Philosophy

Statistics do not determine probability

Well, that really depends on what probability you’re asking about. Perhaps it is more clear to say: The statistics of past events do not determine the probability of future events.

(At least not in and of themselves.)

An obvious example: Suppose you flip a coin three times. Your statistics, especially with the sample set being so low (and odd for that matter), naturally won’t reflect the intuitive 50/50 probability of flipping heads the fourth time.

What if you flip a coin 10 times and get heads each time? Does flipping 10 heads in a row imply anything at all about probability of flipping heads on your eleventh flip? (The answer is no.)

I bring this up because it’s annoyingly astounding how many times people will bring up statistics as evidence of societal privilege, oppression, or institutional racism / sexism.

For example, one may find that at a certain company, only 5% of the employees are black, and 95% are white. Does this mean a black person picked from the general population at random is far less likely than a white person to get a job there? Of course not. Firstly, that statistics of who’s already been hired doesn’t tell us anything about applicants who weren’t hired (are less black people applying in the first place?), and secondly, we’re ignoring quite a lot of other variables, such as interest in what the company does and necessary qualifications.

To make the fallacy a little more obvious: Suppose the company has 100 employees, 5 of which are black (thus 5%). Then a white person retires and they hire a black person in his place. Does this mean the probability of any random black person getting a job there just rose by 1%? That is, does hiring a black person increase the probability of any random black person being hired? Obviously not. (At least, I hope it’s obvious.)

And yet this fallacious way of interpreting statistics is brought up again and again in discussions of race and sex and privilege, as though the statistics of past events alone somehow determine the likelihood of your future. (“You have so many opportunities! Just look at the stats!”)

What’s even sadder is that this way of thinking seems persuade amiable people to believe that they have some kind of moral obligation to put themselves down based on their race or sex for the greater good, as in: “I shouldn’t apply for that job because I have white male privilege; that job should really go to a minority who doesn’t share my privilege!” or “I shouldn’t seek financial aid for my white children because they already have so many opportunities already just by virtue of being white!”

You don’t make the world better with that sort of thinking. You make it worse.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Font rendering: stb oversampling vs NV path rendering

I told you I wanted to try stb oversampling in my last post, and I did! Here is the result (stb 2×2 oversampling on top, nanovg in middle (which is based on stb anyway, but no oversampling), and NV path rendering on bottom, screen size then 5x zoom):

So stb oversampling definitely looks the best, although it is still pretty fuzzy. And moving it around by subpixels looks very decent; it doesn’t get very much of the “shimmer” effect. (Still a bit, but not much to be bothersome.)

Here’s stb oversampling (top) vs NV path rendering (bottom) with a bigger font size (screen size then 2x zoom):

Here, I think NV path rendering looks better; it’s definitely less fuzzy. (The trade-off is that it does suffer from more “shimmer” when translated by subpixels, but it doesn’t bother me too much.)

You can also see that NV path rendering is able to utilize proper kerning: the ‘e’ is slightly below the capital ‘T’, as it should be. Each letter isn’t being drawn on a textured quad, so overlapping is trivial. (Well, for the end library user, at least.)

So, I think that completes my foray into font rendering for now. I’m too lazy to make bitmap fonts at the moment; stb oversampling will work for smaller fonts for now. Time to continue on to other GUI elements. I will try to design the GUI system in such a way that it will be able to utilize any font rendering system should I wish to create bitmap font support in the future.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

More font fun and other random stuff

Font rendering in OpenGL

Haven’t done so much programming in the past week, but I did try rendering fonts with NanoVG (in lwjgl). Unfortunately it’s really not much better than just using OpenGL’s NV path rendering extension. Small fonts look slightly better, but not really good enough for me to want to use them. See the example below, a zoom-in of an 8-pixel high rendering of the font “Verdana”, NanoVG rendering it on top, NV path rendering below. NanoVG is better, but it’s still way too fuzzy to look any good.

