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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Every Day I'm Buskerin'

Okay, that's a terrible title. Oh well. Deal with it.

I'm a bit behind on my posts. Hopefully I'll have one up about the Sydney Writer's Festival before long, and another one about something else. But thought I'd do this one now.

On Saturday, I went and played on a keyboard in Camperdown Memorial Park in Newtown. Well. I brought the keyboard with me, and played on it. But you know. It was my first time busking with a keyboard, for various reasons. Power is a bit tricky. And you can't really take it on the train. But that wasn't the important thing, though it was pretty cool. Neither was it important that it was the first time I'd played a gig in about nine months or so, or that I hadn't played some of those songs in ages. Or at all in public. Though that was cool too.

No, the important thing was that it was for Busk For A Cure. To those of you who aren't aware, Busk For A Cure is an annual charity music festival that happens over at Newtown around this time each year. It's still in the early stages - last year was the first time it had some decent organisation happening, and so this year we had some good foundations to build on. I had heard of BFAC before, but hadn't gotten involved - but this year, they needed a few extra people on board, so I put my hand up :) Since then, I've been running the blog over here, and also working on a couple of press releases and such, as well as other bits and pieces. And it's been pretty awesome.

So that all came to a head this Saturday just past, when we got together in Newtown and made some noise! Well, music, hopefully. People seemed to like it (for the most part), which was good :) There were a few hiccups, as inevitably occurs with these sort of events. When you have fifty artists across five stages across the whole day, something is bound to go awry. But it all got sorted one way or another, and it seemed to go really well. We're still waiting on the final tally - that's happening tomorrow - but I'm feeling really positive :)

All the money raised goes towards both Cancer Council NSW and Crohn's & Colitis Australia, we don't keep anything for costs and the like. We have sponsors to cover all of that, as well as a great team of volunteers. It got started and is being run by Helmut because of his mother, who suffered from cancer. And it's pretty darn awesome. I'm super-stoked to have been involved with it this year, and am already looking forward to next year :)

If you are interested in getting behind this cause, you can still donate to support BFAC here.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

When Do You Feel Most Lonely?

This one is a fairly short one, but I thought I'd ask a question of people for once. When do you feel most lonely? Because the thing is, for me, I feel most alone in a crowd. That might seem a bit ridiculous, but hear me out.

When you're by yourself, you can't connect to anyone. You're by yourself. You expect to be alone, and you are. And you get a bit lonely here and there, but it's not usually too bad.

But when you're in a crowd, when you're amongst other people - well, there's so many people to connect to! Surely, one of them will connect with you, right? Surely, someone, okay then....

That's why I feel most alone in a crowd, or in a room of people, or at a lot of events. Most of the time, I'm sitting or standing by myself, and everyone else is talking to someone. And I wonder what it is they've got that I haven't. How do they do it?

It's relatively simple, of course. They connect. They talk. They interact. I do that as well, but it usually feels a lot more - pointed, than it should be. It feels like it should be spontaneous and natural. But with me, it's more like a list in my head. "Okay, I need to talk to this person about this, and this person about that, and it would be nice to talk to that person," but inevitably, each of them is already talking. It would be rude to interrupt. But I don't want to just sit in one spot. I'm terrible at keeping still - well, I'm okay at it, but I like to move around. So I do, until someone is free. Then I hope I can dive in before someone else does....

That's not what conversation always is for me, of course. It depends very much on the context. The above is fairly typical for me after church, for instance. Not so much at my new church as yet, because I don't know anyone much well enough to talk to them! Guess that's the point of talking to them.....oh, yes, for those who haven't heard as yet, I'm at a new church now. Not because I didn't like the old one. I rather do. Just a bit of a new direction for a season - not sure how long a season. We'll see as we go. But at present, I'm leading the music for the evening service over at Cobbitty Anglican. Lovely old church. Very old, actually. Heritage listed. Beautiful building. Good people, too. Always nice.

Anyway. Yes. Conversation, interaction. All that sort of thing. Feeling lonely in a crowd. So. Not sure if that's just a me thing, or an Aspie thing, or actually somewhat broader. So thought I'd ask around! When do you feel most alone/lonely? Would love to get your thoughts :)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A History Of Septimus.

