Posts

2022-03-04: Probabilistic law of the excluded middle

2020-05-04: Archimedes and the sphere

2019-05-16: Glow worms return

2019-04-11: Original memetic sin

2019-01-31: The theory of weight

2018-11-06: Origins of telephone network theory

2018-10-24: Modern thought

2018-09-10: Feeding a controversy

2018-06-11: Glow worm distribution

2018-04-23: Outlawing risk

2017-08-22: A rebuttal on the beauty in applying math

2016-11-02: In search of Theodore von Karman

2016-09-25: Amath Timeline

2016-02-24: Math errors and risk reporting

2016-02-20: Apple VS FBI

2016-02-19: More Zika may be better than less

2016-01-14: Life at the multifurcation

2015-09-28: AI ain't that smart

2015-06-24: MathEpi citation tree

2015-03-31: Too much STEM is bad

2015-03-24: Dawn of the CRISPR age

2015-02-08: Risks and values of microparasite research

2014-11-10: Vaccine mandates and bioethics

2014-10-18: Ebola, travel, president

2014-10-12: Ebola numbers

2014-09-23: More stochastic than?

2014-08-17: Feynman's missing method for third-orders?

2014-07-31: CIA spies even on congress

2014-07-16: Rehm on vaccines

2014-06-20: Random dispersal speeds invasions

2014-04-14: More on fairer markets

2014-02-17: Is life a simulation or a dream?

2014-01-30: PSU should be infosocialist

2014-01-12: The dark house of math

2013-12-24: Cuvier and the birth of extinction

2013-12-17: Risk Resonance

2013-12-15: The cult of the Levy flight

2013-12-09: 2013 Flu Shots at PSU

2013-12-02: Amazon sucker-punches 60 minutes

2013-11-26: Zombies are REAL, Dr. Tyson!

2013-11-22: Crying wolf over synthetic biology?

2013-11-21: Tilting Drake's Equation

2013-11-18: Why $1^\infty != 1$

2013-11-14: 60 Minutes misreport on Benghazi

2013-11-09: Using infinitessimals in vector calculus

2013-11-08: Functional Calculus

Fabricating Evidence to catch Carmen Sandiego

As my kids get older, I've started playing computer games with them on occasion -- much less than they would like, much to their consternation. One of those games is Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? This is not some new version -- certainly not the new Netflix version where Carmen is morphed into a mis-understood hero -- but the old IBM DOS version from the late 1980's, run in an emulator on a our contemporary computers.

Much to my delight, the game is still fun -- the story line is simple to follow, and the visuals and sound effects keep them entertained as we search through the world following clues. The geography is interesting to me too, particularly in how it differs from my understanding of the modern world -- a surprising amount has changed in the last 30 years.

• Clues often involve European currencies that no longer exist
• Beijing is called Peking, and the only city in China mentioned
• Russia is still the Soviet Union
• Toronto is ignored in favor of Montreal
• Kigali Rwanda makes a large
• Germany, Spain, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, are never visited ...

There are other surprising things like the world being treated like a flat-earth instead of round -- to fly from Asia to Africa, you go over South America instead of the Indian Ocean, and the time to do it is calculated that way too. (or something like that)

But there's also a somewhat darker aspect to the game that I'd completely forgotten about. For those who haven't played, the game is a chase, where you fly from city to city picking up clues about the criminals next destination, following along until you finally catch the thief. Along the way, you also pick up clues about the thief's identity that you use to get a warrant for their arrest. If you fail to get enough clues for a warrant, you can not arrest the thief when you finally catch them.

The weird thing is that not all clues about the thief's identity are equally useful. At Interpol, the warrant form allows information on very specific fields: sex, hair color, hobbies, automobile, and features. However, during the game, you sometimes get other clues, like what the thief's favorite food is. Back in the 1980's when I played, I took notes and discover that this information can also uniquely identify that crook, but not be enough for a warrant. That's fine, but two other aspects of the game that imping on this. (1) clues about the thief's identity can be rare and are often repeated, making it hard to get a warrant, and (2) you are given a week of game-time to catch the crook, and if you don't meet that deadline, they get away. At the end of the game clues to the thief's identity are quite rare (for some reason), and one mistake can lose you enough time for the thief to escape.

So, what's one to do in these situations? You know the crook, but you don't have the real evidence to get a warrant, and you don't have enough time to get all the evidence you need? Well, you fabricate the evidence, of course! Having been reminded, I very specifically remember this being how I caught Carmen Sandiego and one the game one Christmas. I'd already tried to catch Carmen a few times without success -- either I'd run out of time or I'd catch her without the necessary warrant, and she'd get away. But once I'd used those extra clues to figure out who it was I was chasing, I would fill in the warrant blanks without the information to frame the person I thought I was chasing! And it worked -- usually -- occasionally, I would fill in the wrong information and get a warrant for the wrong person, but there were no negative repercussions or demotions.

As an adult and having witnessed the tensions between police and civilians in the last decade, I now see this as unethical behavior and an abuse of power by the investigator. This appears to be a subtle point about the game -- I haven't seen anybody ever mention this before -- it's a point that the casual players who only play a few rounds might never pick up on. What I'd really like to know is if this was an intentional part of the game design, or an accident from the kind of sloppiness with design-details that was common during the early days of home computer games.