In Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads, he says “it is a poor school whose favorite students are the ones it does not have to teach.” (page 171). I get what he’s going for, but having lived it, I can also say it’s a poor school whose least favorite students are the ones it does not have to teach. It tends to lead to things like resentfully insisting you do have something to teach the student and forcing them to go through the motions of learning it, or standing in their way when they try to do something they’ll actually learn from. Or an intrusive focus on their personal life.

I feel like the whole concept of favorites is leading people astray here, which is a very Kegan thing to say.

Self Help Epistemic Spot Check Results

In a word: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I reviewed several self-help books with a wide range of scientific backing. For posterity:

Polyvagal Theory
The Tapping Solution/EFT
Full Catastrophe Living/Mindfulness
Exercise for Mood and Anxiety
A Guide to Better Movement
There were a few others I never published because I didn’t get very far into.

As a reminder, epistemic spot checks are checking a book’s early claims for truth/scientific validity/coherent modeling, to determine whether it’s worth continuing. After a few books I concluded that scientific backing didn’t seem that predictive of a book’s helpfulness, and started focusing on modeling. But that wasn’t predictive either.

I never officially decided to quit this project, but I can no longer get excited about checking out a new book, because nothing short of trying it seems to have any predictive ability of whether or not it is helpful. This leads me to believe that most of the effects are placebo effect, not in the sense of  “imagined” as people usually use the word, but in the sense that it’s your own brain doing most of the work, and people just have to try things until something clicks for them, starting with the cheapest. I find this answer deeply unsatisfying, but what are you gonna do?

 

Review: SOMA

I said I wanted to get this done while the game was still in a Humble Bundle, and technically I succeeded, but it turns out it doesn’t matter because I’m not going to recommend it.

SOMA was sold as “Like Amnesia but sci-fi and underwater” and I love all of those things, so I had very high hopes. Hopes that were dashed. I don’t know if my tastes have changed since I played Amnesia or SOMA just wasn’t as good, but I stopped playing two hours in.

If we’re assuming the former, the problem is I’ve played a lot of puzzle games since Amnesia and my standards have gone up. Both Amnesia and Portal have puzzles so you have something to do while running from monsters and…eh. I thought I was cheating myself by looking up solutions so often, but then I solved a few myself and there was still no sense of satisfaction. It’s more just testing what the environment will let you do until the problem somehow goes away.

I was intrigued enough by the story to look up the ending. If you’re looking for something with similar themes, less terror, and better puzzles, I strongly recommend The Swapper, which remains one of my favorite games of all time.

Manganese

In summary: Manganese is an essential nutrient and too much will kill you.

On one hand we have people exposed to manganese is the air from industrial processes. These people definitely get Parkinson’s like symptoms, and in the aggregate score lower on various intellectual tasks. Monkey infants on soy formula (which has more manganese than milk based formulas) had mild neurological effects, so you can take in enough from food alone to be dangerous.

On the other hand, manganese superoxide dismutase is the only thing keeping your mitochondria from melting, and it does several other things besides. So we can’t just throw up our hands and say “no more manganese”, we have to actually figure out a safe level.

The World Health Organization has set the No Observed Adverse Effects Level at 11mg/day, based on the observation that some humans naturally get that much through their diet. As mentioned previously, we know you can get manganese poisoning through food alone, so this is not very reassuring to me.

The most comprehensive source I found on this was this thread on the soylent message boards (they cite several of the same things I did above, all correctly, so I trust their work ). According to their sources, most adults already eat enough Manganese to meet the RDA. I don’t want to put too much stock in the RDA, because neither I nor they could find out how the FDA (or the Linus Pauling Institute) set it. However even if you accept the number, if people are already getting it through diet, and too much is toxic, it doesn’t belong in a multivitamin.

This is worrisome enough to me that I’m tossing my multivitamin and focusing on getting individual missing nutrients through specific supplements (if anyone knows of a balanced B supplement, please let me know). It’s not so bad I’m tossing my protein/vitamin powder, because it has a lower volume of manganese and I don’t eat much at a time- however when it’s gone, I’ll probably switch to a straight protein powder.

 

The Supply Chain Game

When you hear “supply chain”, your first thought is probably not “let’s base a leisure activity around that.” But the world is so big and game development is so cheap now that that this does not stop there being more video games than I can play that cater to my taste in complicated supply chains. If you happen to share those tastes, here are some games to try:

Colonization: Built off the Civilization 4 engine. You build cities near resources on the map, which you can harvest using units of various skill levels, which can then be processed into various goods, again by units of various skill levels. Theoretically you need to build liberty so you can declare war against your colonial power, but I always quit before that stage, because why would I spent time on war when there are supply chains to build. You have to move goods between cities (for processing and selling to the mainland) manually, which makes this my low-thought comfort game.

Anno (1404): This is a whole series based on both trading and supply chains. I would say they made it just for me but there is a combat section :(. I’ve only played Anno 1404, supposedly the best of the series. Anno 2070 is set in post-apocolyptic water world, which seems like it’s even more for me, but it has annoying Ubisoft DRM so I’ve never actually played it. Anyway, the mechanics. James Recommends does a better job explaining than I will, but it is a video, so I will try anyway.

You start on an island that has all the resources you need to keep your peons alive, which you provide by building resource extractors (apple farms) and processing plants (cider mills). As you make them happy they evolve into better people, enabling you to tax them more and build new buildings. Which is good, because these better people have more demands for making them happy. Complicated demands.

For example, Patricians want books, which requires a printing house. Books need indigo (which requires a sufficiently large Oriental settlement on an island fertile for indigo) and paper, which requires a paper mill, which requires lumber input, which comes from a lumberjack hut. Oh and paper mills can only be built on rivers, so you might have to find an island just for that. That’s not too bad. But you also have to build the printing house, which requires glass. Glass comes from a glass smelter, which needs quartz (which requires a higher level Oriental settlement and a quartz quarry) and potash, which comes from a glassworks building that runs on trees.

