Thursday, May 05, 2016

This is From the Way, Way, Wayback Machine

We're going through everything--everything--before we move, getting rid of anything we don't need.

Many of you won't even know what this is, but the old school guys will know:


I never wanted to wear the shirt (at the time), because I didn't want to wear it out. Eighteen years later, though, it's going into the rotation.

A Nice Picture

This is probably my favorite picture. Me and Eli 14.8 walking through the snow in Detroit in early April. Gloria was a little ways behind us and took the picture.


Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Crazy Trip Dispatch: Aftermath from Doug Walsh

I asked Doug to write about what it felt like when his incredible trip was over, and here's what he sent me.
***
DISPATCH #10: SNOQUALMIE, WASHINGTON, USA
APRIL 26, 2016

It took more than three months before I felt comfortable being home. Three months before I was able to finally get my thick-headed subconscious to understand that I needn’t spend my waking minutes wondering where we’re going to sleep, where we’re going to get food and water. Three months before I was able to quiet a mind that had run at full throttle for two years.

That’s right, we’re home — and have been since December 12th. I’ll explain.

My last dispatch, dated September 15th, was from the middle of Turkey. We were en route to Istanbul before returning to Piraeus, Greece where we’d catch a cargo ship to Malaysia. We did all of that. But right before getting on that ship, my wife’s former employer emailed her an offer we couldn’t refuse. Instead of spending the winter cycling north through Southeast Asia, we pedaled 50 miles to Singapore, had the bikes and gear shipped home, and then returned to Bali for a month of relaxation and celebration. That we didn’t look back or shed a tear as we left our bikes to be boxed up was all the indication we needed to know the time was right. The trip had come to an end.

And now we’re back in the Pacific Northwest, renting an over-priced townhome a mile from our old house, a house now worth nearly thirty-percent more than we sold it for just two years ago. Oh well. We’ve seen all of our friends, shared meals with everyone who ever took an interest in our trip, and have finally run out of questions to answer and tales to tell. My wife had gone back to work at her old employer in downtown Seattle, albeit with a promotion, and I spend my day’s working on the novel I began brainstorming while cycling through the Pyrenees. I’ve also resumed writing video game strategy guides for my old publisher. My first book since coming home will release in two weeks.

Somehow, through a blend of hard work, luck, and Providence, we managed to step right back into our old lives as if we never left. Perhaps even better.

But what about the culture shock of reentry? Wasn’t it hard to spend all that time abroad and then return to the United States?

The challenges we faced returning to the United States had very little to do with culture shock. And the reason I say that is because, in some ways, we never truly left. Because of our blog, social media, and regular phone calls with family, we never actually got that isolation from American culture and news that we had anticipated. Part of it is because the world has grown smaller with technology and much of the world stays abreast of International news — news often dominated by U.S. politics and shootings. Also, we spent the first several months of our trip cycling across North America. Then, six months later, we returned to spend time with my wife’s ailing father. A few months after that, we returned again for his memorial service.

The profound culture shock long-term travelers expect is, in my opinion, very hard to experience in this digital age unless you do one of two things. One option is to truly commit yourself to going off-line: no Facebook, no regular contact with friends and family back home, and no YouTube or cable news. Another option, and one even more difficult for overland travelers like ourselves, is to jump directly between countries that are known to have vastly different cultures.

By bicycling west to east we were able to wade into the varying cultures of the world and see the subtler shifts and influences culture and history have on a given region. It was only in those times where we transited directly between two different, distant, countries that we encountered true culture shock: Morocco to Italy by ferry; Italy to Florida after spending six months in Europe; loud, brash New Jersey to Japan; and clean, peaceful Japan to chaotic, noisy Indonesia. I’ll never forget spending a month in rural Morocco, getting on a ferry, and then 72 hours later waking up in a Christmas village in downtown Livorno, Italy. A complete mind-melter.

No, returning home didn’t provide much culture shock. It was more like cultural disappointment, particularly when it came to food. We often find ourselves longing for the higher quality and lower cost of Mediterranean produce. We stare at the paltry baked goods on sale at cafes here in the USA and think about the decadent pastries on offer in France for a fraction of the cost of a factory-made muffin. And don’t get me started on the amazing fruit in Indonesia. Other difficulties involved the socio-political disappointments we felt highlighted by the — ahem — quality of the discourse surrounding the current Presidential election.

But the hardest part about returning home, for me, was allowing the stress to dissipate. For the better part of two years, the pressure of navigating foreign countries enveloped me. Every day, usually in areas where few people spoke English, I was responsible for navigation, finding safe shelter, food and water. My wife assisted, of course, but day-to-day logistics fell under my list of responsibilities. And even when we were holed up in a hotel for a few days and knew exactly where our daily necessities were being fulfilled, my mind still raced with the anticipation and anxiety of where we were headed next.

