Playing Hnefatafl

So, earlier today myself and two other lads sat down and played a few rounds of Hnefatafl, which I mentioned in a previous post.

I suck at it. Out of 4 games I played, I only won once – and one of the other lads had at that point being awake for 36 hours! O_O That said, it was fun to play, and we got a better appreciation of the tactics you can use:

One is for the attacker to create a diamond shape on the board to surround the king, exploiting the restriction of piece movement (only left/right or up/down); however, if the defenders do a few kamikaze moves and force the defenders to break that to capture the pieces, it is possible for the king to escape.
Another tactic is for the attacker to plant themselves in the corners, blocking off the escape points for the king, but again it’s a double-edged sword: the corners and walls count as another piece for capturing an opponent’s pieces. It’s possible to lure the king out to this and then trap him, but I just can’t do that.
When playing as the king, the default strategy seems to be “get to the corners as quickly as possible”. We’ve noticed that it usually takes at least three turns to get the king out into the open (on the board we were using, he’s surrounded by guards at the start), at which point the attackers might already have three pieces in place for the “diamond trap”.
And finally, there’s also the issue of whether the king wins instantly or not if he gets to one of the corner pieces. In some variations of the game, he wins if he cannot be boxed in on the next turn, but that seems to unbalance things in favour of the attackers too much.

I can already see why it was so popular among the Vikings. It’s quite fun to play!


Guilty of not correctly predicting an earthquake

No, seriously. A group of scientists and a government official in Italy have been sentenced to 6 years for not predicting the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila. One has even said “I still don’t understand what I was convicted of”.

All I can say is “What the ACTUAL Fuck?” Earthquakes are inherently unpredictable. You might as well sue meteorologists for not accurately predicting every hurricane’s trajectory or strength! Even if they were predictable events, there would be nothing a human can do to stop it. And if they had predicted it, but it hadn’t happened, they’d be slammed for “spreading alarm”.

There IS an appeal in the works, but I still suspect this will just harm Italian scientists. Bel lavoro, Italia! You’ve just sent the wrong message entirely.

Apples’ logo is blasphemous

according to an ultra-Orthodox sect in Russia. Apparently, the bite out of an apple in their logo represents “original sin”. From the article:

Radical orthodox Christians from Russia remove Apple logotype from the company’s products and put a cross sign instead of them. The orthodox find the half-bitten apple logotype anti-Christian and insulting their belief, something that may potentially cause serious problems for Apple’s products in the country.

Interfax news-agency reports about “several” cases, where the radical orthodox, including priests, swapped the Apple logo for an image of the cross, the symbol of Jesus Christ. According to the ultra-radical orthodox activists, the bitten apple symbolizes the original sin of Adam and Eve and is generally anti-Christian. It is unknown whether the radical orthodox consider the logotype as insulting, but it looks like they do.

I don’t use Apple products, mainly because they’re a bit expensive, but this is bloody ridiculous. They’re getting worked up over a piece of fruit with a bite taken out of it and are demanding that the company change to a logo that fits their beliefs. Frankly, that’s a load of fermented leprechaun piss, especially since just about every religion’s tenents are, to some extent, blasphemy to each other. So, if the blasphemy law that the Duma are debating does become enshrined in law, would they bring charges against Apple? Would they sue anyone who doesn’t follow their beliefs exactly?

Cases like this are exactly why blasphemy legislation is such bullshite. Perhaps I should start a religion whose central claim is that vegetarianism is blasphemous and start bringing charges against veggies and vegans? Liek oMg It goes against my beliefs!!1!!!1!!!1!!!

Well, that didn’t take long

Most people will have heard that Felix Baumgarten performed his utterly awesome skydive yesterday, smashing several records along the way – highest balloon ride, highest skydive, and highest ever live streaming from Youtube. You rock, Felix!

Unfortunately, only one day has lapsed before the conspiracy theorists are crawling out of the woodwork and claiming it was faked. No, seriously. Here’s one. For starters, there was very little air at the height he dropped from, so there would be almost no air resistance, and the most it would have got would be roughly standard atmospheric pressure. Also, the speed of sound varies with air pressure and temperature, but more so with temperature. The result of this is that the speed of sound at approximately 23,000 metres, which is when the instruments suggest he broke the sound barrier, is 320 m/s instead of 340 m/s.

Of course, the FAI still has to officially confirm the new records, particularly the speed of sound. And it’s not going to lead to cures for the various types of cancers, or solve climate change or the world’s economy…but so what? He did a damn brave thing, and that alone deserves some respect.

Viking board games – for the computer

One of my IT courses is in Research Methods, and it includes a project to do over the whole year. Mine, along with two other lads on the course, is to look into a simulation of a Viking board game called “Hnefatafl”.

The word translates roughly as “King’s Table/Board”, and it’s essentially a Viking percursor to chess. The idea is that there are two sides, the Reds and the Whites; the latter have to get their king to one of the corners of the boards, while the Reds have to capture said king. All the pieces can move like the rook in chess, i.e. in straight lines only, without any limits on the number of squares they move. It sounds a bit like Thud!, which already sounds awesome.

The main problem with Hnefatafl, however, is that it’s pretty obscure. Even the best-known version, Tablut, wasn’t documented in full by Linnaeus, who didn’t speak Sámi (basically, what the Laplanders speak). One of the papers I found mentioned a few online resources, but most of them date from the late 90s, and some don’t even appear to exist any more. That said, I HAVE found one on Sourceforge, although it hasn’t been updated in about 4 years and I haven’t tried compiling it yet. We have a whole year to look into it and produce something, however, so there’s no real rush…yet. All we really need to do at the moment is develop some actual research questions, possibly to do with the AI.

I actually think this game would fit quite well into Skyrim as a minigame. Go kill some dragons, then back to the tavern for some mead and a few rounds of Hnefatafl!

Another lawsuit against Simon Singh…

…some people never learn.

Via Butterflies and Wheels, an “alternative” medicine magazine named What Doctors Don’t Tell You is suing Simon Singh for “libel”. That turned out to be an excellent decision for the British Chiropractic Association.

The Nightingale Collaboration, which basically challenges misleading health claims, has filed 26 complaints with the ASA. They think it’s a record, but when you look at the cover, it doesn’t come as a surprise that they’ve filed so many. Here’s two that stand out from the front cover.

Sunbathe your diabetes away

End your child’s wheezing [asthma] without drugs

And of course, by pointing out that this frankly makes no sense at all and is potentially misleading, Singh is now “the bully”, instead of the person suing him for libel. It’s just like the Burzynski clinic’s attempts to threaten Rhys Morgan, which was a massive backfire as well. When will the Streisand Effect actually start being taught on law courses?

A Bullshite detection tool

Ahh, StumbleUpon…how I have missed thee! Thanks to SU, I found an online bullshite detector – what an excellent idea! It seems to rate the text as a decimal out of one, where 1 is complete fertiliser.

Unfortunately, when I put the text on the front page of an absurd site I put together for one of the IT courses I’m doing, it “only” came up with an index of 0.14, which is considerably less than expected for a site that “sells” racing equipment based around troll physics. The special offers got only 0.06, which either means I can’t bullshit properly, or the site’s a bit wonky…

That said, give it a try. It’s probably going to surprise you, and it might come in useful someday.