Monday, January 31, 2011

Indian Superman

Here we see Superman with Spider Woman flying!
I came across a funny, yet charming Bollywood movie, "Dariya Dil". This is also known as "Indian Superman". It is a Bollywood rip off (they stole many of the special effects scenes directly from the Hollywood version which is illegal LOL) of the popular Christopher Reeve "Superman" film. Here's a good review of the film on Stomp Tokyo. I would like to see the entire movie, but so far have only seen bits and pieces on YouTube. If you'd like to watch a scene of them flying and singing a nice song download this. (37 MB)

cute Farmville bug

Farmville made my heart castle HUGE!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

LinkedIn Connections Map

Pretty cool new feature from LinkedIn lets you visualize your connections and their relationships to you. Here is mine:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Islam needs a major reformation

Islamic terrorists do not exist in a vacuum. They get material support in myriad ways from so-called moderates. This is indisputable fact which global intelligence agencies all confirm.

There are Islamic leaders with widespread support across multiple nations. That is the popular excuse to blame all actions of Jihadists on oppressive regimes and it is completely false. The radical theology is coming from the religious leaders (imam, sheik, ayatollah, mullah), the preachers fomenting hatred and violence in their mosques, the madrasah (religious schools) indoctrinating young people with a violent and apocalyptic vision of Islam which legitimizes the use of violence in a global campaign calling on all the ummah (religious faithful) to re-establish the Caliphate and subjugate all those who refuse to accept Islam. This is given tacit approval by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who every week frequent these schools and churches, who give material support to terrorists (even if it is only financial that is a huge issue), who support radical forms of media (internet, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio), etc. Yes there are corrupt and oppressive regimes but in some cases these regimes are a bulwark against Islamist and Jihadist forces that would seek to take power. Do you really want the Taliban controlling Pakistan's nuclear weapons? Think about it. The Shah was bad, but you cannot say he is why the Islamic Revolution took place and flourished. It was because of Islam. People who supported his Islamic agenda supported him and were foolishly hoping for a better life. Now virtually all educated people in Iran want to get rid of this oppressive Islamic regime.

DO YOU LIKE FRIED CHICKEN??!!!!!!!11111111111

DO YOU LIKE FRIED CHICKEN??!!!!!!!11111111111
Answer here

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gooble! Gobble!

I purchased a cool turkey costume in Farmville for 100,000 coins.


The Mathematics of Netrek


About the authors

Dan Eastwood is a biostatistician at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has been playing netrek sporadically for about 3 years.

Zachary Uram studied physics at Carnegie Mellon University and now works in the IT field. He's been playing netrek near continuously (only a 1 year hiatus) since 1994. He  has played in numerous clue games (bronco and hockey) and countless pickup games. Zach has played all the netrek variants: bronco (classic netrek), hockey, sturgeon, chaos and paradise. He knew Terrance Chang and played physically (on the console!) on the very first bronco server: CMU netrek teams routinely won world championship titles and had some of the greatest netrek players of all time such as Bert Enderton and Erik Lauer. Their starbasing skills and Erik's general cluefulness and skill in directing a netrek team are legendary.



In November, 2008, Dan wrote a review of Netrek, a simple online multiplayer game (and the first!) where the best dynamics of the game far exceed the apparent simplicity of the game itself. There is an important lesson Dan and Zach spent much of their Thanksgiving 2008 vacations thinking about it. This post is not to be a complete analysis by any means, but hopefully, it will serve to introduce a number of topics we hope to discuss in greater detail somewhere down the line. There are three basic aspects of Netrek that we want to describe: Player versus Player, Team versus Team, and Resource Allocation.


