April 18, 2018 in research by Matthew Brown
There is a maxim that when you do a whole load of research about amusing military stuff, you should blog it for other people to read. This is, of course, something I just made up. That doesn’t make it a bad idea though.
I’ve been watching a lot of war movies lately and a fair few silly and satirical comedies. As a result, my head was in the right place to revisit a story I had ground to a halt on about a really inept band of space marines. I’m not really sure how a space military might work so I’ve borrowed heavily from the army.
The “star” of this story is Jonathan Lucien Montgomery of Unit Treble-Six. A merry prankster who tends to upset commanding officers. This is his introduction.
It wasn’t that Jonathan Lucien Montgomery was a stupid man but his brain saw less use than a bible at an atheist’s convention. Jon, as he preferred to be called, had been demoted so many times that the admiralty had invented new extra-low ranks for him. He was currently Private, Twelfth Class. Technically, even the doors out-ranked him.
Jon is the least terrible member of his unit and has to help them complete a mission designed to be impossible. The problem the admiralty have with Unit Treble-Six is that no matter where they send them they have a nasty habit of coming home again afterwards.
I figured I would use some realistic sounding military terms which the unit could totally fail to truly understand.
Gear adrift is a gift
This is a saying that basically means that it is completely your own fault if you happen to leave your kit unattended and someone else acquires it. The person who takes your unattended stuff has not stolen it. Instead, they have “tactically acquired” it.
In the case of Jon, he miss-applies this saying to a resupply satellite which the unit will loot when I write that bit.
Nut to butt
A term that means that things are a bit cramped. It quite literally means put your nuts on the butt in front of you. This term is used in the second chapter when the squad tries to cram themselves into a tiny room for a briefing. Due to an absence of gravity they also experience crotch to face.
A term used to rate how frightening a situation is. As in just how tightly it will make your backside pucker up. I have no idea where I will use it but I really want to. If your military unit has to deal with a high pucker factor things might not being well.
This is an all-purpose military term, generally of contempt. It is reserved for those soldiers who look out for themselves but not their mates. Jack might apply to any number of things. According to my very limited research, the most heinous crime is the “jack brew” – making yourself a cup of tea without making one for anyone else.
This is a term adopted by the army as far back as World War I. It refers to kit, food, and equipment that is tucked away in someone’s room or other stash point and not in the Mess or Quarter Master’s store where it’s probably meant to be. The idea being that this is kept as a personal reserve in case the main supply runs out. If everyone is maintaining a buckshee store hen it is no wonder things run out.
The idea here is that even as orders are being handed down to the lowest ranks, the facts on the ground have changed. As have the plans of the officers. You may need to be adaptive. Also expect a new plan any moment now.
March 31, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
When designing games, we sometimes use the inverse square law.
- Warning: here be nerd-bate.
The inverse square law is a lot easier to understand than the last round of maths geekery I posted. When geeky writers have a little too much time on their hands, they read geeky blogs and write about maths.
What is the inverse square law?
The inverse square law accurately models the drop off of sound and the reduction in illumination as a product of distance. Thus, if something is twice as far away it is a quarter as bright (or loud). A similar function – the inverse square root – is used extensively in games to approximate illumination.
How this applies to AI and games?
A perfect example of this principle came up recently in a blog post about the development of AI players for a computer game. Bullion is a game I wrote about for my Geek blog last year. This year, for GEEK 2018, the team were back with AI updates. They write on their blog about how they have been evolving the game’s AI design. If you are a geek like me, it is a very interesting read.
The Bullion guys tell us that they have the AI access a target using the following maths – risk and reward balance over distance and difficulty.
Which means that the risk and reward balance only needs to be twice as good as the distance and difficulty factor to be worth forgoing easier and closer rewards.
I disagree. I think that if you want a more human-like approach then AI needs to value closer and easier much more. I suggested the following change.
What this does is more closely approximates the “brightness” of a shiny thing. A shiny thing must be much shinier the harder it is to get to.
Yes, but what does that mean?
Human beings have an unconscious bias towards things that are closer to us. Basically, the further things are away from us, the harder it feels that it should be to go and get them. t also means that we tend to favour in-house fixes rather than outside technology (but that is a whole other story).
