Just switched to a new host and moved all content over from a backup. It looks like everything carried over, but let me know if anything seems to be missing. Also, I’m switching to mil.ooo as the primary url of this site (it’s trendy, but I like it).

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: the only way to win is not to placate

I first encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a middle school seminar, where it was presented as a morality problem. Do you potentially doom your unknown partner in order to improve your own odds? After seeing it presented with a similar framing soon afterward in Knights of the Old Republic, and as a case of social dynamics in Roger Highfield’s The Science of Harry Potter, I figured it was just a moral dilemma in the sense of questions like “do you let yourself die to save someone else?” and didn’t think of it much afterward.

The next time I encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma was many years later, in an essay about how the Prisoner’s Dilemma should decidedly not be viewed as a moral issue in the traditional sense. You’re supposed to think of your partner either as someone entirely morally irrelevant, or assume that any bad karma points that you would get for defecting are reflected in the payout. Viewed this way, the problem is still at least as interesting.

Meanwhile, I was taking a microeconomics class, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma was introduced as an illustration of the idea of a Nash equilibrium (named after mathematician John Nash, who died last week). This was the first time I’d really grasped the paradoxical nature of the situation–no matter what your opponent does, you’re better off defecting, but at the same time, both players defecting is a preventably bad outcome. Without any sort of coordinating force, the most stable outcome manifests in a state that’s bad for everyone, one that no one would consciously choose given that a better one exists, but one that is very hard to get out of.

Around the same time, I ran into the problem in real life–this time in my college dorm.

I had a roommate who liked to watch TV at his desk with the speakers on, and while he was in our room, he would usually be watching TV. I, meanwhile, tended to play video games at my desk while wearing headphones (I didn’t own a TV, man). The headphones got uncomfortable after a while, and I would have preferred to play with my speakers on instead. However, if I did this, both of our sounds would partially block out the other’s, instead of just his blocking out mine. This would have been a better state of affairs, but I didn’t want to get into a battle of going back and forth raising our respective volumes forever.

I realized that this sort of worked as a version of the Prisoner’s’ Dilemma:

Headphones Speakers
Headphones Decent outcome Bad outcome, good outcome
Speakers Good outcome, bad outcome Bad-ish outcome

In retrospect, it probably would have made sense to start “defecting” once in a while, and not use my headphones–since this was an iterated version of the game, he might have gotten the hint and started using headphones himself. (Or I could have just said something, I guess.)

The dynamics of this scenario also change when you assume that the headphones are partially noise-blocking. Under these conditions, everyone using speakers at once is less preferable than you using headphones, even though they’re still uncomfortable and you’d rather use speakers. The payoff matrix for this version of the situation looks like the one for Chicken:

Headphones Speakers
Headphones Decent outcome Bad outcome, good outcome
Speakers Good outcome, bad outcome Worst outcome

Both players would prefer not to yield, but the worst outcome occurs when neither yields. This version may actually have been closer to the actual scenario, since I had these big ol’ over-the-ear heapdhones, and filling our room with a cacophony of American Dad combined with Uncharted 3 might have been more annoying than just having to hear one in the background of the other.

I may add more scenarios with similar models as I think of them; hat tip to Stephen for the title.

I’m now the proud owner of http://mil.ooo/ and plan to have it redirect here, which is very handy if you’re low on space, short on time, or a very slow typist. miloprice.com will still be the canonical url for this site for the time being, though.

Review: Return of the Jedi Radio Drama (1996)

Rounding out the trilogy of Star Wars radio dramas is Return of the Jedi, released in 1996, over ten years after both the film itself and the previous radio drama in the series, The Empire Strikes Back.

The largest departure from the other two radio adaptations is that Mark Hamill doesn’t return to reprise his role as Luke, although Joshua Fardon, the replacement actor, does a decent job. Most of the other actors reprise their roles from the other radio dramas, except for Billy Dee Williams as Lando. Somehow, the actor who plays the Emperor manages to make him even more hammy and scenery-chewing than in the film; this is a good thing.

ROTJ:TRD is also remarkably short; it has just six half-hour episodes, for three hours of total runtime, compared to 6 1/2 and 5 for ANH:TRD  and TESB:TRD, respectively. I can only recall a handful of added scenes, although those that were there were generally good–there’s a scene between Han, Leia, and Lando as the Falcon leaves Tatooine, for instance, that adds some camaraderie and character interaction to the main characters’ reunion. Other scenes improved somewhat in the move to audio; characters explaining things to a blinded Han Solo made the exposition seem more natural, and C-3PO’s recounting of the events of the Star Wars trilogy to the Ewoks takes on meta-level significance when presented as part of an audio-only production.


Dash Rendar, Shadows of the Empire’s replacement for Han Solo. Not to be confused with Cable from X-Men.

