Articles tagged under thinking too much:

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Old newspapers littered the street. Cars which once sped effortlessly across interconnected superhighways sat empty, motionless in perfect alignment on either side of the road. A gust caught a mess of flyers and sent them airborne into the open windows of nearby houses. On each flyer was a picture of a perfectly rectangular, palm-sized object. A man holding such a palm-sized object sped effortlessly down the walkway, his gaze locked on the soft light emitting from the object he held in front. At the top right corner of the object an icon the shape of three parallel, curved lines flashed and flashed. The man continued walking, pausing every now and then when the icon grew brighter, then carried on walking as it faded into oblivion. One would almost think the object was a compass, and in some sense it was. And sometimes, it really did point the way. But not now, because the icon was flashing. The man with the palm-sized object entered a house. Two people were in that house, a man with a slightly longer, yet similarly palm-widthed object in his hand, and a woman who held under her arms a metallic rectangle resembling a file. The palm-sized man asked, are they getting anything here, to which the palm-widthed man said yes, but only a little, and he wasn’t sure how long it would last. The first man’s eyes lit up, and his gaze once again lodged itself into the object in his hand. The icon stopped flashing. Very quickly he drew some patterns on the object, and its surface came alive with symbols and words. Message received, from 2 weeks ago, said the object, and the man holding the object tried and failed to hold back tears. It was, after all, what he had been searching for all this while. A glorious moment. Then, before he could do anything more in his state of jubilation, the woman with the file let out a shrill, piercing scream. The palm-widthed man sighed. And the parallel-curved icon flickered, and flickered, and faded away, and flashed and flashed. The words on the object vanished, and it was like it had never been there at all. Oh well, said the man with the palm-sized object, onwards and upwards, and may the search end one day. As he left the house he was joined by his two new acquaintances, and together they individually found their way down the street with their compasses-that-were-not-actually-compasses. Purely by coincidence, or perhaps by fate, or both, for the two are not quite different, they found themselves headed the same way. A tall, elaborate sculpture loomed ahead, and would have proven quite a proud spectacle, sitting atop its grassy pedestal, had it not quite obviously fallen into disrepair. Long, parallel lines in the sky joined the triangular sculpture’s apex, which seemed to unravel itself into ten thousand smaller, adjacent triangles painted red, white, and black, dotted every now and then with irregular patches of brown. A tower, said the man with the palm-widthed object, if there’s any left it’ll be here. Wouldn’t you have known if there was, asked the other man. Not really, I was only here since yesterday, me and her, and we stopped by because the icon stopped flashing. Same here, said the palm-sized man. And the trio began climbing the grassy slope. Presently the woman found a good chance to speak, for the men were done with their talking, and quickly added, I wish things were like they used to be, and our icons were never flashing, but more like lighthouses sending out lifelines in the sky, guiding us, pulling us back to our docks. With this point the men disagreed, for it was their obligation, clearly, to push on and look forward, and not to allow the group to stay fixated on the comforts of the past, and even though they could not have said it better themselves both innately dismissed the woman’s nostalgia and reminded themselves to be a better man than that. As they searched for an appropriately masculine reply, the spotted another group of five individuals climbing the hill not far away. They carried in their hands rectangular objects of varying diagonal measurements. The man with the palm-sized object studied them momentarily, paying particular attention to their rectangular instruments. Big-screens, he concluded. Better to keep clear, added the palm-widthed man. And why should we, asked the woman. Because the big-screeners use it all up, you never get any when you’re near them. Really, asked the woman, and how do you know that. Because in the old days, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about -- one statement is barely waxing lyrical, interrupted the woman – let me finish will you, cried the man, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about, the company which made the palm-sized objects told us about the big-screeners. They don’t just use it all, no, worse, they’re the reason it’s all gone now, because it just couldn’t support screens that big. But the company making the big-screens didn’t listen, and continued telling the big-screeners it was alright to keep on using it all up, and the big-screeners, suckers of company statements they were, bought it all. One might think it wasn’t their fault, indeed the company was the mastermind, but ignorance, the man declared with a confident smile, is no excuse. And having finished relating a piece of solid history, which even considered counter-arguments before concluding with a witty maxim, and proven himself the most learned in the group, the man with the palm-widthed object scanned the other two for signs of admiration and respect, which very quickly, though a little too quickly, surfaced on the woman’s countenance, and the palm-widthed man suspected she was merely offering rehearsed patronage, but