Monday, February 28, 2011

Word games

So there are "board games". Unfortunately, when you say "board games", somehow Scrabble, Monopoly, Settlers, Risk, Bang!, Betrayal, and Catch Phrase all get lumped into this same category. This makes it hard to disambiguate sometimes. I think there should be at least 4 very different categories:

1. Party Games: Catch Phrase, Identity Crisis, Scattergories, and I guess Cranium and Apples to Apples
2. Card Games: Bang, Bohnanza, maybe even Dominion
3. Strategy Games: Settlers, Puerto Rico, Agricola
Now these are on a pretty easy axis: complication (aka nerdiness). Puerto Rico is good to play with your programmer bros, Catch Phrase is good to play with 12 random people at a party and/or your family. And that's the defining characteristic of each category. The card/board distinction seems somewhat coincidental (although maybe not but I'll get into this later).

But the fourth category is word games: Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams, Snatch It. The defining characteristic of these games is that they depend on how well you've memorized the English dictionary. And in how many forms you've memorized it: can you come up with an 8-letter word that starts with W? How about a 5 letter word that includes C, A, T, and 2 other letters? (and how quickly?) And because these games are so focused on this one skill, it's hard to place them accurately on the complication axis. Some really nerdy folks don't like them, some totally non-nerdy folks do.

(I like them a lot. They make me feel flowy, and like I'm really honing a skill. If strategy board games are like weightlifting and party games are like running, word games are like pole vaulting. Or learning a language.)

So if the question is "do you like board games?" I think my best answer is "yeah, I'm about a 2.2 on the complication scale, and I love word games." Incidentally, if you ever want to play word games, I'm down.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wow, lucid 4, in which I have a somewhat ominous and disappointing convo with Mr. Rogers

A day after lucid dream 3 (so, night before last) came lucid dream 4. A day! As with programming, rapid iteration == fun.

In this one, I realized I was lucid, and looked at my hands. They didn't look quite right; one of my thumbs was half gone. So I thought "that's not right", and the thumb disappeared completely. I thought "that's still not right," and it reappeared fully. Nice.

Then I said, okay, I want to meet some dream people again. But this whole lucid dreaming thing is still a little freaky, so... who should I see? How about the least freaky person ever: Mr. Rogers. So I said "I'll close my eyes, and when I open them, Mr. Rogers will be here." No luck. Again. Still no luck. I "realized" that of course that won't work, I should go to Mr. Rogers's house. So I said I'd close my eyes, open them, and be at Mr. Rogers's house. Success! I think.

I don't know what Mr. Rogers's house looks like. Maybe this was it. And when Mr. Rogers came to the door, he didn't look or act just like Mr. Rogers from the show- but then, of course he's a little different when he's not on TV. Here's how our conversation went:

Me: Who are you?
Him: Mr. Rogers.
Me: What do you represent?
Him: (no response)
Me: (thinking, well, here he is, might as well get some advice. but I didn't plan any questions in the waking life. so...) Okay, what should I do about my career?
Him: (still no response)
Me: What should I be?
Him: Well, you could always be a carbonmaker.
Me: a what?
Him: a carbonmaker.
Me: huh?
Him: well, you wanted some prescient advice, there it is. (in the tone of "ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.")
Me: okay... what about the ladies? (I think I meant "should I get married someday?" although I might have just been asking Mr. Rogers how to pick up chicks, which is hilarious.)
Him: I don't know what to tell you, I'm single.
Me: what? I thought you were married.
Him (and this I remember is an exact quote): I have no hope for you, boy.

Afterthought: I don't feel totally in control of lucid-me, which is why I still come up with random stuff sometimes. For the record, both lucid-me and the subconscious Mr. Rogers that I conjured up are great. Also, after this dream I felt a little dumb, like I just forced some random situation and then filled in the blanks with the way I think Mr. Rogers would act, and I asked stupid questions and got stupid answers. I think, next dream, I'll do a bit more looking around, and play with the dream world that I get, instead of deciding which dream world I want.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More lucid oh boy

- I was flying around the galaxy, until I realized I wanted to talk to some people, so I said "the great thing about all these stars and galaxies is that they're really... a pizza!" Then I was standing on a planets-and-stars carpet in a basement. (of course by "pizza" I meant "carpet".)
- I met a person! I got to talk to him! There were a bunch of us dancing in a circle, singing a song, until I said to one youngish fellow with a terrible bowl haircut, "Wait. Who are you? What do you represent?" I wrote down who he said he was (don't remember now), I didn't remember what he represented, and then I said "do you have a name?" and he said no.
- my heart started beating really hard and I woke up.

