May 102013

It always starts innocently enough.  Someone in my group talks about The Counter burgers.  Someone else says they haven’t been.  Someone else say they haven’t been in a while. Okay, team lunch there.  Easy enough. But where is the twist? There has to be a twist, doesn’t there?

The fun of The Counter is building your own burger. Wouldn’t it be more fun if someone else built your burger for you? Though it wouldn’t be fair if people were assigned burger partners, so it’d need to be random. That’s how Burger Roulette was born.

Everyone makes a burger. We shuffle the burger forms before giving them to the waiter. Then we also get randomly assigned numbers and when the burgers come out, they are distributed in that order.  No one cares about which burger comes out, just what number burger it is.

Initially, I called it Burger Roulette, after Russian Roulette. Thinking that people are playing with loaded guns/hamburgers. But cause we are well trained computer scientists, as the plans developed, it became more of a prisoner’s dilemma problem. That problem, from game theory, basically has two folks caught doing something bad.  They both get the same deal.  There’s enough evidence to put each of you away for 2 years. But if you turn on your partner, you’ll go free but your partner will get 4 years.  Though if you both turn on each other, you’ll both get 4 years.

Do you turn on your partner or not? Theoretically, you should turn. Because if you don’t turn, you’ll either get 2 years (partner didn’t turn on you) or 4 years (partner turned on you).  Average sentence = 3 years.  If you do turn, you’ll either get 0 years (partner didn’t turn on you) or 4 years.  Average sentence is 2 years. Clear cut call. Theoretically.

The game also has a version called the iterated prisoner’s dilemma, where you play the game with each other many times, and thus, your strategy changes. Hopefully some trust can be built over time.

But let’s get back to the more pleasant (and practical) topic of burgers. Do you make a burger you’d think was the best burger, hoping you’d get your own burger?  (Don’t turn!) Or do you think it’d be fun to create a monster of a burger, hoping you don’t get your own burger? (Kinda turning…I mean, it’s just a burger after all…)

Because we work with each other, there is somewhat of an iterated feel to it. Folks you turn on will you’ll be working with for a while still. They aren’t getting whisked away to a cell somewhere else.

We have been to Dining in the Dark together. So we have trusted that people weren’t messing with your food in the dark already. This is similar, just with burgers, and light. And maybe a shake thrown in. It made a good burger outing quite fun.

The waiter was a little flustered when we shuffled all the cards infront of him, but once he understood what was going it, it made things easier.  All burgers are medium.  Bring us every type of fries. And we really didn’t care who got which burger. How much easier can you make it on a waiter?

Everyone said they made a burger they would be willing to eat.  Though a few qualified it with “but I wouldn’t have ordered it for myself”.  Some had themes, like Thai (peanut sauce, pineapple, sprouts, carrot strings, sliced cucumbers + bacon, just cause Thai food is better with bacon right?), or fire (everything that sounded hot).

And all the burgers were enjoyed.  One (only?) person did get their own burger. And it was one of those folks that qualified it with the “i wouldn’t have ordered it for myself” lines. The most challenging aspect (besides the jalapeños – but that was more of a mental thing) was the size for some people.  I guess people typically get the 1/3 pound burger while I happily checked off the 1 pounder.  The burger I got was only 2/3rds of a pound and I was done before some of the folks were done assessing their burger…but everyone finished.

Cause if you didn’t finish, you got the pleasure of picking up the bill.

Anyway, if you ever wanna play burger roulette/dilemma, I’m down.

Especially when their special shake of the month is Churro.  That thing is fantastic!

Aug 272012

I still battle with learning Outwitters and removing regret from my play. They have a ladder system so as you get better you play better people. Maximizes frustration with the game and my lack of development. Sal is encouraging though – optimistic that I can climb the ladder to the top.  He’s only seven – too early to let him get disappointed with my abilities.

Went on a team paintball session last week.  Was fun. But was left with some regret.  They had a game called Terminator – one guy is the Terminator and everyone else is the resistance. Humans (the resistance) are killed once and out of the game.  The Terminator goes on until he opts to self destruct.