For a little while now, I've been working on a board game called Septimus. Most of it is done - the rules, the ideas, how it all works together. What takes time is all of the cards - I've got two sets of decks I need to make, one for Items, the other for Encounters. There are 70 Item cards, in two decks (of 42 and 28), and then 140 Encounter Cards, in four decks (of 14, 28, 42, and 56). I'm wanting each to be unique. I have a fair few ideas about what they'll look like, have them categorised, I've got a few examples of just takes time.

But one thing I only wrote relatively recently, but had had in my head since near the start, was the history; the story of the game, the context. So I thought I'd share that here. History buffs will quickly realise I'm using a touch of Latin. The names, if you're interested, are mostly real. I think I only invented one. I'm not sure if I'd say the people actually spoke Latin; perhaps it is in tribute to their ancestors who did. More to figure out! But for now, read on, and discover the world....of Septimus....

In the land of Patriam, at the height of the Middle Ages, there arose seven charismatic and influential leaders. First, Seneca, a philosopher, a very wise and elderly man. Second, Ennius, who worked wonders with mechanisation. Third, Petronia, a fierce warrior. Fourth, Terentius, an expert navigator and sea captain. Fifth, Ignatia, who delved into the new field of explosives. Sixth, Maximilianus, an in-depth and disciplined researcher. And seventh, Untalia, who hid in the shadows, and worked in secret places. 
Each of these developed a faction around them, of people like themselves, who had their ideals and skills. And each went to war against the other factions. 
The fighting was long, and bloody. Each faction wanted leadership over Patriam for themselves; none was willing to concede. Even those that seemed to get along well, and had originally supported one another, turned against each other. The war went on for generations, with no sign of ending. 
Finally, Seneca stepped forward, calling for a council, with a member from all seven factions present. They believed that they had an idea for peace. Slowly, each other faction agreed, and the first Council of Seven was held. 
Seneca proposed that, rather than one faction ruling over the land, all seven could live together. Each year, a leader would be chosen from each faction, and they would compete to see who would rule for that time. After some discussion, the others agreed. They were tired of bloodshed. 
Ennius then proposed that this competition could take place in a maze with various encounters, which they would build. Petronia supplied their best warriors to test the maze. Terentius scouted out the best location to build it. Ignatia brought their pyrotechnic expertise to many of the traps. Maximilianus researched and tested to deduce the best encounters to trial the skill of each faction, and to make it fair for each one. Untalia advised Ennius on many of the unexpected surprises to be found in the Maze. 
At the second Council, they formed a joint government and law between the seven factions. Each was given, and was responsible for, a seventh of the land; as such, each faction was referred to, then on, as a septimus. Together, they were called the Septem Septimus. 
The Maze became part of the culture for each septimus, each preparing in their own way. Each septimus knew bits of what to expect, but none knew all. The Maze changed every time, and you didn’t know what you would face until you entered. But each year, each septimus selected their Hero to enter the Maze, to potentially lead the land for the year to come. 
You have been chosen as a Hero. You represent your Septimus. You face the Maze. Will you emerge victorious?

Saturday, 6 May 2017

An addendum to triangles.

Quite a while back, I did this post. In it, I made a bit of a boo-boo. And I didn't realise it at the time. I figured it out by finding this page here, looking at the same problem. I discovered quite quickly that I'd been missing out all of the downwards-facing triangles that weren't unit triangles. Which wasn't a problem for the first three triangles, because there aren't any. The fourth has only one. But then it goes up.

So, my previous formula of (x^3 - x)/6 doesn't work at all. So I tried to find a new one.

First, I tried doing it while maintaining the x^2 out the front. I discovered that the rest of the sum was the series (0, 1, 4, 11, 23, 42, 69....), which, when typed into the online encyclopaedia of integer sequences (quite handy), said that it was the sequence "A019298 - Number of balls in pyramid with base either a regular hexagon or a hexagon with alternate sides differing by 1 (balls in hexagonal pyramid of height n taken from hexagonal close-packing)." You can have a look here if you like. Unfortunately, it looks like they don't have formulas for the nth term in the series in any simple form, though I'm probably just reading it badly.

