Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Not all memes are bad

1. According to my userinfo, I am at last 28 years old and no longer suffering a weight gain due to a big Christmas 2002, just in time for December 2003. radinden and mhw have inspired a meme protocol which strikes me as a singularly excellent idea; I've added a link to my Friends-only offline contact details within the userinfo and as a Memory within Memories > Contact Details. If everyone did that, then it would be very easy for me to know where to send you Christmas cards without you having to type their address in to a form of mine and forty different forms as well. On a vaguely related subject, I have no idea who among you like getting random chatty phone calls for no other reason than fun. We're all busy people, but friendly conversation is time well spent.

2. On a holiday greeting-y theme, Brits, last posting dates for Christmas: airmail round the world, 8th December; airmail to Canada, USA, Japan and Eastern Europe, 12th December; airmail to Western Europe, 15th December; second class inland, 18th December; first class inland, 20th December. (Isn't this last one rather earlier than usual?) Surface mail: small packets within Europe still actually have a chance.

3. George Bush is coming to Sedgefield tomorrow, which is about 20 miles away. Protest starts 10am on the Village Green in Sedgefield. Problem is, actually getting there; the cordon closes roads within about a mile and a half for several hours in advance and public transport anywhere near the village has been told to forget it. No chance of me going to the demo, then. Evidently colour me "easily put off". :-(

4. On a recent walk to kick the autumn leaves, I noted that 6 of the last 60-70 houses I passed had "for sale" boards outside. Similarly, 4 of the 41 lower-numbered houses than ours in Arlington Road TS5 7RE (whoops) were up for sale. 10%'s a lot, isn't it?

Then in the newsagent last night, I overheard mention that the corner of Barnabas Road and Latham Road had been taped off by the police, and the gossip concerned what event might have caused this, possibly even murder most foul. Ah! Juxtaposition!

5. It would be ever so much fun to get a bunch of nice LJ people and associates around an online poker table together. I propose playing for play-money chips rather than real cash, not least because I want something that's accessible fun for even crap players like me and won't be worth the pros' time. :-) Ten would be a good number if we can agree upon a suitable date, time and location. Please comment if interested and feel free to circulate this to other potentially-interested nice people.

6. What is the missing item in this sequence:


(Please don't think too hard about this one.)

7. Poll results: 51 voters. From the first four options, 2 picked "essential", 11 picked "strongly desirable", 26 picked "weakly desirable" and 17 picked "unimportant". Adding it up, those 56 votes came from 1 person who picked 3 options, 4 people who picked 2 options, 45 people who picked 1 option and 1 person who didn't picked any. (Cheers!) 14 people added the "more than just recreation" tickybox and 15 the "gratuitous tickybox" tickybox, including Mr. "none of the real options, just the gratuitous tickybox". Gratuitous tickyboxes beat spirituality, film at eleven.

As usual, the insight was in the comments. I really liked rialtus's excellent model as to how an effective relationship where one person picked "unimportant" might work, even though he picked "weakly desirable". I would love to hear... not a justification, but an explanation of the "In addition to the above, music is more fundamental to my well-being - even to my spiritual existence - than merely being a source of recreation" option from the 14 who picked it, not least because it probably means a different thing to each of them. It's a box that I know I wouldn't tick and one that I know I Just Don't Get.

The other thing that was in the comments was a pick from applez, who is making a name for himself as a top-quality reccing machine, for the Cowboy Bebop "Blue" .mp3 on the page to which I linked. (This is a song called "Blue" from the Cowboy Bebop anime show, not a song called "Cowboy Bebop" from a band called "Blue" - either of them.) My "99 Red Balloons" kick has proved embarrassingly short, having been replaced by a "Blue" kick. I recommend it for some right righteous wailing, but it's definitely a song that sounds better when you don't pay attention to it. I make no claims about the lyrical merit or otherwise of this song; in fact, I suspect the lyrics may be English translated from Japanese, based on the weak rhymes. Again, see the discussion.