Dream people! There are dream people! They act meaningfully!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More data about my life; this time it's sleep.

On my research blog here.

Somewhat interesting! No linear correlation between how long I slept and how awake I feel. Nor between the WakeMate score and how awake I feel. Hmm.

EDIT: actually, there is something interesting. There's a correlation between how awake I feel when I wake up, and how awake I feel all day. Well, that's not super interesting, but it's something.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The big no-grains results! Plus, relearning stats, continued.

Let's assume we only care about the "stomach" variable. I have 9 days where I ate grains, and 19 days where I ate no grains. On each day I have a number that says how well my stomach felt, on average, during the day. I would like to know if my average stomach feeling is the same or not the same on grains days vs. non-grains days.

(let's assume that there's no weirdness where grains makes your stomach feel worse for the next 2 weeks or something. In fact, let's forget about the fact that these are time series data at all. This might be a minor or a major statistical transgression, I don't know.)

I think the test to use here is a Student's t-test (AKA just "t-test"). Particularly, an independent 2-sample t-test with equal variances (assumed) and unequal sample sizes. (side note: I also remembered z-tests and ANOVAs, and it looks like:
- a z-test is a simpler test that you can use when you're just trying to know if a sample that you've taken is significantly different from the group as a whole. For example, if I knew my "stomach" value for every day of my life (or even if I just knew the mean and standard deviation), I could use a z-test to tell if those 19 no-grains days were unusually high/low stomach-value days compared to all 9038 days of my life.
- an ANOVA is a generalization of the t-test. Specifically, the one-way ANOVA is something you can use to compare >2 means. For example, if I tried "no grains" for two weeks, then "no meat" for two weeks, then "no coffee or peanuts" for two weeks (clearly this would be the hardest), I could compare my stomach value for all of those.
- if "ANOVA" wasn't scary enough, there's also things called "ANCOVA" and "MANOVA"; the latter makes me snicker every time.)

Okay! Let's do some t-testing! In one corner, the stomach (, mood, energy) values of my grains days. In the other corner, the stomach (, mood, energy) values of my no-grains days. Which Is Bigger?

t-test on mood before and after grains:
t = -0.78694967152, p = 0.439345514713
t-test on energy before and after grains:
t = -0.961369818324, p = 0.346365085994
t-test on stomach before and after grains:
t = -1.98753017649, p = 0.0588975495116

Again, the p-value is the one that tells you if there's anything going on. Small p-value means there's a small chance that this effect could have happened by chance. Looks like I can't say anything about whether grains effect my mood or energy. But p=0.058 is pretty small! (traditionally 0.05 is the threshold for caring about p-values, at least in psych) And surprisingly so. I couldn't have told you that from the graph.

Let's look at the data again: (check it out, I'm learning python string formatting)
stomach with grains: ['3.10', '2.92', '2.78', '2.83', '2.36', '2.75', '3.29']
mean = 2.86
stomach without grains: ['3.33', '3.67', '2.89', '3.37', '3.31', '3.60', '3.00', '2.87', '2.59', '2.80', '2.92', '3.11', '3.22', '3.63', '3.47', '3.29', '2.89', '2.67']
mean = 3.15

Huh! That is interesting. Now before you jump to conclusions, note a few things:
- this is self reported, not double blind, not even single blind. (although in this case I'm the experimenter and the subject, so single blind = double blind; and it'd be really hard to make this experiment blind.)
- data was gathered "as I feel like it" AKA whenever I use my phone.
- I cut out 3 days' worth of data because they each had only one sample.
- "days" were split at midnight, even though I usually had one or two points after midnight; I should probably split them at about 3 or 4AM.
- I didn't just cut out grains. I also minimized added sugar (how well? dunno) and added more meat.
- p = 0.058. That's really borderline significant. It could just be a fluke.
- I didn't say what I'd look for before doing the experiment. Why is this such a big deal? Well, p=0.058 means that even if grains didn't matter, 5.8% of the time such an effect could have happened just by chance. Which means that if I tracked 20 variables, I'd find one that "looked significant".

But hey, exploratory pilot study: super success! I think that my energy and my mood are pretty similar, and I think that maybe grains make my stomach feel worse although I'd need to study it again to tell for sure. Very cool!

