Aspies are not A**h*les

Anyone who spends more than few milliseconds reading Internet forums and unmoderated comments discovers that the anonymity of the Internet encourages some people to make the kind of inflammatory remark they’d likely never make face to face. If called on it, some people “apologize” (not) by claiming they can’t help it because they lack social skills. Apparently some go even further, pretending they have Asperger’s Syndrome , a recognized psychological condition. Being an Aspie is supposed to be some sort of trump card to cut off criticism.

Personally, I expect that very few of these claims (“pretend” is Norman English for “claim”) are valid.

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Cognitive Flexibility

One of the neat things about getting a doctorate at a school partly supported by the Military Industrial Complex is that sometimes you get visitors giving seminars about stuff (often having little to do with killing people) that give you an interesting perspective you might not have encountered elsewhere. Once upon a time a the US Navy was soon to commission a new aircraft carrier , and its Captain went around DARPA -supported universities to see if they were working on anything useful to him. (With us he found a mainframe-based hypertext information management system , about 15 years before the Web existed). He gave a talk that mentioned “levels of cognitive development” in which he summarized the first three as
  1. There is one right answer to every question, and Mommy knows it.
  2. There is one right answer to every question; if Mommy doesn’t know it, someone else does.
  3. There is one right answer to every question, but maybe nobody knows it.
He then said an aircraft carrier is a small city with average age 19 and average cognitive level just above 2.

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Posting Rate

I started this blog early in April as “private” to a few people, primarily to see how consistently I could post. I opened it up to the world two weeks ago – and, as Murphy’s Law would predict, was unable to post since then. The trouble is that I have some good days, many not-so-good days, and some very bad stretches of days, but they’re unpredictable, and there are many other things that have to get done on the good ones. This seems to be a common problem. I follow about two dozen web comics these days. A lot of them have a schedule they try to keep, but most have gaps when the author gets sick, loses net access briefly, hits a writer’s block, or just disappears without explanation.
There are only two of my favourites that have posted consistently, seven days a week, for years on end: Schock Mercenary , and the ironically-named Irregular Webcomic Both authors count as geeks in my books: Howard Tayler once worked for a computer company, in what capacity I don’t know – but writing high-tech science fiction gives geek cred in and of itself. David Morgan-Mar is a physics geek who can explain physics and other stuff way better than Wikipedia (and some physics profs). Their consistency results from their employing a geekish concept: buffers.

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Law and Definitions

Emeritus Professor Cecil Law died last week , and flags at Queen’s are at half-mast until tomorrow. He had served as acting head of what is now the School of Computing during the search for the first capital-H Head in 1969. I never met him (likely because of geekish lack of attention to professional networking); I had plenty of time to do so (he retired from the School of Business eight years after I arrived in what was then the Department of Computing and Information Science ), and he would have been worth knowing. Prof. Law was more into operations research and business than what we’d now consider the core of computing, but his association with the Department led to his serving on quite a few Master’s degree examinations – where the other members usually conspired not to warn the candidate about his standard question:

“You are studying computer science. Can you tell me exactly what is a computer?”
Go ahead, try it. Don’t look up anything, don’t consult friends, and don’t take hours or even minutes to think about it. Imagine being stared at by four or five august members of faculty, under the illusion that their reaction affects whether you get your degree. And then imagine your subsequent panic when Prof. Law says, “By that definition my X is a computer” where X might be a bicycle, a sewing machine, possibly even plumbing

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Free to Play

In grad school I had a group of friends who liked to relax on Friday evenings by playing board games and role-playing games Apparently that alone made us geeks, even if most of us hadn’t also been studying computer science and engineering.

The Olde Gange has long since dispersed to the ends of the earth. I never found a new group, and computer RPGs weren’t anywhere near as much fun – until I found out about Turbine ‘s “Massively Multi-player Online RPG” based on Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings novels. The theme alone was enough for me to pre-order the original Shadows of Angmar in 2007, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it since.
MMORPGs often require you to pay for something to install on your computer (the “client”) then pay a monthly fee to access the actual game (on a “server” Internet site). Last September Turbine went to a new business model: You can now download the client for free and play for free as long as you like – but you’re limited to what’s in the starting regions, and have some potentially annoying restrictions on other things like how much Stuff your character can carry around. To unlock the rest of the game you pay “Turbine Points,” which cost real money. Clearly they hope that enough people will get hooked on the early parts of the game so they’ll pay for the rest. It turns out that you can also earn Turbine Points by completing various in-game “deeds.” Some people look at the prices for new regions (600-1000 points) versus the income (5-10 points for most deeds, with many taking several hours of play) and decide the in-game rewards just aren’t big enough.
So, just how much of the game can you actually play “for free?” Asking that question caused my inner geek to surface: instead of speculating and arguing, model and calculate.

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