Systems, better Fools And Assumptions by Foxfier

According to legend—which means I don’t want to go look up the year and stuff—teabags were invented when a tea company sent out samples in pretty little scrap-silk bags, and the Americans were too stupid to know that was just packaging.  They dropped the whole thing into the pot.  Didn’t sell a lot of the tea blends, but they wrote back and absolutely raved about the wonderful little packets, could they get more of those?  Not being utter fools, the company’s response was a solid “Oh?  You want to buy?  Sounds great!” and now my kitchen has a few dozen different flavors of tea ready to go for individual cups.  But: stupid customers!  How dare they misuse my brilliant system?!?

Part of keeping kids alive is figuring out how to deal with someone who hasn’t been trained to all the systems that we don’t even notice– all the assumptions we can’t see, because of course that’s just what you do.  They do not inherently know what the important variables are when you say “do not touch that”– is it the effect on the thing being touched?  The effect on the thing doing the touching?  That if you touch it wrong, it will hurt you?  That would be the icing on the cake I’m working on getting mussed, harassing the cat is a bad habit, and electricity or boiling water is dangerous, respectively.

Kids aren’t, generally, stupid.  Nor are they failing to think– that theory was actually tested with brain-scans, and the researchers expected to find that adults were thinking more effectively before they made the obviously correct choice.  Nope.  Turns out that the adults weren’t thinking at all, because they already knew the correct answer, that’s why they were so uniform in giving it– it was the kids who were thinking, and considering vectors that the adults already knew had nothing to do with the problem being solved.  The kids hadn’t found those things out, yet, so they tried different things.  The more intelligent the kid, the more absolutely off the wall “what on earth were you thinking?” variables they could come up with, and test.  (Why, yes, I did remember that study because it fit so well with the “something so stupid only someone very intelligent could have created it” situation, and yes I have very little tolerance for the supposedly Einstein quote about ‘doing the same thing over and over,’ mostly because it gets applied when the person quoting it hasn’t bothered to check if it’s actually the same thing, or just variables that didn’t change anything.  The latter is called science.)

  Moving up a bit in the “what were they thinking?” olympics, Redneck Engineering.  Yeah, a lot of them are in the Hold My Beer category, but when it works, it’s stop-and-cuss brilliant, even when the folks who designed the system(s) and tool(s) used had never considered them being used in such a manner. 

Sometimes, it’s simply: why would you want to do that?  Video Game designers may be recognizing what was known at one point as the “dancing naked on mailboxes” effect, where what players want to do sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with what the designers were thinking people would do in the game.  Yes, someone made a video game where you control individual characters, put in an athletic and busty group of females that could 1) dance in a style based off of a very attractive young lady noted for her sexy dancing, 2) strip down to underwear and 3) jump well enough to reach an elevated surface that let them be seen over a crowd, and they did not realize people would be doing exactly that.  It took several re-designs of the system to make it so that mailbox dancers didn’t make it so you couldn’t access the mailbox.  One of the early fixes was making it so game objects to occupy the same space, thus dancers just fell through the mailbox.  This resulted in people deliberately causing distress in others by standing on the mail box, so it could not be accessed—both the want-to-be-seen dancers, and people who were griefing.  (Keep this dual effect in the back of your mind, it’ll come up later.)

The mis-match of designer expectations and user expectations can result in major confusion.  Users tend to have this crazy idea that systems should serve them, not the theoretical goal of the system designers.

 Sometimes, this is something you really need to fight, because the goal is to get a specific result for a third party.  Pencil-whipping documentation in the Navy is not going to make the measurements off of the system accurate, even if it does make things easier for the users. 

When the users are the ones who decide if the results are desired, then demanding that they use it the way you want them to is just silly.  My favorite example is the OK Cupid rating system, which was designed to help you find a date that was attractive to you.  So it sorted the results on a scale of one to five, with “one” being “not if she were the last woman on earth”– which, if she also rated you a 1, would send you both a note to that effect– and five automatically sending her a “hi, you’re cute” break-the-ice note.  The guys who designed the system then, with a straight face, a ““reported that amazingly few women were rating men as a 5… (OK, mostly straight face, the profiles they used as examples are folks who work there so there’s teasing involved.)

Now, the data in the post makes perfect sense if you look at the system from the perspective of the results that an individual using it gets; roughly one in three men were rated as “I do not want to see this profile ever again, and tell him yeah, you too if he thinks I’m ugly” and low single digit percent were rated “automatically send them a note saying I think he’s cute.”  Meanwhile, women were rated in a rather nice rainbow-arch, slightly heavier to the least attractive but high single digit percent being among the most attractive.  Gals tended to contact guys who were below average on the scale, while guys overwhelmingly went for the top 25%.  If you’re aware that guys are very visual, while gals are tea-leaf reading off of everything from ‘the profile picture is sports gear, I don’t do sportsball’ to ‘this guy is way out of my league, I don’t even want to see this, probably fake anyways’, the pattern makes perfect sense.  If you’re expecting to get accurate data on visual attractiveness, you are going to draw the wrong conclusions.

So, is this an example of a foolproof system finding that the universe has made better fools?  Or that the ‘idiot’ user is just using the system in a way the designer didn’t expect, because it gets them the results they want?

