Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Amtgard News #5: Feast of Fools

First of all, my prediction of "exciting combat action" at the University of Maryland was recently proven correct.


Anyway, I went to Feast of Fools, a big Amtgard camping even in Hagerstown last weekend. It lasted from Friday to Monday.

I got there around Friday at 8:00 PM and spent the next hour or so setting up the tent. Some of the poles were broken so we had to tape spare arrow shafts to the poles. We knew this in advance and brought 4 spare arrow shafts to use for this purpose - and it turned out we ended up having to use all of them. Fortunately, we had selected a camp location right next to the security tent, so a security guy helped us set it up by illuminating the area with his flashlight.

The rest of Friday was mostly hanging out in the tavern and fighting on the "ditch field." That was fun except that during one of the battles, while I was fighting someone on the other side, one of my opponent's teammates ran at me at full speed and stabbed me in the side with about a 6 foot long spear. As I write this I can still feel the spot where it hit.

Saturday was the day with most of the action. The first event I participated in was the "Triwizard Tournament." In this tournament, three spellcasters stand at the corner of an equilateral triangle 80 feet on a side. Their goal is to retrieve an object located at the center and bring it back to their corner, and hold it there for 30 seconds (though in practice this turned into the wizards fighting each other and the last one alive wins). However, one of the contestants was high enough level to have Finger of Death (kills any target within 50 feet) and Extension (doubles range of the spell), and could cast each of these twice, so he could just kill both the enemies right off the bat. There was no effective way to defend against this, since casting a protection spell or running 80 feet to charge him both take much longer than casting Extension/Finger of Death. (In battlegames, spells like Finger of Death can be cast a limited number of times "per game", as opposed to most spells which are weaker but are either "per life" or unlimited casts, so that balances them out. A general problem with wizard tournaments is that there's only one "life" in a given round, and everything, including per-game limited spells, resets between rounds. This means that per-game spells tend to dominate the game in wizard tournaments.)

Fortunately I got to play a wizard again as an "evil sorcerer" in a kid's quest. I assumed it would be really easy to kill the kids since I could run faster than them so I could just stay out of their range, but I was wrong. It was about 5 on 1, and a couple of the kids had bows, so they could shoot me while I was trying to cast my spells! Also another kid wanted to play a wizard and be on my team. However, Celwyn said it would be a better idea for him to be on the good guys' team because, as she said, "you said you were going to make spells up? If you cast at us we won't know what the spells are, but he (talking about me, the evil sorcerer) is a really good role-player so he'll be able to make the spells do something." That quest was a lot of fun.

I also participated in three battlegames, and played an archer in all of them. One was a "cone battle." In this battle there are five cones set up across the field. If one team gets two people on each cone they score a point and everything resets. This game was fun and competitive, and I scored lots of kills with my arrows. Several people afterward complimented me on my archery skills.

The second game was a "king of the hill" game. In this game the two teams try to hold a central point for as long as they can. What happened this time was that the other team wiped us out in the first round of fighting. When you die, you can come back to life after 5 minutes (reduced to 2.5 because of the relatively small number of people playing). The rules say that you can delay coming back to life after your count is completed, but most of the other people on the team didn't know that, so they all kept coming back to life one or two at a time and getting slaughtered by the other team. I tried to explain to the team that coming back all at once would be a better idea, but they refused saying that "our goal is to have fun, not to win." Of course, in my opinion, coming to life one at a time, being backed up against your base by a wall of 10 enemies, and being killed within 15 seconds after you come alive every time wasn't much fun either.

The third battlegame was a "defend the castle" game, and just like the previous game, my team had about 10 people on it. However the other team had about 30 people on it. So we tried to defend the castle but got slaughtered pretty easily. The reeve then said that our base is now on the outside, theirs is now on the inside, and we should try to retake the castle. Since it was clear that the match was not even close, the reeve basically said that everyone can stop keeping track of their lives, they can all respawn in 30 seconds, and just have fun killing each other. So that's basically what we did until everyone got tired of playing.

Then there was feast, and after the feast I had to go to a "Belted Family Meeting." Now, you're probably wondering what that is. The story is this: A few months ago, Gailwind Blackfoot (a.k.a. Colleen) aske to take me on as her "man-at-arms". This is kind of like a mentor-student relationship, and she gives me tasks like writing quests, learning the rules and the corpora, and making weapons and equipment. There are also other "family" relationships, like a knight can take a squire. And these all form a whole lineage, kind of like a real life family tree. This was my first belted family meeting so I was kind of embarrased that not only did I not know who was in my belted family, some of the people were people I knew from before (like Yoshi) and I didn't even know they were in my belted family. When they were explaining to me what a belted family was, I pulled out a pen and paper and started trying to draw our "family tree," but Colleen told me that I could do that later.

