Jul 31, 2009

Hiding Under the Table

Marking my return to properly updating this blog, I'll relate this story from my first-ever RPG campaign. I think it's funny, and I hope you'll agree.

The game was a Hunter scenario, where we were otherwise normal people with unsuspected paranormal abilities, which we rolled up randomly from a list of 20 at chargen, each getting two powers which the GM wouldn't reveal until we triggered them. We were a party of four - a secretive gunslinger with mafia connections, a gentleman butler with somewhat disconcerting hidden skills, a huge, tattooed Maori warrior and myself, a street doctor with kickass Kung Fu expertise - brought together by a mutually-distrusted employer for unclear reasons, and given tasks to perform. In this particular case, the mission was "Enter CEO Goldman's office, look for anything that can be used to incriminate him, and get out without raising a fuss." The plan was to dress up as the washing personnel, infiltrate the building, pick the lock to the office, rummage, and leave. Ah, well - the best laid plans...

We made it in without any problems, even getting so far as to making it to the second-highest level with only a single close call, but there we got stumped. Security in the "executive level" - the top floor - was top-notch, with cameras and all. There was no way we'd be able to sneak in. So we arranged to be let into the top floor by convincing the guards we had business there. No problem, they let us in, and we got to the door. It was locked, of course, but this was expected. What wasn't, however, was that the lock was electronic. Damn. And not one of us had the necessary electronics skills to open it. Well, never ones to be stumped, the butler organized a distraction by locking the Maori warrior into a room a few levels down, and calling security to get him out. Well, they did, and the butler took that chance to swipe the guard's keys, which he brought to me with the instruction to enter Goldman's office and take a look.

No problem, there. One of the keys worked, and I entered his office, where I proceeded to manage to guess the password of Goldman's computer correctly on the second try by inputting the signature from a child's drawing, something the GM hadn't expected. I discovered child porn on the guy's computer, which disgusted me enough to send off a quick mail to the police, from Goldman's computer, containing all the pictures I had found. I then deleted the original folder, and started downloading Goldman's C: drive onto a portable hard drive I'd brought with me. Then I took a drink from his bar.

And then I heard somebody start fiddling with the door. Oh, shit! I turned off the monitor, turned off the light, and hurried into an adjoining room in the hope of finding a hiding place.

A vain hope, it'd turn out - that room was a conference room, and all it contained was a conference table.


Footsteps in the main office - only one thing to do.
I hid under the table.

Somebody who were trying to be quiet were now walking through the main office, and I was hiding underneath the conference table. Then the footsteps stopped, then they started again, then the door slammed. I waited. No sound. I waited. No sound.

I crept out from underneath the table, and slowly, carefully, I crept over to the door and listened. No sound. Still. no needless risks, eh? I his underneath the table again.

The footsteps began again, even more quietly now, and this time they were moving towards the door, and then the person in the main office began opening the door - slowly, slowly. He entered the conference room, and stopped.

"What do you do?" the GM asked.

Well, what's there to do? I sat as still as I could, hoping the sneaky guy'd go away. Instead, he crouched down, brought a gun down into my field of view, and made as if to look under the table.

"What do you do?" he GM asked again.

"I crouch down, make myself as small a I can, make no sound, and I cross my fingers and try to make myself invisible."

There were 20 abilities. Each of us rolled up 2 random ones, not knowing which ones we got, and one of mine was . . . invisibility. The moment was perfect.

Jul 15, 2009

Science: The Verifiable and the Falsifiable

So, I got access, of sorts, to the internet - for now. There probably won't be many updates throughout the next weeks even so. However, I do have a thought I wanted to churn about a bit, so here goes:

I've been thinking once again, and it seems to me that science deals with two markedly different types of questions - the verifiable and the falsifiable. These aren't the only questions science concerns itself with, of course, but they are still interesting. They can be summed up thus: A verifiable question is either true or unproven, but can never be disproved, and a falsifiable question is either false or undisproved but can never be proven.

This is really quite obvious, if you think about it - does there exist one or more gods? This has never been proven, and never been disproved, but think about it - what is required to prove the existence of a god? An event that could under no circumstance take place in a universe without any gods - a miracle. How can it be disproved? By combing each and every Planck unit of space and detecting no trace of anything supernatural? But that wouldn't be good enough, would it? There could still exist the deist "watchmaker" god, non-interfering by nature. This question is thus verifiable, but not falsifiable. My hypothesis is that no such question can exist - if it can be verified, then it can't be falsified.

Then we have questions like "is the speed of light immutable?" - a question that can easily be disproved, by measuring the speed of light and finding it to be different in two or more cases. How can it be proven? By measuring the speed of light in every photon ever created throughout its entire lifespan, and even then it could simply be that the conditions necessitated for the light to alter speed hadn't arisen yet. Now, we know that the speed of light is mutable - among other things, it slows down significantly in conditions of extreme cold. This question is thus verifiable, but not falsifiable.

What's intriguing about this is that the two types of question lend themselves to a search for truth quite differently: a scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable, and therefore can't be proven, ever - it can only be subjected to extremely rigorous testing and survive it all undisproved, in which case its status is elevated to "theory", which means that all facts seem to corroborate this explanation of events after rigorous testing; a verifiable question therefore can not be a scientific hypothesis or theory, but it still has its place in science - these are the vaunted "hard facts" that we base our worldviews around - the speed of light in a vacuum, etc.

This, of course, only applies to yes-no questions - if there can be any other answer than, "yes", "no" and "maybe", this doesn't apply. And, of course, science also involves multiple-choice.

