Medieval Heraldry of Brunswick

I did some research before settling on how I wanted to paint my Medieval German army.  Eventually I found the alliance between King Valdemar II of Denmark and his nephew Otto I, Duke of Brunswick (later, Brunswick-Lüneburg).  I chose the coat of arms of Brunswick: “Gules, two lions passant guardant or.” I’m confident that the coat of arms I chose is accurate for Brunswick during this time, but I’m not sure if I’m using it in the way it would have been used historically.

I wanted heraldry accurate for the troops of Otto I, around 1227 when he fought alongside Valdemar II at the Battle of Bornhöved.  Otto I was Duke of Brunswick at this time, after inheriting Brunswick indirectly from his uncle Otto IV of Brunswick.  Otto IV’s imperial coat of arms from his brief stint as Holy Roman Emperor incorporated Brunswick’s two gold lions on a red field, over the center of the black imperial eagle.

Much later, an Armorial of the Holy Roman Empire, ca 1510, uses the same coat of arms for Brunswick, as shown here.  Brunswick (Braunschweig) is shown just left of center (depicted with the lions facing right instead of left in this case).

These two instances bracket the period I’m interested in, and suggest a strong continuity for the use of this coat of arms in Brunswick.

I found it interesting that the original arms of Brunswick were inspired by the English coat of arms with three gold lions on a red field; and then, centuries later, they were reincorporated into the United Kingdom’s Royal coat of arms in 1714, as a subdivision of the coat of arms of Hanover, as seen here.

The Internet is pretty good at finding pretty pictures, but doesn’t always help with the facts.  I planned to build a City Militia army.  Based on the DBM lists, the knights would either be mounted burghers, mercenaries, or ministeriales.  The spears, crossbows, and psiloi would be city militia.

This is where my questions start.  The basic question is: historically, who used the city’s coat of arms, and who didn’t?  More specifically:

  • Which, if any, of the city militia troops would bear the city’s crest and colors?  I decided to use the crest on everyone holding a shield, and the colors on the crossbowmen but not the psiloi.
  • Mercenary knights would certainly use their own coat of arms.  Would Burghers have a coat of arms of their own? If not, what would they use?
  • What about ministeriales?  My limited understanding is that these were essentially indentured servants who served in the role of mounted combatants (knights, but not lords).  I can’t imagine they had their own coats of arms, so whose did they use?  Did they work for the city or for a feudal lord?

I decided to use one coat of arms for everyone, because I like the way it looks better than using a wide variety of arms.  I have no strong historical evidence that this is accurate, but here are the made up reasons I’ll use to justify it.

The troops are a combination of the city militia of Brunswick, and the personal troops of Otto I of Brunswick before he married into Lüneburg in 1235.  Both of those should use the same coat of arms, as far as I know (which isn’t very far).  There likely weren’t very many troops that could be depicted accurately this way, but this doesn’t bother me very much.  I’m happy pretending these figures are using a 1:1 scale of figures to men, since DBA 2.2 does not provide any accurate or reasonable real world scales.

At a certain point, my decisions started to be based more on personal aesthetics than on history anyway.  We all have to draw the line between researching and “just paint the damn things” somewhere, and this where I chose to put it.

I find it interesting that when I was a kid, I was first attracted to the world of ancient and medieval warfare by the ubiquitous and stereotypical “knights in shining armor.”  It was only as an adult that I started learning about and becoming interested in all of the other forms of ancient and medieval warfare.

At this point, “knights in shining armor” and the earlier knights and their heraldry do not interest me as much.  For the most part, I don’t like what they stood for, how they acted, or how they looked anymore.  However, I need at least one typical Medieval army if I am going to be able to participate in all possible themed events.  Hopefully I can grab a German spot early if it ever comes up.  This army will also play a role as an ally in several BBDBA armies we have in the works, as well as an enemy in one or more matched pairs.

Jack of All Trades or Renaissance Soul?

The GeekDad blog at Wired recently had a post by someone else who finally recognized herself as a Jack of All Trades. Except, she refers to herself as a Renaissance Soul, a term used in a book she read. I suppose this is the modern, PC version of “Renaissance Man.”

It’s interesting to read her story, especially the part about how after reading some books about other “renaissance souls,” she finally feels like there’s nothing wrong with this aspect of her personality. I’m not sure I ever felt like being a Jack of All Trades was a problem; it’s just the way I was. I came from a family of well-rounded individuals, so I don’t think I felt out of place.