In terms of AI, this square function would make the AI much more likely to suck up a lot of smaller rewards rather than chase a single bigger reward. As a result, the AI is likely to score much better in matches especially in longer games.
Facebook uses a similar function to value newer content more highly and to have the value of content drop off faster the older the content gets. I applied the exact same approach to the (now retired) popular content listing on lordmatt.co.uk.
Inverse vs inverse square
What the Bullion developers have is an inverse function (shown in the graph in blue). As distance increases the attractiveness of the reward drops away. They might be right, I’ve not tested this with their AI (obviously).
What I proposed is an inverse square (shown in orange). As you can see this favours closer and easier rewards and the drop off is faster and more pronounced. My instinct says that an inverse square would result in the AI gobbling up close by rewards rather than ignoring them for single bigger payoffs. I’m guessing this would result in a harder to beat AI.
But I am guessing.
What I am doing is pure theory while the wonderful developers of a fun game are putting things into practice. If the lovely Bullion devs see this post and play with my suggestion, I’d love to hear how it pans out. Especially in actual playtesting with an AI vs AI match up.
March 24, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
Normally I like to only write about writing and story related issues here but today I am going to tell you why I think Brexit is a mistake.
These three simple reasons why Brexit is a mistake are why I have been so distracted from my chosen life’s work of writing the worlds greatest novel (or at least a few really enjoyable books).
1. Brexit is a mistake because it is ill-defined
When we had this referendum we had no indication of what was on offer. Was it a hard Brexit as some of the more extreme elements wanted? Maybe you thought we were getting a softer Brexit as others had campaigned for? Was it some medium-rare Brexit with a side order of chips?
As a writer, I have learned that the worst way to go into a “who done it” style story is to start without knowing who, how, and why. Adventure and character driven stories are often fine to write by the seat of your pants but when you need to plan the end-game from the very opening, pre-planned writing is the only way to craft a coherent story.
This Brexit is more like the BBC getting together a bunch of writers for a new series. The writers are raring to go and some have already sketched out the plots for their episodes. But there are a few problems – there is no show-runner yet; the writers have all created different characters; one writer is working on a sci-fi while two others are doing a courtroom drama, one or two writers are trying to position themselves to take over as the showrunner on other established shows… On top of the confusion, the writers are arguing about what to call the new series and how many episodes it should have. Meanwhile, yet other writers are negotiating with the BBC heads for funding and cannot understand why they are not getting any.
- Ill-defined legal terms in Brexit legislation is likely to cause post-Brexit problems one advisory group has cautioned.
- In Facts claims Brexit is an ill-defined power grab which grants ministers the power to make changes without scrutiny.
- What Brexit even means takes a lot of explaining.
- Commenters are suggesting it may be impossible to unite the country on a single vision for Brexit.
- The UK seems so badly prepared for Brexit negotiations that other EU countries think it must be a trap.
2. Brexit is a mistake for writers
I’ve covered this before (on Author Buzz). Brexit is bad for writers.
Writing in the UK is hardly the best paying industry at the moment. The effects of Brexit coupled with the right wing led move from fairly helpful Tax Credits to crippling Universal Credit leaves the prospect of becoming a full-time writer in the dirt.
The lions share of external book sales from the UK take place in the EU. With even a slight tariff rise (or a weaker pound) and the profit margin soon evaporates. The pound is already weaker, it is likely to get weaker still after Brexit. Combine that with the price increase from tariff changes and the publishing industry will be in trouble. US publishers are already positioning themselves to take our market share as soon as Brexit happens.
The fact is, we writers are worried.
3. Brexit is bad for me personally
I have yet to identify a single area in which I would be the slightest bit better off with Brexit.
Already I’m seeing things get more expensive. I’m seeing right-wing ministers getting bolder with their anti-disability and anti-low-income rules. And as for my potential to become a full-time writer… Well, let’s just say that after Brexit that might not exist at all.
There is no definition under which I should, with any degree of self-interest at all, support Brexit. I doubted the promises of the Leave campaign before the referendum. Now that it is over I see that I was right to doubt them. Those Brexit promises were lies.
There is nothing to be gained from Brexit. As far as I can see the best possible deal is a deal that limits the damage Brexit does. Actually, that’s not true. The best possible deal would be to halt Brexit altogether and do something less self-destructive.