So I tried it a different way - separating out the upward-facing (which I knew was just a sum of triangular numbers, and was easy enough), from all the downward-facing. The latter yielded this series: 0, 1, 3, 7, 13, 22, 34..... which also came up, this time as "A002623 - G.f.: 1/((1-x)^4*(1+x))." I've just found out that G.f. stands for Generating function. Again, though, it didn't have any simple formulas.

There were formulas available for both. But all of them included extra expressions. They're all given in the format a(n)=, n being the nth number in that series, and a being that series. But then they'll have a(n-1)*a(n+2) in the formula or something, which isn't helpful! I need it just in terms of n. But, they didn't have that.

So, at present, I have no formula for this. Unfortunately. I knew you were all hanging on for me to pull out something nice, right, but I've got nothing for you. :/ If any of my maths friends can figure it out, let me know!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Notes on the Royal Game of Ur.

I recently came across this video that was uploaded quite recently for International Tabletop Day 2017, by, of all places, the British Museum. In it, Tom Scott (who hosts his own YouTube channel, chiefly about Things You Might Not Know) takes on Irving Finkel at a very, very old board game - possibly the oldest board game that we still have the rules for.

The rules were actually only discovered and deciphered relatively recently (in the last ten years or so), by Mr Irving Finkel himself. The game, however, was discovered close to a hundred years ago.

Now, there is some debate as to how the game is played; the text that was used to guess at the rules is only a partial Cuneiform tablet, so we are missing bits and pieces. But I'll give you the version that was played by Tom and Irving (though apparently there's also a more complex version).

The board can be seen below. The game is played by two people, with seven white and seven black pieces (each player choosing a colour). There are also four tetrahedral dice, each with two white points. You roll all four at once, and the number of white points that are up is your roll - so you can roll a number from zero to four.

The object of the game is demonstrated quite well by the graphic below. You need to get all seven of your pieces from the start, to the finish, along this course. Each turn, you roll the four dice, and may move one piece that number of spaces. You cannot land on your own piece - this is not a legal move. You must move the number of spaces specified, not more or less. If you move on to an opponent's piece, that piece must go back off the board and start again. You also need an exact roll to leave the board.

If you move on to one of the spaces marked by a star, above, or the flower/rosettes on the original board, you get an extra roll - which may be used to move any piece, not just the piece you just moved. If your piece is on the star in the centre, it cannot be landed on by an opponent's piece, and is safe. If you roll a zero, you don't move any pieces. If you roll any other number, and have no legal moves (all your moves result in you moving on to your own piece, or isn't an exact roll to move a piece out), then you also don't move, and skip your turn.

I'm pretty sure that's all the rules. If you want to have a go at the game yourself, there's a spot you can play it online right here. I've become rather obsessed quite quickly, and seem to be doing quite well at it. I don't know if it's actually because I'm good at it, or if it's because the Computer is set on Easy. But it's quite an interesting game. Some of it is chance - after all, you're rolling dice - but there's also a lot of strategy involved. So much so, that I was quickly able to analyse the game, and come up with some strategies that I think will help you to win, most of the time. Probably not all of the time - and particularly not if they're following these as well! - but I think it will help you quite a bit. Anyway. Notes and analysis below.