This is an important consideration when you’re making any system– say, social safety nets.  It doesn’t matter that the idea is to help people.   You have to think about what people will actually do, both in innocence and with deliberate malice.  Like blocking off the mailbox in a game, because you can.  At the same time, if you design with an eye on nothing but the possible abuses, you block off the ability of people to do anything good, much less anything fun, and if you can’t force them to use your system…they’ll go somewhere else.

162 thoughts on “Systems, better Fools And Assumptions by Foxfier

  1. Turns out that the adults weren’t thinking at all, because they already knew the correct answer, that’s why they were so uniform in giving it– it was the kids who were thinking, and considering vectors that the adults already knew had nothing to do with the problem being solved. The kids hadn’t found those things out, yet, so they tried different things. The more intelligent the kid, the more absolutely off the wall “what on earth were you thinking?” variables they could come up with, and test.

    Something similar was found in chess players. It isn’t that the greats think through possible positions faster, but that they never even see the bad moves. In the same way as someone who has played for a few years regardless of skill never sees the illegal moves.

    TL;DR: Rousseau was a bastard and the Tabula Rasa theorists should be squished between perfectly smooth plates.

    1. As I recall, being a former tournament player, research showed that better chess players see the position in blocks, not individual pieces and squares, and are often able to use prior knowledge of how to handle such blocks..But top chess players also calculate more accurately and rapidly than most lower rated players…

    2. In computer chess that process of throwing away the useless (or down right stupid) moves is referred to as pruning because the moves are viewed as a tree. Figuring out how to do that pruning was the point where Computer Chess started being able to give masters (and grand masters) a run for their money. I think several of the programs (particularly Deep Blue) were modified with input from actual masters to create heuristics for pruning, especially early game when the tree is huge.

    3. That does explain why in air accident investigations there is a tendency for experienced pilots to give far less useful eye-witness accounts than people who know nothing at all about aviation.

      Pilots will report what they think was supposed to happen, or was in the realm of what they considered possible. Whereas people with no knowledge at all would report *exactly* what they saw, no matter how impossible.

      1. Except, non-experienced folks will sometimes fill in different experiences as a cause. There are numerous aviation accident reports filled with “the engine sputtered” and then crashed into the ground. Investigators will then do the reconstruction and find that the engine was at full power at impact.

        The non-experienced witness filled in their own experience as a reason for the crash. Humans are good at pattern recognition. To the average witness their experience is movies. And in the movies (for dramatic tension) the engine always sputters, and then immediately the plane goes into a dive and crashes. So their pattern is that if a plane crashes it must have been an engine problem. Despite the fact that without engines planes can and do glide for a long time (as an example, USAir 1549).

        I’m only a general aviation pilot, and not an expert in aviation. But most pilots I know are very reluctant to assign cause for a given accident without evidence. Frequent pilot message boards and you’ll see the common refrain, let’s wait for the accident review. We all know that it ends up being not one thing, but a string of things that lead up to the final cause. It has a name, the “accident chain”. I’ve been in many seminars with real accident investigators. Their process is top notch. They don’t take anybody’s statement (pilot or otherwise) at face value. They are very evidence driven.

  2. If you want to waste a couple of hours down a rabbit hole, search for ‘Redneck Invention’. You’ll laugh, you’ll groan, you’ll say “WTF,O?”.

    One of my personal favorites is the Redneck Chandelier — two drop lights duct taped to a coat hanger.
    Can not run out of time. Time is infinite.
    You are finite. Zathras is finite. This…is wrong tool.
    No, no, no. Very bad. Never use this.

    1. Don’t disparage my coffee maker built from a rusty 10 inch circular blade, salvaged parts from a failed Mr. Coffee, temperature control safety elements jumpered, and a three dollar mechanical timer. It’s been pumping and boiling making my morning coffee for over two years now, thank you very much! 🙂

      1. Bah, that’s simply an effective solution engineered from salvaged parts. I’ve seen a #10 can repurposed as a vacuum reservoir on an old Ford that worked as well or better than the original, several iterations of “boats” both mechanical and chemically powered made from everything from egg crates and PVC to concrete, and a whole slew of “but it will get you there” fixes in the old auto shop, creative uses of duct tape and vinyl siding in homes, and radio and wifi antennas that I’d say qualify as works of art.

        There’s much you can say about the various flavors of Florida man and his Redneck hero buddies, but one thing you cannot accuse them of is a lack of creativity and willingness to try something, even if weird, dangerous, and decidedly unnatural.

    2. Rocket City Rednecks.

      I liked the sample of the book.

      I knew a guy later, who generally had some good advice, and he watched the show. I forget if he liked it, or if it had some aspect he had a major problem with.

    3. >> “One of my personal favorites is the Redneck Chandelier — two drop lights duct taped to a coat hanger.”

      MY personal favorite is the Redneck Helicopter Sarah’s engineer son used to take out the non-redneck chandelier. I daresay the rednecks won that one.

  3. For those wondering, this is the dance:

    There were outfits that can almost match that outfit, too– and yes, I helped people get them. 😀

    1. Online games with naive developers is always a favorite topic of mine. I’ve seen far too many developers working on their upcoming title, gushing about some systems they plan to implement that they think will be simply amazing. And while I’m reading or hearing about the system, I already know *exactly* how players are going to ruin it. Sure, lots of players will do stuff “as intended”. But it only takes a very small fraction of players to decide, “It would be really fun to screw over other players by…”. And that mechanic is suddenly radioactive.

