jueves, 31 de marzo de 2016

Falacias

No hace mucho oí a una persona usar la palabra "falacia" como si significara mentira, lo que ha llamado mi atención sobre la diferencia entre lo que la mayoría de la gente entiende por falacia y lo que significa realmente. El diccionario de la RAE (dado que registra cómo se habla y no cómo se debería, aunque eso es tema para otra entrada) prácticamente identifica ambos conceptos, la única diferencia que considera es que la falacia intenta dañar a otra persona, mientras que la mentira no tiene porqué. Sin embargo, el concepto original de falacia, que aún se utiliza en discusiones y debates cuando el rigor tiene alguna importancia, no es el de mentira, sino el de un argumento que, pareciendo lógico, no lo es.

De nuevo, el concepto "lógico" se malentiende de forma habitual, igualando con "obvio", "de sentido común" y demás, cuando no es exactamente eso. Un argumento lógico es el que lleva de una idea A a una idea B, de modo que B se prueba tan cierta como sea A. Para empezar esa cadena lógica hay que comenzar por una idea sobre cuya corrección no haya dudas, como por ejemplo un hecho. Una cadena como esa es lo que llamamos habitualmente "deducción".

Un argumento se dice que es válido cuando es imposible que las premisas (las ideas iniciales) sean ciertas y la conclusión sea falsa. De otro modo, el argumento es inválido.
Una deducción es correcta cuando todos los argumentos son válidos y además las ideas iniciales son ciertas.

¿Por qué es importante prestar atención a estos conceptos? La deducción es una herramienta fundamental en cualquier actividad que implique el pensamiento analítico o crítico. Cuando estamos equivocados en algo, la deducción es lo que nos permite darnos cuenta. Cuando estamos en lo cierto, la deducción es lo que nos permite demostrarlo a otros. La mayor ventaja de una deducción correcta es que puede compartirse. Me explico: una opinión subjetiva es particular de una persona y por ello puede convencer a algunas personas y a otras no. Ante una deducción correcta sólo puede optarse entre aceptar la conclusión o rechazarla - y con ello mantenerse en un error.

Veo que los pétalos y las hojas de esta rosa son del mismo color, aunque tengan un matiz distinto. Todos los que estamos aquí coincidimos en ello. Por tanto, esta rosa es de color verde.
Este razonamiento es incorrecto porque el hablante - y el resto de las personas de la sala - pueden tener un problema visual como el daltonismo.

Nuestro cerebro funciona con dos tipos de razonamiento que se influyen mutuamente. El razonamiento analítico se basa en deducciones, y es en el que se fundamentan los avances de cualquier ciencia, sea física, medicina, biología... Cuando tenemos información en la que basarnos para llegar a una conclusión o estimar la probabilidad de varias, estamos utilizando este tipo de razonamiento.
El razonamiento emocional es el que hace que hagamos cosas llevados por emoción.

Una ruleta tiene 38 números, nuestro razonamiento analítico es el que nos dice que apostar a un número tiene una probabilidad de 1/38 de redundar en nuestro beneficio, y 37/38 de resultar en perjuicio. Nuestro razonamiento emocional es el que nos dice que hoy es nuestro día de suerte.

Cada día nos vemos sometidos a manipulaciones más o menos disimuladas y más o menos sinceras. Cuando un amigo tiene una cara triste lo vemos, nos damos cuenta, nuestro razonamiento emotivo nos hace sentir tristeza en simpatía y nos impulsa a preocuparnos por él. Lo que hagamos está menos claro, depende de cómo somos nosotros y lo que sabemos de él: ¿es de contar las cosas sólo cuando le preguntan? ¿es de decir que no pasa nada hasta que está listo para hablar y dar detalles? ¿somos de los que esperan hasta que un problema puede resolverse? ¿somos de los que intentan resolver el problema tan pronto como lo ven?

Los efectos emotivos se producen como reacciones independientes de la realidad. Ver una cara triste inspira tristeza, ver una sonrisa inspira confianza (según la sonrisa, claro), ver una cara de enfado dirigida hacia nosotros puede inspirar temor o enfado... Y esos efectos se producen sin importar si lo vemos en un desconocido a seis metros o en un actor en una película. Nuestro razonamiento analítico matiza las acciones que pueden ser impulsadas por el efecto emocional: "Es un actor y no es de verdad", "Es un amigo y es sincero", "Es un amigo pero siempre es un exagerado"...

Las manipulaciones emotivas directas, por expresiones de pena, furia, alegría, no son fiables. Es muy probable que causen una emoción, es bastante probable que causen la que pretendemos, pero también pueden producir reacciones opuestas según a quién se dirijan. Tienen otro defecto como táctica de manipulación, y es que es fácil identificarlas tanto como emocionales como manipulaciones. Además, las respuestas emocionales que provocan no suelen generar acciones a largo plazo: no te enamoras de alguien la primera vez que sonríe ni consideras a alguien un enemigo la primera vez que te grita. Por mucho que pese la primera impresión, una respuesta emocional a largo plazo es algo que se inspira provocando reiteradamente la misma reacción emocional.