References to the Expanded Universe are surprisingly numerous, particularly to Shadows of the Empire. SOTE was a multimedia marketing initiative that Lucas Licensing was doing around this time, telling a story (I say “a” story rather than “the” story, since, in my opinion, little of it seems to follow directly from the plots of the films) between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, a time period previously only explored by the quasi-canon Marvel comics. The Nintendo 64 game is probably the best-known part of the campaign, but there were also a novel, a comic, and even a soundtrack for the novel that told different aspects of the story. As a result, the ROTJ radio drama reflects this and includes a scene from the novel (Luke making his second lightsaber) and some references to other events (Han is incredulous that they let C-3PO fly the Falcon on “Corus-cant” [the radio drama’s pronunciation]). Mara Jade also makes a surreptitious appearance as a dancer in Jabba’s Palace, as established in the Thrawn trilogy of novels. Overall, the references are nice easter eggs that wouldn’t detract from the casual listener’s experience or even probably be noticed, although I did notice at least one odd continuity issue–the narrator refers to “decades” of conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire, when it’s probably more like one decade max, even according to the material available at the time.

I did, however, miss some of the expanded interactions between characters like Vader and Imperial officers, or among the rebels, as was found in the other two adaptations. In fact, it seems like Vader’s hardly in this one, showing up only for his movie scenes where he tells officers about the Emperor in a couple short lines (as well as, of course, his role at the Emperor’s side). I suspect that much of the reason for this version’s shorter length is that Return of the Jedi uses even more visual exposition than The Empire Strikes Back, shortening much of the audible interaction. According to Wookieepedia, there were also some funding issues that led to the delay of the creation of the radio drama, which may also have limited the scope and ambition of the project. The ultimate effect of all this, though, is to leave the final chapter of the saga (well, final at the time) slightly underwhelming.

Despite these issues, ROTJ:TRD is worth listening to and rounds out the original trilogy radio dramas with a relative sense of grace.

Review: The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama (1983)

After my recent listen-through of the Star Wars NPR Radio Drama, I was eager to listen to the corresponding drama for The Empire Strikes Back. Considered by many (including myself) to be the best of the series, TESB improves upon the original movie in many ways.  Listening to it, two things soon became apparent.

The first is that TESB is a much more visual film than ANH, in the sense that there are more scenes where the viewer is expected to be able to tell what’s going on just from the visuals. This is likely a combination of the change in directors between films and the fact that it’s a sequel, so the audience already knows about the characters and setting to a greater extent. But whatever the reason, the indirect result is that the radio adaptation suffers for it to some degree. Scenarios like Luke being trapped in the Wampa’s cave can be conveyed easily enough through soliloquy, but the frequent location changes of the Cloud City arc end up being harder to follow.

The second is that the adaptation of TESB sticks much more closely to the script than does the adaptation of ANH. It opens with an original scene of Rebel X-wings being destroyed by TIE fighters, and Princess Leia reacting to the news, but this was one of only a couple new scenes, the rest mostly taking place among the Rebels on Hoth. There are some expanded exchanges–between Lando and Boba Fett, for example–but on the whole, not much changes. There is a nice new bit of continuity that heavily implies that Luke found Dagobah through the Force itself, but I haven’t seen this idea referenced anywhere else.

The voice acting this time around isn’t overly remarkable. Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams all return to reprise their roles as Luke, C-3PO, and Lando, respectively. Yoda is voiced by John Lithgow, who somehow manages to make him sound even more like a Muppet. Listening to the asteroid field chase scene did end up being very entertaining to listen to while driving, as the cast reacted to unseen obstacles and TIE fighters.

Overall, I wouldn’t consider this one required listening to quite the same degree as the adaptation of ANH, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable take on The Empire Strikes Back and worth a listen if you liked the first one.

Game Over Return of Fanon

If you’ve ever visited a wiki site other than Wikipedia, it was probably run by Wikia, a site that  allows anyone to create and run their own full Wikipedia-style site, for good or for ill. Perhaps their best-known spinoff is Wookieepedia, a Star Wars wiki that is by far the most complete and comprehensive source of Star Wars information outside of Lucasfilm itself, with 117,811 articles as of this writing. And it’s not just huge, lore-filled franchises either; Wikia’s 335,281 (and counting) communities range from a Wallace and Gromit wiki, to a wiki for the Oscars, to a wiki about buffalo nickels. “The 1913 Type 1 (or variety 1) Buffalo Nickel is the first pereoid of 1913,” proclaims this wiki. “This video may also tell you bits and pieses of the 1913 type 1 Buffalo Nickel.”

(fun fact: while looking through the Wikia movies hub I found an inexplicable description of/advertisement for a condo community in Florida that some confused soul had thought would be a good addition to a wiki about movie wikis)

But, like any content-focused Internet community that combines enthusiasm, the ability of anyone whomsoever to join, and a complete lack of moderation of any sort, Wikia gets more and more perplexing the deeper you go in. Take, for example, the fanon wikis.

Fanon (a portmanteau of “fan” and “canon”) is any material that fans of something create that, while not part of officially licensed canon, nonetheless is “true” in some sense to its creators. It sometimes takes the form of simple “headcanon” inferences about characters. More often it’s full-blown fanfiction, derivative stories about the characters in a work. And then there’s whatever the heck is going on with fanon wikis.

