Total volume is low, but long reads are plentiful this week.
This is an absolutely epic takedown: All American Huckster: The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time
From Wally, and this is a phenomenal read: THE SUPERHERO SAGA OF BROOKLYN’S WEIRDEST BURGER JOINT
. Very solid recommendations: 10 Wargames to Buy Your Wargamer for Christmas!
This is excellent: Forgotten New York
From Joshua Buergel, and this is excellent: TRANS-IMPERIAL GEOGRAPHIES OF RUM: PRODUCTION AND CIRCULATION
From C. Lee, and this is a remarkable story: Whistle-Blowing AIDS Doctor Reflects on Roots of Epidemic in China
. This is a very, very bittersweet interview: What it's like to become a YouTube gaming celebrity at 80 years old
. This is entirely sickening: Google, democracy and the truth about internet search
From Steven Davis, and these are so beautiful: The Timeless Beauty of Vintage Aerolux Light Bulbs Containing Floral Filaments
. This is a beautiful, calming video: Caixa d'Òptica - Optical Box (c.1750-1790) Museu del Cinema
From Ken Piper, and this is a fantastic story: THE LINEBACKER, THE DEAD BODY AND A PIZZA DELIVERY FROM HELL
From Tim Lesnick, and this is stunning: First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber
This is Unfair
I don't mind twelve consecutive hours of snow.
I do mind that when I open my car door, a blizzard sneaks in, and then it's snowing inside my car. Poor sportsmanship, nature!
Risk and Human Behavior
We had a little water in our basement (very normal for this area), so we had an inspector/fixer guy come over today and take a look.
He told me a great story, and it's a cautionary tale.
Around 2006, he started flipping houses. Perfect fit for him, because he can fix quite a few different things. So he'd buy a house, fix it up, and flip it.
He flipped 18 houses.
He was red hot, and he was ready to retire. He had four houses left that he was flipping, then he was getting out of the game with about 900k or so.
That was in 2008.
You know what happened next. The real estate market absolutely collapsed, he couldn't sell any of the houses, couldn't afford to keep them (because he'd borrowed money to buy them), and he blew up.
So he's in his 60s and he's still working, and he said he'd be working for a long time.
What was remarkable about this fellow is that what he he was doing wasn't particularly risky, given the standards of the time. When everyone around you is taking absolutely huge amounts of risk, taking risk feels normal. Even taking excessive amounts of risk (like he did) seems conservative, because so many other people are taking absolutely insane amounts of risk.
The least crazy person in a group of crazy people is still crazy. It is incredibly tough to remember that.
"That guy is taking too much risk, and I'm taking much less risk, so that must mean I'm safe." That's the kind of thing people say to themselves in a boom, but they're comparing their behavior to the wrong end of the stick.
It's hard to understand that in a financial bubble, though, because risk is highly and almost unerringly rewarded until the market crashes. So not taking huge amounts of risk seems stupid, because that huge risk is making you huge amounts of money, and if you keep making money from high risk, it doesn't feel like high risk anymore.
It feels normal. It feels smart.
It's also very hard for people to understand that markets are predatory. Unregulated or lightly-regulated markets are incredibly predatory, and that creates fisherman and fish. While the inspector/fixer guy might have thought he was the fisherman, he wasn't--he was the fish. The banks loaning people obscene amounts of money with very little collateral?
The banks were the fishermen.
He didn't understand that, and he's working an extra twenty years because he didn't.
A Positive Experience
I was given a tetanus shot yesterday by a female wizard.
Tetanus shots feel like peanut butter jackhammered into your arm. Every one I've ever had hurt like hell, and the pain lasted for days.
Yesterday, I barely felt the needle.
Last night? No soreness whatsoever.
Today? Very, very mild soreness in my arm.
I didn't even know that was possible.
An Information Processing Model For Goalies (A Puzzler For You)
This is about goalies, nominally, but it's also about information acquisition and decision making in general. So some of you will like this, and some of you have already fallen asleep.
I'm very excited about writing this, though. And you guys can help Eli in a major way.
I've noticed that Eli 15.4 has been very dominant at times this season, even against nationally ranked teams (he's won in goal against teams rated as high as #8 in the country).
At other times, though, he's looked vulnerable, and even though I've been thinking about it for a few months, I couldn't figure out why.