What’s next? What’s next? Every day over and over, for two years I worried about what was next.

As much as I enjoyed our travels and am terrifically proud of having undertaken such a trip, the day-to-day stresses weighed on me like a lead blanket in the dentist’s chair. And though many of the areas we traveled through were very conducive for bicycle touring, there was always an uncertainty bubbling beneath the surface, kept simmering by the need to constantly monitor our spending and out of concern for family, for employment, and for our future. Even home, back in our old town, it took me several months to finally quiet my mind and allow myself to relax, to adjust to the comfort and security of this life we enjoy.

The act of simply being in the moment proved far harder than the 13,000 miles we cycled, more difficult than the nearly 500,000 feet of hills and mountains we ascended.

I sometimes get asked if I’m sad the trip is over. The first time someone asked this, I didn’t know how to answer. After a couple of weeks of fielding questions about our trip, I found myself sharing stories about the struggles and lowlights. Part of it was a self-effacing instinct to deflect attention and jealousy — I could never get comfortable hearing people say they live vicariously through me. But more than that, I was reminding myself of the difficulties we faced in order to postpone my mourning it was over.

For nearly seven years we saved our money, researched gear, and planned our route. And for twenty- one months we traveled. Like few people ever get to do. And then… poof! It was over. And we’re back home. And life goes on. And the trip gradually becomes a distant memory.

I think of the trip not only as this amazing thing we did but as having had a life of its own. It became a friend, a lover. And then it passed from our world. But unlike when a family member or a pet dies, I don’t find comfort in reminiscing about the good times we shared. That only makes me miss it more. It makes me want to pack up the bikes and head right back out onto the road again. Maybe south this time? Instead I think of the hard times, the times when it wasn’t really all that fun. The times when the sun was setting and it seemed like we’d ridden eighty miles without finding a suitable place to pitch our tent. The times when it was a hundred and ten degrees, we were out of water, and the earsplitting chirp of the cicadas kept us awake all night long. I find myself dwelling on these more trying moments to remind myself that I am glad to be home and, lest I forget, that endless travel is hard. Sometimes much harder than ordinary living.

But those times were few. They really were. Every aspect of the trip went as well as we had any right to ever hope for. And we are glad to be home; we love it here. Bicycle touring around the world is a hell of an adventure. But it’s not the only one. We’ve got plenty of bite-sized adventures in store for this year and years to come.

Though not nearly as exciting as making it from Seattle to Singapore by bicycle and ship, I have begun work on a novel inspired by our trip. I first came up with the idea while in Spain and then spent most of our time at sea and in Bali working on the outline. You can lean more about my upcoming work-in-progress, Tailwinds Past Florence, and my experience as a first-time novelist at www.dougwalsh.com.

Thank you for reading.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Salt Lake City!

We leave for Salt Lake City early tomorrow, and I'll have limited access to e-mail until late Sunday.

Gloria is staying at home this time to help supervise some work being done on the house to get it ready to put on the market in a few weeks.

You have an excellent guest column on Wednesday, Friday Links is already written and cued up, and I'll write something from SLC on Thursday, hopefully with pictures.

Anxiety

When I wrote about my creeping anxiety a few weeks ago (it's better now, thanks), I didn't really understand anxiety in general or even thought I knew someone who struggled with it.

I did, though.

A longtime DQ reader, someone who I very much respect, sent me a deeply personal e-mail about his own struggle with anxiety. I immediately realized that this might help someone, and he agreed, so he graciously allowed me to share what he wrote.
****

I thought I would provide you a little more insight into the anxiety problem from another person's experience.  I spent a good portion of my life only vaguely aware that I had problems.  For the most part, I was fine.  But when stressed or unhappy, I changed.  I thought maybe I suffered from mild depression, but in my mind it was never that bad.  When I was in graduate school I hated it.  It was so different compared to undergraduate school.  Now the pressure I felt to excel came from outside sources and not just from my own desire.  I also depended entirely on my assistantship to live on, which meant I did not have a penny to spend on anything fun.  I paid rent, utilities and food.  I found myself staying in bed until 4:00 to 5:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday because there was nothing to do but study, and I was sick of studying, so I just slept all day on the weekends.  I almost dropped out once and was talked out of it.