No Grains Experiment: my mood ~ my energy

Linear regression between mood and energy
mood = 0.825810375087 * energy + -0.0729595387559
r=0.758294792793, p=1.88373127793e-06, stderr=0.13663099386

Linear regression between energy and stomach
energy = 0.258583651008 * stomach + 2.34871983188
r=0.304880567838, p=0.107798798334, stderr=0.155454941953

Linear regression between stomach and mood
stomach = 0.339858387287 * mood + 2.29632783485
r=0.313914641094, p=0.0972479087456, stderr=0.197823185145

I was tracking 3 variables: how energetic I feel, how my mood is in general, and how my stomach feels. I figured they'd either all be independent (because those seem like they could be independent) or they'd all be strongly correlated (because I enter them at the same time, and they're all 1-5, so if I'm hitting 3 for the first one, say, I'm more likely to hit 3 for the second one.)

Surprisingly, it looks like there's a strong correlation between mood and energy, but only a pretty weak correlation between energy and stomach or stomach and mood. I'm maybe half confident that I'm interpreting that right, but if so, then that means that the more energized I am, the better mood I'll be in. That makes sense to me. I like being energized. I don't get into high-energy negative states (like anger) very much; if I'm high-energy, I'm likely feeling pretty positive. And optimizing the state of my stomach: maybe not even worth it! (I mean, for "feeling good" reasons. Optimizing the state of my stomach might have good long-term health implications, say.)

(that's mood on the x-axis, energy on the y-axis, each data point is one day, sorry this graph is weak, I'm learning here)

Still more stats to follow! (including, y'know, the important ones, where I figure out whether no-grains is worth it at all)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happiness again, but I'll try to keep it grounded.

I've come across two sources since my last post about happiness that make me want to discuss it more:
1. "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner.
2. Google Buzz comments from the last post. (thanks, Daniel, Gerrit, and Dan!)

So there are at least two meanings of "happiness." One is kinda "any good thing in your life" and therefore it's about as vague as "goodness". I'll call this meaning "big-H Happiness." Another meaning might be, as Daniel suggested, "a pleasant and optimistic mood that comes from things going right and not wrong." I'll call that one "contentment". (is that fair?) Fulfillment is yet another kind of happiness.

BUDDHIST ASIDE: contentment is not at all Happiness. Seems like you maximize contentment by avoiding suffering, while if you're Buddhist, you maximize Happiness by knowing the 4 noble truths, being superbly mindful, and ultimately ending suffering. END BUDDHIST ASIDE

SINGULARITARIAN ASIDE: ultimately all suffering comes from the set-in-stone fact that we all must eventually die. Someday that fact may not be set in stone anymore. This is a much longer debate, but if we find a way to become immortal, can we find a way to avoid suffering forever? Does the end of death mean the end of the need for Buddhism? END SINGULARITARIAN ASIDE

Back to the main point: there are many kinds of happiness. Eric Weiner starts his book with a quest: to search for happiness. He visits the Netherlands, Thailand, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, and others, all "happy" places by one measure or another, to see if he can recognize any common threads between them.
Now actually, I think I'm behind this plan. At first, it sounds absurd, like searching for "goodness", but I guess it's also like searching for "beauty", and the latter sounds like a good plan for a series of travels. Go to the Louvre, the MOMA, the Sagrada Familia, Fallingwater, Costa Rica, Grindelwald, and everywhere in between, and try to see what beauty is. This is an absurdly ambitious task, sure, and the search for happiness even more ambitious, but what the heck. It's a book.
But still, it's a search for happiness; I don't think he's very sure what he's looking for. Nevertheless, it's entertaining. And despite all my predictable grumbling about "he's not finding the right KIND of HAPPINESS", he has some good points:

- About the Swiss: he doesn't know if they're "happy"; "content" is more like it. But that's not quite it either. "We have far more words to describe unpleasant emotional states than pleasant ones. (And this is the case with all languages, not just English.)"

- About Bhutan and Gross National Happiness: "John Ralston Saul, the Canadian philosopher, describes Gross National Happiness as a brilliant trick. 'What it does is go "Snap!" and changes the discourse. Suddenly you're talking about something else.'"
I find this very appealing. Often changing the conversation is the best way to get what you want.

- "In the west and in the United States especially, we try to eliminate the need for compromise. Cars have personal climate controls, mattresses have personal firmness levels... If we no longer must compromise on the easy stuff, like mattresses, then what about the truly important issues? Compromise is a skill, and like all skills it atrophies from lack of use."
Also s/compromise/suffering/g. (that means "substitute 'suffering' for 'compromise'".) Stop trying to eliminate suffering/compromise, and just get better at dealing with it. A portion of your happiness cross-training regimen.

Lucid dreamt again!