Our ref scared me out of the game because he said he would only consider it of he was wearing a hoodie.  I was in a short sleeve jumpsuit.  He compromised and introduced us to Zombies, where 3 guys are zombies, only killed by head shots and the humans once hit, become zombies too.  I have a smart team and the humans in this game realized that a headshot would be difficult. They decided to just maximize pain and shoot up the zombies as much as possible. If the head was hit, cool, but it wasn’t an objective for them.

This became clear to me when I saw guns shoved around a corner blindly shooting at me.  And my torso getting lit up with paint.  Good strategy and one that makes me think that life as a Terminator would be painful. But, it would have given me the chance to shoot each of the guys on my team.

Legitimately at least.

Cause I did shoot them all, just some of it was friendly fire…

Aug 042012

What if someone said that if you did something special for 20 minutes a day, your memory would improve.  Your intelligence too!

Would you do it?

Turns out, our family doesn’t.  There’s this Dual N-back app that Catherine downloaded.  It’s challenging and I could see how practicing is good exercise for one’s mental capabilities.

It’s just so boring.

Instead, I’ve convinced myself that learning new games and the strategies within them, is the way I’d rather work out my brian.  Ben pointed out that I don’t like running, but would play basketball.  Same thing.  Analogies are the mark of intelligence.

Anyway, I’m still hooked on Carcassonne.  But now, there’s some Outwitters going on.  It’s of a class of games that I haven’t played much, but I thought that the characters would interest Sal.  And it’d be another good way to get his mind shaped around strategy development.  He’s taking to it very well, though we still see the game a bit differently.

He was asking me what my favorite character was. And in my answer, I qualified it for the different types of boards, the style of game I was going to play, the style I felt my opponent played, and the color of my mood ring.  It took me that long to realize he was just asking which character I thought looked the coolest.

You need to play 5 games to get a ranking in the game.  Sal finished his five games over a few days (depending on your opponent, things could take a while). But he came to me sad.  “Dad, I’m so bad at Outwitters, they won’t even put me in the Fluffy league.”  This was just a few days after he had a victory against some stranger online.  He was bummed and I felt bad for him.  But I also felt like everyone gets ranked.

He had two games against me, which were unranked.  He thought those counted.  So he’s happy now he’s still in the hunt for the Fluffy league.  Click on that game screenshot to see a video of his win. Which was completely unassisted by a parent.  I got a text from Catherine while I was at work that he beat a stranger (she’s staying away from the game because the Fog of War makes her nervous…the Fog of Poor Memory makes me more nervous) and I was anxious to get home to watch the replay.  I was pleased with how aggressive he was.  Over the wide variety of games that we play, he’s picking up some decent strategic ability.

Myself, well, more than half the time I make a move, there’s some aspect of it I immediately regret.  But the percentage of time that’s happening is shrinking.  Slowly.  Shrinking because I’m making fewer mistakes.  Slowly because I’m still learning more about the strategy of the game myself.  I’m increasing the number of things I’m paying attention to – meaning I’m learning new ways that I’m making mistakes.  But I figure collecting those facts/strategies is in the same spirit as the N-back test.

Or at least, it is good enough for me.

Jul 092012

Accepting your kid for who they are, or who they will become, is the biggest challenge of parenting, right?  Creating goals and expectations for them, explicitly or implicitly, is a recipe for disaster, yeah?  They are their own being, they should be able to do what they want to do, no?

I do just want Sal to be happy.  That’s my parenting goal.  I don’t care if he’s a successful artist or a struggling doctor, a chronic volunteer or a rat in a race.  As long as he’s happy and doing what he wants.  Happiness is elusive and constantly moving – many struggle to find it. So that’s all I wish for him – is to find it.

Of course, about that path to happiness, I’m slightly biased.  It goes against one of my management books that points out how as a manager, the traits and characteristics that lead to one’s success, does not necessarily apply to everyone else.  We all have different strengths and weaknesses and to manage properly is to adjust for everyone’s individual skill sets – instead of demanding they follow one’s own mold (came from a baseball management book that chronicled a manager who’s success as a player came from steals, so he forced his team to steal more, which they weren’t suited for).

