Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflection on the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament and Misconceptions About Mage Wars Academy

I won the Mage Wars Academy tournament at gen con, and while I played fairly and fought my hardest and overcame all the opposition, part of me still doesn't feel like I deserved my victory. Partly because there were only five other competitors in the tournament. Partly because I did not face a significant challenge until the finals.

First, a recap of the tournament for those who were not there to see it. There were six players in it including me. I fought in three matches: my first match was against a beastmaster which used a minor animal swarm, second match was against a Mana denial wizard using Mana worms. My final match was against a very aggressive warlock using Sanguine Hunter and Drakas, Imp Overlord.

First match I won because my opponent forgot that Aurora Lucere, Dawnbreaker's Chosen had an ability that let her treat his minor creatures as pests, and therefore could keep her guard marker if melee attacked by them as long as she didn't counterstrike.

The second match I won because my opponent wasn't prepared to deal with Aurora Lucere. We both agreed afterwards that he should have summoned a Sailfin Hydra and attacked my Dawnbreaker's Chosen with it, using disperses to get rid of any shrinks I would have enchanted his hydra with.

The final match was best 2/3. First game I won because I surprised my opponent by rushing him really fast and he wasn't prepared to deal with my strategy. Second game I lost because I forgot to crumble his armor before attacking with Dawnbreaker's Chosen and he was able to kill me before I could recover from that mistake. Third game I won because I landed a really lucky roll on a firestream dealing 8 damage which brought him to 17 damage, and then he illegally used exile on my Dawnbreaker's Chosen because he didn't realize it could only target minor creatures. And that was the end of the tournament.

To be honest, I was disappointed that I didn't get a real challenge until the final match of the tournament. I have some educated guesses as to why it happened like this. You see, I spoke to multiple Mage Wars players there about the Academy tournament beforehand, and nearly everyone I asked was either unsure if they wanted to participate or were unwilling or did not have spellbooks prepared for it.

Two or three people even expressed the view that Mage Wars Academy was merely watered down Mage Wars Arena. This is a common misconception perpetuated partly because of the unintentionally deceptive advertising of the game on Arcane Wonder's part, and partly because Arena players just starting out in Academy don't know how to build good Academy spellbooks but too easily think that they do, especially in the absence of a real public competitive academy metagame.

At least several people told me that they had not played Mage Wars Academy since the release of its core set, and this was something I had heard before from other mage wars players online. Mage Wars Academy has been available for online play on OCTGN for about two years, but it has been almost impossible to find anyone to play it with there.

Because most people likely have not tested their custom Academy spellbooks all that much if at all, or at least because there is very little public record of what kinds of spellbooks work in Academy and what don't, Arena players who start playing Academy with each other start out trying to make their spellbooks too much like Arena spellbooks.

Mage Wars Academy is not watered down Mage Wars Arena, as I hope will become clear to you after reading this post. Unfortunately, Arcane Wonders has advertised Mage Wars Academy in such a way that it made it look like Mage Wars Academy was really Mage Wars Arena jr. For one thing, they put a mini advertisement for Mage Wars Arena into the Mage Wars Academy commercial. They have also kept talking about how they designed it for the purpose of being a point of entry for Arena, and they did not do anything to correct any of the wild misconceptions Arena players had about Academy, except by writing the words "new, standalone game" on the core set box.

Mage Wars Arena players new to Academy likely won't notice how the lack of action accelerators like spawnpoints and familiars, combined with the 1x1 zone arena make putting on armor round 1 a better decision than in Arena. They'll just think that first initiative gives an unfair advantage because the first player gets to attack or target enemy objects first after the setup rounds end, while also doing a chain of four consecutive converted quick actions without the opponent being able to respond during that chain. In point of fact you do have the ability to respond to your opponent during this chain, it's called revealing enchantments (or using defenses or other abilities that don't cost actions to use). But Arena players new to Academy are likely to think this isn't enough because casting enchantments uses a quick action in the first place.

They dont notice that because of a lack of action accelerators in Academy, that the loss of actions is nowhere near as costly in Academy. Unlike in Arena, in Academy skipping your quickcast action to save mana is a perfectly viable tactic and does not mean that you made a mistake. It's ok to lose an action or two if you are devaluing the actions of your opponent. Arena players new to Academy think that introducing quickcast phases would be a good way to solve this supposed problem of consecutive actions, but it is entirely unnecessary. Consecutive actions would only be a problem in arena because of action accelerators and the existence of move actions. With two full actions and two quickcasts, you can cast two familiars and two spawnpoints and take two move actions in Arena, which increases your action generation per round exponentially. In Academy the only action generators are creatures, each creature can only use one action per round, and only mages can cast creatures and they must use their full action to do it. With two full actions and two quickcasts in Academy you just get at most two more actions generated per round, plus maybe another quick action or two for very specific things, like how the packleader's cloak or the priestess's ability let's you put a guard marker on a friendly creature as a "free" action (you still have to pay mana for it).

Unfortunately, it seems that these misconceptions about Academy likely contributed to the quality of much of the competition in the Academy tournament, as well as to the extremely low turnout compared to the Arena tournament. At least one or two people I asked said that they were going to just cobble together an Academy spellbook right before the Academy tournament, without testing it.

I don't intend to slight any of my opponents. They all fought valiantly, despite two out of three of them coming unprepared. However, this was supposed to be a competitive level tournament. And yet from the way people were talking about it, it seemed to me a likely possibility that most of the other competitors were not expecting competitive levels of difficulty in the Academy tournament before they came to Gen Con, and that they did not think that they needed to prepare for it much if at all. I suspect they may only have started to believe otherwise after Arcane Wonders ambassador and mage wars tournament judge Silverclawgrizzly hypothized that I would just wipe the floor with everyone in the academy tournament because most other people hadn't practiced it at all since the core set's release.

This is the second mage wars tournament I have ever won, and both times there were only five other competitors, and both times the majority of the competition did not seem to be at a competitive level. I have two really cool mage wars trophies in my apartment now, and I find myself disappointed that I did not have to work harder to earn them.