Player versus Player

One-on-one, ship-to-ship combat (dogfighting) is perhaps the most basic component of Netrek. Players combat each other with phasers (phased energy pulse beam - think lasers) and photon torpedoes, trying to inflict enough damage to destroy the other ship first. If a player and his opponent both kill each other in their dogfight they are said to have "mutualed" each other. There is an aspect of Point Objective Games here, with the added complexity that shields regenerate and ships repair. This complexity aside, it comes down to a contest of skill between players, rather like a Chess match. Chess has a ratings system, Elo Scoring, which is used to describe the past performance of a player, and (ideally) has some usefulness in predicting the winner of a match between two players who have never met before. Elo scoring uses a scale where a 200 point difference between player ratings is interpreted as a 75% chance that the player with the higher rating will win (assuming the ratings accurately represent player skill). Chess is considered to be a game, with a very great range or many levels of skill between the worst and best players, and this deepness can be measured (in part) by the range in scores. Beginning Chess players might have a rating of 800-1000 points, while the World Championship Chess players have ratings of 2500 or more (Go has even greater depth by this measure). Netrek also has considerable depth on player skill, and it would be interesting if this sort of ratings system could be implemented to measure it. The netrek server itself has a rating system it uses to track player rankings. In order to advance from a lower rank to a higher rank (the lowest rank in netrek is Ensign and the highest is Admiral) a player must meet certain conditions:
  • Minimum Defense rating
  • Minimum Hours played
  • DI rating (Damage Inflicted) - a rough metric based on how much bombing a player has done, how many players carrying armies they killed (dooshed), time spent in a starbase, plus how many planets they took. It is interesting to note that this rating metric is time dependent. The faster you inflict damage on opposing teams the faster your DI advances. The underlying server code actually uses what amounts to a derivative to track this.
  • [Overall] Rating = Offense + Bombing + Planets ratings combined.
    Mathematics based measurements of player skill in games is one of those topics we intend to discuss at greater length in future posts.


    Team versus Team

    This is where the game of Netrek really shines. And if we could measure the skill of a netrek team with a sort of Elo score in the same way we might measure individual skill, we're pretty sure the depth of Netrek would approach that of Chess. Tournament mode (T-mode) play in Netrek has an underlying mathematical structure that is actually fairly simple. We want to deconstruct the games and point out where the basic mathematics applies to the team games. Suppose we have the following simple game: 20 Coins are laid out on a table with 10 heads and 10 tails. Two players, one represented by heads and the other by tails, each turn both players choose one coin and flip it, with the object of making all the coins either heads or tails (with 50/50 chance). Obviously the heads-player will select any coin showing tails and flip it, trying to get it to come up heads, and the tails player will do the opposite. This game is essentially a discrete random walk, and with every turn (one flip for each player) there is a 25% change a player will gain a coin, 25% chance they will lose a coin, and a 50% chance that things stay the same. This is in concept very close to a completely random T-mode Netrek game. (This might also be stated as a Markov chain.) This is in concept impossible to actually win, either by Genocide (all planets) or Timer (all but three planets for ~20 minutes). Therefore, most wins probably occur in unbalanced games. There have been experiments with different types of scoring systems in netrek clue games. One such experiment was the WNL (World Netrek League) which used continuous scoring (cscore) where there was an incentive to take planets often. A final weighted score which factored in how fast a team took (and retook) planets determined the winner if it was an otherwise close game and no team had more than 2 planets gained over the opposing team. The first and longest netrek league was the INL (International Netrek League). Due to a decline in the playerbase there have not been INL games since 2003. There have been several draft leagues and there are still bi-monthly clue games. A purely random game like this could go on for quite some time (it might even be infinite), but suppose there were some element of skill involved so that one player (lets say heads) is a little bit more likely to get the desired result than the other. So now maybe each turn there is a 35% chance the heads-player will gain one coin, a 20% chance the tails-player will lose one coin, and a 45% chance that things stay the same. Out of ever 20 turns we would expect that heads would gain 7 coins (35% of 20) while losing 4 (20% of 20) for a net gain of 3 coins. We should expect the heads player will win in 67 turns, on average. Netrek takes this same mathematical structure and adds a lot to it (players of varying skill, a variety of ships and planets, etc.). I wonder if it is possible to measure the “team playing” skill of players in the same way as Elo scoring might be used to measure the individual dogfighting skills of players? This would be rather complicated, and likely impractical, but it is interesting to think about.


