Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sweaters and Seizing the Moment

A few months ago, holes started to appear in the elbows of my favorite sweater, the navy blue wool that's kept me warm since high school. It was only a matter of time until the holes became more substantial than the sweater itself. I tried learning how to knit a replacement, but after making a simple hat, it was clear that knitting a good sweater is a lot easier said than done-- by the time I had enough practice, I would be back in the Georgia summer.

Fortunately, there was a shopping centre nearby with a reasonably-priced clothing store. They had shelves of sweaters in every color, but I kept putting off the purchase, thinking that tomorrow would be more convenient than today. In January, the shopping centre closed and the clothing store moved to a smaller location nearby. I didn't think anything of it, but when my old sweater finally bit the dust and I commited to a shopping trip, I found that the new location only stocked three colors of sweater. It was a tragedy.

It wouldn't be the end of the world, of course, to have a sky blue, teal, or olive green sweater, but it made me think of all the other things I could miss by putting them off until they're no longer an option. Over the next few months, I'm trying to do things in the today rather than waiting for the tomorrow. There may be some conflict inherent in that sentence, but at least I'm not writing this tomorrow.

I did eventually get a new navy blue sweater-- better today than tomorrow, but better late than never, also.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Civilization 5 Multiplayer

In the picture above, the Romans (purple) and the Aztecs (all I can think of is guava-colored) have attacked Poland (red), capturing the cities of Lodz and Wroclaw, respectively. The Polish army is coming up from the south, so while the Roman army attempts to reinforce Wroclaw with legions, the Aztecs set the city ablaze, an absolute measure to prevent the Polish from recapturing it.

This exciting episode occurred in 260 AD in a multiplayer game of Civilization V. I've greatly enjoyed maneuvering empires through history (or something distantly related to history) in the Civilization series, but one of the least appealing aspects of Civ V is the not-so-good AI. Computer-controlled civilizations tend to be predictable and incompetent, and higher difficulty levels give computer civilizations more resources, not more skill. Today, for the first time, I decided to try playing Civilization with strangers on the internet to see if it was any more exciting.

The scenario above happened about fifteen minutes into my first game. Civilizations had been randomly selected and I was the Romans. Early in the game, Poland settled a city (Lodz) very near to Rome in a spot my settlers had been heading for, which was annoying, to say the least. I wasn't the only one miffed by Poland's prolific settling: within minutes, the Aztec player sent me a message asking if I wanted to help him take Poland down a notch or two. It was only after I agreed to this sneaky alliance that I noticed another message in my inbox, from Poland. Poland was apologizing for settling my spot (he hadn't seen that I was so close) and even offered me gold as compensation. Unfortunately for Poland, I had already committed to the sneak attack, so I turned down the gold (I didn't want to feel too guilty) and told Poland that everything was okay.

Over the next several turns, the Aztecs and I built up armies and shared intel and resources-- I sent the Aztecs sugar to keep up happiness and the Aztecs sent me iron to build more legions. The Aztec player asked where I was from in real life, and I said Canada (it's one of those days). He said he was from Poland. As our in-game alliance grew, so did Poland's power. At one point, the Polish player asked me if I was building an army. I said that it was in my Roman nature to build armies. After that, I was sure to hide my legions from the view of Polish scouts so that he wouldn't know exactly how large my army had gotten.

On turn 77, the Aztecs and I both declared war on Poland-- Aztec forces attacked Wroclaw from the north and Roman legions came at Lodz from the south and east. The ambush was perfect-- Poland's entire army was off to the southwest in a war with a computer-controlled city-state. All of this leads to the screenshot above, and the meeting of three armies around the burning city of Wroclaw.

As all this writing suggests, I really enjoyed the multiplayer experience-- having human players makes every aspect of the game, from diplomacy to exploration to war, more exciting. Unfortunately, there are also some downsides; right after the Romano-Aztec attack on Poland, two other players (the Zulu and China) crashed out of the game and weren't able to reconnect, so we decided to start over. Still, I had a better time in that 20 minutes of multiplayer than I did in the last several hours I've played against computer players.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Raffles for Research

Part of being a college student is being the target of many emails about surveys, studies, and other students' psychology projects. In general, I suppose, it's easier to get college students to participate in a research study than a more representative sample of the human race.

Imagine the scene: you have access to the student mailing list and your study about how carbonated drinks affect concentration is all ready to go. Out of the hundreds or even thousands of students who will get an email, how do you get twenty or fifty to show up? If you have a lot of friends, you could ask them personally, but "n = my friends" would likely not go well when defending your thesis.

The answer, of course, is incentives, and money is the most effective (or Amazon gift cards, which are essentially money at this point). The larger the incentive, the more representative of the population your subjects will be-- if you're asking for volunteers, you will be studying people who like to volunteer for things, but if you offer $100 per hour, you will be studying a much wider variety of people.

The problem, then, is that research funding is limited. One common work-around is entering participants into a raffle (for an iPad, for example) instead of paying each participant individually. Whenever I see that the incentive for research is a raffle, I assume that it's less expensive for the researchers than paying people individually. I'm not generally optimistic about my chances of winning a raffle, so I usually just ignore any studies that leave most participants empty-handed.

I recently got an email about a psychology study with both fixed pay (five pounds for half an hour) and a raffle for prizes of up to fifty pounds. Usually, I would consider this a good deal, but the study involves completing speed and accuracy tasks while receiving "mildly painful electric shocks". I suppose you could luck out and be in the control group, but I don't need five pounds quite enough to take that chance.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Headache Medication

There's a sequence of steps I follow to get rid of headaches, and while it may not be the best approach, I've never had a headache that didn't eventually go away. If step 1 doesn't work, I go on to step 2, and so on. The steps are:

1. Drink something-- maybe the headache is caused by lack of water.
2. Eat something-- maybe the headache is caused by lack of food. This often happens on days I find something to do that's more interesting than meals.
3. Try to sleep-- if I wake up and still have a headache, I'm probably just sick.
4. Try to sleep with a damp cloth over my eyes-- I don't know what this does, but it's what my parents taught me and it seems to work.

I would assume that step 5 is to find some painkillers, but I just finished with step 4 a few minutes ago and I don't have a headache anymore.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reading Railroad

During my year in the UK, I've been going through a checklist of sorts of English experiences I wanted to have. Most of these experiences are from Chariots of Fire: wearing gowns, talking to porters, and so on. Some are from Harry Potter: eating at long wooden tables, wearing gowns, and so on. I thought that my experience on trains to and from the town of Reading counted as a Monopoly reference, but apparently Monopoly's Reading Railroad refers to a company in Pennsylvania.

I had brought a book to read on the Reading railroad, but I ended up staring out the window for most of my journey, sometimes in a crowded coach and sometimes with lots of room to stretch out. I wasn't always sure that I was on the right train, but all the connections ended up working out according to the schedule I had written down on the back of a receipt. The train stations along the way were mostly quiet and the train schedule was helpfully displayed on signs on each platform. Overall, it was a good experience, and I didn't even have to pay $50 (or $200, in the case of a monopoly).