August 28, 2014

Random Show Episode 25

A new episode of the Random Show with Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) and Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek) is out! This is episode 25.

Lessons learned
  • Tim Ferriss is a guy who likes to experiment with his own body. For example, he has experimented with how much he really needs to sleep, or if he can stay off-screen during each Saturday. His latest experiments is NOBNOM - short for No Booze, No Masturbation for 30 days. That's why Kevin Rose is the only one in this episode who's drinking wine
  • Kevin Rose is trying to become better at meditating, and he recommended the meditation app Headspace. Kevin Rose recommended Sam Harris's website if you want to learn more about meditation
  • Kevin Rose has found a new way to make exercising fun. He puts on a 20-pound [9 kg] heavy weight-vest, jumps on a treadmill, opens a game on his iPad, and walks for 45 minutes


If you want to watch the rest of the episodes, you can find them here: The Random Show with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss

August 26, 2014

Why is Chess so popular?

What games that we have today will we still play in 100 years from now? What games will we play in 1000 years from now? To answer the question, I decided to find out why chess is so popular. I learned how to play chess when I was maybe seven years old, but I've never been really interested in the game. Instead I played a lot of computer games. The difference between those computer games and chess is that a computer game lasts for a few years (at most), while people have been playing chess for hundreds of years.

Knights Templar playing chess in 1283. Source: Wikipedia

To find out why chess never gets old, I decided to try a new tactic which is called reasoning from first principles. It's a strategy I found when I wrote a book about the entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is using the strategy. 

This is how the strategy reasoning from first principles works. When you want to find the solution to a problem, you have to choices. The first is reasoning from analogy (experience), which is the fastest way but will not always give you an accurate answer. The other is reasoning from first principles, which is slower but will give you a more accurate answer. Based on experience, you can say that chess never gets old because it's easy to play if you are two people because almost everyone has a chess board laying around, or whatever you think. But if you reason from first principles, you have to get to the bottom of the problem. 

To get to the bottom of the problem, I decided to read the book The Immortal Game - A history of chess by David Shenk. What I learned from the book was that we don't know for certain when people began to play chess. What the author has found out is that we began to play some kind of chess about 1400 years ago. The rules have changed during these 1400 years - it is said that the reason why the queen is so powerful was because the powerful Isabella I of Spain wanted the piece to reflect herself - but the basic game is the same. Other celebrities who are known chess players include Benjamin Franklin and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a permanent chess table in his movie set trailer.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing chess. Source: Oakland

While reading the book, I found these basic principles that might describe why chess has survived the history of mankind:
  • You need a strong psychology to play chess. "The game is often as much about demolishing your opponent's will and self-esteem as it is about implementing a superior strategy."
  • It's easy to learn how to play chess. "The pieces and moves are elementary enough for any five-year-old to quickly soak up."
  • You always play a new game of chess. "The board combinations are so vast that all the possible chess games could never be played - or even known - by a single person."
  • You can't bluff like you can in a poker game because nothing is hidden and you can't win because you're lucky. "In a critical departure from previous board games from the region, these games contained no dice or other instruments of chance. Skill alone determined the outcome."
  • You can learning something while you're playing chess. Chess improves a person's:
    • Foresight - looking ahead to the long-term consequences of any action
    • Circumspection - surveying the entire scene, observing hidden dynamics and unseen possibilities
    • Caution - avoiding haste and unnecessary blunders
    • Perseverance - refusing to give up in dim circumstances, continually pushing to improve one's position

There are several then-popular games that didn't survive. One example is the Irish board game fidchell, and another is a game played by Vikings called hnefatafl. To this list of then-popular games, we will in the future probably add now-poplar games, like Angry Birds, because they don't have the same basic principles as chess has.  

August 25, 2014

Battle of Khe Sanh - Or how to make a game in 48 hours


This last weekend there was a competition called Ludum Dare where the goal was to make a simple game in 48 (or 72) hours. I believe the organizers run the competition two times per year - one in the spring and one in late summer. This was the second time I participated in the competition, you can read about the last time here: Max Manus.

Each Ludum Dare competition has a theme and the theme this weekend was "Connected Worlds." It took a while to come up with the idea, but the idea I decided to test was a sort of logistics simulator where you are a Logistics Officer in the army and is the only one who's connected to the outside world. To make it more realistic, I decided to find inspiration from a real battle during the Vietnam War. During that war, for a few weeks, the US Khe Sanh Combat Base was surrounded by enemy forces. If you want to learn more about the battle, you should watch this documentary on YouTube: Battle of Khe Sanh.  

If you are participating in the shorter 48 hour Ludum Dare competition, you have to create everything during these 48 hours - down to the smallest sound and texture. I didn't read the rules before I started working on the last competition, so I had to submit that game to the longer 72 hour competition. I began this competition by creating the models, including the main map where I used the real map from the battle and the C-130 cargo plane that will deliver everything you need. What I noticed was that it's much easier to make something in 3D than what it is to draw something in 2D. 

After a few hours of work in Blender, the models were finished and the work in Unity began. I hadn't made a similar game before, so I learned a lot. The most difficult part of a game where you simulate logistics is to tweak the parameters. The game has to be difficult and fun to play at the same time, and that requires a lot of tweaking. Anyway, this is the final result:

...and you can play it here: Ludum Dare - Battle of Khe Sanh

July 27, 2014

Two wheels and an electric motor

Before the founders of the electric car company Tesla Motors decided to build electric cars, they wondered if the should build an electric motorcycle. But the market for such as bike wasn't as interesting as the market for electric cars. We still don't know if it was a good decision to build electric cars instead of electric bikes - only time will tell. But there are other entrepreneurs who have decided to build machines on two wheels powered by electricity. This is a short summary of a few of these companies.