I find programming skills helpful.  They’ve given me an avenue to express my creativity, they’ve kept me entertained for many years, lead to a lot of satisfying moments, and they have fed me well.

So of course, I think Sal should have some decent programming skills.  I think it’s easier to pick up other skills, if one has the foundation that disciplined programming gives you.  Programming makes you break things down, to pick out patterns, and once you start seeing them, you just can’t stop.  It will shape the way you view the world.

Even if he goes on to be an accountant, or a dancer, or a fisherman, I still think that having a mind trained for problem solving and pattern recognition will be an advantage.  I’ve tried to lead by example.  To show Sal that programs can be written to solve problems for us, to make our lives easier, to put a more practical spin on things so that he sees applications as more than video games.

It’s been an interesting journey.  First, I started with the competitive approach and tried to convince him to program because once you know how to program well, it’s easier to understand the AI that a video game utilizes.  But he was still struggling to come to grips with how own strategies for playing games, much less, trying to understand the strategy of others.

But then, we started talking about designing our own games.  And we would pick apart aspects of games we played and identified what we liked about them, and what we didn’t.  We started playing meta games, discussing the games at a higher level and he’s already feeling some of the excitement of playing a game he’s designed and built.

I think I’ve won the war – he gets it.  I’ve showed him how to use flags as variables to represent states in a game and he’s made that his own, by using different shades of red in the Gobo’s costumes.  We had an issue when the characters ran into each other and the bad guy ended up hurting himself because he ran into a Gobo (in any state).  I took a nap while Sal debugged that on his own.  He came up with states, but represented in the Gobo’s colors instead of as a variable (kind of abstract still). Darker red is a fighting Gobo.  Lighter red isn’t.  One color hurts more when you hit it.

“Plus, being more maroon-ish makes you look meaner!”

So that’s fantastic.  I should be completely happy.

Except for those sneaky goals and expectations that we’re not supposed to have.  His games lack a bit of strategy.  Not much choice in them.  Atari had their 40th anniversary a couple of weeks back (they are a few days older than I am) and they gave away their iPad games for free that day.  I downloaded a lot of them, to use as examples for Sal and I over the summer.  I figure he should be able to crank out games that were considered state of the art 40 years ago as a 7 year old today, right?

We implemented parts of Battle together.  Simple game.  Two guys moving opposite directions on the screen and they each have a bullet they can shoot at each other.  To make it more interesting, let them vary their speeds a little bit.  As simple as that game is, Walter and I used to play for hours.  Straight up duels.  Mind games.  Games so easy, you’re frustrated that you could lose such an easy game, so of course we need to play again.

But it had strategy.  It wasn’t just repetitive tapping to work your way through a ladder of achievements and (virtual) goals.  Carcassonne has many of the same qualities.  Simple game, lots of strategy, people taking very different approaches.  Sal told me he’d be more interested in playing Carcassonne if you could level up the Meeples.  If they could earn more hats, or outfits, or shields, or colors, or some other virtual goods, he’d be more into playing the game.

I’m hoping it’s just a phase.

But people rightly point out to me, that the more successful/popular games all have that customization aspect to it.  Farmville isn’t a strategy game, it’s a tap and collect game. Pokemon’s slogan tells you it’s a collector’s game.  There’s something to that type of game that is appealing, so it’s just natural that those would be the types of games Sal would want to make.  As you can see from the screenshot of the Gobo costumes, his have a wooden sword, a silver sword, a gold sword, and a platinum sword…

Those were other additions Sal made while I was napping. Updated: Here’s him describing the swords – platinum is my favorite.

So bless that little dude for getting up early on weekends and dragging me out of bed so we can go program together…I just need to get over the fact that his dream job might end up being at Zynga.

Jul 072012

I love me some Carcassonne.  Not sure why, and it took about 2 months for it to take, but I’m pretty well addicted to it.  Sal, once, even to try and hurt me, said that he wanted to delete Carcassonne off his iPad.  We still haven’t fully recovered from that.