Notes from this time:
- Looking at your hands or feet to stabilize the dream really worked. It felt like they came into focus, and I was able to stay lucid for a couple minutes after, instead of just waking up.
- I kept trying to convince some friends that it was a dream. They were pretty unresponsive. Then I kept asking them "so hey, we can do anything, go anywhere, what do you want to do?" and nobody came up with much. Eventually one of them said "I don't know... Gala?" (we all understood that Gala was some magical fantasy land that you fly to. Sadly, we didn't make it there.)
- I wonder why I kept asking them what they wanted to do, instead of just doing it myself. My goal this time was to talk to a dream-person, ask them who they were or what they represented. Somehow I didn't get around to it.
- I wasn't very lucid, and it didn't last very long.
- flying worked sort of like I expected, which is to say, it worked when I was confident that it was working, and I sort of struggled or lowered when I was less confident. Somehow I decided that pedaling like a bike was the way to fly. It worked well enough; it wasn't this euphoric effortless flying, but it was very nice. Things soon faded to black.
- After things faded to black, I was in a little bit of itunes-visualizer land for a minute. (what kind of minute?) It was nice and pretty exciting, but I was a little disappointed because I knew I was on my way back to the waking world.
- The most exciting thing, I think, is that I lucid-dreamt again, which is the second time in about as many weeks, which means it's unlikely that the other was a fluke, and more likely that I'll be able to do it more.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Live excitement-driven?

God, here I am talking about a Tim Ferriss book again. Whatever. The deal was "buy the 4-hour body, get the 4-hour workweek pdf free," so I got both. 4HWW is actually more interesting, as I don't want to lose weight or gain muscle, and that's what most of 4HB is about. (course, I don't really want to make an automated web-based business either, and that's what most of 4HWW is about, but whatever.)

Nevertheless, there are nuggets that have stuck with me, and one of the biggies is when he's talking about happiness. Ferriss says people are always talking about happiness, but that's like saying you want "good" food; it's true, but it doesn't give you any guidelines as to how to get there. Hey, I'm listening; this is something I think quite a bit. His answer is: talk about excitement instead. Don't search for happiness, search for excitement.  (see quote #4 here)

I like it! I may adopt that as a motto or guideline or whatever. When you're excited, all the little stuff doesn't matter. Life is fun, in pretty much every way. You get to move mountains, because you gain energy from your work instead of spending it.

On the other hand, there's another newfangled internet hero: Cal Newport, who argues that it's not about finding work that excites you, but about enjoying the work you have. He does have, well, 3000 years of meditative history, as well as the entire religion that I most believe in, behind him. Well. That's hard to argue with.

Or maybe we have a false dichotomy. Enjoy the work you have, and seek out new work that excites you? I guess that makes sense. I don't know, if I had to pick sides, the excitement thing is really tempting. I may think more about this later but I have some purple potatoes burning in the oven.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No Grains Experiment: so far inconclusive.

So I've managed to graph my personal data of the last month, and here are some preliminary results. On days 9-27 I ate no grains; on days 3-8 and 28-31 I ate grains.

(charts created using Google Chart API)
It seems unlikely that there's any difference in any variable. I have good days and bad days either way. Fair enough. I'd like to do some Real Actual Stats (tm) on this data. Either way, cool to see! More info coming soon enough...

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

I know other people's dreams are boring, but come on folks, this one was lucid!

It happened the night before last.  First, some background: I'm reading "Lucid Dreaming" by Robert Waggoner, and it's seriously fantastic.  It's a different world.  I'm not sure how far down the rabbit hole I go, but at least far enough to want to know more.  I've picked up some tips, and this dream provided a smorgasbord of opportunities to try them out.  Some notes:

- I was most certainly lucid.  I said to a friend,"this is a dream!"  It didn't happen from reality testing; it just seemed rather spontaneous.  I caught a coin in mid-air, then I realized I was dreaming.
- I had enough presence of mind to remember things from the waking world.  That's good, because:
- the first thing I did was to start spinning, as that's supposed to prolong lucid dreams.  Sure did.  However, I also closed my eyes, which put me into a black zone kind of like floating through space.  I wondered if the dream was going to end, but luckily, it didn't, and I ended up in:
- vivid vivid land by the sea.  If I had to compare it to somewhere, it'd be Dinosaur Land from Mario World, if it had been rendered by the artists who did Riven.
- I remembered that profound things had happened to Waggoner after he stopped trying to do stuff and said "hey dream, show me something important!" so I tried the same a few times.  No luck.
- However, I saw a FedEx office building, and I didn't know what to do.  I said "Hey dream, should I go in?" and a light flashed above the door.  This may be the coolest event of the dream. I feel like I directly communicated with my subconscious. Like there's another guy in my head creating a movie for me to watch.
- I met a couple people from real life, but they were silent and didn't do much, like cardboard cutouts.  I didn't particularly try to engage them.
- I feel like I slipped out of lucidity at one point.  It started to feel like a regular dream.
- However, then I had the control to say "I want to see my family" and I did.  They were kind of floating in space.  I couldn't even see them clearly, but I felt very deeply grateful to them.  This has happened before.
- I had a false awakening.  I "woke up" in my childhood home, in my bunkbeds, trying to write down the dream, but a friend kept talking to me.  Then I woke up for serious.
- I felt wonderful for the entire next day.

