Archive for 2003

Book Reports

Physics For Poets, Robert H. March

I acquired this old book several months ago. It is hardly the most current treatise on physics, being only a few years younger than myself. Still, it is always fascinating to peak into the weirdness that is held to be the reality behind the world. While curved space-time may in fact be a more consistent system with fewer exceptions, it is a bit hard for someone on human-scale to fully grasp the first time through.

I’m not entirely sure where the ‘for poets’ part came from. Really it seems to be more of a layman’s guide to physics, with all the heavy math shoved back into the closets. The calculus certainly scared me off from pursuing beyond physics 1 in college. My mathematics schedule got a little screwed up in high school, and I think I missed a little of the foundational material for calculus – I could go through the motions of derivation, but I didn’t really understand how to apply it. I’ve since gotten a slightly better conceptual handle on the process, but opening up the physics textbook again would be a rather monumental undertaking, and I’d much rather focus my attention on game design at the moment.

One of the most interesting things for me with PFP was the discussion of field theory, which was mentioned in The Nature Of Order. While I essentially understood Alexander’s discussion of the field effect of centers, the mention of it’s parallel in physics was little more than a footnote to me. Now I have a better idea of just how pervasive the field effect is, and some of it’s properties, which are indeed eerily congruent with the interactions of centers.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samual Taylor Coleridge

One of a couple of items grabbed at esotericbeccums’s moving give-away. It was kind of nice to finally see the oft-quoted work in it’s entirety. The study guide format slightly ruined the first reading experience; I really should have known to skip the opening comments, which gave away the ‘big idea’ right from the get-go.

Otherwise, the main oddity is that I started reading it a few weeks ago, while I was myself a wedding-guest (in the poem, the ancient mariner is telling his tale to a wedding guest) ;^)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephan R. Covey

I heard this recommended as presenting actual habits of self-discipline, not just tricks to make sales. Most of the theories do make some sense and I find myself in agreement with them, at least until proven differently by experience. And theorIES is the right word. In some places the way things organize into regular systems feels almost too convenient, in others the whole things appears to be a hodge-podge of different ideas. Indeed, near the beginning of the tape Mr. Covey says that he performed a survey of success literature many years ago. The point raised is that up to certain point, it almost exclusively focused on personal virtues – then after that, it was almost exclusively salesmanship and the like. The seven habits encompass this, being divided into ‘private victories’ and ‘public victories.’

It hasn’t changed my life yet, but the ideas could do with further review. To this end, the publishers have thoughtfully included a review guide, saving me the trouble of taking notes or buying a printed copy of the book ;^)

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

One of my first audio books, the 11+ hours of which didn’t even cover one week. I came into the book knowing, and indeed got it because, it was written as a philosophical statement, which once again colored my reading a bit. Few of the plot twists were unanticipated, and most of the characters came off as the one-dimensional archetypes they probably were meant to be. Indeed the book proposes a rather sharp division of types of people, of which the better are frightfully scarce I’ve also heard tell that the actual paper book is some 1000 pages, and it came off in much the same way as the last book of such size that I read: a beginning and middle with lots of stuff going on, and an ending that leaves you thinking that a couple of chapters must have been sacrificed in the name of printing limitations.

I think however that pretty much covers the faults, and to be fair it was labeled abridged; to what extent I am unaware. Overall the book is well written; the introduction of characters and events is taken at a very manageable pace – something I noticed in contrast to Middlemarch, my first selection from the library, which is of a character that would be more comfortable with one’s full and rapt attention. The reading of Atlas Shrugged is also well performed, although I might have preferred notes stating ‘end of side one’ and the like.

Philosophically, there is a lot to chew on. I might like a printed copy of the book and a highlighter, as several of the monologues (the largest of which could almost be pulled out verbatim as a manifesto of objectivism) deserve greater reflection than the audio tape allows.

(Minor spoiler warning. I’m already in a cut, so the virgin reader is left with no defense save his own will.) I’m writing from memory here, and will probably get some part of the position wrong.

