Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

Book of the Month Clubs

May 23, 2019

As I mentioned when talking about re-reading “The Stand”, I used to be a member of the “Book of the Month Club” when I was younger. That got me musing about it, and thinking that depending on how things were run that might be a good thing for me. I have the disposable income to be able to simply try things out that look interesting and since reading is the one consistent pastime that I have I’d definitely at least try to read them. So I started Googling around to see how things worked.

So, I found the site that calls itself “Book of the Month”. And it seemed pretty decent. You subscribe to the service, and then once a month you get a selection of books that you can pick one of to fulfill your subscription. If you want more than one, you can pay for the extra ones — essentially at the price of a month’s subscription — to get them. If you don’t like anything in a particular month, then that credit carries over to the next month, which then I presume means that it could be used — and is intended to be used — for extra books or perhaps for extra months after you’ve stopped subscribing. This is better than when I had it originally because there they’d send you a book if you didn’t tell them not to, whereas here the default seemed to be that they’d just credit it to you if you didn’t select one. However, unlike the original one … they don’t ship to Canada. So that’s out.

Browsing around, I found “My Thrill Club!”, which sounded interesting. You can select from Thriller, Mystery, or Horror categories — or a mix — and they’ll send you two hardcover books and an e-book — useless to me — for a fairly reasonable price. However, despite hearing that they did ship to Canada for an extra shipping fee, when I sent an E-mail to their customer service asking about that I got no reply. I’m actually far more concerned about getting no reply than I am about shipping costs to Canada, since them being non-responsive is not a good sign, so that’s out too.

I also tried “Bookcase Club”. Here, you select a category and get sent two books in that category. I was interested in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category and in the Thriller/Mystery category, and since the price was pretty good might have been tempted to have multiple subscriptions to be able to get it. However, they don’t ship to Canada. So that’s out.

I did browse more and found some other ones that likely shipped to Canada, but in general they were either pricey or added on a number of little items that I didn’t want, or both.

I find myself bemused that, for the most part, decent book of the month clubs simply can’t take my money. This is becoming a trend.

I guess I’ll just have to keep doing what I’m doing now. The good part of that is that I still have hundreds of books in boxes in my house to read at some point, so it’s not like I’ll end up deprived.

A second reason why I need schedules …

May 17, 2019

Things have been pretty busy for me lately, with my having to work on a critical project at work and all of the normal things I have to do in the spring. So I haven’t been doing a schedule lately because it was mostly pointless; I pretty much only had things that needed to be done and so could pretty much keep track of that.

However, this past week due to other issues blocking me at work I had a bit of extra time in the evenings because it was pointless to work late. And with all of that extra time I did … nothing of any importance. This … is not really what I would have been hoping for.

Originally I started creating schedules because what would happen is that I’d get some free time and try to think about what I wanted to do, decide that I didn’t feel like doing some of them, start something more frivolous and then remember, too late, that there was something else that I really wanted to do that could have fit into that timeslot. This time that wasn’t what happened. This time I remembered multiple things that I wanted to do and would be willing to do and couldn’t decide between them, which ended up delaying things so long that, well, I didn’t do them. So if I had been able to schedule specific things in there, it would have worked better for me.

Of course, one of the additional considerations was that for most of those things while I had some time this week I’m not likely to have time to continue them next week, and most of them work best if I can work on them regularly (playing TOR, working on little projects, going through a course on AI, etc). So even a schedule wouldn’t have helped here. But now I’m less at the point of not having anything that I want to do and instead having too many things I want to do. That’s … different, I suppose.

More on that Accomplishment Thing

April 12, 2019

Well, another two months, and so another update on how this is going.

DVDs and TV shows continue to be the stars of this. I’m almost finished Season 3 of Voyager (watch for comments on the first three seasons soon) after having finished Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. I also finished GI Joe, Star Trek the Animated Series, and Daria, and am on Season 3 of 2 Broke Girls. I’m on pace to finish both in the next couple of months which will let me move on to other things. I’ve also managed to watch some movies and get those off my plate. So it’s going quite well.

