Sunday, June 16, 2013


So my friend Vincent referred me to this quaint little convention called
and more importantly the capture-the-flag competition they were hosting, colorfully titled the Legitimate Business Syndicate Casualty Trauma Festival (their domain was .  Figured it would be nice, given that it's a hacking competition and I haven't done that in a while, so I joined under the banner SSHv3 with Vincent and two states universities in Florida.

It was relatively nice starting -- Vincent let me know that he had a stash of junk food and coffee if needed (a warning which I unwisely waved off) -- and then it started becoming terrible when the first question opened up.

Nigel was invited to it with us but he stayed home.  We set up a webcam session for him to participate in proxy.  But after glancing at the first question he effectively gave up and began using the webcam session to broadcast 4th grade video projects and to overlay his face with a picture of a cat.

After three hours no one had solved a thing yet and the organizers decided to open up another question while simultaneously insulting our heritage.  We figured out pretty quickly that it was a sliding puzzle and managed to come up with some innovative ideas.  My approach was to generate every possible configuration (9! / 2 = 181440 possibilities) and their solutions, store them on disk, and then just do a lookup when it was necessary (the puzzle was timed).  Eventually, when it was taking too long (this was around 2 AM) we collectively decided to throw out my approach and do something sensible.  I offered to modify it to accept any state already found as a goal state and just append the solution, which worked a bit better but not enough.

The program had stored nearly 3000 solutions by now and it was solving them relatively quickly but there were a few that were troublesome.  We'd both gone through nearly two cups of coffee around now.  Vincent eventually started looking up his own algorithms when it became clear I was too stubborn to accept that my horribly inefficient bruteforce method was awful.

He found a Java program that did it relatively fast and we began hacking through the code for it.

Around this time, he pointed out that the sun was coming up.

I was ready to kill something by this point.  The scoreboard's theme -- a flashy, pink, hacking syndicate posing as a Japanese business -- grew from "mildly humorous" to "absolutely mocking."  I downed another coffee.

We were both completely dead, and I was relegated to running the code every time it failed in the hopes that we'd get lucky with really easy slider configurations, when suddenly a line that wasn't a slider puzzle appeared at the bottom of the window:

"The key is enemas on parade."

After 10 hours we have contributed our first and only point to the team.

The people at the universities fared better; they managed a nice 17 points by the end of it (plus our one makes 18) and actually got some sleep.

It was not bad.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Science vs. Religion is a broken debate

It's not broken, mind you, but the important question got distorted.

Above is a video of Richard Feynman explaining his take on science in comparison to religion.  I'm probably biased, because I respect the guy a ton and he's one of my biggest role models, but what he says in it is exactly correct.  I'm stealing his thoughts in this post because I never really found a good way to state my frustration with the theism debate until now.

The current debate, relegated largely to frustrated forums, relay chats, and Reddit, deals with two frameworks.

One, from the side of theism, is that God is the ultimate truth and in order to see that, you must be engaged in the ritual to become closer to God (worship, prayer, what have you).  Through miracles, or emotional connections, you will eventually become so close to God that it no longer matters that the scientific grounding is loose because it is not the logical understanding of the nature of the universe that matters but the emotional connection, simply because religion was clearly not made for making structure in the chaos of nature but for emotional and social guidance.  People worship religions because it helps mold their behavior and not because it explains why the Earth orbits around the Sun.  I don't agree with this view because I don't believe in compromising logic for emotional convenience but I understand why people would believe in it.

The second (more muddled side) is atheism, which I'm going to define here as the solid belief that no God exists.  There are many confused variants of it, especially with agnosticism (which claims that the existence/non-existence of a deity is by definition unknowable) and religious skepticism (which claims that one is unbelieving in a certain deity until further evidence gives significant doubt otherwise).  In this framework, atheism is an assertion in its own right; it is the assertion that "no god, or at least none of the gods proposed by currently-standing religions, exist in our universe," as opposed to the theistic belief that a god does exist.  And this is fine, albeit ugly.

