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Why Haven’t Americans Figured Out How to Serve Hot Food?

In the time I lived in Korea I noticed a fantastic innovation at their restaurants.  Food was brought to the table simmering in these big steel cookers for everyone to browse from.
I was amazed how these not only kept the food hot, they even had an adjustable heat dial anyone at the table could use.

Such a marvellous invention would be unthinkable, revolutionary in stodgy, joyless American culture that takes greatest pride in its prolish junk food.

When it comes to American food, a piping hot meal is one of life’s challenges.
Everything gets served in complete portions on individual plates made of thick, cold ceramic, completely open to the air.  Everyone takes great care to eat as isolated individuals, avoiding any appearance of sharing from the same source.(that would be disgusting)  Browsing from a collective pot is taboo.  Just watching a people at meal time offers great insight into how they see the world on the most visceral level!
By the time people begin to eat, especially if there’s prayer before eating, even the mashed potatoes are starting to get cold.
I never really understood what a truly hot meal was until I went to some other countries where thick sauces, flaky crusts were common, served in the same container it was baked in hot from the oven, served in cast iron cookware or thick pots with small openings or lids to hold in the heat.  It was never the same again to just eat off of a cold plate that hadn’t even been warmed up.  It’s barbaric, really.  Cold food would offend even cave people cooking over their fires.  Actually, cooking over with a fire in the remote woods is far superior to eating off a cold plate.  There’s a radiant glow of heat that warms your face when you take those foil wrapped baked potatoes and pork loin from the embers of the fire.  Something about really hot food revives the spirit even as cold, soggy food chills the mood, even down to the tips of the toes.
In the States, I still often eat out of the hot pan I cooked in instead of serving onto a plate when making food for myself.  I’ll bring a chair right up to the stove and keep the heat on low as I eat.  If I take it into another room, I keep a lid on until the moment I’m about to eat and enjoy the ebullient rush of hot, delicious-smelling steam rising into my face before I dig in.  But even this is often difficult in America since almost all cookware I encounter is designed to get damaged if it’s so much as touched with silverware.  What backwards and alien customs!

I guess I feel that one of the main reasons to even bother to have a society is to make life pleasant for people.  It’s part of the implicit Contract that motivates us to cooperate with a social order at all.
First a people figures out how to invent a perfectly piping hot meal and then worry about surplus activities like missions into space.
It’s perverse in a way that the most wealthy populations on earth haven’t figured out how to apply sustained heat to their food or contain heat with insulation.
Perhaps it’s the Calvinist, Puritanical disdain for joy in this life that leads to such apathy.
Or is it misguided “enlightenment” empiricism? It has the same calories or nutrients served hot or ice cold after all.
Or is it simply a secular religion of competition and money-making that leaves no place for enjoying the smaller things that make life worth living to begin with?

I suspect it is a combination of all these that impede a culture known for innovation from serving food in containers that have a heat source and adjustable dial.  These are after all the same people who take toasters for granted.

Life Lessons from Starcraft 2

Computer games can be time wasters when we’re just playing against a computer. MMOs tend to be a waste in the absence of an end goal in an environment that’s deliberately designed to be aimless and addictive.

Games of strategy, however, tend to exercise the mind and spirit, especially when your opponents are other humans. This is a role Starcraft II fills admirably with its server packed with thousands of people, a game against fresh opponents always ready to play in a few seconds. Each match has clear objectives and an ending, unlike MMOs. In an hour one can play 3-4 different matches finding out what works and what does not.
One quickly finds even at the lowest level of play human opponents are far more dangerous and unpredictable than any AI.
About every 15-25 minutes you can go through life’s conflicts in miniature. It doesn’t take long to see certain patterns emerge, that certain philosophies work optimally while others are mediocre or fail outright.
I will try to list some of the lessons I’ve learned from starcraft that have proved valuable in real life:

1. Experience trumps wits.   Some idiot who’s simply spent more time playing the game will beat you when you’re new, no matter how fast and clever you think you are. You might think you’re smart, but it’s not as much an advantage as you think if you haven’t put in the time and effort.
Coasting on raw ability alone fails miserably in a contest that relies on learned skills. An ordinary guy who knows an optimal build order to execute a sound strategy will destroy a genius who’s trying to figure everything out for the first time.
This is why there’s plenty of average joes doing well in life while everyone knows that “smart” guy who’s losing at life.
Starcraft 2 teaches there’s no such thing as “potential” only results.