    Resource Allocation

    This is the final aspect we want to write about today, and the part that leads to the wonderful complexity of team play in Netrek (It will also be the least mathematical discussion). Resources in this game are not equal; The team with more planets has greater potential to gather armies and try to take planets. More planets than players mean that is it not possible to defend every planet equally. Players are not equally skilled, but have varying levels of ability at individual and team play. Finally, controlling a greater number of planets increases the distance the leading team must travel to front-line-combat, and players are out of position for a longer period of time (though Starbases help). This last part has an effect not seen in most games; the closer one team is to winning (in an otherwise balanced game) the harder it is to successfully take more planes, because the losing side can respond to defend planets much more quickly - and it tends to make the game self-balancing. In "clue" games with a fairly equal distribution of clued players on each side an outright victory is rare, and most games are given a set time limit, and the team in control of the most planets at the end of time is declared the winner. This is entirely consistent with Netrek being a self-balancing game. One common complaint new players make is how hard it is to actually win a T-mode game. There are many reasons for this, certainly more than we have discussed, but we would propose the following: In a really balanced game with equally skilled players on each side, it may be nearly impossible to actually win, either by Genocide (all planets) or Timer (all but three planets for ~20 minutes). Therefore, most wins probably occur in unbalanced games. 


    Some Thoughts

    Netrek offers a very rich strategic game environment which can leverage teamwork and see it realized at a high level in constantly shifting game circumstances. Dogfighting provides a fun tactical experience and we should remember that dogfighting is the essence of netrek. To take a planet you must first get kills, to defend a carrier you must engage an ogger, to destroy a starbase you must ogg it, to defend a planet you must engage a carrier and his escorts. Space control is another aspect of netrek which can be analyzed mathematically. There is a correlation between the control of space and the rates at which planets are lost and gained. It would be cool to construct a phase space of the netrek universe consisting of all known observables and see evolution of the space through time. Also the highly fluid nature of planet takes (taking enemy planets) and their close dependence on dogfighting, space control, Clue Rating and timing makes netrek an excellent candidate for Bayesian statistical methods. One could construct a Bayesian inference engine to generate a probability model that guides the time evolution of our netrek phase space. Here is an interesting research paper, "Multiple Roles, Multiple Teams, Dynamic Environment: Autonomous Netrek Agents", by Marcus J. Huber and Tedd Hadley which explores autonomous agents in netrek. It should be noted that netrek has bots (autonomous agents) which the server controls and while they do not possess higher order netrek clueful knowledge they have instantaneous reaction time and could be programmed to coordinate with each other in perfect unison. This would be highly effective in the area of base ogging (ships teaming up to attack an enemy starbase). It would be nice to see a netrek expert system with a rich decision matrix and advanced AI (artificial intelligence) heuristics matched against a team of the best netrek players. This echoes the man versus machine battles such as Gary Kasparov versus Deep Blue - the IBM chess supercomputer. This could be another area of research so academia take note: netrek has much to offer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'm a teetotaler!

No thanks! I don't like the bitter taste of alcohol. And remember, if a Christian imbibes it must be only if the following two conditions hold:

  1. One drinks in moderation (never drunk).
  2. You don't drink around a weaker brother if it will cause him to stumble.

Wild Ones

Besides Farmville, the other Flash-based Facebook game I love playing is Wild Ones:

My character is a rabbit and recently I acquired the coveted samurai outfit which will give me -15% damage reduction!

As you can see, I have a pet reindeer, he picks up health and gift boxes for me :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Good News

"Good News"

