R.I.P. Challenger Crew #Challenger #SpaceShuttle

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Two weeks ago to the day, I wrote about a local celebrity’s death that probably had one of the biggest impacts on the DC area.

As I’ve written before, certain moments in history define a decade, such as John F. Kennedy getting shot and 9-11. At the moment this post publishes, it will be the 36th anniversary of just such a moment for my generation, but on a national scale: The space shuttle Challenger exploding shortly after takeoff.

NASA’s article from last year.

Their stories.

R.I.P.

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Sociological Watch: Don’t Look Up @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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Netflix released a film called Don’t Look Up. The story employs tons of exaggeration in addressing how people resist bad news that affects their way of life, though it’s clearly referencing once issue specifically too heavy for this goofy blog. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect to the script that seems to be lost on many people.

As you may know, I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), as well as a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law (Go . . . Scarlet Hawks?). Both fields suffer from the same disease: We don’t know how to communicate well with non-experts. As issues become more complex, they become not only harder to grasp for the uninformed, but also, to be blunt, more boring. This renders the task of communication herculean.

Take for example my first and second RPG copyright posts, which addressed a specific topic. As I’ve explained, my analytics tell me that the first post received 18,952 hits to date (as of 12/30/2021). The second post? Only 1,158. The second post is 2/3 of the argument. That means that people read the first post and then 94% of them gave up (note: this is bad math), missing out on most of what I was trying to say. This was so even though the first post included a caveat that I was nowhere near finished with my argument.

Would it have been better for me to have made a shorter, easier-to-digest, and more direct argument? I don’t think so Despite my disclaimer at the end of the first post, I had a non-negligible number people viciously (i.e., with personal insults) criticizing my first post for making incomplete arguments. These were apologists of WotC (and perhaps RPGs in general) that just didn’t like the consequences of what I was saying, so they were going to criticize me anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t be publishing the second post for a week, that gave them one week to discredit me. I’m not sure if it worked. Did people not read the second post because of a successful campaign to stop it, or did people just get bored? I suspect it’s far more the latter, but both are important phenomena for this discussion, and in other situations, the balance may be different. By the way, I reread the second post while writing this one, and even my eyes were glazing over.

This leads us to science. Scientists run into the same problem, but probably even worse because of the math inherent in their work. As a physics student, I studied areas of math that many people haven’t even heard of, and many of the issues scientists face today can only be understood in terms of math. Scientists try to simplify using analogies, but analogies by their nature will always be incomplete, giving each critic an opening to cast doubt on the science. (“How can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive? This guy’s a quack!”)

Politically connected scientists face additional pressure. Again, I don’t want to get caught up in politics here, so I’ll just say that many scientists depend on financing from politicians, and politicians need to keep their bases happy. When the truth is ugly, very few people want to hear it, and this cascades down to the scientists who must control the tone and content of their statements.

Scientists also face their own social inadequacies. I can’t speak to the modern generation, but going through the physics program, I can assure you that there wasn’t a lot of social skill on display. The stereotypes are valid. Nerds are generally not social butterflies. That makes it difficult for us to communicate even if we’re discussing the price of apples.

Don’t Look Up did a great job of showcasing this difficulty. Going back to attorneys, in legal writing we’re taught to start each paragraph or section with the conclusion, and then back it up with supporting arguments. The scientists in Don’t Look Up should have used that technique. Notice in the talk show scenes how long it took the scientists to make their point. They presented their supporting arguments first. Why? Because they knew some asshole was waiting in the wings to say, “That’s an assertion without an argument! He’s not backing it up!” Well, yeah, not yet. Let them finish. But by failing to start with the statement (spoiler alert!), “A planet-killing asteroid is coming to Earth in six months,” it gave the talk-show hosts the opportunity to interrupt and turn the interview into a farce. By the time the conclusion was stated, it made the scientists look like lunatics to the few people that were still paying attention.

Sometimes you need to lead with the conclusion, and sometimes you need to lead with the supporting material. It’s often difficult to tell those two situations apart, but when your audience is the entire world, maybe you should just get to the point.

Even this post was probably too long.

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Good Watch: The Mind Explained on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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A while back, I talked about Brain Games on Disney+. It’s a great show, but there’s so much science behind how our brains work that close to 10 seasons can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Netflix’s The Mind Explained is a much more focused show — only two seasons so far — that’s a more manageable discussion of anxiety, focus, memory, and other aspects of neuroscience. The human brain is weird (some more than others), and this show does a good job of explaining that. It also targeted a specific issue that hits home for me. You may have a similar experience.