2. Success is a numbers game. You have to lose (a lot) to ever be a winner. As you get better the matchup will try to move you up the ladder to people who are your equal or better in ability.
You lose your ego fast when you constantly go up against opponents who you’ll lose to half the time. You’re never allowed to just stay comfortable crushing people who are below you. Every time a new game begins, you’re up against someone you can’t take lightly. By the time you learn enough to play even half decently, you’ve suffered dozens of humiliating defeats and know what it feels like when the winner decides to be an asshole.
Even if you get good, you know there’s no shortage of people who can slap you around effortlessly. You realize gloating in victory is for children who know little of life. A real life Big Man is above such silliness.

3. Time is the most important resource. A dumbass who’s simply faster than you will destroy you every time. If you aren’t ready when he comes for you, if you can’t react fast enough, that’s it, you’re dead. All your boasting and bragging how you’re a master strategist is for naught. Knowing kung fu makes no difference if you’re dropped right away by a swift punch to the jaw.
Imagine getting extra moves in chess! You’d be able to destroy players monumentally smarter and more skilled than you. The day is often decided simply by getting there first with the most.
The importance of time in deciding conflict can’t be doubted if we glance at the American Civil War. A bit more speed would have prevented the rebel armies from uniting at Manassas. A bit more speed could have threatened Washington after First Manassas. A bit more speed could have destroyed Lee’s army at Gettysburg. Longstreet saved Lee from defeat at The Wilderness by arriving at exactly the right time. A little more speed and there would have been no months-long siege of Petersburg…
Starcraft drills this lesson into your head mercilessly. If you’re playing terran and that bunker is completed just a few seconds too late before that zerg rush hits, it’s game over.

4. To everything there’s a golden mean. Goldilocks and Aristotle had the right idea. Too aggressive, you die. Not aggressive enough, you die. Starcraft teaches you the hard way to have a feel for exactly what kind of approach a situation calls for. When we’re first learning to drive a car, we sway back and forth in the lane, compensating then overcompensating. Soon, we drive straight.
In real life, though, we tend to make a major mistake that causes us to overcompensate to an equally faulty extreme. Then we waste years of our lives compounding our error until continuation becomes so painful we’re forced to re-evaluate our strategy. A few decades later, the lucky among us are finally able to drive that car somewhat competently, the rest never learn.
With starcraft, it becomes possible to see a model of that grand learning process in miniature.

5. Your brilliant ideas mean nothing until you try to execute them. Even a simple plan falls apart when you’re under pressure. Being adaptable in the moment is more valuable than making grandiose complicated plans. This is why armchair generals fail. A game like starcraft becomes a laboratory to test your hypotheses about what will work and what will not.
In real life, we can’t formulate a philosophy and then have a series of 20 minute tests to see if it really works as a guide to our actions. But starcraft allows us to come somewhat close to that. Through trial and error we learn that some approaches are objectively better than others. After trying something 20 times and getting your ass kicked every time, you’re forced to stop rationalizing. That approach doesn’t work. Now, no demagogue, ideologue, or politician will ever convince you otherwise; you’re immune to their poisonous talk of relativism because you’ve experienced objective truth for yourself, often painfully.
In real life, winning conflict requires the same principles as engineering. You want the simplest, lowest investment solution that effectively solves the problem. The more complexity, the more points of failure. Evolution shows us this philosophy is one of the underlying laws of reality. A “fit” living thing accomplishes its goals as efficiently as possible with as few points of failure as possible.
The pages of history are littered with egotistical generals who broke this universal law, thinking themselves military geniuses to the bitter end.

6. Always go for decisive objectives that put your opponent under mortal threat, which forces him to try to stop you with all his resources. As with chess, you want to risk your army for proportionate gains. A new player might wreck his opponent’s new expansion base only to find his own main base is now being gutted. Dealing a painful but not mortal blow allows the opponent to retaliate—and they might well kill rather than wound you. If the opponent is constantly forced to prevent unacceptable losses, you control the game. It’s hard to be aggressive in chess when the King keeps getting put into check! If you can seize the initiative, you’ll usually win.

7. The line between defeat and victory is a narrow one. If you forget detectors, that could cost you the game when cloaked units show up. One small oversight and you instantly lose the game, even if you were otherwise in a position to finish your opponent. In real life, battles both literal and figurative are often decided by the smallest mistakes. This is another great lesson that crushes the ego. It’s hard to be an arrogant victor when you’re keenly aware one small mistake would have reversed the outcome.

