Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a masterfully written story by Michael McKnight: The Split: Twenty-five years after Donnie Moore's death, it's time to dispel the myth that the pitcher killed himself because of a playoff home run. The truth is both darker and more relatable.

From Stephen Davis, and you must read this (DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, this particularly means you): Bunville Weenies (the story of a toy line that should have been huge, but wasn't). Also, and this is terrific: Interactive Origami Sculpture. One more, and it's excellent: NYC's Steamy History.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fascinating: Rating Chili Peppers On A Scale Of 1 To Oh Dear God I’m On Fire. One more, and these are stunning: Beautiful Chemistry.

From Daniel Willhite, and these are both excellent: Can't do math? Dance it out, and SHINE for Girls: Every girl is good at math. Some don't realize it yet.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is mesmerizing: French soldier’s room unchanged 96 years after his death in first world war. Also, and this is fascinating: ‘Without his shoes, I couldn’t walk’: a cobbler with a mission.

From Chris Pencis, and wow wow wow: Drone racing is a thing, and the first-person video is spectacular.

From Aaron Ward,  and drones are everywhere: Cirque de Soleil Deploys Drones for Art.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and Doug Walsh will particularly appreciate this: One Man’s Photos from an Epic Road Trip Spanning 26 Years, 177 Countries, and 500,000 Miles.

I know I've said this before, but the competition is over. This is the best headline ever: Dwarf stripper gets bride pregnant on her hen night.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is epic: Hawk vs. Drone! (Hawk Attacks Quadcopter). I'm a big fan of hawks.

Ending up this week, and I know I've linked to it before, but man, it's so much fun: PULP-O-MIZER: the customizable pulp magazine cover generator.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#GoodGrief

I really didn't want to write about this, but it's gotten so stupid that I've had enough.

This is in reference to--and I'm breaking up the name so that I don't get idiotic e-mails from Google vigilantes--the group identifying themselves as "Gamer" plus "Gate".

A "movement" ostensibly dealing with ethics and integrity must itself have ethics and integrity. If it doesn't, it's not a movement. It's a mob.

Also, please remember that people who bully others, and enjoy it, are broken in fundamental ways. People who make threats to harm others are even more fundamentally broken. These threats are reprehensible.

I have an idea. Maybe the people threatening physical harm to women could go mention this to their moms. Just explain the situation. I'm sure they'll be very understanding.

Now, if you extract the incoherent rage from the alleged point--the ethics of gaming journalists--maybe we can unpack something that isn't entirely idiotic.

Not idiotic. Just dumb.

First, we need to distinguish writers who discuss games as an entertainment medium, or discuss them at a level about single games. They can be honest.

At the game review level, though, with a big gaming website, it's impossible.

I'm not saying that everyone is compromised, but the entire structural foundation of the "gaming website" industry is a wink wink, nudge nudge with gaming companies that provide them with the revenue they need--via advertising--to survive.

Big gaming websites live inside a box. That box is their financial dependency on the industry they cover. They are as honest as they can be inside the confines of the box.

Gaming websites depend on gaming companies for both revenue and access. If they lose either, they won't exist. They're not hunting for Pulitzer Prizes. They're Entertainment Tonight.

This is why I haven't gone to IGN or Gamespot for years. It's just not financially possible for them to be objective. It's not rational to expect them to be objective.

Let's say IGN decides on full transparency. This means that when they did a preview, they'd have to state up front where the preview was done, and whether the developer/publisher flew them out to see the game. Was their hotel paid for, and what about food? Were they taken out for some kind of event that night?

You might think that would be enough, but it wouldn't be--not for full transparency. In addition, IGN would have to disclose any advertising revenue realized (or anticipated) from the game.

Even then, it doesn't account for everything. It would be simple for advertising for Game X and Game Y to be tied to the review score of Game Z.

Is that kind of transparency ever going to happen? No.

That's why I read sites like Gamers With Jobs. Rock, Paper, Shotgun (which is no longer small, but their writing resonates with me). Pocket Tactics.

Here's a tool that someone needs to create. You would go to this tool, select your favorite games, and you could find reviewers who rated these games highly. Then you would have an idea of which reviewers had similar tastes. That would be far more useful than Metacritic, because it would be tailored to your preferences. You could also set alerts when these reviewers had new reviews come out.