Hopefully the next Mage Wars Academy tournament I attend will have a greater turnout of competitive-level players.

Note: I just looked on the forums, and there doesn't seem to be an event page for the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament like there was for the Gen Con Mage Wars Arena tournament. I suspect this likely also contributed to the low turnout for the Academy tournament.

Special mention goes to my opponent in the final match, who did come prepared with a spellbook he had tested ahead of time, and he nearly beat me for the championship. That match included some of my most fun fights in Academy that I've had so far.

You can see the spellbook I used in the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Did I make a mistake, or was I just unlucky?

If you're not familiar with Mage Wars Arena, this post will likely be hard to follow. If you're interested, I recommend checking out the game here, and then getting a demo either at your friendly local game store or at a convention.

I just played a game of Arena on OCTGN. I was playing a forcemaster of Salenia and my opponent was a Priest of Malakai. I had a forge, meditating monk, a mana crystal, enchanter's wardstone and a surging wave-thoughtspore. My opponent had a forge, mana crystal and guardian angel. I rolled a really unlikely bad roll on a surging wave against his battle forge which cost me the whole match, and the more I think about it the more it seems like there really was nothing I could have done to deal with that bad roll. After that bad roll I didnt have any surging waves left except for the one attached to my thoughtspore. Next round, in order to finish off the battle forge, I had to force pull the guardian angel so that it was no longer protecting the forge, then my spore attacked it again. But then guardian angel was able to attack my spore and bring it to the brink of death, and then finished it off the next round. If not for my using force pull on the angel, it would not have been in range to attack my spore. And I wouldn't have used force pull if I hadn't rolled such a unusually bad roll when I had attacked the forge the round prior. If I had rolled slightly better, the forge would have been gone sooner and I wouldn't have spent as much mana and actions to take it down, so I would have had more mana to cast certain expensive spells sooner. And my surging wave-spore would have still been alive to deal with guardian angel so that I could focus on attacking the priest. But none of that happened because I had one lousy roll against a battle forge. It seems that for the very first time EVER, I have just played an Arena match where I lost exclusively because of luck rather than skill. It was frustrating, but at least it's only happened to me once in the four years I've been playing the game.

...Then again maybe I should have used my force crush on the guardian angel instead of the priest. I already had dot on the priest in the form of magebane, ghoul rot and arcane corruption, and I had used one of my ghoul rots to finish off Cassiel, Maybe I didn't need more dot on the priest and I could have spared my force crush for the guardian angel. I'm not sure if it would work or not, but I'll try it. Next time I'm facing a mage that uses guardian angel to guard itself and my surging wave-thoughtspore dies, I will try putting force crush on the guardian angel. If that doesn't work, then I'll know that this match was decided exclusively by luck rather than skill. Considering that this is the only time that might have happened in the four years I've been playing the game, I don't think I should worry about this match too much. But I really should try using force crush on the guardian angel if I ever encounter this situation again, just to see if it would work.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Dinosaur's Path


     After all the struggles and hardships it's finally come down to this: sink or swim, win or lose, live or die–it's time to decide.
     We are on the dinosaur's path with no meteor to mark it. Our destruction draws near but we can still escape it. We probably won't but we can damn well try. We are on the dinosaur's path and we will survive or die.
     We trample over the land. We fight amongst ourselves. We rule the Earth but still go hungry. We are champions of Nature's death tournament but Nature herself doesn't care. She made us fight and die for no reason–not out of love nor hate but indifference.
     Nature gave birth to life but she herself is not live. She is a cruel and foolish tyrant with no heart and no mind. She cannot protect us and if she could she would not try.
     We are on the dinosaur's path with no meteor to mark it. Our destruction draws near but we can still escape it. We'll probably fail but we won't go down without a fight.
     We are on the dinosaur's path but we are still alive just as the Sun still shines bright. We are on the dinosaur's path. The birds inherited their genes but we inherited their legacy. They went to the trees and the clouds but we will go to the stars.
     It's time to spread our wings and take flight!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Bucket List

1. I want to have a chance to play Brik Wars. It's a customizable strategy miniatures game that uses Legos, and it looks really fun but there's almost no one to play it with anywhere. Maybe because all the rules are optional variant rules with no main mode of play, and the people who made the game look down on competitive gamers as not being good sports or knowing how to have fun, so people who want to play Brik wars competitively probably won't feel welcome in the BrikWars community. I still really want to play it though.

2. Travel the world.

I don't want to be stuck in my little corner until I die. I want to see more of the world.

3. Make more offline friends, find love, find somewhere I can feel at home.

4. Do something enjoyable and interesting with my life that maximizes my expected positive impact on the world.

5. Have a Pokemon battle in real life. This is already technically possible with our current level of tech, but Pokemon Go fell way short of what it should have been. It didn't even have ANY pvp battles!! Such a waste of potential.

6. Play a fantasy combat card game using real duel disks that actually work. Preferably Mage Wars academy, but an actually fair variant of Yu-Gi-Oh tcg which actually involves skill would be good too.

7. Play Battle Box format mtg
http://mtgbattlebox.com/rules.html

I'll think of some more things to add to the list later.

Of course, it would be nice if the world doesn't end within the next few decades. Then I could make a much longer more comprehensive list. :P

Media and Gaming Recommendations List

Games

Onitama

An abstract strategy game. It has been described as "like chess, but better". You can learn more about it here.

Mage Wars Academy

I've talked about this in a previous post, but it bears repeating that this game is amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone who's itching for some card-based fantasy combat at an affordable price without luck of the draw. You can learn more about it here

Books

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Best to divide the book into three or six parts, since it's pretty long. I prefer to divide it into three parts. It's one of my favorite novels. I even wrote some inside cover fan blurbs for it:

Part I: Observation (chapters 1-37)

There is something different about Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, and it's not just that he's a wizard. Raised by his doting aunt Petunia and her husband, an Oxford biochemistry professor named Michael, Harry learned the ways of science and rationality. So when Magic comes barreling in to upend Harry's tidy worldview, he does the only sensible thing: throws out his priors, rolls up his sleeves, and starts investigating. His investigation takes him to Hogwarts—the most prestigious magical school in the world, where a dark power is plotting in the shadows...