Put more graphically

What is most unique about Anno is that your resources are limited to the island they were farmed/created on, and if you want them on a different island you have to move them with ships.

Unlike every other game I can think of, Anno lacks a staffing mechanic. All buildings come fully staffed, even if there’s no housing on their island (and there are reasons you generally concentrate your housing on two islands). Housing is essentially a tax farm, with which you get money to build more buildings. I think the purpose of combat here is to create something for you to spend money on that is not more buildings, which is fine, but it involves more strategery and uncertainty than I feel like dealing with in my leisure time. Luckily, Anno lets you turn off pirates and rivals completely so I can build my little anthill uninterrupted.

Tropico: I think I’ve played Tropico 1, 3, and 4, which is enough to say they’re all the same and it doesn’t really matter which one you get.* In Tropico you are the Presidente of a banana republic, and have goals like “build a kickass diversified economy” and… I didn’t commit the others to memory. I think one involves a Swiss bank account?

Tropico’s production supply chains are much simpler than Anno’s, barely more complicated than Civilization’s.  Raw material -> processed good -> ship off the island for money. But it does have a nifty education mechanic. Different buildings require employees of different genders and education levels. You can’t simply overeducate your workforce, because being underemployed makes people dissatisfied and inclines them towards regime change. You could rig the election or kill them, but that has other consequences. You can give them makework, but that gets expensive, especially if you give them makework as teachers and professors and create more education.

Tropico has no combat mechanic, unless you count peasant revolt, which I don’t because it can be averted with good enough supply chains.

 

*I picked up Tropico 5 in the latest Humble Jumbo Bundle, which is around until 4/3, but I’m trying to finish Soma in time to review it while the latest Humble Indie Bundle is up, so I haven’t actually tried it. I assume it’s like the last 4 but with more DLC.

Can History be Moved?

When it comes to history, I lean towards “trends and forces” over the “great man” theory. I’d like to test this. Do you have recommendations for people or especially specific media that would challenge my view?

Some clarifying examples:

– Neither Sabin nor Salk get credit for curing polio, because if one of them hadn’t the other one would have, and if neither had someone else would have. Obviously developing the vaccine faster was a big deal for the kids who would otherwise have caught polio in 1956, but it’s not changing the trajectory of the world.

– Robert Moses may count as a Great Man because he locked NYC into a car-based equilibrium that people are unable to break to this day. In general I think “moved world to a different equilibrium” is going to be a common pattern among people who change the world.

– Dictators killing a bunch of their own people doesn’t count, the effect is too local.

– There’s a reasonable argument John Wilkes Booth counts because Lincoln would plausibly have handled Reconstruction much better than Johnson. But if I learned there were many planned attempts on Lincoln’s life and estimate at least one would have succeeded, Booth would no longer count.

– To the best of my knowledge, whoever started the American civil war doesn’t count, because that was pretty clearly going to happen. But both Grant and Lee do count, because who won the war mattered and there weren’t equally skilled replacement generals. We know this because the north tried 400 people before Grant.

Epistemic Spot Check: Polyvagal Theory/Safe and Sound Protocol/Stephen Porges

I read part of the book The Polyvagal Theory and went to a two day seminar by the author, Stephen Porges. I went because I thought there was a strong possibility EFT worked by affected the vagal nerve, and thought maybe polyvagal theory could explain how. I ended up pretty disappointed.

Once I was at the seminar I was very interested in a protocol Porges developed called Safe and Sound, which purports to cure a number of things including many symptoms of autism, plus misophonia (which I have), by playing songs with certain frequencies filtered. Porges showed very impressive videos of autistic children going from non-functional to neurotypical-passing. He bragged about a 50% improvement rate. He played a sound sample and even on hotel sound system speakers, it had a very definite affect on me, relaxing many muscles. So of course I ordered it.

In a failure of order of operations I didn’t look up the results until after I’d ordered it (I really wanted my misophonia fixed, plus the demo had been so impressive). The paper tries very hard to hide this, but what actually happened was not an average 50% improvement in some patient metric, but that 50% of patients showed any improvement. Given that autism is a high variance disease and children are often receiving multiple interventions, this basically means “didn’t make anything worse, probably”.

But I’d already ordered the thing, so I decided to try it. This was kind of an ordeal, btw. Safe and Sound is available only through “trained professionals”, even though the protocol consists in its entirety of listening to some songs on an MP3 player. And I checked, there’s nothing magic about the MP3 player or headphones they send you, you could do it with any reasonably good pair you had lying around. Based on this, I have to assume the 3-digit price tag and gatekeeping are entirely about prestige, because they’re certainly not about helping people or making money (I’m sure he could make more selling the CDs without the gatekeeping).

The protocol did have an effect, in that it consistently made me very sad. It didn’t have any effect on my misophonia, even though I tried it twice. The occupational therapist tried to insist it had worked because I was blunter and more confident in my last conversation with her, but no, sweety, that was because I was more sure your system was bullshit. Then she recommended I give them more money to do other protocols, which I inexplicably declined. If anyone else would like to try it, I did save some samples.

I am fighting the urge to get into the science of polyvagal theory, because it is really really interesting and has a lot of explanatory power. I put off writing this for five months because I wanted to do a more scientific review. But the empirical results are not just bad, they’re bad while proponents are claiming they are good. I can’t trust someone who does that.

For bonus points, when I asked some pointed questions during the seminar, Porges blew me off. So I’m not going to give polyvagal theory any more brain space, even though it would be so cool if it was true.