Review scores: a philosophical investigation

Normally, in the introduction to an article, I would provide a “hook”, explaining my interest in the topic, and why you should be too. But my usual approach felt wrong here, since I cannot justify my own interest, and arguably if you’re reading this rather than scrolling past the title, you should be less interested than you currently are.

So, review scores. WTF are they? I don’t have the answers, but I sure have some questions. Why is 0/10 bad, 10/10 good, and 5/10… also bad? What goals do people have in assigning a score, and do they align with the goals of people reading the same score? What does it mean to take the average of many review scores? And why do we expect review scores to be normally distributed?

Mathematical structure

Review scores are intuitively understood as a measure of the quality of a work (such as a video game, movie, book, or LP)–or perhaps a measure of our enjoyment of the work? Already we have this question: is it quality, or is it enjoyment, or are those two concepts the same? But we must leave that question hanging, because there are more existentially pressing questions to come. Review scores do more than just express quality/enjoyment, they assign a number. And numbers are quite the loaded concept.

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The speed of light in different directions

As a reminder, I’m open to requests to discuss any popular physics articles or videos, to append to my “I read popular physics” series. This video was not requested, but was shared by a friend of a friend a while back, and I have things to say about it.

Recently, the YouTube Channel Veritasium posted a video “Why the Speed of Light* Can’t be Measured”. The video argues that all measurements of the speed of light involve sending light in one direction, and waiting for it to come back. However, the light could theoretically be traveling faster in one direction than the other. It seems we are not directly measuring the speed of light, but rather the average speed of light in both directions. The constant speed of light in all directions is a matter of theoretical convention rather than empirical fact.

In the Facebook thread where I first saw the video shared, many people were incredulous. As for myself, I immediately understood the argument from the title, and immediately agreed that it was correct. However, I feel the video is misleading, as it does not explain why there is a theoretical convention that the speed of light is constant. And by doing so, I feel it misses the point of relativity theory.

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Bugsnax’s twofold queerness

cn: no spoilers in the OP, but spoilers permitted in comments

Over break, I tried playing Bugsnax, a video game about catching snack-themed bug monsters. I expected a light and colorful game, but I got something more story-oriented, and way more queer. And that’s not just me reading into it–basically anyone who plays through the game will know that there are not one but two same-sex couples in its cast of 13. Fewer players realize this, but there is also a nonbinary character.


bugsnax cover art

Source: Young Horses

My attitude towards queerness in video games is as a nice-to-have. I don’t really expect it, and I expect little out of it. Bugsnax having many queer characters is a pleasant surprise. But I read webcomics whose casts are 100% queer, so for me the novelty is only in the medium, and not in the queerness itself.

What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.

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A year of reading popular physics

At the beginning of 2020, I received a one-year subscription to Scientific American. I embarked on a blogging series in which I read articles about physics, and offer my commentary as a person with a PhD in physics. I may continue this series in 2021, but instead of reading articles in Scientific American, I’ll take reader requests. Just send me any articles or videos that you’d like me to discuss or explain. Requests must obey the following restrictions:

  • It must be intended for popular audiences, as opposed to scholarly audiences.
  • It must be about physics or adjacent to physics. I will also consider requests for math-related articles.
  • I must have access to the article or video. Note, I still have a Scientific American subscription, so those are fair game.

New or old articles are welcome, and videos too.  I will exercise my own discretion among qualifying requests, taking into consideration how much time it would take me to process, and how interesting I think it would be to write about.  To make a request, leave a comment or e-mail me at

Below the fold, I have my review of the articles I’ve written about so far.

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Link Roundup: January 2021

I prefer not to blog about current events, but if you’re interested in that sort of thing on FTB, Crip Dyke is on it!  She has some live-blog style thoughts here and here, thoughts on race, the 25th amendment, self-pardoning, and impeachment.

Dropping The Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki | Shaun (video, 2:20 hours) – So, obviously the length of this video is a huge barrier.  Personally I treated it like a podcast while doing a jigsaw.  Basically, Shaun seeks to answer why the nuclear bomb was dropped, especially focusing on the political motivations and diplomatic failures.  It’s a black comedy of errors, with Japan being desperate to save the emperor, and the US not really caring about the emperor, but wanting unconditional surrender for political optics.  Horrifying to think that nuclear war occurred not by some freak accident, but because people in power just don’t care.

Who “Deserves” COVID-19 Vaccine Priority? / Don’t Worry about COVID-19 Vaccine Frauds | Skepchick (~10 min videos or text) | Rebecca Watson discusses issues related to vaccine prioritization, and makes the case that it’s not about getting vaccines to the most deserving people first, or punishing cheaters, it’s about efficient allocation to end the pandemic sooner.  We are currently thinking of getting a vaccine as a selfish action that protects yourself at the cost of others who could have gotten the vaccine instead.  But fundamentally, vaccines help everyone, and will soon be recognized as a civic duty.  For example, people criticize Republican politicians for rushing to get vaccines early, but I want them to get vaccines for the same reason I want them to wear masks! I’m not afraid of people desperate to get vaccines, I’m afraid of the anti-vaxxers.

Origami: Nested boxes

Four octagonal boxes (without covers)

Octagonal boxes by Tomoko Fuse. From Origami Boxes, if I recall correctly

Today, I present a set of octagonal boxes, designed by Tomoko Fuse.  Rather than providing a design with exact specifications, Tomoko Fuse tends to present several possible variations.  This design has cosmetic variations, which create different patterns of color; and structural variations, allowing you to create wide and short boxes, or narrow and tall boxes.  These boxes don’t have covers, but the idea is that you could make two boxes of slightly different width, and use the wider one as a cover for the narrower one.  I created a set of four of slightly different dimensions, so they could be nested (image below the fold).

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