What money can’t buy

I saw this story on Quora today:

Joseph Heller wrote the massive bestseller, Catch-22 about World War II…

Later in his life Heller went to a party in the Hamptons. Mostly young hedge fund guys at the party.

While he was at the party, someone came up to him and pointed out some 25 year old guy. “You see that guy over there?” the someone said. “That guy made more money last year than all of your books will make in your entire lifetime, times ten.”

Joseph Heller looked at the 25 year old guy then said. “But I have one thing that that man will never have.”

His friend gave a sort of scoff and said, “What could that possibly be?”

And Joseph Heller said, “Enough.”
……………………………..

This reminds me of something my Grand Dad used to say: “We’re not short of what we’ve got.” He also regularly commented, “It’ll either rain or go dark before morning.” So, we can’t hold much store in his philosophy. Those two family sayings were broadcast on BBC Radio Four’s “Quote Unquote” a few weeks ago. It made me smile to think that his wisdom lives on. He always knew that enough was enough, even though he once when hearing someone say “That’ll do.” interrupted them, saying “There’s no such thing as ‘That will do.’ Let me have a look… That’s do!”

#FinishThatThought – “Fifty Shades of (Gandalf the) Grey” #flashfiction

Alissa Leonard has created the “Finish That Thought” Flash Fiction compo, which usually provides an opening line and some ‘special challenge’ words to include, and must be less than 500 words. This week’s compo opening line was “Three strangers appeared on my [doorstep], and in their [hands] they brought death.” and the judge’s special challenge from the judge was to: “Include at least THREE of the following literary characters: Edward Rochester, Jo March, Harry Potter, Anne Shirley, Sherlock Holmes, Katniss Everdeen, Dracula, Miss Havisham, Rhett Butler, Lucy Pevensie, Gandalf the Grey.”

I didn’t have much time this week, but wanted to put something in, even if it was short, because it has been SO long since I last wrote something. This is my story, but please check out the original submission and read other entries.

Fifty Shades of (Gandalf the) Grey (500 Words)
—————————————————————-
By Dr. Mike Reddy @DoctorMikeReddy

Three strangers appeared on my doorstep, and in their hands they brought death. This particular death, as any fan boy/girl will tell you, was the worst of all.

“Miss Antrim? Miss Sally Antrim?” the first suit asked. I nodded, then mumbled “Ms…”

“Mzzz Antrim, we represent the various publishers, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, BBC Books and Harper Collins. I have here a cease and desist letter from our clients.”

Normally, “C+Ds” were clean strikes like an Internet transmitted smart bombs. I clumsily received the document and opened the envelope. It must have only recently been sealed; I made a mental note to put it in the reusable pile.

“We, the above… remove references pertaining to… Hogwarts, Panem, Moria… Sherlock Holmes…” I looked up, confused. “Isn’t Conan Doyle’s…”

“Not the Cumberbatch version, dear. Only the early stuff is public domain.” the second suit interrupted. The third shrugged. “Can you sign here.” he pointed to an iPad, and pushed it forward. I squiggled my autograph, long practiced in anticipation of book launches, public appearances and lecture tours.

“Thank you, Mzzz Antrim,” the first man said, “Have a good day.” The three men turned about, insisting that each other go first, then swiftly walked down the garden path, stepping gingerly over the weed strewn cobbles.

They had been gone a few minutes before I realised I was still standing in the open front doorway, in a half soaked bathrobe. A shudder broke the spell, and I hurried inside. Steam coming from the downstairs bathroom recalled my hurry to answer the door, thinking the intrusion another Amazon delivery. Numbly, I cut off the water, and stumbled into the kitchen to make some herbal tea.

“Who was that?” Harry asked, sipping coffee. Black. A little honey to sweeten the bitterness. He could sense my despair. I held out the letter, which floated towards him, bouncing along in time to his flicking wand. Gandalf sighed at the ostentatiousness and snatched it from the air.

“Ho hum… this appears to…” the Wizard began.

“It is obviously a legal document. Judging by the envelope – manila, self-sealing but with no lasting damage to the glue line – so, recently closed… Some disagreement? Negotiation as to how to proceed…? I take it that this is instructions to stop your…” The tall, curly haired man gestured to the other occupants of the kitchen table. “… ‘inspired’ story telling.”

Gandalf coughed his disapproval. “It is as Mr Holmes ‘guessed’”. The taller man snorted, then set about buttering his toast, taking rather more pleasure in scraping his knife than necessary. The Wizard shuddered. He knew the Detective knew he hated that sound.

