Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tentative Schedule

Thursday, November 30
Lay out a bunch of gift card proposals for the family bakeshop. Brainstorm regarding a "Crimes of Passion" short story for a local publication. Continue sprite manipulation for the next installment for Web Comic Wars (and its brand of organized insanity). Progress in writing Chapter Two of computer studies textbook. Contact Neutral Grounds on setup for Pokémon tournament. Await results of recent job interviews. Decide whether or not to attend the Fully Booked sale at Gateway Mall despite the coming typhoon.

Friday, December 01
Write December 2006 Disclaimer for weblog. Double-check application for tournament organizer with Pokémon Organized Play. Produce corrections to gift card proposals. Write draft of "Crimes of Passion" short story. Continue sprite manipulation for Web Comic Wars. Contact Rodriguez regarding recent AK-47 shipment to Cuba. Pick up supply of index cards for weekend tournaments. Prepare sample Legend of the Five Rings decks for demo. Charge laptop.

Saturday, December 02
Xavier School Wish Bazaar from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Demo Legend of the Five Rings CCG. Oversee handling of Heroclix tournament. Demo board game (to be chosen at random from bazaar supply). Schmooze and mingle.

Sunday, December 03
Xavier School Wish Bazaar from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Meet on status of Philippine Pokémon community. Suggest promotional activities for Neutral Grounds' sponsorship. Oversee and observe handling of Pokémon tournament. More schmoozing and mingling.

For any HR representatives who are checking up on this weblog due to the reference on my resumé: I assure you that I am currently jobless at the moment. Yes, I'm a busy man. No, I'm not making any of this up.

...Except for the Cuban connection, that is. The courier's real name is Kobayashi.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Antaria: What Lies Beneath

(Author's Note: This piece is chronologically preceded by the works "Amalthea" and "Of Memories Beyond".)

she said to herself. My name is Amalthea, and I'm a dungeoneer.

She had to admit that that sounded wrong. She wasn't sure if "dungeoneer" was an actual word, but she could think of no other way to describe her habit of exploring the dark and abandoned places of the local environment.

Thorngarde Keep wasn't just one of those dark and abandoned places, of course. Thorngarde was a... dungeoneer's dungeon, if there ever was one. It was a centuries-old fortress, depopulated by time and embraced by decay. Amalthea had read that it once stood on a major crossroads of the land, and had therefore been designed by some enterprising Allandrian warlord to repel invaders. When the borders moved, however, the kingdoms concluded that Thorngarde's strategic value was sorely misplaced... and thus it now stood alone, a moldering monument to conflicts best forgotten.

Despite having most of its rooms stripped of valuables and furnishings, rumors persisted that Thorngarde Keep still held a few more treasures of note. One of those stories, an ale-fed tale about how an entire vault of gold crowns had been inadvertently left behind by the Keep's last occupants, still proved popular enough to draw the occasional... dungeoneer to the place.

This was not to say that Amalthea was after the money; the Metrian Guild provided her with everything that she needed, after all. She only wanted to see if such stories were actually true.

She inched one foot forward, cautiously reaching towards a subtle indentation on the floor beyond. Flagstones, she realized, were more a compromise than anything else: On the one hand, they covered stone passageways in a clean and even manner. On the other hand, they made obvious covers for traps.

She touched one corner of the raised flagstone with her toes, heard a clicking sound, and immediately scrambled back behind a small pile of debris. Just as she did, a small area of the ceiling opened... only to cough up nothing more than two inches of dust and plaster.

Amalthea waited. A few seconds later, a frayed length of rope emerged from the opening in the ceiling and swung forlornly towards the floor. It looked as though it had been part of some lethal diversion at one point in time; whether or not it had been successful in its task would probably never be known.

That was the problem with the Keep being a popular destination for... for... dungeoneers (she was starting to hate that word): Sooner or later, someone was bound to have triggered the last trap. Someone was bound to have searched the last room. Someone was bound to have carried off the last bit of gold, or brass, or iron... or even tallow, when it came to that.

It did mean that she was free to move about, though. Part of the fun in poking around old ruins lay in finding things that weren't supposed to be there.


Kharandon Greybane's robes chafed. They always chafed against the black-hewn rock of the Galenic Academies. It was as though the circumstances were always trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible.

