Monday, May 20, 2019

Graduation Party

Eli 17.9  had his graduation party yesterday.

There was an awards ceremony at school on Friday, and he won a $500 scholarship named after a former student (Chip Ridenour) who was loved by everyone. Here's the description: annual memorial scholarship to honor those values and qualities which were central to Chip’s personality – the speed and ease with which he made, retained and nurtured friends; the obvious genuine regard for the dignity of each individual; and the ability to bring cohesion into even the most potentially divisive situation. His friendly conversation wasn’t just a gesture—it was sustained by a very real care and concern for all of his friends.

It made me very happy that Eli was considered, because the description reminds me very much of the person he's always been, even when he was young.

The graduation party was with his two best friends, one of whom lives across the street, and it was at their house, so big win. They'd already hosted two parties in previous years for their daughters, so the process had assembly line efficiency.

I'm so introverted that big gatherings are really, really difficult for me, but I stayed for all three hours and even had a good time for most of it.

The weather was lousy, like it always is (most popular phrase of lifers to people who are recent arrivals: "It's not usually this bad."), but in the last thirty minutes, the clouds parted and the sun started peeking through the trees. Eli was sitting next to me on a porch, and the sun was in front of us, and we just sat there for a while.

"I remember when we drove up here three years ago and I was scared to death," I said. "Not that I would have ever admitted that to you." He laughed. "And I know that some things didn't work out quite the way we hoped, but overall, this turned out pretty great."

He smiled. "It did, didn't it?" he said.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Links!

We're light this week, but there are some excellent long reads.

Leading off this week, from Rogar Robar, and it's a great read: Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey Into the World of a Man Gone Wild.

From Joshua Buergel, and this is an incredibly moving story: My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me. This is also tremendous: Lather. Rinse. Relapse Our hero gives his level best, then fails. Then tries again. This could be very useful: The Best Frozen Foods To Cook In Your Air Fryer, And How To Cook Them.

This is an incredible story about one of my favorite writers: The Night The Lights Went Out.

From C. Lee, and this is terrific, it's The 1968 sci-fi that spookily predicted today. No surprise: Yes, the internet is destroying our collective attention span. This is interesting: And the least feminist nation in the world is... Denmark?

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and these are amazing: Underground Photos From New York’s Seediest Years.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Walkthrough

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh has released another book, but this one isn't fiction. It's The Walkthrough: Insider Tales from a Life in Strategy Guides, and if you didn't know, Doug might have written more strategy guides than anyone alive. Here's a description:
The Walkthrough offers a rare peek behind the curtain of the secretive video game industry from an unlikely perspective, that of a career strategy guide writer. For eighteen years, Doug Walsh was one of the most prolific authors of officially licensed video game strategy guides.

One part memoir and one part industry tell-all, The Walkthrough takes players on an entertaining march through gaming’s recent history, from the dawn of the PlayStation to the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Switch. Follow along as Walsh retraces his career and reveals how the books were made, what it was like writing guides to some of the industry’s most celebrated — and derided — titles, and why the biggest publishers of guidebooks are no longer around.

Walsh devotes entire chapters to many of gaming’s most popular franchises, including Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Gears of War, and Diablo, among others. From inauspicious beginnings with Daikatana to authoring the books for the entire Bioshock trilogy, with plenty of highs, lows, and Warp Pipes along the way, Walsh delivers a rare treat to twenty-first century gamers. The Walkthrough is sure to satisfy the curiosity of anyone who grew up with the works of BradyGames and Prima Games sprawled across their laps.

With over one hundred books to his credit, and countless weeks spent at many of the most famous studios in North America, he is uniquely qualified to give an insider’s perspective of a little-known niche within the multi-billion-dollar industry.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw (part two)

It's a classic beginning: a ship that's one step above a garbage scow, mysterious circumstances, a nemesis, an old friend who offers to help if you'll do him a favor.

Nah, to hell with all that.

I'll play through the story when the game is released. Instead, I wanted to find out what the game was like if I ignored the story. Could I just make a living as a mercenary? Would it be fun?

Yes, on both counts.