Now I've re-established my lack-of-credibility as a flavour-of-the-monthday dabbling dilettante, I have been trying to analyse songs and work out why I like the music I do. Here are four reasons why I like the music I do, which are clearly not the only four reasons:
  • I like a song if it contains good bits.
  • I like a song if it contains good sounds.
  • I like a song if it makes me laugh.
  • I like a song if I associate happy memories with it.
Let's cover those one at a time.

A. I like songs which surprise me. If a song has established some sort of pattern, then somehow unexpectedly improves on it, that is likely to be a pleasant surprise. Likewise, the introduction of an important instrument at a crucial moment can be the sort of pleasant surprise which endears a song to me. Ditto a wonderful key change. This is why that "red" in the last line of the fourth verse of 99 Red Balloons appealed so much. I admire the musical professionals and theorists who know what sorts of surprises sound good - and, more to the point, when to use them.

B. There are just some combinations of instruments and notes which sound wonderful, or at least which sound wonderful in the context of a song which has established that they might sound wonderful. The crashing bells in Blue are spectacular successes; the reintroduction of the choir at 2:38, mid-wail, gets me every time, and the tremolo on the wailing really improves the effect. I'm not sure whether the decision to include the tremolo (and, at least as much to the point, what not to include) should be credited to composer or producer, but it works really well here.

C & D. There are lots of songs I like which clearly do not fall into either category above (see the previous link to Mad Music and Weatherman, John Kettley Is A). Nevertheless, these can be sufficient reasons on their own. Examples, C intersection D': "Mr. Rubik", The Barron Knights, which I think is funny though I'm not familiar with anyone else who does; C' intersection D: about half of these.

8. Union Pacific was released in 1999 by the German game company AMIGO Spiel, with an English-language translation by Rio Grande Games. It was designed by Alan R. Moon and is known to be a revision of his older title, Airlines. Playable by 2-6 players, with 4 or 5 recommended, the game nominally takes 1½ hours to play. In practice, actual playing times vary from 1-1¼ hours for four players who know what they're doing to 2-2½ hours for six players who are slow and/or unfamiliar with the game. The rules are comparable in complexity with those of Monopoly.

This is, at heart, a stock-accumulation game with a train theme. There is a board which takes the form of a map of North America, with about 40 towns dotted on the map, each town connected by rail tracks to (usually two or three) other nearby towns. The rail tracks are marked with spaces on which plastic train playing pieces can be placed, to represent the growth of ten local passenger railway operating companies at the dawn of American rail services. In addition, the nationwide Union Pacific freight railroad company of the title expands its influence over time.

Two separate things happen in the game. The train companies expand their services across the map, serving more and more cities and becoming more valuable as they do so. Players compete for share ownership in both the ten passenger rail companies and the Union Pacific freight rail company. On four occasions, in a uniquely board-game-like, unrealistic mechanic, each company pays dividends to the players who own most and second most shares in it. The player with most money after the fourth such payment wins the game.

On a turn, a player can make one of three choices. The first choice, the usual one, is that they can expand one of the passenger rail companies on the board. There are constraints as to where and how each passenger rail company can expand and some strategy in dealing with these constraints. Expanding a passenger rail company permits a player to take some stock in a passenger rail company; you may choose one of the constantly-replenished selection of four stock cards visible to all, or a stock card whose identity you do not know in advance.

The second choice is that a player can trade a secret stock card of their choice in a passenger rail company for a stock card in the Union Pacific freight rail company. However, this doesn't represent a net increase in the number of shares held overall, so no increase in earning potential.

The third choice is that a player can choose to play some stock cards from their hand to the table - either one in each of two different companies, or as many as you have in your hand of one company. It is only stock cards played by this method which are considered when working out to whom each company pays dividends.

