(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘skill

“Games are a compromise between intimacy and keeping intimacy away”*…

… Maybe, as Greg Costikyan explains, none more so than Rochambeau (or “Rock-Paper-Scissors” as it’s also known)…

Unless you have lived in a Skinner box from an early age, you know that the outcome of tic-tac-toe is utterly certain. At first glance, rock-paper-scissors appears almost as bad. A four-year-old might think there’s some strategy to it, but isn’t it basically random?

Indeed, people often turn to rock-paper-scissors as a way of making random, arbitrary decisions — choosing who’ll buy the first round of drinks, say. Yet there is no quantum-uncertainty collapse, no tumble of a die, no random number generator here; both players make a choice. Surely this is wholly nonrandom?

All right, nonrandom it is, but perhaps it’s arbitrary? There’s no predictable or even statistically calculable way of figuring out what an opponent will do next, so that one choice is as good as another, and outcomes will be distributed randomly over time — one-third in victory for one player, one-third to the opponent, one-third in a tie. Yes? Players quickly learn that this is a guessing game and that your goal is to build a mental model of your opponent, to try to predict his actions. Yet a naïve player, once having realized this, will often conclude that the game is still arbitrary; you get into a sort of infinite loop. If he thinks such-and-so, then I should do this-and-that; but, on the other hand, if he can predict that I will reason thusly, he will instead do the-other-thing, so my response should be something else; but if we go for a third loop — assuming he can reason through the two loops I just did — then . . . and so on, ad infinitum. So it is back to being a purely arbitrary game. No?


Read on for an explanation in this excerpt from veteran game designer Greg Costikyan’s book Uncertainty in Games: “The Psychological Depths of Rock-Paper-Scissors,” from @mitpress.

* Eric Berne


As we play, we might send carefully-plotted birthday greetings to Vilfredo Pareto; he was born on this date in 1848. An engineer, mathematician, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher, he made significant contributions to math and sociology. But he is best remembered for his work in economics and socioeconomics– particularly in the study of income distribution, in the analysis of individuals’ choices, and in his studies of societies, in which he popularized the use of the term “elite” in social analysis.

He introduced the concept of Pareto efficiency (zero-sum situations in which no action or allocation is available that makes one individual better off without making another worse off) and helped develop the field of microeconomics. He was also the first to discover that income follows a Pareto distribution, which is a power law probability distribution. The Pareto principle ( the “80-20 rule”) was built on his observations that 80% of the wealth in Italy belonged to about 20% of the population. 


“The world cannot be governed without juggling”*…

Innovation in juggling? David Friedman investigates…

How many new ways can there possibly be of throwing a bunch of balls up in the air and catching them? I mean, people have been juggling for thousands of years. There’s even an ancient Egyptian tomb that includes this wall painting of what sure looks like juggling [illustration above].

So as a modern juggling performer, how do you keep your routine fresh? Is it all about the patter and the performance? Or is there still room for innovation in the art and craft of throwing balls to yourself?…

With the help of professional juggler Luke Burrage, he finds some fascinating examples:

Luke’s “rotating room” routine
Adam Dipert‘s “Space Juggling”
Greg Kennedy in a cone
And the OG, MacArthur Fellow Michael Moschen

Even more at “Innovations in Juggling,” from @ironicsans.

John Selden


As we stay aloft, we might send amazingly entertaining birthday greetings to John Bill Ricketts; he was born on (or around, records are sketchy) this date in 1769. An English equestrian, famed for his trick riding, he was also an impressario– who brought the first circus performances to the United States in Philadelphia in 1793.

John Bill Ricketts, aka, Breschard, the Circus Rider, by Gilbert Stuart
The original “Big Top” (source: Tracy Chevalier)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

“How deluded we sometimes are by the clear notions we get out of books. They make us think that we really understand things of which we have no practical knowledge at all.”*…

“The Invention of Copper Engraving”; engraving by Jan Collaert after Stradanus, circa 1600

Anthony Grafton on Pamela H. Smith‘s new book, From Lived Experience to the Written Word: Reconstructing Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern World, and the challenges of understanding the origins of the practical arts, crafts, and sciences…

… The knowledge that goes into building a brick wall that is truly vertical or hanging a door that doesn’t stick, printing a book that doesn’t smudge or casting a bell that won’t split, is hard to trace to its origins. Historians of science specialize in theories and methods that they can tie to people and dates: for example, astronomy based on the heliocentric theory and human anatomy based on human dissection. Both of these, as it happens, were the subjects of long, technical books—by Copernicus and Vesalius, respectively—that appeared in 1543.

The knowledge that underpins our world of things, by contrast, has been discovered over centuries, through trial and error, two steps forward and one step back. It has been produced and improved by collaboration: the work of talented, largely anonymous groups, generation after generation, rather than identifiable individuals. And it is less verbal than embodied. Most of the experiments involved in forming a craft and the practices used to teach and further develop it go unrecorded, as do those who carried them out. French bakers often start their careers nowadays with formal training. But they master their craft at work, learning from those with experience and skills, hands in the dough and senses focused on what happens to it in the oven.

Teaching astronomy or anatomy happens in a lecture hall or anatomy theater—a place where some people pronounce and others take notes (or zone out). Teaching in the world of things goes on in places where people work. Teaching in the university is usually abstract and verbal. Teaching in the world of things is often physical: the teacher urges pupils to apply all of their senses and employs gestures as well as words to make clear how one wields a tool or decides if something has finished cooking.

As a history professor I have told stories and argued about interpretations before hundreds of students in lecture halls and seminar rooms. Long ago, as a theater technician, I taught apprentices—face-to-face and with our hands on tools and materials—how to swing a hammer or glue the cloth for scenery to a wooden frame. When teaching history I present an ever-changing body of material that I have read and thought and argued about with colleagues over the decades. When teaching theater crafts I transmitted physical skills that I had learned from others in shops and about which I had not read a word. No notes preserve those lessons. How can we hope to discover how a medieval blacksmith learned to forge tools or a Renaissance tailor learned to cut brocade?…

The knowledge that underpins our world of things has been discovered over centuries, produced as the result of collaboration, and generally unrecorded. How does a historian overcome these obstacles? “How to Cast a Metal Lizard,” @scaliger on @ps2270 in @nybooks.

Similarly, see “How a Bedouin Tracker Sees the Desert.” And for how a successful manager (and artist) incorporates “the art of craft” into his life, see “Leading with Slow Craft,” from @natenatenate.

* Thomas Merton


As we noodle on knowledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old New York City real estate dealer, was alighting from a south bound 8th Avenue trolley car when an electric-powered taxicab (Automobile No. 43) struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. He was taken by ambulance to Roosevelt Hospital; but upon arrival the house surgeon, Dr. Marny, said his injuries were too severe to survive; Bliss died the next morning… becoming the first recorded instance of a person being killed in a motor vehicle collision in the U. S.

Bliss in 1873 [source]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 13, 2022 at 1:00 am

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