If you watch the episode on focus, maybe you can handle Brain Games. 🙂

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Tiamutt #science #biology #gaming #DnD #ADnD #Tiamat

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s from a Facebook D&D group I frequent. Here’s what was shared (on this post if you can see it):

I know. This blog hasn’t been kind to canines (too many examples to count). But whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, everyone likes both kittens and puppies, and I’m no exception, so no backhanded compliments on this post.

Everyone’s reaction to this was some variation of “It’s a hydra!” Have they never heard of taxonomy? Reptiles aren’t even in the same class as canines. No, this is its own thing, and its name is Tiamutt, lord of all canines. Always check with me before classifying D&D monsters. I’m apparently much better at it than you guys.

Now someone stat that shit!

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to, nor endorsed, the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Full Circle! #MeWe

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I had some more fun with a spammer a few weeks ago.

“She” is sorry.
I subtly flip the switch on “her” and don’t answer her question as if I’m the spammer not paying attention.

It’s amazing that they don’t figure things out even when I bluntly reference spammers.

Full circle!

The last two times this happened, I ended it after my first response. They were getting smarter, so it wasn’t any fun.

I’m still enjoying MeWe.

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The Ixitxachitl Lich #science #biology #gaming #DnD #ADnD #ixitxachitl

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s (loosely) using science to imagine a D&D creature.

Funny story. I never thought I’d ever be able to spell ixitxachitl, and only recently did it stick in my brain. Now I can spell it at will. Small victories, huh?

Now, someone stat this thing.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to, nor endorsed, the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

The Old Dangling a Cord from a Helicopter Trick #science #physics

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s some science from one of my favorite YouTube channels.

For the record, I got the first and third ones correct.

Science!

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to, nor endorsed, the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Character Aging in First Edition AD&D #ADnD #DnD #RPG #biology

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I’m going to take you down the same rabbit hole my mind entered while gradually waking up one recent morning. Most (if not all) gamers have encountered those online quizzes that tell you what D&D class you are in real life. I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m probably best characterized as a monk. I’ve trained a lot in the martial arts, starting when I was 14 (almost four decades ago), and every online alignment test has pegged me as lawful good or lawful neutral (very heavy on law). All of that checks out, which is unsurprising considering I’m answering the questions about myself (which means my biases must creep in). I feel like I might be a bad monk because I wouldn’t consider my Wisdom score my maximum, but that’s my skill set. Of course, you have to suspend some disbelief here either way. We’re translating classes into a real world that doesn’t enjoy the effects of magic.

But even considering that translation, what concerned me the most is that, while my knowledge of that hobby continues to improve, my body can’t keep up. I’m old, and that’s no small matter. Everything is always injured. Usually, it’s just a strain or something like that, but at times I’ve had to take weeks off to recover, even having had my first surgery ever at age 51 a couple years ago.

Aging in 1e

All of that got me thinking about how much I like the aging rules from page 13 of the 1e DMG, but not the aging rules from page 12. On the one hand, I like the idea that characters’ ability scores change as they age. It’s yet another tool that promotes immersion in the game world, and anyone who’s read this blog knows how much I prefer that play style. On the other hand, I don’t like that age is determined randomly. These two positions create a tension. Players can game the system, setting, for example, a cleric as age, mature, to boost Strength and Wisdom by 1 with no downside. In fact, other than a magic user or illusionist who’d likely go with middle aged, what character wouldn’t benefit from that?

If the DM has draconian character creation guidelines (e.g., 3d6 assigned in order, or even slightly better ones), the characters are sometimes going to have some terrible scores, and if the scores can’t be assigned out of order, perhaps scores that prohibit playing the class the player wants to play. In such a situation, gaming the system may make an unplayable character playable, so it’s not a bad thing after all. However, in my game world, the characters will roll 4d6 dropping the lowest, and assigning in whatever order they want, so the danger of overpowered characters is greater.

Because I don’t want their ages rolled randomly, I’ll probably require that the scores as rolled stay as they are, but perhaps create my own schedule of ability score changes due to aging. I’ve noticed that imbalance in minor things like this often go unnoticed by game designers, resulting in design elements with either a benefit or a drawback, but not both (c.f., the 4e Invoker’s own powers always harming itself without any extra harm delivered to its target). No matter what I do, I’ll keep this 1e DMG rule on page 13: “The only ability which may exceed 18 due to age effects (unless age restricts this) is wisdom.”

A few days after writing this post, MerricB tweeted something relevant:

Which I’m only now publishing. I’m way ahead of schedule.

I don’t have any problem with optimism, but this is a game system, so gains in Wisdom should be accompanied by losses elsewhere, even if they make just as little sense as a rule.

Who says I don’t have an 18 Constitution?

If you’ve had a different experience from what I suggest here, please share your thoughts.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)