The strategy in the game comes from trying to maximise your stockholdings in the companies which are likely to make you the most money. It is fundamental that only the two biggest stockholdings in each of the passenger companies earn any dividends at all, so competing and coming third is a giant waste of time and even competing and coming second offers a relatively poor return. The number of stock cards owned is irrelevant, merely your position relative to the other players; second place with one stock card earns money where third place with many stock cards does not. There's also a bonus to be earned by being the only player with stock in a particular company - specifically, you earn both the "most" and "second most" payouts.

Things to bear in mind when playing the game: which companies are likely to be the biggest, which companies might never be at all big, which companies are likely to earn you a dividend for a low number of shares, which companies might pay out both dividends to the sole stockholder, how much effort to spend competing in Union Pacific as opposed to the passenger railways, which companies are your opponents paying most attention to. You also do not know exactly when (though you do know roughly when) the four dividend payment opportunities will arise, so there is a "race against time" / "how far dare you push your luck?" aspect in terms of timing your play of stock cards before each dividend payment.

The game is more exciting than most board games in that, while there are no dice, you cannot always guarantee getting the stock you would most like; the randomness of the card draws provides a satisfactory level of lack of control, counterbalanced by the fact that you always can choose one of four visible stock cards should they appeal rather than an unseen stock card. A technique is to try to compete with the player on your left rather than the player on your right; in principle, the player on your left will only get the chance to draw a visible card in a particular company if it becomes visible on the single opportunity after your turn, whereas you will get the chance to draw a visible card in that company if it becomes visible immediately after any other player's turn - rather more frequent.

Another key technique is to benefit from other players' passenger rail company expansions. If another player spends time and effort in expanding a company only for you to end up with majority control of it, this represents an excellent return for little effort on your part, particularly if you have been expanding a company which you know you control. Get the other players to make you money!

I played a very enjoyable game on Tuesday (finishing third of five, final scores 112/106/102/84/80) and so we played the game again today. Today's game was strange in that the four stock cards visible for trade were all in unattractive companies which would have taken considerable work to turn into a good investment, so all the players tended to prefer to choose the unseen mystery stock card instead. The way these draws turned out, I ended up in an unprofitable third place in two of the large companies - a lot of time and effort spent for no return. Accordingly, despite a few neat plays providing excellent returns, I ended up finishing fourth of four, with the final scores 130/124/120/110. At a guess, I've played the game 20 times over the years and this is the first time the game has stagnated in this particular way.

After about twenty plays, I think I have a reasonable grasp of the game, though evidently I am not always able to perform what I'd like! I've reached a point in my understanding of it that I have a definite strategy and a definite style, so a large part of the fun working-out-how-to-play-the-game experience has gone. Nevertheless, there are aspects where I'm still finding my way; I haven't reached a definite conclusion as to how best to approach the Union Pacific company compared to the others. It's probably not in my personal top ten board games, but I can see being happy to play this a few times each year for many years to come.

The game is broadly highly regarded (#15 in the Top 100) and is regarded as one of the best new releases of 1999, but not quite an all-time great. Unfortunately, it is now out of print and a little difficult to obtain; see Funagain Games in the USA, the second-hand BoardGameGeek Marketplace as well as other typical online market locations such as EBay.

Alternatively, consider Fantasy Flight Games' "Through The Desert" (originally Kosmos' Durch die Wuste in German) which combines similar competing-for-first-and-second-place charms with tile placement challenges akin to three/four/five player Go on a hexagonal grid. It's a slightly shorter game, has very nice components and remains in print. On the other hand, it's significantly more abstract, has rather less of the thrill of chance and offers far fewer opportunities to make train whistle noises.

9. It would be useful to produce a list of Common Cultural Assumptions For LiveJournal Users, which would inevitably pick up a subtitle of The Common-Sense LiveJournal Rules For Less Stress. This will probably be a WIP in 77 parts, but these are examples of things I'm thinking of.
  • If someone has made an obviously difficult post, you have replied to it but your reply has not received a reply in return, this doesn't mean that your reply offended, just that the original poster finds the subject a difficult one to discuss.
  • Human beings are shy and will seldom say how much they like each other. Accordingly, if there are people on your Friends list you really like but you don't dare tell them how much, it's just as possible that there are people on your Friends-of list who really like you but don't dare tell you.
No one person specifically in mind in either case here; I believe I may have been on both sides of both a few times, but this isn't a boast - it's nothing unusual in the least.