The Academies, like many other high-ranking Lorend institutions, were built on the foundations of the once-proud Obsidian Palaces. Centuries ago, the Palaces were the center of what historians termed "The Obsidian Empire" -- a massive state that spanned the whole of Antaria from the northern seas to the southern deserts.

Some four hundred years previously, something happened that reduced the so-called Obsidian Empire to mere remnants strewn across the continental landscape. No one knew exactly what that "something" was, and Kharandon's historians tended to go all to pieces just arguing over it. But the lost empire's ruins were more than adequate for habitation, and the Galenics had just naturally settled in. Virtually every citizen of Lorendheim had done the same.

Kharandon pushed himself away from the wall and straightened into a standing position. This was not how he had expected to spend his afternoon.

A few feet away from him, a radiant young woman engaged in animated conversation with one of the young paladins. Satine Whitestone was a few years younger than Kharandon, her features unmarked by the cares or worries of leadership. Her youth made her instantly popular among the newer generations, whereas the traditionalist elders were impressed by both her honesty and potential.

Kharandon did not consider himself to be a part of either group, however. As far as he was concerned, she needed far more improvement if she was to lead the Galenics effectively.

He cleared his throat at her. It was a very obvious gesture, but one that she conveniently chose to ignore.

"We expect great things from you, Sir Dannik," Satine said.

The young paladin gave her a florid bow. "I shall fulfill them to the best of my ability," he answered.

If Kharandon thought that the Galenic grandmaster was ready to move on, however, then he was sorely mistaken. Satine gave her fellow conversationalist a faint smile. "Tell me," she asked, "how is Lady Sylia?"

The paladin's calm demeanor turned bright red at her question. "Well, ah..."

"Have you met her parents yet?"

Dannik opened his mouth to answer, then closed it again in embarrassment. From the cleric's viewpoint, the young man was doing his best impression of a fish out of water. Kharandon was beyond all sense of amusement by this point, however.

He cleared his throat again. This gesture was much louder than his first attempt, and this time -- almost mercifully -- Satine Whitestone decided to give in.

"We shall speak later, Sir Dannik," she told the embarrassed young man.

"Y... yes, Lady Satine," Dannik said, almost relieved that their conversation was coming to an end.


The wall looked funny, Amalthea concluded. If there was anything vaguely interesting about funny-looking walls, it lay in how many of them would suddenly open up and surprise people with what they had inside.

Amalthea had seen quite a few secret passages before. The building that housed the Metrian Guild, for example, held six or seven of the silly things. Atharus, of course, was the sort of person who believed that secret passages were made secret for good reason, and thus prohibited Amalthea from exploring anything that the Guild wanted to hide. Amalthea, on the other hand, was the sort of person who could be trusted to do something if you had told her -- in very explicit terms -- precisely not to do it.

She probed some of the cracks in the nearby foundations. No wall would stick out as badly as it did without actually harboring something inside. There was bound to be a switch somewhere.

Her efforts were rewarded a few minutes later; A brick on one of the lower layers pushed itself in, under the weight of her staff. She stepped back at the sound of grinding stone, and within moments the entire section of wall had moved aside for her.

The corridor beyond was dry and dusty, lit only by the occasional shaft of light. Some of the cobwebs surmounting it had been broken, and it was obvious that someone had already passed through the place. From the unbroken layer of dust on the floor, however, Amalthea concluded that they had not been back for some time.

She smiled. This was a good sign -- she was walking into some of the less-explored areas of the Keep.

Heedless of her own safety, she stepped into the new corridor, listening with grim satisfaction as the stone wall automatically closed behind her.


If Satine was impatient with Kharandon, she gave no indication of such a thing. It happened to be one of her better qualities.

"I humbly apologize for my impertinence, Lady Satine," Kharandon told her, hoping that this would smooth things over in a satisfactory manner.

"Kharandon," Satine said.

"Yes, my lady?"

"It's not very polite to offer an apology when you don't mean it," she said, smiling at him.

He stared at her expression for a moment, wondering what sort of game she was playing. She was either being genuinely nice, or deliberately making him regret what he had just said. Whatever the case, Kharandon Greybane immediately backed down.

"Well said, my lady."

Satine continued smiling. "Sir Dannik is a very accomplished young man, is he not?"