Until now. And it relates to models for processing information.
Being a good goalie has much in common with being a good driver, believe it or not.
A good driver is constantly acquiring information in a steady stream. Information from side and overhead mirrors, from peripheral vision, from constantly assessing the situation in front of them. Along with information acquisition, there are good habits, like always observing a safe following distance, which support and reinforce the data stream.
Let's call this the steady state acquisition model.
Even the best drivers, though, wind up in high traffic situations at times. Situations where they can't have a safe following distance, or the road conditions are unstable, or (more likely) other drivers are unstable.
A guy cuts in front of you and you have to swerve, but also manage to avoid drivers who might be coming up behind you. A car who emerges out of a blind spot.
In these situations, there is a split-second where a driver has to correctly and almost instantly react to a huge amount of new information. Even a high level of skill in the steady state acquisition model is useless here, because this is an entirely different model
Let's call this the sudden state acquisition model.
There are drivers who are absolutely awful at steady state information acquisition. They have terrible driving habits. Yet they excel in sudden state acquisition, at avoiding accidents in split-second situations. They cause some of these situations, yes, but they're still adept in critical situations. That doesn't make them good drivers--they're not--but they're skilled in a very specific way.
A high-level goalie has an enormous set of steady state information acquisition that he continuously processes. It amazes me when Eli talks about it, because his information acquisition model is incredibly sophisticated, and he processes a staggering amount of information during a game.
In this mode, he is utterly dominant.
In the sudden state mode, though, he is much less dominant. A puck squirts off someone's stick, or suddenly appears from behind a screen.
Instead of steadily sipping information, the sudden state situations require an enormous gulping of information and an almost instant response, particularly because most of these situations happen only a few feet away.
That's when I realized why Eli was dominant at some times but not others.
In practice, in lessons, every drill focuses on steady state acquisition. He's dominant in steady state mode because he's learned the skill.
There really aren't any sudden state drills.
Until now, at least, because you guys are going to help me create some.
This is absolutely a trainable skill. All you need is an experience bank to draw on. And if Eli is able to do this, he is going to be an absolutely monster in net.
Let me explain two drills that I made up as starting points. Remember, we're trying to create situations where a huge amount of visual information has to be processed immediately and appropriate action taken.
There are three shooters and a coach (who passes the puck) in this drill.
The coach calls out a position and location for the goalie. So the position could be standing, the butterfly, VH, or reverse VH. I'm sure there are others, but you get the idea.
Certain locations go with certain positions, so the VH and reverse VH are always against the post. The coach calls out a valid location along with the position.
The goalie gets into the position--and closes his eyes.
The three skaters move into three distinct positions.
The coach passes the puck. While it's traveling across the ice, the coach shouts "GO!" The goalie opens his eyes and has to immediately acquire the puck location and immediate threats, and respond.
The skater will shoot immediately, or can make one pass. So it's a bang-bang play, as they say.
The skater location can be constantly changed between reps, even including very difficult locations like behind the net. Or two guys could be together, with one screening the other.
The number of positions for the skaters is basically infinite, but the drill will focus on positions inside fifteen feet, because that's both the most dangerous in a game and the most difficult in terms of the amount of information and the time available for processing.
You could have more skaters in this drill, but it's usually tough to find shooters for goalie drills, so three is probably as high as is possible.
This is also a "blind" drill, where the goalie starts out with his eyes closed.
The coach stands about twenty feet away and tumbles a puck, tossing it in the air so that it's going to bounce erratically when it lands on the ice.
Each puck should be thrown differently--different heights, different speeds.
When the puck is still in the air, the coach shouts "GO!", and the goalie has to find the puck, even if it's not in his expected visual frame (So a puck high in the air can be difficult to acquire, because the goalie is never expecting a puck to be that high, but it does happen in games on deflections sometimes).
Eli calls these "knuckle pucks", and they're very, very difficult to handle in games.
There should be a shooter (or even two) located close to the goalie, and their job is to get their stick on the tumbling puck and shoot. Their locations should change between reps, just like in the previous drill.
The shooters can shoot immediately or make one pass to set up a shot from the other player.
This is a very in-close drill, with an unpredictable puck, so it's a somewhat different type of data being acquired than the other drill. In both, though, there's a flood of information that the goalie has to acquire immediately.