Here's the basic gameplay loop if you want to freelance. Every space station has a mission terminal, like a help wanted board, and it offers various missions. They're rated for difficulty, so it helps you avoid certain death (most of the time), but the riskier missions offer much bigger paydays.

You might ferry cargo, or clear a minefield, or patrol, or escort, or defend a freighter under attack, or spy on an outpost. That's only a sampling of the mission types, and they're quite varied. You can also get a mining laser and go space mining on your own.

That sounds pretty contained, right? A defined set of mission types. Flying from system to system. Making money.

Well, yes and no.

Shit can go sideways in a hurry. Maybe you spot a distress beacon on your way to a mission and decide to help out. Maybe hostiles intercept you on the way to the mission. Maybe you spot a bounty along the way and decide to have a go. Maybe you arrive at a mission, feel like you're in control, and then an unexpected wave of hostile craft arrive.

Even better, you can feel like you're in control and it can turn in seconds. Situations can get very, very hot, and I mean that in the best way. You've got shields on three sides depleting, you're trying to track a target and deliver the killing blow, your systems A.I. is methodically reciting all the things that are breaking on your ship, you've got someone calling for help over the comms system...

It gets wild.

That's one of the great things about this game: it's not controllable. You don't control situations--you manage them. That's the difference in a passably interesting game and a great one.

There are times when you need to hit the afterburners and just get the hell out. Your ability to assess a situation is every bit as important (maybe more so) than your joystick jockey skills. That's as it should be, because you're a private contractor, not Luke Skywalker.

Maybe the story makes you more heroic, but I like it this way. I like being a space jamoke who's just trying to get along and pay the bills.

There's entertainment, too. There's a terrific assortment of radio stations, and lots of entertainment at the station bars, including video games and pool (pool is so much fun).

You're just living your life in space, man.

Oh, and the explosions. This game has my favorite explosions of all time (surpassing even the Just Cause series). Ships exploding nearby give you teeth-rattling force feedback that is perfectly matched to the visuals in front of you. It is unbelievably impressive. 

It's all unbelievably impressive, really. It's a tour de force of both game design and implementation, and it's incredibly fun.

I'll let you know if I hear anything about the release date, but I don't think it's that far away. Within six months certainly, and maybe within three. It's very polished already.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to see a man about a ship. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw

You saw the screenshots yesterday, and I'm sure your first thought was, "No way the game can be as amazing as the screenshots."

Well, good news: it's absolutely just as amazing as the screenshots.

This is Travis Baldree's new game. He's been one of my favorite developers for more than a decade. His games are imaginative, well-paced, and always fun.

And they work. He releases fully-featured, fully-working games.

All right, enough intro. This game reminds me of two others: Super Wing Commander (3DO version) and Wing Commander: Privateer. The battles remind me of SWC. The ability to role-play reminds me of Privateer. 

There's a significant difference between RG:O and those two iconic games, though. RG:O is being released by arguably a better developer (Travis's track record is impeccable), and those games were both released at least a quarter of a century ago.

With the benefit of those twenty-five years, this game takes place in an incredibly dynamic world, and much of it is streamlined (if you so choose). Boring bits removed, exciting bits increased. It sounds simple, but no one else has been able to do it, at least not like this.

It's also huge. I've played for 30+ hours and only been in four planetary systems. Four! And there are thirty-nine in the game.

Wait, I should probably add a qualifier to that. I'm not following the story. I've been role-playing as a mercenary, just exploring on my own, and if you play this way, it's easily a 200+ hour game, or even longer.

Plus, this game is eccentric, and I mean that as a huge compliment. There's a very full-featured pool simulation, and almost every station has an opponent available who will play you for money. Slots. Video games. Dice poker.

There's no necessary reason for all that to be in the game, but it is, and it's all fun.

My thoughts appear to be genuinely disordered at this point, so let me pause until tomorrow and I'll try to organize my notes (which are fairly extensive) into something coherent.

I'll end on this, though. This game is going to be big. Very, very big.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

We'll Be Discussing These Screenshots Tomorrow

In the meantime, enjoy.

Yes, it's in-game footage, and no, it hasn't been released yet. I'm playing a beta, though, and it's just fantastic.