10. There's a concept going round (here via praetorianguard, unanon, apocalypsos. justbluemyself, ...?) where people state ten unpopular opinions. As thegraybook points out, it's not clear who these opinions are meant to be unpopular with. Accordingly, I present Ten Things I Want To Argue About. Come fight with me, let's fight, let's fight today...

Prefixing all these with "they're just opinions, so I don't have to justify them here, but I'm happy to do so in comments":

A. Harry Potter has passed its peak as a mass media phenomenon. Books 6 and 7 will almost certainly be very good, the remaining movies will almost certainly be "very good but..." and the fandom is not likely to {ex|im}plode, but each future release will not be as mainstream an event as the previous ones.

B. Cheese is overrated.

C. The NCAA conference system is antiquated, anti-competitive and has no place in modern society. For football, I'll permit the first six weeks of the college season to be against regular, long-standing or local rivals, but the remaining weeks of the year should be run on the Swiss system to guarantee competitive, exciting match-ups between pairs of teams who are doing equally well. In this way, the best teams really will eventually play each other to generate a team who has proven their superiority.

D. Some company (no clue who) will buy all the land in a country by 2025. Not a big country, not a famous one, but a company will own a country. Then they will buy up several more small countries and migrate all the important people from these other countries to the first country. I can't work out what the consequences of this are likely to be, but the possibilities are scary.

E. Bridge, the card game, will never have three consecutive years of increasing popularity again. Its overall popularity (summing both offline and online play) will die out over time, with a half-life of about ten years. Poker and Spades will gain somewhat at Bridge's expense.

F. Schadenfreude is such a disutility to the human condition that governments should tax mass media entertainment producers who incorporate it into their work. It's impossible to police small media schadenfreude, but any activity which will make people stop and recognise the unkind nature of their amusement would be a net public good. I'd pay for some from time to time, but not much.

G. None of the Wallace and Gromit films released so far have actually been funny. Admirable, clever and cute, I will grudgingly concede, but not funny.

H. A truly enlightened society has no taboo subjects and governments should work towards encouraging this for the sake of the mental health of their people.

I. The politics of the chess world championship are truly screwed up. Vladimir Kramnik would gain immensely in stature, respect and credibility by refusing to accept the legitimacy of FIDE's latest championship proposals and instead playing a title match against Peter Leko, Garry Kasparov or even Alexei Shirov for a relatively small sum of money - six digits of dollars rather than seven as for the last few Kasparov title matches.

J. Suicide is a terrible thing and not to be encouraged or glorified. It is also, under some circumstances, a rational act of ultimate self-interest.

J'. Even mentioning suicide in an abstract sense is enough to make lots of people go Warning! Warning! Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! and it's really nice to have people looking out for me. However, anyone putting two and two from recent posts together and getting seriously worried is making five. Observe the cheerful mood and don't panic; I shall tell you when to panic. I promise that there are no grounds for concern and I shall write about my situation in lieu of physical self-harm. While I believe all of point J literally (and refer to point H) I mention this at least partly to press people's buttons in an overtly button-pressing exercise. Get it? Got it? Good.

Let's just see how unpopular these opinions are. Fire away.

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  • New game: Currency Cat

    Here is a simple, free-to-enter game to celebrate the recent turn of the decade. As I type at 2000 local UK time on 13th January 02020, the…

  • "The Floor is Lava" mini golf

    Insomnia last night inspired this game idea; maybe there's something to it, maybe there isn't. I might give it a try next time I'm at a games event.…

  • Show me the games and I will show you the man

    The first meme to have really caught my imagination for a few years popped up on Twitter the other day. Originally, Jennifer Scheurle asked:…