Kharandon answered her as though his thoughts had turned distant. "Yes... I suppose so."

"What do you think of him, Kharandon?"

The cleric and advisor thought for a while. "He is young," he said, "and naive. He has the resources to solve the land's problems at his feet, yet he believes that he can yet stand back and wait for the world to resolve itself."

Satine's expression turned to disapproval. "That's very... judgemental of you, Kharandon."

"It's also an honest opinion, my lady," Kharandon said, noting that such a description could also apply to his present company.

"Surely you were young once."

"For about two seconds, I fear," Kharandon laughed.

"Besides," Satine added, "Sir Dannik is a man in love."

"Is he, now? I hardly noticed."

Satine smiled this time. "The healers gossip like fishwives sometimes. I take it that you have met the object of his affection?"

"Lady Sylia?" Kharandon asked. "Of course. She's not a very exceptional student, but she should graduate with the rest of her colleagues later this year."

"I mean, what's she like as a person, Kharandon? I'm hardly interested in her academic performance."

"I... well, I honestly haven't met her personally, my lady."

Satine sighed in exasperation. "You could make an effort, Lord Kharandon. Human beings are little more than figures who walk and talk, you know."

"I'll see about that," Kharandon said, waving her words away with a single gesture.


As much as she liked secret passages, Amalthea knew exactly where the limits of her patience were. Whoever designed Thorngarde Keep, on the other hand, must have lapsed into one-track thinking at some point.

She had to admit that the secret passage within the secret passage was a creative touch. In addition, the presence of a third entrance hidden within the second reflected a very unique mind. However, by the time she went through the fourth and fifth ones, walked down the concealed flight of stairs, found the sixth hidden entrance, descended below the stone trapdoor and opened the seventh and eighth walls, she was ready to collapse and throw up.

Her only consolation was the fact that the cobwebs and dust had gotten much thicker with each passage she navigated. She was walking around in the deepest recesses of the Keep now, in places that people had probably not even known about, much less explored. Still, she hadn't found anything worth a copper crown.

She turned the corner and stopped short at a massive stone wall. It was clearly a dead end, and Amalthea hated dead ends. There was also the possibility that it housed yet another secret passage that led deeper into the Keep's foundations... although now Amalthea hated that, too.

Strangely enough, there was a rusted, cobwebbed iron level set into the stone wall. Amalthea glared at it as though it had personally offended her; The architect obviously decided to stop trying at this point.

"All right," Amalthea said, rubbing her hands together, "Let's see where the door opens now."

She tucked into the lever and gave it a good hard pull. In retrospect, she should have wondered why it moved so easily when it should have clearly rusted in place.

The floor dropped open. Amalthea suddenly found herself kicking at dead air, mere moments before she fell into the gaping hole beyond.

Her form disappeared into the darkness of the Keep's cellars. And for the entire duration of her journey to the floor below, all that she did was unleash a stream of foul epithets against the dungeon that had deceived her so well.

Korea, Korea

I was thinking of writing a bit of fiction here today, only there seems to be something wrong with the Windows version that this Internet café is using. Every now and then, the window I'm working on will automatically minimize itself, as though the computer is deliberately winking at me.

In addition to that, whoever registered this copy of Windows decided to install a Korean-language option for no apparent reason at all. This means that I'm literally writing this post against a backdrop of Korean characters: It's a beautiful language, I'm sure, but it makes absolutely no sense to an English-speaking mind.

I often wonder if I'm clicking on the right buttons. Fortunately, two years of using Blogger has allowed me to note exactly where each and every function is located.

And now... and now, I have this urgent need to go home and play StarCraft.

Weird, huh?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ooooh, Pictures!

Last night, I uploaded a temporary image to serve as a profile photo reference:

Yes, it's a penguin.

No, it has absolutely nothing to do with the "Happy Feet" movie, showing in theaters now. In fact, we've owned him long before advertising for the movie even started. My brother and sister picked him up in Hong Kong, where he had to pass through an airport x-ray machine and ended up reducing an entire troop of security technicians to uncontrollable laughter.

I decided to put up a photo reference of some sort after visiting my LiveJournal and Multiply accounts earlier this week. While Livejournal doesn't place much of a premium on images, Multiply is a photograph-based web site at its core... and, in any case, my postings were starting to feel a little devoid of graphic aesthetics.