Gum Fun

Do tell, Spongebob Fanon Wiki. (click to expand)

As best as I can figure out, these wikis are dedicated to making plausible-seeming, “real wiki”-style articles about made-up entries in existing franchises. I can understand why someone would write SpongeBob fanfiction, but it’s harder to figure out why someone create an article about their fictional Spongebob spinoff, detailed to the point where the episode trivia section includes that the original airdate was missed. “The title is probably a reference to Everybody Hates Chris!”, cannily observes the page for “Everybody Hates Squidward!” Even the page’s creator isn’t completely sure, it seems.

Meanwhile, the Angry Birds Fanon Wiki posits the existence of a world much like our own, but with many, many more Angry Birds spinoffs and levels. This is a world where Mega Giant Bird has been declared by fiat to be the largest bird possible, and the wholly fictional product-placement-fueled Angry Birds Fritos has been a featured article. In this realm, there is an official release called Angry Birds: 50 and Angry Birds Space: The Movie is planned to air after Season 3 of Angry Birds: The Show.

In this spirit, I am proud to announce my co-founding of the Chess Fanon Wiki. Here, users can unleash their inner creativity and share with the world the new rules for Chess that they’ve made up. Go, and create a work of everlasting value.

(title reference)

Review: NPR Star Wars radio drama (1981)

I’ve had to do more driving than usual lately, so I’ve been on the lookout for good listening material to keep my mind occupied while going back and forth along scenic Interstate 5. So far, my weapon of choice has been podcasts (my latest favorite is the incomparable Citation Needed), but something I’d always been curious about was the radio dramatization of Star Wars that  NPR produced in the early 80s. I love CBS Mystery Theater-type audio entertainment and, of course, Star Wars, and I kept seeing information from the radio version used to answer long-standing fan questions, so it seemed like a good thing to dive into. I wasn’t disappointed.

The first thing you might notice is that it’s long–6 1/2 hours in thirteen parts, to be precise, counting interstitial material like recaps and end credits. Since the original movie is only a bit over two hours, this long-format approach allows for nearly every scene from the movie to be expanded with additional dialogue and characterization. It takes three episodes, an hour and a half of runtime, before the action even catches up to the beginning of the film. A deleted scene with Luke and his friends makes up the first episode, while the next two are about Princess Leia learning about the Death Star and setting in motion her attempt to get the plans to “General Kenobi” on Tatooine.

The expanded script allows for a lot more character motivation to shine through, and integrates nearly flawlessly with the original lines. C-3PO’s opening line “Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor” now fits in with action from the previous few minutes, and Captain Antilles, the Rebel who gets physically strangled by Vader, has an expanded role as well. Biggs’ death (er, spoilers) is significantly more meaningful when presented in the context of his and Luke’s friendship, and Luke’s joy at meeting him again on Yavin 4. There are now scenes for many previously offscreen moments, like Obi-Wan and Luke haggling to sell the landspeeder, Obi-Wan teaching Luke about the Force on the Millennium Falcon before Han walks in, Vader’s interrogation of Leia on board the Death Star, and more.

Remarkably, the additional details fit very well with the later-established Expanded Universe (now “Legends“) and even prequel-based continuity. There are even little continuity fixes, like Luke now saying “This R5 unit has a bad motivator!” because, technically, it’s an R5 rather than R2 unit. The only glaring discrepancy I noticed was that Obi-Wan describes Vader as being “one of” his pupils, but it’s not too hard to retcon given that he was lying in that conversation anyway. I suspect that the writers of the radio drama benefited a lot from writing after The Empire Strikes Back came out, which gave more of a sense of how things worked in the galaxy, what the Emperor was like, and just how accurate Obi-Wan’s story to Luke about what happened to his father was. In fact, there’s a second scene (set on the Falcon) where Luke asks again about his father, and Obi-Wan says there will be time for all that later, even just a few lines after talking about how spacers play holochess to while away the endless hours in hyperspace. (Sort of hilariously, after Luke reacts to seeing the full hologram of Leia by remarking that “she’s beautiful”, Obi-Wan responds by agreeing, which is… odd in light of Return of the Jedi‘s revelations.)

I really enjoyed the voice acting as well. In what might be his first of many voice roles, Mark Hamill returns as Luke, along with Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, lending an air of auditory legitimacy to the production. The rest of the cast plays their parts well, and there’s a certain classic, campy sensibility in the dialogue. It would be easy to just deliver the lines exactly as in the movie (i.e., the versions you hear in your head when you read lines like “what have you done with those plans” or “aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”) but instead they’re given a fresh take. If you know the lines to an unhealthy degree like me, you may be bothered by minor things like Greedo’s lines being out of order, but most won’t notice.

I highly recommend listening to this if you’re even a little bit of a Star Wars fan, and I’m personally looking forward to listening to the adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

I’ve moved my site to WordPress and should be familiarizing myself with it this week. For those who don’t know me, hi, I’m Milo, and this is my personal site! I’m a recent graduate of Western Washington University and a software engineer/developer/mancer. Look for more posts here soon!