Really Awesome Fun Things That I Would Do If I Had Time On My Hands

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I should probably start by acknowledging that, when I say “really awesome fun things,” I mean what other people mean when they say, “weird, pointless, and nerdy things.” In fact, people often respond to my “really awesome” ideas by giving me a strange look and saying, “But… why?” And the only answer I have for that is, “Because… awesomeness.” So keep that answer in your mind as you read this list and think, “But…why?” about everything on it.

Number One: Codify the language used on my imaginary planet

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

On my imaginary planet, they use a language that, unlike English and other Indo-European languages, has a syllabary rather than an alphabet. That means that each syllable is represented by a symbol. This system is not unique to the people of my planet; it is used in some Earth cultures, most notably Japanese and Cherokee. But it is much less widespread than a phonetic alphabet because it tends to be inefficient and more complex. That is, that’s the way it works on Earth. On my imaginary planet, they use a syllabaric language just because I personally think it would be more fun to make up. It actually won’t be too complex because there are only 100 different syllables in their language, and when I say 100, I mean 49, because they count in base seven. The 49 one-syllable words are one-digit integers, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Two-syllable words are adjectives and adverbs.  Three-syllable words are verb roots, (with a fourth syllable suffix determining tense, mood, and aspect) and five-syllable words are nouns. That allows for a vocabulary of as many as 10,001,010,100 words counting in base 7, which is 282,595,348 in base 10. (I should perhaps acknowledge at this point that there is a significant possibility that my math is wrong, because that is a thing that does happen sometimes.) Considering that there are approximately a million words in the English language, (an exact count would be impossible due to the nature of linguistics) it is safe to say that my planet’s imaginary language would not exhaust its capacity for vocabulary. With the exception of verbs and nouns, this language would have a more limited number of words than most Earth languages, and it is my intention for the grammar to also be simpler and involve fewer exceptions to rules. That’s as far as I’ve gotten; I haven’t formed the syllabary or made up any vocabulary yet. Once I do that, the next step is to translate the entire Bible into my imaginary language. And of course, the translation has to be done from the original Hebrew and Greek, because it is vitally important that all of these imaginary people have a scripturally accurate Bible. (Note: This translation could take a while, because I currently do not know Biblical Hebrew at all and only sort of kind of know a little Biblical Greek.)

Number Two: Memorize lots of Pi

I am a little embarrassed to admit that all of Pi that I can remember is 3.1415. Actually, I thought I remembered a few more digits, but it turns out that I had the 9 and the 2 switched. I was right that the next digit after that was a 6, but that was as far as I could get. I used to know a lot more Pi; I think that at one point, I had about 40 digits memorized. Of course, that’s not extremely impressive because there are some extreme nerds out there who have Pi memorized to a bajillion places. But the point is that I want to be one of those extreme nerds because that seems like a fun skill to have.

Number Three: Be an Artificially Artificial Intelligence

I'm pretty sure that's more or less how Cleverbot works.

I’m pretty sure that’s more or less how Cleverbot works.

This game would make use of an anonymous and random internet chat program, of which there are several in existence. Before beginning, I would make a short list of random phrases. In the first chat, I would enter each of these phrases and make a note of how the other person responded. From that point on, anytime someone uses one of my original phrases, I would respond in the same way that person #1 responded. When chatting with person #2, I would use the phrases that had been typed by person #1 in chat #1. Once again, I would keep track of the responses for use in any later situation where someone types those phrases to me. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of chats, I would build up an extensive list telling me how to respond to things that people say. The longer I do this, the more my chat messages would begin to resemble an actual conversation with an actual person.

Number Four: Organize my wardrobe

This is what I need to do. I need to make a list of every non-underwear article of clothing that I own and determine which of them “go with” which others, so that I have a specific list of every outfit I have available. For each outfit, I shall then determine rules for when and where it can be worn depending upon factors such as degree of formality and suitability in cold or hot temperatures. Finally, I shall make a complicated and convoluted chart that tells me when to wear what. The point of this is not to simplify the process of getting dressed or to save time; the point is to have the fun of consulting a chart. Because that’s a very entertaining thing to do.

Number Five: Finish the mancala algorithm

Mancala Board(I use the word “finish” because this is a project that I have started before. See this blog post from June 2012.) When a game of mancala begins, the first player has six choices, and only one of them makes any sense. It is fairly self-apparent that the number of possible moves increases exponentially for each additional move being considered in the calculation, and that the number of good moves also increases to such an extent that there is a very wide variety of possible outcomes. However, the game of mancala is a lot simpler than, for example, chess or scrabble, so it seems that it should be feasible, although ridiculously time-consuming, to create an algorithm determining what the best series of moves is. One goal of this algorithm is to develop a strategy that will always win; another goal is to determine how early in the game it is possible to predict beyond a doubt who will win. As far as I can tell, the best way to develop such an algorithm is to play lots and lots and lots of mancala and try out lots of possible combinations of moves.  It isn’t literally necessary to play out every possible game, but it will be necessary to try out a lot of them, to try out various ways of continuing the game after various sets of opening moves, and to take a mathematical approach to the outcomes.

