Monday, February 15, 2010

Conflicting World Models in Conflict Simulation

Many board games have been created to simulate past military conflicts. They are often created to explore "what ifs", alternative choices the opposing commanders hypothetically could have made at the time. A basic problem, of course, is that we have hindsight knowledge (though sometimes still incomplete) of what actually happened.

To simulate "fog of war" games sometimes hide the positions or strengths of opposing troops. More rarely the strengths of untested "green" troops are even hidden from their own commanders. Elaborate scenario start conditions also try to recreate the historical limitations faced by commanders at the time: troops hopelessly out of position or delayed due to political restrictions, surprise, disrupted communications, etc.

What these games rarely represent, however, is that commanders sometimes start with fundamentally different understandings of "basic game mechanics", such as the effects of mapboard terrain on movement, supply, and combat. Many historical battles have hinged on one side believing certain terrain was impassible by many unit types. The classic gaming example is the Ardennes forest at the beginning of both WW I and II. A "historically correct" gameboard for the French would show it impassible to mechanized units, while the German gameboard would show it passable. Since the "after the fact" map has the terrain passable, the French player will of course want to defend it accordingly. Thus the elaborate setup-rules necessary to prevent this and ensure at least the possibility of achieving the historical outcome. But here the most important element of surprise, that of one commander suddenly discovering his world-model is incorrect, is lost.

This limitation becomes more acute the further players try to maneuver beyond the historical outcome. Since these alternative paths were (figuratively and literally) never explored, we have little idea where their differing world models would have broken down in conflict with reality.

The Future of Amplification

Recently there have been several positive reviews of the NAD M2 Direct Digital Amplifier (white paper). It is the first of its kind, and I expect many more amplifiers like this will follow.

Today most audio sources are digital: CD/SACD, DVD/Blu-Ray, HDTV, PC/MP3 server, etc. These signals are passed through a digital-to-analog converter, have volume control applied, and are passed as analog signals to the amplification stage. Even current class D amplifiers accept an analog signal, convert it to a PWM (pulse width modulation) digital signal, and use that to generate the final amplified analog signal sent to the speakers.

The NAD M2 is unique in keeping the input digital signals in the digital domain as long as possible. It accepts PCM (pulse code modulation) digital inputs, applies volume control digitally, and converts the PCM to PWM for output by the class D amplifier. Keeping the signal digital as long as possible eliminates all the possible noise sources in the redundant digital-to-analog-to-digital conversions, and the lossy analog connections between source, pre-amplifier and power amplifier.

(Yes, I deleted my previous audio post as I realized I was spreading disinformation. I am currently fascinated by the topic, and will keep trying.)