So I might just use bitmap fonts for small text; I can’t see any alternative. (Bitmap fonts basically means loading in each letter as a pre-rendered picture and plopping it on the screen. The disadvantage is that they don’t look very good when resized or positioned between pixels, but they’ll at least be guaranteed to render small fonts clearly and crisply.) I’ll continue to use NV path rendering for larger fonts or fonts that need to be animated more dynamically or rendered with 3D perspective. I do want to try using oversampling with stb for small fonts before I move on from font rendering and further develop a GUI system; the demo doesn’t look too bad.


Kanopy film streaming service

I just realized our local library offers free access to the film streaming service Kanopy, and they’ve actually got a decent selection. Not the latest blockbusters, but some good foreign and classic cinema. (They’ve even got The Red Pill, the controversial anti-radical-feminist documentary which Netflix refuses to stream. (Though they did just recently finally add the DVD to their catalog.)) Since it’s free (for library card holders of participating library systems), we’re limited to 10 streams per month, but the streaming quality is decent. It’s not full HD (at least not on my PC), but it’s better than DVD quality. Interestingly they also allow you to embed videos. Here’s “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter”, which I really enjoyed (which I guess you won’t be able to see without an account, haha):

Interesting indeed!


Some metal music

Finally, I recently discovered the band Elvenking. I couldn’t quite get in to some of their older work, but their last album, released last year, is quite catchy. Disregarding the bizarre sense of fashion metal band members tend to share, this song is some power metal awesomeness:

I also came across the latest album from the symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes, and found it to be quite catchy as well. Love the use of choirs, the female lead’s operatic voice, and the cheesy fantasy lyrics. (I’m not a big fan of the growl singing, it sounds so gross and ugly and demonic, why is it so popular? It sounds so awful, so unmusical. Bah!)

OK, that’s all for now.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Font programming fun

So I’ve started working on GUI elements for my little engine that could. My quick list of things I’d like to include in a GUI system:

  • ability to create a menu bar
  • ability to create windows / panels with drop shadows
  • ability to create scroll bars for window content
  • ability to create buttons and button animations (hover, click)
  • ability to create text boxes and text fields

I started working on text today, i.e., font rendering. The NV path rendering extension actually does a pretty good job with larger text:

It’s not so good with smaller text:

Look at that ugly subpixel rendering:

Bleh! So I’ll have to figure out something else for smaller fonts. I’ll probably look into the Java AWT package, or perhaps look into NanoVG, especially since it looks like lwjgl already has bindings for it. (Maybe it already has everything I want?)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

MIDI animator version 2 wishlist…

As I blogged a couple months ago, one of my goals for 2018 is to program a very simple 3D engine. I’ve been wanting to program a simple adventure game for a few years now, but the 3D and 2D engines I’ve played around with just don’t have quite the features I want, so I’m attempting to create my own little game engine with the Lightweight Java Game Library (lwjgl).

Here’s what I’ve got so far: I can render a textured box and some resolution independent vector graphics including true-type fonts, which can intersect with the box!

OK, so nothing special yet.

Anyway, another thing I’d like to create with lwjgl is a new version of my MIDI animator, using vector graphics (instead of custom shaders) to represent the MIDI notes. (On a side note, I’m using the OpenGL “NV path rendering” extension for vector graphics support, which was created by Nvidia. Does that mean it’ll only work on their GPUs? I don’t know.) This should easily allow many more possible note shapes to be created.

Here’s my current wishlist for “MIDI animator 2.0” (I should also come up with a more interesting name):

  • Should be able to run standalone (that is, users shouldn’t have to download and compile the code to use it)
  • A graphical user interface (GUI) that makes it easy to:
    • load MIDI files
    • change note styles / shapes / colors / animations
    • a scroll bar to make it easier to scroll through the MIDI
    • save files
  • Ability to add title / text animations (instead of having to do this in post)
  • Ability to change / animate background
  • Ability to load in an MP3 to sync with the visualization
  • Ability to add an MP3 visualization, such as one of those pulsing frequency bars or something
  • Ability to export a movie file automatically (if I can figure out how; I’ll save this for last)

Anything else I should include or look into?

