Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

Thanks, Shamus!

February 20, 2019

So, Shamus Young made two posts talking about Alpha Star’s attempts to create an AI that can play Starcraft II, and how it managed to beat human players and then where a human player exploited a tendency in it to beat it. There was a lot of discussions about that in the comments, and that made me want to do AI again after it being a … few years since my last attempt. And, of course, I clearly have lots of time to spare and no other projects that I want to look at that I could be doing instead of that. Thanks, Shamus!

Anyway, I went out and bought some books on the subject, two of which are detailed books about how to do AI in general and how to do Deep Learning in Python (the last is a technical book on Deep Learning that I would have already started reading except that it starts with Linear Algebra, which is not something I want to review while watching curling …). So I have that to get to, but in pondering it and reading the comments another idea percolated in me.

The AI there focuses a lot on neural nets, as far as I can tell. Now, neural nets have been around for ages, and have waxed and waned in their popularity for AI due to their rather well-known weaknesses (I’ll talk more about that in general in a later post). But one thing that kept coming up, especially when the exploit was revealed was “Can’t you just explain to it or make a rule in it to deal with that exploit?” And the answer is that you can’t really do that with neural nets, because they don’t explicitly encode rules and don’t really have an “Explain this to me” interface. What you can do is train them on various training sets until they get the right answers, and what often makes them appealing is that they can come to right answers that you can’t figure out the reasoning behind, which makes them look smarter even though they can’t figure out the reasoning behind them either. So, perhaps, they can be very intuitive but they cannot learn by someone carefully explaining the situation to them.

But inference engines, in theory, can.

There’s also a potential issue with using a game like Starcraft II for this, because as people have pointed out the intelligent parts of it — the strategy — can get swamped by simple speed of movement or, in the vernacular, “clicking”. As is the case in curling, the best strategy in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t make the shots, and in this case while you’re working out that grand strategy someone who builds units faster and maneuvers them better will wipe you out. A Zerg rush isn’t a particularly good strategy, but if you build them fast enough and can adjust their attack faster than your opponent can you might win, even if your opponent is a better strategist than you are. In short, Starcraft II privileges tactical reasoning over broad strategic reasoning, and while tactical reasoning is important — and arguably even more so in an actual battlefield situation — broad strategic reasoning seems more intelligent … especially when some of those tactical considerations are just how quickly you can get orders to your units.

So what we’d want, if we really wanted intelligence, is a game where you have lots of time to think about it and reason out situations. There’s a reason that chess is or at least was the paradigm for artificial intelligence (with Go recently making waves). But that game can be solved by look-ahead algorithms, and look-ahead algorithms are a form of reasoning that humans can really use because we just can’t remember that much (although it has been said that chess grandmasters do, in fact, employ a greater look-ahead strategy than most people are capable of. And now I want to start playing chess again and learning how to play it better, in my obviously copious spare time). There’s also an issue that it and Go are fairly static games (as far as I can tell because I’m not a Go expert) and so things proceed pretty orderly from move to move, and so aren’t very chaotic or diverse.

Which got me thinking about the board games I have that have chaotic or random elements to them, like Battlestar Galactica or Arkham Horror. These games let you develop grand strategies, but are generally random enough that those grand strategies won’t necessarily work and you have to adjust on the fly to new situations. They’re also games that have set rules and strategies that you can explain to someone … or to an AI. So my general musings led me to a desire to build an inference engine type system that could play one of those sorts of games but that I could explain what the system did wrong to it, and see how things go. Ideally, I could have multiple agents running and explain more or less to them and see how they work out. But the main components are games where you have set overall strategies that the agents can start with, and yet the agent also has to react to situations that call for deviations, and most importantly will try to predict the actions of other players so that it can hopefully learn to adjust that when they don’t do what is expected.