All just as this book (and everything else I've ever read about lucid dreaming) has said. Wow. I can't wait for it to happen again.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Listen, Cat Stevens is seriously great.

I thought he was just another of those old dudes my dad had records of. He's a singer-songwriter. He was active in the 70's. Both of those are strikes in my book. But like the Beatles (and yes, I think I can talk about Cat and the Beatles in the same sentence), Cat is actually worth listening to today.

Positive characteristics of Cat Stevens:
- he makes acoustic-guitary songs that sound nice.
- he makes rolling-piano songs that sound nice.
- his lyrics are mystical in a couple different ways.  Take Katmandu for something that sounds South-Asian (oh okay maybe it's just because he's talking about Katmandu), or Into White for something that sounds sorta Anglo-mythological (or maybe this is just me), or Lady D'Arbanville for a medieval chivalry sound.
- interesting career arc!  Pop star at 18, tuberculosis, then a few epic albums at 22-24, got more experimental and progressive, deteriorated musically and got tired of the life, converted to Islam at 29, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and vanished from the music scene.  Recorded his next studio album, as Yusuf Islam, 30 years later.
- speaking of progressive, I really like his album "Foreigner", which features an 18-minute track on side 1, which culminates in this like bossanova or samba or whatever old-fashioney bit that apparently people think Coldplay copied?  Whatever; it's great.  I love a good multi-part suite. Given that I already find him a bit mystical, I will give him a lot of leeway to record such a thing.
- speaking of suites, can we talk for a moment about how good the first half of Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid is?  Seriously, this whole disc is good, but tracks like 2-7 (particularly 2-4) are like no opener I've heard for a while!
- okay, focus.  This post is about Cat Stevens.  Oh, speaking of copying, apparently the Flaming Lips' Fight Test is just Cat's Father and Son; they somewhat sheepishly admitted as much.
- anyway.  Cat Stevens.  Good stuff.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Ski report

days skied at vail/beaver creek, Colorado: 4
vertical feet: over 75000
free chocolate chip cookies ingested: 3 (two at beaver "not roughing it" creek, one on airplane)
degrees below zero it was while we skied on tuesday: 15
degrees below zero it was while we skied on wednesday: 20
injuries: 1 (a burn on my wrist)
hot tubbed in -15 degree weather: yep
pub trivias won: 1
money saved by bringing tea bags on the mountain: $11.25
resourcefulness of pete and kelly: 173
generosity of pete and kelly: 746
german cities powered: only 13
amount pete and I talked about code on the mountain: nonzero
moguls enjoyed: at least half of them
and now I will interrupt this list format to talk about moguls.

Moguls are these big bumps (ranging in size from a breadbox to a subaru) that appear on ski hills after some snow falls and a bunch of people ski on them.  If the resort runs their big grooming machines over the mountain, it flattens all the moguls.

Moguls make skiing more difficult.  Small ski areas tend to groom most of their hills.  Large resorts groom maybe half?  As a result, you really only get to ski moguls at big resorts.  And moguls are awful when they're icy anyway.

Moguls demand different technique.  On a groomed hill, you can ski in big loping turns.  But on moguls, these bumps are in the way, so you have to make these tight little turns.  Here's an example.  (I mean, minus the crazy jumps.)

Anyway, every time I ski (all like 3 or 4 days each year), I get frustrated that I'm not good at moguls, and I try to ski them anyway, and I feel kind of clumsy. But I think I've finally gotten good enough that I enjoy an average mogul hill, can make it down safely, and if it's kinda shallow or has nice snow or I'm just really on, I can have a lot of fun in it.  I can ski moguls and look pretty good.  And before you accuse me of shallowness, let me substitute "experience flow" for "look pretty good."

That's really what I'm trying to do, anyway: experience flow.  I've been worrying "I'm not improving at skiing" and then meta-worrying "why am I worrying about how good I am at skiing?" and that's the answer.  At low skill, it's fun, at high skill it's fun, and in between it's a sometimes-boring plateau.  So finally, I think I'm past that plateau.

TODO(dantasse): think about how this applies to other parts of my life, and if I've learned anything about perseverance from this experience.

In the meantime, hooray!