beliefs, killing people who disagree with you, etc. If these things sound familiar, it's because it's another Utopian ideal, just like Communism, Fascism, and manifest destiny capitalism!

*Of course, I don't want to be caught stealing from the collective unconscious. So I'm doing research in my recently-copious spare time to see if these ideas really are that original, or whether I'm blinded by the myopia of specialization in only one cluster of intellectual disciplines, rather than being a Renaissance man. Of course, being a Renaissance Man is basically impossible these days, but whatever.

If anyone knows about anyone discussing such an impulse against Utopian idealism please let me know!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A new(er) world disorder

I've been sitting on this essay for a couple months. However, recent events provoked me into correcting it and posting it.
It's political, so avoid reading it if you don't care for that sort of thing. If you disagree with my opinions, that's fine too. Just don't embarrass yourself over it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mushroom gravy (vegetarian)

Honestly, I'm putting this up here so that I remember to use it again!

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1-lb. container of mushrooms, hacked to pieces
  • 1 normal onion, hacked to pieces
  • Several minced cloves of garlic, to taste.
  • 2 cups of water or vegetable stock (or reserved soaking water from dried mushrooms)
  • Liquid addition(s): can be Soy Sauce, Tamari, Worcestershire Sauce, or a similar source of concentrated savory flavor. This supplements the natural flavors of the mushroom.
  • Thickener: a tablespoon corn meal/starch, potato starch, or flour.

  1. Cook butter over medium-low heat until melted and the color starts to change.
  2. Toss in garlic, cooking until golden in color. 
  3. Toss in onion, spreading around the pan into a thin layer. Stir every minute or so until onion changes in color, or keep going for awhile until it caramelizes. If you want caramelization, it's over a quarter-hour of consistent stirring. 
  4. Toss in mushrooms once onion is a satisfactory color for you. Increase heat to medium-high, stir a tablespoon of Soy /Worcestershire/whatever sauce. Keep stirring until all liquid present evaporates, mushrooms dry out and change color. 
  5. Add the thickener plus enough water/stock to make a roux or slurry, then cook on medium until the thickener changes color. 
  6. Pour in the rest of the water/stock. Bring to boil, then simmer until liquid is reduced and feels thickened. Serve hot. 
This is really good with anything involving potatoes or other tubers.