Now, other than picking a game to try to implement this way — Battlestar Galactica’s traitor mechanism is a bit much to start with, while Arkham Horror being co-operative means that you don’t have to predict other players much — the problem for me is that, well, I’m pretty sure that this sort of stuff has been done before. I’m not doing anything that unique other than with the games I’m choosing. So, if I did some research, I’d find all of these and get a leg up on doing it, at least. But a quick search on books didn’t give me anything for that specifically, a search of Google will make it difficult to sort the dreck from the good stuff, and the more up-front research I try to do the less actual work I’ll be doing, and I want to do some work. Simple research is just plain boring to me when I’m doing it as a hobby. So my choices are to reinvent the wheel or else spend lots of time looking for things that might not be there or might not be what I want.

So, I’ll have to see.

Anyway, thanks Shamus for adding more things to my already overflowing list of things I want to do!

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Another Update on that Accomplishment Thing …

February 13, 2019

Well, it’s been a couple of months since the last update and I’m about to go on vacation again, so it looks like a good time to see how things are coming along.

With the addition of Crave, DVDs has had to be expanded into TV shows/movies in general, and it still continues to be the thing that’s working out the best. I’ve almost finished all five seasons of Agents of SHIELD and am also on the last two disks of GI Joe, so I can see the end of both of those and so can move on to other things. The specific half-hour list/stack has gotten smaller, but the hour list is not making that much progress, especially considering that after I finish Agents and Agent Carter I’m planning on watching all of Voyager, Enterprise, and Discovery, which will take me several months at my best possible pace. But these are things that I wanted to do, and I’m getting them done.

General movies are a bit slow, but lately I managed to watch some recent purchases like Clue, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Cry Wolf, most of which I probably won’t talk about. This gives me some hope that I might be able to watch other things as well and fit them into my schedule. I haven’t been watching horror movies as much, but still have been able to watch them enough to keep up with blog posts about them, even if the backlog is almost gone.

Reading is working pretty well as well. I’ve finished the Ben Bova novels and am now working my way through a couple of short story/short essay collections before turning to the Niven stuff. My plan for reading is after finishing that and a couple of Marvel things that are distracting me from it I’ll start reading a bunch of classic literature. The only thing left to do is dig through my boxes again to find some of the ones that I know I have somewhere but can’t find, especially including “Pride and Prejudice”. I’ve added a couple of other Austen works to my list.

Video games, again, have improved. I started playing KotOR as Jemma Simmons some weekday evenings, and have managed to get to Dantooine already, which is pretty good progress. I’ve also managed to make progress on Sunrider Academy, in general getting in a session of it at least once a weekend, although my plan was to play it twice. Still, I’m getting somewhere with it and am enjoying it more now that events are more common.

Projects are … about the same, which is disappointing. I haven’t done anything wrt programming or writing projects since the beginning of January, mostly because of various things like the weather horning in on the time I should be spending working on them. On the plus side, I’ve maintained my daily blog posts and have cleaned up my various backlogs quite a bit, although philosophical posts are still a bit lacking, which I’m hoping to make up for by adding weekly “Philosophy and Popular Culture” posts. Just due to lack of content, though, I might soon stop posting every day.

So, anyway, that’s where things are. So far, things are going okay but could be improved in some areas, especially projects. I’ll have to see how things carry on through the rest of the winter, at which point I’ll need to reassess and revise my schedule anyway.

Thought Process As I Choose a New Game …

January 30, 2019

So, as already noted I’m going to pick a new game to play. I’m biased towards RPGs, want to actually roleplay in it, and can’t play more than an hour or so at a time. This post is a semi-real-time account of the thought process I’m going through to pick that game. It’s not quite real-time for three reasons:

1) The post is going to come out a few days after I’ve picked the game, so it’s not directly in real-time.

2) My mind never shuts off, so I have been and possibly will be thinking about it while not writing the post.

3) This will be edited to avoid being too repetitive.

But, hopefully, it will reflect my thought process for choosing things like this, while allowing me to work through it at the same time, which I was going to do anyway.

So, the time restriction limits me to PC games where I can pretty much save anywhere. To get a good list of those to look at, I looked at my list of video games and also filtered my GOG games list for RPGs.