Notes on Ur 
A roll will result in one of three ways. One is arbitrary, the other two are important.
The first result is not being able to move any pieces, either because you have rolled a zero, or you have rolled a number that gives you no legal moves. 
The second result is rolling a number that only allows you to a move a piece into an empty, unsafe space. 
The third result is rolling a number that allows you to do one or more of the following:
- move a piece on to the board
- move a piece off the board
- move a piece on to a safe space
- move a piece on to a rosette
- move a piece on to an opponent’s piece 
Of the above options, let us say, for instance, that all five are available to you. What should you do? In most cases, the answer will be to move a piece on to a rosette. This will give you an additional roll, giving you a chance to take another of these actions. The only instances where you may not do this is;
- if you have another piece in danger
- if moving the piece on to the rosette means that rolling a 2 (the most common roll) would give you no legal moves 
In those instances, it may be better to move your piece out of danger, or to take a different action. 
A piece is in danger if it is within one, two, three, or four spaces of an enemy piece. It is in most danger at two spaces away; medium danger at one or three; and some danger at four. Keep in mind that rosettes may enable pieces to travel more than four spaces at a time, particularly if multiple are landed upon in one turn (certainly feasible). 
After the options of moving a piece out of danger, or using a rosette, the next most desirable option is to move on to an opponent’s piece, unless doing so moves your piece out of the central and most desirable position. If this is the case, only do this if you are reasonably confident you can reclaim it quickly, or it is close to the end of the game and you need the edge; and only after some thought. 
The next most desirable option is to move pieces on to the board. Especially fortuitous, of course, is if you can move a piece on to the board and on to a rosette with a four, but this only happens rarely. But the more pieces you have on the board, the more options you have, and the more you can move towards the end of the game. 
Moving a piece from the central line to a safe space is certainly desirable, but not as much as the previous options, unless it is in direct danger. Moving a piece off the board, similarly, though desirable, can usually be done at another time; though it may be good to prioritise this if you have a couple of pieces lining up to get out. 
As much as you can, arrange your pieces so that you can maximise the potential from any roll, and avoid either the first or second result. Rolls of zero will always come; but every other roll, on every turn, have a plan for. One way to do this is to have the first three spaces of the board filled with pieces. This way, whether you roll a one, two, three, or four, a piece moves directly on to the first rosette. 
Always try to claim the central position as soon as possible, and do not give it up unless you must. If the opponent has claimed it, try tempting them with a piece of yours that has made it past the central position. They may chase after it, giving you the opportunity to take the central position once more. This works better the further along in the game you are. 
When deciding whether to move a piece into the central path; first, assess whether this will put it into immediate danger. If so, try to avoid this, particularly if the danger is high (space of two). If not, then simply try to move as far down as you can. 
And remember, this game can turn in a moment. No matter how well you strategise, it can often come down to a crucial roll. However, follow these guidelines, and you will often do well.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

On War, and Big Booms.

Typically, I'm not one who keeps up with the news very much. About the only engagement that I have with the news is watching The Last Leg, which I very much recommend to people who enjoy comedy/Adam Hills/taking the news a little less seriously. But there are a few things that you can't miss no matter what, if you're on social media at all. Things like this.

I find it amusing that this is literally the first result when I Google "trump card" in images. Anyway.

Ever since this guy came into power, there's been a bit of a.....reaction, from the majority of people worldwide. If you're not familiar with it, it's somewhat like when you've just vomited, and there's a bit left in your mouth, and you involuntarily swallow - that combined taste-and-burn feeling. That.

But now, there's a bit of a different feeling coming around. This one more like when you're out for a walk, and you suddenly realise that walking towards is you is someone with a very large, rather energetic dog. And you attempt to give them as wide a berth as possible, and hope to God that the leash doesn't snap, because you darn well couldn't outrun it, and it has teeth about as big as nails. Big nails, that is, not the smaller kind. That sort of feeling is more of what we're getting now. Mainly cause of this guy.

Look at that smile! Isn't that a great smile? Much nicer than the other guy. Anyway.

To say that America and North Korea have never been on the best of terms is kinda like saying that the Grinch was never on the best of terms with Christmas. While somewhat true, it's rather lacking. Like, a lot. These days, though, things seem rather more....tense. Stretched. And people are starting to compare it to the Cold War between Russia and America, or saying it might be the lead-up to world war three. Which is....yeah, pretty crazy.

For those playing along at home, there are pretty much always wars happening these days. But, for the most part, these are minor skirmishes, civil wars, and guerrilla groups. There hasn't been anything like the world wars since....well, since 1945, funnily enough. We've had some big ones since then - the Vietnam War, the Korean War (hang on, that rings a bell....), but nothing on quite the same scale.

And, that's because of a few different factors, that Kurzgesagt explain quite nicely in this video. Essentially, though, it's a combination of globalisation, democratisation, fixed borders, and better international law.

And so, quite rightly, the idea of potential thermonuclear war is kinda ridiculously scary, if we think that's a definite possibility. Given that I don't know Mister Un particularly well, I can't really make a call on whether I think he's just grandstanding and showing off, or if he really doesn't care what he says because he thinks he has that much power, and he's happy to swing it around at whoever addles him a little (particularly if their name rhymes with McDonald Bump).