Number Six: Learn how to talk in Iambic Pentameter

It seems to me that the ultimate test of quick thinking is the ability to maintain a poetic meter and rhyme scheme in conversational speech. One would have to count stressed and unstressed syllables and think of rhymes all while concentrating on communicating whatever it is that one wants to say in the context of the given conversation. I’m not sure if such a thing would be possible, but it would be so totally awesome if it was.

Number Seven: Continue my experiments on whether putting your hands on your face helps you think

Many people, myself included, will sometimes put their hands on their face while they are thinking, and I am curious about why. In the past, I have made up experiments to test the intellectual effects of this gesture. (See these two blog posts from Summer 2012) These tests have obviously been inadequate to answer this question for various reasons. For one thing, they were conducted in the same way, which measured intellectual activity by memorizing a string of random digits. But memorization isn’t the only kind of thought. It seems to me that a strategic game is a more thorough test of effective thought. Chess is the ideal game for this experiment because it has no element of luck and is more intellectually stimulating than certain other games like checkers. (In case anyone is interested, I dislike the game of checkers and am always glad for an opportunity to say so.) The next experiment would involve playing consecutive online chess games, all using the same time limit, for many hours on end. During some games, I would rest my face on my hands while I think, and during other games, I would make sure not to touch my face at all. This experiment would have to be repeated several times on different days in order to decrease the risk of confounding variables. I imagine that I would need to play a few hundred games before calculating the results. Even then, these results would be meaningless unless I came up with further experiments which would involve other people and other methods of measuring intellectual activity.

Number Eight: Memorize cool movies

Star WarsThis one is pretty self-explanatory. It also is quite obvious that the first couple movies that I would memorize would be Star Wars and The Princess Bride. Others that would be high on the list would be the other Star Wars movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and The Matrix. You know, all those movies that cool people quote all the time.

Number Nine: Finish this list

This list is incomplete because there are a semi-infinite number of really awesome fun things that I would do if I had time on my hands. There are a bunch that I had intended to include in this partial list that have temporarily slipped my mind, and I’m going to go ahead and post this without them because what I have here is already sufficiently long. Then there are others that I thought of a long time ago and have completely forgotten, and many more that simply haven’t ever occurred to me yet. Just to finish the list would be an unachievable goal. But it would be entertaining to spend a lot of time working on it.

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The Mancala Algorithm

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One of my projects for this summer is to work out an algorithm for winning Mancala. Really, Mancala is a very simple game. At any given time, a player has a maximum of six possible moves, which makes it strategically much easier and much more basic than a complex game like chess or scrabble.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t know the rules of Mancala, I’ll describe the game briefly. The board is set up with the long sides facing the two players and four stones in each of the circular holes. The oval holes at the ends are the mancalas; each player’s mancala is the one on the right side from his or her perspective. In each move, a player picks up the pieces from one of his or her spaces and puts one piece in each subsequent space, moving in a counterclockwise direction around the board. They put a piece in their own mancala if they pass it, but they skip over their opponent’s mancala. If the last piece ends in the mancala, the player gets to move again. If the last piece ends in a space that had been empty before then, and it is across from a space in which the opponenet has pieces, all of the pieces in those two spaces go into the mancala and the player gets another move. After every move that does not end in the mancala and is not a capture, it is the other player’s turn. The game continues until one player has no pieces in any of his or her six spaces. Then the other player puts all of the pieces on his or her side into their mancala and both players count how many pieces are in their mancalas. The player with the most wins.

For the most part, the strategy is pretty obvious and straightforward. Whenever you have a move that will end in your mancala or that will result in a capture, it’s a good move. You always want to be aware of how many pieces are in each space because you don’t want to let your opponent make a capture. It’s good strategy to have a few empty spaces on your side at any given time so that your opponent will be forced to make certain moves to avoid having pieces captured. My strategy, which generally works well, is to accumulate a lot of pieces in a couple spaces and then to not move them unless it’s necessary. It’s safer and gives you more control when you have more pieces on your side of the board than your opponent has on theirs, but it does mean that you’ll lose if they can get a capture. The strategy is simple enough that, if both players are fairly good, the person who goes first will almost always win. My project now is to develop a more specific strategy that is infallible and always wins, if such a strategy exists.

So basically, this summer, I’m going to play a whole lot of Mancala and write down every game. I haven’t bothered to calculate the exact number of possible games, but I’ve estimated it to be a little under 10 million based on the average length of a game and the number of possible moves at any given time. Obviously, I’m not going to play out all 10 million of those games, but I will need to play at least a couple thousand. There probably is a faster way to develop this algorithm, but I’m too lazy to figure out what it is.

If that sounds like an incredibly nerdy way to spend my free time this summer, I’ll have you know that I am planning to do a lot of other stuff, too. Like writing science fiction and reading a lot and playing lots of online chess and scrabble and making a new list of favorite songs (This one will be either the top 200 or the top 250, I haven’t decided yet) and developing a system for quantifying emotions and doing scientific experiments to determine how I learn best and… actually, I guess we’re going to just have to face the fact that I’m totally going to be a nerd this summer.