Part 2: Calculation (chapters 38-85)

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres is back, and this time he's in way over his head. After an unusual confrontation with a dementor, the most terrible of all dark magical creatures, Professor Quirrinus Quirrel decides to recruit him for a dangerous and treasonous mission: to break an innocent convict out of the unbreakable fortress Azkaban, British Wizarding Prison.
Meanwhile, some of the children of powerful magical nobility are terrorizing their weaker classmates at Hogwarts, while the teachers do nothing to stop it for fear of legal reprisal.
Up against the medieval government and traditions of magical Britain itself, can the Boy Who Lived and his friends survive?

Part 3: Calibration (chapters 86-122)

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, the Boy Who Lived, is in grave danger. Someone of unknown intent is plotting against him and targeting his friends. Hogwarts is no longer safe. As the school-year draws to a close, two enemy noble houses will become allies, one of Harry's closest friends will die, the fate of the world will hang in the balance, and the true mastermind behind it all will finally reveal himself. Can the Boy Who Lived solve the mystery in time? Can you?

Strong Female Protagonist

"SFP follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice." I love this webcomic. It is so EPIC. I usually don't like superhero stories, but this one is very good. I really loved the unmasking scene early on: "Am I the only one who's scared that people are looking to me for answers because I can lift a car over my head? This is crazy!" Classic.

Pokemon: the Origin of Species

"Enter the world of Pokémon from a rational perspective. Instead of starting his journey in ignorance, Red has spent his years studying the creatures so central to his world... and he doesn't quite agree with all the information in his books. No time for rookie mistakes here: he's on a quest to discover the true nature of Pokémon, and maybe even find out where they really come from." The world building in this is amazing. It even has an explanation about the ethics of Pokemon battles that actually makes sense, as well as an explanation for why Pokemon trainers leave their parents and go on their journeys at such an early age that makes sense (combination of culture and evolutionary pressures making humans mature faster).

Schooled in Magic series

This series is very good. It's a portal fantasy and a magical school story with a heck of a lot of very good world building. Also a decent number of intelligent characters and no one ever really holds the idiot ball. When smart characters do stupid things it happens naturally as a result of their own flaws or lack of necessary skills or knowledge, or because of mental illness such as that caused by practicing necromancy. The setting is pretty consistent and it's very interesting. It feels like a rather realistic take on what a medieval fantasy world with actual magic would be like. You don't need to start at the beginning of the series to understand what's going on, but it's better if you do because you get to see the main characters growing up.

Rationality: From AI to Zombies
A nonfiction text for learning rationality skills. It's quite fascinating and rather useful. Highly recommended.

Television Shows

Steven Universe: also highly recommended. I really liked the trial scene in one of the more recent episodes.

Shin Sekai Yori: this is really good, but I can't even say what the genre is without spoiling it...

Puela Magi Madoka Magica: very good. Deconstruction of the magical girl warrior genre that I really liked.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Only Sane Man

The following essay was named after this literary trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OnlySaneMan

Hope you like it!
__________

     What? What are you talking about? How do you know that? Why are you getting so upset? I’m just asking questions.
     Well, obviously I wouldn’t ask if I was already certain that I knew the answers. How are you so certain? Do you know something about this that I don’t know?
     That wasn’t a challenge, it was an honest question.
     No really, if there’s something you know about this that I don’t, I would love to hear it.
     I mean it, I’m not being sarcastic!
     Arguing? I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m just asking questions. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine.
     I thought you didn’t want to talk about it, why are you still bothering me about this? Even if you’re right, just saying that isn’t going to convince me. It might seem obvious to you, but that doesn’t make it obvious to everyone.
     But if what you said is true, wouldn’t it make more sense to do that? Do you even believe what you’re saying?
     Well, if you really believed that, you would do it. In the hypothetical world where what you are saying is true, the consequences of not doing that are worse than the consequences of actually doing that.
     Oh for crying out loud, you know what truth is. Just because you don’t know how to describe it in perfectly precise detail doesn’t mean you don’t know what it is.
     Well, if you didn’t believe in gravity, and you walked off a cliff, you would still fall to your death.
     The universe doesn’t care how you feel about it.
     This isn’t any different. Gravity exists. So do people. So does love and friendship and conversation and memory. Complex things are made of simpler things. Just because you don’t know the laws doesn’t mean that the laws don’t exist.
     Why are we even still talking about this when you’re not even going to consider anything I say?
     I have considered what you have said, I just haven’t seen enough evidence to support it.
     Really? What evidence is your belief based on, and is that the same evidence you’re using to justify it to me?
     Why does it matter to you so much whether I agree with you about this or not?
     Most of your responses are rather unrelated to the things I’ve actually said. It’s almost like you don’t know how to answer my real questions, so you made up some knockdown arguments that you’d rather respond to instead.
     I’m not upset because you disagree with me. That’s all you. I’m upset because you’re not listening to me and considering what I say respectfully like I have been doing for you.
     That isn’t just how I feel about it, that’s how you’ve actually been acting this entire time.
     Okay, that’s a low blow. I have not put you down even once this entire conversation. Can’t we talk about this like adults?
     Okay. Uhuh. Right, I’ll go do that then. I’m done talking about this with you. Goodbye.
     Oh, like you’re one to talk about intellectual integrity. If you care so much about honesty, try being honest with yourself.
     You think I’m an emotionless robot? Just because I’m actually trying to be reasonable? I might not be perfectly reasonable all the time, but at least I try. You’re probably just reiterating beliefs your friends and parents taught you without thinking about it. Who’s really the robot here?
     Again, how do you know that? Did you actually look?
     I give up. I’m tired of arguing with you about this. Believe whatever you want, just quit pestering me about it and stop trying to interfere in matters that affect me and people I care about which you know nothing about! If you continue to do so, then I will try to stop you. I won’t waste my time trying to reason with you, since that never works.
     I don’t care what you think of me anymore. I don’t care what you think about anything important anymore. I’ll still respect whatever expertise you do have. If you want to talk about social relationships, food, entertainment or creative design, I’m all ears, since those are things everybody is at least somewhat familiar with. But I’m not going to talk to you about important things that require knowledge and common sense.
     I’m not saying you’re stupid, just that you’re poorly informed and clearly unwilling to change your mind about anything. Talking to you about anything deeper or more complex than what we had for lunch today feels like talking to a brick wall, and I have better things to do with my time than that.
     How are you? How are the kids? Is life treating you okay? Glad to hear it. I’ve been pretty busy lately. Lots of work to do. Yeah, I heard about that movie. It sounds kinda interesting. Say, do you want to go grab a coffee some time? I heard there’s this place that opened up recently and it’s gotten some pretty good reviews…

