Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Links!

This is a terrific read: The crowdfunded phone of the future was a multimillion-dollar scam. Also, and this is a big deal, it's Colombia confirms that dreaded fungus has hit its banana plantations.

From Daniel Willhite, and this is terrific: One Year of Lightning.

From Wally, and it's another search for Earhart (there have been so many): Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue. This is bizarre: The women who tasted Hitler's food. This is an excellent read: The last magnetic pole flip saw 22,000 years of weirdness. This is amazing, and what a dog! Go long! Really long!

From C. Lee, and this is hugely concerning: Asia's 'zombies' concentrated in India, Indonesia and South Korea. This is a cool idea: Smithsonian Scientists are Using Ginko Leaves to Study Climate Change--and They Need Your Help. I didn't know: Why Are So Many Different Drinks Called Horchata? This is fantastic: How a Literary Prank Convinced Germany That ‘Hansel and Gretel’ Was Real. Thought-provoking: Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman. An excellent read (check out the Kuba Comet!): How the television transformed our homes.

From Les Bowman, and it's a brilliant and sobering read: American Wealth Is Broken.

From Brian Brown, and EA's defense is truly hilarious: The flawed Kinder Egg defence.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw (mini hints guide)

This is a brilliant game. 

It's old-school, but with new school conveniences. It's huge, but it also has large amounts of detail on the micro scale. It has a storyline, but there's an enormous amount of freedom to do whatever the hell you want. 

Here are a few tips that can make your first couple of hours a bit easier. I think the flow state of this game is better than almost any space game I've ever played, but onboarding for new players can be a little intimidating, so here are a few hints to help. 

Before the more detailed info, here's a quick one: play pool at the bars. Besides being a nice little pool simulator (hold down left trigger to assist in small movements of the cue), it's also a great way in the early game to win pieces of equipment for your ship. So play a few games to practice, then visit the bar whenever you're at a new space station.

The most challenging concept for me, when beginning the game, was information acquisition. I didn't conceptually grasp how it worked, so I was confused, but I do understand it now, and here's the explanation.

First, think of internal information versus external information. Internal information is data about the status of your ship, the missions, etc. This is all accessed by pressing the menu button (on an Xbox controller--it's the tiny button just to the of the bit Xbox button). This is a menu that is navigated in a left-right manner, and it helps me to think of it as the engineering/captain menu. 

For external information, while you're in the cockpit, press the "Y" button. This brings up a radial menu, and there are a ton of functions:
Targeting mode
Local Map
Power transfer (from shields to power and vice versa)
Sector Maps
Closest Station
Closest Mission
Scan Area

Each of these functions has an icon, and you'll also see text when you select that icon, so it's easy to follow. I think of this as the navigator menu, because it's where you find system maps, etc. Also, and this is VERY important, it's where you'll find targeting mode, which you can access during battles to target individual ships, or even to find a path to get the hell out of there if things get to hot. 

Which is going to happen. A lot. Shit goes sideways all the time, particularly in the early game, and trying to fight to the death just means you're going to die a lot. 

When you select a target, holding down the left trigger initiates auto-pursue, and don't even think about not using it. For one, it's entirely consistent to the game world, to have such a feature on your ship, and two, it absolutely doesn't make the game too easy. It's incredibly useful. 

Okay, I forgot one other thing, so I'm just going to jam it in here at the bottom: mining lasers are not only useful for mining, but also as a very decent weapon in combat. 

That should help you in the first few hours, and after that, it's all going to flow so naturally that it becomes a stunning game experience, Which is no surprise, because Travis has never made anything less than an excellent game (this is his fifth, I think, and how many designers/developers have that level of consistently high quality product?).

Here's the purchase link one more time: Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Get flying!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sound Decisions

Gloria was going out to a concert.

"So, what are you having for dinner?" I asked Eli 18.0.

"Freelancing," he said. "I'll figure something out."

"Well, I think I'll have a big bowl of blueberry ice cream," I said.

"See?" Eli said to Gloria. "This is what happens when we leave him on his own." He turned back to me. "You're basically a hate-crime against nutrition."

"So what are you having?" I asked.

"Before I go eat a REAL dinner, I'm having a Dove Bar and Cheezits," he said, snootily.

"All I can say to that is 'in what order?'" I said. He laughed. He does that.

I walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, you might want to mow the lawn today, because it's getting long and it's supposed to rain," Gloria said.

"I'd love to mow the lawn, but I am currently out of town," I said.

Happily Messy

I haven't mentioned this for quite a while, but Eli 18.0 still plays the piano. And I love the way he plays it--exuberant, messy, happy. Doesn't need to be perfect. Just enjoys playing.

Here's what he sounds like, roughly. He's playing "Maple Leaf Rag," which is pretty difficult for humans, and he clearly hasn't mastered it yet, and the piano keyboards sound terrible when recorded (nice in person, though), but you can still hear how he's become a bit skilled in not a long period of time.

What makes this piece so hard (when I watch him) is the degree of hand independence and hand movement that are required to play any part of it.