My first presentation to the entomology department's students and faculty was on the history of entomology.  I got up and started.  It was suppose to be 30-35 minutes long.  I gave the entire talk but afterwards had no idea what I had said or how well I had done.  The entire time, I was focused on the door at the back of the room and fighting the desire to run for it.  I thought ... would someone try to stop me,  would they stop me?  All I could do was stare at the door and fight the desire to run.  Other students later told me I did okay, although I did mix dates up (sometimes saying 1967 when it should have been 1867 and vice versa).  It was all a blur.  I had no idea that I was having a full-blown panic attack.  Same thing happened at my oral exams.  I absolutely flunked it.  I barely knew my own name, much less the answer to even the most basic question I was asked.  I had straight A's and they all knew I knew the material.  They were totally perplexed at what had happened.  They passed me even though I am pretty sure I flunked it.  Again, it was a blur.  I do remember asking if I could take my jacket off because I was so hot.

After that, things calmed down for a while.  The biggest problem I had was like you, a racing mind when I got stressed or worried.  When it happened, I found it impossible to sleep for nights until I finally slept from exhaustion.  I simply could not get my mind to slow down, even at night.  I never really thought of it as anxiety, it was just normal stress to me.

Finally, about 20 years ago, all 3 things converged at once.  Depression, anxiety, and panic.  I suffered for about three weeks.  Could not sleep, could not eat, I was barely functional.  I suddenly realized I was like a drowning victim.  I felt like I was being pulled under and that my system was being pumped full of adrenaline.  I felt the fight or flight instinct, but there was nothing to fight or flee from but my own mind.  At that point in my life, I had a rather poor opinion of psychology as a science, but I realized I needed help.  I called about three offices, and the first two calls were answered by a receptionist who said they could set me up to see someone within the next week or two.  I wanted to scream I was drowning and that was too long.  The third call was answered by the psychologist himself.  He immediately knew from my voice that I was in trouble and asked me to come to his office in the next couple of hours.  I walked out of his office some 3-4 hours later feeling like a different person.  Just having it all explained to me was a relief, and he was fortunately a very good psychologist.  Over about six months, I learned more about depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.  I learned that what had happened to me was almost exactly what occurs with people suffering from PTSD.  The "incidents" that I had experienced throughout my life finally made sense.

After discussing my own experiences including the death of my mother from suicide, he suggested the problem very likely originated with my brain chemistry, and that I likely inherited some deficiency in neuro-transmitters from my mother.  I also apparently did not have a good understanding of how to reduce stress.  What I had always thought of as stress reducing and relaxing was not necessary reducing stress.  He recommended I speak with my doctor and start taking Zoloft to reduce anxiety and to keep some Xanax on-hand for acute attacks.  My doctor agreed.  I stopped taking Zoloft at one point years ago thinking I could handle it better.  I did okay for several years but then found myself with mild depression and anxiety symptoms.  When I talked to my doctor about it, he took out his Rx pad and said, go back on the Zoloft.  You tolerate it well and you can take it the rest of your life without worrying about it.  So I did.  I do occasionally take a Xanax for the racing mind problem but only after I have had difficulty sleeping for several nights.  I describe it as taking my mind out of gear so it can wind down.

Some final comments.  I did spend time learning and practicing meditation.  Read some books.  It really is wonderful, and  I found it altered my whole outlook.  I tended to be calmer in my approach to everything.  I could even drive to work without getting upset about the maelstrom of insane drivers swirling around me.  It really is tremendously helpful in many aspects of life.  I slowly fell away from the practice but keep promising myself to start again. I also made a point of explaining to my children as they got older what I had experienced and that if they inherited any of the tendencies I had, they needed to understand it and never be afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone about it and get help. I'm glad I did because my daughter had problems after the birth of her first child, and when she realized what was happening from our talks, she got help and weathered everything well.

I think your plan is a good one.  Meditation can be very helpful though it may take awhile for its calming effects to begin.  On the other hand, I would also suggest that even in our pill addicted society today, don't suffer needlessly for too long before talking to your doctor again.

Hope this helps a little.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a mind that won't shut down can also be extremely debilitating.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Surprise

I've been watching the dirtiest political campaign I've ever seen unfold in the last month or so.

I follow politics. I've seen some incredible, foul things over the last few decades. And this campaign is worse.

Who is it, you might be wondering? Uber.

The city wants Uber drivers to go through fingerprint background checks. Uber objects, strongly, but in the blizzard of advertising they've unleashed, I've never heard the word "fingerprint" mentioned once. Instead, they've obfuscated the issue so thoroughly that it's impossible for anyone who isn't paying close attention to even understand what's going on.

Last night, I saw a commercial with a war veteran (including the obligatory picture of him with his squad mates) who said he was proud of his service. Somehow, wrapped inside that was Uber, talking some kind of crazy gibberish about the election.

