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Posts by Nolan Peterson
The Internet has a love affair with cats. Is it because the most avid users and generators of content are people who loathe going outside, and thus opt for feline companionship? Maybe.
That’s right, more. In fact, you can actually learn something.
Right now, anyone with an Internet connection has access to a world-class education. Harvard, MIT, Yale, Duke, Stanford all have Massive Open Online Courses — MOOCs — where you can learn from some of the top minds on a myriad topics.
The only difference between everyday Joe Bag O’Doughnuts and an MIT graduate is a slip of paper.
Of course, not all of the MOOCs have a structured level assessment. You might not always take tests, or visit the prof for office hours. But for those who have just a bit of ambition and self discipline, they can learn anything.
MOOCs aren’t limited to established, brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning, either.
Brian Greene, a Professor at Columbia University and co-director of the university’s Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, is launching a MOOC where he will teach two classes, something he revealed on March 6 in an AMA on the popular content-aggregating website, Reddit.
Greene will discuss Einstein’s theory of Relativity. And if you know nothing more than E=mc2, this is your opportunity to learn just how mind-blowing it is.
This year, the most reliable indicator of hard-core geekdom turns 40 years old. And for anyone out there who thinks only the nerdiest of the nerds can wield a 20-sided die, keep in mind, Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are among those nerds.
Big deal, you might say. So some game is having a birthday party. Big whoop.
The saying “don’t knock it till you try it” comes to mind.
For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons (along with subsequent versions, offshoots and iterations) is a Role Playing Game (RPG) that allows people to decide what type of hero or villain they want to be, and what abilities they want them to have. Then, after everyone has created their characters, a “Dungeon Master” or DM will lead the group (usually 4-6) on an adventure. The adventures can be short campaigns with a single objective, or multi-layered story arcs stretching over years.
As the characters progress and defeat their enemies, they gain experience points which can be used to level up. (see also: gain new strengths and attributes.)
The allure of this particular type of gameplay is, it can take place entirely through dialog, leaving the scene and world entirely in each player’s imagination.
Director Jon Favreau reportedly credits Dungeons & Dragons with giving him “… a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance.”
But what did D&D really do? It gave kids who might otherwise be socially inept (to a certain degree) the ability to become someone else. To take on the form of a powerful warrior, or a skilled magician. It entertained, socialized, and enriched the storytelling imaginations of generations of geeks. And I count myself in that group.
Mason Froberg, Co-owner of Dungeons End in Duluth, has been on earth as long as Dungeons and Dragons. And while he has shared a lifespan with the game itself, aside from a bit of dabbling, Froberg didn’t really get into the role of Dungeon Master until he opened his game shop.
“I run a campaign of Pathfinder every Sunday for three hours,” Froberg said. The game is open for people to watch.
Speaking for myself, as a geek from way back, I didn’t start dabbling in the RPG world until the last couple of years. In that brief experience I’ve had with the game, I would agree that playing the game facilitates meaningful, interpersonal contact. Not like the contact you have with people at work, or your core-group of friends. Playing this game collaboratively, allows a group of people to form something of a bond.
Sure, it’s not quite as strong as two guys in the same foxhole, but there is a sort of brotherhood that is gained by finishing an epic campaign together.
And maybe society could use a little more cohesion, and a little less division.
America is not the World Police…worse, they are the world’s mommy. And that sucks.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are crude, yes, but great. In 2004, as America’s attitude toward the (
war? police action? debaucle?) quagmire in Iraq shifted, Parker and Stone put out “Team America: World Police” lampooning the egotism and patriotism of America as some moralistic, justice dispensing, know-it-all nation. It was a great movie, but I don’t think America is a Police force, it is more like a schizophrenic parent.
For all the firstworld anarchists bloviation about how police are a terrible blight, police actually do good things:
Respond to a crisis
Detain suspects until adjudication
Hand out baseball cards to neighborhood school children
It would be a treat if our nation acted that way. For most people, the cops never hassle them (Your Mileage May Vary) and if they are good cops, they have a good reason to stop you (Don’t get me started on NYC’s “Stop and Frisk” crap. That doesn’t fit with the narrative… mooooooving on). Instead, the You Ess of Eh acts like the worst kind of overbearing parent ever.
