Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sick Odds

I like to play the Pandemic cooperative board game series (for which I just learned there is now a third expansion, along with the non-cooperative tie-in game where you play as diseases trying to wipe out mankind). Awhile ago received a present of the dice version, called Pandemic: The Cure, so on my birthday I got to choose a game to play, and that's what I picked. We'd only played it once before that, and I was surprised when we lost badly three times in a row. Only one of those times were we even close.

While our strategy was certainly suboptimal, the real culprit, I believe, was the number of players. Three seems to be perfect for most of the board game variants, with other numbers of players (both higher and lower) possible but tricky. For The Cure, though, I suspect more is always better. The game is listed as 2-5 players, but it seemed that three was too few. When we played the first time out of the box, we went ahead and used all seven characters since that was the number of people we had present, and the game was simple to beat. We will have to play some more and see if the number of players really makes that much of a difference, or if we just had a bad night of poor strategy. (The link above suggests that other people disagree and think 3-4 is probably best, and that the game can swing between simple and brutal on just a few dice rolls.)

The thing that stuck out to me, though, was the dice themselves. Each color (representing a different disease) has a different set of numbers on its faces. For example, black has three 3s, and one each of 0, 4, and 5. Compare that to blue, which has one each of 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus two 6s. Since you roll the disease cubes individually to see where they end up, this ensures that the different colors show up preferentially on different continents (numbered 1-6, plus 0 for no effect). But since you also roll multiple dice of a given color together to try to "find a cure," it also impacts the odds of rolling the required sum (usually 13).

I was going to do the math to figure out the probabilities, but a quick web search reveals that other geeks have already done this. The upshot is that with 4 or more dice the colors behave nearly the same: all have a 45% chance of success with 4 dice, 5 dice takes you up to between 67% (red & blue), and 77% (black), and 6+ gets you into 90% territory. But if you are trying with only 3 dice, you'd better be using the scientist (who only needs a sum of 11) because she has about a 1 in 3 chance with all colors. Everybody else needs to pay attention to the color, because they are very different from each other. With three dice, your chances of success are: 23% (blue), 20% (red), 12% (yellow), and 7% (black).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In His Father's Footsteps

Jace likes to take off his shoes. I wasn't at all surprised this morning to see him shoeless and sockless in the back of the car only a few brief instants after I had put him there fully shod. The surprise came when I went to put a sock back on him and found it covered in gunk. Worse, I recognized that gunk. Sure enough, his left shoe had half a banana shoved up into the toe.  (I'm still not sure how there was room for his foot.)

I'm glad we found this errant banana faster than the last one. Nobody needs a repeat of that backpack business.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shakespeare's Robots

I tend to only skim the Emory newsletters I receive in my inbox. As with most University publications they contain a mix of news releases about recent research and coverage of local events. When a newsletter arrives in my inbox, the subject line is a concatenation of the top three headlines, so it is not uncommon for me to parse them incorrectly. Today's was a winner, though. This is what I saw:

Shakespeare's Dictionary: 'Robot Scientist'

In actuality, that is two stories separated by a semicolon, not a single story punctuated as shown, but I have to say that my version sounds pretty exciting. The Shakespeare story is fairly interesting on its own merits, but don't read it expecting 16th century automata.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Oh, The Way that Kings Go

This is a work in progress, and I will be editing it over the next month or so. I am planning to attend the Boston signing for Brandon Sanderson's Shadows of Self tour (Mistborn #5), and I hope to give him a Seussically illustrated hardcopy of this Stormlight Archive tribute.

One spren, two spren,
Lie spren, truth spren.
Are those blue spren truly glue spren?
This one makes a skyeel fly,
That one shows up when you die.
Oh what a lot of spren I spy!

You have light in your spheres, You have shards in your hand,
You have surges to help you to fly and to land!
So where will you go?  Somewhere high? Somewhere low?
To the great Reshi Isles, or somewhere with snow?
Perhaps you will dine on some Horneater Stew,
Delivered directly through Urithiru.
Or maybe the Shin will sell you a chicken
(eating it helps Thaylen eyebrows to thicken).
There’s so many places and people and spren,
It’s easy to wonder just where your path ends.
But please, don’t forget, it’s the way that you walk
that matters much more than the place that you stop.
Yes, the road that you take, whether straight, curved, or bendy
always matters the most—just ask the Parshendi.