      Ironically, it’s often the devs pushing player conflict via pvp that tend to be the most clueless.

    2. Thank you, FF. People like me, not plugged into the gamer world at large, had no idea what you were talking about there.

      (Personal opinion: this shows that at least some artists know the difference between “sexy” and “porn video audition” dancing.)

      1. :laughs: Well, it’s over fifteen years since they were having that fight, so it’s not even gamer world at large anymore!

        Definitely a flattering choice for the singer, too.

        The /dance emote was a *brilliant* move by the World of Warcraft designers, honestly– this copy isn’t very good, but someone edited in characters and you can get the idea

    3. Been a while since I saw that one! I figured WoW was the game in question but wasn’t sure who the dancer could be,

      1. It was pretty well noted at the time on forum boards that the night elf female dance was based off of the performer above, and videos circulated. It probably was also worth noting that out of all the dances at launch, the night elf female dance was the only one that could be considered “sexy”.

        The human female dance, in comparison, was (and presumably still is) the macarena.

        1. I was never into MMOs so I missed, well… Pretty much all of that. I game to get away from people rather than deal with more of their mess and everything I saw from my friends who went hard into WoW left me…less than impressed. Every once in a while I do consider giving FFXIV a shot (Fox can be persuasive and I wouldn’t mind running with her and her husband on top of how cool the lore and classes are) but that’ll have to wait until I’m properly settled in elsewhere.

          1. I split my evenings between reading and playing Everquest II, since there is pretty much nothing on TV except shows that beat you over the head with their “wokeness”. I’m in a pretty chatty guild of older folks, so that constitutes a major part of my “social” life; being cooped up working from home the past couple of years. And I’ll play virtually any race/class/gender; especially the combinations that self-appointed experts say can’t be done solo, or don’t work in groups or raids.

            1. :looks from Mike to her husband:

              If I didn’t know he’s on FF14….

              “Don’t roll that style, it is terrible.”
              :tries it anyways:

  4. Very interesting post! With respect to the part about how systems are actually used, my experiences as a social worker, attorney, and teacher are that (1) all systems can be gamed, and therefore will be gamed, and (2) the system owner can cut down on gaming dramatically–if it wants to do so…Which in the case of Medicare and a number of other social programs, for example, the Government obviously doesn’t want to do….

  5. Off topic question, but does anyone know any good references in how women talk with each other about ‘neck that turns the head’ relationships?

    I’ve got a couple characters in a relationship where he’s the data gatherer and she is the decision maker. I already understand how they work together (he lays out what they know, she lays out what they’ll do) but it hit me, I have no idea how she would describe that with other women. I presume this is a thing, and in a society where the guy is supposed to be the head, I’d expect it to be a bit more subtle that “he hasn’t asked because I haven’t asked him to yet” but I have no idea how that would be expressed.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Well, my gut reaction is that I wouldn’t talk to someone about my making most of the decisions, unless things were going so very badly that basically I was the only one doing anything.
      (IE, “I don’t care, whatever you want, dear” situations.)

      If I was talking to someone, they’d have to be EXTREMELY trusted– like, best friend, help you hide the bodies type trusted. Heh, the person I’d trust for that conversation would be… my husband…. sorry, I thought it was amusing. 😀

      Husband and I have areas where one or the other will be the one that lays out “here’s what we’ll do,” the other has a chance to check for issues/assumptions/missed information, and there’s various levels of veto power. That, we’ll talk about, it’s just “oh, that’s Fox’s thing,” “Oh, that’s Elf’s thing.” And I am totally willing to lay down the fluttery-who-me-think? thing when I get a spidey sense that someone is pushing way too hard.

      But stuff like the godmother who was actually doing all the Stuff for her figure-head husband? NOBODY breathed a word about it while she was live, and if she wasn’t my godmother my mom probably wouldn’t have mentioned it inside a thousand miles of where anybody knew the lady. She would’ve died of embarrassment at the dishonor to her husband, if they hadn’t both been dead by that time.

      On the other hand, we knew a couple where the husband was the figure head– and he was head of the line to inform his wife of all the hard work he did. Eventually, she got tired of it and left him. Business collapsed.
      Example, they did a yearly company BBQ. She organized all the orders, hand made a half-dozen different types of salads, ordered the invitations, bought or ordered all the tables and settings, and set up the day before. Selected the meat, in some cases hand-cut the meat, marinated it, and hauled the containers of meat out to the BBQ that she’d ordered and prepped.
      He put the meat on the grill and took it off, and accepted the complements on how great “his” picnic was.
      The year the wife broke her wrist, my mom helped set up– along with us kids, her kids didn’t, and neither did her husband. It conflicted with his social obligations. (Both were very heavily scheduled, as were the kids, but she was the one who would Of Course clear her calendar for about two weeks prior, which is how mom found out that she needed help.) And he complained because she ordered some of those salads, instead of doing home-made.
      In that case, mom brought it up, and she just absolutely went *blank* because she’d walled out that, well, no she *wasn’t* supposed to just sacrifice everything so her husband could get complements and she could get the complaints from him.

      1. That makes sense. I think these two have a healthier dynamic than that. Fundamentally her first response is to act then assess, while he assesses then acts, so they end up balancing each other out. But she’s still generally the one who’s making the call whether to do X or Y, because she is the one who is naturally decisive about things.