There is still time to exit from Brexit. If Brexit is bad for you then find an MP that understands and lean on them until they do something about it.
March 1, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
Maybe I have watched one too many Dave Gorman shows on youtube but I have started to wonder if it would be a good idea to do something a bit crazy.
Right now it is cold outside and I am snug inside. I have my central heating and over-engineer mattress. I have my teas and my computer, and my chair that always makes make back hurt just a little less when I sit in it.
Even my bathroom is engineered to require less effort to wash and use the loo. To be fair, without that I might not be able to wash and I’d risk getting stuck on the toilet if my back lets me down (as it sometimes does).
Everything is exactly crafted to prop me up. My every limitation and physical weaknesses are mitigated, catered for, and pandered to.
As a result, I have no particular reason to ever leave my home. If it were not for friends and family I’d stay home forever. Even my shopping comes to me.
So what would happen if I gave it all up?
The crazy plan
I already have my crazy life goals but this particular bit of crazy is something else entirely.
A few years ago I was given a bus pass. They give bus passes to pensioners and disabled persons who might otherwise be trapped at home. I’m not a pensioner but I’m far from fully able-bodied. At the time, my bus pass was like being given a whole new life. I was suddenly able to afford to go out.
Then I got thinking.
You see, my bus pass is valid on almost all buses in the country. In theory, I could go anywhere. It would take a long time but I could get pretty much anywhere.
Which was how I came to make the “Lord Matt World Tour” map. On this map, I plotted bus lines and people that I knew who would probably put me up or meet me for a coffee. The first thing I realised is that the people I know are not in any way even distributed.
The second thing I realised is that bus routes are really boring. It turns out that I lack the drive required to make a map of all the bus routes in the UK.
Which led to the conclusion that I was either going to have to just do it or give up the plan.
A revised crazy plan
Fast forward a few years and my condition is worse. The chances are that while I could drift around the UK on public transport, it would cost a lot of pain and discomfort. With that level of physical cost, the goal would have to be worth a bit more than catching up with people I’ve met before.
I need a goal.
What I need is something to achieve – something I could inspire other people to get behind. After all, the only way I could possibly navigate the vagarities of bus lines would be to have local guides every step of the way.
The obvious cause was with me all along. I could raise awareness of people who live with pain.
There are a few possibilities here:
- Do gigs with local poets and almost no planning relying on each gig to introduce me to the next helper, venue, and poetry scene.
- Basically, do the same thing but meet authors and put on writing workshops.
- Some combination of the two
Whichever choice I made I would need to photograph it and blog about it. I’d need people to share things on social media and let the craziness of the attempt carry me forward.
Will I do the crazy thing?
Not without a clear narrative of what I want to do, no. That is the problem with crazy ideas. If you are going to have them, they need to be clear crazy ideas. “I want to do something” is a failure; “I want to do this specific something” can be a success.
If I am going to live out of a suitcase and suffer the pain my back can inflict when I travel too much and sleep in uncomfortable beds, then I need to know why I am doing that.
I will do this crazy thing. I just need to know the “why” and the “what”.
Answers, as they say, on a postcard…
February 24, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
I believe happiness is no secret. I truly believe that unhappiness – a lack of joy – is rooted in unrealistic expectations born of lies we have accepted as truth.
Mostly the lie is that happiness – that is a life of joy – is something to be found or given. It is not. Happiness is solely one’s own responsibility. Happiness, self-confidence, or peace that comes only from others – from outside – is fake. A joy (fake joy) that only comes from other people is like a drug. It touches us in the same place but much more intensely. Just like a drug, though, fake joy is fleeting. That drug-seeking behaviour only damages yourself and others.
We are each responsible for our own happiness. I believe that most of what is wrong with the world is a failure to understand this one simple truth.
When contentment with life is hidden within and under our control alone no one can take it from you. The storms of life cannot rob you of joy. The actions of others cannot crush your confidence. War cannot take your peace.
Life may be good or bad. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be greater than you could have hoped; this will not increase happiness. Some days may be dark and terrible beyond imagining; those days will not decrease joy.
That’s what I want in life – joy no one can take away.