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You can have your cake and eat it

Friday, February 19th, 2010

The thing that defines strategic problems is the tension between long term goals and short term goals. Without this tension, there would be no real difference between tactical problems and strategic problems.

In past Total War games, one of the most basic strategic problems was what to do with a captured city/province. In the short term, the best thing to do with the captured province would be to totally trash the place. You get a lot of money from doing that and inconvenient people tend to die off in the process. But in the long run, this would really set back the productive potential of whatever you took (unless their was no other way of keeping it from rebelling).

In the abstract, this is an easy decision to make. But when you are in a fight for your life, that extra shot of money could mean difference between having a long term future and not having one. It made for interesting choices if you could contrive to make the game difficult enough for yourself.

I am using the past tense because that trade off does not seem to be in effect in Medieval Total War II. I have not played the game enough to be sure, but it seems as if there is never a good reason not to sack a city in the new game. The damage you do is minimal and the rewards are great.

This is why it may have made sense for Spain to try to take Wales with a crap army. They had not hope of keeping it. But the payoff would have more then paid for the army and fleet that carried them there. It is possible they were just trolling along the coast looking for easy pickings. And Wales would have fit the bill perfectly if it where not for the heavy cavalry going to Wales to retrain. But I don’t think the Spanish boats could see that they were coming.

And the method by which I came into possession of such a large army of heavy cavalry so early in the game is another thing the threw my strategic calculations off.

Strange Calculations

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The fact that Spain decided to try to invade Wales was one of the most surprising things that happened in my brief time spent playing Medieval Total War II. I was not expecting anybody to try to do that.

And that is all to the good. I like it when I can’t predict everything the computer is going to do.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons that the move surprised me is that it did not make any sense. Spain had no border with me. They could not hope to support the army. Moreover, the army seemed too small to be worth all the effort they put into getting it up there. If memory serves me correctly, it was a family member, a couple of units of light horse, a unit of crossbow men, and maybe a crap unit of light infantry or two (my memory on the last bit is a little hazy. They all died whoever they were).

This is not the type of army to make you panic when it lands behind your lines. And when you happen to be sending 4 units of heavy horse back for retraining and you have a few family members kicking around it becomes a massacre.

So you have to wonder what Spain was thinking. Most likely the answer is that there was no good reason behind what Spain did. I am inclined to this theory because I have already witnessed the AI making a number of choices that were really stupid even for a computer.

The most disgusting one was the behavior of Scotland. They spent their entire existence as a nation with an army camped outside of York staring wistfully at it (and I mean they were right outside York. Medieval Total War II seems to let you walk all over other people’s territory without triggering war. They don’t even tell you to get off and you can’t seem to tell them to get off. This creates all sorts of interesting situations). In spite of having an army camped on my land, Scotland was not in a state of war with me and they never entered one (until I wiped them out in two turns).

This would be bad enough as it was. But they never took the rebel province that was directly to their north. And they could have easily taken it with the army they had outside York.

France seems to have a similar blind spot. I know of at least one rebel province that France still has not taken.

This disgusts me. How hard is it to write an algorithm that has the computer AI prioritize picking up the easy fruit? France had plenty of time to take all rebel provinces before they back-stabbed me. Scotland could have taken the rebel province to the north and still had plenty of time to stare wistfully at York.

But having said all that, it is possible that Spain made an intelligent decision to try to take Wales with a crap army. And the reason it may have made an intelligent decision is because Medieval Total War II has some surprising departures from the normal ways of doing things in the Total War universe.

Strategic calculations that made sense in every Total War game up to this point, no longer seem to make sense. I am unsure if this a good thing or a bad thing.

And then Spain invaded Wales

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

So I did what I have a bad habit of doing this time of year. I bought a computer game. In this case, I bought the gold edition of Medieval Total War II for about $11.

It’s a little different than what I expected. I have not played it enough to be sure if this is a good thing or bad thing. To be honest, I have not played it enough to figure out what is going on.

I started the game on a day when I didn’t feel like thinking much. My plan was to play as England and unlock the game and play the cooler (harder) factions at a later date. Since I wanted to learn the game, I did not set the difficulty levels all the way up. I think I have it at next to highest level for tactical level combat and one level below that for the strategic game. I figured that with this easy set-up, I would be well on my way to winning the game in the time available.

It didn’t work out that way. It took me a lot longer than expected just to take England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. As far as mainland Europe is concerned, I only have one more province than I started out the game with. And it remains to be seen how long that will last.

Normally, this would be an unreservedly good thing. But in this case, I am not sure how much of my difficulties stem from improvements in the AI and how much it stems from the fact that I just don’t understand the game yet.

One undoubted highlight….

The A.I takes cities.

Example: France sent multiple armies against my provinces in France when they back-stabbed me. These armies were not that strong. But they were strong enough to overwhelm the weak garrisons I had guarding the areas. I was relying on my uber-stack to beat back the hordes. But this did not work so well against a multi-pronged attack because the French did not wait around to starve me out. Instead, they kicked down the doors as soon as they built the necessary equipment. So by the time my uber-stack got there, it was going to have to be a siege operation.