        Sort of the ultimate example is a story I’ve about half written. Someone they both care about disappears under mysterious circumstances. She’s convinced she knows who did it and goes human missile after them, while he’s not sure what really happened, and his response is to go investigate things. Funny thing is they’re both right.

          1. It’s turning out to be a lot of fun, because it really highlights how differently they function, and why they end up complementing each other so much.

      2. If you ain’t chopping the ingredients or washing pots, pans, utensils, plates & glasses, you ain’t working.

        Speaking of which, I need to make a grocery run for tomorrows Nor’Easter,

      1. Ok thank you. So basically they don’t talk about it at all, it’s just part of the unspoken social radar.

        And in cases where it really is significant whether or not a thing happens, and she is the one who hasn’t made up her mind on it, she’ll likely just skip past the question and reply that she’s not sure if she wants that yet.

        Thank you!

    2. In such a society, she might lay it out for her daughter or maybe a daughter-in-law . . . but I think it’s mostly just understood by absorbing it by living in that family.
      Maybe a much-liked daughter-in-law who just doesn’t get it and whose husband doesn’t get it. Since that creates a failure mode in the son and daughter-in-law’s relationship.

      For “he hasn’t asked because I didn’t ask him to”, try the equivelent of “Oh, well, he’s been so very busy, I’ll remind him about that.” Think saving face methods of communication. Always put the appearance first, that he’s the head, when talking to anyone outside the couple/very tightly trusted group who will help.

      And since this is a story, Show, not Tell, will work just fine here. Show her relationship with her husband, show her covering for him not leading. She doesn’t need to tell anyone. She might say something like “Oh, he’s so busy, you can always ask me to remind him of things,” to folks if the reason she’s running things is that he doesn’t remember the things.

      1. Thank you. That helps get my head around how that all would be handled.

        Basically, even if everyone knows, they still talk as though it is the other way around, and it is never started unless it is required for someone not to break things.

        Which sounds like is why you’ve got mother pulling aside their daughters and giving ‘the neck points the head’ speech, even to the daughters who don’t want to drive the bus and are completely confused by the concept.

        Thank you.

    3. Mom always got what she wanted. I asked her once how she did that, and she said “I mention it three times, and wait until it becomes his idea.” Then once he made that decision she had everything all lined up to jump into action before he could change his mind or come up with too many objections.

  6. For a formal treatment of systems and their issues, I recommend “Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail’ by John Gall ( This was given to me shortly after I completed my engineering degree and was invaluable throughout my career.

    Irony is that today when I looked it up I discovered it is no longer in print.

    From the book – The fundamental theorem of systems: ‘New systems mean new problems’.

      1. What’s that old meme, with the two venerable gentlemen, saying something to the effect of “the solution to your old problem has created your current problem; the solution to your current problem will create a new problem”

        1. Venerable? I’d take prehistoric.

          I get the impression that Ogg told that to Drogg back when they were discussing how to make and tend fires.

    1. “New systems mean new problems.”

      Never read that particular book but I could go on-and-on about how the above is true.

      Sounds like a good corollary to Finagle’s General Law of Dynamic Negatives.

  7. Hum, hum hum, hum, hum. Sans a free market, systems often designed to serve the maker, not the user.
    Government today.
    Bums, oops, I mean homeless.

    Bureaucrats love bums, the more camping and crapping on the street the more tax and graft money ends up in the bureaucrats’ pockets. All of today’s anti-homeless legislation, regulation. administration produces a larger population of bums.. A bug or a feature?

  8. I just had one of those system/user experiences.

    The kitchen isn’t going to be ready until April, so I requested they leave the refrigerator in the box (so it won’t get scratched or paint-sprayed or whatever).

    The delivery guys show up.
    “Where do you want it?”
    “Just put it inside, wherever,” I respond.
    “But this is a drop-off, not a delivery.”
    “Yes, but can’t you drop it off, inside?”
    “But that would be delivery.”
    “So, you can put it in the garage, but not the house?”
    “We can put it wherever you’d like.”
    “I’d like it in the house.”
    “But you said you wanted it in the box”
    “I do, but I want it in the house.”
    “That’s not drop-off.”

    This went on and on until one of the guys finally said, “The box will not fit through the door. If you want it in the house, we need to unbox it, which is delivery.”

    Light bulb moment! The system is based on SIZE, not location or box state (enboxedness?), per se.

    1. Hint:
      Leave the cardboard bottom on the fridge. Just tilt it up a bit to ensure no nails, tacks, or staples are sticking out. You should be able to slide the fridge where you want it without screwing up the floor or the fridge. Then just tip it enough to get the cardboard off before putting it the last few inches into place.

  9. Absolutely love this Foxfier. Everything from the kids looking at problems from all angles because they don’t already know the agreed-upon solution, to people using things in unexpected and unintended ways. I learned that on as a dungeon master in the old AD&D days. I built in an elaborate challenge thinking it would keep the team occupied for quite a while. Instead my team came up with 2 immediate out-of-the-box solutions, easily sidestepping all my clever traps and turned it into a 10 minute adventure.

    All very well said.

    1. I had the opposite problem. I created an elaborate puzzle and…the game ground to a halt. Tedious repetitive failures to make any progress.