“I say we go after them, and skin them” Sally heard behind her. An arrow swiftly plucked the letter from the Wizard’s startled fingers and pinned it to the wall. Katniss gripped my shoulders. “You can’t stop writing now. How else will we find out if Sherlock truly loves me?”

Javin: An update and possibly a name change

This project has been on the back burner for several months, but is picking up now that three MComp post-grads have been brought in to help :-) but the previous experience of these masters students suggests C++ is the most likely future platform. So, my own progress with Java (looking at an extension to VASSAL v3) is probably moot, but the C++ based 4th version of VASSAL (when it eventually arrives) might be better suited to this new approach. However, this might require a name change for the project; the J in Javin stood for Java after all.

Opinion on the UK X-Wing FaceBook Group about resurrecting this idea has been varied: One commenter, Allan, asked why we’d want to computerise a social, physical game when plenty of Star Wars video games existed already. That wasn’t an unreasonable question, but adding meaningful “single player” to any board/card/miniature game is a time honoured activity. Other responses showed support for the idea of being able to play/practice solo. Also, most Star Wars video games have been FPSs or Ship Sims, 3rd person combat MMOs and RPGs, or RTS games, and nothing like the X-Wing we know and love. That, in itself, is interesting, and leads me to think that a video game version of X-Wing turn-based dogfight style play is an underdeveloped concept; A.I. would make a big difference to the success of such a title, and creating a testbed for researching X-Wing bots would be a useful deliverable.

So, the aim of the project is now a C++ simulation (based upon the VASSAL implementation of X-Wing) that allows you to “play” X-Wing against a variety of bot opponents. Like VASSAL, it couldn’t have any copyright material, and wouldn’t be able to automate everything, such as special pilot abilities, etc, but might provide a simple opponent that goes a little beyond the web applet or the look up table for a basic A.I. that is available on BGG. However, augmenting the physical game, such as using VASSAL to reproduce “blow-by-blow” graphics to represent real games – here is one excellent example posted on FFG – should be considered. So, the ultimate aim of the simulator is threefold:
1) provide enough of a simulation of X-Wing to be at the level of VASSAL, but with rudimentary A.I. that goes beyond that provided by the current web applet. It would also be a testbed for further A.I. research.
2) Use AR to map a real tabletop game into the computer, by way of special tags on the base of each ship. This would initially just allow two human players to have their physical game tracked by the computer.
3) The two above combined for rudimentary single play, or the possibility of a computer aided/augmented game. This would use a projector underneath a translucent play surface to provide a projected HUD-style overlay for effects – e.g. damage, range, etc – similar to what is possible with VASSAL.

The obstacles are mostly the complexity of choice: Do I take a Focus or an Evade, or Barrel Roll? Knowing the opponent has a “Fat Han”, how would a bot guess where that YT1300 is going in order to block him with a TIE? This is why Jay Little was sceptical, when I talked to him about it a couple of years ago, and it has been slow progress working alone, or recruiting suitable students. However, I’d like the UK Nationals, one day, to have the top table be this interactive X-Wing thing, if only to have the game live-captured by the computer. Entering an artificial player in the tournament IS a pipe dream – Jay is right on that, for now at least! – because of its complexity. However, having the chance to play an Automated TIE Drone Swarm is a bit like Kasparov vs Deep Blue; likely for the droids to lose, but interesting to see how well they do. This is even canon; droids were fought against pre-New Hope and in the EU (The N64’s TIE/d anyone?), even though in Star Wars they weren’t as good as human pilots according to Wookipedia. The current students will start by investigating the first stage of simulating the same basic game play that VASSAL provides. Other features, such as the AR functionality will come later.

GLOSSARY
AR – Augmented Reality, which in this case uses a web cam to identify tags in order to ‘digitise’ the location of ships. Other applications involve overlaying data onto the real world; an example would be Google Glass(tm).
FFG – Fantasy Flight Games, producer of the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.
FPS – First Person Shooter, like Star Wars:Dark Forces.
MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic.
RPGS – Role Playing Game, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
RTS – Real-Time Strategy, such as Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.

Javin: Reviving my desire for an A.I. Player for X-Wing

Originally posted on Team Covenant

I’ve been interested for a while now in Javin a projector-based visualisation tool for X-Wing, which would have several components ultimately:

1) A projector table to show off visualisation software, such as Vassal or a bespoke coded program.

2) Interactive table features to allow AR tags on ship bases to be recognised on the table as a hybrid computer/physical game interface.

3) Artificial intelligence opponents that could play either a virtual opponent or a physical opponent.