This would help you filter out static and tune the Internet gaming radio to your particular frequency.

Make Better Decisions, #9 in a Series

Submitted by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

I worked at a grocery store for much of high school.  A young man (no older than 21, and maybe not that old) came through my line with three items:  (1) a pregnancy test; (2) a 6-pack of Cost-Cutter (yes, that was a brand) beer; and (3)  a pack of condoms.   

This was before ubiquitous debit / credit card access, and in any event this gentleman looked like perhaps he would have continued to subsist in an all-cash economy into the future. So he began to dutifully count out his change and discovered that he hadn't accounted for tax; accordingly, he was roughly 75 cents short.   He looked at the three items on the belt and then solemnly pointed at the pregnancy test.  "Put that one back."   

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rebel Galaxy

Remember two weeks ago when I said I had played a space game that was going to be huge?

It was officially announced today. It's called Rebel Galaxy.

This is the first project from Double Damage Games, which is is the new company of Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer. Travis was extremely nice and let me play an alpha build of the game, which consists primarily of sandbox mode.

First off, this game is just gorgeous (click on the screenshot for a larger view--it's worth it):


That's my ship heading to a mission waypoint, traveling at warp speed.

I've played for a few hours, and here are some early impressions. First, space feels substantial. It also feels independent and unscripted. I've run across all kinds of harrowing situations on my way to accepted missions. Second, the control scheme on a game pad is just terrific. Everything you need to do is mapped to a control. This means the control scheme is not as complex as Elite: Dangerous, which will make it more pick up and play. Third, some of the alien encounters definitely give off a Star Control II vibe. That's always a good thing.

The Torchlight series (and Fate before it) is vibrant and full of life. The mind reels at what the creative forces behind these games could do in an open-world environment. I absolutely can't wait.

Here's an excellent preview at Polygon: Rebel Galaxy, the newest game from the men behind Torchlight and Diablo.


Food Stuff

First off, an update on the Schlotzsky's post last week--at least, the part where I mentioned Chipotle. This is from Chris Karalus:
Just a side clarification from someone who was living in Denver at the time.

Chipotle wasn't started inside McDonalds.  It was started in 1993 in Denver by a chef(Steve Ells) who is  still CEO of Chipotle.  AFter it had quite a few restaurants in Colorado (16 according to Wikipedia,) McDonalds became a minor investor in 1998 and  a major one by 2001.  This investment helped Chipotle expand into other states.  In 2006 the IPO happened and shortly thereafter in late 2006, McDonalds divested itself from Chipotle as part of an effort to get rid of non-core businesses.

Also in regards to Chipotle--where I had dinner last night--sofritas are now available more widely. Here's the description (from Chipotle's website):
We start with organic tofu from Hodo Soy that we shred and then braise with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos, and a blend of aromatic spices. 

Why would you eat this? Well, the saturated fat content is very low, so it's healthier. Plus, it's a pretty convincing imitation of "Chipotle meat", that particular seasoned flavor common to every meat/chicken option. Very spicy, nice flavor, and once it was in a taco, I never noticed that it wasn't meat. It's vegan, too, in case that's important to you.

We went to a new pizza place on the way back from a practice last week. It's called Pieology, and--conveniently enough--it's the Chipotle Grill format with pizza. You stand in line, choose the ingredients/sauce for your pizza, and they put it in the oven.

It's ready in four minutes, which is pretty remarkable.

The pizza tasted great, too.

This is mostly a California franchise (only one in Texas), but if you're near one, it's tasty and not expensive.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Front Office Football On Greenlight

Jim Gindin is still trying to get Front Office Football Seven on Steam. This is incredibly ironic, given that the recently released (and by all accounts, catastrophically bad) Front Page Sports Football made it to Steam with no problem.

If you haven't voted yet, please do. Jim is the dean of football simulations, and he more than deserves this support. Here's the Greenlight page: Front Office Football Seven

Make Better Decisions, #8 In A Series

I heard a story today that blew my mind.