      Another time, the players were utterly frustrating. Why did NOBODY think to try walking backward through the magic doorway?

    2. And you’re the DM. Now go figure what the NPCs would have had to invest in time and resources to construct your challenge; and how pissed they’d be when it was do easily defeated. There’s a whole ‘nother adventure just begging to be played/told for that alone.

  10. “Pencil-whipping documentation in the Navy…” reminded me of a story, not my story; the story belongs to the three MOS (career fields—Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Criminal Investigation, and Supply) sergeant I worked for for almost two years. It seems that at the start of one of her two tours in S. Korea as supply sergeant, instead of signing for all the weapons in the company sight unseen to speed things up, she insisted on doing a serial number inventory of the arms room. I don’t recall the number, but there was at least one rubber dummy weapon in the racks in the place of an M16. So yeah; the company commander hadn’t been doing his monthly serial number inventories (so he took a hit for that). Someone stole a weapon (and got caught—went to jail, I think she said).

    Then there’s the time the sergeant was at Ft. Polk and the shipping containers (CONEXes) came back from a small invasion; that was an interesting story….

    1. CCO there is a story like that in Starship Troopers where Rico gets into trouble with one of his seniors because he refuses to accept a count and stuff is missing. I wonder If Heinlein experienced a similar issue when he was an ensign. Likely stuff like this has been going on since the Roman Legions, bureaucracy has changed little in 2000 years

      1. I don’t remember that in Starship Troopers, but I think RAH had that in Space Cadet.

        1. It was an incident on Rico’s “3rd LT” cruise…. and the officer who had screwed up wasn’t just out of the unit but dead.

        2. It’s definitely in Starship Troopers. Juan Rico is on his cadet cruise out of the academy. As he’s low man on the officer totem pole he gets the “George” job. One of the things he has to do is keep track of all the various publications and that’s where the count comes in. Wouldn’t surprise me if he had it in Space Cadet too, but I haven’t read that in a dogs age, perhaps two or three dogs ages :-).

          1. Well, I checked out Space Cadet and the scene wasn’t there so I likely remembered the Starship Trooper scene.

      2. There was a brief such incident when Juan is taking over as “george”. I took over a squadron small arms armory shortly before an IG inspection. No problem on missing weapons – but we had six 38 revolvers that were not on the books! This was a period when pilots could still, if they chose, carry the 38, not the 1911, We had some 38s on the books but we had six “extra”.
        They ended up wrapped in plastic and buried in a field for the IG. Did eventually find out what happened. Emergency transfer of a group of guys was walked through, and someone signed off their armory record without noticing the “personal weapons” section was NOT blank.

      3. Can’t quite recall a source right off hand, but somewhere in my translating history is a story that fits that bill- Roman legion, bureaucracy, and petty tyrants. I’d argue that problem goes back further into pre-writing history. Wherever there are humans there will be such, for the hearts of men have both the potential for good an ill within. We are not so far from our ancestors that we have grown out of the brains that roamed the African plains.

  11. There’s also diving into the weeds of ‘what is a system’?

    For a few years now, I having been idly worrying away at “what definition do we use for this, and then what does it really mean?”

    An electrical system is something that can in theory be designed such that components can be modeled, and the system is the sum of the components. Which of course gets screwy with non-linear components, which include some things that can used often in an electrical system. A little likewise, a mechanical system.

    Physics can talk meaningfully of systems (or control volumes) in certain way.

    Eco-systems? My intuition, which I cannot prove, is that we should be able to show that they are disqualified in some way.

    Human behavior is really weird, even weirder than biology or ecology or animal behavior.

    1. Ecosystems cannot be meaningfully modeled in miniature as the model inevitably lacks the variables of the greater system itself. You’d have to include a model of the solar system itself, as the great fusion generator in the sky has quite a bit to say about terrestrial climate, which in turn effects all life. Local climates effect and are effected by their neighbors, and so on. Ecosystems are in a class all their own, as the complexity involved is of greater magnitude than any I can think of off hand.

      1. Complexity class is part of it.

        But, if you are coupled to a greater system, the greater system is effectively random, and you are basically epicycles on the random, can you really be a system?

        Part of my contention that the ecosystems are not actually systems is that the appearance of systems feedback is actually a combination of mismeasurement and cherrypicking.

        If the non constant variation in weather patterns is always shifting around the peaks* and valleys* that animal and vegetable stability would be in terms of, is there ever really a system that doesn’t really consist of picking the subset of plants and animals that display system like behavior?

        *This is metaphorical. One of the introductory metaphors in controls theory is a little ball on a slope. If it is on a peak, a small movement will cause it to go off to the slide, and is unstable. If on a valley, if you move it to the side a small amount, there is a small restoring force that pushes it back towards the center. This gets called stable.

        1. There’s also the fallacy that the Earth is a “closed” system. Most of the ecofreaks have bought into that fallacy. Continuous energy input via solar radiation. Waste recycling and resource replacement on a billion year scale due to continental drift and vulcanism. (Only becomes closed when mantle freezes up.)

    2. Some thoughts on ‘systems’ categories.

      Explicitly designed systems – what us engineers do. Electrical, mechanical, fluidic and combinations thereof.

      Explicitly designed systems that involve human behavior. The games discussion above falls into this category. So does most of what government attempts.