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Stupid, Crazy Problem-Child who Grew up to be an Unusually Sane Brainiac


Warning!
            There is cursing and mature themes in this.




            Trigger warnings include abusive parents and typical religious mindfuckery

            Hi. This is the story of most of my life so far. Most of my life so far has been a painful, boring and pointless waste of two decades due to a broken education system and no one around me having any idea what the fuck they're fucking doing, sometimes semi-willfully so. This story will likely either make you angry at me, angry on my behalf, really sad, really confused, or just plain bored or uninterested. Some of the subjects I discuss are needlessly politicized and artificially made controversial, and I will likely get a lot of negative responses from the average reader if the average reader ever bothered to read this. If you do not want to feel negative emotions, then turn back now. If you feel that criticizing a belief is a criticism of any person who believes it, then turn back now. I mean it, this may only make you angry at me, or you'll just think I'm an idiot. You have been warned.

First (or second) episodic memory
It was such a long time ago. The earliest thing I remember at this point was a time when I was four years old. One of my sisters had left a slinky on the stairs, and my father had started shouting at me for it. I was very frightened. This memory used to be more vivid, its feelings more visceral. Now it's been so long that the feelings associated with things that happened later get mixed up with this memory. I'm no longer certain it's a real memory. Arguably this might only be my second episodic memory. The first, it seems, was of getting my finger caught in a baby gate when I tried to use my finger as a key to open it. I remember that hurting. I don't know if that was a real memory either, but if it was, it feels like it happened at some point before the slinky incident.

I'm not sure the following events up through first grade happened exactly as described either, but I think it is at least somewhat close to what really happened. What I remember most clearly is that I learned to read before I would actually admit to myself that I knew how to read, and that I was already demonstrating significant social deficits in 1st grade, though I hadn't yet been diagnosed with Aspergers yet. I think what happened might have gone something like this:

Preschool
"I can read!" I said, proudly.
"No you can'," said the other kid. "Four-year-olds can' read."

Later...

"And he's already reading!" said my mother.
"Wha? I can' read. I'm only four!"
"But you were reading just last week!"
"Four year olds can' read," I insisted, stubbornly.


Kindergarten
"Read this," said my mother, pushing a picture book in front of me.
"I can' read," I said exasperatedly. "I'm nah' ole denough."
"Just tell me what it says."
"Once upon a time, there was..."
"See? You can read!"
"No I can'!"
"But you just did!"
"Tha’ was reading!?"

1st grade
"We're nod allowed t' say i'." said one of the other kids.
"Why?" I asked.
"We just aren't."
"Whad is i' we're nod allowed t' say?"
"We're nod allowed t' say."
"Please tell me."
"We can'."
"Wai', then why d'you guys know wha' they are?"
"Just drop i', okay?"
"But whad if I say i' by accident! I can't know no' to say something I don't know." I whispered, with a pleading look.
"Alrigh'. A. S. S."
"Ass?" I asked. It was only two sounds. Barely a word at all. All the one syllable words I had heard previously were too simple to be offensive. "Wha' does tha' mean?"
"It's your, you know..."
"Know wha'?"
"Your butt," the other boy whispered.
"But we're allowed to say butt." I said, confused. "That's not a cuss word. If they mean the same thing, if they're cinnamons, then why aren't we allowed to say ass?"
I was completely oblivious to everyone staring at me.
"Go to the principal's office," the teacher commanded me.
"Wha'? Why?" I asked, shocked.
"You know why."
"No I don't," I said, confused.
"Don't argue with me," said the teacher.
I refused to go. I had another class to go to, and as far as I knew I hadn't done anything wrong!
I was an out-of-control sobbing wreck as I was escorted to the principal's office. Other students stared at me as I passed.

1st-4th grade
My behavior and emotional stability would drastically decline over the next few years after that, and I needed to be medicated for it. I went from medication to medication for many years after that, and all of them made me worse, but that didn't stop my parents and everyone else from constantly having me try new ones, and blaming me entirely for their less than optimal effects. Having to go to the principal's office was a fairly regular occurrence until the end of fourth grade, when I was locked up in the teacher's lounge against my will and kept under guard until my parents arrived. This was a huge overreaction, since I was not physically dangerous, only disruptive. My sisters, parents and I moved to Ohio shorty after that.

5th grade
I'm not sure it went exactly like this, but it's likely a pretty close approximation of what actually happened:

I sat at the table, staring at the sheet of paper.
"I can't do it."
"Yes you can," said the teacher.
"No I can't!"
"Do not shout at me.”
"This isn't fair!"
"Life's not fair. Now, are you going get your work done like a big boy, or do you want to go do the kindergarten activities with everyone else?"
"I don't wanna do the kindergarten activities," I said. "I already know all that stuff."
"Then prove it."