On Sunday there wasn't a whole lot of fighting going on due to the excessive heat (I think it was almost 100 degrees), except for a couple tournaments. In fact there was so much heat that they had to send out "water bearers" to bring water to the participants so they would stay hydrated and they wouldn't pass out from the heat or anything. I didn't have anything else to do so I volunteered to be a water bearer. Our head medic even said that we should tell the players that that they had to either drink the ater (or pour it over their heads to cool themselves off) or they would be taken off the field.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Academics: Part 4 of 5: "Chaos Theory"

My next post is about a very interesting class:

Chaos Theory with Denny Gulick

You're probably wondering what we actually learn about in "chaos theory." The math behind chaos theory has to do mostly with iterated function systems. Meaning, if you have a function f(x) and an initial value x_0, then if you form the sequence x_1 = f(x_0), x_2 = f(x_1), x_3 = f(x_2) etc. you can look at properties of this sequence - whether it converges to one value, osciallates between two or more values, goes off to infinity, etc. Even simple functions like the logistic map (f(x) = kx(1-x) for a constant k) can produce very complicated behavior.

One interesting project we are doing is reading one of a selection of articles on applications of chaos theory, and writing a 1-2 page discussion of it. The article I chose is titled "Chaos on the Trading Floor" and is about the use of chaos theory to model the stock market. I imagine this is particularly relevant given the ongoing financial crisis.

Ironically, the use of mathematical techniques to model the stock market may have actually contributed to the financial crisis. According to Paul Krugman's book "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008," with the development of these techniques came the rise of hedge funds, which try to take advantage of statistical patterns in the stock market by making highly leveraged bets. This means for example that a hedge fund might start with $50 million in capital, then sell short (i.e. borrow and then sell) $950 million worth of one stock so they can buy $1 billion worth of another stock. This means that if the second stock goes up by 5%, they've doubled their money. Of course if it goes the other way around, then they lose all their money - and the people who they borrowed the original $950 million worth of stock from also lose money, because they're going to have a hard time getting their stock back. This kind of "ripple effect" was part of what made the financial crisis so severe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Putnam Examination

I just received my score back from the Putnam exam. I got 48 out of 120 points, or which is rank 145.5 (the half is due to ties) out of 3627 participants.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Breaking News: University of Maryland Descends into Sin

Just days after showing a porn movie on campus, the University of Maryland has decided to leave prayer out of the commencement ceremony.

Also, just days after the preliminary findings of a report on the history of slavery in building the university came out, the Gemstone Program has decided to raise money with a "date auction" - an auction in which volunteer dates are "sold" to buyers for the night.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Funny Link

As this video (first on the list at the time of posting) shows, just because you live in a medieval fantasy world doesn't mean you don't have to make your car payments.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Incorrect Link in Previous Post

The link to the YouTube video in the top of the previous post is incorrect. Here is the correct link.

Combat Comes to Campus!

"Let's split up and look for clues!"

- The Scooby Doo Gang, on numerous occasions

"Don't you know to never split the party
The clerics in the back keep the fighters hale and hardy
The wizard in the middle, where he can shed some light
And you never let that damned thief out of sight!"

"Never Split the Party"


Last week, our Amtgard group decided to have a "fighter practice" on the University of Maryland campus in order to attract students to come play Amtgard. We were only able to fight for about half an hour before it started raining and we had to leave, and we didn't attract anyone, although we are planning to try again sometime in the next few weeks.

However, it won't be long before University of Maryland students won't have to go to Amtgard or even leave campus in order to participate in exciting combat action. According to The Diamondback, on-campus safety and security is a major issue in the upcoming SGA elections, and there's no shortage of innovative ideas. Some of these ideas include:

1. Expanding the SGA "safety walks" to areas off campus, so that people can point out areas that aren't safe, like "there's no lighting over there, a mugger could easily hide there."

2. Taking a page from the Department of Homeland Security and making color-coded "alert maps" showing which areas of campus were not safe. (I was telling this to a fellow Amtgarder and he said he didn't think it would be a good idea, because it would encourage police to focus their attention on areas labeled as safe because "those are the areas we promised would be safe", and thus neglect the areas labeled as "unsafe.")

3. Providing free self-defense classes to students. Also, giving all bus drivers mandatory first-aid and self-defense training, because apparently there are a lot of fights on buses.

4. Increasing the length of time that the "security checkpoints" on the entrances to campus are active. (However, one thing I have noticed is that there are security checkpoints on the entrances from Route 1, but there is no security checkpoint on the entrance from Adelphi Road. Maybe that is another thing that could be fixed.)

I was telling this to my Amtgard group and one of them said he went to UMCP a long time ago, and back then there was a medieval re-enactment group that also had a way of helping to solve the problem. They offered an escort service where someone could call them and they would send out someone dressed as a knight in armor to escort the person where they wanted to go. I imagine this is likely to work, because if there's a guy wearing armor and carrying a sword, a mugger is not likely to try to attack him. Also every year, as a joke, they ran a candidate for the SGA in their "Monarchist Party," and their platform was to make campus safe by building a moat around campus. One time people were so fed up with the other candidates that they voted for the Monarchist Party candidate - and he won!