My problem with this is when atheists claim it is against the spirit of the scientific method to believe in a God because it shows that they do not understand the scientific method at all.  It is impossible to understand the whole of the universe simply because there is no way to verify that one's knowledge of the universe is complete.  Even if all of the proposed questions have been answered, there is no way to verify with 100% certainty that those answers are true.  One can only make progress if they accept that certain assumptions will have to be taken for granted; we can only proceed with logic once we assume that our understanding of logic is correct.  Of course, it's unscientific to simply assume something is correct, but we do so because it is the only means we have of making progress.

Since we cannot understand the whole of the universe, it is reasonable to say that the importance of science is not to find the end result of our pursuit for knowledge.  (You could argue that the "end result of science" -- that is, modern science -- has a lot of practical applications that benefit mankind, but if it wasn't clear by now I'm speaking from a theoretical point-of-view and not a practical one).  If it isn't about reaching the end, then the only possible explanation for the purpose of science, by process of elimination, is that science is about the pursuit itself.  Scientists don't look for the answer to reality, but rather they pose questions about reality and attempt to make structure out of them based on some precepts that they have assumed to be true as a baseline.  This process, called the scientific method, is useful because it creates more structure out of what we have.

It serves no purpose for science whatsoever to assume the end result that "there is no God."  What benefit does that have for science?  Will we be able to solve the absence of dark matter from the non-existence of God?  Will we find the relationship with gravity to the electromagnetic force because we accept that there is no God?  You could argue that, yes, it would help us pose such questions in the first place.  But given that the scientific community already poses those questions, it does not help us at all.

Theism, at least, has some purpose, as the proof of a deity would dramatically alter our understanding of science, and create new structure.  Theists, however, have a bad habit of claiming that structure is not necessary as long as you have faith, and that's not particularly helpful either.

If you didn't get any of that:

  • Science exists so we can understand more science.
  • Accepting certain assertions in science help us create structure so we can understand more science.
  • The assertion that God does not exist does not help us create structure apart from denying the structures proposed by theism.
  • Therefore, the proposal that "there is no God" is more scientific than "what if there is a God?" is completely bogus because the former has no potential to create structure while the latter has does.
  • That being said, the convenient theistic response of "there is a God, and all of your questions will be answered through your ambiguous faith in God" also has no potential to create structure and is equally useless to science.
Two cents.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Let's Talk About Etymology

I really like etymology.  Let's talk about etymology!  Quoth wiki:

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term "the etymology of [a word]" means the origin of the particular word.
For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during earlier periods of their history and when they entered the languages in question. Etymologists also apply the methods of comparative linguistics to reconstruct information about languages that are too old for any direct information to be available.
By analyzing related languages with a technique known as the comparative method, linguists can make inferences about their shared parent language and its vocabulary. In this way, word roots have been found that can be traced all the way back to the origin of, for instance, the Indo-European language family.
Even though etymological research originally grew from the philological tradition, currently much etymological research is done on language families where little or no early documentation is available, such as Uralic and Austronesian.

I might be working on a game for Bacon Game Jam 05 but be quiet about this.

EDIT: Just kidding!  I hate programming.

Etymological theory recognizes that words originate through a limited number of basic mechanisms, the most important of which are borrowing (i.e., the adoption of "loanwords" from other languages); word formation such as derivation and compounding; and onomatopoeia and sound symbolism, (i.e., the creation of imitative words such as "click").
While the origin of newly emerged words is often more or less transparent, it tends to become obscured through time due to sound change or semantic change. Due to sound change, it is not readily obvious that the English word set is related to the word sit (the former is originally a causative formation of the latter). It is even less obvious that bless is related to blood (the former was originally a derivative with the meaning "to mark with blood").
Semantic change may also occur. For example, the English word bead originally meant "prayer". It acquired its modern meaning through the practice of counting the recitation of prayers by using beads.

HGameSFML2 : SFML 2.0

HGameSFML2 Repo

Updated for SFML 2.0 compatibility.