Part of the thesis is that there are two types of people: those of abililty, who produce, and those without, who bumble about living like parasites off the producers, making a terrible mess of things, and then throwing blame around to void themselves of responsibility.

The people of ability are also called ‘men of the mind’ Cultivation of the mind is presented as the highest virtue. Clear rational thought piercing through all the lies and illusions, and then the motivation to act on the truths perceived. The opposing views are the men of spirit, who say you should sacrifice yourself to some higher power with no concern for the conditions of the world, and the men of muscle, who say you should sacrifice yourself to the greater good of society – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – leaving no cause for personal motivation. The men of muscle are especially vilified, with the book’s timeline covering a rapid economic collapse under essentially communist policies.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihally Csikszentmihalyi

Another one I’d heard about, and I certainly knew that there were times where everything rolled along, and times where nothing much got done. A theory that might guide me to the productive mode of thought might certainly be useful. Of course, as soon as it got started, I immediately jumped rails to how much of this perfectly described the kind of game experiences I am trying to create. :^)

I’ve got a few notes from this one, and I really ought to go over the second tape some time when I’m not driving to finish them out. The main point I’ve absorbed so far is stress and mental white noise – if you are thinking about your finances, your job, your car, or your love life, you aren’t flowing. Kind of a nice meter for how distracted you are.

I do take issue with the audio presentation, however. It is two tapes, listed as about two hours. But I’m pretty sure that about half an hour of that is annoying music dispersed throughout, and a fair bit of silence on the ends. I know by now that there are 90 minute cassettes. Apparently the publisher preferred the two cassette price point. On the up side, I got to hear the the announcer pronounce ‘Csikszentmihalyi’ ;^)

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, interview by Bill Moyers

This six-hour/six-episode series was adapted from a series of videos. I’ve long been fascinated by symbology and myths, but Joseph Campbell had dedicated his life to them, and understands the big themes that cut across all the different story systems. To cross recklessly into to programming terminology, it is aspect-oriented mythology.

Definitely ideas I want to review some time in the future. It won’t be immediately; as I was listening to the tapes, they demanded to be brought to the attention of esotericbeccums, who just happened to be visiting last weekend. But I have Joseph Campbell’s name, and I’m sure he has written many books. I also have Parabola, the magazine that was involved in the tapes, and I’ve got subscription coming to try it out.

South Elgin Tour Guide

Since esotericbeccums doesn’t know just when she’ll arrive, here are some ways to while away the hours.

From my house, travel south on McLean Blvd. (Nearest stop light) to route 31, and take a left. Immediately take a right into a small parking lot. Walk down the gravel path and take the right side of the bike trail just a little bit, to the waterfall (yes, the one on my web page) If you cross the bridge, you’ve passed the path that runs along side it, but there is a nice view from the bridge as well.

From my house, travel East on Spring street to route31(aka LaFox street), and take a right-left jog to cross the bridge (state street). The stop light at 31/State will be a reference point later. At the stop sign across the bridge, take another right-left jog. If The Painted Lady is open you might like to stop there – it is a used book store/coffee/gift shop. Otherwise, continue traveling east down Middle street a couple of blocks, and take a right on East street. A few blocks along, you should see East Side Park on your left. It is a lightly wooded area surrounding a lake. It’s also possible to reach the South Elgin cemetery by trails in the park.

From the 31/State street light, travel north (that would be a left if coming from my house) and look for The Silver Ribbon in a miniature strip mall on you left (there are several of them) It is a small estate shop, owned Jenna Drake, who plays D&D every week at the game club. She also has some Reiki certificates on the wall, and hosts (or at least used to) meditation circles and the like.

From the 31/State street light, travel south (right if coming from my house) and immediately start looking for the South Elgin Trolley Museum on your left. It is closed for normal operation this time of year, but the trolleys are out in the open, so I don’t see how they can stop you from looking at the outsides of them if you were so inclined.

If you keep traveling south from the trolley museum, for a while, the entrance to the Blackhawk Forest Preserve should be on your left. There is a park area here along the river. It is also very close to the bike path bridge over the river, which could be walked for some nice views.