Adding to everything was the fact that I have a story being optioned by Philippine Genre Stories, and that they've asked me to submit a picture of myself for publication alongside the work. While they're graciously allowing me to hand in a picture of anything I want, I find that I'd rather not submit a non-Sean image this time. The new periodical plans to encourage direct feedback from its readers, and I'd feel like a literary cop-out if I didn't stand beside my own story.

The fact that few people in the blogosphere know what I look like hasn't been lost on me. I've had to resort to other means of identification when meeting people (mostly involving a large black umbrella), and I've developed a habit of joking about the perils of a secret identity. From a personal point of view, I think of myself as a "word"-based person, and this usually doesn't translate all that well to a world that places emphasis on visual imagery.

Interestingly enough, a photo of myself actually does exist online. It showed up in Jonas Diego's blog, after my trip to the 2005 Philippine Toys and Games Convention:

That's me, the weird-looking guy in the blue shirt standing beside the always-lovely Cathy delos Santos. Hopefully Jonas won't mind my leeching off his Photobucket bandwidth. (Er... right, Jonas? Hello?)

Apart from that, however, the last photos I've ever had taken for public viewing involved a corporate office advertisement (back when the dark and mysterious look was "in"), and my university's literary folio (where a photo was shown of me with my back to the camera). As you can see, I'm not much of a camera person. I don't even like having pictures taken at vacations.

With all that said, it'll still be a cold day in hell before I let a "straight" photo of myself make the rounds. I have this incredible urge to fiddle with pictures of my face, albeit not in a destructive, self-defacing way. I seem to think that I look too much like an ordinary person, and I therefore have to play with the graphics a bit. Does this count as inherent insecurity? Does this express a deep-seated need for attention? Does this imply an internal psychosis that will probably manifest later in life, through some random mixture of guns, chickens and honey-mustard sauce?

I don't know, but whatever it is, I hope that it's not contagious.

For now, however, I'm using the penguin. I'm not using it because of any particular affinity I have for penguins, mind you. I'm just using it because it happened to be the most convenient household object to photograph.

That, and I'm hoping for a number of "Cuuuute!" reactions. A few of those should soften up the audience for the appearance of my ugly mug early next year.


Monday, November 20, 2006


I am experiencing the mother of all colds at the moment.

Of course, this writing can't possibly express my little piece of reality. Right now, I'm lumbering around the house in a half-daze, slurring my words and occasionally blowing my nose with a piece of sodden tissue paper. It's not good for my disposition in any way.

It hasn't been good for my writing, for that matter: Seeing that I have to grab at the tissue box around once every fifteen minutes, I tend to lose my concentration very often. That makes this a bad time for fiction and essay pieces, and an even worse time for computer games.

I remember being a very sickly kid, actually. I was one of those third-graders who constantly ran into every casual disease in the medical books. This has had interesting consequences on my adult life, in that I find myself almost invulnerable to a lot of the stuff going around. When the viruses do manage to strike home, though, they hit pretty hard -- just like they're doing right now, I suppose.

Of course, knowing all this doesn't do anything for my current situation. Seeing that mankind has never been able to develop a sure-fire cure for the common cold, I doubt that there's anything that can be done for my current situation. A cold is just one of those things that you have to grin and bear. (And sniffle all the way through.)

For some reason, there's a small part of me that demands that I go out and socialize. That way, if I get to suffer the wrath of this virus, at least I'll know that there are a lot of other people going through the exact same experience.

But I won't do that, of course. The way I feel, I'd rather lie in bed and vegetate.

...And use up boxes after boxes of tissue paper, I suppose.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Reverse Atrophy

I shuffled out of bed at around eight-forty-five this morning, switched on the computer, and began my scheduled task for the day. This might sound odd for a man who's been out of work for the last three months, but that's how I usually spend my time nowadays -- executing one freelance project after another. While the level of income for these usually doesn't bring as much satisfaction as a regular job, the work at least keeps me from going mad with boredom.

This morning's task wasn't originally supposed to take place, to be honest. You see, it all started when my mother's bakeshop came out with their Christmas offerings for this year. After their designers approve and finalize the packaging for each of these products, we take photos of them and place the results inside an album for showcasing to clients.

