Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this might be the first furniture thought-piece I've ever linked to (and it's a great read): What is the Future of the Past?

From C. Lee, and boy, this is tempting: Build A Killer Amiga Emulator For Under $100 With The Raspberry Pi 3. This was an amazing woman: Obituary: Millie Dunn Veasey, pioneering sergeant turned rights activist. This is intriguing: The Mystery of the Continuously Functioning Battery From 1840. And so is this: What scientists found trapped in a diamond: a type of ice not known on Earth. Both amusing and thoughtful: The Secret to a Longer Life? Don’t Ask These Dead Longevity Researchers. This is not good: Most Americans think artificial intelligence will destroy other people’s jobs, not theirs.

From Wally, and this is fascinating: 'Grandma's food': How changing tastes are killing German restaurants - and the future of them may be in Richmond. This is very clever, and almost hypnotically slow: Rube Goldberg spinners. This is brutal: Toxic Management Cost an Award-Winning Game Studio Its Best Developers.

From Ken Piper, and it's quite remarkable: Dead man balking: Court rejects Romanian man's claim that he is, in fact, alive.

The future: Meet the startup that makes milk—without cows.

From Griffen Cheng, and this is thought-provoking: How Psychopaths See the World.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Winning Winning Winning in Games

DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand sent me an e-mail recently.

This is always a good thing.

Here's an excerpt (in reference to something I wrote a few weeks ago): 
I had a thought about the difference between gaming when I was a kid and gaming today.  It's something I think about a lot when I listen to / watch my kids becoming gamers raised on things like Fortnight and COD:WWII, especially my youngest.  

Gaming used to be about a sense of accomplishment, a sense of satisfaction for finishing, like reaching the end of a good book.  Now I think gaming has become much more about winning, about outlasting, about becoming the mythical Best.  

Eli 16.8 plays Fortnite (Battle Royale version) a bit. I've played a few rounds, and watched him play quite a few more.

Here's the Wikipedia description:
As a battle royale game, Fortnite Battle Royale features up to 100 players, alone or in small squads, attempting to be the last player alive by killing other players or evading them, while staying within a constantly shrinking safe zone to prevent taking lethal damage from being outside it. Players must scavenge for weapons and armor to gain the upper hand on their opponents. The game adds the construction element from Fortnite; players can break down most objects in the game world to gain resources they can use to build fortifications as part of their strategy.

It's an incredibly clever game design, particularly because it accommodates everyone's play style. You can go completely aggro, or turtle, or anywhere in-between, and you can still be successful (up to a point). Plus, there's a counter that always shows you how many players are left in the round, so even as you cower in a shed somewhere, someone else is getting taken out, and you're having a "winning" moment while you hide.

Plus, the rounds only last (at most) around 15 minutes, and if you die early, you can hop back into a new round within 60 seconds of your death.

What this game design focuses on, to an incredible degree, are winning moments. That counter going down feels like a win every time. Even if you're an awful player, you only have one death moment, and you'll have many more players go out before you.

Even when you lose, you feel like you won.

It's all about winning, to an incredibly compressed degree, and that speaks to Ben's point. Games today, particularly the most popular ones, are all designed to give you the drip-drip-drip of victory. Hell, the entire genre of battle royale games seem to exist solely to give players that feeling.

When I played Ultima IV (back in the sixteenth century), I played for hours where not that much happened, really. Then I'd suddenly find a ship, when I didn't even know the game had ships. One night, around 2 a.m., behind a castle, I found a balloon.

I played until dawn because I found a balloon.

I played games mostly because I loved the exploration, and finding cool things didn't feel like winning, it felt like revealing. I was revealing the game, and searching would make it unfold it in front of me.

It was wonderful, and it wasn't competitive in the slightest. If I wanted to compete--and often I did--I'd play a sports game.

Now, though, these games have all become sports games, or at least, they evoke sports games, because there are winners and losers. Unlike sports games, though, there are many more winners than losers, because the game is tuned to produce as many winners as possible.

Everything plays to our egos now.

I think I'm going to keep exploring this on Monday, talking about how this ties into media consumption in general. Or not, because by Monday there may be three other rabbit holes I'm peering down.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Correction

On further reflection, it is undoubtedly true that there are plenty of 24-year-old, home schooled white men who DON'T go on bombing sprees, so claiming that those characteristics are somehow indicative of anything is unfair.

It does seem alarming, though, that disaffected, angry white guys in their twenties are involved in so many bad things, things that are beyond comprehension to normal people.