So, yeah, this is probably what I’ll be working on in my free time for now. I’ll probably start working on a GUI system next as I’d need to do this for a future game anyway.

Hopefully I’ll get back to actually writing some new music afterwards.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

All the movies I watched in 2017

Happy 2018! In 2017, I watched a total of of 180 movies. That’s 54 less than last year’s count, but who’s counting? Here’s my annual collage (full list here):

Favorite films…

My two favorite live-action films from 2016 would definitely be Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and A Monster Calls. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was a bit of a surprise. I enjoyed the first film, but it didn’t feel overly special to me. I enjoyed this sequel a lot more. It was funnier, the story seemed tighter, and the main conflict felt more meaningful. Baby Groot was hilarious; I fear the next installment won’t be able to compete with him being an adult again. A Monster Calls was a more serious film, and I loved the way it merged fantasy with the real world. Beautiful cinematography and music as well.

Animation-wise, no film came close to Pixar’s Coco. It was a beautiful story with super-catchy music. And I loved how its main theme song, “Remember Me”, actually played a very important role in the plot; it wasn’t just some arbitrary addition. Not only is this movie my favorite animated film of the year, I’d have to say it has become my favorite Pixar film of all, taking the place from Finding Nemo. (It’s also Pixar’s highest-rated film on IMDb at the time of this writing. Yay!)

Other enjoyable films of the year include DunkirkKing Arthur: Legend of the SwordThe Dark TowerBlade Runner 2049, and It: Chapter One. The two fantasy films were a bit cheesy and had some flaws, but I still enjoyed them.

I really enjoyed the 3D re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I don’t think it did very well at the box office, which is too bad. I love 3D movies and I love older films being 3D-ized. Considering how much the process of 3D-izing a film costs, T2’s box office results will only discourage the practice. Tragedy, I say!

I saw Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life and loved it. Long and contemplative and somewhat weird, but overall very thought-provoking. I also really enjoyed the 2014 foreign film A Hard Day, an action thriller with a lot of great twists, both humorous and suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian.

Older films I saw for the first time in 2017 and highly enjoyed include Excalibur (great fantasy with a classic 80’s feel to it), Stand By MeMan of La Mancha (Peter O’Toole is not so great in this, but I just love the musical), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (love this series), and High Noon with Gary Cooper, a classic.


So that’s my 2017 in movies.

And guess what I got for Christmas this year? A year-long MoviePass subscription! Remember “MoviePass”? I blogged about it way back in 2013 here. Their service was a bit too expensive then; I’m glad costs have gone down. My card hasn’t arrived in the mail yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! So I’m hoping to see a lot more new releases in theaters this year.

 

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Happy New Year! Plans for 2018…

I haven’t blogged in months! I think that might be the longest I’ve gone without blogging in 10 years. 2017 was a quiet year for this blog; I only managed to write 11 posts, including this one. How terrible! The world needs more of my blather!

I would do a “year in review” sort of thing, but I really didn’t do much worth mentioning. Definitely not much creatively. I’ve stayed busy with other sorts of work, and have not been on my computer nearly as much as usual.

Anyway, here are some hopes and dreams for 2018:

  • Compose some more music. I’ve got lots of melodies and ideas to flesh out, and it’d be nice to finish my third full-length album.
  • Program some synth instruments. I started doing some sound programming in Java earlier this year. So far all I’ve got is a program that plays a sine wave with varying levels of vibrato. I’m really just playing around, not really going for anything serious, but I think it’d be neat to see if I can create some interesting sounds and use them in a piece.
  • Program a video game. This has been a pipe dream for a long time now, but I still want to do it. I still want to create that little mystery adventure game. I’ve still gotta figure out a way to make it visually appealing without needing artistic skills.
  • Program a 3D engine? Just for fun, and to better understand how they work, I’d really like to try programming my own very basic 3D engine. Nothing advanced; I would just like to play around with the basics of rendering and break stuff on purpose for fun!
  • Finish writing at least one more novel. I started writing a handful of novels this year. I’d like to actually finish one and publish it.
  • Write a non-fiction book? If I can think of an interesting subject, might be fun to try writing a non-fiction book.
  • Play video games, watch movies, and read more books! Because this will help me build character….
  • Pay off debts. If I can be financially disciplined enough, it’d be nice to pay off some debt. But I still need to buy a PSVR, so, you know… priorities.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll probably try to blog a bit more often too. It helps me think.