Sadly, the two students I put on this over 2013 were rather poor in delivering results, so the project was sort of shelved for a while. Anyway, I am now looking at Vassal as the main visualisation software, rather than creating our own testbed, because it has become ubiquitous in online play; the exceptional work in appearance and functionality of Vassal is well above anything that I could do in the short term. So, I am now looking at ways to modify/extend Vassal and/or the X-Wing module to allow asteroid and ship positions (x,y,ø) to be transmitted to an outside process for A.I. planning of ship movements. These would then need to be passed back to the settings for the AI. movement dials, ideally, but we need to be realistic. Many rulings and interpretations of pilot abilities and general implementation of movement would still require a human to apply.

Anyway, when (if!) I make any progress on Javin I will, of course, post it here.

 

UPDATE

I’ve been playing with Vassal basic editing, and come up with a ‘canon’ extra fighter, the TIE/d (Note, not the TIE/D which is the Defender. In this case the ‘d’ stands for ‘drone’). If you would like to run these, the important thing to do as ‘human’ players is to simulate a basic A.I. and have craft engaging in swarm (as in bot) behaviour; keeping apart, but pursuing the nearest enemy, regardless of ‘who’ is tactically best to attack. NOTE: This player should be immune to ‘Biggs’ despite the fact that this is not specifically mentioned on the card I created, as it only just occurred to me; this depends upon ‘how’ the Biggs Effect works of course. Also, on considering the weak A.I. of the lookup table (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) / Web Applet as a suitable model for the first version of an inbuilt A.I. that system ignores assigning Stress Tokens, because it would occasionally produce illegal moves otherwise; when a Red move came up and the ship was already stressed. There are two solutions to this:

  1. Allow the move, but stack up the stress counters, which would represent increasing confusion on the part of the bot brain and prevent actions until all had been cleared off.
  2. Update/extend the lookup table to account for occasional restrictions on movements, which would complicate the basic A.I. table quite a bit.


Pilot Card

Ship Token (with stats)

I’ll include a download link here once I’ve finished the Vassal extension and tested it.

#fivesentencefiction – Moments “Oh well”

Lillie McFerrin Writes

Lillie McFerrin hosts a Five Sentence Fiction competition on her blog. This week’s theme is Moments.

20140102-112554.jpg


Here is my entry, which is inspired by the picture this week:

Source

“Oh well”
by Dr. Mike Reddy (@doctormikereddy)

“No, look,” Bill said smugly. “It’s a reflex action from birth, but it don’t last long, so ya have to help me now!”

“You’re serious, aren’t ya?” his best mate asked. “You want me to video you suspending your sister’s baby over the old wishing well… for a YouTube video…?”

“Totally, Ted! It will be VIRAL!” he said, pointing repeatedly at the camera.

Ted grudgingly started recording, his one visible eye seeking reassurance that it was going to be ok.

“Holly shit,” he said “The little bugger is totally hanging from your fin… Oh!”

#TicckleTuesday #12 theme: Mercury retrograde in Scorpio #flashfic

What happened to last week? Well, there WAS a #11, but it was a FaceBook exclusive :-P

Theme this week is “Mercury retrograde in Scorpio”, suggested by Jess West (@West1Jess), inspired by this.

Go here to post the video or post the text as a comment here or on the Ticckle Tuesday FaceBook group.

Note
Things have been a bit hectic at work, so I haven’t had a chance to record many submissions for #TicckleTuesday. However, responses to a flash fiction podcast have been positive. Watch this space!

Mike

#TicckleTuesday #10 – Superstition #flashfiction

What happened to last week? I’m not sure I know! However, a car crash and a hurried trip to Zagreb, Croatia by the wife left me juggling three children with one hand (speaking metaphorically). so, apologies…

Theme this week is “Superstition”, suggested by Jess West (@West1Jess), possibly inspired by my own run of bad luck…

And the image prompt…

… is in your worst imagination…

Go here to post the video or post the text as a comment here or on the FaceBook group.

Note
Things have been a bit hectic at work, so I haven’t had a chance to record many submissions for #TicckleTuesday. However, I’m taking over editing of a board games podcast soon, and wondered whether that format might be a good one for audio versions of flash fiction. Please comment below and tell me what you think.

Mike

#TicckleTuesday “Mechanical Quirk” #flashfiction

“You’ve heard of the Mechanical Turk, right?”

“The thing that played chess and answered all your questions?”

“Right. I’m the Mechanical Quirk. I solve your problems. I ‘fix’ the ‘Dispossessed’.”

“The dis…”

” Ok… God… Screw up… Universal glitch…. Everything built ’11 inches to the North’… Some can ‘feel’ it… Makes ‘em ‘different’. I fix.”

“Different? How?”

“Sadder. Madder. Badder. Usually sadder. Creative though. Driven cos NOTHING fits.”

“What if I don’t want to be fixed?”