I didn't record the whole thing, and it cuts off in the middle, but you get the idea.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Released!

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw was released today, and it's terrific. 

Please overcome any aversion you have to the Epic Store and go purchase a copy immediately. 

I planned on having a small help guide for the new player ready today, but it's unfortunately slipped a day. Tomorrow, though, look for it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Stupid Town

I told Eli 18.0 that I'm getting an OLED when he goes to college. To put downstairs, in his area.

"Hey! That's my space," he said.

"Not anymore," I said. "The day you leave for college, you become the minority shareholder of that area." He laughed.

I've been looking for a deal on the 65" for the last few months. I've watched prices for years, actually, from the day they released the first one (five years ago?).

Saturday, I saw a great deal on the "E" model, which has much, much better sound than the "C" model, but is usually quite a bit more expensive.

The company offering this deal was Greentoe, which is kind of a marketplace where you make bids and suppliers either accept or reject your offer.

I know, that sounds strange, but they're one of the online merchants for OLED that are high volume.

There's a deal posted on Slickdeals with the price to offer, so I go to Greentoe and offer that price. I got an email back within minutes asking me to make a second bid that included tax (fair), which I did. Confirmation that the bid was accepted came within minutes.

Okay, I'm done, right? So, so excited!

Two days later (yesterday), I get this email.
Hi Bill,

I have good news! Your offer on the LG OLED65E9PUA was accepted !

The retail partner that accepted your offer sent us an alert.  They are having trouble clearing your order through their order verification department. Unfortunately we don't know the steps involved here or the reasons they are having trouble.  Many times the issue is a similar name creating a verification challenge.  We have seen people try to spoof the identity of others.  

Can you please provide us with some additional information about yourself that they can use to verify the order?  Usually a work email address tends to clear this up very quickly.  We have sent them things like this in the past and that has helped get people through the process very quickly.  

I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Fraud is a big problem in our industry and retailers aren't willing to take chances with expensive items like this. I hope you understand.  We will keep all information confidential and it is only used for anti-fraud verification purposes.  

Oh yeah, red flags all over the place there.

Let's see. I provide a valid credit card number with a shipping address that's the same as the address attached to the card, and that's not enough? What exactly would they be doing with a work email address, anyway? What kind of information does a merchant need for "anti-fraud verification purposes," anyway?

I sent back a polite but testy response, pointing out how sketchy this was, and got this email a few hours ago:
Let me explain a bit more as I realize this is a strange request. We've had an issue with fraud recently and people logging in and buying things using other people's information. When this happens the retailer gets a chargebacks because the real person says it was not them who bought the item (which it wasn't). As a result, some of our partners are taking steps to double check customers making large purchase (i.e. a tv). We ask for a work email address because it's a great way for us to verify a person due to the fact that a fraudster wouldn't be able to access a person's work email. 

Also, as part of our marketplace seller agreement we have offered to assist the retailers in this process because they don't have the resources to do it themselves for our customers. That's why we are reaching out to you instead of them. 

Let me know if this is something you can provide. We will not add the email to any marketing emails. 

BTW - If you don't have a work email we can also use linked-in private messages and accomplish the same thing if you want to send us a link to your LinkedIn profile instead.

Yeah, that's not happening.

They're not getting any more information from me, obviously. I don't send transparent information into opaque processes.

I cancelled the order. Excitement level returns to normal.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off with something cheerful, because we can all use it right now: The Greatest Try Ever Is What I Watch When Things Get To Be Too Much.

These are beautiful beyond words: Spirograph-like multi-color ellipses.

It's not really that complicated: What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.

This is another significant (and deeply concerning) piece of data: Just one season of playing football—even without a concussion—can cause brain damage.

This is legitimately adorable: Big Dog Plays An Expert Level Game Of 'Hide And Seek' With A Little Dog.

If you want to go further down yesterday's mathematical rabbit hole, you can, thanks to P. Rowe: Numberphile.

From C. Lee, and it's more detail on Wednesday's post: Goodbye Aberration: Physicist Solves 2,000-Year-Old Optical Problem. This is a welcome surprise: Unearthed Steinbeck Short Story Isn’t at All Like ‘Grapes of Wrath’. This is remarkable: The trick that makes you overspend. This is fantastic: For Sale: A Poisoner’s Lab Secreted in a Beautiful Book. I had no idea: There Is Just One Sculpture on the Moon.

From Wally, and this is ridiculous: Libraries are fighting to preserve your right to borrow e-books. This is useful: Backblaze Hard Drive Stats Q2 2019. This is surprisingly fascinating: A Musicologist Explains Why There's Something Fishy About That Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Katy Perry. A good read: Does This Schnitzel Define Vienna? I think it was always 10%: The Grocery Industry Confronts a New Problem: Only 10% of Americans Love Cooking. This is excellent: Neal Stephenson on Depictions of Reality (Ep. 71).

From Marc, and man, Wii Sports was amazing: The strange and surprisingly intense world of Wii Sports speedrunners.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Under Pressure

The more I know about Michael Collins, the more I think he was under more pressure than anyone in history.