When we look back at the big wars, or back to the London blitz, or to rationing, or conscription, or Gallipoli - and we think about that potentially happening in our world, that scares us. Rather a lot. And rightly so. It's a lot to be scared about, particularly when it's something that we feel we can't do anything about - it's just something that happens to us. And for many of us, we don't know what we'd do, or how we'd act, in that situation. Would we run? Would we fight? Would we die? It's hard to tell until the shells fall, and the guns start firing. Personally, being on the set of a war was more than enough for me. If they ever manage to get conscription back in again, they won't be able to get me onto the battlefield. It's just....*shudders*....yeah, no.

But, at the moment, thankfully, it's a big If. Does North Korea have the weapons, and the military strength to make an attack? Quite possibly. Will they? That question is a lot harder to answer. Because it seems like such an attack would simply be a bit of a suicide attempt, unless they can manage to get some allies happening, because everyone would just play the nuke version of stacks-on. It's rather less fun.

In conclusion - I don't really know. But what I do know, is this: that worrying will not help. In fact, it will do the opposite. A rather nice little recent quote illustrates this point rather well.

Stop worrying about what might be, or could be, and start holding on to what is. Then, I think, we'll get through today fairly well. :)

Monday, 1 May 2017

Changing Views and a Crucial Question

It's interesting how your views and ideas change over time. Good, because it would be kind of idiotic otherwise. Or incredible that you managed to figure out the right ones first up. But interesting.

One example that has struck me recently is the issue of Christians being in a relationship with non-Christians. When I was in high school/earlier on at uni, it wasn't really something I thought about much. When I did, I thought that it was probably better Christians being with Christians, but it wasn't a major deal or anything.

Then, of course, it had to become a major deal for me, didn't it? When it went from being a question about other people to a question about myself, it rather changed things. I had to think about it and mull over it a fair bit, but in the end, decided that if I'm going to be looking towards spending the rest of my life with someone (which, for me, is always what a relationship is about), then I need to be able to be sharing God with them, growing in my relationship together with them. Not trying to hide God from them, attempting to not talk about him or his impact in my life. Because it's not like it's just one room in your house that you can close a door on now and then - he is the very foundation and fabric of the house, he is in all of it. He is in all of my life. That's not something I can hide from people, particularly if I'm spending that much time with them. So I made the call that, for me, I need to be with someone who loves God.

But these days, I'd go a step further. I would say that, if you're in a relationship with someone (or thinking about/planning to be in a relationship with someone), and you're a Christian, you need to ask yourself a super-duper crucial question.

Is this person drawing me closer to, or further away, from God?

And I know, I know, God's everywhere, so we're not really getting closer or further away, etc. But you get what I'm saying. Do they help you grow in your walk with God? Or do they slow it down, interrupt it? Get between you and God, even in subtle ways?

Because the thing is, there isn't any neutral ground. There aren't neutral people. Every person is either going to be strengthening your relationship with God, or weakening it. Quite possibly both, at different times. Certainly happens. But in general, you can usually get a sense of which is the norm overall. And in most friendships, it's okay to have bits of both, as long as you've got some good strengtheners that you can always hold on to. God calls us to go out an be amongst people. If we're just sheep amongst sheep, we're doing something wrong.

But when you're talking about someone that you're wanting to spend the rest of your life with - that needs to be someone that is going to strengthen your relationship with God. No buts about it. If you're going to be married to someone - that needs to be someone that you can grow together in your relationship with God with, that will strengthen you and challenge you, and that you can do the same for. If that's not the case - then there's an issue there.

So I challenge you to ask this question, if you're in a relationship, or thinking about it. Ask God to help you be discerning, not just making a snap judgement. If they are strengthening your relationship with God - great! But if not - then if you're not in a relationship with them, look somewhere else. If you are; then try to discern if they can change. If God can change them into someone who will strengthen you, rather than weaken you. If that's not the case - then maybe you need to be somewhere else. It's a hard call to make, but maybe it's one you'll need to.

At the same time, take all of this with a pinch of salt. I don't know your situation, what's happening with you, and it's not really something I've been in the middle of myself in quite the same way as others have. But I think it's something important to think about, regardless. So do ask the question.