I also enjoyed her observation that some people enjoy going to the same place for vacation every year, while others prefer going to new places. I prefer going to new places, but I don’t take many non-family vacations anyway. Our decision to take many long weekends instead of a few long vacations per year meshes well with my preference for the new. But more than anything, I don’t think we enjoy going on vacation unless we have a specific reason or an activity to do in the place we’re going. Travelling just to be somewhere else makes little sense in this day and age.

I previously came across other ways of describing the difference between people who prefer the comfort of the known and those who are entranced by the novelty of the new: neophiles versus neophobes. This clear cut dichotomy seems like an insufficient measurement. As I’ve written before, I have a fear of the unknown, which may make me a neophobe, but I definitely also have an affinity for the new, making me a neophile. I think I like new ideas, but prefer to have new experiences only after I have a chance to calculate the risks involved.

But what about the names: “Jack of All Trades” versus “Renaissance Soul?” I’d definitely prefer to be called a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. A Jack solves problems, sometimes out of necessity, but never out of vanity. “Renaissance Soul” sounds too highbrow for me, more like “master of others, giving me time to do what I want.”

The Future is Here

Most people think “the future” involves jet packs and flying cars, but I disagree (even if you manage to make a jetpack that doesn’t ingest fossil fuels). The future, if there is one to be had, must lie along a different path.

In fact, the toys of the future cannot exist at all, in the traditional sense, because in the long run there simply isn’t enough “stuff” to go around. Inasmuch as the toys of the future will ever exist, they already do; but as William Gibson has said, “the future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”

I recently saw the latest sign of this future in the state of my Netflix queue. For the first time, the number of entries in our “Instant” queue has outnumbered the number of entries in our “DVD” queue. This bolsters my hope that someday soon, I’ll be able to watch whatever I want whenever and wherever I want (for a modest fee, of course) without having to buy something or plan ahead.

Those of you who have been watching pay per view and Tivo for the last 5 years may think I’m arriving late to the party, but the Netflix streaming-on-demand service is different enough that I disagree.

Beautiful Fall Commutes

Fall is a wonderful time for commuting by bicycle. This fall has been particularly mild and enjoyable.

After the clocks fall back, it’s dark by the time I leave work. If I don’t have to get home quickly, I ride through Schenley and Frick parks. Almost the whole trip home is on trails, and avoids cars. Since it’s dark and a bit chilly, there are almost no dogs and walkers.

Once I’m on the Junction Hollow trail, it’s basically silent until I get to Squirrel Hill. My generator headlight is bright enough to keep the ride safe. Riding home alone, a silent bubble of light floating in a sea of darkness, gives me time to think and provides a good transition between “communicating with computers” at work and “communicating with people” at home.

It helps a lot that I commute often, and the route is familiar to me. I don’t spend any thought on operating my bicycle and I’m completely comfortable with the way it handles. Being familiar with the route allows me to anticipate the tricky parts, but cruise smoothly between them.

Most people who drive often occasionally experience the “autopilot” effect: “How did I get here?” Part of you drives the car to your destination without the rest of you even being aware of it or needing to pay full attention to it. I have the same experience on my bicycle, especially on the way home as my mind is processing the day’s effort at work. “I’m at the top of the hill already?” is a particularly nice revelation to have.

Unfortunately, fall doesn’t always last very long. But as long as there isn’t too much snow, nighttime park rides home can be very enjoyable in the winter as well.

What drives you crazy?

NPR recently requested listeners to submit a short story (250 words or less) story about “What drives you crazy?” when driving, riding, or walking on our roads. I don’t go crazy in writing very well, but here’s what I told them drives me crazy while I’m riding my bike:

As a vehicular cyclist, I am required to follow the rules that govern all vehicular road traffic. My gripe is about drivers who treat me as a pedestrian instead of a vehicle. In Pittsburgh, drivers often relinquish their right-of-way and encourage cyclists to cross traffic when it would otherwise be unlawful or unsafe to do so. This unpredictable driving makes intersections less safe for everyone involved, and perpetuates a downward spiral of poor behavior by cyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road and drivers who encourage them to do so. Be mindful of cyclists who may ride where they shouldn’t, but for the safety of everyone involved, please don’t enourage this behavior.

Alan Ferrency
Pittsburgh, PA

Realism in wargames

The short version of my discussion about realism in wargames is: “There isn’t any.” That may not be entirely true, but it’s a pretty good approximation. This doesn’t stop people from trying to make wargames realistic, though.