Like I said, discussion tomorrow (including what game it is).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Just Wait Until He's In A Water Hazard

We're on the putting green.

Since Eli 17.9 has started to really enjoy golf (he shot an 84 last week), we're playing quite a bit. We play together at least three days a week, and he plays another two or three days with friends.

For an ancient, I've started playing pretty well. In the very old days, I played to a five handicap, but then Eli was born and golf stopped for over a decade, really for sixteen years. I can still hit the ball, but my short game has been pretty poor.

Then I had an idea, and today, we're trying it out.

"How long is this hole?" I ask.

Eli consults the Bethpage Black scorecard. "Four hundred and twenty yards," he says. "Par four."

I consult a sheet of written instructions, currently sealed in a Ziploc bag. "Twenty-five feet plus seventeen feet for hole distance," I say. "That's a forty-two foot putt."

We find our place on the green and tee off.

"How far away were you?" I ask.

"Six feet," Eli says.

I consult the sheet. "Ooh, you're in the rough."

"What?" he asks, laughing.

"If you're more than five feet away on the drive, you're in the rough," I say. "That terrain type doubles the miss on your approach putt, so you need to be close on this one. Your drive distance was two-forty, so you have one eighty to the pin.  That's fifteen feet plus eighteen feet for distance, so you have a thirty-three foot putt for the approach shot."

"Let me see that sheet," Eli says. I hand it to him. "Oh my god," he says. "It's all formulas. Wait, is this written in code?"

"Mostly," I say.

"Here, take it back," he says, laughing. He lines up his putt and strokes it within two feet of the hole.

"Looks like someone has a fifteen-foot birdie putt coming up," I say. He laughs.

"This is actually really fun," he says.

"Just wait until you have to hit a bunker shot," I say.

We played for about forty-five minutes, working through the front nine at Bethpage Black. I went -2, Eli went -3, and we had a great time.

I've been thinking for a while about the short game and how to practice it in a way that I'm fully engaged. I don't want to just line up balls and hit the same putt over and over. This is a problem for everyone, because the short game is important, but practicing it is real drudgery.

I had an idea yesterday: what if we could pretend to be playing on a course, where the outcome of every putt is important? That's when I started making rules and creating formulas.

Basically, you use a putt to represent every shot on the course, and your accuracy determines the distance and terrain of your next shot. If your approach putt is inaccurate enough,  it's even possible to wind up in a real bunker, or need to chip from off the green.

Once you hit your approach shot, you just play out the rest of the hole like you normally would. Then you putt the score for the hole on your scorecard and move on.

It's complicated enough that you have to think your way through, so you're never just banging putts. And it makes practice have real stakes, because you're competing against each other and putting scores on a real scorecard. It makes everything more intense and so much more interesting.

I'm going to keep working on this, as a side project, because it has potential. Especially as an app, with a career mode, where you could play on a tour with different courses and work your way through the amateur tours to the pros and...

Yes, I get carried away. It's in my nature.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, an incredible story: My Childhood in a Cult.

From Dave Schroeder, and this is a brief but riveting: My search for a boyhood friend led to a dark discovery.

A load of links from C. Lee, and excellent as always. First, and this is intriguing, it's To Make Sense of the Present, Brains May Predict the Future. Next, and this just won't work, it's To Cope With a Wartime Banana Ban, British Home Cooks Made ‘Mock Bananas’. This is brutal: The Doorbell Company That’s Selling Fear. An excellent video series: Then This Happened.

From Ken Piper, and if you ever wondered: The Origin of the Term "Gamer". This is intriguing: A Video Game Developed To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Seems To Be Working. Next, and this is bizarre, it's Seeing the quantum. This is absolutely amazing: A robot that can copy your handwriting. This is fantastic: New Xbox Controller With Haptic Braille Output Patented by Microsoft. This is concerning: Sunscreen chemicals soak all the way into your bloodstream.

From Scott Gould, and it's thought-provoking: Bullets and bills: The cost of getting shot in America.