And of course, there was that spy that opened the gates for the Germans when I was counting on them having to take at least one turn building siege equipment.

And then Spain invaded Wales.

Good things happen to bad people

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Among other things that happened to me last week, I found out that a vendor was going to do a lot more work for me than I had thought (I am speaking of a project at work). Normally, this would be a good thing. But it was one more thing that made me depressed last week.

The problem is that in order to take advantage of the extra work the vendor is going to do, I need to get things together on our end. But getting things together on our end means working with other people. And no else except one other guy wants to work on this project.

Now this should not be a problem. People have to do things they don’t want to do all the time. That is why it is work and not play. And really, I don’t think the people I need to help me have that strong of feelings about it. But my boss does not want to get anyone upset. All too often, not getting anyone upset is the governing reason behind what he does. That is why he is the nice guy and I am not. But it is not entirely up to him to make that call.

For various political reasons, I have to work closely with the boss of my boss’s boss on this project. And by that, I mean he has to give his personal approval to how we are going to do certain things when the time comes. He is the type of person who will want to get everything we can out of the vendors. If that means throwing a few more guys on the project for a couple of days, then so be it. He will have no problem telling my boss that either.

And then my boss will turn to me and say “this is not what I had in mind.” He already said that to me half a dozen times last week. I expect that I will be really tired of hearing that before it is all done.

But it should not bother me. The fact that it was getting me down just shows what a baby I have been the last couple of months. I knew it was going to be like this right from day one. I know how to play the game and I know what the rules are. I can’t say I have not been warned. And I have gone through similar problems a number of times without getting too bothered.

But I am just getting sick of it.

Not Talking

Friday, February 12th, 2010

How come nobody told me about this? Maybe they did and I just forgot. But you would think I would remember something this cool.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of room to complain about people not telling me about things. While I have been spending my time on this blog whining and trying to pretend that I am not, other things have been happening. And those things will probably interest people more than my whining.

For one thing, one of my co-workers lost just about everything in a house fire.

It was one of those things that come out of nowhere and blind side you. I had just come back from taking care of a minor problem and I needed to discuss some issues with my boss. But before I could say a word, he spilled out his tale of woe. To wit, my boss had received a call saying my co-worker’s house was on fire. My boss felt that he needed to pass that message along to my co-worker, but my boss did not know where my co-worker was nor was he responding to pages.

So naturally I took off looking for him. I generally know where people are better then my boss does. But I could not find him and it began to worry me. Finally, I found some people who told me that my co-worker had been picked up by his brother and was already on his way to his burning house.

My first thought upon hearing this was to call my boss and let him know so that he would not worry. Come to find out, my co-worker’s brother had already called my boss to let him know that he had picked up my co-worker. Somehow though, it had not occurred to my boss to pass that information on to me.

It’s not like I am a hard guy to get a hold of. I have both a cell phone and pager. And I don’t really like running around looking for a guy who already has the information that I am desperately trying to get to him.

But not withstanding his loss, my co-worker should be all right. He has insurance and he has more friends and relatives then I could keep track of without a spreadsheet. And he seems to be taking everything in stride.

I would love to help him personally, but I doubt I will be given the chance. Too many other people already in line to do their good deed for the year.

The whole week was like this for me. I had all kinds of surprises come from out of the blue. None of them were as bad as the surprise of my co-worker’s fire. But they all seemed to depress me. And for no reason.

Once I did things for a living.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

A while back, I was called back into work after working all day long. I stayed until a little past midnight. I was back home and in bed by 1:30 a.m and I was up at 6:00 a.m and back to work by 7:30 a.m. After that, I did not go home for another 36 hours. I got about four hours of sleep at the job site, but the rest of the time was spent working.

And by working, I mean shoveling snow and spreading salt using a five gallon bucket. I was not senior enough to use any of the machinery even though no one else worked as many hours as I did.

Now, I was young and healthy. But after all of that, I almost fell asleep on the way home and I did not have much strength left in my body.

These days, one of my jobs is to photocopy various documents and put them into binders for regulatory reasons. And I get paid a lot more to do it than I did when I was shoveling snow and it does not take much of my time.

Now, which of these two things do you think was more appreciated?

Just the other day my boss was thanking me effusively for photocopying the various documents and putting them in binders. He does that quite often. My boss’s boss has thanked me for doing the job. Even the boss of my boss’s boss notices the work I do photocopying things.

But as for that long day and many other days like them, no one really noticed or cared. I was just a piece of scum there to do work that nobody else wanted to do. I stayed there long after the other people who had been plowing, as opposed to shoveling, left. I stayed because I was told I had to clear certain emergency exits before I could leave because of health and safety reasons. The bosses that told me I had to do this left after they told me I had to this.

To be fair, I don’t think they really cared if I did it or not. They just wanted to be able to say “I told Ape Man to clear those areas.” I was just dumb enough to do as I was told. And nobody bothered to thank me. Not on that job or the many others like it.