Less complete stanzas, may not be included:

I looked and I saw him step onto the wall.
I looked and I said, "Now, why don't you fall?
The ground should be down!" and I said it with feeling.
He smiled and simply stepped onto the ceiling.

Look at this place all broken and cracked,
Those bones that are scattered, those stones that are stacked.
It started way back on the night of the feast,
And now they have been here for six years at least.
They all came down south to have a big fight
All because of the man who wore white.

The place where you think is an odd sort of spot
Where you're likely to meet all the things ever thought.
Some things are backward and some upside down
In this place where your thoughts live in cities and towns,
Where ideas you've had and things that you've known
Have taken on life if their own--and then grown!
Shadows go backwards and seas become land
 and the land gets replaced by an ocean of sand
 And each little grain holds a glimmer of light 
that makes sure something out in the real world looks right.

Upside Down Rainbow

I wasn't able to snap a picture of it, but it looked almost exactly like this one:
Jace and I saw it while we were on the airplane to Boston last week, and I thought it was very cool. I've known, of course, that rainbows are full circles truncated by viewing angles and moisture conditions. Until last week, though, I'd never actually seen the bottom half of one before. The one we saw was almost a full semicircle. I'm sure it helped that we were up so high, with clouds below and above us.

Add this to the frequent double- and occasional triple-rainbows experienced growing up  in Albuquerque, and I'm starting to collect quite the spectrum ;-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Dance-O-Tron!

Kelley happens to love dancing (we own 5 or 6 of the Just Dance series for the Wii). She is also a nurse. So it is entirely fitting the the anti-nausea medicine she was prescribed for a recent bout of upset tummy is in fact pronounced "On Dance-O-Tron." Medical spelling is odd, so of course it is a near-miss (Ondansetron). Close enough, in my book. Those extra syllables say so much more than the brand name "Zofran," although that does sound like it could be a good name for a dancing robot.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kalyani and Rahul

In January I went to the book signing for the release of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. If you aren't aware, I really love a lot of Brandon's books. He makes the top 5 list of my favorite authors, and I have some of the most fun anticipating his new releases because there are a whole lot of other fans that like to theorize and discuss. (I've been moderately active over on the official fan site ever since the build up to the release of Words of Radiance.)

For the signing, I dressed up as a Rithmatics professor, my sister came as Megan (from the Reckoners series) and I dressed my son up as Pattern (from Stormlight Archive). I enjoyed recording the Q&A and the signing line, and meeting Brandon again (for the full report, see this thread on the 17th Shard fan site). But my favorite part of the evening was definitely meeting the people behind me in line.

There I was, nearly at the back of the line (my son was getting fussy so we had left for dinner and come back). The woman behind me asked if I had read Legion, which is told from the perspective of "a perfectly sane man" whose hallucinations all have psychoses, but are also geniuses. When I replied that I had, she said, "I'm Kalyani," which is the name of one of the hallucinations. At first I thought she meant she was dressed up as that character, but as it happens the inspiration goes the other direction. Kalyani in line was the basis for the fictional person.

Along with her husband Rahul (who also appears in Legion), Kalyani makes an impressive effort to extend hospitality to their friend Brandon. Whenever he has a signing within 8 hours of their home, they drive to the location and cook him an Indian meal for dinner. Both of them were also wearing T-shirts with their own fan art on them (a chasmfiend and the oathgate network.) I'm glad I got to meet them.

As a result of some questions asked by KalynaAnn, who has put a lot of thought into the geometry underlying the chalk magic from The Rithmatist, I got excited about possible variations and extensions of the defenses described in the book. Here are three hypothetical Rithmatic constructions that could be valid defenses, depending on how many of my assumptions are accurate. I discuss them in this post on 17S.