Happy New Year to all! Hope everyone has a great 2018!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Games

Another “escape the room” board game

Some family members and I recently tried playing another “escape the room” board game, this time from different creators. ‘Twas called “Escape The Room: Mystery at The Stargazers Manor”.

I’m not sure if it was better or worse than the pharaoh’s tomb we played earlier.

Pros: The puzzles were a little less arbitrary and fit into the story a bit more naturally. The final puzzle made you search through all the material you had used throughout the game, which was a nice finale. Also, this one allows you repack all the material so that someone else could play through it again. (Whereas players destroy the gaming material in the pharaoh’s tomb game during the process of playing, so no one can replay with the same set.)

Cons: Like the pharaoh’s tomb game, the game mainly depended on finding the right symbols in the right order and using a sliding decoder disc to check your code. If your code is correct, you advance to the next puzzle (or set of puzzles). I wish they’d come up with something a little more creative, though I’m not sure what. Symbols just get boring very quickly, and seem so arbitrary. However, the main “con” of this game was that it was just too easy. It might be great for 10-13 year olds, but it feels way too childish for 30 year olds. The puzzles here are just way too easy, and the game is over too quickly.

Therein lies the challenge of designing a good puzzle. If it’s too easy, it’s not interesting, but making it more challenging by making more confusing or enigmatic doesn’t make it more enjoyable.

What makes a good puzzle?

I suppose a good puzzle has three (or four) attributes:

  1. Problem to solve is easy to understand.
  2. Problem is challenging to solve.
  3. Solution is simple.
  4. For story-based games like these “escape the room” games, I’d also add this: Problem relates well to the game’s overall story.

Of course whether or not those conditions are met by a certain puzzle is subjective. What’s simple to someone may be confusing to someone else. But everyone is different and special in their own way, so that’s OK.

Anyway, I think the pharaoh’s tomb game design had problems with attribute 1. They tried to make puzzles more difficult by simply making the instructions more enigmatic. This stargazer’s manor game, on the other hand, had problems with attribute 2, at least for adult players. The challenges were too easy for adults.

Both games had trouble with attribute 4. The puzzles are just sort of shoe-horned into the story and the setting. Perhaps most players are more interested in the puzzles than the surrounding story or scenario… but then why not just go print out some puzzles from the web for free? If you’re going to buy an “escape the room” board game, isn’t for the “escape” scenario? So I wish these games had spent more effort writing compelling scenarios, rather than just taking it a bit for granted. Both scenarios were just forgettable and dumb.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Some random July blather

It’s been over two months since I blogged anything, so here are a few random things I have to say.

I’ll admit I haven’t been terribly productive these last couple months. One sister is back from college and got a new kitten, another is on summer break from her job on the other side of the world. I spent a week at the end of last month visiting relatives in Tennessee and doing a little genealogy. I mentioned the Tennessee Archive of Moving Images and Sound in an earlier blog post about my 3x great uncle Bert Hodgson, the song writer, and we were finally able to visit the archive and listen to some of his old recordings. They actually had audio recordings he had made featuring himself playing the piano and singing. They were in rough shape sound-wise, but it was very cool to hear his voice! I can’t say he was that great of a singer though. Still, very cool artifacts!