As I already said, I tried Wizardry 8, but I screwed up the voices — I accidentally gave Skye/Daisy/Quake a voice that was perfect for Simmons, reminding me of that every time she said something — and didn’t want to redo it, and decided that I really wanted to roleplay in a game anyway.

The best PC game for roleplaying that I can access right now is The Old Republic. Add to that that I’ve been rewatching — or, rather, relistening to — Chuck Sonnenberg’s runs through the game and this seems like a really strong contender. The problem is that I don’t think I could play it for only an hour or so a night and get anywhere. It takes me 3 – 4 hours with the new model to finish one planet, which is about an hour or so per area, but it’s really going to feel like I’m rushing out to do something and then running back to the cantina to get rest XP. So while it’s a possibility I don’t think it’ll work.

I could play Knights of the Old Republic again, but right now I’m watching Agents of SHIELD which encourages me to create a character from that show, and I already did Coulson in it, and so also played it not too long ago. I could play Sith Lords instead, but I had started that one after my KotOR run with May and found myself disliking the thought of doing the early quests and dropped it, which is likely to happen again. Still, starting KotOR with a new character might work.

I could play Bloodlines again, as there’s quite a bit of roleplaying in that game. Unfortunately, there’s also so much combat that playing it for only an hour or so will probably get frustrating at times.

There’s also some of the old Black Isle/Bioware games. Baldur’s Gate is a game that I probably should play, but it annoys me enough that I should probably skip it. The same thing is true, although less so, for the Fallouts. Baldur’s Gate 2 is an option but … I don’t know. There’s always the Icewind Dale games, although the first one is better for roleplaying while the second one has more classes and so has more interesting character creation. I could also try to play Torment, which is probably the best of the lot for roleplaying but is a game that I’ve never actually been able to get into.

I could also try to play Arcanum again. I didn’t mind it the first time, but the searching was a bit like Baldur’s Gate’s, which gets grindy.

There’s also the Gold Box AD&D games, which would potentially have decent roleplaying and are games that I’d like to play and finish. But I think Icewind Dale’s roleplaying is better.

There’s also the Might and Magic games, but I think the roleplaying is a bit light in them if I recall correctly.

There’s also Age of Decadence which is supposed to be strong for roleplaying, but I’m not sure that I want to play something new that I have to learn right now, which also is the case for the Krondor games.

So, I think that Might and Magic is out, because there are games I’d rather play than them. I’ll leave them on my list for when I want to play and finish games (weekends). And my preferring Icewind Dale leaves out the Gold Box games, for now at least. I think I’ll drop Torment, too.

Since Icewind Dale is coming up so often, let’s see if those games will play on my old PC, as Wizardry 8 wouldn’t install requiring me to buy it from GOG to try it.

And it looks like Icewind Dale II will install and run, but Icewind Dale won’t (it acts the same way as Wizardry 8 did). I don’t really want to buy the Enhanced Version anyway and the price is too high. But let me take a risk and try to install it on my laptop to see if that works.

It turns out it does. So I think I can narrow it down to Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2, or KoTOR with an Agents of SHIELD character (I’m leaning towards Simmons). I could create a pretty decent party with either Icewind Dale or Icewind Dale II, but there’s something appealing about roleplaying a game with Simmons as the main character. Although TOR or Sith Lords would probably be better for that.

Of course, taking the time to install Icewind Dale is kinda pointless if I don’t play it. Then again, it’s small and I will probably want to play it again at some point.

Playing as Simmons just seems way too appealing right now, especially since she’d be such a different character than I normally play and it’d be a completely different personality from Revan so that twist would be interesting, and KotOR allows for some interesting roleplaying. So that’s my choice: KotOR as Simmons.

So that’s how I go about making these decisions, which is probably a bit odd and too detailed to make sense to most people.

Picking Video Games … Again

January 25, 2019

So, coming out of my recent vacation, it was time to figure out what game I was going to play. I originally started replaying Persona 5, since I had two timeslots where I could play a longer game and I figured that I could make good progress in it before the Scotties and finish it then while watching the curling. But then I lost one of those two timeslots and decided that I would rather watch the curling than play a game during it, but would need that time to finish Persona 5. So that was out.