Austin, and Belfast

I was going to write about the Austin bombings today, but the bastard blew himself up last night.

24. White. Home-schooled. The only thing missing is "white nationalist". Well, it's early.

We are incredibly sensitive to bombings in this country, because they happen so seldom. School shooting? That's Wednesday.

In other countries, when there are school shootings, laws are passed and people turn in weapons. Not here.

That's not what I want to talk about today, though, so let's move on. Let's talk about Bloody Friday.

I don't remember when I became interested in Belfast, and what happened there in 1972. Oh, I do remember--it was when I went to London on business in the late 1990s and couldn't find a single trash bin at the train station. It was kindly explained to me that there were no bins because that's where bombers put their bombs.

Sobering, to say the least.

So I started reading, working my way backwards, and eventually I got to Belfast in 1972.

In one year, over 1,300 bombs were detonated in Belfast. Car bombs, usually, as that was the preferred method used by the IRA. ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) bombs, to be more specific.


When I say "car bomb", it gives no reference to explosive power, so let me narrow that down for you. A car bomb in Belfast in 1972 was usually powerful enough to hurl cars at least fifty feet high.

That takes two words and gives them dimension, doesn't it?

The urban population of Belfast in 1972 was about 400,000. The Austin urban population is about 2,000,000 (and it's much more spread out). So over three car bombs a day were going off in a physical area 1/10 the size (maybe even smaller).

Three a day!

I don't know many people who can even conceive of that. I can't.

Oh, and to clarify: please understand that none of this was written to minimize what happened in Austin. It was more that what happened in Austin vibrated a string, and the Belfast string vibrated as a result.

From the Wayback Machine

I think that's the stick Jack Campbell gave him after a few Texas Stars players went to one of Eli 10.4s practices (or maybe 9.4--not sure). 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Maybe Not As Much Spring As I'd Hoped

It's the first day of Spring and I can't feel my fingers.

It's beautiful and sunny, temperature 38F (wind chill 24F), and I'm wearing three layers plus a heavy jacket, flannel jeans, and heavy shocks and shoes. And gloves.

Still, after about twenty minutes, the feeling starts to leave my fingers.

I'm in the backyard with Eli 16.8, feeding balls into a pitching machine. There's a hockey net in the yard, and he's standing in front of it, catching ball after ball with his glove.

This is a real pitching machine. It can throw 70+ MPH at 46 feet, and Eli is about 10 feet closer than that. We have 50 7.5" baseballs (about 20% smaller than a regular baseball), and I feed him 300-400 balls in a regular session.

This machine is straight-up amazing. The pitches it can throw:
left-hand curve
right-hand curve
left-hand slider
right-hand slider

That's right--it can throw a knuckleball. A good one, too.

The nastiest pitch for him to catch seems to be the splitter, because it has a filthy drop at the end. Pucks do that, though, so we're basically creating every combination of speed, spin, and location we can, so that when he's on the ice, he's seen every trajectory that can possibly happen.

We even have an inflatable bopper (ninja on one side, boxer on the other) that can stand a few feet in front of Eli and act as a screen.

Standing. Butterfly. Half-split. Glove side. Blocker side. Ball. Next ball.

We have a screen behind the net so that these little baseballs don't go flying into the neighbor's yards, although once or twice a session, one gets through.

1,500 balls a week all spring and summer will be 25,000 balls by the time school starts in the fall.

Limited Utility

The only reason anyone should ever, EVER use Amazon's Silk browser is if they're feeling suicidal and want one more thing to push them over the edge.

Monday, March 19, 2018


I was walking to breakfast this morning when I saw a women on the other side of the street.

You know the hardcore walking type--thin, arms high, eyes focused like a laser straight ahead. She was moving, too.

Behind her were three dogs: a boxer, a terrier, and a schnauzer.

The boxer and terrier were (on leashes) directly behind their owner, with the boxer on the left. They, too, walked with absolutely no wasted motion, looking only straight ahead, perfectly in stride with their owner and each other.

Behind them, with about three more feet of leash available, was the schnauzer. Incredibly, he was also looking directly ahead, although with the shortness of his legs, he was running, not walking.

It was a dog peloton.

They turned off at the next intersection, but I saw them again ten minutes later. The boxer, given more leash from his owner, had dropped back with the schauzer, with the terrier solely in front now.

Still, they moved in perfect harmony. With expert timing, as it's been said.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Links!