Faraday Bicycles - This company is building electric bicycles - as defines as two wheels with pedals. They have so far only one model called Faraday Porteur. One interesting side-note here is that before the founders (unrelated to Faraday Bicycles) came up with the name Tesla Motors, they thought about the name Faraday Motors. 

This is the bike's facts:
  • Price: $3500 
  • Speed: - 
  • Range: 20 miles [32 km] of full pedal-assist riding

BRD Motorcycles - This company has been building real motorcycles since 2007 when they made the first drawing. They have two models (so far): Redshift MX and Redshift SM.

Redshift MX:
  • Price: $14995
  • Speed: 80 mph [129 km/h]
  • Range: 2 hours on a recreational trail or a mixed road

Redshift SM:
  • Price: $15495
  • Speed: 85 mph [137 km/h]
  • Range: 50 miles [80 km] on a recreational trail or a mixed road

Lit Motors - When the founder/CEO/CTO of the company, Daniel Kim, was interviewed they argued if Lit Motors is building an electric car or an electric motorbike. The company is actually building an electric scooter called Kubo, but they are also building the C-1 which can be described as a combination of a bike and a car.

  • Price: $6000
  • Speed: 45 mph [72 km/h]
  • Range: 50 miles [80 km]

  • Price: $24000
  • Speed: at least 100 mph [160 km/h]
  • Range: 200 miles [322 km] 

So I guess we don't need to worry about Peak Oil anymore?

July 20, 2014

How to change the world the help of Elon Musk

If you've decided to change the world with a revolutionary company, this article is a must read. Someone else who is changing the world is the entrepreneur Elon Musk. He has founded companies like Tesla Motors (electric cars) and SpaceX (rockets). So maybe you can learn something from how he did it:

The quotes are by Elon Musk

Step 1. Learn by doing. Elon Musk believes you can learn everything you need to start a company. But an education will speed up the learning process. What you need to study is both engineering and economy - Elon Musk studied both physics and economy. 
"I think you could learn whatever you need to do to start a successful business. There are examples of successful entrepreneurs who never graduated from high schools, and there are those with PhDs. So I think the important principle is to be dedicated to learning what you need to know."
"I studied physics and business, because in order to do these things you need to know how the universe works and how the economy works and you also need to be able to bring people together to create something. It's very difficult to create something as individuals if it's a significant technology."

Step 2. Make a lot of money by selling a company you didn't need a lot of money to create. If you want to create a car company, then you need millions. No outside investors will give you those millions, so you need to have them on your bank account. This will probably be an Internet company. Elon Musk founded two Internet companies, Zip2 and PayPal, and he had a car and a few thousand dollars when he founded Zip2. 
"Unless you've got a ton of capital that someone gave you or you've inherited, you have to start a company that requires a small amount of capital. It would have been impossible for me to have done electric cars or rockets right from the start."

Step 3. Find a big problem you want to solve. Elon Musk came up with three things that in the future will change the world. They were: the Internet, space, and how to stop the world from using fossil fuels. 
"I'm not trying to paint myself as some sort of saint. I'm just making the point that the success of the company doesn't change my life. These are the problems that I think are important and need to be solved, and I'm trying to help solve them."

Step 4. Find a solution to the problem by reasoning from a physics standpoint. You can first say that battery packs for electric cars will always be expensive because they have always been expensive. From a physics standpoint, you can break the batteries down into the materials they are made of, and then ask what the value is of those materials on the commodity market. You will now realize the material is not as expensive as the final battery pack, so you just have to come up with a way to improve the manufacturing process.
"I think that physics is a good analytical framework. One of they key things in physics is to reason from first principles. This is contrary to the way most human reasoning takes place, which is by analogy ['We'll do that because it's always been done that way' or 'Nobody has ever done that so it must not be good']. Reasoning from first principles just means that you figure out what are the fundamental truths, and can you build up a conclusion from that? Reasoning by analogy is helpful because it's a shortcut, and is mostly correct, but tends to be mostly incorrect when you are dealing with new things."

Step 5. Recruit experts and students without any experience. Elon Musk wanted students without any experience because they don't yet know what's impossible. Someone with experience may think that you can't build cheap rockets, but a student is easier to convince. But you also need experts that can teach the students (and Elon Musk himself since he didn't have any experience from neither rockets nor electric cars). But how can you recruit experts? What Elon Musk did when he founded SpaceX was to invite experts to a series of meetings where he presented facts. He let the experts discuss the facts until they convinced themselves.
"I essentially led them to a conclusion that they created. It was sort of a Socratic dialogue on a technical level. The essence of a Socratic dialogue is that people wind up convincing themselves. People are much more willing to change their opinion if you're not forcing it."

Step 6. Endure misery. Companies that change the world are solving problems that are extremely difficult to solve. So as you fail, you have to endure misery to not give up. 
"I do think you've got to have perseverance. You've got to stick it out, and the team that you're working with does, too. That allows you to get through a series of issues. It took us four flights to get to orbit at SpaceX. That was kind of grueling."

That's it! What are you waiting for? Go out and change the world! But if you can wait, then you should read more about Elon Musk by reading my biography book
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