With only one timeslot to play games for a significant time at a stretch — 3 hours or so — most of my console games ended up not being a good fit, as they would generally be too long to play for only 3 hours a week but wouldn’t fit into the roughly an hour at a time timeslots that I have the rest of the week. So that left me with some of my PC games to play, which worked out because I did want to play some of them and finish them.

I decided to play Sunrider Academy, since I had simply let it lapse for the past couple of months, but since I let it lapse because it could drag I decided to only play it on weekends, because then I’d have more guaranteed time and so be able to push through and finish it but it wouldn’t be the only game I was playing. I then decided what game to play for the other three days, and decided that I didn’t really want to do strategy games and decided that I wanted to play an RPG, and Wizardry 8 kept calling to me, so I started playing a game of it creating a party with characters from Agents of SHIELD.

And I quickly stopped playing it, for two reasons:

1) I messed up some of the voices, and didn’t want to have to recreate the characters again, and the fun of Wizardry 8 is having the characters spontaneously talk like their characters would.

2) I decided that I actually wanted to play an RPG where I could roleplay, and Wizardry 8 is not that sort of game.

So, back to the drawing board there. The good thing is that there was a lot of snow and bad weather this week, so my schedule got messed up and I couldn’t really play games a lot anyway, so there I didn’t really lose much. Hopefully I’ll figure this out for next week.

Thoughts on my most recent vacation …

January 5, 2019

So, as usual, I was off around Christmas. This vacation was shorter than normal, but was still significant. How did I do in getting the things that I wanted to do on it done?

I did really, really well on watching DVDs and TV shows/movies. I finished Doctor Who and Red Dwarf and am well into Agents of SHIELD and GI Joe (the cartoon). I even managed to watch some general movies — mostly rewatches of the Marvel stuff — on it, as well as a few more of those cheap horror movies. This probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise since these things are the easiest to fit into a schedule when I have some free time.

Reading also went well. I’m almost through the Ben Bova books and so by February I should be through them and the Niven/Pournelle books and ready to finally start reading philosophy and commenting on that. Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise since any time I’m not actually doing something else I read, and the books aren’t exactly long.

I did okay with video games. I finished off the three Persona dancing games and played Spellcasting 101. I’ve also started Persona 5, which I’m going to play somewhat sporadically along with some other games in my free time. I didn’t play as much as I planned to, though, for various reasons.

I had hoped to play some board games and didn’t even set one up.

As for projects … I didn’t do one thing with them. No writing, no programming, no nothing. I did manage to write blog posts and even do some philosophy posts while I was off, which is good … but all of that reading and watching TV leaves me with a rather large stack of things to get through again.

So, what explains how my vacation went? Well, I had set out a routine that I was going to follow which would have given me plenty of time to get in pretty much everything at some point, but never managed to get into that routine. For the first week, I knew that I’d have a lot of things to do around the house that would interfere with that routine, so that was going to be an issue, but I also hit unexpected issues in the second week which along with the holidays interfered with getting into that routine. And so what I think really happened here was that by the time I could get into the routine and try to do those things it was too late, and so I ended up going with the more freeform routine that I had been using where fitting those sorts of big time commitments didn’t work. Add in that I did need to keep up with the blog and my focus was a lot different than it might have been.

On the plus side, I did manage to get quite a bit accomplished with the blog and with my normal household things, so I feel pretty good about that. And I hope to do more with projects and the like in the New Year.

2018 in review

January 1, 2019

So the now traditional look at how my blog did this year.

I hit over 20,000 hits in 2018, which is again pathetic for most blogs but is still an improvement for me. My increase in posting towards the end of the year has had me posting 186 posts this year, up from last year. The number of visitors also increased, to close to 12,000. I also had slightly more views per visitor this year, probably because of either new visitors or old visitors following the recommended links into the archive. So, as usual, thanks to all the visitors who read the blog this year.