From C. Lee, and I always thought this was true: How Strength Training Makes You Faster. In the same vein: Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Olympian? Also related: Muscle loss in old age linked to fewer nerve signals. Boy, this is topical: How to Buy a Gun in 15 Countries. Smugglers! What turns some law-abiding Canadians into smugglers? The high price of imported cheese. Yes, it did: The 1968 Kerner Commission Got It Right, But Nobody Listened.

From Meg McReynolds, and here are some details on one of the most poignant songs ever written: Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman: The unfinished song that became a classic. More: Behind The Song: “Wichita Lineman”.

From Wally, and this is very clever: 8 Bit Door Chime Plays Africa By Toto. This is fascinating: Bug Gaits for Animators. You don't see this every day: Motorcycle Helps Rider Recover Runaway Horse. What, my World Famous Fish Stick recipe is under scrutiny? The Dirty Secret of ‘Secret Family Recipes’

From Steven Davis, and this is certainly chilling: The Grisly Origins of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Empire.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister passed away last week.

He was the first person to run a sub-four minute mile, and he did it in 1954. Mount Everest was climbed for the first time almost exactly a year earlier.

Sixty-five years later, more people have climbed Mount Everest than run a four-minute mile.

Anyone who runs knows the feeling of your body just shutting down after running near peak speed for too long, like an engine seizing up. Pushing into this pain is brutally difficult, and Bannister pushed more deeply than anyone ever had.

He wrote a book about it all, and I still remember reading it for the first time. It was superbly written and unbelievably gripping, and I still remember individual passages decades later.

Remarkably, not long after he broke four minutes in the mile, electrifying the world, he retired from competitive running to become a neurologist (an outstanding one, by all accounts).

The New York Times has a nice obituary, and in it they mention that his training base for the race was twenty-eight miles a week.


There's also footage from the race itself (it was actually a time trial, not a race, but whatever), and it's mesmerizing.

Also, in a world that seems defined by crudeness and downright dickery these days, Roger Bannister was a good person. I've never read one negative word about him, never found one person or incident that made me think less of him. He was universally respected and beloved.

That was the real triumph of his life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


I thought of a way to describe to Eli 16.7 how games unfold.

Expectations are performance killers. Expectations of how a game should go, expectations of how you should perform. Expectations of fairness. Anything not focused on the present--without comparison--interferes with an athlete's ability to perform at the highest level.

It's a trap almost everyone falls into, including Eli.

"Here's a metaphor," I said.

"Uh-oh," Eli said, laughing. "Go ahead."

"A game is like a rope," I said.

"Explain that."

"There is a rope in front of you, and it's nearly the same length every time," I said. "You know that every length of the rope will have knots, but they will be always be in different places, because no two ropes are exactly the same. You pull on the rope and look for the knots, and when you find them, you dissolve them."

"Untie them?" he asked.

"Not exactly," I said. "This is more of a Zen thing. You seek the knots, and you focus until they fall away."

"Wow," he said. "That's actually good."

"A happy accident," I said.

Remember the Guy Who Was Leaving to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

He made it.

None of his friends did--they all wound up with altitude sickness--but he did. He also said he'd never do anything like it again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

This is the Greatest Game Theme Song I've Ever Heard

Super Daryl Deluxe makes a case for rock-opera themes



The sound is coming from the kitchen area.

I walk in and see Gloria pounding some sort of animal flesh with Thor's Hammer.

"I don't want you to have to get into food beating," I said. "Can't we buy pre-beaten food?"

She laughed.

"Did you just shoot that and fillet it or something? Food comes in packages, not the backyard."

A Text

It's snowing Dippin' Dots.

Monday, March 12, 2018


My Mom turned 88 today.

I capitalize "Mom," no matter how I use it grammatically, because she always deserves the capital letter.


She was born just after the beginning of the Depression. Survived. Was raised by one of the meanest women I ever know. Survived. Her asshole husband--my father--left her. Survived. Raised two kids by herself. Survived.

After she retired, she converted from surviving to enjoying. We were out of the house. For the first time in decades, she had time to herself. She was able to think about herself again.

This is one of my favorite stories about Mom.

She started smoking when she was 15, or maybe it was 14, and smoked into her 60s. It was a fundamental quality of her life. She didn't smoke that much, but she smoked.

I tried to get her to quit. For decades.

One day, I went to see her, and she said she had quit. I was astonished.

"How was it?" I asked.

She said, "Hard."

I can't say enough good things about Mom (they're all good things). That old saying about character winning out is very true, at least when it comes to her. She is tough and principled and loving.

That's a very good combination for raising children, or being a human being.

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