Por otro lado, se puede manipular a alguien aprovechando sus carencias (su falta de práctica o atención, nada más) en razonamiento analítico, haciéndole creer que estás dando pruebas o siguiendo un razonamiento lógico cuando éste no es válido. Ese tipo de razonamiento es el que se llama falaz, y esa manipulación sí puede producir acciones a largo plazo porque al convencernos de algo, hacemos nuestra esa idea. Al haber llegado a esa idea mediante un razonamiento asumimos que es correcta y la mantenemos aunque olvidemos el razonamiento, a diferencia de las respuestas emocionales, que se recuerdan pero no perduran del mismo modo ni con la misma facilidad. Esta asunción se hace porque es el método en el que nuestro propio cerebro aprende del mundo que le rodea para adaptarse y resolver problemas

Precisamente por la eficacia de los engaños basados en falacias tendríamos que prestar más atención a éstas, de modo que podamos reconocerlas cuando las usan. No siempre las usarán para dañarnos, a veces el que las usa lo hace sin darse cuenta de que su razonamiento es incorrecto y está convencido de una idea equivocada que puede o no hacerle daño.

Por último, hay que destacar que el hecho de que un razonamiento sea falaz ni significa que las premisas sean falsas ni que la conclusión sea falsa, al igual que no implica que sean ciertas. Lo único que significa es que a partir de las premisas no puede deducirse la conclusión.

Este tipo está loco, así que por mucho que lo repita, se equivoca diciendo que el cielo es azul.
La locura de ese hombre no tiene porqué hacer que se confunda al reconocer colores

miércoles, 23 de marzo de 2016

Shadows of Esteren

I just finished reading Shadows of Esteren (Book 1) and I wanted to share my impressions about this game.

Shadows of Esteren is a little world. The setting is based in a peninsula called Tri-Kazel which is spiritually linked to a somewhat celtic inspiration. This peninsula is isolated from the continent by an almost impassable mountain range, and the sea surrounding the rest of it is so stormy and furious that it's equally impassable. This continent is simply called the Continent, although it's known it has at least two different nations, one of it is a Theocracy, and another is a more scientific nation.

This setting is a low fantasy one, meaning medieval fantasy, with no elves, dwarfs or any other creature usually imagined in such settings. The supernatural part is represented by the Feondas, which is just the common name of an array of creatures that tries to kill other living beings. These feondas seem like twisted versions of vermin, animals, plants and humans, and nothing is explained about them except what they are thought to be.

There are three supernatural-kind-of ways to understand world. The native way is based on spirits of nature. Under this perspective, the Feondas are the expression of the fury of such spirits for not having been paid the proper respect. From the Continent came a faith in a one god, creator of everything, and to the faithful of it, Feondas are demons, enemies of that one god. From a different country of the Continent came the Magience, a kind of Magic-Science based on the fabrication of artifacts that use a kind of energy called "the Flux". For magientist, the Feondas are just part of the natural world, just not yet understood.

After reading the ambientation, one is under the impression that Feondas are far from being the the most important topic, while the differences between the traditionalist nature-spirit-believers, the one-god faithful and the magientist are truly important.

The writing generally do a good job at presenting each part of the world under a different, subjective vision, stating that is a collection of testimonies of different sources about the peninsula, gathered by a noble and delivered to his counselor. Reading it is very enjoyable and actually makes you want to play stories in this setting. It has enough details to feel defined but not enough to make it constrained, so each group of players can (and should) define its own Tri-Kazel to reflect what they prefer regarding how precise each represented viewpoint really is.

The rules are simple, just 1d10 plus some modifiers and versus a target number to be reached (or surpassed)

The skill system has a nice detail: there are several narrow skills called Disciplines. To access one particular Discipline you need a general skill that includes that Discipline. This general skill is called Domain, and some Disciplines are accesible from several Domains. Domains are from 0 to 5 points, while Disciplines are from 6 to 15. Some Disciplines, like weapon disciplines, have to specialize again from 11 to 15, so you can be a legendary swordman with Longsword 15, but you use other one-handed blades at 10 and any Close Combat way of fighting with 5. It's a nice point that all artisans know a bit about other crafts, and any specialist in a particular science has a basic knowledge on all of them, because it helps reflecting how most skills actually work in the real world, more related than isolated.

The most different thing about the system is that the place of attributes like Strength or Intelligence is taken by personality traits called Ways. Everyone is average in Strength, Intelligence and the rest of traditional attributes/characteristics/abilities, except when they buy a particular advantage or disadvantage related to it, and when you divide people in a 1d10 range, pretty much everyone is average.

