Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nuclear War (False Alarm)

Wow. This is intense.

Five ballistic missiles were heading towards the Soviet Union from the west coast of the US.

On the monitor in front of Petrov the word "launch" flashed repeatedly in red. The horror of what was unfolding in front of him threatened to overwhelm the officer and he was initially frozen with fear.

If he believed his eyes he was witnessing a preemptive strike by the US, which could kill thousands of his people – the start of World War III.

Protocol demanded that Petrov, then 44, immediately telephone a senior Kremlin official.

However, he hesitated. The lieutenant colonel knew his call would probably trigger a retaliatory attack and a devastating nuclear war could ensue.

He was suspicious that Soviet ground radar had not picked up the approaching missiles. He was also mistrustful of the satellite technology, which was still in its infancy.

As the most senior man in the bunker, he faced an awful choice – follow the rules and make the call or trust his instincts and simply do nothing.

Petrov took the second option and reported the incident as a false alarm.

As the minutes ticked by his heart was racing and he could feel beads of sweat trickling down his back. Petrov's story is told in a new drama-documentary about his life, The Man Who Saved The World, which reveals how close the world came to nuclear war on the night of September 26, 1983.

"I took a gamble," admits Petrov.

"It was probably 50:50 but I had a funny feeling in my gut."


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

South China Sea

Interesting background on the South China Sea situation. Easy read, and I learned something.

Under Unclos, coastal nations get an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) 200 nautical miles from their shores. In that zone they have sole exploitation rights over all natural resources, though other nations have the freedom of navigation and overflight. The waters within 12 nautical miles are "territorial waters," where countries have essentially full sovereignty.

An EEZ also applies to the area around a country's islands too—so whoever controls the Spratlys and Paracels, for instance, also gets a large chunk of ocean to go with them. China's nine-dash line not only encompasses those strategic bits of rock but also overlaps with several countries' EEZs. [snip]

China's provocations operate at various levels. The most basic is sending fishing trawlers to fish in other countries' EEZs. It backs them up with refueling ships—disguised as fishing boats—and even sends its own coast guard to extricate them when they get caught. This sort of behavior has prompted Indonesia, for one, to beef up its military presence and turn to nano-satellites to better track potential trespassers in its waters.

China has also built artificial islands islands in the South China Sea by pumping sand onto live coral reefs and then paving them over with concrete. This kind of action—which also does great environmental damage—gives China a base (paywall) for air and sea patrols.

The next level is to act as if these artificial islands are real land, with their own EEZs and territorial waters. Under Unclos, such artificial islands don't have maritime rights, and nor do submerged reefs. But in a "freedom-of-navigation operation" in May, the US sent a naval vessel deliberately within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly archipelago's Fiery Cross Reef, on top of which China has built an island. (It has a runway for fighter jets, a hospital with its own garden, and even a farm with about 500 animals.) In response, China scrambled jets and shadowed the US vessel with three warships, ordering it to leave the area.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Synaptic pruning


You might find this interesting.

...Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse...


Have you ever felt like your brain is full? Maybe when starting a new job, or deep in a project. You're not sleeping enough, even though you're constantly taking in new information. Well, in a way, your brain actually is full.

When you learn lots of new things, your brain builds connections, but they're inefficient, ad hoc connections. Your brain needs to prune a lot of those connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep.

Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

Have you ever woken up from a good night's rest and been able to think clearly and quickly? That's because all the pruning and pathway-efficiency that took place overnight has left you with lots of room to take in and synthesize new information—in other words, to learn...


And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It's the synaptic connections you don't use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you're thinking about.

If you spend too much time reading theories about the end of Game of Thrones and very little on your job, guess which synapses are going to get marked for recycling?


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dark Sun Character Trees

Here's some old rules that might be useful at some point:


DARK SUN™ campaigns are set in a violent world. Powerful magics and psionics, desperate hordes of raiders, and even the unforgiving desert wastes all conspire against player characters—death is not at all uncommon on Athas, nor is it uncommon for player characters in DARK SUN campaigns.

Replacing a fallen player character of high level with a novice first level character is never satisfying for the player. Also, where this new character fits into the plot is usually contrived on the spot.

In DARK SUN campaigns, players are encouraged to use character trees, where they play with only one character at a time, but they have four to call upon at the beginning of any particular adventure.

In brief, a character tree consists of one active character (which the player is using as his player character) and three inactive characters. the active character takes part in the adventure, performing actions in the campaign world. When a new adventure begins, the player may switch to one of his inactive characters or keep his previously active character to continue play.