It's totally foul and reprehensible.

So if you think Uber is some kind of feel-good teddy bear corporation, be advised that that it is, unfortunately, the opposite.

I May Have Something Here

I'm not even sure why this happened, but I had an idea last week and I've been working on it.

Instead of not discussing the ideas I have and then awkwardly announcing a game five years later, when I do another game (maybe this), it's going to be much more collaborative.

Gridiron Solitaire takes 15 minutes to play one game during the season. Roughly 4-5 hours to play one full season.

This is fast, by any sports game standard. Fifteen minutes for one game is very fast.

Times have changed, though, and so have attention spans.

The mechanics of college football have always fascinated me. More than a hundred teams, recruiting, polls, etc. It's crazy.

So crazy that I couldn't make a game about it.

At the per play level, college football couldn't be simulated in a solitaire format. Wait--that's not right. I couldn't simulate the AI at a per play level. The NFL has all kinds of data, and the upper and lower boundaries of behavior were narrowly separated to the degree that I could create a realistic AI.

College, though, is a gigantic goat rodeo.

However...

What if, instead of trying to create a realistic simulation at the per-play level, I did it at the quarter level instead? What if, instead of a single game taking 15 minutes, it took 1 minute instead?

What if one full season took 15 minutes instead of one single game?

I like that. 3-4 minutes for recruiting, then 10-11 minutes for the season.

Totally customizable, so if you want real team names and real bowl games, it would be easy to do.

Why does this (for now) appeal to me more than The Humble Armory?
--it's much less complex. I understand how to code this kind of "thing", generally.
--it's more familiar territory. It maps to a real-world environment that I am very, very familiar with.
--I could prototype something in months, not years.

The basics go something like this. The user recruits players (in a 3-4 minutes mini-game) to replace his outgoing seniors and players declaring early for the pro draft. These players are cards, and there are thousands of of them.

Each of these cards have characteristics. Some are offensive, some are defensive. The more powerful cards have both primary and secondary actions.

At the simplest level, each has a point value. Better teams have better cards.

The user has 11 cards (the number of players on either offense or defense in real football) to use in each game, and the card play needs to use a quarter format.

Here's where I want your suggestions on any kind of existing card game that could be adapted to fit this format, or an entirely original idea.

What I'm working with right now is a modified version of Pai Gow. The user plays either two or three cards per quarter, and there's a "high" hand and a "low" hand (the high hand must have a higher point value than the low hand). The AI does the same, and then the cards are compared.

The highest value wins in both the high hand and the low hand.

If someone wins both hands in a quarter, they get all the points on the cards they played. If the hands are split, each get the point value on winning hand.

If there's a tie on a hand, it goes to the home team (so you can visibly see the home field advantage).

This would play out very quickly, I could add a ton of sound effects and nice framing, and it would be exciting. What I don't know--obviously--is whether this would be balanced, or if it would be a gigantic cluster of randomness. The eleventh card adds some strategy (when do I play that third card in a quarter?) but that may not be enough.

Adding more cards would make the strategy more complex, but it would also make each game take significantly longer. So whatever card mechanic I use, it's going to be extremely simple at first, to keep in that 60-90 second window.

Those are the basics.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Links!

From Marc Klein, and this is a gut-wrenching read: The Secret History of Tiger Woods.

From C. Lee, and this is an excellent bit of detective work: The Case of the Laggy Xbox Controller on Windows 10.

From DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel, and this is a great read: Photographer's eyes opened on epic road trip along Canada-U.S. border.

From Wally, and this is appalling: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing. Next a palate cleanser: The Most Metal Deaths in Middle-earth, Ranked. Next, and this is quite wonderful, it's New York nurse makes graphic, life-like cakes designed like brains, hearts and placenta. This is fantastic: Disney Title Card Art.

From Frank Regan, and I have no idea why this was happening: Bulldozer Battle on the Streets of China.

From Steven Davis, and downright horrible (tough links this week): How a global board games giant exploited Ireland's Magdalene. Next, and this is very clever, it's Oh, how hard it is to speak Spanish!

From Michael Gilbert, and here's a Pringles blast from the past: Pringles Commercial 1968. I remember seeing that commercial, actually.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Detroit, One More Time (part four)

The second game was on Saturday, and it was an odd one.

Eli's team won 1-0, and he left with a 1-0 lead halfway through the game, but he only faced 7 shots, and gave up several rebounds.

Saturday night, though, things got interesting.

They were playing a local AA team that was strong, and they had a huge number of fans with them. Eli's team skated out like they knew they were going to win.

They then proceeded to lose.

Eli came in halfway through with a 0-0 score. He faced 15 shots and gave a clinic. Zero rebounds. Totally in control.