The definition, then, is about how the personality is. The ways are Combativeness, Reason, Creativeness, Empathy and Conviction, and are evaluated from 1 to 5. Most usually, more is better, but there is a caveat. Since they express personality, to "help" playing your character as it is, there is the "test" idea. For instance, if your character is in a very emotional situation you're probably portraying that and behaving in a way the emotion is getting the upper hand instead of the tactical advantages, but if you are not, you will have to make a "test". You'll roll 1d10 and compare with a target number equal to your Combativeness (which also represents how much you tend to let yourself go with your emotions) plus a modifier.

It's a nice thing to see how personality actually influences what you can do, and even with its limitations (a person with high Combativeness and Reason would not be as emotional as one with high Combativeness and low Reason) it is interesting. After all, in the instance of a fight (a particular easy one, when you are used to think reallistically about them) what you can do is obviously important, but it's far more important what you're willing to do.

Ways mean personality, then, not ability as it, so Combativeness means how quick you are to anger (and any emotion, really) and prone to solve problems through force (of will, shouting or fighting, that depends on your details). Reason represent how prone you are to think about things, not how well you do, and likewise with the rest.

Overall, it is a system with nice ideas to experiment and to represent the normal world, but it has a few problems.

First of all, the supernatural systems (Magience, Druid-kind-of and One-God religion) are not coherent with the low-fantasy the setting is presented to be, nor with the ambientation presented through the book. The first problem is that the Druids and Faithful have what amounts to powers. Powers that most usually work to some extent in a clear way. For instance, both have magical healing, the Druids can make lighting fall on you from the sky and the Clerics can freeze you to death. When a person is able to freeze somebody to death in the six seconds a combat round represents, with but a prayer, its religion is not a matter of faith anymore. The same happens with the Druids and the nature-given favors, such as petrifying an enemy. And both are not coherent with a low-fantasy setting, at any rate.

As for Magience, it could have been a bit more coherent, but it is not in a different way. Magientist artifacts are usually difficult to use (to switch them on you usually have to expend a round and a roll) and breakdown prone, and that I could understand. It's a way to mix a kind of steampunk in the setting and I'm ok with such more or less experimental artifacts to be difficult to use, specially in a rainy, cold place like a celtic peninsula, with mountains and swamps and whatnot. What I find most incoherent about Magience is Flux. Flux is an energy extracted in a liquid form, from just about anything. There are different types of flux (mineral, vegetal, animal and fossil). Fossil flux is already "extracted", while the other types are depending on what you have grind to extract flux from. It's a bit like Mage's quintessence, that is everywhere, in everything. In the ambientation you are told that magientists are most famous as the inventors of Nebulars, a kind of lamp. They use these lamps often and the greatest cities have nebulars to light the streets (at least, on the good neighbourhoods) Then you get to the system and see that a single, portable Nebular uses one Flux charge every 12 hours. How many charges do a whole neighbourhood worth of Nebular lamposts use? Keep that number in mind, because you need to grind about 400 pounds of rock to get one single charge. Now multiply and see if it's reasonable to use that amount of matter. Add now that the refined charge is about three ounces of mass and the rest of the matter grind is turned to a contaminant amount of something ashy, nothing you could do something with, and then it's even more incoherent the world that has been presented to you with its rules.

And, of course, magientist weapons use one charge per use, while damage is about the same of a bow. Honestly, if the first portable firearms had had no advantage over a bow but required a process of a whole day and a couple hundreds of minerals for every shot... we'd still be using bows or crossbows.
In conclusion, it seems a nice setting to play stories about intrigue, mysteries, thrillers... but it needs to tune way down the powers of druids and clerics and a deep revision of the magience thing.

jueves, 25 de febrero de 2016

The interview

Every time the interviewer asks a question, she sits slightly back. She has a nice face, a nice handshake, a nice looking smile, a nice suit
And her body is not bad either, even if it's not right to say it aloud.

That's one of those slightly incoherent things: people who say in every occasion that they're not to be judged physically, but still devotes time to choose favoring clothes despite comfort. Just like I do in a job interview like this one, with a suit's jacket over the sweater.

I guess that people do realize we are not judged solely by how we look our looks influence the judgement from the moment they're perceived; it's only they dislike the idea enough to make themselves unable to acknowledge it without been confronted to. Some even after been confronted.

There was an actress, don't remember her name, she was a latin actress in Dick Tracy or Sin City or something... She said something like being pretty, helps, being not, doesn't, and I couldn't agree more. I know there are other opinions, but just seeing how reality is proves those other opinions are just wishful thinking.

Of course looks are not the most important trait for almost anything, but help, they do, just as manners or a nice smile.