After only a month, my behavior and work ethic drastically improved, enough for me to be functional in a regular classroom. Even more than everyone else in the class was. It was a constant struggle for the fifth-grade teacher to keep classroom order, and I was possibly the only one who really tried to be quiet and pay attention most of the time. Often it was a struggle for me to hear him over the loud, obnoxious chatter of the other students, and I wondered why they hadn't been in the special classroom like I was.

6th and 7th grade
The following was a fairly typical experience throughout most of my childhood, but it got particularly bad at this point in time.

"BELIEVE WHAT YOU'RE TOLD AND DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD!"

I cowered and lashed out like the caged animal I was. My attempts to please my master always failed, and my attempts to fight him off or free myself were equally fruitless.
To think he kept bullying me into following a ridiculous order like that out of concern for my safety! There were too many people who I was expected to believe and obey, contradicting each other, and if I failed to perfectly believe and obey every single one to the letter, or at least to perfectly believe and obey him, I would be punished. It drove me insane.

8th grade
With no hope for a future in reality, I descended into the world of my dreams and imagination. I believed that I was worthless in reality. In my dream world I was special. In reality almost no one if anyone respected or understood me, not even my friends. In my dream world, I had friends who respected and understood me. In reality I felt useless, unable to help anyone or do anything right. In my dream world I was a legendary hero. But then the suffering of my waking life began to bleed over into my dream world. The world of my dreams was now at war with itself, and the tone became rather religious as I descended deeper into my madness. I no longer knew who I was in this world. I felt like I was being severely and cosmically punished for crimes I could not remember. I went from half-reluncantly thinking that maybe I was Christ to being almost convinced that I was the Devil or perhaps both.
And then with some intervention and another change in my psychiatric meds, I started to wake up. I had a bit of a relapse at some point in 9th or 10th grade, but it was much shorter and far less extreme.
At some point I came up with the following mantra to repeat in my head whenever I was tempted to descend back into that madness.
If the voices say they're real, don't believe them. If the voices say they'll punish you if you don't believe them, then they don't deserve your belief.

9th grade
I realized I am homosexual. And since everyone around me believed that was somehow important, I believed it too. I started to embrace the more effeminate and less masculine aspects of myself. It didn't quite fit. Now I recognize that I'm only mostly homosexual. I'm barely attracted to the opposite sex at all, but barely at all is not the same as not at all. I have a much stronger preference for men, though.
             Nowadays I usually avoid talking to people about my sexual preferences. And when I do talk about my sexual preferences, I just say that I prefer men, rather than saying “I am homosexual”. Most of the time when I talk about my sexual preferences, people will either flat out reject me or perhaps worse, they'll be all like "IT'S WHO YOU ARE!" and "YOU SHOULD BE PROUD!" I wish I could say the same thing back to those who say that sort of thing to me, about their sexual preferences, and see how it makes them feel, but I don't because that would probably offend them and they have the best of intentions when they're spouting this prejudicial nonsense.
Although, it often seems like most people who are open about their sexual preferences agree with said prejudicial nonsense, which doesn’t help at all.

10th grade
I was just starting to seriously question the religious beliefs I had grown up with as well as the ones other people surrounded me with, when I watched Julia Sweeney's autobiographical stage monologue, "Letting Go of God". After that I found out for the first time that my parents, who are devout, practicing reform Jews, and who had taught me about God and the Torah and other stories as if they were true, completely neglecting and even hindering the development of my critical thinking skills...are nontheistic. They pray to a God that they do not believe exists and had done so even before I was born. And they had forced me to go to religious school where I was indoctrinated with bad fairytales for most of my childhood.
I remembered a time when I was younger, when I had first found out that the tooth fairy didn't exist. It was not long after they had sworn that they would never lie to me because they were my parents and that I could trust them. Then when I started making the most reasonable justifications I could for the tooth fairy's existence, my mother finally revealed that the tooth fairy didn't exist. They had lied to me. They had lied to me all along, and they kept punishing me for lying regardless of whether I was actually telling the truth or not.
They pretended to themselves that they cared about intelligence and reasonableness, but that was all just a badge of honor they wore to signify their allegiance to their ethnic and religious community and their political party.
My mind has always been who I am. For most of my life it was the only thing I was remotely good at, and even then it wasn’t very much. And in spite of this, they deliberately used anti-epistemology to interfere with the development of my cognitive skills in order to keep me trapped in their culture, because they cared more about the preservation of their heritage than about my own mental health. Both of my parents were fucking hypocrites! On top of all that, I had become the family scapegoat. It was the punchline of the extended joke my life had been up to that point.

11th grade
With help from some of my teachers and healthcare providers, I started to break free from my programming, and began learning to trust and rely on my own intelligence more, instead of just believing what I was told to believe and doing what everyone else wanted or expected me to do. That was probably a relief to a lot of other people, because by constantly deferring to the judgement and permission of others to do basically anything, I had become an annoying suck-up.
I resolved to never let that happen again. I decided to think for myself from then on.

12th grade
This was the period in my life where I started experiencing gender confusion. Needless to say I was seriously overthinking things. Although to be fair I never felt like I quite fit in with other guys I knew, but that was probably more because it was high school and my values, interests, and likely a lot of my internal mental life differed from most of my classmates in ways that had little or nothing to do with gender. I would eventually start meeting real transgender people in college, and then I would eventually start to realize that I really was cisgender male.

13th grade
Now you're probably wondering, what the hell is 13th grade? I can explain, I swear! You see, I had completed all of the standard high school curriculum and passed my graduation test, but I needed to stay behind for disability services, since I totally wasn't ready to go out into the world, and I needed extra remedial education in communication and independent living skills or the world was going to chew me up and spit me back out, and who knew what condition that would leave me in. I had somewhat of a relapse in my psychological health caused by issues at home and at school. Throughout much of 13th grade, I also worked as a volunteer on the Floor Faculty of the local science museum. I finally recieved my real high school diploma near the end of the school year. Afterwards I continued to attend a community college that summer, before transferring to a university as a freshman in the fall.

