Idea Byre

We all know that statistics can lie and confuse. We can easily confuse ourselves, in fact -- if we don't think very carefully about what a statistic is measuring, and what we want to know. A subtle mismatch between these can cause "bugs" in our calculations and our thinking. Here is one interesting sort of statistical bug, based on very simple math.

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Long strings of adjectives can decorate a noun, but there are three choices about how they are punctuated: they can be left alone, given commas, or combined with hyphens.

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If a bank is creating new paper notes, what sizes should it issue to make transactions easiest for the public? This is one example of an type of problem I've become interested in. It is basically about how to divide a scale into discrete intervals, under various constraints. It seems very abstract, but it actually has a lot to do with real-world design and engineering.

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There is an interesting possibility of designing tabletop games that are tru hybrids of the RPG and strategy genres. But to do so, we must appreciate the kinds of rules such games use, so we can see how to carefully combine them.

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Tabletop games can often only handle a narrow range of physical (or other) scales, but for some concepts, widely varying scales are relevant. WEG's old Star Wars d6 used different scales -- so people, speeders, and ships could all come into play -- using one method we'll look at.

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Graphs and charts often mislead by obscuring the unreliability of their source data. But even if a graph-maker wants to do better, it can be hard to present such information intelligibly, without long or technical sidebars. Here is one approach for visually displaying both the primary data, and their reliability, in one graph.

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What does it take for a game to be good and also centered around an abstract dynamic?

For instance, can we have a game that "explores" or is centered around the idea of allometric scaling? (This is where relative strengths and weaknesses change disproportionately with changes in something's size.) Such an idea seems promising, but how can a game be made from it?

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One of the more recent educationist fads has been learning styles: verbal, visual, kinesthetic, etcetera. These have been promulgated through universities and into elementary- and high-schools. Students are eager to identify their type, and teachers are supposed to provide instruction that matches up; to do any less is to oppress by preferring some students and their innate qualities more than others (never mind that to teach in 8+ ways would still mean that each student gets non-preferred methods 80% of the time).

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In a prior article I laid out the major approaches to the philosophical problem of consciousness. I dwelled especially on different forms of panpsychism. Because it is a less familiar approach, many philosophers have resisted even taking it seriously. In this piece I will address what might be the more immediate reactions against it, even as a general approach.

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Every army fights the battles of its forebears. So too does every society fight the intellectual and social battles of the past. Our problems -- environmental and social -- fundamentally cannot be addressed by the society that created them. This is a discussion of what they are, where they come from, and why a more radical approach is required.

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