When I use the word “realism” I include “verisimilitude,” by which I mean the degree of similarity to fictitious works (even though I now see that may not be exactly what verisimilitude means). Wargames attempting to recreate the War of the Ring or the Battle of the Five Armies can get it just as right or wrong as recreations of the Battle of Thermopylae or the Battle of the Bulge. On the other hand, by “wargame” I’m only referring to board games and miniature games, not video games.

The idea of making a game realistic treats the game as a simulation. But a simulation of what? Different game designers emphasize correctness and realism in different areas, while accepting a greater degree of abstraction in other areas. This can result in very different gameplay for different games.

The most visible kind of realism is in the way the game pieces look. Eurogames and board game wargames typically use very abstract pieces: wooden cubes or square cardboard counters. Ameritrash games emphasize the look of the game and usually include molded plastic figures to represent troops. Using pieces which look realistic is the main reason to play a miniatures game instead of a board game.

The way game pieces look doesn’t need to affect the way the game plays, even though sometimes it does. The visual differences define broad categories of games because they’re the first thing you see. To me, the more interesting difference is the way gameplay changes depending on how a game attempts to achieve realism.

Some wargames are described as “reductionist.” An army is reduced to a specific number of individual men and the machines and equipment they are using. Statistics are collected about the real life performance of these men and their equipment. The game defines strict time scales per turn and well-defined distances on the playing area. The hope is that if you introduce enough detail into the rules, accurate results of the battles they model will emerge (nevermind that whole die-rolling thing…).

I read a good statement of my main criticism of the reductionist school of game design: it confuses “detail” with “realism.” Fine details seem to provide justification for the results the game produces, but they also obscure areas where abstractions have been made, and hide the ways in which the game is unrealistic.

Some common flaws with reductionist games are:

  • they require fiddly rules with special cases for all details the game attempts to model
  • games are slow or take too long
  • rule complexity and slow gameplay cause the game to lose the “feel” of the activity it’s attempting to simulate
  • too much bookkeeping
  • complex rules can shifr game play emphasis from using period-appropriate tactics to taking advantage of “flaws” in the rules in order to win

As an example of reductionism and its limitations: it is possible to calculate all aspects of the velocity, orientation, and position of an airplane in flight, and to track changes in these over a series of steps in time (game turns) in reactions to the actions of players. However, doing this typically does not feel like flying an airplane: it feels like completing a physics problem set. That’s not my idea of fun.

I know I said I wasn’t talking about video games, but reductionism is something computers can do a lot better than humans. Bookkeeping is not a problem for computers, calculations can be done much more quickly, and no player needs to remember the rules.

Details are not bad by themselves. The important aspect is matching the level of detail with the scale of the game. In a World War II skirmish with 10 guys on each side, it’s important exactly how many men there are, what kind of guns they’re using, and how many bullets they have left. If you’re wargaming the entire European Theater of Operations, these minutae are not only less important to the general commanding the entire army, they aren’t available to him whether he’s interested or not. Learn to delegate.

Other games push detail into a secondary role, and instead emphasize making the game “feel” right for the player, in the context of the role they are playing in the game. In a WWII air combat game, the emphasis might be on making it feel like fast-paced combat where you must react quickly to avoid being shot down. An infantry skirmish might put you in the role of a platoon leader, where you have a few dozen scared kids with guns who would rather hide behind a tree than advance on the enemy machine gun net. Playing General Montgomery attempting to push a long line of troops and tanks down the road in Operation Market Garden is going to be a lot more about logistics and attrition than individual firefights.

Some benefits and optimizations that can be more easily achieved when you emphasize a realistic “feel” while omitting detail are:

  • Fewer rules
  • Less bookkeeping to do during the game
  • Faster gameplay; this is often necessary for a game to feel right
  • It’s easier to encourage use of appropriate tactics instead of “gaming” the rules

It has been observed that in the last decade or so wargames have been trending towards cleaner, simpler rulesets instead of the lumbering behemoths of yesteryear. The old guard laments the lack of attention span of “those kids today” and might blame video games for what they perceive as reduced quality in rulesets.

I also invoke video games as a possible reason for this change, but I credit them instead of blaming them. Computers are much more able to reach the logical extreme of reductionist rulesets than humans are. Anyone interested in pursuing extreme detail is generally better off teaching a computer how to follow the rules than a human, and so those game designers with this propensity are creating video games instead of board games. I have no problem with that.