University: First Year
Up to this point, I had already developed a history of sleep problems. Since it was football season, people were screaming at the top of their lungs and running down the halls banging on doors, including mine, in the early hours of the morning, on school nights while I was trying to sleep. On top of that, I had a new life coach, and she was very impatient and mean. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, and that's an understatement.
In fact, saying that it was an understatement is also an understatement. Pretty much every time I got lost on campus I would have a full-blown angry, screaming panic attack, and people would stare at me like I was a fucking lunatic or a scary madman.
They weren't completely wrong, either. Deep, chronic anxiety really messes with your head. I also had a lot of leftover baggage from my childhood that was messing with me, including feelings of helplessness and anger at myself and at my situation. It didn't help that when I was a kid if I made even the slightest mistake there would be severe consequences for it.
Whenever I got lost or couldn't find something in my room that I needed, or slipped up in any other number of minor ways, it would feel catastrophic. Then I started taking a new anxiety medication. Things started getting better for me after that, although it was still a rough climb out of the hole I was in.

University: Second Year
In some ways better and some ways worse than the first year. My anxiety wasn't quite as bad once I was more used to campus, but I was still significantly chronically stressed and anxious. I had trouble keeping up with my course-load, and at some point it became a struggle to motivate myself. It didn’t help that the life coach I had at the time had gone from abrasive to verbally abusive.
By this point I had long since discovered the joys of quality derivative literature. While looking for something to read, I stumbled upon Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, an excellent Harry Potter fan novel by Eliezer Yudkowsky. After I started reading it I made what was perhaps the most mortifyingly embarrassing mistake I ever made.
While reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I thought it made perfect sense. All my life I had wanted things to make sense, and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality seemed to be the most rational thing I had ever read or heard. Suffice to say, I succumbed to the Halo Effect and underwent a Happy Death Spiral about rationality, demonstrating that it is possible to be dogmatic about absolutely anything, regardless of what it is.
Looking back at that phase, it seems both frightening and humiliating. I mean, I start learning about rationality and what was my immediate reaction? To be dogmatic about it. I had almost become the exact kind of unreasonable person that I really didn’t want to be. Talk about embarrassing.
I realized that the resolution I had made in 11th grade wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to just say that I would think for myself and not believe things just because other people did. I hadn’t ever really known how to evaluate evidence before. Before I read HPMOR, I would just find out whatever self-consistent, sensible-sounding things subject-relevant experts said, and I would just believe them. But self-consistent, sensible-sounding things subject-relevant experts said weren’t always right. And I couldn’t rely on them to entirely replace my own thinking because they weren’t with me to form judgements and make decisions for me 24/7. I needed to learn how to think better.

University: Third Year
So I learned. I started reading a lot more about critical thinking and rationality and pretty much everything else that caught my interest. As my anxiety went down it became easier to think more clearly and logically more often.
However, the more I learned, the more commonly-held convictions turned out to be bullshit, and the stranger and darker the real world appeared.
The nonexistence of deities was just the tip of the iceberg.
The human mind and soul weren’t something mysterious and ephemeral. They were patterns of brain functioning. When a brain stops working, it can no longer store those patterns, and so that person ceases to exist. Therefore, there probably wasn’t an afterlife. And that was not a good thing.
Global Climate change wasn’t the only global catastrophic risk. It was just the only one most people were talking about or doing anything about. There were plenty of others such as nuclear war, meteor impact, misuse of or accidents with nanotechnology, global pandemics, and unaligned general artificial intelligence, just to name a few.
Everyone was at least a little crazy unless they learnt how not to be. Not just crazy, but predictably crazy. There was an entire subfield of psychology devoted to studying exactly how people were crazy, “Heuristics and Biases”.
Millions of people all over the world, many of whom hadn’t done anything to harm anyone else, were frequently abducted from their homes, stripped of their property and their livelihoods and stuck in cages. And most people considered this to be perfectly normal, acceptable, and ethically justifiable as “criminal justice”.
The majority of people in the world were living in poverty.
A human being died about every one or two seconds.
Most people who donated to charity just donated to those which made them feel good, rather than donating to charities that actually did more good.
I learned that real life is terrible for most people, and that I’m one of the very lucky few who it isn’t so terrible for.


And that’s how I went from being a stupid, crazy moron to being a relatively sane and smart person—a little effort, a lot of money and resources spent on me, and a fuckton of luck.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Strange Computer



This is a second person narrative essay that I wrote for my creative nonfiction class. It isn't actually nonfiction but the teacher let it pass for reasons that had to do with the ending, which I won't explain here because that would spoil it. This piece was heavily inspired by a scene from "Homestuck", an interactive webcomic by Andrew Hussie. Enjoy!