8. Decisiveness wins. Even the poorest strategy will sometimes succeed if someone commits to it completely and without hesitation. With indecisiveness, we divide and conquer ourselves. In real life, a weak faction like the North Vietnamese can defeat even an overwhelmingly strong faction that is indecisive, uncommitted, with no clear objectives. Without a clear mission to fulfill or a clear course of action to achieve it, there is no such thing as victory.

9. Starcraft teaches us to be less critical of those who have great responsibility. Even a mere game that shows how easy it is to screw up teaches perspective. Bad luck and small mistakes can easily bring disaster even to the competent. Even those who prove incompetent at the highest levels often stand far above the average guy on the street. You begin to realize that herdbeasts who mock and complain endlessly about their betters are just misbehaving children. They have never known leadership or great responsibility themselves yet deign to criticize as if they were equals.

Conclusion:
Starcraft 2 is certainly not a perfect microcosm of real life. For one thing, the playing field is far too orderly and predictable. We never have that much information when making real decisions. If two opponents played 100 different strategy games against each other for the very first time barely knowing the rules, that would be much more like real life. In fact, I think sloppy bronze league play may simulate real life best. But the controlled environment of starcraft allows us to test ideas more extensively. It invites us to reflect on our own lives and contemplate how the mindset we learn playing battle after battle applies to real conflicts we face.
Looking over the battlefield, what are the most effective actions we can take to defeat the obstacles before us? What objectives are vital and which are distractions?
Many now seem to view life as some kind of sentimental TV drama, but to me it is perhaps just another game, the Great Game.

terran, wall, 6 pool, cheese, stop, block

Terran wall blocks early game allins such as Zerg’s “6 pool”. The SCV stands by to repair any attempts to make a breach. Reacting quickly and keeping cool under pressure is critical to survival.

Metaphors in Language: Why Argument is War

“ARGUMENT IS WAR
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument. His criticisms were right on
target
.
I demolished his argument.
I’ve never won an argument with him.
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.

It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can
actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We
attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use
strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of
attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.
Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an
argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the
ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we
perform in arguing…

Our conventional ways of talking about arguments pre-suppose a metaphor we are hardly
ever conscious of. The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in our very
concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and
we act according to the way we conceive of things.”

Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen. 2003. p.4

What Marketing Simulations Haven’t Shown Me

Complex systems are built up by connecting diverse agents with interdependent relationships that change over time.

What all of the surveys, opinion polls, and other marketing data doesn’t tell us is the complex web of interactions that lead to a sale, or an individual forming an opinion. That’s the mistake – data from opinion polls measures current opinion when you need tomorrow’s concept. When you try to cross-correlate it, you are only looking at the output of multiple systems and mashing them together and expecting something meaningful. The key is to go back to the inputs, then move forward tracking the finite states of each agent inside of the system.

To put it another way, is a soccer mom going to buy an energy efficient car to save the environment, or a larger car that is obviously safer? Does anyone think that the majority of people, particularly women as they make the most purchase decisions now, would choose a car that obviously isn’t as safe for themselves and their family, including the children who ride along, just for the sake of an abstract concept of helping the environment? This is basic stuff from Drew Whitman’s Life Force 8. If you wish to map the future you have to move beyond the numbers into higher levels of abstraction while keeping in mind the nature of the agents and the connections between them. Add the finite effects of tools and resources on an agent’s environment and you have an idea of what could happen. And you don’t even need a computer to crunch the numbers.

The real fun begins when you can alter the simplest inputs of the agents.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/05/21/suv-sales-continue-to-soar-despite-high-gas-prices

SUV sales have actually been growing in recent months, according to CNNMoney, from about one in five vehicles sold back in the 1990s and early 2000s, to almost a third of all vehicles sold today.

The vast majority of SUVs sold today are actually smaller, more diminutive versions of their ancestors, and have fuel economy that’s as good or better than many passenger cars on the road. For instance, the Chevrolet Equinox gets better combined city and highway mileage than some models of the Honda Accord.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663594/women-dominate-the-global-market-place-here-are-5-keys-to-reaching-them

Their economic power is truly revolutionary, representing the largest market opportunity in the world. Just look at the numbers: Women control 65 percent of global spending and more than 80 percent of U.S. spending. By 2014, the World Bank predicts that the global income of women will grow by more than $5 trillion. In both emerging markets and developed nations, women’s power of influence extends well beyond the traditional roles of family and education to government, business, and the environment.

Why Star Wars OT Appeals More To Men: Aesthetics

In Star Wars, the original trilogy, the ships, gear, and guns all had a no-nonsense gritty, used look.
It was the sort of aesthetic that was sure captivate male sensibilities.