As for how these theoretical preferences affect the games I play in reality…

I enjoy playing video games, becuase they often combine an extreme degree of detail with the “feel” I’m looking for in a game. But of course, I still enjoy a good face-to-face board game or miniature game. I have limited time, so I tend to choose relatively short games, but I don’t often let rule complexity be a limiting factor. I’ve enjoyed playing all kinds of wargames: some more reductionist, and others which emphasize the gameplay instead of the detail. So maybe I’m just in another phase where I don’t like the idea of reductionism?

I also like reading game rules, sometimes without ever playing the game or even owning enough parts to play it. I like to see how designers translate real-world situations into playable game mechanics. These rulesets are solutions to problems of modelling, and it is interesting to me to see the different ways they create abstractions of reality. (In contrast, pure abstract strategy games aren’t interesting to me. One reason for this is becuase the rules exist in a vacuum: they are abstract, but they aren’t an abstract representation of anything.)

Regarding the realism of the way a game looks on the table: I run the gamut in this area as well. I play euro style wargames, ameritrash, and hex and counter games, but right now I’m on a miniatures gaming kick. For me, miniatures games are as much about the modelling as the playing: the prospect of playing a game is an excuse to paint the figures.

Another unintended side effect of the visual detail in a miniatures game is that I am encouraged to learn about the period I’m gaming. Some of this is required to accurately paint figures or plan and set up for a specific battle in history; but some of it is accidental, when I get sucked into books I’m reading on related subjects.

So, don’t fool yourself into thinking any of these games are realistic, but do have fun trying!

Halfway here…

I was born in fall of 1971, and started living in Pittsburgh in fall of 1990, when I came to school at Carnegie Mellon University.

Now, it’s fall of 2009, so I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for half my life (approximately, not counting tings like summers home and 6 months in Washington state). Wow!

We’ve lived in this house since 1998, which means there are only 4-5 years until I’ve lived in this house longer than anywhere else. It seems a lot more recent than that. So much for this only being a “starter house.”

Randomness in Games

Most board and card games contain random elements that affect the outcome of the game. The random mechanics used varies widely from game to game, and only some of these mechanics feel “fun,” or feel like a positive contribution to the game.

At one extreme, “pure chance” games whose outcome is completely out of the control of the players and which require no decisions to be made by players are completely broken. War, Chutes and Ladders, Russian Roulette, and similar games are not worth playing even with young children, and should be avoided at all costs. There are much better games to teach basic game mechanics such as “roll and move,” drawing cards, and “don’t shoot yourself in the head”, so I really see no redeeming quality in games which foster competition while leaving no control of the outcome in players’ hands.

At the other extreme are “pure skill” games such as Go, Chess, Checkers, Mancala, and Roads and Boats, which use no randomness in the game mechanics, but count on changing player strategies to provide variety when the game is replayed. Successive plays will always have identical results if the players take the same actions each game. While some of these are interesting to me, there is no randomness provided by the game itself, so it’s really not what I’m talking about right now.

Between these extremes, randomness can fill a greater or lesser role in determining the outcome of the game. More importantly, randomness can feel like it’s affecting the outcome of the game more or less. Often, I find games more fun when the player feels like they maintain control of the situation, even in the presence of huge random effects.

There are a few things I’ve noticed about how random effects are used in games, which I believe help explain the difference between “good randomness” and “bad randomness.” I do play games which I sometimes consider “too random” or to have what I’d call “bad randomness,” and I even have fun playing them. But I’ve noticed an overall pattern regarding how much I enjoy games.

Some randomness affects only one player or affects different players differently, but other random effects apply to all players equally. In a game like Poker or Magic: the Gathering, each player draws their cards separately, and each player’s random draw affects only their own hand. But in other games such as Adel Verpflichtet, or Power Grid, the result of a card draw or die roll determines which resources are available for all players to use equally.

Sometimes, games where randomness affects players inequally can feel more random, because the game can seem to capriciously pick on one player turn after turn while leaving another player alone. In games where everyone is affected equally by random events, players are given the opportunity to bond together in their suffering when bad luck affects everyone.

Another way in which random effects are handled differently is whether the element of chance is applied before or after players make decisions. Wargames often use a die roll or card draw mechanic to determine the outcome of a battle after players have decided who’s fighting and where: once the battle starts, the players are at the mercy of luck. But eurogames usually provide the random selection first, and let players react to this randomness.