Recent years have made this marketing method impractical, though. The problem with showcasing your product lines via photo album, you see, is that you still have to get it to the client somehow. This means that you'll either have to bring it over to the client's place, or have the client come over to your place, or set up any sort of potentially inconvenient arrangement. We first remedied this by simply printing out, photocopying and then distributing the photos -- but this year, we finally decided that such an option was a tad too expensive for us.

The final straw came about when one of my uncles asked for a copy of this year's Christmas offerings. This presented a problem: The products were housed in a 13mb Microsoft Word file, which was too large to be uploaded all in one go, much less enclosed as an e-mail attachment. File compression apps (such as WinZip and WinRAR) couldn't slice it into increments smaller than 3mb each, and would make for an additional problem in case my uncle wanted to send the file to anybody else. And the idea of snail mail was out of the question -- this is the Christmas season, after all, and what would happen if we had to change anything at short notice?

In the end, this left us only one viable solution: We had to make a web site.

Despite my five-year stint as project manager of a web development company, I actually don't have that much experience in web design and programming. This is primarily because I'm one of the old-school amateurs: I learned the basics of HTML programming in college, just before the millenium rolled around. While I did put such knowledge to good use, I didn't move on to the more advanced aspects like so many of my classmates did.

Under normal circumstances, I would have thought that I'd lost these skills over six years of atrophy. My tenure in web development, however, provided me with significant practice in updating sites, patching code, and tightening loose ends. Maintaining a blog also provides a lot of opportunities for programming as well. What this means, in case you're wondering, is that I'm still perfectly capable of putting together a (very amateurish) web site all by myself. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

That also means that I was sitting at the computer early this morning, working things out. I was an old boy playing with new technologies, I think -- an old boy who felt much more comfortable writing HTML code in Notepad when he could just as easily have been working the rounds of Macromedia Dreamweaver in some cushy office somewhere.

It took me about an hour to cobble together the first page from scratch, which told me one thing: Amateurish programming skills and obsessive-compulsive perfectionism shouldn't go hand-in-hand with each other. Everything did get easier once I had established the first few lines of code, and although I still encountered the occasional misstep once in a while, I was doing my final tests on the site about three-and-a-half hours later.

For anyone who's curious, the final product is over here. Seeing that the search engines were likely to bring a lot of unintended visitors to the site, I laid everything out in order to allow for a varied audience. The site itself also doesn't offer as much information as I normally like to see, but I suppose that I can remedy that later on... if the bakeshop cares to provide the information. (I'll tell you that the pastries are good, though. Honest.)

Seeing that the web site is already up, I'll probably end up maintaining the thing for the next month or so, and then archiving it for possible re-use next year. Maintenance, of course, is a remarkably tiresome task... but it feels a little better when you're taking care of something that's your own creation. At best, there's nothing better than working the rust out of your joints and setting out to make the most of what you have.

I just hope that my uncle's satisfied with all this. We're not prepared for, say, e-commerce at the moment. :)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Dice and Mooncakes (An Addendum)

I just realized something.

Does anyone remember the post I had about a month ago, where I discussed the Mooncake Dice Game? If so, you'll remember that I noted a particularly rare result with an interesting prize pot:

As with most dice games, this one also maintains the concept of an "ultimate throw" -- in other words, the best configuration possible. This is composed of either six fours, or six ones:

If you somehow manage to throw this configuration on your Mooncake festival dice, you get all the prizes in the game.

A few minutes after putting up the blog entry, I posited the scenario to a couple of the Mensa Philippines mailing lists. Afterwards, I asked a couple of questions that had been floating around my head for some time:

1. Given a single throw, what is the chance that it will come up as any of these two "ultimate" configurations?

2. As rare as these configurations may be, they're bound to come up sooner or later. How many throws will I most likely have to make before I can expect any of the two "ultimate" configurations to come up?

Yes, this is going to be a mathematical post. I only ask that you bear with me on this; I'm extremely prone to such eccentricities.

To probability freaks, the answer to the first question is actually pretty obvious. With six six-sided dice, one throw will get you any one result out of 66 (i.e. 6 raised to the 6th power, or 46,656) different combinations. Your chances of getting any of the two "ultimate" throws are therefore 2 in 46,656... or 1 in 23,328. Assuming that one gets around 50 such throws each year, this means that you'll need over four centuries before you can guarantee having thrown any of the given combinations at least once.