If you keep traveling south from the park, you will pass the waterfall and hit McLean Blvd again, coming from the north(-east, since 31 curves)

I’ve always been a sucker for mythology…

You are Form 5, Dragon: The Weaver.

“And The Dragon separated the virtuous from
the sinful. He tore his eyes from his sockets
and used them to peer into the souls of those
on trial to make a judgment. He knew that
with endless knowledge came endless

Some examples of the Dragon Form are Athena
(Greek), St. Peter (Christian), and Surya
The Dragon is associated with the concept of
intelligence, the number 5, and the element of
His sign is the crescent moon.

As a member of Form 5, you are an intelligent and
wise individual. You weigh options by looking
at how logical they are and you know that while
there may not always be a right or wrong
choice, there is always a logical one. People
may say you are too indecisive, but it’s only
because you want to do what’s right. Dragons
are the best friends to have because they’re
willing to learn.

Which Mythological Form Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Ups and Downs

My sleeping pattern seems to have returned to normal (where ‘normal’ is obnoxiously more than eight hours in bed… :-( ) After I got up on my sleepless night, I noticed that the moon was rather bright, and tried closing my shade.

Meanwhile, the books on tape plan is in full swing. After helping out at a brief martial arts seminar my instructor was putting on, I headed out to get a small portable tape player with both home and car adapters. Then on to the library… I forgot to check the hours before I left, and I figured it was almost as far home at that point as it was to the library. The library, as I probably could have guessed if I’d thought about, was in the middle of a three week closure while they moved into the new building. So, off to the book store to hold me over then. The bookstore had a pretty disappointing collection. I only found two things on my list of stuff to read (so I don’t have mainstream tastes… ;^) ) Hopefully the library will have a wider selection, or I’m going to have to hit the internet. I wonder if there are any trading circles about…

The two things I did buy were The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I had read was based on real habits, not unproven theories) and Atlas Shrugged, which rinku and his associates had mentioned several times. I finished the little over four hours of the 7 habits in less than 24 hours… On one hand it’s nice to see that the plan is working – I’ve already ‘read’ a book I otherwise wouldn’t have – and a bit disturbing that about 1/4 of my waking hours didn’t require my full attention. There was driving back from the book store, making dinner and doing dishes, then today I made muffins, and a soup for dinner… which created a lot more dishes. I’m already over half a tape through Atlas; It’s over 11 hours total (barely enough to get me one way to Kentucky…) so hopefully it will hold out until the Library reopening this next Sunday. I wasn’t expecting these things to go so fast; the acquiring of new material will be something of a time concern itself…

October 10, 2003

Corrected map link (*), and did some other minor revision: links, projects.

Good Morning?

Waking up early is cool. Not sleeping is kind of annoying. I finally gave up and got up, to discover I’d only been in bed for about three hours. Oh well, I got a web page update done, and there is still like four hours until I’ll probably leave for work.

Good Morning!

I woke up god-awful early this morning. Maybe it was the sesame seed bars – the buying club order came in yesterday – or maybe I just didn’t sleep well. Not feeling terribly sleep deprived, so the later doesn’t seem too likely.

Technically I didn’t use the time towards my highest priority tasks – shoes and game design if I recall – but I did spend some time investigating the drawing software for Linux, to see if I could do the game publishing from there. (Actually, If I want to use my previous version of the directions to send out for the halloween party, I’ll have to reboot anyway. Well, unless I want to mount my windows drive and do some low-level file browsing…)

None of the packages have the ‘double-click to edit group’ feature that makes WP-draw so nice to use for cards and such. One had a similar feature, but it couldn’t use wingdings (even though it could display them in the font select dialog…) What could be very nice is that many of them use XML (or at least XML-esqe) file formats – plain text that can be easily modified. So I can make up card templates in a WYSIWYG program and then write a little script to merge in the game text and write out a bunch of sheets.

Hi Everybody

The note that one person had joined LJ (albeit under coercion) eventually sent me to my own info page, where I discovered a total of three new ‘real life’ friends had silently added me.


