Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shard Eight - How To Try Less

Alright, second post of my new "let's try to write an entry every day" mentality. We'll see how long I can keep this up, eh?


Here's a fun little thing I've learned. Ironically, it's a lesson about learning.

Ever notice how you tend to learn more when you're enjoying the process? As a homeschooler (silly Firefox spellcheck, it is a real word), I've had more experience with this then most people, I believe. I can't rightly say I've learned more then anyone else, but I'd like to think I've enjoyed my lessons more then most others.
I've almost never had a formal lesson in my life. I learn on my own, by my own desire. Sure, I've read some lesson books, but never really enjoyed them, nor did I learn much from them. I've learned the exact same lessons in those books on my own, in much more enjoyable settings.

I learned most of my math from card games. I started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! a long time ago (a good start, but not my favorite card game). I often spent time keeping track of life totals; you need to do a lot of addition and subtraction in that game, with large numbers to boot. Playing the game well takes some quick math skills as well; you need to be able to count ahead before each move, figuring if you'll gain or lose an advantage in the long run if you keep a card in your hand or play it now. what's the most efficient attack step you could go through? How much of a leeway should you allow in some situations?

After a while, I "graduated" up to Magic: the Gathering. Much smaller numbers, but generally speaking, a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards had needless zeros in there, so it wasn't far off.
M:tG introduced me to a bit more depth in the form of variables. I learned basic algebra from that. The "mana" system also made deckbuilding involve a lot of math as well; with five colors of mana, and every card having a mana cost, you need to think about how many land cards to add to your deck (land cards produce mana), as well as how many "business" spells to pack in there (those would be anything with a mana cost). Pack the deck with too many high-costed cards and not enough land, and you rarely draw enough mana to play your spells. "Mana flood" is the opposite, when you draw into too many lands and can't get enough spells to win you the game.
Then when you get into gameplay, with the concept of "card advantage", things get even more complicated. You need to think not only about what options you have right now, but what your opponent might do, what options you'll have later on, and so on. The simplest thing would be combat; if you have two 1/1 creatures and your opponent has one 1/1 creature (the numbers being attack/defense power), you're probably winning. However, if your opponent has the same field, but five cards in his hand, and enough mana to play probably anything in there that he wanted, while you only had two cards, one of which you couldn't afford to play yet... now you need to really think about your position a lot harder. Probably, you're not winning anymore.

But I digress a bit. Something a friend of mine said about nine hours ago sums it up very nicely; if Magic cards contained nothing but numbers and math problems on them instead of text and art, the game would still play exactly the same. It's not quite as simple as that, but he makes a strong point; the game is very much about math.

Here's my point though. If you were just playing for fun, or even competitively, you might not ever notice this. It doesn't seem at all like a math problem. It's just fun.
I have trouble remembering birthdates. But I have thousands of cards memorized, nearly word-for-word. Cards I've only seen at a glance, cards I've never played with, and all of them cards I never planned to memorize.
Because I enjoy it all, it files itself away into my mind with no effort whatsoever on my part.

It's rare, but sometimes I achieve the same results with other things. A particularly interesting article on ball lightning, perhaps. A television show about volcanoes. If I'm not trying to learn it, I learn it.
Lately, I've been studying up on electrons and ions. Not as a science project, like one would study for schoolwork. No, I merely happen to have a few original characters I'm designing who have abilities based off electricity and the like. I really enjoy basing these generic "superhero powers" on real-life physics. And due to this, I've learned plenty already about how ion thrusters work, and about what it takes to make plasma.

Did you know, when lightning strikes, it's not simply a blast of electricity traveling from the sky to the ground. The ground is holding a large charge as well. It's tough to find pictures, but if you can see a shot of lightning just milliseconds before it hits, you'll actually see tiny 'streamers" of electricity jumping from the ground upwards towards the lightning. The two make contact, and bam. closed circuit.

Fun fact.

I suppose the moral (if there is one) would be that the best way to learn is often, not to try so hard. Your mind doesn't enjoy having information pounded in there, and as such, it'll often fight back with equal force. You hear so many stories of people who can't even remember most of their lessons from high school. In my opinion, it's because those memories have been suppressed. You probably didn't enjoy learning the information; why would you enjoy remembering it?

Want to learn about physics? Go hang out and play a game of billiards for a while. Try to make lots of bumper shots. You'll learn tons.
Bounce a tennis ball off a wall for a while for the same effect. Give it spin, hit it off strangely-angled objects.


...That wasn't so hard to write, actually. Didn't plan to take up so much space, but then again, I never do.

See you again tomorrow, probably.



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