A Strange Computer
At the end of everything, when all civilization has ceased and the Sun is soon to burn out, you will stumble upon a mysterious and derelict underground base. In this base you will find a strange computer. On this strange computer there will be depicted a scene from your childhood. In the scene, your younger self will be doing or saying something stupid and crazy. Below the computer there will be a keyboard.
Realizing the remarkable similarities between this situation and a scene from Homestuck, one of your favorite interactive webcomics written by Andrew Hussie, you will begin typing on the keyboard, in the hopes that you will be able to guide your younger self to a better future if it is real, and not seeing the harm in trying if it is just a dream.
This will be a mistake. I will tell you that it will be a mistake. But you will not listen to me. You never have.
You will try to give your younger self helpful advice. He will not listen. He won’t even understand what you are trying to tell him. If you fill his mind with too much helpful advice, he will not know how to apply it and will just think that he is wise and profound.
Eventually you will turn on CAPS LOCK and start shouting into his mind as he sleeps, hoping desperately that he’ll get it. But while one sleeps, so does their capacity for reason. You could instead try shouting into his mind while he was awake, but you will choose not to because doing so would get him hauled off to the mental hospital.
He will not understand your pleas for him to listen to you, to be reasonable, to do what he must do to reach his future. He will be blind to all the obvious solutions you try to offer to him. He will have an excuse in advance for why they won’t work, and he will not even try them. And he will interpret your anger and frustration at his stupidity and irrationality as his own low opinion of himself. This will begin to tear his mind apart.
Finally, you will realize that you are taking entirely the wrong approach here. You will remember, guiltily, that when others have gotten angry and frustrated and started shouting at your younger self for being so foolish it would only make things worse. You will have made the same mistake that you promised yourself that you would never make.
And yet despite this promise, even your younger self castigated himself for his own foolish thoughts and acts for many years after the fact and continued to do so even as he continued to be foolish.
You have been shouting at and beating yourself up inside all your life. The only difference is that before you were mentally abusing yourself in person, but here you will be doing so through a computer keyboard.
Once you’ve managed to finally forgive yourself, you will begin to wonder about the nature of this strange computer. How does it work? Why does it show you your past in more visceral detail than you could possibly remember it? Perhaps, like the universe of Homestuck, you live in a simulated universe that contains itself? Perhaps you could change the focus of the computer monitor to view someone else’s past? Other people who you could subtly direct towards helping your younger self?
After trying that for a while, it occurs to you that maybe you could do this for other people to. You will soon find that this strange computer allows you to view anyone who has ever lived. You will wonder if perhaps you could try viewing anything in the past rather than just people, for there is no true distinction between living and nonliving material at the deepest “level” of reality. Everything was just quarks after all—or perhaps just a computer program, just a mathematical object.
And if you could view anything in the past, perhaps you can fast forward, see what your future holds? Perhaps this computer stores the whole Universe, or perhaps it is one of many servers storing part of the Universe on a network. But then, if you could locate all the computers on the network, does that mean that you could back-up the whole Universe onto external hard drives? That way you could recover any lost or corrupted data.
You will realize that it was foolish and irresponsible of you to randomly start typing on the keyboard of a strange computer in a derelict underground base in the middle of nowhere without actually knowing what you’re doing. You will be very glad that you did not accidentally destroy the Universe.
 You will then decide that your first priority is to assemble a team of competent and ethical computer programmers and other specialists. You will copy and paste the mind of the computer programmer you most admire into a separate file on your external hard drives, and he will advise you on what to do next, including what other minds to copy and paste into external hard drives and in what order.
The minds you copy and paste into your external hard drives will all be experts in their fields who will work together and come up with plans for you to follow. You will act as their hands, typing exactly what they tell you to type, and in doing so you will prevent the heat death of the Universe and bring everyone back to life.
And all humankind will live happily ever after.

And then you will wake up from the dream, remembering that real life isn’t that easy or fair. There will never be a random computer terminal lying around that would just happen to contain a perfect simulation of the Universe you live in. In real life, lost data is not always recoverable. There are no second chances. You cannot change the past. You have to get it right the first time, or not at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies", Some Introspecting on my Childhood, and a Cool Poem I Wrote

So I've been listening to the audio version of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" by Eliezer Yudkowsky. It's a really good book and I highly recommend it. The information in it is organized much better than it was in the original rationality sequences on lesswrong.com, and the examples it uses are more applicable to everyday life.

If you're looking to improve your own critical thinking and decision-making skills and to apply them to solving problems, or if you just notice that everyone around you is being ridiculous and stupid in predictable ways and you want to be better than that, then "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" will be right up your alley.


Also, I would like to note that if everyone around you is being ridiculous and stupid in predictable ways without realizing it, then the cognitive mistakes they are making are likely common and easy to make, in which case you could very well also be making those same mistakes without realizing it.


After learning about how to improve my own sanity for the past couple years, I have become suspicious that maybe sanity is never an inborn attribute, but rather a skill or set of skills that some people have an easier time learning than others. At the very least, everyone is at least a little crazy unless they learn how not to be.


And lest anyone think that I am being condescending and saying that I am oh so sane and that you all are crazy idiots or something, I will point out how crazy and stupid I have been for the vast majority of my life, and how even now I'm still not perfectly sane.


It might not seem like it now, but I was functionally quite dumb as a kid. Not just in the sense of being immature or inexperienced, but rather I suspect that I may have had a genuine case of mild mental retardation. And even if I didn't, my psychological issues made me so functionally stupid and crazy that there was no practical difference. Whether the underlying mechanism for that was an undersized cerebral cortex or merely a bunch of maladaptive neural networks that were sucking up most of my cognitive energy or something else entirely... I don't know for sure.


Nevertheless, I was the problem child, the moron, the idiot. People only said I was smart because I had glasses, liked to read and actually made an effort in class. So when I talk about rationality and how most people are crazy unless they learn how not to be, and how I've been learning to be saner than most other people are, I mean no offense and would strongly prefer that you do not take it as an insult.


Also while we're on the subject of how human beings in general are at least a little crazy unless they learn how not to be, I wrote a poem about exactly that. Hope you like it!




Look Again

Look! Out of the corner of your eye!

You just missed it

Look again! It’s right there!

You saw it, I know you did

Look! Why don’t you look?

You don’t believe me?

You don’t believe your own eyes, either

You ignore it

Hey, look! It’s still here! It’s not going away

“There’s nothing there,” you say.

For the love of crap, can’t you see? It is!

You look again

Your eyes rest briefly on it

They widen in horrified comprehension

And then they close.

“You’re crazy,” you say to me

You know you are lying

And yet you don’t know that you know

You ignore it

You don’t think of it

You don’t look

You don’t realize

If it were really important, you would have noticed it by now, right?

But you already have

If it were really important, you would remember it, right?

But you do remember

You say that I’m crazy

Take a deep, long look at yourself

If you think this poem isn’t about you


Look again.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Literary Trailer for an idea I had for a novel/movie/tv show




Darkness covers the world and the people flee in terror for their lives.

N: humans want heroes to be viable
heroes are useless
IV: Now I'm imagining real-world people drinking gasoline and shooting fireballs and flying.
NM: that would be a fun story
SV: Lol

A sickly old woman breathes her last, knowing there was nothing she could do.