Han Solo’s ship, the Milennium Falcon was no shiny new vessel, it was a beaten up, but functional tin can. Random protuding pipes, cables, electronics with the occasional dent or scorch mark say it all. What guy who’s ever worked on a car or electronics wouldn’t want his own Falcon?:

Millenium Falcon

And lets face it, the ships, military vehicles, artillery depicted in the OT tend to be a uniform unpainted gray. Why would anyone one paint them beyond necessary insignia or identification numbers? The rebels and imperials alike seem to care a whole lot more about going out and winning than making their military hardware look pretty.

One minor character distinguished himself merely by showing up with a beat up old suit of armor dented and scratched with the marks of many battles. As soon as viewers saw this masked man, they knew he must be a badass. Thus this character went on to become a major part of the Star Wars franchise:

Boba Fett Demotivational

Let’s compare now to the aesthetic of the new trilogy. One example should suffice to illustrate my point:

N-1 Starfighter

Not only is the ship bedecked in resplendent gold and silver, even its afterburners emit a soft fuschia glow that inpires fear in the enemy as it flies over a tropical blue gem of a planet that brings to mind beaches and drinks served with little umbrellas. Indeed the ship itself resembles some kind of colorful creature we’d be delighted to see while snorkeling in warm, tropical waters.

I will extend our inquiry to another franchise: The Elder Scrolls

The gritty, exotic look of Morrowind:

Balmora Streets

All around, in this town, we see chipped mud-plaster walls stained dark by years of smoke from lamps and cooking fires. Like Mos Eisley space port, the place feels genuinely lived in. The locals have a rangy, hungry look to them and ragged, slapped together armor and clothing that immediately tells us life around here isn’t easy. The aesthetic successfully drives in the fact we’re in a remote border province on the most visceral level.

Now for the polished and happy look of Oblivion:

oblivion screenshot elven ruin

To make my point, let’s compare the aesthetic to that of Lisa Frank, a line of notebooks and folders marketed to little girls:

Lisa Frank Penguin

Even as a guy charges at us with a bloodied sword we can’t help but bask in the serene glow of the bright cerulean afternoon and admire the bandit’s improbably spotless suit of elven armor. Truly a museum piece.
Yes, the soft glow and bright colors put us at ease even as he’s trying his best to kill us.
The graphics are technically superior but the aesthetic is inferior; it fails to make us feel the setting of the adventure at the gut level.

After all nothing says adventure for men like savage border outposts, uncharted settlements, nicked unadorned blades with a spotting of rust, sooty fireplaces in taverns, and hastily improvised hyperdrives.

Mohism: One of the Major Philosophies in Chinese History

A major force in Chinese society for centuries but now pretty much long extinct, Mohism looked to ‘universal love’ as its cardinal guiding principle.
In many ways it seems to have been just about the polar opposite of Confucianism:

“A ruler may have strategies in war, but courage is the fundamental value. A funeral may have many rituals but mourning is the fundamental value. Scholars may have knowledge, but applying the knowledge or practicality is the fundamental value. If the fundamentals are not strong, good works cannot be done. Mozi taught that a good man must discipline himself: he should avoid listening to malicious gossip, avoid cursing, avoid murderous thoughts. Mozi taught that the poor should display purity, the rich should show benevolence, to the living show love, to the dead show mourning. The foundation of all human motives should be immeasurable love.”
LINK

Its influence undoubtedly never completely faded from Chinese culture as with any of the ancient Greek philosophies in ours. And I suppose we could not call it a failure unless we were prepared to call Ancient Egypt or Rome the same.

Pre-Politically Correct History: Primitive Languages Lack Abstraction

“The languages of nature peoples are not necessarily primitive in any sense of simplicity; many of them are as complex and wordy as our own, and more highly organized than Chinese. Nearly all primitive tongues, however, limit themselves to the sensual and particular, and are uniformly poor in general or abstract terms.

So the Australian natives had a name for a dog’s tail, and another name for a cow’s tail, but they had no name for tail in general. The Tasmanians had separate names for specific trees, but no general name for tree; the Choctaw Indians had names for the black oak, the white oak the white oak and the red oak, but no name for oak, much less for tree.

Doubtless many generations passeed before the proper noun ended in the common noun. In many tribes there are no separate words for the color as distint from the colored object; no words for such abstractions as tone, sex, species, space, spirit, instinct, reason, quantity, hope, fear, matter, consciousness, etc.

Such abstract terms seem to grow in a reciprocal relation of cause and effet with the development of thought; they become the tools of subtlety and the symbols of civilization.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935

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