But which do you think I am more proud of? Photocopying things or shoveling snow?

Honesty or lack thereof

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I find that the hardest part about writing is being honest with myself. I like to blame the other people that I imagine are reading this. I tell myself “don’t be so self-conscious”.

But the truth is, if I was writing something for my eyes only I don’t know if I could be any more honest. I don’t know if honesty is really the right word. I don’t really know when I am lying to myself.

I just know that every so often I look back on what I wrote and it really does not seem honest.

My last two post don’t seem honest to me. I wrote them because I am unhappy and I was trying to do something more than just complain or talk trash about myself. But they are so far away from what is bothering me that it is not even funny. And they are not even comprehensible.

I don’t know if I can fully articulate why I am unhappy. Part of it is the time of year. I always get moody around this time of year. But I don’t think dismissing it as a seasonal thing is the right thing to do.

I mean, granted, I always get moody around this time of year. But the things that bother me differ from year to year. Whatever those things may be, they always tend to be the things that bothered me throughout the year.

I guess what I am trying to say is that just because we are more sensitive to things at certain times of the year does not mean that we should dismiss them.

On the other hand, I am not sure if there is really any benefit in trying to articulate them.

A different sort of comparison

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Once there was this person who was not related to me and not as smart as me. Surprisingly, this person became my friend.

This is a rare occurrence in anyone’s life. In the first place, most people don’t have many real friends. In the second place, people rarely become friends with other people who are not their intellectual equals.

Those two sad facts would make the story of how this person came to be my friend amazing enough. But those two facts don’t even come close to capturing the obstacles that should have kept us from being friends.

For starters, when we first met I was mad at God and I naturally took it out on everyone around me. In all my life, I don’t think I have ever gone so far out of my way to not be nice and to not make a favorable impression. And to top it all off, I had already met this guy in a different context and I had not been favorably impressed.

But that is all a story for another post. The reason I mention it now is the contrast this fellow makes with my current boss.

You see, my boss is in the same intellectual range that I am in and he would really like to be my friend. But he does not understand me. And since he can’t understand me, he does not really know me. Of course, he likes me in spite of that. But then, a lot of people like me before they get to know me. Knowing me often changes their minds.

Yet another man without his intellectual gifts was able to both know me and like me. So I have been contrasting the two of them in my mind lately and thinking about all the ways they differ.

A comparisons test that most people flunk

Friday, February 5th, 2010

One of the worst things my current Boss ever said to me was “The best thing you have going for you is that you are such a gosh darn likable guy.” It is a lie of course. And what’s worse, it is a lie that my boss believes. Worse yet, he believes it in part because I sometimes deliberately foster the illusion that I am a likable guy.

At some point in my life, I learned that it was advantageous to make people believe that I was a likable guy. I learned that was the way for me to get ahead in life with the least effort. And I am by nature a lazy man.

Ironically, it is because of my laziness that relatively few people who have been around me for any length of time are under any illusions about how likable I am. It takes effort to disguise one’s true nature and I don’t like to put out effort for long. Indeed, for many people, I never even bother trying to make the effort. So my true nature quickly becomes apparent.

But my boss is not a very perceptive man. I don’t know how many years it would take for him to truly know me. I suspect that it might be impossible for him to ever understand me.

The ironic thing about this is that he is truly a likable man. He does not have mean bone in his body. Especially in comparison to me. But fewer people like him than like me because he does not understand people. This means that my boss cannot fake being something that he is not. And very few people like someone who is real all the time.

And for that reason, I don’t have much regard for what people like.

What I have been reading

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I have known for a long time that nobody really understands water. It pleases some evil part of me that something as common as water has stumped the best minds of men for so long. That confusion may or may not be over. Time will tell. But I still learned a lot I did not know about water’s weirdness from this article.

Speaking of water, it is now being blamed for 30% of Global Warming. Maybe this new bit of info will take some of the blame off the cows.

But my reading has not all centered around high minded things like water. I have also been following dark and mundane things like the rank fear that has been emanating out of Europe. It has gotten so bad that Hungary’s Minister of Finance is responding in full force to blog posts by Edward Hugh. Nothing against Edward Hugh, but when your country’s Minister of Finance fells compelled to address his arguments, you have serious problems. But as this Guardian article reminds us, Europe’s current problems are nothing considering what they are going to face.

Speaking of reading dark things, I have got some books by Gene Wolfe out of the library. I have seen his name splashed around here and there. But I don’t have much use for fiction these days. In spite of this, I was intrigued by the Wikipedia article about him. There was a lot of things that intrigued me. But they are all summed up in the first two lines…

Gene Wolfe (born May 7, 1931) is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying a Catholic.

I don’t think I would have given the “dense, allusive prose” a second thought if had been for the part about being a Catholic. Something about the Catholic faith seems to be good at creating or attracting people who really get metaphor and symbolism. It will be interesting to see if Gene Wolfe falls into the same category or not.