Reading is going all right as well. My pace is slower than I’d like — I’m currently reading a Thrawn book and have had a couple of recent days when I’ve read two pages maybe — but I’m still getting through things. That Thrawn book is the last thing I want to get through before turning to classic literature, and while I have a couple of history books that I was trying to get through first I’ve stopped because I really want to get started on those other works.

Video games went better but have now crashed out completely. I finished Sunrider Academy and started playing Knights of Pen and Paper, but work has gotten extremely busy which pretty much kills any time I had to play video games. I’ve poked around a bit with the retro games but in general have better things to do than play video games, and was having trouble deciding what game to play anyway. I’ll have to see if things change once work settles down.

And projects went terribly. I’ve made starts on a couple of things but haven’t started on the AI stuff I wanted to do. This is despite the fact that doing these things is officially in my schedule even when I’m busy. I’ve still spent more time playing video games despite that not being on my schedule. So this is something that I really need to work on.

However, I have kept up with the blog and am even settling into a better routine, and with the “Philosophy and Pop Culture” posts always have some philosophy in a week, which is good.

So, why is it that DVDs and reading work so well while everything else doesn’t? Well, it’s because I always watch TV to settle down before going to sleep. Thus, I always have some time carved out to watch DVDs. And since I read while watching TV, that gives me a set time to read as well. This time isn’t vulnerable to distractions because I’m not going to do anything else that evening and anything else that I want to do I can do while watching. So they’re the only things that get a set and consistent amount of time each week. And if things get a little busier or things take longer than I thought, I’ll still have some time set aside to watch something. So not only are they at convenient times in the schedule, they’re also more flexible.

With projects and video games, I not only need to set aside time to do them, in order to make any real progress I have to dedicate significant time to them. If I have an hour, I can watch three half-hour shows, but am not going to make any programming or writing progress. I might be able to squeeze a blog post in. If things take longer than I expected or I get distracted, then that will kill that session for those things. When I get busy, that only makes it worse as I have less time to do them in the first place, which only makes it easier for me to end up in a position where I don’t really have the time to do them when I was supposed to.

I’m going to try to make more of an effort with projects in the next couple of months, although I won’t for video games. We’ll see if this makes a difference.

Posting Schedule

March 15, 2019

So, for a while now, I’ve been posting every weekday and sometimes have made posts on the weekend or two on one day. That this is the first time that I can recall using the “How has my everyday posting been going” post to fill in one of those days is a pretty good indication that it’s been going pretty well. And, in fact, today I only needed to put this post in because I was unexpectedly busy and unexpectedly lazy and so didn’t have the time to write something up over the past couple of days, and didn’t really have a quick post to bang out and didn’t have the time to do anything more substantive. So you get this.

But, of course, the question that always needs to be asked in these posts is “How much longer can I keep doing this?” I originally started doing this to clear off my backlog of horror movies, regular TV shows, and books without making the entire blog just be about talking about that. I had lately managed to reinsert “Philosophy in Pop Culture” posts — usually on Monday — and while the backlog has gone down it’s still not insignificant, and as part of my regular accomplishment thing I want to focus on watching more of those things — especially the horror movies — so that I can clear out that backlog. So it’s still useful for now. In terms of time, though, other things are starting to infringe on that time making it a bit harder to do, and I have things like comments — both here and on other blogs — to talk about that take up time as well. I also still want to do some deeper philosophical posts but they take up so much time that it’s hard to fit them in.

Anyway, it looks like I’ll try to keep this schedule for now because all of the things that I’d drop are the things that don’t take as much time to write as the things I’d want to keep, meaning that they work well as short posts providing content, and cutting them out won’t really help me to do the longer things. This will keep up until I get really busy or run out of content.