Michael Collins was an Apollo 11 astronaut, but he didn't go down to the surface of the moon. He was the command module pilot, so he orbited the moon while Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the surface in the lunar module.

There were plenty of scenarios where the lunar module wouldn't be able to re-dock with the command module, usually involving some kind of equipment failure. But it was also possible that it could happen because Michael Collins made some kind of mistake that couldn't be corrected.

If that had happened, Aldrin and Armstrong would have died, and Michael Collins would have flown back to Earth, alone, knowing that it had been his fault.

Can you imagine living the rest of your life after that? I can't.

There's pressure, and then there's that kind of pressure.

If you can think of anyone who might have been under more pressure, shoot me an e-mail.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Rabbit Hole

I read this earlier today: A Mexican Physicist Solved a 2,000-Year Old Problem That Will Lead to Cheaper, Sharper Lenses. Here's an excerpt:
It’s a problem that plagues even the priciest of lenses, manufactured to the most exacting specifications: the center of the frame might be razor-sharp, but the corners and edges always look a little soft. It’s a problem that’s existed for thousands of years with optical devices, and one that was assumed to be unsolvable...

But that’s all going to change thanks to Rafael G. González-Acuña, a doctoral student at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey. After months of work, he managed to come up with a mind-melting equation that provides an analytical solution for counteracting spherical aberration, which had been previously formulated back in 1949 as the Wasserman-Wolf problem which stumped scientists for decades.

If you take a look at his formula, "mind-melting" is not an exaggeration.

This made me curious about what other 2,000-year old problems remain unsolved. As far as I can tell, there aren't many.

However, I did stumble onto Hilbert's problems (great name for a band, of course), which were published in 1900 by mathematician David Hilbert. There were twenty-three of them, all unsolved, and remarkably, one hundred and nineteen years later, only eight have been fully resolved.

These aren't unsolved anymore, but it did take a very long time: 2000 years unsolved: Why is doubling cubes and squaring circles impossible?

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

A Good Story

The golf course we play the most is eight minutes from our house. It's short (par 65), but the people are incredibly nice, and the maintenance staff clearly takes pride in the condition of the course.

I call it a hidden jewel. Eli 18.0 says I'm exaggerating, but he likes it, too. Here's a story that kind of explains why.

We were standing in front of the clubhouse a few days ago and one of the course maintenance staff walked up. He was holding a carrier, the kind you'd use to take a cat to the vet.

"Here he is!" he said happily, like he was announcing the arrival of a celebrity.

We took a look inside the carrier. There was a baby raccoon the size of a small cat inside. Raccoons are pests, but they're also pretty adorable.

"He's been getting in the trash behind the clubhouse. We finally trapped him."

"What will you do with him now?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm going to walk over to the woods behind the maintenance shed and let him go," he said. "We don't want him to get used to looking through the trash for food."

That's not how it would go at some (many) courses. Here, though, a baby raccoon was given the VIP treatment.

Some Lighthearted Fun

We all can use some: A Small World Cup.

It's utterly ridiculous in all the best ways.

Monday, August 05, 2019

As Normal as Possible

Eli 18.0 received his roommate assignment for school last week.

"This guy is normal," he said, and that's a big compliment, because ultra-smart kids often tend toward the odd side.

"So that means two not normal kids will be rooming together," I said.

"That's right," he said.

"Here's the conversation I hear happening," I said.
" 'Do you shower?'
'Not very often.'
'Cool.' "

"That's probably pretty close," he said.

My favorite story about M.I.T. is that incoming freshman, as part of orientation, were told they had to wear shoes to class.

Eccentric people are often awesome. It might be very hard to live with one, though. I'll ask Gloria for a first-hand report.

A Mercifully Short Political Post

I will be brief.

There is a substantial overlap between white supremacy ideology and the ideologies being promoted by Fox News, Republicans in Congress/Senate, and the President. Identifying people of other races as "invaders", telling them to "go back where they came from", and saying the "white race" is being replaced are all standard talking points of white nationalists.

It's literally the same language, with identical phrasing.

People who think it's different are deluding themselves.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Friday Links!

A long week, and a strikingly odd set of links.

From Wally, and this is excellent: Could La Folia be History's Most Enduring Tune? A bizarre story: Q: How many cows does it take to build a Zeppelin? A: 250,000. Very high WTF here: Knitting Heavy Metal World Championships. This is next-level: This Ramen-Eating Godzilla is Priceless, Charlie Brown Feels Shame.

From Andrew Milgate, and this is, by far, the greatest Tour de France spectator link I've ever seen: Vive le Tour! And another: The Tour de France Devil : Didi Senft.


From C. Lee, and I completely agree: Story time: the five children’s books every adult should read. I wrote about this being a big deal a few months ago, and here it comes: McKinsey Bot on Your Office Computer Could Be Sizing You Up. Fascinating:  Why childhood sweethearts no longer measure up – and six other ways dating has changed. This is great: The Victorian Cards That Explained How to Use a Book to Flirt. I can't believe this was actually a thing: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels.

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