Then, with three minutes left, a kid skated across the hashmarks, went around three of our players, and flung a shot at the net as he went sideways. It was blocked, but quickly wound up right back on his stick. Since he had been skating sideways, the angle had changed, and he shot again and scored.

They lost 1-0. Eli had played his best game of the tournament.

He was a little down after the game, but his team still won their pool, which meant they were playing in the semis Sunday morning.

"Uh oh," he said as he scanned the standings in the pools. "Do you know who we play tomorrow?"

"Who?" I asked.

"The number one 16u team in the country," he said.

"That's a forty shot game," I said.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Maybe in half the game," he said, laughing.

"Well, you came here to play for it," I said. He laughed.

SUNDAY

It was calm.

Eli felt good. He'd be playing the first half of the game, and everyone knew his team, even though it was very good, was badly outmatched for this one game. The other three teams in the semis were all legitimate 16u teams, but his team didn't have even one sixteen-year-old.

"Suicide mission," he said.

"Right?" I said. "But you had an entire season of these games last year."

"Oh, yeah," he said. "If there's any kind of game I should be prepared for, it's this one."

I thought about all this as he went into the rink. In the last six weeks, he'd faced huge moment after huge moment, and none of them had been bigger than he was. But this was facing the best team in the country in an older division.

If there was ever a time when he'd crack, it would be now.

Talking to him, though, and watching him, he didn't look fragile. He was composed.

He looked ready.

He looked even more ready in warm-ups. "He's already dialed in," I said to Gloria, because I can usually tell.

When the game started, it was quickly apparent that his team was never going to have the puck. And they didn't, but Eli battled.

And battled.

His team was outshot 23-5 in the first half of the game. It was a barrage.

Eli gave up three goals, but very few rebounds, and he made some tough saves look easy because he was so fundamentally sound.

I was stunned. This was an even higher level of competition than he'd face in 15u, and he was still fine out there.

Happy, really.

He has big letters on each side of his helmet that spell "TEXAS". Letters almost three inches high. Near the end of the first period, the referee skated over to get the puck from him and said, "Hey kid, where are you from--Alaska?"

Eli looked at him and said "I'm guessing you didn't get any reading comprehension awards in school." Then they both burst out laughing.

Oh, and guess what? I taped most of his action, and you see can quite a bit in this 90-second video:
Eli in Motown 16u Semis.

I missed the third goal, and I missed the first five or six saves when the game started (then I realized I could just lean my phone against my drink cup and let it record). I got most of it, though.

When he skated off at the end of the game, I knew he'd done it. I didn't know if he'd have an offer from either team, but I did know he'd done everything he could possibly do.

When he walked into the lobby, I gave him a big hug. "I don't even know what to say," I told him. He smiled.

Our plane was leaving in four hours.

I quickly talked to his coach. He said he would have a decision within a day or so, that he was glad Eli had come and that he had played well.

I texted that to the second coach. I figured a day or two delay was okay.

It wasn't.

The coach said he wanted Eli, but that he felt like Eli wanted to play for the other team and was just using him as a backup in case he didn't get an offer from the team he'd played for this weekend.

I told him we were coming by the rink where his team was playing to talk to him before we left for the airport.

It was the same in person. I really, really like this coach, and I sympathized with him. He was right--he'd been very patient, and Eli hadn't committed yet. He said that he needed to know before Fall tryouts, which started on Monday, because he needed to know if he had an open goalie position or not.

That was fair.

I texted the coach he played for and just told him the truth. We drove to the airport and I hoped he would get back to me quickly.

We were eating in the airport when my phone buzzed. The coach texted back and said that his situation was complicated, that Eli had a good offer, and that he should take it.

Lots of coaches would have kept him on the hook--most of them would--but this guy was honorable, and he was looking out for Eli instead of himself. I found out later that Eli was one of three goalies that he liked for the final goalie position on the team, but he didn't feel right having Eli pass up an offer from a program he respected in exchange for no certain spot on his team.

That's a good man.

We finished eating quickly, and there were still about ten minutes before we boarded. "Let's call coach," Eli said, and I dialed the number and handed him the phone.

"Hi Coach, it's Eli," he said, and then he walked off a short distance.

So much went through my mind in this moment. I remembered putting on his goalie gear hundreds of times. Just a little guy, but already so determined, so certain.

All the extra workouts he'd done, when the rest of the rink was empty.

Hockey had given him some of the best moments of his life, and some of the worst.

Come on, man. One more great moment. Kick in that door.

A few seconds later, he looked up and gave me a thumbs-up with a big smile on his face. Then he walked over and handed me the phone. I thanked the coach.