Plays favorites, giving out foreign aid to those mommy likes
Freaks out and dispenses harsh punishment out of anger for those mommy doesn’t like much, but needs their help keeping the lights on
Utterly neglects the children she either doesn’t like or doesn’t see value in
Eaves drops on her children’s phone calls
Saves a copy of all of their browser histories
But America shouldn’t be the world’s police force, or it’s mother. It should view other nations as collegues. As teammates working for, ultimately, the same goals: Healthy economies, a sustainable habitat and a desire to explore the uncharted.
Some of the blame lies with the politicians. Twisting their screws and creating a culutre of fear and artificial scarcity. But most of the blame lies with us — we, the people — because it is only when we can form a consensus, a common objective to achieve these goals, that we are going to make any progress toward utopia.
Like it or not, humanity is a family of brothers and sisters, no parents allowed.
Can playing board games help you live your life? Now for the phrase I heard most often as a child: “Maybe…it depends.”
The thing about our daily lives is – for many of us – we have many different things happening on varying timelines that require various resources (time, money, attention, presence, etc). School was supposed to teach us all about the world in terms of rules: literature and grammar rules, rules of physics, chemistry and biology, and rules about not beaning a kid in the head when you play dodge-ball (I haven’t forgotten, Joe W. and I won’t forget).
Point being, the structure of school was also supposed to give us a rudimentary idea of how to allocate our resources (at that age, our resources were mostly play time and the peach cobbler from our lunch trays). I can’t speak for anyone else, but the realities of managing bills, playing at least some games, student loan debt, office politics, sibling rivalries and relationships with family, friends and partners (did I mention bills?) adds up to complexity. What school should have focused on a bit more was how to manage our lives with some semblance of resource management. That’s where board games can help. But you have to play the right kind.
When someone says “board games” in America, I get the impression that most people think to themselves “bored games.” As in, you would have to be bored, stuck inside on a rainy day with no power and dead batteries in your mobile devices to be coaxed into playing one. And that’s discounting those who might actually crack open a book (you remember those, right? Low-tech information download packets for your brain pan).
But there is good news on the horizon. Thanks to the Internet and some board game evangels who take to the streets, people are being introduced to the amazing possibilities that board games have to offer.
There is a class of games out there that require a bit more strategy than deciding whether or not to buy “Park Place” or put a hotel on “Boardwalk”.
There exists a group of games (or kingdom, phylum, class, I don’t know exactly) referred to as European-style. They are intricate and rely more on game play than chance. They are broken down further into genus or species by their mechanic: resource management, auction, area control, etc.
Many people have at least a cursory knowledge of “Settlers of Catan” even if they don’t know much more than the name. But “Settlers” can teach a person quite a bit about managing what they have, what they need, and what they are willing to pay to get what they need… so, kinda like real life.
(On a side note, for the Star Trek geek / board game geek hybrids out there, Catan GmbH has combined Catan and Star Trek for a game of what I can only guess is epic awesomeness. Which you can see being played by none other than the king of geekery himself, Wil Wheaton here.)
Back to Settlers of Catan.
The game is easy enough to understand that one needn’t be an expert to pick it up. Every player places two initial settlements on part of the board (the board changes in configuration every time you play it, so the experience always has a bit of freshness to it.) The placement of the second settlement determines each player’s starting resources. During regular play, settlements produce resources based on the numbers rolled on the dice.
Players can then, over the course of the game, trade resources in public negotiation. “I have wood for sheep” is a common enough phrase to hear, since people with an excess of wood, but in need of sheep, will try to trade off what they have for what they need.
But while there is an element of cooperation involved in trading with people, there’s also the overarching goal: to win the game. This means those who appear to be leading might put out a call for a resource, but find others are unwilling to trade with them. All of these factors combine to make a cooperative/competitive resource management game that can teach a person a lot about how to maneuver through their real lives.