The second question, on the other hand, is quite a different story. Instead of asking you what you're likely to get in a single throw of the dice, it asks you to forecast the likelihood of throwing any of the two specific combinations. It's different from the first question in that it asks for a reasonable chance: Four centuries may enable me to guarantee being able to throw any of the two combinations, but I'm not asking for a guarantee here. Anything slightly greater than, say, a 50% chance will do.

Based on the responses I received from a Mensa Philippines-affiliated mailing list (okay, one response), the original assumption was that you'd only need half the total throwing opportunities of the first scenario. That is to say, you'd need 1/2 of 23,328 = 11,664 throws, which would still make for a good 200+ years.

At this point, however, I'm not quite so sure about that answer. The reason for this is because I've recently referenced an old math problem that goes as follows:

Let's say that you have a number of people gathered in a single room. You bet someone that at least two people in the room share the same birthday. How many people would you need to have in the room so that you have greater than a 50% chance of winning your bet?

The really interesting part here is that you'd only need a minimum of 23 people in the room to make for a good bet. (This doesn't consider leap years, mind you, but even with those in mind, the numbers should still fall around this figure.)

Why only 23 people? Because the probability calculations for this problem follow a choice pattern, you see. To start with, we must consider that the chances of finding two or more people with the same birthday (N) is equivalent to 100% minus the chances of everyone having different birthdays (Nnot):

N = 1 - Nnot

To illustrate this, let's say that there are only two people in the room: You, and somebody else. The chances of your acquaintance having the same birthday as you is obviously 1 out of 365. (It'll only happen if his birthday occurs on one day out of the 365 possibilities, that is.)

N = 1/365

On the other hand, your acquaintance doesn't have the same birthday as you if he was born on any of the other 364 days of the year. That is to say, the chances of you not sharing the same birthday is obviously 364 out of 365.

Nnot = 364/365

1/365 = 1 - 364/365

See how it fits neatly together in that latter equation?

What this means is that the chances of something occurring are obviously equivalent to 100% minus the chances of it not occurring. It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out, I suppose.

So now let's say that there are three people in the room: You, and two acquaintances. The chances of your first acquaintance not sharing the same birthday as you is 364/365. But the chances of your second acquaintance not sharing the same birthday as either of you is 363/365, as his birthday should be on a date other than yours or the first guy's.

This means that, for three people in the room:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (364/365)x(363/365)

N = 1 - (0.99726)x(0.99452)

N = 1 - 0.9918
N = 0.0082

And the chances of any of you three sharing the same birthday is 0.0082, or less than one percent.

But if we extend this, we find that for 23 people, the calculations go as follows:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (364/365)x(363/365)x(362/365)x...x(343/365)
N = 0.5073

And thus having 23 people in a room gives you better than a 50% chance of finding two or more of them with the same birthday. That's an odd development there.

By now, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with the Mooncake Dice Game. (Or you're probably asleep. In any case, I don't have much farther to go.)

Hypothetically, the Mooncake Dice Game can use a similar formula in answering its second question. We can, for example, note that the chances of throwing any of the "ultimate" combinations is simply 100% minus the chances of not throwing any of them at all:

N = 1 - Nnot
2/46656 = 1 - 46654/46656

Let's suppose that you have two throws, then. Your chances of getting any of the "ultimate" combinations at least once is therefore equivalent to 100% minus your chances of not getting any of them at all:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (46654/46656)*(46654/46656)
N = 1 - 0.999914268
N = 0.000085732

We can extend this formula for any number of throws, I suppose. For every K times you throw the dice, your chances of getting any of the ultimate combinations should therefore be:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (46654/46656)K

And with this in mind, we'd just need to find the smallest number K that would give us an N that is greater than 50%.

It is at this point that my computer breaks down with regards to the calculation. If my creative bookkeeping is correct, however, than K should be somewhere around 2,356 throws, give or take a few rolls. That's a far cry from the original estimate of 11,664 attempts.

What that also means is that, assuming that every game is comprised of 20 family members, each of whom makes about 20 throws each year, then we should see the combinations come up, say, every once in six years. And I don't know about you, but I think that that definitely accounts for the modern frequency of these occurrences. More experienced mathematicians and Mooncake Dice players are welcome to dispute the veracity of these hypotheses, though.