Gloria had walked over and was talking to him when I hung up the phone. "So it's done," I said.

"It's done," Eli said. "The sweep is real," he said, and he laughed.

We stood in the airport in a little circle, the three of us hugging. I always thought I would cry if this happened, but I was too tired to cry.

I was not, however, too tired to smile.

Eli had just signed with the fifteenth-ranked team in the country.

Hello, Michigan. We're on our way.

Detroit, One More Time (part three)

9 a.m. Friday morning.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Eli 14.8 said, still in bed, unmoving.

"I'll take that," I said.

A few minute later, he sits up. "It's gone," he said.

"It is?"

"Yes," he said. "I feel weak, but I'm not sick. It's gone."

"All right," I said. "Let's go."

The first game was at 1 p.m., so he needed to be at the rink by noon. I went and got him a biscuit at McDonald's (standard light breakfast for hockey weekends), wondering if he would be able to keep it down.

He did.

"I'm ready," he said, even though there was no way he could be ready. He'd eaten one biscuit in the last 24 hours, basically. At least, that was all he'd been able to keep down.

Weak, playing in his first AAA tournament, playing up a year in age, never met anyone on his team before, his entire future in hockey on the line?

Well, plus this.

At 9:57, my phone rang.

"Hey, the third period is starting and you guys aren't here yet," said Eli's coach on the phone. "Where are you?"

"Coach, our game is at one," I said. They were bringing multiple teams to the tournament. "Eli is on team two. That's what your e-mail said."

"Oh shit!" he shouted. "I sent you guys the wrong e-mail! Can you still get here? The game starts at 10:30!"

We were seventeen minutes from the rink.

In three minutes, we left the room. Ran downstairs. Headed for the rink.

"Well, no time to get nervous," I said, laughing.

"Who's nervous?" Eli asked.

We pulled into the parking lot at 10:20. "I can do it," Eli said, throwing his bag over his shoulder. "I can get dressed out in ten minutes, and there's five minutes for warm-up."

"I know you can," I said, as we started walking in to the rink. "Three keys."

"Go," he said.

"Powerful positions. Be correct. Control rebounds."

"Got it," he said.

I hugged him. "Don't forget to have fun," I said.

"I won't forget," he said. "Love you, Dad."

The zam ran a few minutes over, and when warm-ups started, he walked out with the rest of the team.

The opponent? The other team that was recruiting him.

Well, now they get to see him in person, I thought. I had told the coach that I'd text him when I knew which games Eli was playing, so I texted him right when the game started. Surprise!

Eli's coach for the tournament was splitting the games right down the middle, and the other goalie played the first half. It was 2-0.

Eli skated off the bench.

I was both very happy for him and entirely sick, knowing how weak he was.

We had convinced ourselves that this tournament would be no faster than TAC, but I could see in thirty seconds that we had been very, very wrong. These kids were so fast that they almost looked like they were flying.

As it turned out, though, they weren't the only one.

Eli was dialed in from the second he skated out. Kids were flying around, the shots were rockets, and he just managed his business. Always square. Always on his angle. Controlling the puck.

Just being him, but at a much higher speed.

He stopped 12 of 13 shots and his team won 3-1.

"Wow, that was FAST!" he said when he walked out of the locker room.

"Fun?" I asked.

"God, yes," he said, smiling. "So much fun."

"Are you hungry?" I asked.

"Starving," he said. "I need food."

No more games on Friday. Food, rest, recovery.

LATER TODAY: Part four (the conclusion)

Offworld Trading Company

Soren Johnson's new game launches today, and I will 100% certify that it is absolutely brilliant. For my money, this is the best strategy game of the year (and many other years). It will be considered one of the classic games in the genre.

It's polished to an entirely ridiculous degree, it's whip smart, and it's a must-play for anyone who enjoys playing games.

Steam: Offworld Trading Company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Detroit, One More Time (part two)

"I don't feel nearly as tired this time," I said to Eli 14.8 as we sat around the hotel room on Thursday, the day before the start of the tournament.

"Me, either," he said. "After being here for almost two weeks, coming for just four days feels like nothing."

"A day trip," I said, and he laughed.

This was looking strong, even though the tournament was scary. His team, even though it was all 15u kids, were playing in the 16u division. So not only was Eli playing in his first AAA tournament, he was even playing up a division.

It all felt good, though. Eli had great preparation, he didn't seem nervous in the least, and he was happy to be playing.

One of Eli's goalie coaches at his camp, who I think is the best goalie coach in the country (and based on the number of draft picks he's coached in the last decade, I don't think there's any question), had agreed (on only two days notice) to give him a private lesson. It was going to be very calming to be around someone he was close to, plus he's such an amazing coach that you take an hour of time whenever you can get it.