Thoughts on my recent vacation and routine …

March 6, 2019

So, I recently took vacation time again, to watch the Scotties and to burn some of it off. As usual, I didn’t get even half of what I wanted to get done done, but I did manage to get some things done that I had been wanting to for a while — in particular, getting out to the university to pay off my donation and then out downtown to check out that Sunrise Records location — which was pretty good.

But what was most interesting to me was how the two weeks worked out. The first week I spent most of my time watching the Scotties, and the days didn’t fly by like they normally might when I was on vacation. They seemed to just pretty much flow one into the other, and left me with an impression of … satisfaction, I guess it was. It really felt like a full week off.

The second week, on the other hand, seemed to fly by and seemed to be over almost before it began, which made my not really getting anything done even more annoying. It was a far less satisfying week than the first one.

So why was that? Some would argue that time flies when you’re having fun, and the curling was so boring that it seemed like time was crawling, and so it then seemed like I really had some time off. This is of course incorrect because I was enjoying the curling and while time did seem to move slower it didn’t seem to me to drag, even when the curling action was slower. It’s also not like I accomplished anything more the first week than the second week, and in theory I accomplished more the second week (outside of the downtown trip and lots of reading, of course).

It seems to me that the big reason was that I had a set and strict routine the first week, which I didn’t have for the second week. The first week, my routine was: get up and poke around for a while (mostly writing blog posts), watch the first draw, do some things and prepare to eat, eat and watch the second draw, poke around a bit, and then either watch the final draw if I was doing that or else watch something else. The routine was set and I stuck to it for the entire week. This gave me set times to do everything which provided a daily structure to work with, which always left me with the impression that I had done what I was “supposed to do”. What it also did was leave less time to poke around or mess around with things, and so less time where I let myself get distracted by something and then looked up to see how much later it was. I couldn’t really screw around much the first week and so didn’t have as much “unproductive” time to annoy me with how unproductive it was but also that had the time pass not faster than I would have expected necessarily, but instead faster than I would have liked. The structure, then, really worked for me, as it did last year. I’ll have to see how I can arrange that better for other times when I’m off.

Months and months …

February 27, 2019

As regular readers will already know, I’ve been on an accomplishment kick for the past little while. I’ve been doing well with it, but it looks like I’m going to be heading into the toughest part of that kick quite soon: in all of the areas that I’m trying to finish things in, what I’m committing to finishing will take several months to finish.

I’m almost finished with Agent Carter as part of my plan to watch Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. That’s roughly six seasons (five regular seasons of AoS, and two half-seasons of Agent Carter). My expected pace is about a season every two weeks, so roughly three months. Not too bad. However, my plan after that is to watch the Star Trek series that I haven’t watched, so Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery. Voyager itself has more seasons than the AoS/Agent Carter combination. All told, there’s probably about twelve seasons to watch, for 24 weeks or at least six months. That’s longer than I’ve committed to anything so far, and that’s for things where my only impression of them is mostly negative.

Books are now hitting the same issue. No, I’m not planning on going through my philosophy books, although that would be a huge commitment as well. No, I’ve decided, after reading some old science fiction, to read some classic literature. Some of those are, of course, rather short, but the list includes the complete Sherlock Holmes, the complete works of Lovecraft, and the complete works of Shakespeare, as well as Stephen King’s “The Stand” (to tie into my watching of various movies of Stephen King works). That’s … quite a bit of reading.

Games, however, are under control, for the moment. I’m almost finished Sunrider Academy, and Knights of the Old Republic is going pretty well (although it will still take at least a couple of months to finish). So I’m only in the range of 2 – 3 months for now. That might change when I decide what game to play after Sunrider Academy.

And projects were always going to take a lot of time, but adding AI projects to it has added far more things where regular progress is required but will take quite a long time to finish.

I’m the sort of person who gets distracted by new and shiny things that I want to do. I’ve commented before about how I can be distracted from a game of Wizardry 8 by coming up with a new idea for a party that gets me to start the game over. Can I commit to six months of watching shows or reading books without deciding to watch or read something else? Only time will tell.

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!

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.