Although I enjoy games in both of these categories, I often feel more satisfied when I finish a game that allowed me to make decisions in reaction to randomness, rather than allowing randomness to determine whether my actions succeeded or not. It’s no fun when you lose to a bad die roll even when you had good plans and superior forces, but it’s also not fun to beat someone in the same way.

Some games include mechanics that attempt to compensate for randomness or a string of bad luck on one player’s part. For example, some wargames have game effects which allow players to reroll dice, or to otherwise react to a random outcome that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to react to. These are typically one-shot deals and can help sometimes, but they often aren’t enough to really make a difference in the outcome of a game.

Wargames involve a lot of direct player vs. player interaction (combat): that’s the whole point, after all. Traditionally, these games typically use a die roll to resolve combat, combined with either a “combat results table” or a formula to decide who wins. This basically means that you don’t know how well your forces will perform in combat, until you’ve already committed them to a specific battle. Good troops and a bad die roll can crush you and turn a “sure thing” into a sound defeat.

But not all wargames use this kind of combat resolution. Certain more recent games use card-based combat resolution. They allow decision making after random effects are applied by letting you hold at least some of your combat cards before you decide what attacks to make. This lets you know your troop capabilities before you decide what to do with them. Bad cards can still lose a battle, but if you have bad cards it’s a good idea not to go looking for any battles at that point. This form of combat resolution works because you never know your opponent’s combat effectiveness, only your own.

An example of a game which uses this kind of card-based combat resolution is Starcraft. Each player has a hand of 6 or more combat cards. When combat is started, attackers draw 3 more cards, and defenders draw one. The cards are keyed to certain troop types, so they decide which troop types are going to battle effectively at all. Each troop type has a range of typical combat results, but getting your cards ahead of time lets you know specifically whether you’ll be likely to kill or not, or be killed or not.

Friedrich is another game we played that uses a pre-drawn hand of cards to decide combat. The combat mechanic works really well in this game, but unfortunately our gaming group’s “groupthink” only came up with one winning strategy, and that strategy was incredibly boring to actually play! So we gave up on this one, but I’d like to see another title with similar combat resolution.

Wallenstein and Shogun (the new one) both use a novel randomization mechanic for combat resolution. It doesn’t allow for decision making after the random effect is applied, but it does tend to balance out “bad luck” over the long run for every player. Combat resolution is done by mixing up small cubes which represent each player’s troops involved in the battle, and dumping them into a tower which has many internal “floors” in it. Some of the cubes come out, and some don’t. Some cubes already in the tower might also come out. Whichever player has more troops come out wins, and they both lose troops equal to the number of troops the loser got out of the tower.

In general, the loser ends up with more cubes in the tower, which gives them more chance of their cubes falling out in a future combat. If you “roll low” and get only a few cubes out of the tower, you have more in the tower, but you also reduce your opponents troops by less. If you get a lot of cubes out, but not quite enough, then you’re unlikely to put many extras in the tower, but you do more damage to your enemy. In practice, it seems to work fairly well.

I’d like to try some more wargames which allow players to make combat decisions based on resources they already have on hand. I expect games like this using card based combat resolution might play a bit like a trick-taking card game during combat.

Managers and Diplomats

“I had a dream last night, but I forget what it was
I had a dream last night about you, my friend
I had a dream–I wanted to sleep next to plastic
I had a dream–I wanted to lick your knees
I had a dream–it was about nothing”
— Camper Van Beethoven

I had a dream last night. The pertinent part started when I found myself in a swimming pool, with about five other guys who were going to move into the basement of my empty house in South Side. (Don’t ask me, it was a dream.)

But there were also a few young women in the pool. One asked, “Is there a manager here?”

It sounded more like “Is there a doctor in the house?” than “I’d like to speak to a manager.”

“I’m starting a job as a manager tomorrow, and I have some questions.”

I offered that I was a manager, and talked to her. It was immediately obvious that she was highly but awkwardly educated: she new all the words, but had no experience to give them any meaning in the real world.

The conversation seemed to turn into an e-mail exchange. She explained that her book said that managers were diplomats, but her glossary only contained a definition for “Diplomatic Palace,” which referred to a building used in ancient Rome to house diplomats. She was confused because she wasn’t really sure how that applied to her new job.

I agreed with her, and then woke up to the sound of trucks ripping the pavement off our street.