On a local radio station, there was an interview with Bobby Patterson. Patterson, born in 1944, is a regionally popular soul singer who always deserved a wider audience and more fame than he ever received.

Patterson talked about his entire career, but what stunned me was when he talked about Shreveport (my arch nemesis). He said that there was a time when Shreveport was the regional hub for music in the South, bigger than Nashville (country) or Memphis (blues). I think he was talking about the mid 1950s, because he mentioned The Louisiana Hayride (Elvis Presley performed on the show/tour, among others).

He said that Shreveport would have been the music capital of the South, but that no one was willing to build the recording studios and associated infrastructure. Memphis and Nashville did, so musicians drifted away from Shreveport to those cities instead.




Make Better Decisions, #7 In A Series

The professionally dressed woman in front of me at Walgreen's purchased the following three items:
--"giant" Slim Jim
--string cheese
--cigarettes

Monday, October 13, 2014

Card Dungeon Released for Android!

Card Dungeon is now out for Android, and here's a link: Card Dungeon on Google Play.

Also, the patch to address memory issues (and add some new features) is out for iOS.

Pictures!

Comfortable anywhere:

Fearless explorer:

Easily the most embarrassing picture Eli 13.2 has ever taken, and that's saying something:

This man is not good at driving:

Really--Mariah Carey water is a thing?


It makes sense that George would be a fan of this particular magazine:


Well, um, if you say so.



Earth View Extension For Chrome

There's a post at Gizmodo today that talks about an Earth View extension for Chrome. After you install it, whenever you open a new tab in your browser, you're treated to a new satellite image. It's easily one of my favorite browser extensions ever--the little thrill of seeing a beautiful image each time I open up a new browser tab is a great treat.

Even better, if you want to explore the image in more depth, there's a little icon in the bottom right that tells the location of the image, and you can click on it to open the image in Google Maps.

Here's the Gizmodo article: Earth View From Google Maps Chrome Extension. There are also images taken from the extension.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Frank Regan, and this is terrific and thought-provoking: 10 of the world's biggest unsolved mysteries. Also, and this is potentially a huge discovery: Scientists discover cancer-fighting berry on tree that only grows in Far North Queensland.

Here's another in the ongoing series of "headlines caused by stupid people": Coast Guard Rescues Man Running Across Ocean in Bubble.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these are quite beautiful:Here Are 30 Gorgeous Bridges That Are Making The World A Little More Magical.

Dan Willhite sent in a link to "Talbletop Whale", a blog with fascinating science illustrations. Here's a sample (and everything there is interesting); Flight videos deconstructed.

From C. Lee, and this is oddly mesmerizing: Forty Portraits in Forty Years: The Brown sisters have been photographed every year since 1975.

From Shane Courtrille, and this is just entertaining: Absurd Creature of the Week: The Vicious Duck That Beats the Crap Out of Anything That Moves.

Two tremendous links from Meg McReynolds--the first, and this is quite amazing: The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years. The second link shows more portraits: Hidden histories: the first black people photographed in Britain – in pictures.

This brings back some absolutely excellent memories: NBA Jam Teams, Ranked. Yes, the original.

Here's a fascinating look at intersex athletes in track and field (I didn't understand the details previously, but this is quite interesting): A Brief History of Intersex Athletes in Sport.

I've written about Tuvan throat singing before, and this is stunning: Woman sings two notes simultaneously in amazing display of voice talent. And she's German. Same thing, though.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, another unbelievable Danny Macaskill (mountain biking) video: The Ridge.

From Rogar Robar, and believe me, you have to see this: How dangerous are magnetic items near an MRI magnet?

Here is an absolutely fascinating two-part article about Mercenary, and if you don't remember the game, the title says it all: The First Open World (Part One)The First Open World (part two).

From Steven Davis, and this is remarkable art: How Cindy Made Her Paper Mache Dragon.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Hazard

Last week, I applied for an update in my life insurance policy.

This updated application required a phone interview, which took so long that I almost wanted to kill myself (thus triggering the policy itself, potentially) before it ended.

One question, though, was quite interesting.

I was asked if my profession was any of the following hazardous occupations:
--Amusement
--Construction
--Diving
--Explosives
--Gas/oil
--Liquor
--Logging
--Mining
--Sports

There are endless question trees in these interviews, but I assume when it comes to explosives, a simple "yes" would have terminated the branch.