In the Garden
Man did Fall

Lost to Sin
Satan cast a black pall

Separated from God
So holy and righteous

Our folly of pride
Desiring and covetous

The seduction of knowledge
And self-sovereignty

Because of this
We did flee

Earth twas covered
In gloom and despair

Brother killed brother
Without a care

Mercy was shown
A covenant made

Keeping the law
Observances were paid

Man was still far
From intimacy once known

When we talked with God
In Paradise alone

Lost sheep all
Empty and incomplete

Scripture foretold
The Messiah we could meet

He came because of love
On a cold autumn night

Straw for bedding
As a star kept light

This was the One
Who would set us free

The Son of God
Incarnate deity

Christ alone could do
What we could not

To pay the heavy price
Which sin hath wrought

There is a balance
Which comes due

For every sin
And the goodness we eschew

Filthy are we
In God's holy sight

But Jesus would die
To make things right

Tortured, mocked, falsely judged
The God-Man overcame all

We each contributed
Because of the Fall

Sentenced to death
To hang on a Cross

How could this be
Such a loss

Christ would endure all
He knew this would be

Suffering this pain
For our wretched iniquity

At Calvary
Hung our dear Lord

This battle not won
By might or sword

His life so precious
And free of all sin

A ransom for us
A propitiation

"It is finished!"
Jesus said

And gave up His Spirit
The King of Kings dead

The sky darkened
Storms began to rage

But thanks to grace
Man escaped his dank cage

For on the third day
As Christ laid in rest

Our victory was already won
He passed every test

The grave could not hold
Our Savior for long

He was resurrected
As angels made song

A transcendent event
A statement for all time

It cannot be fathomed
By reason or rhyme

This miracle happened
And Christ was reborn

Look at His head
The marks of the thorn

How glorious this day
It is not a dream

Our dear Jesus lives
And reigns supreme

He defeated Death
And sin for every age

Our name can be written
In that eternal page

This gift of salvation
Is open to all

Who reach out in faith
And answer the call

No longer must we fear
Not trapped in time-space

If only we submit
And accept grace

Jesus loves you
And knocks on your door

Answer it now
Whether rich or poor

Intellect cannot save us
Nor doing a good deed

But mountains can be moved
With a faith seed

Confess Christ as Lord
Cast out doubt and fear

This greatest of miracles
Draws near

In Him place your trust
Believe with all heart

He shall never forsake you
Nor depart

Receive the Holy Ghost
A comforter for all time

You are now born again
A new life sublime

Tell this Good News
To friend and foe

Cherish it
And let the Gospel grow

  -- Zachary Uram (c) 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Terrible Parenting

My reaction to this arrogant, narcissistic, superficial piece in the WSJ by Amy Chua, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior".

Amy Chua you are a very poor journalist and a failure as a mother in my view. The article is ridiculously biased and ones-sided as it portrays the stern Chinese parenting as GOOD and the Western parenting as BAD. The author needs a reality check on leaving personal/cultural biases at the door. What you get from this is "Chinese mothers awesome! Western mothers need to catch up." I would much rather have a child that was not as successful by external measures if they were a loving complete sensitive person. This is the vile materialist philosophy applied to parenting. It really upset me to see what you've done to your kids. Your behavior was infantile and was outright child abuse! Sadly Amy has bought into the most superficial sort of parenting, with external measures as the SOLE criteria for success. This sort of parenting is morally empty and philosophically shallow. It mirrors the amoral capitalist materialist philosophy sadly so prevalent in China now. Thank God I was blessed with loving parents who raised me in the ways of the Lord and showed me true love and nurtured my intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth in very positive and healthy ways! I didn't master the piano by age 12 or graduate college at age 15 so I must be an abysmal failure in Ms. Chua's eyes! Oh the horror. Another thing Amy they are very few bona fide geniuses in math or music and it has much more to do with genetics than environment.

PS: Another thing which is particularly galling is the fact that Ms. Hua seems so perfectly oblivious to just how dysfunctional and unhealthy her model of parenting is. And she is shamelessly self-promoting her new book on the subject. The title should be changed to something more apropos, such as, "A case study in how NOT to parent!"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Duel at Dawn II

swords raised
senses heightened
tempered minds
command cold steel
glimmering in dawn's light
sharpened by intention
the warrior's code
restricts and defines
a final test
a struggle for honor
what is lost
in winning
what is won
in losing
every move calculated
a parry for a thrust
a counter for each form
this deadly calculus
plays out
all the training
dedication and sacrifice
reduced, refined
to one last move
now it comes
the air sings
as the blades dance
to a harmony
only two can hear
precision coupled
with intensity
reality drops away
only dazzling swordplay
suspended in time
a lone cherry blossom falls
as the final stroke connects
blood sprays
soaring into the sky
the samurai's soul
not broken
a beautiful match!

-- Zachary Uram, (c) 2011

Ratings and Recommendations by outbrain