      Human behavior that ‘looks’ like a system. See the economy.

      Aspects of the natural world that ‘look’ like a system. Ecosystems fall here as does climate.

      I would probably argue that the bottom three categories need a nomenclature other than ‘system’.


        1. Organic and living are both entirely too broad when you are trying to make a point to someone who wants to be entirely too clever.

          Pharmaceuticals are much more feasibly practical an engineering project than a human society.

          And we still have people coming from chip design to pharma, utterly convinced that pharma will be as tractable as chip design.

          There actually are a few people who can be reached by nailing this stuff down properly.

          1. Sadly, terminology won’t help when someone is bound and determined to fail to understand basic concepts because they’re simply too clever for such a thing…..

      1. Yes, I am pretty sure we need to split out the nomenclature.

        I think part of the general issue of screwed up is malice, but there are specific issues where people are confused about how easily we can borrow understandings from one category of system, and apply them legitimately to others.

        Though, climate is a really weird example. For sufficient simplifying assumptions, we can legitimately describe a large homogeneous sphere radiant heating and cooling as a system, in the physics sense. An issue occurs when we model with sufficient complexity and official model resolution. When you have enough variables and coupling thrown together, that are not fully known, there is some form of processing error that is practically difficult.

        Another limiting case for climate, the meteorological concept of weather systems. It is an abstraction that seems apparent to human senses, but is clearly not isolated as might be in the physical usage.

        There’s a spectrum of complexity that is obviously an important part of this.

        Most useful engineering tools are things that can be broken down to very simple situations. Chemistry and biology are more complicated than that. Then we probably have climate, eco systems, weather, rivers, etc. We can dam rivers, and get some utility thinking about systems, but we are clearly missing a bunch of information about flow and about the river bed. (We /never/ know the complete properties of the soil under and around the river. We can test points, but it is a continuum with varying properties.) Beyond that, we have animal behavior, and then human behavior.

        I’m not completely sure how you divide or sort the steps on this spectrum, but whenever you go up a step, things get more screwy.

        1. I’ve been thinking about this issue for many years and haven’t gotten anywhere beyond noting that physics works because the problems are simple and even physics throws up it’s hands when it comes to anything much more complicated than two inert bodies. Once you bring in self interested bodies that interact and can change the system, fuggadeaboutit.

        2. It looks like getting into the astrophysics weeds (dark matter/dark energy) starts going beyond “physics” and gets closer to [nope, I don’t want to use the word “religion”] “theology”. Suggestions for a better word would be appreciated.

          1. Ahaa!

            You’ve touched on something that is at least in a related area of complication.

            Sensors fundamentally have resolution limits. This implies something about the sensor arrays we can build, and the universe.

            We assume that there is something real to measure. Instrument limits the information we can have about the something. Not enough information, and we spin our wheels trying to find it, getting nowhere.

            We may have launched straight into cosmology and reading the entrails of the instruments to guess the universe without doing the back of the envelope to confirm if it would be productive.

          2. Last night’s comment seems to have gotten lost.

            Hadda ‘Ooh Shiny’.

            Basically, the sensors we can possibly make to look at the universe have resolution limits.

            So, this is actually a wee bit related.

  12. Heh. I recall the devs at Bungie losing their sauce with respect to people playing their game “wrong”.
    The Vault of Glass raid in Destiny ended with a climactic boss battle on the end of a bottomless chasm. And, of course, a good chunk of the boss’ attacks were dedicated to blasting your characters of the edge.
    But if you speced out the abilities of one class correctly, and lured the boss slightly closer to the edge, you could return the favor.

    And the damning of their own players as cheaters for using the abilities and situations that the dev team had provided them with, was loud and vehement.
    Which was bad enough on its own, but it set off an epic slippery slope. To the point where devs were calling players cheaters for just about everything. (Like players using NPC sniper positions. They’re positions with a commanding view of the area. The PCs have the option of having sniper rifles. Of COURSE they’re going to use those spots.)

    1. The best games are often the ones where the developers design with players abusing the hell out of the mechanics in mind.

      It is much harder, but that kind of work also ends up producing a better product even if no one finds an unforeseen interaction.

      1. Part of it is world view– if you think part of the fun in the game is rewarding folks for creative use of rules as written, it makes it *cool* when they come up with something interesting.

        1. I am playing a game where there is a YouTube guy, not employed by the game, who keeps organizing games of tag, or hide and seek, or parkour challenges, or even PVP tournaments, or guided walks to cool areas of the game. The devs like him a lot, as he is not trying to break anything but is adding content; and they even reopened an old version of a town, mostly so that he could organize the hide and seek games there.

    2. :facepalm:

      Good heavens. As much as I hate the “NPCs can do something gamers can’t do” or “you can’t do to NPCs what they do to you” stuff in game design, making the design choice that the players can do what NPCs do AND THEN COMPLAINING WHEN THEY DO is annoying.

      1. “you’re playing our game wrong!”

        I think game devs could do worse than to hand their games to a speed-runner and see whether the things he comes up with are cool enough to leave, or ruinous enough to patch.

        1. That’s basically what open beta systems do– make the new patch available to the utter fanatics, see if anything’s broken.

                1. The trick is, there are a *lot* of types of gamers. 😀

                  Part of why Final Fantasy 14 works out is that they focus on a relatively small range of gamers, focuses that work well together, and have all those flavors in the design crew.