I also had no idea that being a carny (amusement) was considered such a hazardous occupation. That rabbit hole, led to The Life of a Carnie (a stunning photo essay) and IamA Former Carnie (reddit), which are both worth reading.

What struck me about the different occupations listed in the question is how little that list has probably changed over the years. An insurance applicant in the 1800s had some of the same occupations (logging and mining, certainly), and it's a little puzzle to figure out when the various categories were added. Dynamite was invented in 1867, but I don't know when it was first widely used. The first rebreather (for commercial diving, potentially) was the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus (what a band name!) in 1910. Spindletop heralded a massive expansion of the oil industry in 1901.

I looked online to see if I could find any life insurance applications from the 19th century, but no luck. I did, however, find this little little snippet:
The first insurance company in the United States was formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1735, offering fire insurance.  Life insurance wasn’t added until 1760. In the early years that life insurance was offered in the U.S., it was not nearly as popular as flood and fire insurance, and was even preached against as wicked by religious leaders.  Their argument was that purchasing life insurance was akin to gambling and betting against God.

Maybe chimney sweep and knacker were on the list at one point long, long ago.

I found one other interesting bit while I was poking around: Victorian Occupations: the 1891 London Census. Here are just a few of the occupations listed (seriously, the list is absolutely huge--this is just from the early "A" listing:
Alblastere--crossbow man
Ankle Beater-- A young person who helped to drive the cattle to market
Antigropelos Maker--A person who made waterproof leggings
Armiger--Squire who carried the armour of a knight, or one entitled to bear heraldic arms

If you're also nosing around in this list, and see something interesting, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Brothers

This is a tale of two brothers. Brothers with big dreams.

Eli Random is 6'10", 180 lbs. His father, legendary NBA journeyman Lester "Dub" Step. Eli is 20 years old. Here, have a look:


That's right: Eli Random is a professional baseball player, currently tearing up AA for the Erie SeaWolves.

He also has a brother. A half-brother, actually.

His half-brother's name is Enormous Bottoms. He is 5'5, 260 lbs., and he's 18 years old. His father was legendary sumo wrestler Ōzutsu Takeshi. He also dreams of being a professional baseball player, and he's hitting tape measure home runs for the AA Montgomery Biscuits. Here's Enormous:


Eli is playing Eli, naturally enough. I'm playing Enormous Bottoms. So we both have new careers in the Show, but this time, I'm trying to actually role play.

When I created EB, I poured everything I could into power. Once I started gaining training points, I put every single one into right-handed power. So here's a sample of his ratings:
Contact vs. left-40
Contact vs. right-40
Vision-40
Power vs. left-45
Power vs. right--80

I also never use the contact or standard swings. Power only.

What this means is that Enormous Bottoms leads the league in Home Runs. And strikeouts. A standard line for him would be something like this: K, DP, K, HR. Those home runs are usually of the tape measure variety, too (against right handers, at least). Here's a sample:


You can see the ball just to the left of the flag in the center. It's heading well over the scoreboard and into the water--on the fly. That's a bomb.

Plus, EB is a left fielder. A very, very bad left fielder. So all in all, he's a fairly realistic character: huge power, no plate discipline, and a lousy fielder. There are a ton of guys like that in the real minor leagues.

We'll see how this goes, but playing a role instead of trying to min-max the ratings is very, very fun.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Revamp

We're going far, far off the grid today.

Schlotzsky's is a sandwich restaurant in the fast casual category. It's one tier above Subway/Jimmy John's/etc., and because the company started in Austin in 1971, I've been eating their sandwiches for most of my life (and they're really, really good).

The menu has always been simple. Toasted sandwiches (with fresh-baked bread) and salads. For decades. In the last few years, they added Cinnabon and pizza. Still, though, it's a small menu. Here, have a look (thanks, Urban Spoon):


Sandwiches take up over half of the menu board. Pizzas, salads, and soups have about 40% combined.

Like I said, it's been like this as long as I can remember. A small, focused menu.