quickly decided it was better not to think too much about it and take a compliment as a compliment. Keeping their distance from the other group of individuals with rectangular objects, our group of individuals with rectangular objects reached the top of the hill and the foot of the tower. Eagerly they raised their objects to the sky, or more accurately, the apex of the tower, and waited. And waited. The icons flashed. And flashed. It must be those big-screeners over there, thought the man with the palm-sized object, and he stole a glance at the other man, whose look of disappointment mirrored his exact thoughts. The woman fell cross-legged onto the grass, ostensibly exhausted, but it was unknowable whether from the ascent or from other things. The men’s eye contact broke on the sight of the woman seating herself, and the palm-widthed man took it upon himself at that moment to drive the big-screeners away. The palm-sized man offered to help, without intending to help, of course, for it was customary, especially for males, to offer, and the palm-widthed man quickly dismissed this offer, much to the other’s relief, although such relief was likewise unwarranted, for it was equally customary to decline. After all, he was the one with the longer object. Which he left in the care of the woman with the metallic file before taking those bold steps towards the other group. You never know what those big-screens’ll do to you, he had said, but each step he took without his occasional-compass in hand was a step back into himself. Bigger screens, bigger screams, the company had told him, or, An extra inch is an extra pinch. There were also Big users, Small hearts, and, he struggled to recall, of course, how could I forget, All object to big objects. Ingenious, the man thought, as he considered which ones he would deploy. Then he was there, and the big-screeners regarded him for a moment, without his object. Looking for it too, sir, asked the biggest-screener. Yes, in fact I am, replied the man, and may I, kindly, request you and your group find another spot. Why, is there some of it here? Oh not quite, we were just, wondering, if, perhaps, maybe if your group left then maybe there’d be some. Why, you’re not one of those men with the palm-sized objects now are you now? And what if I am? Then you are the one who should leave immediately, sir. Well I don’t get why I should be the one leaving when you big-screeners are the ones who – At the mention of that tri-syllabic identification a gasp chorused from the group, and the woman amongst them seemed particularly offended, her large, accusatory eyes leaving her object to latch onto the palm-widthed man. Sir, said the man with the biggest-screened object, I won’t have you coming here and telling us so rudely to leave, even though I must acknowledge that you most likely have a palm-widdthed object, for that is no excuse. If, as you said, there’s nothing here, then we’ll pick up our objects and be on our way, but I’ll have you know it wouldn’t be on your request, nor have your insults worked in the way you hoped they would work. We’re all just looking for it, and you don’t have to resort to such means, even if it’s been weeks since you found the previous spot. It’s equally bad for us, sir. With that the palm-widthed man was annoyed. No wonder they say the bigger the screen the smaller the spleen. These people don’t even know they’re the cause of all this and they’re acting all rational and hello-sir-don’t-you-go-around-insulting-others and I’ll-have-you-know. Well I’d rather not know. Ignorance is bliss. But I’ll just have to put up with these big-screeners while they realise there’s nothing here anyway, why are they even bothering to stay. The icons kept flashing, and flashing, then the people with the big-screened objects picked up their objects and were on their way. Took care of that, said the palm-widthed man as he rejoined his group, now hopefully we’ll get some of it. They stared at the surfaces of their objects, so intently one might think they truly believed if they stared hard enough it might work. And to some extent it did, for no later than the instant the big-screened group reached the foot of the hill the icons on the palm-sized objected stopped flashing, the three parallel-curved lines shining steady and bright onto the trio's faces. Frivolous as this might be, we cannot quite blame the palm-widthed man’s immediately arising belief that, for one, asking the big-screeners to leave did do the job, and, for two, that his strong gaze and sheer willpower helped revive, for such is the nature of cause and effect, and who are we, mere narrators and readers of the events transpiring here, to decide whether such a seemingly tenuous link actually held? Better, for us and for them, to leave it to the simple adage, we’ll never know. For there was no stopping them now, anyway. The trio rejoiced in the deluge of words and symbols now propagating across their objects. There was a message from the palm-sized man’s wife, saying where are you, I haven’t seen you in such a long time,  I miss you, this whole system being down is really horrid, no one’s getting anything anywhere, we’re all nomads moving from one spot to another like it’s the only thing that matters, to which the palm-sized man quickly replied I don’t know where I am either, I’m at a tower, I miss you too, been walking for days just to find a spot now, and my best guess is I’m somewhere north of where we lived, gosh I don’t know how we’ll survive this it’s only been a month since it happened and look where we are now, tell you what, let’s meet at the lake, alright,  I’ll head there and I won’t leave till you’re there, I might not be able to get a reply from you now, so just head there and don’t leave till you find me, alright, I’ll be at the part of the lake where I took you out the first time, we’ll meet there, yes, I have so many things I need to tell you, in person, love. There was also that photograph on the woman’s file-object which displayed prominently a sumptuous breakfast, on which she added her thoughts of how important it must be now to continue having good breakfasts despite the horrid situation they were all in. The palm-widthed object, presently, displayed, far more curiously, a moving picture of another palm-widthed object, slightly longer than this current one, with words and more pictures dancing around the screen in alternating shades of gray. Then the words stopped dancing, and the icons flickered, faded, and flashed and flashed. Oh well, said the palm-sized man, I’m going to the lake, who’s with me. The palm-widthed man seemed not to hear his declaration. The woman shrugged her shoulders and looked at him. I need some more, the palm-widthed man concluded moments later, you go ahead, I’ll see what I can get from the tower. So the palm-sized man left, and the woman thought for a while before following along, saying she remembered what a beautiful view the lake offered. The palm-widthed man took no notice of her, his gaze again glued to the object. An hour passed and the icon kept flashing. Maybe up there there’ll be some, yes, there must be, the taller the better. As it went, the palm-widthed man held the taller, palm-widthed object in one hand, and began his ascent of ten thousand triangles with the other. And he climbed and he climbed, the rough, brown spots on the tower handy spots to grip on to with his one free hand. The taller the better, as the tower creaked and creaked.

For whom does the bell (curve) toll?

It’s been scientifically proven that guys like curves. By extension, girls do too, because it makes guys like them. But it’s not bodily curves, market demand curves or the curves on the Porsche 911 that we pray to. It’s the bell curve. Although it was in some sense a joke. It reveals the extent of control that this little statistical distribution has over our lives. For the uninitiated, the bell curve is something that determines your exam grades. Raw scores are plotted with reference to this curve, and the top percentages of students’ scores fetches an A grade, the next few percentages B, and so on. For those who are curious, you can find out more about the bell curve here. For obvious reasons we do not know exactly how it works (this article by the NUS Provost is the closest you’ll get), because for the examiners to reveal how the compute your scores would be like for the banks to tell you exactly how they’ve used the money you’re saving with them. You might not be happy that your 74% ends up fetching you the same grade as some else’s 60% But if there’s no statistically significant difference between your score and his, that’s what you’re gonna get. The bell curve is used because we need to separate the best students from the above average, the above average from the normal. And the way we do things in society, it’s by grades. No employer has the time to see that you’re the top 5%, which is clearly better than someone’s 10%. You’re both just gonna get an A, and be as good as each other. That saves time, that’s economic efficiency. Wait, doesn’t the bell curve help to separate students’ grades? Well yes, yes it does. It basically says that only the top, say, 25%, of students’ scores will get A, and the rest will get some lower grade, regardless of the actual score they get. So, in a test where 25% of students get 90, getting an 89 is gonna fetch you a B, or even an F, if everyone else gets 89.5. For the record, it’s not exactly a bad system. Because it works. People who score higher do deserve higher grades. And in practical applications the percentage cutoffs for each grade are carefully researched and set such that they are fair, and make clear distinctions between each band. So those situations above probably wouldn’t happen in reality. And between you and me, I honestly can’t think of a better way. So what is the problem? What is wrong when the bell curve decides our fate? When we pray for the odds to be in our favour as if we were going into an arena full of other students who can only survive by killing us? Aren’t we? The bell curve is something learning is not – a zero sum game. It is a situation whereby when someone scores higher than you and he gains a percentile, you move down a percentile. Someone else’s gain is necessarily your loss. And conversely when someone else loses, you gain. The bell curve says we can’t all be right at the same time. It says that if you know something, then someone else shouldn’t. Because it makes knowledge seem like a zero sum game. The bell curve says you don’t have to work hard to score as high as you can. You just need to score better than everyone else. You might do that by studying harder than everyone else, but you could also do that by making sure everyone else studies less than you. It says that if you’re the best, then you’re getting your A and you should be proud that you’ve outdone everyone else. Don’t bother bettering yourself anymore. But the thing is, just because you’re the best doesn’t mean you’re good. We never got anywhere by being content with being the best, because great innovations and products simply don’t have anything to compare with. If everyone thought that way, the telephone itself would’ve been merely a more reliable and accurate telegraph. The light bulb would've been a lamp running on liquid uranium. They tell us that we shouldn’t be too obsessed with comparing our scores with others. That top scorers should not be identified and we should all focus on being the best that we can be. But the system just does not reward such behavior. Whether we like it or not, our scores will be compared, if not by us, by the very examiners who base our performance on a statistical distribution. So we become selfish. We don’t share what we know. We hide our knowledge from each other. Students charge peers money to tutor them. Because everything I do to help someone also makes my own life harder, so why should I do it? And we take this mentality with us into the world. Office politics, fight for promotions, climb over each other’s backs to get into that position that only 25% of executives can get. In a way, the bell curve mirrors the corporate world and it does its function of preparing us for that cruel, dog eat dog world out there. Or does it itself create that kind of selfish society we live in? Sharing knowledge with others is not wrong, because them knowing something does not make me any less intelligent. What is wrong is the selfishness we are condoning and teaching to the next generation. It might be a necessary evil, but it’s also evil that’s making it necessary. The bell curve is here to stay, because employers need it. But maybe, just maybe, we can all succeed, together. Or maybe I’m just the bottom 25% who is ‘less right’ than everyone else. Cover image by

3 Popular Games That Are Secretly Epic

Somewhere at the back of your mind you register an authoritative voice. That voice belongs to the lecturer. She's trying to tell you something about private and public goods. But the only goods you’re currently concerned with are the colourful, shiny, and oh-so-touchable bits of candy in front of you. The ones you need to combine and crush. That’s right, you’re not paying attention. But it doesn’t mean you’re not learning anything either, because some of life’s greatest lessons are hidden in games like these. That is, if you actually are insane/bored enough to actually think about the metagame and the mechanics of how they work. So that you don’t have to go crazy examining the construction of candy crush and the philosophy of plants versus zombies, we’ve done it for you, and here are a few popular games that are more than meets the iPhone. #1 – Temple Run II: Move Ahead, Or Move Aside You’ve probably played this one. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on the amazing metaphors and rich subliminal messages they’ve built into the game. But before that, let me congratulate you on being part of the special minority who haven’t yet succumbed to this game’s right-angle running coin collecting screen tilting fun. In this beautifully designed game, you play one of four characters whose job, dreams, and purpose in life is to run, collect as many coins and amass as high a score as possible – before you inevitably die when things get so fast you can’t handle it anymore. You do so by swiping your fingers across the screen to jump, duck, turn, and dodge left and right. You also need to tilt your phone sometimes to lean towards the side where the coins are. There are also many, many ways to perish in this game. You could get washed away by a river, run into a wall, fall into the neverending abyss, and, most interestingly, if you stumble too often, the temple guardian, which looks like a cross between a monitor lizard and a gorilla, will not only catch and eat you, but leave you with a taunt even after you’re gone, saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” So, what is this all really about? In life, you play one character you choose, whose job, dreams, and purpose is really to run, earn as much value, do as many things, help as many people, and devour as much sashimi as you can before the inevitable death. To do this, you need to keep going, keep moving ahead, because you don’t have a choice anyway. Stop, and the big, scary monitor-gorilla (a.k.a. time-and-other-people) is going to catch up on you. Sometimes you stumble, and it really does get closer to you, but you don’t stop, you keep going. You try, try again. And you need to know where the coins are. They’re not just money, but the valuable things in your life – family, sashimi, love, meaning, work, sashimi – that you constantly need to go out of your way to collect. Sometimes you even have to risk your life to get some of them - but they're usually worth it. And in the end, no matter how much you do, how far you’ve run, how many life points you’ve accumulated, it will all end. Not because you’ll actually reach the sacred 'temple', but because time will overtake you. Thing is, you don’t care. You’re playing temple run for the high scores, to get coins to buy upgrades so the next person to run the course will get it a little better than you did. That’s what remains. That’s a legacy that endures. There is no destination, but we run anyway. Because the journey itself is really the reward… And next up, of course, everyone's favourite... #2 – Candy Crush Saga: Choose Your Moves Wisely If you’re reading this, it means you have internet access. And if you have internet access, you’ve played this marvel of a glycogenic game. Even if you don’t, I’m guessing you’d know a little bit about how friend-dependent this game is, via the nine thousand requests that other people have sent you for lives. Candy Crush Saga is built upon an age-old game formula, where you combine three or more similar objects in a pattern to clear them. Making it a little more challenging, King Games implemented a set of objectives to meet at each level, and created an entire world of sugarrific splendor complete with an overarching storyline to introduce some epic meaning into the game. Its virality is also enhanced by social mechanisms built into the system, which require you to either get other people to send you lives to play each time you run out, or buy your way through with facebook credits. Many people play this game due to its social elements too, because they want reach higher levels than their friends and brag about it. Also, the appeal of this game shines through not only from its well rendered graphics and smart game mechanics, but from how it subliminally rewards you with praises of ‘Sweet’ and ‘Divine’ each time you make a great move. Now ask yourself, “How different is this sugar-coated world from the cold, cruel, and relatively less diabetic world we live in?” Take away the chocolate mountains and tinseltown decorations. Unwrap the candy wrappers and detonate the colour bombs. What you have left is, in its essence, a world in which you have a limited number of chances and a limited number of moves to achieve your goals. Sometimes you even have a limited amount of time to get something done. Sound familiar? What about the fact that, when you (inevitably) fail, you need to rely on your friends to pick you back up, or you have to wait for a full half an hour before that opportunity comes along again. Or, for those who are slightly more fortunate and possibly less patient, the option to buy your way through failure? The option to spend on a variety of powerups to enhance your performance in life? And, once in a while, you meet an obstacle that you can’t cross yourself. And you’ll need three magical coupons from three friends to help you out. Think about who regularly sends you these coupons when you need them the most. These might just be the people who would really rush to your aid when you’re down in real life. We’re all trying to move ahead here, trying to get to the next level to beat others and feel proud of ourselves, and Candy Crush reminds us that we’ll need to choose each move we make wisely, and also have a group of friends, family and other people here to help us when we inevitably need them. That is, of course, unless you have too many facebook credits. In which case you could be giving some to me. And besides money and credits, there’re other things you could give too, as shown by… #3 – Angry Birds: Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death! Between you and me, I never followed the storyline of Angry Birds beyond the part where they’re kinda ticked off by the pigs. All I was bothered about was getting those three superbly shiny and satisfying stars.  But the success of this game and its popularity with children sort of obscures the central mechanism behind this avian war – one of self-sacrifice, absolute commitment, and death sudden disappearance from the playing field in a puff of smoke. In this fun and easy-to-play game, you get a limited arsenal of various types of birds and a slingshot from which to launch them. The objective is to eliminate the pigs housed in a nearby set-up, whilst trying to destroy as much as of it as possible. The more you destroy and the less ammunition you use, the more points you score. It’s a simple catapult game, really. Except live birds are used as ammunition. What really motivates them to place themselves on a massive sling shot, and fling themselves mercilessly towards badly constructed fortresses? What really angered them so much as to inspire an entire armada of birds, red, blue, black, yellow, white and more, to dedicate the rest of their lives to eliminating the pig menace? WHY ARE ANGRY BIRDS ANGRY? These birds have something to prove – that there are just some things worth dying for. In the first episode that was released, we learn that the pigs stole some of their eggs. Put it into context, and you realise these birds are actually sacrificing themselves for their offspring. And this game is slightly different from the previous two, because I’m not saying the game world’s similar to ours. I’m not saying that in the real world there are many people who believe in something so deeply that they become martyrs for their cause, flinging themselves without second thought onto establishments of authority they are unhappy with. That there are angry revolutionaries in the world named after certain animals or called The Angry Birds. Ok, I am saying that, sorta, but what’s more important here is the realization that there exist things in this world that are as great as massacring green pigs and stolen eggs – things that people actually are willing to give up their lives for. “Give me liberty, or give me death,” were the words famously attributed to Patrick Henry, in the speech he made to the Virginia Convention. This exclamation of extreme and absolute belief was reputedly what convinced them to begin the American Revolutionary War - a war which was probably responsible for us being able to play Angry Birds on our Apple products now. In this day and age, maybe we’re a little bit caught up with first world problems to the extent that we’re forgetting what the greatest and most important values are – the ones which men and women before us fought and died to protect. Angry Birds is here to remind us of what’s really important, because you don't want to lose your eggs...I mean the crucial things in life, to make things clear. Presently the lecturer notices that you’re not paying attention. She calls your name out loud, in front of the entire lecture theatre. You’re embarrassed, and you put your phone away, closing the doors to the universe of thinking too much. But you’re smiling on the inside, full with the understanding that, in the end, there’re things to be learnt and revelations to be shocked by in many things, and amongst them are the games and images you’re actually familiar with. Quietly you make a resolution to go back to ‘learning’ as soon as the lecture’s over... What other games are equally 'educational'?
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