To begin a character tree, a player should completely roll up four characters. Once this is done, the player selects the character that he intends to run for the first adventure, making that one his 'active" character. the other three are inactive.


The four characters that make up a player's character tree are unrestricted as to class or race; any combination is acceptable. However, the alignment of these characters is restricted. All of the four characters in a character tree must be either good, neutral, or evil. Devotion to chaos or law makes no difference, however. 

For example, one character tree might have a chaotic good dwarven gladiator, a lawful good thri-kreen fighter, a neutral good human bard, and a chaotic good elven preserver. the thri-kreen could not be lawful evil or even lawful neutral and still be a part of that character tree. 

If a character is forced to change alignment so that it no longer fits within the tree, that character must be discarded (or, optionally, the player may discard the other three, inserting three new characters into his tree and adopt this new alignment). 

Discarded characters should be given to the dungeon master for use as NPCs.


There are three instances when a player may switch the character he wishes to use in play: between adventures, during an adventure, or upon an active character's death.

Between Adventures

When an adventure is concluded (in the eyes of the DM, that is), a player may switch his active character for an inactive one. The player is not obligated to do so, and may keep one character active through any number of consecutive adventures.

During an Adventure

Within the scope of the campaign world, calling upon another character to replace the active character requires a substantial investment in time, whether for sending messages or journeying and searching for the transient inactive characters of the tree (psionics and magic may mahe this task easier, but cannot solve all the problems). The DM should sparingly allow players to switch their active character during an adventure, and usually impose a 3d6 day delay. The DM should never allow switching during critical or dangerous scenes of an adventure. Any switching of characters during an adventure is subject to the discretion of the DM, who may freely veto any request to do so.

Upon an Active Character's Death

When the active character dies, one of the inactive characters on the tree is assumed to arrive on the scene within one day (if possible). The player picks which inactive character will arrive and must subsequently roll a new first-level character to occupy the vacated spot on the tree. If circumstances mahe it difficult for a new character to arrive, the DM may be forced to extend the period before the newly activated adventurer arrives.


The active character in a campaign receives experience points and advances in levels just as described in the Player's Handbook. 

Every time the active character goes up a level of experience, the player may also advance one of his inactive characters one level. the inactive character chosen must be of a lower level than the active character. Adjust the experience point total on that inactive character's sheet to the minimum number for the new level attained. 

For purposes of character tree advancement, multi-and dual-classed characters that are inactive may only advance in one class. As active characters, multi-class characters cause an inactive character to advance when he increases one level in each of his classes. A dual-classed character causes an inactive character to advance with every level he attains. 

For inactive multi-class characters, care must be taken that a single experience point total can correctly yield the level combination. In general, an inactive multi-classed character should never be more than one level different in each class (3,3,4 is okay, 3,3,9 is not).


Inactive characters are not NPCs or followers. They aren't involved in the adventure at any time. At no time will a player's active and inactive characters come into contact in the campaign world. 

When not in play, inactive characters are assumed to be elsewhere on Athas, performing other tasks. 

All characters in a character tree are assumed to know each other and are working toward similar ends. the player may invent connections—the characters are all sons of the same powerful woman, are distant cousins, friends from childhood, etc. However, there is no need to have any relationship between them—the player may decide that the individuals in his character tree have no more than a passing acquaintance with one another. 


The character tree's chief purpose is to give every player a pool of adventurers to choose from for different situations or when one of his characters dies. The player is familiar with these characters and can apply their strengths more readily than he might be able to with freshly created characters. However, if care is taken, the character tree can be a valuable tool to the player in an extended campaign. 

As only one inactive character gains a level of experience every time the active character does so, deciding which character to advance might be a decision based on which direction the campaign seems to be taking. If, for instance, a large war is in progress, a player may wish to use his fighter for his active character. If the war is winding down, he might want to advance inactive non-fighter characters for the post war adventures to come. 

As another example, the quest might be a dangerous trek across the wilderness to steal a magical item from an ancient defiler's mansion. the player might use his ranger character to make the journey, but all the while might be using his inactive character advancements to make his thief more powerful for the final assault on the mansion.


Even though characters are on the same tree, they cannot freely exchange equipment, magical items, cash, or personal possessions. Keep separate lists for all such items. In some instances, if there is a compelling reason to do so, characters may exchange important items or information, but this is an option that can be easily abused. In general, items stick with the original character and that's that.

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.