Last night, I walked into a Schlotzsky's and saw this:


Overnight, they've added 40+ menu items. It's incredible. They've added a series of pasta dishes, flatbreads, "specialty" sandwiches (that use a different kind of bread than the signature bread Schlotzsky's is known for), "Knife 'N Fork" sandwiches (not a clue), and an entirely new dessert menu.

I've never seen a restaurant's menu expand like this. And I think I understand what they're doing.

The category directly above "fast casual" is "bakery/bistro", and it includes restaurants like Panera Bread and Corner Bakery. This tier can charge more for food because the restaurants usually have slightly more upscale menus and nicer seating plans. It looks like Schlotzsky's is trying to move up a tier in order to justify higher prices/profit margins, and they had to dramatically modify their menu to do so.

I don't remember a restaurant ever doing this successfully. Usually a restaurant in one tier will create an entirely separate brand (often with an entirely different genre of food) to enter a higher tier (McDonald's/Chipotle, for example). So what Schlotzsky's is trying to do--change tiers with the same brand--seems relatively unprecedented.

Well, it's unprecedented in terms of someone succeeding.

Schlotzsky's is betting the future of the company on this new menu, because I don't think they can go back. They have one substantial problem, though, in terms of customers accepting this "new" bistro concept: the seating plan is still fast casual.

Bakery/Bistros have seating areas that emphasize "nooks". There are little places for privacy almost everywhere, and every seating location feels somewhat private. Schotzsky's, though, has a mass seating area with absolutely zero nooks. So there's a big mismatch in terms of the food they're serving and the seating.

I can't imagine that they can pull this off successfully, but what nerve it took to even try.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Card Dungeon Impressions (3 hours)

Next week, Mondays will go back to Gridiron Solitaire, but I wanted to give Card Dungeon another post, this time with impressions.

I had played development builds of the game as it progressed, but playing in a window on your desktop (Unity) is different from having it on your device. It's an entirely new experience, playing on the iPad (3).

Let me just say this up front: obviously, because Fredrik is the artist for GS, and because he is an absolutely terrific guy, I'm rooting for this game to succeed.

And it should succeed, because it is a genuinely distinct experience, something that is true for very few games nowadays. And I want to talk about its distinctness today.

First off, it's an absolute visual feast. The tightness of the camera (and yes, that does require to rotate the view more often, but I think it's worth it), in combination with the flat characters, creates an almost diorama effect that is quite wonderful, and that effect grows the longer I play the game.

Second, it's truly funny. There is a persistent whimsical quality to the game that is entirely delightful. It's a game that makes you laugh both with images and with words, and that is rare. I don't burst out laughing when I'm playing a game--at least not often--but I've done so several times while I played Card Dungeon.

Third, as you progress through the levels, the card play becomes an engrossing experience. The sheer variety of cards is staggering, as is their effects, and finding better and better cards the further you travel in the dungeons is addicting. Having only three cards that can be used at any one time feels very limiting at first, but the more I play the game, the more I see how the limitation forces me to make more challenging decisions than I would with a less restrictive inventory. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about each card--it's current condition, it's effect, the card type--when I have a chance to replace it with another.

Fourth, I like that the game pace isn't frantic. It's turn-based, and given the limit on the number of cards you have in your hand, the pace is measured. At first, I wasn't sure I liked that, but the more I play, the more I understand how appropriate the pace is for this game.

Fifth, I am so impressed by the coherence of the design and the game world. It's consistent. I don't stumble on things that don't make any sense. I haven't had any moments that broke immersion. It's a tightly-constructed, coherent game world, and that's not easy to do.

I've had one technical issue so far: occasionally, the game has closed and sent me back to the iOS desktop. It's not happening all the time, but it has happened a few times. Fredrik mentioned today that they're working on a patch to address this, so it's a short term issue, but it still needs to be mentioned.

I also think that the first dungeon (three levels) is less interesting than everything else. In part, this is to give the player a chance to breathe and understand the game before it gets more difficult, but new players may mistakenly play the first level or two and not realize how much more the game has to offer.

There are so many games coming out on iOS now that it's tremendously difficult for any one game to get attention. That's 10x true for indie developers.

I'm hoping Card Dungeon will be different.

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