But I remembered my dream, and thought it made a good point. Although I am not exclusively a manager, some aspects of the managerial part of my job are very similar to what a diplomat does.’s second aspect of the noun “diplomat” is defined as “a person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc.” This also applies.

As the head of my team, I have the job of interacting with representatives from other departments in the company. I have to negotiate solutions to their problems, while keeping in mind the restrictions and interests of the members of my team. I build a working relationship with the other departments, and learn to navigate their systems, so my employees don’t have to. I maintain an alliance and friendly negotiations even if our departments decide they’re at war.

The rest of my management tasks are just as the traditional aphorism describes: “Managing programmers is like herding cats.” The key to success is finding well-behaved cats (and wearing claw-proof gloves).

Essential Skills

BoingBoing recently posted a link to 18 Essential Maker Skills and referred to a Heinlein quote:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

As a dedicated Jack, the last line resonated with me: Specialization is for insects. I’m reminded of a quote which Google just helped me attribute to Nicholas Butler:

An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.

There is certainly value in becoming a Master. But the important part of this journey is to never consider yourself a master. As soon as you do, you essentially claim you have nothing else to learn.

I don’t consider myself a master, but I’m well trained as a know-it-all. If you aren’t skeptical enough, you might think I know what I’m talking about. But if you aren’t skeptical enough, you get what you deserve. I’m the sort of person who finds it humorous to say things which are obviously false for ironic effect.

As for the specific 18 Essential Maker Skills presented in the link above, well… “they’re wrong and I’m right,” of course (see “know-it-all,” above). Those skills are all very useful. But if I had to choose only 18 “maker” skills out of everything anyone has ever done or made, I’m not sure those are all the best choices. Many of them are too domain-specific, not universal enough, and too dedicated to the use of special purpose tools.

I’d probably start with the basic necessities in life, and move on from there. Let me be clear: I don’t claim to have all these skills. I only claim that I think they’re important.

  1. Learn how to learn. The most important skill, and the basis for all others, is knowing how to learn new skills. Different people learn in different ways, you need to know what works for you.
  2. Make a meal, from earth to plate. Whether it’s vegetable or an animal, know where your food comes from, and how to get some if you can no longer go to a store. At the very least, learn to make your own meals well enough that you’re willing to eat them.
  3. Make clothing. Again, get as close to the earth as you can.
  4. Make shelter. If I were getting more specific, I’d say “use an axe,” as this is another very basic and important skill, but that may only be because I grew up in the forest instead of the desert.
  5. Set a broken bone. Good idea, Mr. Heinlein. As you can tell: I believe staying alive is important.
  6. Make something from nothing. Become comfortable with thinking and with constructing models and ideas in your mind. Even if your ideas never take physical form, being able to think ensures you will always have something to do. Writing is a good approximation of creating something from nothing. So is computer programming, which is just writing in a different language anyway.
  7. Use tools. The only people likely to read this blog may find the concept very silly, but many people don’t know how to use even basic tools such as a screwdriver, wrench, or hammer. I remember someone who learned how to change a car tire: “That’s it?” Yes, that’s it. Just because someone else says something is difficult, that doesn’t make it difficult. You may just not be skeptical enough: try it and find out.
  8. Fix something. Anything, it doesn’t matter what: make something work, that previously did not.
  9. Make yourself happy.
  10. Ask a question. Learn to figure out what you don’t know, and how to express this in the form of an answerable question.
  11. Tell the difference between success and failure. It’s a lot easier to do well if you can tell the difference between doing well and doing poorly. When starting in a new hobby or learning a new skill, find a master and try to figure out how what makes their work masterwork. As long as you think you’re just as good as they are, you aren’t making progress.
  12. Find the value of things. Value is a very personal concept: the value of something is how much you are willing to sacrifice to attain it. If someone else values something more than you do, they may place a price on it which you don’t want to pay. Become confident enough in your ability to assign value to things that you won’t sacrifice more than you want to, when attaining them.
  13. Take something apart and put it back together again. Make sure it still works, or at least that you know exactly why it doesn’t work anymore.
  14. Formulate a plan. Can you tell someone else how to put together the thing you just took apart?
  15. Follow instructions. When you come back a year from now, can you follow the plan you just formulated for putting that thing back together?

In many ways these skills are restatements and combinations of a few concepts. Learn how to think in the abstract, solve problems, and to map between abstract concepts and real-life objects.