And now, it's time for me to give the matter a rest. The only thing that this entire exercise has brought me, after all, is yet another good-sized headache.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ripley's Nightmare

The title of this post can just as easily be "Mulder's Nightmare", I think. Or "Ironhorse's Nightmare", if War of the Worlds is more of your thing.

I first read about "Alien Encounter" puzzles on Clifford Pickover's web site, you see. Pickover is known as a writer and inventor who has this penchant for strange and interesting solvers, but that probably only barely scratches the surface of his description. In any case, while I don't think that he was the first person to develop this category of puzzle, he's definitely popularized it to the point of giving it a name.

The puzzle actually has a relatively simple premise: Aliens have landed on earth, perhaps in your own backyard. They can only stay for a few minutes, and you happen to be the first (and only) person they meet. They ask you to give them a single gift that they can take home to the rest of their race. With this in mind, you walk into the nearest house/barn/building/whatever and find yourself in a situation where you have to choose from among a set of random items.

When I say "random", however, I don't mean that the items are haphazardly shortlisted by some strange search engine with a bad hiccup. By "random", I mean that your selection is composed of any items that exist as human or earthly artifacts, representative of a variety of cultures or fields. Every "Alien Encounter" puzzle features a different such selection, and every single time, you find yourself in the task of choosing one of those items to give to the aliens as a gift (as well as to justify your decision).

I'll cite an example from The Alien IQ Test -- one of Pickover's books -- for the purpose of this post. So, in this case, you walk into the nearest house/barn/building/whatever and find the following objects:
  • The Bible (Old Testament)
  • Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), 1990, edition 44 (lists drugs and drug interactions)
  • Mobil 1997 Travel Guide to the North East (lists hotels, restaurants, family activities, towns, parks, and colorful maps of the Northeastern United States)
  • One jar of Peter Pan-brand creamy peanut butter
  • Starry Night (an original oil painting by Vincent Van Gogh)
  • Sheet music for Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D-minor
  • ChapStick lip balm
  • A Pentium computer
  • A severed human finger
You should have a good enough idea of the puzzle by now, I think. Now that I've planted the entire scenario in your heads, however, I must tell you that the heart of the puzzle does not necessarily lie in choosing something to give away.

Sharp-eyed solvers will probably have realized that there are no correct solutions for this type of puzzle, if only because we poor earthlings have yet to deal with alien beings in such a quick and open fashion. This is more of a speculative puzzle -- one that asks you to make a move for a hypothetical scenario. In order to get anything close to an answer on this one, we have to survey a multitude of responses and collate the results.

So it turns out that your true task is not to choose one item and justify your decision. Your secondary question with regards to an "Alien Encounter" puzzle lies more along the lines of: Which object do you think was chosen the most frequently? And for goodness' sake... why?

This wrinkle, I feel, makes the puzzle remarkably democratic. It is a collation of multiple answers to the first question -- with all their biases and preferences -- that determines the answer to the second question. You will have to set most of your personal preferences aside for the purposes of the latter query, yet still be aware of the fact that the "answer" is composed of personal preferences of all kinds, made by all other people who attempted to resolve the scenario before you did. That, and one's answer to the former question may very well cause a radical shift in responses for the latter.

This eventually places a premium on logic, I think: Logical answers to the first question are far more believable when the time comes to check on one's answer to the second question. I believe that the puzzle therefore rewards level-headedness and a sense of justifiable thought. (But then, this would still raise the question of whether or not the proceeding correspondents are logical enough to begin with.)

For that matter, "Alien Encounter" puzzles are not necessarily limited to "Alien Encounter" scenarios. You could theoretically insert any hypothetical situation into the problem, and then give potential solvers a distinct choice in order to see how their minds work. The common getting-to-know-you question of what five things one would bring to a stint on a deserted island comes to mind, for example. (You'd need to inject some form of logic into the item selection base in order for such things to work, mind you, but you'd still have the makings of a good mental exercise there.) On the flip side of the coin, I don't think that this would work as a blog meme -- you'd have no reliable method of collating your surveyed results.

Regardless of the analysis, however, this is one of those puzzles that's interesting to read up on, if only to see what everyone else thinks of the question. It's sort of like a more critical version of "Family Feud", if you go about thinking in terms of old game shows.