And the interviewer has a nice smile, but it seems too much a professional smile. It's an effort worth noting and worth thanking, but it's just a professional habit, an unconscious gesture that can't deceive someone with enough talent to see the real emotions or someone who has so little talent that is continuously paying attention, for that is what it takes to understand the everyday people.

I answer her questions as honestly as I can. When she asks about defects, I say perfectionism, but since most people think that is kind of a bliss in disguise, I feel in the obligation of clearing the misunderstanding.

I know it seems just something to say in a job interview to make the interviewee seem better, but it is not: sometimes we need to end a program or a feature in a deadline and our clients are more worried about having it now than having it later but more reliable and more easily and quickly repaired or adapted, should need arise.
And then I want to devote time to code quality tools to let us discover the bugs we left before the client does, but nobody wants to pay for that. Or almost nobody does, my current company has enough liberty for us to decide how we do things, and though it's not always respected, most times I can indulge that impulse and not only do things, but do them right.
That is a real defect for a company focused only on delivery, but I think it adds value not only to the clients, even if they don't realize, but also to the programmers, who have a company's enforced chance to improve as professionals instead of having only their free time.

I keep answering questions, where I've worked, what my positions where, how much money I would like...

After some more time, she looks to the papers she's been taking notes in, and smiles "well, I have no more questions. Do you want to ask something?"
As always, I express my curiosity about what kind of projects I would be working in, but of course she doesn't know. "Human resources". I understand some people needs to specialize in judging honesty in would-be workers, but it would be nice to have them know at least some information useful for the interviewees.

Killing my nemesis

It has been a long journey, not a chase as much as a long hide-and-seek game with bouts of struggling, but in the end, here we are, in his own house. The fight has ended at last, he has surrendered to the inevitable fate.

He has stopped trying to defend himself, just lying there, breathing heavily so I can take my time, do it nicely.

I am not merciless. I have imagined so many ways... Push him in a car's way, or a bus' or a train's; an overdose; hang him or suffocate him with a bag or the car's escape trick; cut his belly open or even involve him in a fight and get others to actually kill him.

But I can take my time and prove I have mercy, so I cut him in his inner thigh.
If done right, a half stab, half deep cut, between the muscles, there is not too much collateral damage, not too much pain.
I do the other one too, to accelerate things. With a single femoral artery bleeding it is about two to three minutes until you lose consciousness due to loss of blood, and then about one more minute until actual death, but being unconscious, that doesn't matter. A relatively pain-free death, not a bad way to die.

He keeps bleeding, still looking at my hands and the knife while I clean the blade, but his blinking is slower, and slower.

...

Maybe the adrenaline is keeping him awake a little longer than I thought, but the strength is abandoning his fingers.
This is almost a spiritual moment and I put the knife away and sit back.
He slides until he lies on the floor, and so do I. He blinks
once more, and then he close his eyes. Even with
my own eyes closed, I can feel him
finally descending on
unconsciousness.

Then he's gone,
and so
am
I

martes, 23 de febrero de 2016

La escuela de baile

Hacía frío, o más bien entraba de la calle. El baño del vecino de arriba perdía agua y se había filtrado tanto tiempo que el moho ya había tomado un color entre negro y verde.  El dueño del piso era quien tenía que hacer las reparaciones pero, como tantas veces ocurría, hacía oídos sordos a lo que no fuera cobrar la renta, así que todo se había alargado meses más de la cuenta, y los afectados por la gotera mantenían la puerta de la calle abierta todo el tiempo que podían con la intención, o quizá sólo la esperanza, de contribuir a secar la humedad o al menos reducir el olor de yeso mojado.

Era una pena, porque no hacía tanto tiempo que las salas habían sido arregladas y adecentadas en la medida en que el dinero lo había permitido, pero con los edificios del centro es siempre lo mismo: construcciones viejas con más años que cuidados, pero situadas en el mismo sitio que tantas y tantas personas que un negocio tenía fácilmente más futuro allí por la afluencia de público que en otro lugar donde las instalaciones pudieran ser mejores y costara menos mantenerlas.

La pintura y los nuevos espejos de las salas habían mejorado el aspecto, y apartar al antiguo dueño y, sobre todo, su continuo fumar, habían cambiado por completo la sensación inicial al ver la recepción, transformando el lugar cerrado y claustrofóbico que parecía antes en una sala abierta donde podía esperarse cómodamente a que empezara la clase de uno.

Algunas clases, como la de claqué, hacían pensar que una cierta insonorización podría evitar interferencias entre las actividades de las distintas salas, pero las clases de flamenco ponían por delante reforzar el suelo, sobre todo al escuchar a los alumnos que daban clase debajo y comentaban entre risas cómo se sacudían las lámparas y el propio techo.