2016-03-28

Research before science

A continuation or follow on of previous post. I realized the framework given there is relevant for more or less modern societies or civilizations. But many of the 4X games I criticized have a historical or pre-modern context.

This post will use the terms of Research and Application as given in previous, you can look them up there.

So how did research work before there was science?

Most importantly, Research mattered less. Many Applications were invented and refined through trial and error. Knowledge was passed on without being formalized or even written down. For example, boats and ships were built long before Archimedes.

The one exception was mathematics and geometry. As it applied to many highly practical matters - trade and architecture being foremost. But Applications in these fields were also highly dependent on local geography and resources.

The other spheres were Research did matter were the softer sciences of philosophy. Types of government, the responsibilities of rulers and citizens, such things are hard to experiment on. And most people would not just accept them without some explanatory or justifying doctrine. Research here was highly overlapped with religion and tended to be based on the teachings of specific persons rather than principles or patterns.

The main inputs for Research were:
- supported centers of learning such as libraries or courts
- social mobility so that talented people were not locked into some other caste or trade
- (partial) tolerance from political and religious authorities

Most Applications, as already noted, tended to advance without any Research as such. Instead the main inputs for Applications were:
- climate and resources that allowed its use. For example available ores.
- sufficient social organization for the Application to be used on an ongoing basis. That is, people who worked on/with an Application for a living. For example a shipwrights guild in a city.
- advancement generally scaled with organization. A guild of potters in regular contact would over time achieve more than a single hereditary line of pot makers in some village.
- stability. Much knowledge was passed directly. So even one missed generation due to war or some disaster could result in much being lost. Written works too were hard and expensive to reproduce.

Research fusion power or touchscreen games?

Much as I enjoy various 4X and "strategy" games, the research systems in them are very much creatures of gameplay, not realism.

For example, the principles behind light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were discovered almost a century ago. And first commercial manufacturing was decades ago. Yet only recently they have become used for lighting.

Whereas in most games, "LED lighting" would be a "project" that starts in 2000 and ends in 2010 with a pile of components/units to be used. Fixed costs, start and end points and immediately usable applications - forget realistic, they are not even trying for plausible.

One should not complain too much of course, a game that sacrifices too much gameplay would not be playable. Still, some attempts could be made toward suspension of disbelief, so important in entertainment.

But if research systems in games are to be more realistic, what is the real world "research system" like? There is a lot of information on various inventions and discoveries. Not so much on the mechanisms and patterns underlying them.

Here then are some general points on "real world research system", as I see them.

There are three parts.
1. Research itself, to discover patterns and rules that work in the world.
2. Application, to create ways of using those patterns and rules. Application is not always engineering as such, the advertising industry is all about choosing what to show by knowing how we see. And many other "soft" sciences have a precise and commercial application.
2.5. Applications can be primary, general building blocks that are built on Research.
Or Secondary, a combination of other Applications. For example smartphones would consist of computing, flat panel screen, touch screen, digital radio frequency transmit/receive and other Applications.
3. Designs. For example "main battle tanks" as an Application. And T-72 as specific design of this application.


While it is generally possible to show what Research an Application is derived from, the other way is generally not. Looking at some Research item, one cannot predict how the findings can be used before the research has happened. And often for a long time after as well.

Research is unpredictable. It tends to be punctuated with sudden discoveries between long periods of gradual gathering and refining of data. While the gradual parts are rarely newsworthy, they are necessary for discoveries to happen.


Everything in Research and Application is worked on at the same time, unless specifically forbidden. There is no "were done with refrigeration, now lets do satellites".
 Applications, especially primary, often have an exponential curve of advance in effectiveness and/or efficiency. That is, the advancement is fixed relative to current state and accelerating in absolute values. The rate of advance tends to fall off as Application gets close to theoretical limits.

Applications that follow the pattern in previous point have a "period of maximum impact". A time when the gains in the Application result in large and significant changeover in Designs. And/or the appearance of many secondary Applications using it. For example chemical rocket engines had this period from the 50s to the 80s. The Designs before were not very practical. And the Designs made after have generally been towards cost reduction or other non-performance-related features.


A new Application can be invented even when there has been no change in the underlying Research. This is more likely for secondary Applications that often appear when primary Applications, that the new one uses, have reached some level of maturity.


Designs do have specific "start of development" and "end of use" points. Still the needed investment can be different than planned. Usually towards the upside.


There are many, many examples where Application is going forward without problems. But a specific Design is no better or straight up worse than its predecessors. The littoral combat ship (LCS) from USA naval forces being a recent example.

The original viral app

Was Rubik's Cube.

This is not to say anything bad about the Cube.

But there are many claiming that various apps and associated "unicorns" are unprecedented, a "new paradigm" and will change the world.

2016-03-22

Political envelopment

There are quite a few, mostly USA Democratic party supporters, who are cheering Trumps rise not because they support but because they think him an easy enemy. They expect Hillary to crush Trump in a general election where her centrism will hold more appeal than "extremist" Trump. I think this is a miscalculation caused by interpreting a new situation through old patterns.

The idea is that Trumps large appeal among Republican base, as shown in the primaries so far, must mean he appears more conservative than other contenders. As this was the key to the success of various Tea Party candidates in the past, who used low level appeal to defy party apparatus. And Trump is following a similar approach of loudly opposing party establishment to gain primary votes.

However in policies Trump is a populist, not a conservative as such. He is not committed to the usual social wedge issues.

So I expect that if Trump faces Hillary in the primaries he will attack her from both the right - on law&order (email scandal), guns, and so on - and from the left - on trade, foreign policy, Wall street.