The Ultimate (part two)

I told Eli 17.9 about the Apple guy, and he didn't understand why it was so funny. I hadn't even thought about "why," because it was instinctively funny to me, but now I actually understand.

What made that hipster the ultimate Apple guy was not the particular choice of items he wore, or the beard, or anything in isolation. It was that every single thing he chose to wear (or grow) was clearly cultivated for attention. It was precisely put together for maximum attention.

That's exactly what Apple does. Apple products aren't about anything functional, because you can always find a similar product from someone else that's faster and cheaper. What an Apple product is about is cultivating attention. Every single aspect of design is to cultivate that attention.

That's what was so funny.

Where, Pray Hither, Are the Boxer Shorts?

I went to Macy's to buy underwear. Macy's is basically J.C. Penny's + at this point, so it's no longer to fancy for me.

I walked up to an intersection in the store and looked at the sign above me. There were arrows pointing to everything in the store.


Half the arrows were directing people, from every direction, to the women's clothing section. Curiously, however, none were pointing to men's clothing.

An aberration, I thought, so I went thirty yards to the next sign.

Same thing.

I eventually checked every sign on the floor. Some pointed upstairs to women's clothing. Some pointed to the same floor I was on. No arrows, though, pointed to men's clothing.

Why this curious state of affairs, sir or madam? I represent consumer underwear demand!

I did eventually find the men's clothing section. It required three secret passwords and an electronic key to enter.

The Ultimate

After an entirely disinterested non-search, I've stumbled onto the ultimate Apple hipster.

I was walking past the Apple store at the local mall when I saw him, standing in the soft glow of the Apple's proprietary rightness.

It killed me--KILLED ME--to not take a picture, but we'll have to make do with a description.

I believe he was an employee, by the way, which makes it even better.

5'6". Slender. Appropriate length hipster beard. Square black glasses. Flower pattern leggings. Deck shoes.

It was overwhelming. Never have I seen a greater display of Apple-ness in my entire life.

I didn't bother looking to see if he was wearing an Apple watch. I already knew the answer.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019


In our last episode, Eli 17.9 was crushed because his application had been rejected to Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Brown.

He did make the waitlist at Cal.

However, he had already been accepted to Michigan in the early application period, and then they invited him to apply to the Honors College.

The Honors College is a prestigious sub-section inside Michigan, and they only admit 500 kids each year (60,000 kids applied to Michigan this year, which is incredible).

We were on the putting green a few days ago, and Eli said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, but I got into the Honors College."

"Wait, what?" I said, laughing, giving him a big hug. "I just assumed this would be another disappointing tryout with no feedback!"

"I know, right?" he said, laughing. "But I actually got in."

There are lots of perks to being in the Honors College beyond academic rigor. They stay in a separate dorm with bigger rooms, and they have a cafeteria with better food (as far as I can tell, this is the equivalent of the Jock Dorm, but for nerds). On the academic side, there are special classes, an academic advisor with far fewer students, and a higher level of attention in general.

The effect on Eli has been pretty significant. Michigan's size (30,000 students) was intimidating, and not the college experience he'd been hoping for, but now he's going to get a version of the small school experience, and he's very happy about it.

Me, too. Thanks, Michigan.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Day Away

Really sorry, but it's been very busy today, and now I'm beat, so no writing. I'll have an update on Eli 17.9s school situation tomorrow, though.

Monday, May 06, 2019

7-10 Split

We were watching a professional bowling something or other. One of the bowlers was nicknamed "Squirrel."

"There are two people in squirrel suits," I said.

"I saw them," Eli 17. 9 said. "What's up with that?"

"What are the odds that two women in a small city in Maine happen to have squirrel suits?"

"Basically zero," Eli said.

"So that means the PBA has two squirrel suits in a trunk that they haul from event to event," I said.

"Pretty crazy either way," Eli said. "This crowd is pretty wild, really."

"Bowling fans or paid crisis actors?" I asked.

"Is there a difference?" Eli asked.

Then they showed this (please note squirrel costumes upper left):

"Wait, isn't that just best two out of three?" I asked. "Do we need a points system for this?"

Apparently, the "roll-off" may involve dark magic. You can't be too careful.

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