Writing

I’ve been trying to get back to some fiction writing, but I’m having a good deal of trouble. (Maybe blogging more will get my mind thinking in words again?) I just can’t seem to get into the flow of it. Over the past couple months, I’ve started perhaps seven or eight different stories, some of them from complete outlines, some of them with no outlines at all. It seems like no matter what, I get bored with the premise too quickly and want to start another. What writing illness is this called? Trouble with commitment? Commitment-phobia? Oh well. I’ll keep trying. I still get very excited by story ideas and plotting out possibilities, so I really want to get my ideas into book form. I just get bored with them too quickly and am too excited to try something new.

Music composing

Music-wise, I know I still owe my Patreon supporters four pieces for the two months I delivered nothing. I’ll probably be on hiatus again this month. I can’t believe how quickly this month has flown by. But I still have a good number of melodies I look forward to forming into pieces, and I’m looking forward to finishing another album before the year is out, so those pieces are definitely on their way.

Speaking of music, I really enjoy this guy’s videos about music theory featuring video game music:

Definitely makes me want to try some of the techniques mentioned. He’s good at explaining things too.

A board game

Finally, tonight one of my brothers brought the family this game:

It’s a game you can only play once, and you all play it together as a team. You basically imagine that you’re stuck in a pharaoh’s tomb, and you use cards and a little book to solve puzzles and riddles to escape. The solution to one riddle leads to the next. It’s a bit like a computer game that you pay more for to play on paper.

Honestly, I like the idea of it, but the execution of this particular one was a bit… underwhelming. I just didn’t think the game / puzzle design was very well crafted. Rather than getting “Aha!” moments, you got “Could it be this? Let’s try it. Yep. Huh.” moments. Does that make sense? I guess the puzzles just seemed a bit too random, and what you had to do to solve them just seemed too arbitrary. It’s probably also not a great game for more than three people. Having to pass around the material gets annoying, and having someone else solve a puzzle before you even understand what’s going on isn’t very fun. (And these puzzles weren’t that great to begin with.)

Some of my other family members enjoyed it, though.

But, like I said, I was intrigued by the concept of it. It’s like a linear RPG puzzle game. I’d really like to try creating one myself.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

Empathy

Another interesting video featuring Jordan Peterson on the subject of empathy. Also featured is psychologist Paul Bloom.

Just thought it was interesting because my positions on a lot of issues aren’t about empathy, and can therefore be accused of seeming cruel. It’s not that I’m not empathetic. The example I use a lot is the kid who cries because he wants ice-cream for dinner. The parents who deny him that don’t do it out of lack of empathy. You might as well never discipline a child because it will make him cry. What’s best for a human is not based entirely on what he feels or really wants or suffers with.

So then you look at controversial social issues like immigration or abortion or affirmative action or same-sex marriage. To me, my positions on these issues are based on principles. If you base your conclusions too greatly on feelings, too greatly on empathizing with certain groups, you threaten making things worse, leading to worse suffering. Because it’s not about getting what you think you want right now, it’s about wanting the right thing that will do you the most good in the first place. Does that distinction make sense?

If you want to own the moon, you’ll never be happy. And me refusing to pretend that you own the moon isn’t about my lack of empathy. Ultimately you’re going to have to make peace with the fact that you can’t own the moon.

The suffering endured by someone by the enforcement of my position is not the issue of my position. I’m perfectly capable of being sorry about that suffering. I honestly believe killing the child in your womb is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Engaging in sexual acts while purposefully denying its natural procreative potential is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Giving preferential treatment to certain individuals based on group identity is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Mismanaging our immigration policies are bad for us, regardless of feelings.

Doing the right thing can and many times does lead to suffering, but I hold my positions despite that, not because of it. And, like I said, I believe my positions (at least the ones I have stronger opinions about) ultimately lead to less suffering, if one’s desires are oriented properly. “Oriented properly” might sound like an escape clause, because the proper orientation of desires is part of the argument itself, but it’s necessary to mention; like I said, if you desire something that just can never be, you’ll always be suffering.

Discerning between right and wrong isn’t about eliminating suffering. We can’t use only our emotions or our empathy as a moral compass, because they’ll only serve us inasmuch as they’re oriented correctly in the first place.

By S P Hannifin, ago