This way, not only would Trump take the popular positions in combinations others have not. But it will force the Clinton campaign to respond in ways that alienate parts of their own base. Those for whom "no more foreign wars" is a core issue will not appreciate Hillary calling herself tougher than Trump on the Middle East, for an example.

2016-03-20

Eurofinger

A very loose translation of this: http://amfora.livejournal.com/130436.html
Made some time ago, but still true.

The root cause of Ukraine's problems today is the Eurofinger. The Eurofinger is in a room with locked doors and no windows. Only with the Golden Key can one gain entrance. And while none can see inside the room, the doors are gilded and richly decorated. Such that every proper Ukrainian can tell at a glance: this is where the Good Stuff is kept, this is the place to go.

The first to enter the room was Yushchenko. After taking the key away from Kuchma, he opened the door and went inside. And inside the Eurofinger awaited him. Yushchenko tried to squeeze the Eurofinger but got nothing in turn. More creative attempts of licking, biting, sucking and gnawing led to no appreciable results either.

Yet Yushchenko dared not tell the people, much less open the door for all. He worried that they Would Not Understand, They would blame him. And perhaps beat him as well. Instead he returned outside and stated that there was Work To Be Done. He had no idea what to actually do, but the people were more than fine doing nothing. And so they all lived happily off old inheritance and new debt. Every so often Yushchenko would check up on the Eurofinger, just in case. In time Yushchenko handed the Golden Key over to Yanukovych through proper Democracy rituals.

Now Yanukovych approached the door with less hope and more care. The experience of his predecessor and the hard earned intuition of an old thief told him that all was not as it seemed. That this fairy tale may have a plot twist. So Yanukovych made sure to not ruin relations with neighbor Russia before using the Golden Key. And soon enough was proven right.

Cautiously Yanukovych unlocked the door and stepped inside. The same old Eurofinger was there. Half-hearted attempts to lick it went nowhere fast. Yanukovych left the room, looking inside one last time before locking it again. Eurofinger was unchanging, no Cornucopia to be seen.

Instead Yanukovych went to neighbor Russia. Not much to look at, none of that aristocratic breeding or liberal education. But she had a job that paid and Russia did not think herself above helping an old friend. Soon enough Yanukovych had a routine much like Yushchenko. Spending what he had, borrowing where he could, all with a little help from Russia.

But the people were watching and no sir they did not like it. That the boss would not hand the key to others was normal enough. But Yanukovych was not entering the room himself either! And why would the glorious holders of the Golden Key ever associate themselves with that crude unwashed Russia!? The people had a suspicion they were being made fools of.

As the anger grew Yanukovych tried to explain himself, to say he meant well, to tell of the Eurofinger. But the people would have none of that. They took away the Golden Key from Yanukovych. They called him names and ran him out of town.

Now the people needed a new leader, new holder of the Golden Key. A traditional Ukrainian election was held. Added up the votes, added in the money. Poroshenko had won.

For the longest time Poroshenko posed with the Golden Key. Showing it off from every angle. Telling everyone who would listen, and most who would not, that he was The One. He would open the doors to all. And all good things would pour out. Large and free for everyone.

Pausing to tell off Russia in a most crude manner, Poroshenko unlocked the door and strutted inside.

The Eurofinger awaited the victor.

2016-03-18

Bashar al-Trump

While there is no shortage of comparisons between Trump and various autocrats, most are either overdone or just plain hysteric. Still, some interesting parallels can be drawn. Here are two similarities between Trumps campaign for president of the USA and Syrian presidents al-Assads campaign for survival.

The first parallel. "He is attacking the good guys!"

During the Syrian civil war, a preference among government forces became increasingly obvious. They would concentrate efforts on the "moderate rebels" of FSA (Free Syrian Army) and related groups rather than IS (Islamic State). Some of this was surely driven by geography as the government sought to defend its core territories and retake first those areas where the population was more likely to accept its rule.

But of course there was a political calculus behind this targeting preference as well. While the more moderate groups were generally weaker on the battlefield, they were more dangerous as potential recipients of Western aid and military support. Whereas the more extreme elements were only acceptable to GCC countries and Turkey - which limited the outside power they could draw in.

And in Trumps campaign too, a similar pattern can be seen. Among the other Republican candidates it was first Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio that were targeted with the strongest, most sustained attacks. Even when Bush had dropped to the bottom of the polls, the attacks were kept up until he ended his campaign. And in the recent primaries, Trump made sure to humiliate Rubio in Florida while accepting the risk of Ted Cruz winning other states.

While we should not expect any open discussion of campaign strategy from the candidate, I think Trump chose his targets for much the same reasons as Assad. To remove the moderate or establishment or opponents first. So that when the conflict narrowed down, outside actors would be forced to choose between him and someone just as (or even more) bad.

The second parallel. "Trump or we burn the party!"

An infamous slogan during the early parts of Syrian uprising was "Assad or we burn the country" (and they did). Its message was the willingness of government supporters to face the horrors of civil war rather than accept a new government. But it also showed that those who were loyal to Assad were loyal to him personally, not to some ideology or sect that he led.

And so it is with Trump, many of whose supporters have switched parties or openly declared that they will not support any other candidate regardless of primary outcome. They follow Trump. Not Republicans or conservatives, many of whom are seen as traitors and internal enemies. They would rather break the Republican party than allow establishment candidates to lead it.

Interestingly, the Republican establishment seems to feel the same way. With open attacks on Trump, talk of brokered convention and promises to vote for Hillary Clinton if they lose control of the Republican nomination.


While Assad has pretty much secured his rule over core Syria, how far Trump will get remains to be seen. But this summer certainly promises to be interesting.

First post

In keeping with internet traditions, this post has no purpose other than being first.