If anybody can see any flaws in my logic, please post a comment and tell me.

Jul 7, 2009


This blog will be inactive for about a month due to vacation. If I find the opportunity to post, I will, of course, but it's unlikely. Despite the unfortunate timing, only two days after start-up, the blog will most likely continue to be updated according to the rigorous and demanding update scheme I outlined in the introduction.

Meanwhile, enjoy one of the web's most amusing webcomics: Darth and Droids.

Jul 6, 2009

The Order of Colors

One or two of the multitude of people (Read: Three. Including me) likely to ever read this line will probably have heard of a chap called Homer. Or a gal. Theories abound. Though (probably) illiterate, this bloke (/woman) wrote some works that have achieved a certain degree of recognition. Those of you familiar with shis writing may have noticed hes peculiar habit of referring to certain entities as being a color generally not associated with them, such as the ocean and sheep, which are both considered red, and the sky, which is described as bronze. Was the good gentleperson colorblind?

The answer is "maybe, maybe not, but if se was, eh would still likely use the right words". The reason why Homer described these things like seh did was because ancient Greek lacked several words for color, such as blue. In fact, Aristotle considered all colors to be variations on black and white, and separated between 7 nuances, meaning that he only recognized 7 out of the 12 basic colors (Black and white are here considered to be colors, even though they are technically not). English and Norwegian both recognize 11, the twelfth being light blue. Russian and Italian both recognize all 12.

There is an interesting pattern to this: Every single known natural language in the world contains between 2 and 12 basic color words, and these emerge in a very set pattern. Both English and Norwegian happen to recognize the same 11 basic colours, because every single known natural language that recognizes 11 basic colors recognizes the same 11. There are seemingly no exceptions to this. This is quite interesting. In fact, there is a specific, set pattern in which colors appear, and there appear to be no deviations from this. Every language has words for "dark" and "bright". These are the 2 basic colors, and evolve into white and black as the others emerge. The 3rd color to emerge is always red. Then follow green and yellow in no particular order, and when both exist, but not before, blue emerges. Wikipedia informs us that: "All languages distinguishing six colors contain terms for black, white, red, green, blue and yellow." [Color term, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_term (07 Jul 2009)]

All languages. That is quite significant. I'm normally loathe to use the term "all", as it is too unnuanced, but it seems to apply quite eminently in this case. Interesting, isn't it?

After this, brown is always the 7th color to emerge. Then follow, in no particular order, pink, purple, orange and grey - in fact, English only added the color orange in the 20th century, and it was earlier referred to a "yellow-red". The last color to emerge is azure, or light blue. This hasn't yet happened in Engish, but from now on I will personally endeavour to use it as much as possible.

The Wikipedia page on this subject contains a definition as to what constitutes a basic color term.

As of this post, I'm adding Wikipedia to my links.


This is an urgent message to all internet denizens: Visit TV-Tropes.org! The link can be found in the right-hand bar, under "links". It is, I think, a fitting candidate for the first link I post, as it is my favorite web page. Do not be fooled by the name - it doesn't only revolve around TV. It also contains material on [deep breath] video games, movies, music, literature, comics, tabletop games, web fiction, web pages, culture, urban legends, mythology, newspapers and real-life events of interest.

The basic conceit is that of a wiki devoted to gathering all those things that you've seen happen over and over in different media - and in reality - and categorizing them in an amusing and informative fashion. Have you ever seen a villain proclaim a chain of completely unpredictable events to be "all part of my plan"? Have you ever walked away from the TV during a commercial break, only to suddenly think "Hey, that didn't make sense!" about something you just accepted ten minutes ago? Have you ever come across a depiction of Nazis with implausibly advanced technology? Then you're not alone.

It's generally a good read, but be warned: If you go in there to read a single page, be prepared for sudden realizations of "Oh my god, it's been 13 hours and I'm supposed to be at work ten minutes ago!"

False friends

Whatever learner of a foreign language hasn't been faced with a false friend or three? You know them: Words like poisson, gift or embarazada. I, myself, have made some... unusual remarks on occasion, owing to this (Did you know that Norwegian phrase "grei kar", pronounced almost exactly like the English phrase "grey car", means "nice guy"? Once upon a time, I made tha mistake in reverse).

While most of them may be chalked up to coincidence, some have a more interesting history, such as the Norwegian word "gift". This word, contrary to what you might expect, does not mean "present". Instead, it has two meanings - "married" and "poison". Once upon a time, however, it apparently did mean "present" - but then it came into use as a euphemism for poison, and the original meaning was lost. Its use for "married", I can not account for, despite the claim of certain less-than-grave accounts that it came from the meaning of "poison".

The Norwegian word for divorced, "skilt", also means "signpost". This, however, is derived from the verb "å skille", meaning "to separate", while in the meaning of "signpost" it is apparently derived from the Norse word for "shield".

"Skill", meaning "separate", is another false friend, with the English "skill". And the English "poison" is a false friend with the French "poisson", meaning "fish"

Some more false friends:
En. "stock" and No. "stokk" - n, stick
En. "mat" and No. "mat" - n, food
En. "fan" and Sw. "fan" - n, Satan
Ger. "öl" - n, oil and Sw. "öl" - n, beer
Sw. "rolig", adj. fun and No. "rolig", adj, calm
Sw. "artig", adj. polite and No. "artig, adj, amusing
En. "recommended" and No. "rekommandert" - v, returned to sender
En. "fag" and No. "fag" - n, subject of study or specialization

And many, many more.