Resource management games can get more complex, but not necessarily more complicated. Indeed, a game like “Puerto Rico” by Rio Grande Games can seem rather daunting to those who are unfamiliar with this particular type of board game. But for the adventurers among us, there are some great videos that explain the rules well enough to get started. Don’t let the hemp shirt fool you, the man is a genius… in his own way.
Here’s the takeaway: in Puerto Rico, players must balance cash, goods, buildings and victory points. Goods can be sold for cash used to build buildings, or they can be loaded onto ships for victory points. The fun comes in balancing the cash you need to buy buildings, with the victory points needed to win the game.
These two games are only a small sample of the ingenuity put in to modern-day board gaming. They can easily help you develop a more strategic way of looking at things. And that is something that has really helped me in dealing with the variety of challenges everyday life presents.
Like how to turn my time into money, so that I can turn my money into time-saving goods and services.
Or, in Settlers of Catan parlance: I’ve got time for stuff. Who can give me stuff for time??
Superheros save more than the fictional universes they inhabit, they also can help us, in the real world, save our own.
Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, especially without having a father driving home the importance of sports and physical domination, my personality was heavily influenced by the media (see: Saturday morning cartoons) I chose to pay attention to.
In particular, the X-Men animated series.
For the uninitiated, the X-Men animated series ran for 76 episodes in the early 1990s. The series focused primarily on Cyclops’ Blue Team, which included Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Rogue, Storm, Gambit and Jubilee.
These topics really hit home in the beginning, when Jubilee is first introduced. She’s young — a teenager, much like I would soon become — and she’s got this amazing gift that she sees as curse. She doesn’t know why she was born different from everyone else, and she finds it hard to cope with the hatred she had earned not for something she’d done, but just for who she was.
As a boy, I understood within the context of the show that (some of) the mutants were the heroes. They were different, yes, but they were on the side of good. And at a young age, good and evil were all that I needed to know.
Seeing Jubilee struggle with her difference, and the pain caused by unwarranted hatred stuck with me into my later years. When I began taking an interest in the world outside my bubble, I saw that there were people living in my universe that had been born different. It wasn’t always identifiable, but they were different.
Not all mutants in the X-Men universe had melted faces or six arms. Some of the mutants, notably Rogue and Storm, could pass for “normal” on the outside, but on the inside were quite powerful and quite different.
Looking around today, there are people who are visibly different from I am. People of different skin color, eye color, hair color, height, weight and sex. And among those differences, there are those who hide another difference: a different gender identity or sexuality. Those differences are not on the outside, but they are nonetheless part of what makes that person who they are.
I didn’t know, when I was a young boy, that my favorite cartoon was showing me the injustice in my own world. When I reflect now on the themes presented, and the different battle lines that were drawn in that TV show, I’m proud to say that I’m on the side of Professor Xavier, and his vision of an equal society. In our own world, the side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed in a world where all (people) could be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I am on the side of equal rights for all people, regardless of who they love, what they look like or whether they can shoot explosive sparks from their hands.
The Internet, as it is known to do, has an answer. There are many personality-type tests out there, most notably the Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typology test. This test gives a four-letter personality type, and the internet is full of different ways to identify your personality with characters from popular sci-fi and fantasy offerings.
My personal favorite is the Star Wars MBTI chart (find more awesome geek-i-tude from Geek in Heels.)
That’s all well and good for a little insight into your personality, but that doesn’t really translate very well to the realm of rolling critical hits. There is, however, a brilliant little website that takes the fun of answering dot-click questions, and combines it with the seriousness of discerning your character as a person in terms of a role playing character.
For those who really get into playing their character, and wouldn’t dream of doing something that wasn’t within their alignment, might find this little exercise to be a valuable guide for living their real lives. The truth is, it’s easier to make good decisions if you pay attention to the decisions you make.
And that – more than anything else – might be what makes this worthwhile, and not just another way to waste time on the Internet.
I Am A: Neutral Good Human Druid (5th Level)
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.
Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.
Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus.