Death Trap (Game Theory)

Thinking about any scenario that places your loves one(s) in danger is rather morbid but for the sake of exploration we’ll overlook that, still, being in any bad situation one you immediately see the worst result and not the best solution. There are a variety of ways to look at this problem, some really in-depth analyses require some sturdy maths skill others merely ethical or moral stances. The collective name for the understanding this and similar problems is called Game Theory, and it is not, as the name implies, a soft subject.

The problem illustrated above is one I learnt at around 12 y/o, but there is a similar depiction made quite recently. In the recent Batman film, The Dark Knight, The Joker places bombs on 2 ships and gives the detonators to the opposing ship saying either one of you dies or you all die. There are other moments in that film that have an economy behind them and we’ll go into them later.

Mathematical Overview

(No sums or equations here, honest)

All end results can be shown in a table, or matrix, clearly showing a Live/Die for each party/boat in each situation.

Party A
Acts Passive
Party B Acts Die, Die Die, Live
Passive Live, Die Die , Die

This Normal form works for both my problem and the Jokers Ultimatum, there doesn’t seem to be a best action. In a perfect relationship you would both want each other to live and want to save each other but attempting to do so would kill them. If the civilians kill the guilty they become the guilty, the Joker wins but a ferry survives. Which takes us onto an…

Ethical Overview

As with Newtons Third law, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, by pushing the button you are willingly setting yourself up to kill someone, by not acting the responsibility of the outcome is the perpetrator of the situation. So if both parties do nothing they may loose their lives but they can happily know that they didn’t kill each other. This however does not work with a boat load of people, as they don’t have a button each so there a social ramifications such as being on a surviving boat but not wanting to have pushed the button. And of course they know there is a Batman out there so they can wait for him to save them, whereas in the prison cell they do not have that hope.

Philosophical Overview

Either scenario is preposterous, nobody would actually go to these lengths to commit this crime, if you were to actually find yourself in this situation it is most likely fictitious and as such humming a sticking your fingers in your ears is a viable solution until you wake up. As Homer (J. Simpson) would say, if I don’t see it its not happening!

This is just a talk out of the Joker’s Ferry game, there are 2 other obvious ones (at least to me) the 3 second clip were the bank robber asks the Joker if the shotgun is empty, saying yes/no and being wrong/right has some interesting results. And the robbery itself seems like a variant of the Pirate Booty Game

I’ve just explored 3 ways of looking at that situation I’m sure there are a variety of others, feel free to drop a comment below. Lastly I don’t expect that if you were in as dire situation as this you would consider the problem as rationally but I suppose that is the advantage of practising and theoretical discussions.


There are many issues that Americans are concerned with, the economy, overseas affairs, and growth as a country, as a Brit I only really had interest in a global issue; Net Neutrality.

Little over a year ago I read through all the Candidates Manifestos, to my horror only 2 made mention of Net Neutrality, Obama and Clinton. Considering the ‘policing’ done by the USA in the past I was worried that the new President might try to enforce a big business agenda on the web and grind the hobbyists like myself to a snails pace.

When the democratic party was whittled down to 2 candidates, the now President(-elect) Obama and Senator H. Clinton I was happy that at least one of the Political Parties regardless of their candidate would support this issue that is so important for the little guy.

If you don’t know what Net Neutrality is I’ll sum it up for you: currently all websites are downloaded to your browser exactly as fast as the bandwidth between your location and the hosting server can manage. This means that if Microsoft were using the same servers as me we would be at a dead heat serving pages for you to look at. What Net Neutralists are fighting for is the preservation of this status quo, there are certain advocates who believe that we should pay for our webpage serving ability, the more you pay the less resistance the is getting a page from the web; a cruel way to turn a profit.

President Barrack Obama will hopefully continue to maintain Net Neutrality during his term(s) but with so many other priorities will he find the time? Hopefully the future for all of us is connected, and fairly connected at that.

Why try something dangerous?

Around 20th September the (Large) Hadron Collider started its first circles, there was speculation in the media, particularly Radio One with Scott Mills (Chris Moyles is off) were they would say that the first signs would be television and radio signals stopping and then cutting all sound! Why? The hype was that a black hole would be formed, suck in the Earth and destroy everything.

I’ve heard a few ask why try something that might cause a disaster? I can only think that you never know what you might discover exploring the unknown, whether its the deepest ocean, the highest peak of the mysteries of the Universe.

Infra-red, Ultraviolet, and X-rays were all discovered by witnessing something unknown and trying to find out why it happened. Infra-red has Communications and Military applications, Ultraviolet protects and entertains and X-rays have medical applications. They are very usual to us and exploring the reason for something unknown eventually allows us to utilise it some way.

So why try something dangerous that you might learn something from; because exploration is fun

Free Multimedia Software

Free software is a great thing. However because it’s free the people that labour over the code don’t have any extra cash to spend on advertising it, you only really get to know about it through word of mouth. A old friend, Hazel, has put together a list of useful software to help spread by word of mouth what she thinks are the best ones out there. However she has missed off audio and video software something I hope to fill in.


  1. K-Lite Codecs

    Before you can even watch a video or hear audio you need to know you can open it. For this you need a coder-decoder, this pack contains pretty much every one you could need in one swoop along with a fallback media player (Media Player Classic).

  2. QuickTime

    Free from apple, needed for a lot of content online, mainly inline trailers, you won’t need the full version for full screen offline playback.

  3. Winamp

    You’ll want this to play just about everything offline, its got a low memory footprint which is always desirable.

Audio Editting

  1. Audacity

    Works on multiple platforms and has a nice minimalistic interface for editting audio shallow learning curve makes this recommended for beginners.

  2. GoldWave

    Frequent updates, quick rendering with lots of visual aids for audio editting.
    Recommended for users with some experience.

Video Editting

  1. Kino

    Similar to Windows Movie Maker in friendliness, reliable, easy for beginners. Interface has changed a lot recently, it may do again.

  2. Avidemux

    A lot more comprehensive than Window Movie Maker, but works on many more systems. Steep learning curve.

Audio Recording

  1. Free Rip

    Convert your CD’s into MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA format whilst getting all the track information and naming them correctly for easy finding later. Very quick, very reliable.

I’ve used all of these myself on a Windows Computer, I can’t make any promises about them working on a *nix or Mac but I doubt many of them wouldn’t.

There you go, everything you could possibly need to make your own sounds and videos and you didn’t even need to spend a penny. There are firms that pay studio alot for there suites and now you can do similar jobs for next to nothing!

Little history on Digital Lighting Effects

Another amazing feat from production teams at Pixar Animation Studios, Emeryville, California, “made possible by modern technology (William*)”. With processors and memory available in such large quantities more computing can be done in less time, with time being money, and films having a limited budget it means higher quality films can be made at lower special effects costs.

Simply put: How?

The film WALL·E uses a derivative of the Ray Tracing Technique, light rays are projected perpendicular to the viewpoint plane into the digital environment and reflected off surfaces until a set number of bounces or they reach a light source. This creates a very realistic looking shot, with the realism being proportional to the number of reflections, 1 bounce casts shadows but doesn’t produce any ambiance, 3 looks only just plausible but will be too dark, 8 would be acceptable for daytime television and a full 16 or more are used in motion pictures.

As you can imagine each bounce has to be remembered, the colour information of its reflecting surface(s) and the distance between each one until it matches a finishing condition, this has to be done for each pixel. A rough idea of film resolution is 2048 by 1152, that’s 2,359,296 light rays (2.4 MegaPixels) every 1/24 of a second. An awful lot to remember for just one frame of 129600 in a 90 minute feature.

Is there a simpler way?

There are many other ways, each with pros and cons, my particular favourite, for sentimental reasons, is Ray Casting, the technique used extensively in the film Tron (1982).

Ray Casting functions in a similar way to Ray tracing except there are no bounces once reaching a surface, colour and shading is faked. With less information to remember the process is a lot quicker but also has more inaccuracies. If the shading and colouring isn’t done proficiently then the entire shot looks fake.

Further Advances

There you have it, the basics in how light and shadows are produced digitally. Mathematical equations work out the path a real light ray might take, complicated stuff made possible by the advances in technology. Luckily Pixar aim to create one frame (1/24 second) to be rendered in 3 minutes, making a whole film take a year, so its safe to say we’re a long way off being able to create photorealistic digital environments in realtime. When that happens I would worry, if we could create a near perfect environment in a simulator and you went into that simulator how would you know if you really left?

Name that Polyhedron!

For recent design project I spent the better part of a day trying to find out the name of a 72 faced shape. Finding the schema for naming a 2 dimensional shape, also known as a polygon, by its number of faces was easy; wikipedia had a brief naming table. Finding a similar table for a 3 dimensional shape, or polyhedron, was a lot harder (I actually had to use a book!) but very obvious when I found it.

Polyhedron & Polygon Naming Conventions

Having a table of naming information is useful but learning the rules behind how they are named makes things much easier to remember so I’ve summed up my observations.

  1. Both regular poly shapes are named from largest number to smallest, that is hundreds, tens, units
  2. Polygons can use the ‘kai’ conjunctive between Tens and Units .e.g. tetracontakaidigon and tetracontadigon are both valid for a 42 faced shape
  3. Polyhedrons end in ‘hedron’.
  4. Polygons end in ‘gon’.

For numbers greater than the table I’ve provided and the one available on wikipedia you multiply each digit by its base and call it as such so 4,000 faces becomes 4 × 1000 and called tetra × chilia + gon, 300 faces becomes 3 × 100 called tri × hecto + gon.

Table you can use from left to right for naming shaped 1-100
Tens and Units final suffix
10 deca- 1 -hena- -gon
20 icosi- -kai- 2 -di-
30 triaconta- 3 -tri-
40 tetraconta- 4 -tetra-
50 pentaconta- 5 -penta-
60 hexaconta- 6 -hexa-
70 heptaconta- 7 -hepta-
80 octaconta- 8 -octa-
90 enneaconta- 9 -ennea-
100 hecto- 0

For numbers great than one hundred you can use this base numbers.

Name Value
100 hecto
1,000 chilia
10,000 myria