Archive for February, 2012

Magic is a cold, cognitive experiment in perception

February 26th, 2012

Magic is an art, as capable of beauty as music, painting or poetry. But the core of every trick is a cold, cognitive experiment in perception: Does the trick fool the audience?

Brilliant psycho-entertainment theory from Teller, of increasingly legendary magician twosome Penn & Teller.

Points include the following, which come together in an explanation of how a single trick works:

Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest.

Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself. When a magician lets you notice something on your own, his lie becomes impenetrable.

If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely.

Board games I have played

February 19th, 2012

Game designer Soren Johnson (Civ IV) has put together a mega-list of board games, some of which I’ve actually played! Mostly, I must admit, on iPhone, which has become a fantastic platform for board game conversions. Something of a follow-on to my thing about games for parties, here’s my take on what I’ve played on his list.


Serendipity and Pyrex

February 17th, 2012

Here’s a thing, courtesy the excellent Now I Know newsletter. Corning’s sale of Pyrex to World Kitchen in 1998 had profound effects on crack cocaine production.

That’s because Pyrex used to be made using borosilicate glass, which does not shatter when being subjected to the sudden changes of temperature you get when you splash water on a jug you’ve just taken out of the oven. When World Kitchen took over it started to make Pyrex products for the US market out of tempered soda-lime glass, which is more susceptible to, essentially, exploding in such circumstances.

My fascination with this is partly down to the fact I’ve been watching Breaking Bad, but anyway – part of crack cocaine production requires sudden cooling, which shop-bought Pyrex used to handle just fine. But the new type definitely did not, meaning vital equipment suddenly became hard to find.

The result was an increase in theft of lab equipment from laboratories. Chaos, eh?


February 12th, 2012

Advance Wars

Around 10 years ago I went on holiday to Morocco with a friend called Dave. We stayed in Marrakesh and went up into the Atlas mountains, where I’ve never been so cold and so hot in a single day. Towards the end of the holiday we visited Essaouira, a coastal holiday town. It was October – the sun was hot, but the wind, coming off the sea, was strong and sharply cold. Looking for something to do one afternoon we found ourselves taking shelter at a cafe in a sunny square.

Dave loves chess and go. I don’t know go, and I’ve never played chess with him. To be honest I don’t want to. Apart from being afraid of how good he is – and he’s really good – the thought of playing fills me with panic. With my pieces all laid out at the start, I’m frozen by the thought of all the intense thinking that lies ahead, the possibilities and patterns I’ll fail to see, the profound complexity. But strangely, I love turn-based strategy videogames. And I really love GBA Advance Wars.


iBooks resolution

February 3rd, 2012

An update to last week’s ding-dong over Apple’s EULA for iBooks Author, which suggested that it would not allow you to publish elsewhere the content of a book you’d published through the software – Apple’s updated the EULA to say that it only extends to the file iBooks Author generates, not the content itself, over which you retain all rights. Hooray.