        2. Back in the days of text adventure games, HP had a variant called “Warp”. Picture a superset of Advent (I think Warp slightly predated Zork), written on off hours by a couple of Odd developers. Demented Odd developers…

          One of the more interesting ways they’d kill off a player was the “Used-the-wrong-magic-word” room. Use one of the words from Advent and you got in the room. No exit, so if you hadn’t saved your game, you got screwed.

          The program only ran on the HP3000 minicomputer–I’ve never found source code in the wild, and never thought to glom onto a copy back in the day.

          Spent a lot of time messing with the game.

          1. I recall a game in which if you tried a Doom cheat code the game would kill your character. Duke Nukem 3D maybe?

    3. In contrast…

      Final Fantasy XI, at launch, had two designated tank (the guy who gets hit by the monster instead of the rest of the party) jobs (Not classes. JOBS!). Warriors were available from the moment you started playing. The Paladin job could be unlocked when you reached level 30 in any job (Final Fantasy XI allows players to switch between jobs whenever they’re “at home”), and was much better at absorbing hits, but much weaker in doing damage to enemies.

      Shortly afterwards, the developer – Square-Enix – introduced a new job called Ninja. This particular job had a number of magic spells that mostly focused on debuffing enemies, but also had a few extra things like a blink spell (absorbs a few hits from enemies before being removed), invisible, etc… When the job was initially released, Square-Enix noted that the job wasn’t popular, and decided it was because too much time had to pass before you could cast individual spells again. So they shortened the timer to almost nothing.

      Remember that blink spell that I mentioned above?

      Players quickly realized that there was now a job in the game that – when played properly – rarely got hit by single-target attacks (area attacks still hit, but most enemies don’t use those). And suddenly, contrary to Square-Enix’s plans, there were now players using the Ninja job as a tank. After thinking the issue over, the developers decided to go with it. The players had figured out something that the developers had not. And while it made the lives of the developers more difficult (content now had to be designed against both tanks that could take hard hits, and tanks that normally just never got hit), the developers to their credit didn’t shut down what the players had come up with. Warriors were shifted from a tank role to a damage role.

      1. Too many game developers consider unexpected things that players come up with to be bugs or exploits. I’ve always considered banning a player from using or failing to report an “exploit” to be stupid, and a fundamental lack of understanding of human nature.
        First act by the company should be to identify and lock down the bug. Unfortunately, I’ve seen games where the bug remains unblocked and active for years. If you have a flaw that fundamental in your coding, then odds are it’s going to be serious enough to start costing you paying customers.
        Second act should be to understand the nature of the bug, and whether it is stable, and has value as a function within the game. “Oh, you discovered a way to drag your opponent around in the game so they can’t get any spells off! Cool, can we duplicate it and limit the duration and make it into a special skill, spell, or ability?”
        Third Act should be to identify those people who found the bug, and provide them some kind of unique prize for doing so. And yes, the prize needs to be big, powerful, useful or flashy enough to be highly desired over the benefits of the exploit itself.
        Fourth Act should be an evaluation of just how badly the exploit may have damaged the game environment. For instance, if one or two players made trillions of platinum, but everyone else is the same, consider leaving those players with that loot. They can’t spend enough to disrupt the economy in game. If everyone has trillions, then you have an inflationary problem. Or the players may have end game weapons, armor, abilities, for that particular release of the game. Make sure the next release has better stuff they don’t have.

  13. It is funny how things evolve. Putting tea in little bags allowed the tea merchants to use their sweepings efficiently and you end up using more tea since you only get one cup per bag so you pay more for less. I use my mother’s old brown teapot and go through the whole warming the pot, bringing the pot to the kettle not the kettle to the pot, and all the rest. I pay more per unit of tea, but get more team per unit since you can rewet good tea several times. And my tea tastes better than that crap in bags.

    1. And my tea tastes better than that crap in bags.

      De gustibus; you like it better than the result from bags. See also, the “pull bag out immediately” vs “keep bag in cup” debate.

      Financially, the cost per serving of tea is going to depend heavily on waste and desired quality. If I am in the mood for one cup each of six different varieties, the cost-per-cup of making a pot of each, even before considering possible re-use of leaves, is going to go up quickly. When my in-laws are here, we might actually use all 16 varieties currently in the kitchen, plus whatever they brought.

      Then there’s the issue of how often you want your cup(s) of a specific blend; my favorite herbal blend, I might actually use enough of to be worth finding in a size suitable for buying in sizes larger than individually sealed foil bags– but I’d also likely have done that right before I found out I’m expecting again, in which case the entire container would go to waste because it cannot be drunk in anything but extreme moderation while pregnant, and it’s not a great idea to do that, either.

      Same reason that a Keurig is a great money-saver for my grandmother in law, who has *one* cup of coffee and only most mornings, and adores something different every day– it would cost an arm and a leg for our household, where it’s one to three pots of coffee a day, and if we want to change something about the coffee we add stuff to it.

      1. We make it by the pot and like it very strong and hot. I like gunpowder oolong tea myself. de gustibus non est disputandum as you say. Nevertheless, the tea in bags is a great way to use up the dust that they wouldn’t get a good price for.

        de gustibus is a very powerful thing. One of the problems with trying to run an economic system top down is that tastes differ and central control requires averages. That’s why socialism runs from glut to shortage and back since they have no way of dealing with distributions

          1. Crappy so called tea in bags. 😇

            It’s true though, socialism can’t deal with averages, never mind distributions. The problem, though, is that you can get very clean, consistent narratives around socialism. It appeals to simple minds.