And, like most hypothetical questions, we'll probably shirk and hide if it ever comes true, leaving us little or no opportunity to see how things will really turn out. There's not much more you can ask from a puzzle, to be honest. :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

About the Author

One of the nice aspects of getting a story published is that you usually get to write a short "About the Author"-type intro. Most writers use this to summarize a short repertoire of works, or reveal little bits of background about themselves. Others use it to joke around, figuring that if a reader bothers to look over this sort of stuff, then he might as well get entertained while he's at it.

I get the feeling that I probably hate these write-ups for a strange reason: I never really know what to say when I'm asked to write them, much less how to be funny or how to impress people. Some authors can somehow compress profound lines of thought into a few short words; I usually find myself forced to hoard entire sentences just to describe a single idea.

In Dean Alfar's Philippine Speculative Fiction (Volume 1) anthology, for example, my write-up went as follows:
Sean Uy has been writing since he was 12 years old, and has explored a broad selection of genres in the span of a largely unheralded writing career. He has been published in Singapore's Eggplant magazine, and has done work with characters and settings for Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, the first entirely Filipino-made computer game. As a contextual moralist, critical thinker and self-proclaimed literary hack, Sean currently pounds out insights on his weblog at He has, to the best of his memory, never owned a monkey.
This, of course, was not the best way to present myself. It's an awkward write-up, mind you. It's the knobby-kneed girl in your sixth-grade class who might just turn into a beautiful fashion model one day, but who -- in all probability -- will probably just remain largely unremarkable.

It even has a factual inaccuracy in there, although I didn't learn about the fate of Eggplant magazine's literary division until after I had seen the write-up in print. What's to be shared is that the story that I submitted to them never actually got published, which I took as another shred of proof that the universe hates me.

Apart from that, the write-up contains a reference to this blog, which can be construed as a shameless attempt at self-promotion. (In reality, this is one of the few avenues where I write regularly in a public context.) It also contains a reference to monkeys, which I put in there simply because monkeys improve everything (and because I couldn't think of anything else besides).

All in all, you can probably see why I'd like to put together a better summary of myself for next time. This is not the sort of masochism that a writer should inflict upon himself.

The problem is that I don't know exactly what I should put into a write-up, or exactly how I need to express it. It's like putting a show at a childrens' party: Whenever I try to be funny, I always end up making kids cry. But I digress.

For the moment, I just have to grin and bear it. I suppose that I'll probably get better at this sort of thing the more times I get published. But then, that'll mean that I'll need to write a lot more publishable works, and then consequently get embarrassed for at least the next few write-ups. I still lose when I win, then.

For a ten-minute exercise, the author write-up tends to be a remarkably excruciating experience. You'll have to forgive me if I grit my teeth for a while.

Perhaps I should look at things from the bright side: No one's asked me to send over a picture yet. The last time I had one taken, I had to pay for the broken camera lens...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Disclaimer: November 2006

I'm in the middle of something at the moment, actually. I have to wrap up my submission to Philippine Genre Stories' publication tonight; While their deadline's still coming up this Friday, I'm probably going to be busy for the rest of the week.

What that means is that I also don't have enough time to write up a proper post for November's disclaimer-of-the-month. I suppose that my previous succession of monthly disclaimers should head off everything, as should the Note of Ownership I have on the lower right-hand area of this blog. In the event that anyone's actually expecting a formal statement from me on the matter, though, I can say that all copyright regulations can be summed up into one single sentence: Don't touch my stuff.

As selfish as that sounds, it's... er... well... okay, it's selfish. It doesn't mean, of course, that the writer wants his work all to himself; It means that the writer doesn't want to wake up one morning and find that some lazy sot has decided to appropriate such work under a different name. Even casual use raises some similar issues, most notably the problem of being quoted out of context. No writer wants to post his thoughts about one thing and have them cut-and-pasted into something that points in a totally different direction.

In a sense, copyright is all about control. And the last thing that any writer wants to see is a loss of control, much less a lack of one. Is there any wonder why we come down hard on any people who are unwise enough to trespass on our works?

There's probably a good-sized debate on the matter out there, but I'll leave that for the critics to decide. Or I'll deal with it sometime in the upcoming posts.

In the meantime, however... see you next month. I've got a story to finish.