Eli had gone to camp the first week in August last year. Since then, he'd had zero coaching. He was his own coach, and it had taken him a long, long way this season. Getting quality instruction, though, was going to be crucial for him going forward.

We were sitting in the locker room, talking until coach showed up, and Eli was getting continuous texts from a friend who was in Tech Theater with him. That's been Eli's favorite class this year, and he'd partnered with his friend to make this incredibly intricate scale model of Hagrid's Hut, including a little Lazy Susan element that you could use to open the house up and see inside.

Here's the hut when closed:




And here it is when opened:

The project was getting judged by the entire school, right as he was getting dressed out, and he thought they had a chance to win (a freshman project had never won, or even finished higher than third).

"This is part of the sweep now," Eli said, laughing, as he checked his phone.

Since this is non-hockey drama, and there's way too much left to write about, I'll spare you the drama: they won. Right in the last moments, of course.

Eli found out about thirty seconds before he skated out. "The sweep lives!" he said.

I thought this was going to be a pretty low-key lesson, but this goalie coach isn't low-key. He's intense, and precise, and challenging, and he worked Eli's ass off. Worked and worked and worked.

Most of it was skating, which was even harder. Getting to places in powerful, precise ways. Understanding which technique to use in which situation. Goalie nerd stuff, really, and since Eli is a goalie nerd, he loves the discussions. Here's  a picture of them on the ice together:


When they were done, Eli was starving, so we went to California Pizza Kitchen for the same meal that he's had 500 times. Then we went back to the rink to watch his coach work with one of his OHL goalies.

The kid was incredible, and nice, too, because we met him afterwards.

Time to go back to the hotel. Perfect day.

About five minutes from the rink, Eli starts groaning. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Don't know," he said, clenching his teeth. "Stomach." The groaning got louder and louder, and we pulled over at a gas station.

Fifteen minutes later, he came out of the bathroom, and he was white as a sheet, barely walking. "Buddy?" I asked, taking his arm.

"Not good," he said.

"Throw-up?"

"Everything," he said.

"Going to the bathroom?"

"Everything," he said.

I helped him back into the car and Gloria drove us to the hotel.

Disaster.

He went to bed at 9 p.m., and I sleep with him on trips because we run the same schedule, unlike Gloria, who stays up much later and gets up earlier. I laid in bed for hours, wondering how this had suddenly gone so wrong.

The last time I remember looking at the clock before I fell asleep was 2:22 a.m. I was awake again at 6:12 a.m.

Eli wasn't waking up until 9, if he could sleep that long. I just stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling.

Oculus Rift, Part 3

After a 3.5 hour install that was the single worst hardware install I've ever gone through, I will say that the user experience after that is very positive.

Compared to DK2, the screen is much crisper, the headset fits much better, and it's all very, very impressive. So I'll have impressions on a few games, etc., next week.

Huge storm here last night, and regular Internet service is still out, but I set up a hotspot with my phone and I'm starting on the Detroit post now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Oculus Rift, Part 2

I've been installing hardware and building computers for over twenty years, and this is the single worst installation I've ever gone through. Every single step of the install process has either been fouled up or been interminably long for no reason.

Now? This elegant, beautiful remote has a plastic tab that I'm supposed to pull off. I guess when it's pulled out, it activates the battery for the remote. Guess what? It won't pull out. Period. I eventually used pliers to help my grip and pull the tab out. Instead, it broke off.

I've put in three hours at this point and I'm nowhere near finished. The hardware itself looks so sleek and beautiful. As a user experience, though, this install has gone into the pathetic category. I've literally built computers with less frustration than this.

Check Out My Oculus Rift Experience After One Hour!


Great software, guys--thanks!

Detroit, One More Time (part one)

"Dad, I'm going for the sweep," Eli 14.8 said two months ago.

"The sweep? What's that?" I asked.

"We're going to sweep both rounds of the state playoffs. I'm going to TAC and be the first kid from Austin to make it. Then I'm going to tryouts in Detroit and making a tier one team."

"It sounds so straightforward when you describe it," I said.

He burst out laughing. "I know! Easy, right?"

Two weeks later, they had swept playoffs and won state.

"The sweep lives, baby!" he said on the way home.

Two weeks later, he went to TAC and made it.

"Two legs of the sweep!" he said, laughing.

Improbably, he was almost there. This, though, would be the toughest step by far.

There are eight tier one teams in Michigan. That's sixteen goalie spots. Most of those spots aren't open, though, as we found out--many teams already have both of their goalies committed from the previous season, or as transfers from other teams.