            1. Depends on where you’re buying your tea bags… hard to have bags be sweepings when bulk is the niche product.

              Socialism suffers from Pretty Story syndrome– it’s a theory, and some folks really like theories, even if they don’t deal well on contact with reality.

      1. I don’t drink it much so when I do I go the full Monty. Honors my mother who couldn’t really do much in the kitchen, but could brew a nice cuppa.

      2. If you drink tea and enjoy it, and let others drink their tea and enjoy it, then you are Doing Tea Properly.

    2. You can get a decent pot of tea by dumping a single bag in the hopper of a Mr Coffee and letting it go to work.

      I think it works better even than steeping the bag in the teapot.

      I have been accused of liking weak tea, however, so YMMV

          1. Also, I was raised on Southern Sweet Tea. Looks a lot like coffee in the pitcher, sweet but not stupid, and six bags to the pitcher, at least. The kind of iced tea that you drink a glass on a hot day will cool you right down and send you back for seconds. And thirds.

  14. I took computer science in the ’90s from one of the guys that did computer science back in the day when you programmed on punch cards. He had a great number of sayings on the subject, which I’ve tried to keep going to the present day. These include-
    “The more you idiot-proof a process, all you’ll get is a better class of idiot.”
    “If the phrase ‘nobody would ever do things this way’ ever crosses your mind or lips, that is the moment you should do it that way to see what happens. Because your end user will do it that way, no matter what.”
    “What is obvious to you isn’t obvious to anyone else.”
    “Assumption is the mother of all f(YAY!)kups.”

      1. “Nothing is fool proof. Fools are ingenious.”
        “When a program fails it will fail at the most inopportune time.”

        I had a large coffee cup (not mug size) of a whole list from the ’80s. Finally faded away.

        The hardware for the Forest Information System I was in charge of (programming and keeping hardware working), failed, hard three times. All three times it failed when I was on vacation … I was the only one who worked on the thing. 1990s so we did have a cell phone. Guess how cell phone friendly Yellowstone, Tetons, and Olympic, National Parks are? Not that we had it on, that was when roaming charges were in force. And it didn’t fail just before we got back. No, it had to fail the Monday after we left leaving the primary system down for two to 3 weeks!!! Luckily there was a synced backup non-primary site. As well as backup process. Dial up was slow, But it worked. (After this job, I wasn’t in charge of any hardware any more … YAY!!!! Love programming. Hated dealing with hardware IT stuff.)

          1. Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning. Rick Cook

              1. “-25 * -1 = -25, do not tell me differently!”

                “Um, okaaaaay. Will get back to you.” What else can you say? (Well a lot. But dang …)

        1. I have two of those coffee cups from 1980/1983, with green bar paint. My wife bought one in a thrift store in Florida for $3 and then found another on ebay just in case I broke the first one. They’re both still readable.

          1. That is the coffee cup.

            Remember “Oliver”. Last time we see him is he has hacked into the IRS to erase his parents filed returns. Next frame we see his father has disappeared. Last frame is Oliver looking out of the frame at us, and “oops”. Do not remember original comic strip name. Morphed into “Opus”, now is something else.

              1. Bingo!!!! Bloom County it is/was.

                I miss Oliver. The other last little panels we got from Oliver was after he’d been caught hacking, and doing stuff. He wasn’t suppose to be doing that again. Naturally they didn’t take away the computer. Sure enough he is back hacking again. Only this time he’s just looking. Last panel has him staring out of the panel at the reader “Someone has to keep an eye on them!”

              1. Yes. What I meant by “OOPS”.

                Gee. If we hack the IRS and delete *you know whose returns … they’ll just disappear? Nah, me either. Otherwise they’d already pull this on President Trump and company.

                * Pelosi, OCA, Harris, Biden, …

  15. Keep fighting the good fight, Sarah. As the immortal Chest Puller (goodnight Chesty, wherever you are!) said: ““All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” Yup. The dullards of the left can’t get away from us this time. 🙂 (BTW, I just hit your tip jar. Awesome stuff.)

  16. System, traffic cameras. Question, what are they really for?

    Answer, not what you think.

    Strong suspicion that the traffic cameras on the Trucker’s Convoy route are being altered to conceal the convoy. Just like the CBC/CTV/Global/CITY-TV coverage. Because their pictures do not match the thousands being taken and displayed all over the web by regular people.

    Because truckers have “unacceptable views” according to the Canadian government and it’s Prime Minister. No traffic cams for you.

  17. Once again, we know the election was frauded, but there’s no actual remedy:

    “The court’s decision essentially made the case that any law to make mail-in ballots universal versus only being allowed in defined circumstances needed to come via an amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution, given the current language. That was the same case former President Donald Trump’s legal team attempted to make. Unfortunately, the courts at the time brushed off their challenge. Now, though it’s far too late to change things, there is some vindication happening on that front.”

    So much for the claim that the courts didn’t find fraud. They ran like whipped dogs.

    1. Of course it’s not too late to change things. Results obtained by fraud are null and void.

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