So, what’s going to happen with the blog this year? It turns out that I still have an enormous backlog of things to talk about, so I’ll probably keep the more frequent posting schedule for a while. I don’t think this is maintainable over the long term, but for now it’ll make my life easier to try to keep it up than to try to slow it down, so that’s what I’ll do. I’m going to keep talking about those cheap horror movies because it’s fun and convenient to do, and am going to try and talk about games on a regular basis, as well as keep up my discussions on more normal TV shows or movies (although that will slow because I have less time to watch those things and so won’t have new things to talk about as frequently). But the big thing I want to do next year is to more of the philosophical type of posts. As part of doing that, I think I’m going to try to revive the Philosophy and Popular Culture tag and return to reading and writing about those books. Also if I ever finish those science fiction books that I’ve been reading and finally return to reading philosophy that should help to generate content for that.

So that’s what happened this year and what I’d like to have happen next year. Happy New Year to everyone reading my blog.

The Traditional …

December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean “the readers”?

Nope, WordPress still says it’s pretty much just the one.

Shomi Craving

December 8, 2018

So, a while back I was one of those who had the streaming service Shomi, which ended two years ago. Just recently, my cable provider added a version, at least, of its main competition at the time — they launched at about the same time and were constantly compared to each other — which is Crave TV. I had been tempted to pick that service up but I’m set up to watch stuff on my TV, not on my computer, and so hesitated to pay that much for something that I’d have to alter most of my viewing habits to actually watch. Now that it’s on my regular cable box, that’s not an issue anymore.

The package I have is actually interesting, as it contains channels from Crave and HBO that show shows and movies during the day, but also include an on-demand channel that lets me watch what’s available whenever I want to. It’s a lot like another channel I had a while ago, called Hollywood Suite, which only had movies. In fact, this model let me watch one of the movies on the list of movies I thought might be interesting, since it was on at 6 am when I wasn’t doing much anyway. I’ll probably talk about that one sometime this week.

The only issue with it is that the TV shows and movies clash with my huge stacks of DVDs to watch, since they obviously fit in the precise same time slots. On the plus side, having this will let me watch Agents of SHIELD, and well as inflict Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery on myself. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a mixed bag [grin].

Update on That Accomplishment Thing …

November 30, 2018

So, it’s been about three months since I last talked about how my accomplishment kick was going, so I thought this might be a good time to look at it, especially since Christmas is coming and after Christmas I need to readjust my schedule, so it’s a good time to reflect on it and assess and reassess what I’m trying to do. I’m going to follow the order from the previous post, even though that might no longer reflect what’s going best.

(Ah, who am I kidding? It’s still going to be pretty much accurate [grin]).

DVDs continue to be the star of the new focus. I managed to finish He-Man, She-Ra, and two anime series from my half-hour stack, and am almost through Matt Smith’s run in Doctor Who over those three months after finishing Dynasty. The only thing that hasn’t gone as well as it had when I wrote the previous post is watching movies. Well, it’s both gone better and worse. Rewatching movies that I wanted to rewatch has stalled, mostly because I’ve stopped playing games or, at least, stopped playing games where it’s convenient to watch a movie (more on that later). I wanted to rewatch all the Star Trek movies again and after at least a month if not longer I’ve gotten through “The Wrath of Khan”. However, I’m making pretty good progress on those cheap little horror movies — I’ve finished off the “The Shadows” collection — and am even making some progress on some older movies that I picked up cheap, having recently watched Casper and one of the Naked Gun movies, as well as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I hope to continue doing that as things go along (they’re pretty good to watch while I’m eating or in an evening when I don’t want to do anything else).

The downside here is that my stacks are getting pretty large. Well, the half-hour stack is going pretty well for now, but the hour stack is getting larger and larger. I have a ton of TV shows that I haven’t watched and want to — made worse by the fact that I’ve actually bought some new ones — and also want to rewatch some of the shows that I’ve already watched, like Babylon 5 or Buffy/Angel. This is getting a bit concerning to me, especially since it will take longer to watch hourly shows than half-hour ones. But still, I’m making progress and now have the actual ability to watch hour-long shows and make progress, so it’s still better than the alternative.