SV: But anyways what would the mcguffins be?
NM: the nuke
IV: Refineries?
SV: Well maybe
But I mean, things of great power which can achieve great good or great evil depending on who is using them?

The suffering and demise of countless living kinds
Covers the ground where armies clash.
Tyrant mother nature cries out in pain
As she looks upon their bloodlust with smug satisfaction.

IV: I can see hypnotic artifacts being the mcguffin, if they'd work in such a way that'd let the holder dominate global politics.
SV: Nah
Hmm then again maybe nukes would be the mcguffins
IV:
"Unlimited destructive power!!!"
SV: That and the threat of it gives great bargaining power



The people cry out for help, for someone to save them.

SV: So yeah, nukes are the magical mcguffins
IV: I mean, they were developed by a secret, dedicated group of scientists in an attempt to gain an unstoppable weapon. That has shonen cult written all over it.
SV: I know right
KB: the nuclear bomb has a lot of interesting stories


But no one is coming.


SV: Oil is the mystical and very valuable magical substance that flows through the land and powers our constructs and our magic
IV: Yeah, but if oil is the magic of the world, radiation would be the 'magic of the heavens' which is incredibly useful but equally hard to harness.
SV: Wow. Real life really would make for a good shonen anime if you just changed the names of everything to sound more dramatic huh



So we’ll just have to save ourselves, then!


IV: The only question left is power scaling.
How are our shounen protagonists going to get super-powerful?
Martial art research grants?
That is, the ancient kung-fu of being scientific and getting funded for research.
SV: They go into the army and come back as veterans then go into politics
You know, the whole warrior comes back to lead his people thing
Although it also depends on the type of shonen protagonist


It won’t be easy. Human coordination is abysmal.
The only way to overcome that is by binding contracts and enforcing them.

IV: "Real life, but shounen, but like real-life!"
I find it amusing to think that a rational shounen-Earth would approximate real life.
NM: rat fics are very shonen
SV: I've actually kind of already been writing this
Although without other people's perspectives it's very hard to do
Its called "Earthlings: People of the Dawn"

But who could bind us who would enforce our own will upon ourselves
Rather than their own to which they are bound?
To do such a thing would require one to sacrifice their own feelings and desires
And to be wise enough to trick all of humanity into permanent submission to their rule.

KB: @IV but the Japanese were like shonen more than the American, AND that didn't help them win the war.
IV: Their islands weren't invaded, I don't belive they truly lost. Just surrendered after about two little bombs. (jk)
O: Yeah the Japanese lost because we dumped eldritch horrors on two of their cities
and not even to fight them, it was to impress the other guy
NM: japan
had their spirit broken
the emperor surrendered
the generals were ready
to keep fighting

A human could not accomplish such a thing.
It would require something truly selfless—the mind of an automaton.

IV: To be fair, America was already capable of destroying cities, especially with firebombing (making walls out of paper is particularly relevant here). It's just that they lost two cities to two bombs.
O: It was dick-waving
We didn't need to use the atomic bombs. We could've just
firebombed a couple more cities and had done with it. But nooooo, we had to
wave the damn things in Russia's face
.
"Ah yes, we alone have the secret of the weapon that will literally melt people to death from the inside out"
"This will end well"
But then again I am not the kind of person who would invent such weapons in the first place, and I am not the kind of person who would do well in international politics.

SV: Yeah neither am i
Still it does look like Dick waving so it probably was. But maybe there was more going on behind the scenes?
Maybe it was complicated Dick-waving


IV: It's more like Pandora's Box was opened because someone tripped over it.

But how can you trust it to enforce the will of humanity if it lacks a human heart?



KB: IIRC, we use the nuke because it was available
not about waving dicks
it wasn't like "well, what is the implication of inventing nukes..."
it was more like "save American lives. End the war faster."

NM:
didn't we have a president swap right before we used nukes?

KB: Truman replaced Roosevelt



If we can truly know and understand ourselves
Then any mind that’s wiser than we are could too
Even the mind of an automaton.



SV: Anyways speaking of shonen anime but real life!

NM: so ya
nukes are cthulhu
or close enough to it

SV: No they're just the magical mcguffins


IV: Can't they be both?

SV:
Cthulhu is either evolution or moloch

O:
Who says that the seven stones that when put together summon a second Eldritch horror don't count as mcguffins?
I say "second" because Moloch would be the first, probably.

SV: If the nukes are all put together they summon an eldritch horror called "nuclear war"

But beware! The automaton doesn’t have desires of its own.
Upon its creation, it will only do what you commanded
NOT what you intended to command.

IV: I find nukes more fitting for Cthulhu because Moloch and Evolution aren't things that can be invoked, but are rather byproducts of the nature of life and humanity.
And besides, Moloch is already a divine-tier-ish demon from Carthage.
No need to have Cthulhu as a middle manager.



SV: Moloch is shorthand for "bad coordination problems between humans and the terrible consequences thereof" and is derived from an SSC article



IV: I've read the article, and it talks about how the name Moloch refers to a Carthaginean demon.
Which the author chose to represent the phenomenon because of a loose connection that he seemed to like.

SV:
Well it's faster to say moloch then waiting for someone to read the SSC article


But what other choice do we have? We have to try!


PV: hey ya'll

ME: 'lo again.

PV: everybody having a nice night?

ME: We're starting a new vote soon, so no, not really.

US: I'm having a nice night, at least.


PV: another one?
jeez, lots of votes

US:
Probably I'm, like, full of vindictive glee at the thought of the server suffering through another vote.

ME:
Anytime something comes up the mods have a bad night of it.

BH:
haha

PV:
imma sleep okay
lemme know if we voted on a ritual sacrifice or some shit



O' People of the Dawn
Will you rise to the morning Sun?
Or will you fall back to the mud whence you came?






Earthlings
People of the Dawn

(Coming soon)