Last weekend was spent at Jenni’s wedding, or traveling to and from it – it was a ten hour trip going out, and nine coming back, of which up to an hour may have been rest stops and refilling gas. The extra hour going out was all in Illinois – Chicago weekday traffic. The way down was also more eventful – frightfully soon after our routes crossed at Louisville, Becky and Neater spotted me on the road. (My chances of spotting them – in a rental car – were substantially less.)

The wedding itself was held at the Carter Caves state park in Kentucky, which worked out really well. It was raining pretty much all the way down on Friday, and a few precautionary umbrellas were brought out during the ceremony, but it cleared up nicely for the rest of the day. The ‘c&g alums’ crowd (including bride) spent most of the remainder of the day hanging out or exploring the trails near the lodge. There are some nifty natural rock bridges and other formations about, although we never went any major caves.

Burning Bridges?

I set two mailing list to no-mail; I’m still a member of the group, to avoid any new member stuff if I ever change my mind, but I wasn’t really all that interested in the messages these days. The victims are piecepack, which sometimes turned up some interesting game design material but generally bored me, and Everway-L. I’ve been on the Everway list for probably like five years, but I haven’t played Everway in ages, and I’ve been losing interest in role playing in general. The net result is that pretty nothing on the list interests me anymore.

Of the remaining ones that produce noticeable traffic, BoardGameDesign still has a high enough signal to noise ratio (but there is a lot of noise) and CnGAlums is starting to look noisy to me, but I’m still afraid of missing something.

When I made a list of ongoing things, there was a lot of stuff, most of it not getting done – for instance I’m desperately in need of new shoes, which has started trickling over to create sock shortage. Of course my standards have been changing such that no ordinary items will do – get me some organically grown cotton and responsibly made materials, and make sure it fits too. Should I give up? I only need to worry about shoes every couple of years – whenever time gets tight, it’s the day to day things that come under scrutiny. Should I stop using e-mail (two lists just got axed) Leave LiveJournal? (but I’d be out of touch) Quit martial arts? (But I really should get some exercise) Stop Thursday night gaming? (How can I aspire to game design if I don’t play games?) Eat fast food? (If you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything) Then there is the biggest time sink: paid employment (I need shelter. I need food.) Perhaps I should I should set out doing my own games or programs (But there is that 800/mo mortgage payment, which makes for an awfully imminent deadline.)

No real bridges smoking yet. Still, sometimes I wonder if I should can the nice guy act and set out to change the world.

Food and games

-Hummus is good. I wish I’d tried it sooner.
-Soy milk isn’t so great for drinking. But it’s pretty good on cereal.
-I’m set up with a buying club. The first order is due shortly. I’m avoiding anything that needs refrigeration on the first time out, especially since the final date is still somewhat in question. It seems likely my stuff would have to sit around all day. But I’m set up for the future: a few days after discovering this, fortune handed me a large cooler. One of my neighbors apparently left some hot dogs in their deluxe cooler to long and didn’t want to deal with cleaning it up. To be fair it did smell like, well, poo, but I’m still amazed that they threw away the whole cooler, and the 24 pack of beer that was inside. Oh well, down the drain with it; outside of my normal disinterest, I’m not sure I’d trust any food that was in there. The smell certainly doesn’t wash off. The cooler itself has been airing for a while and has stopped stinking :-)

Meanwhile the return to the ‘normal’ schedule has left me feeling ineffective again. It always seems better when I look at what I did do: last weekend I was out of town again, this weekend I helped someone move and installed a water filter (Seems to be leaking a little, have to contact them about that.) Also did first order at above buying club (online) Meanwhile I completed only one self-test of the election game, and some other pondering about it. Somewhat promising; the first self-test survived several turns before a breakdown on law making stopped it. The second got all the way to the end with a few pauses – selling mechanics and some card modification to finish out deal honoring/dishonoring – and a few unthematic results: not only where there no disinterested voters left, pretty much everybody ended up an activist ;^)