Reading, however, has taken a bit of a hit. After finishing my list of historical works, I started reading some Ben Bova science fiction novels. Despite them being relatively short, I’ve only finished two of them so far. Part of the reason for that is because I don’t read for as long as I used to in the evenings (due to winter coming on I fall asleep earlier in the evenings) and part of it is that I bought some comic trade paperbacks and also a “grab bag” box of 100 comics that I’m now working through. So I expect this to pick up once I get through that. At least the stack/list here isn’t getting any longer.

Video games are a mixed bag, but that’s better than the disaster they were in the last post. I abandoned my Persona 3 run and instead finished off all of my Dragon Age: Origins characters and replayed Dragon Age 2 to do an analysis of it, which was very good. And then I mostly stopped playing games for about a month, except for trying out Cultist Simulator and Sunrider Academy. Since I wasn’t playing games and especially not playing console games, this pretty much stopped me having anything on while playing console games, especially since for DA2 I really wanted to pay attention to the story and found that having the TV on at all kinda drowned that out. So it’s a lot better, but …

… I have a lot of games that I want to or should play. On GOG, I have about 170 games including freebies. I have finished something like three of them — Huniepop and Knights of the Old Republic are the two I remember, but there’s probably another one in there somewhere — and have played for any significant amount of time somewhere around 10 or so of them. I would really like to make a dent in those games. I also have a large stack of console games to play, including new ones that I bought and would like to try out. A big consideration for my schedule in the New Year is trying to figure out when I can play games and which ones I should play to make a dent in that stack/list.

I even did better with little projects, in that I’ve started a couple and a couple of things for them. But I still don’t work on them anywhere near as much as I should. However, some of the timeslots that they would normally been in have been ones where I’ve done things for the blog, like writing posts or watching those horror movies to generate blog content. This is the only reason that I can post pretty much every day right now, which I’m doing so that I can clear out the backlog of blog content that I have … and I’m not there yet (philosophy posts are struggling under this model). Still, I’m even making good progress there, which is taking some of the pressure off of me. So that’s good. Still, I do need to find the time and motivation to do the actual projects that I want to do.

So, things are working out pretty well. The biggest issues right now are built around this model actually being successful, and so my feeling that I can get things accomplished and thus setting bigger goals for myself, which then can add up and seem overwhelming. But it’s still better than it was in almost all areas, and that’s good enough for me.

Sick …

October 5, 2018

So, as I already mentioned, there was an extended power outage here a couple of weeks ago. I happened to be on vacation the following week, and joked to my parents that after the power outage and all I needed to do to recover after it I was pretty much back to the point where I could go and start doing the things that I wanted to do at the start of my vacation by this past weekend.

And then I caught a cold.

While many people would complain that getting sick on their vacation would ruin it, I’ve never really felt that way. Years ago, I had my wisdom teeth removed, and deliberately scheduled it for a Friday so that if I ended up reacting badly to the anesthetic or in pain I had the weekend to recover from it. One of my co-workers expressed some surprise at this, to which my response was that if I was sick enough that all I could do was sit around and watch TV all day, would that be a bad weekend, or a good weekend? I considered it to be a good weekend. The same thing applies to getting sick on vacation: I’d rather be sick when I really don’t have to do anything than sick when I need to be or should be at work. That way I don’t really feel bad at all if all I do is lie around and read, watch DVDs, or play games.

As it turns out, the weather impeded me more than my cold did, since it rained at least part of almost every day making it too wet to do the outside things I wanted to do, which are the only things that I really needed to get done before going back anyway.

That being said, while replacing my window handles I managed to pick up all of Eccleston’s, Tenant’s, Smith’s and Capaldi’s runs on Doctor Who, which means that I can watch them again after watching them twice while I had Shomi and not being able to watch them since. I also finished off all of my characters in Dragon Age: Origins and have started my analysis run of DA2, which is turning out to be a bit too addictive a game for me [grin]. So, stuff happened and I’m feeling better now. All in all, not the vacation I was hoping for, but it worked out well enough …