I’ve started playing some strangers online now, in addition to my regular stable of friends.  This is one result:

Some people like dishing it out more than taking it, apparently.  He LOLs me when he orphans one of my players.  And on the next move, I put a player out there that could again get orphaned, so I mention I’m a slow learner. Then I orphan 3 of his players, as well as one of my own (but that’s a reasonable sacrifice to make) and I wonder if this is just as Laugh Out Loud funny.  It was to me at least.

Another game I was playing, I quickly realized I was up against serious competition.  Sal was talking to me about something and I asked him if we could have the conversation later because I was playing a tough person in Carcassonne.  He was fine with that and came over to watch.  Catherine asked how I could tell and I talked about some of the types of moves he was making.

Sal asked me how come I knew it was a guy, when their avatar was a women.  I had to start describing how sometimes people don’t represent themselves perfectly online and I felt that the best way to get around some of the tougher topics was to bring up the New Yorker comic where the dogs were talking about how the internet was great, cause “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Sal thought about that for a while, watching our game progress.  Then he said “Or maybe, they are a dog and are just really excited because they are finally playing another dog!”


Mar 232012

Draw something has got a bit of a spike lately – they say it’s been around for 4 years, but it wasn’t till the last few months, with iOS and Android apps out, that it really caught on.

I’ve done my bit.  At first, I had two accounts to test it out, then though Sal might like it.  He did.  But he started playing strangers.

So I had to cut that out.  I started gifting the app to others we knew, so Sal could play with them.

I am amazed at how much joy and pride and happiness I get when I see him guess my drawing.  Or I watch him draw something that I could guess – his scorpion was much better than the one I had to draw for someone else later on – and i was even trying to channel his scorpion while I was creating my own.  It was terrible.  And he doesn’t  turn away from clues like “victim” or “justice”.  Admittedly, I couldn’t guess his drawing of “beef”…but it made sense to me later on as he described what he was thinking while we were chatting on the way to school.

Kalbi.  Nice. (It had the string of 3 bones across the top…which made a lot of sense after hearing his explanation…)

But of course, for all those friends I’ve gifted the app to for him to play with, I’ve been playing my bit.  And I’ve had way too much fun playing the game.  Not because I can draw – I can’t.  But I like to find fun outside of the normal confines of the game.

People have told me they don’t like me guessing words before they are done drawing.  Especially if my guesses are things like “lame” or “bad” or “crap”. Why so sensitive?

I’ve also gotten in the habit of watching others do their drawing.  I’m fortunate to have a few very talented (or at least, practiced) drawing friends out there.  It’s so much fun for me to watch a drawing unfold, because it becomes so clear to me that they see the world in a different way than I do.  They see layers and they share those layers and perspective with me over a few minutes.  I feel like I’m insulting them by answering early and not enjoying the journey of the artistic process that they are sharing with me.

And I learn a bit too, about how to draw.  Plus, it gives me time to make up snarky anagrams…

The learning to draw aspect is fun.  I don’t think my drawing has really improved that much, except, I learned how to copy someone’s rendering of a wedgie.  I didn’t know drawing a women’s hourglass was that easy.  Forgive me, Draw Something partner, for wasting a few pages of your clue, just mimicking your wedgie.  I wanted that lesson to burn in. But I’m at least learning how others do it.  Since I suck at it so much, it’s like watching a magic show each time, as the overall picture unfolds. Then I’m a bad mimic…but who knows, maybe 9,700 more games of this and I’ll be able to draw a great bunny as fast as Sal’s kindergarten teacher.

Also, since I like twisting my own perceptions, I’ve lately found that others are really eager to get clues right.  So I’ve gotten in the habit of when I feel like the clue should be guessed by “now”, I don’t stop drawing.  And I try and transform my drawing into something different, so that when they guess the clue right and the rest of the drawing just “pops in” – that it’s a little jolting.  If only I could draw better, it could be that much more jolting!

As it is, it’s my gift to my Draw Something friends.

Man.  It’s late.  I just drew a nice valley for someone (nice for me at least – I kind of crack myself up now with the attention to detail I put into my horrible pictures and wondering how impatient the person on the other side is getting with my useless, poorly rendered, details?  I’m trying to put a sun into every one of my pictures now.  My goto move…)  Anyway, when I submitted my picture, I noticed I had selected the word “ride” instead.  Good luck with that!