Really, there were three or four open positions, at most, and you had to figure out where they were. And that coach had to not mind that you couldn't play with them in spring, because we weren't in Michigan yet (even though it felt like we were).

We stumbled around, at first, trying to understand the process, but we were starting to make a little progress.

Like I mentioned in last week's post, a team called him and wanted him to play with them in a tournament the next weekend. The biggest spring tournament in Michigan.

That was a big, big deal.

It was such a big deal, in fact, that the second team that was interested in him offered him last Tuesday. I think they were concerned that the first team would like him and offer him, and since Eli would have been around those kids all weekend, he'd want to play for them instead.

"You just got offered," I said to Eli when he walked in from school.

"What? I did? WHAT IS HAPPENING?" Eli said, laughing.

"I know," I said. "You didn't make a team while you were up there, but all of a sudden you're red hot. I'm practically expecting the Penguins to call at this point."

We went and did his workout, then came back home, and I told him to think a bit and we'd talk about it later.

I wanted to take the offer. It was with a top-fifteen program, and I really liked the coach. Every other coach I talked to, I didn't really talk to at all, because they talked to me. I had two forty-five minute conversations with coaches and couldn't get a word in edgewise.

This coach, though, listened and asked questions. He was soft-spoken. He seemed grounded and stable. I thought it would be a great fit for Eli's personality.

He said he didn't want an acrobat. He wanted a calm goalie who controlled the game. That's a perfect fit for how Eli plays.

Downsides? Well, we wouldn't be living in Detroit. We'd be living in Grand Rapids, which is about two hours away.

Except, to me, that wasn't a downside.

This was going to be a huge adjustment for Eli, and he needed to be able to focus on getting his work in without distractions for him to move toward his goals. Being in Detroit was going to be a brighter spotlight.

Take the bird in hand, man. Don't chase those birds in the bush.

"So, what do you think?" I asked Eli after dinner.

"Coach hasn't seen me play in person," Eli said.

"I know," I said. "But he's seen tape, and other people who have seen you have talked to him. This is a firm offer to play for one of the top fifteen teams in the country."

"But two weeks ago, you both agreed that him offering me without seeing me in person wouldn't be fair to the other kids who had tried out," he said. "What's changed?"

"Nothing, really," I said. He was right.

"I don't want an offer handed to me," he said. "I want to go play for it."

"You know this is taking a huge chance," I said. "What happens if you go up there and get hurt, or this coach withdraws his offer and the coach you're playing for doesn't offer you?"

"Then we go to Detroit and I play AA for a year," he said. "I'm playing for it, Dad."

At that moment, I was reminded that there are times when my son is a bigger man than I am. Not to mention that, at fourteen, he has bigger balls than I've ever had.

"You know what, buddy?" I said. "I love you. Let's go to a tournament."

TOMORROW: A Rough Start

Monday, April 25, 2016

Upcoming

We got back from Detroit last night at midnight. I know I've been more tired, but it's hard to remember when.

However, what a story I have to tell you, starting tomorrow. It was a wild, wild weekend. And I would tell you tonight, but I'm just too tired to even begin.

A Note

Watching Cory Crawford in goal is like being the victim of a home invasion.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Links!

Leading off from Paul Draper, and what a bizarre, nightmarish story: How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.

From Steven Davis, and these are sensational photographs: Professional Women's Wrestling in Japan. Next, and this is a terrific read, it's The Golden State Warriors Have Revolutionized Basketball. Next, and definitely belonging in the "alarming" category, it's Spies in the Skies. This is pretty mesmerizing: The History of the Romans: Every Year. This is an excellent read: THE SECRET RULES OF THE INTERNET: The murky history of moderation, and how it’s shaping the future of free speech. Here's something quite remarkable: A Vault of Color: A Peek Inside Harvard’s Collection of 2,500 Pigments.

From Ken P., and I have to think this is one of the most clever and strangest uses of technology ever: This Mattress Will Tell You if You’re Being Cheated On. Also, and this is fascinating, it's THE MINECRAFT GENERATION: How a clunky Swedish computer game is teaching millions of children to master the digital world.

From C. Lee, and this looks pretty amazing: Microsoft may be working on a flexible phone case that does more than just protect.

From David, and this is a strange, strange story: Turtle Smuggling case in Michigan court. And the update: Man caught with 51 turtles in his trousers sentenced to 5 years in prison.

From Wally, and this is beautiful: Inuit Cartography. Next, and this is quite interesting, it's Technical jargon failure modes. Next, and what a headline, it's This rare Maine bottle of bird poop is on display at the Smithsonian.


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