dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
[personal profile] dagoski

I'm getting into a heavy duty programming project today.  I just discovered one real big reason to keep with Apple instead of going down the Linux laptop route.  That reason is Xcode.  I'm just getting into using it.  To think I used to struggle with Make.  No more of that mess!  Then again, I think the Eclipse development suite has everything that's nice about XCode and a whole lot more.  The other thing that's helping this project is my Kindle.  While I dislike the crap that Amazon is doing with retracting people's old purchases when they decide that certain genres are offensive, I like the platform and its capabilities a lot.  I need to learn C++ for this project and simply because it'd be another skill to put on the old CV. So that means I need a book.  Normally, I might try Borders or Barnes and Noble.  Now, since I am in Toledo, the computer section has loads of books that prepare you for various low level IT certifications, teach you web design and light weight web programming.  But, old school CS?  No way.  They don't deal in that mess or any sophisticated works.  Toledo's just not the market for that stuff.  The University City Barnes and Noble in Philly had this kind of thing as do the book stores in Ann Arbor.  No surprise, there are people who buy that kind of stuff in those places.  Not so much here.  The bookstores would cheerfully order me any book I want, but that'd take close to a week.  A minute in the Amazon store and I have Stephen Prat's C++ Primer Plus on the Kindle.  E-books are here to stay.  A lot of people are going to like this experience and the traditional book store is probably going to become a niche retailer.  My gut feeling is that people are going buy a lot of fiction in paper after they've developed a sentimental attachment to a work, but for most things they'll prefer the immediacy of downloading.  This is definitely the case with nonfiction for me.  The other nice thing about the e-book experience is something I mentioned in passing.  With paper books you're restricted by the interests of the people in your geographic area.  It's hard to find books about Complex Systems, Systems Theory and general academic works here in Toledo.  Popular fiction and politically biased nonfiction are available by the bushel.  Religious books abound, but try finding a decent book on Economics.  All you find are political attacks on the other guy's fiscal policy positions.  Not good, but that's what the retailers have.  With a good e-book platform, a network connection puts almost anything in your grasp.  It's hard to say what the ultimate cultural impact is going to be.  I'd like to think these new technologies offer the promise of transforming people by helping them to see things in new ways.  Unfortunately, what I've noticed is that while these readers facilitate searching for information, they inhibit browsing and the retailers can constrain both search and browse.  The retailer can subtly steer you towards certain choices.  They probably won't do so for any nefarious reason.  They just want you find the best match, but it's what they believe is the best match as opposed to your judgment.  The other problem these technologies pose is that we can create cocoon of opinion affirming information and never see anything which challenges our beliefs.  This is a serious hazard in nation that's becoming ever more culturally and politically divided. 
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In other news, my silly project is looking ever more doable.  Not sure what my monster as agent idea will do to the gameplay in Quake2, but it opens some strange modeling possibilities.  It could be fun to have the player spawn in some high perch and just watch the ecosystem as it evolves.  I'm also not sure anyone's done quite what I'm doing.  I'm not exactly using neural nets, but the simulation of mind uses the same techniques.  In other words, while my monsters will think after a fashion, they cannot adapt because they have no memory.  I doubt any non-mainframe would have the computational power to run more than a few true learning agents.  A lot of people have coded such in Quake 2 as bots and a few I played against were uncanny.   My aim is much simpler, it's to give the monsters an agenda that includes survival.  I just wish I had the artistic ability to create new graphics.  The Strogos of Quake 2 don't promote the right mood for this project.  Oh well.  First I have to get them to think.  My model of mind is essentially a 3 layer, feed forward neural net.  The first layer represents sensory input and provided initial weights for the things the monsters see and hear.  The next layer represents a series of drives or imperatives that represent the basic proclivities of the monsters.  By changing the weights in this layer I can create solitary stalkers, grazing herds, flocks of crows and packs of wolves.  The final layer is a set of possible actions.  The sum  of the various weighted averages is calculated here causing a particular action neuron to fire.  The interesting thing about this is that the behavior of individual monsters is directly affected by the states of minds of their fellows, so you can get a primitive sort of social interaction. For instance, with a flocking species of monster, you might, through a fierce attack, cause the flock to break and run as a whole.  A solitary species might feel crowded and break off its attack.  I hope this will make the game freaking weird and very unpredictable.  What I fear is that turning the monsters into active agents will bog the game down or make it silly.  One problem is that the monsters might just fly off to hard to reach places or clump in place and do absolutely nothing due to the feed back of their mental states.

In other news, I have some promising RPG projects stewing.  The problem I have is that when I get a strong world idea, I often try to turn roleplaying games into roleplaying literature.  When this works, the campaign becomes legendary as happened with my famous LA Campaign, titled The War for Sunset.  When it doesn't work, things can flop badly because my ideas are so strong that I don't give the players enough freedom to play.  It can be a very hard balance to strike.  I want to rework my "No Moreau is an Island" campaign into a new edition and fix the problems it had.  The issue here is that this is a serious, serious campaign and I don't know how many people would actually want to play it.  Michelle tells me I had some really potent characters and themes that stuck with the players over the years but that most people want simple entertainment.  The other promising campaign has more a Farscape flavor to it and the players should have more freedom to control their fates.

In still other news, my cat still fears the fell destiny of my right hand.  He'll be back from his food break soon and I'll only be able to type with one hand.  Sigmund is not a big cat, but when he sprawls on my arm he weighs a lot.

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dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)

July 2011

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