Interested? Here's where you can help.
If you have ideas for on-ice drills based on these principles, please e-mail me. Also, if you can come up with off-ice drills that incorporate these ideas, also let me know. I think these skills can definitely be improved off-ice, but not at the computer--it needs to be based in 3D space, so that his body can move at the same time he's acquiring the information.
I think this is totally doable, and it will really help Eli build his game. Thank you for your help.
It began with this text:
INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CHALLENGE ALERT
Canepa World Netless Tennis Championships. 3:30-4:15 pm, Monday December 5. Because nets are for wimps and losers.
It was sent to Eli 15.4 at 2:00 pm yesterday.
"You know, some people would say that no nets on the courts, snow, and thirty-eight degrees means no tennis," he said.
"Some people say that," I said. "Other people see nothing but opportunity."
"I'm in," he said. "It's on."
The nets at the tennis center were taken down last week, much to our surprise. Because of the weather up here, all the outdoor nets get taken down for winter.
That's okay, though, because we invented our own rules variation.
Ground stroke service from the baseline, and every shot must land beyond the service line. That makes for a surprisingly satisfying and intense game, even without nets. It's kind of racquetball, kind of tennis, kind of its own thing.
Going into this championship match, though, I had a problem.
Eli is so much stronger than I am now, and he hits so much harder. I wasn't sure I could beat him at regular tennis anymore.
For the World Championships of Netless Tennis, though, I had a secret weapon.
"New balls," I said, handing him the can.
"Finally!" he said. "Every practice ball we have is so flat."
"Hey, World Championships," I said. He laughed.
The court was about 90% dry, with snowdrifts along the fence. During warmups, Eli hit a ball past me that rolled to the fence. "Hey, keep that ball out of the snow, and oh my god did I just say that?" he said, laughing.
We were both laughing. A lot.
"Okay, three sets to ten points, have to win by two," I said, as we finished warming up.
"Sounds good," he said. "You're toast."
"I have one request," I said. "Since I'm an elderly gentlemen compared to me, allow me to pick the balls we use."
"Oh no," he said. "What are you up to?"
"Well, you won't find out unless you let me choose the balls," I said.
"All right," he said. "I'll regret this."
I reached into my bag and pulled out three red and yellow balls, and held them up. "OH MY GOD!" he said, laughing so hard he almost fell over.
These were training balls for young kids learning how to play. They're 15% larger than a regular tennis ball (which doesn't sound like much, but they look HUGE), with 75% reduced bounce. Plus, because of the size increase, they're much, much slower.
My personal highlight was serving and volleying (an underhand serve, lobbed almost to the baseline), after which Eli held up his hand.
"Need a minute?" I asked.
"I can't see," he said. "I'm laughing so hard I'm crying."
It was over in two sets, 12-10 and 11-9, equal parts drama and comedy. I sank to my knees and held up a "WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP" that I had secreted away.
"That was an unbelievable amount of fun," Eli said, laughing.
"Let's keep going," I said. We played a third set, just for fun, and laughed all the way.
TRAIN DERAILS, 74 KILLED
Investigators say Operator was texting Santa at time of accident
I was hoping for a Fisher-Price My First Snowstorm© as an introduction to winter driving.
This is the mildest fall/early winter that anyone can remember in Grand Rapids. Amazing, really. We played tennis outdoors last week.
Last week, looking at the St. Louis forecast (games there last weekend), it looked like there might be a bit of rain, but no snow.
Because of that, I couldn't decide whether I should go ahead and get snow tires put on Gloria's car, or wait for another couple of weeks. To be on the safe side, though, I went ahead and had them put on last week.
Here's what happened:
A seven-hour drive home from St. Louis turned into a ten-hour drive instead, with snow for about seven of those ten hours. Very heavy, in places, and very icy at times as well.
Twice, jackwagons blew past us at 70 mph, then skidded off the road into ditches within 30 seconds. One took out a fence.
The total ditch count for the drive was twelve.
We were not one of them. Snow tires are the best thing.
Since we survived, this turned out to be some very good training for driving in harsh winter conditions.
Still, I'd like to have last week's weather back, please.
In case you missed the Grey Cup last Sunday, here's a fantastic highlight package.
The CFL always looks like more fun than the NFL. Next, and I agree 100%, it's George Harrison Is Still Classic Rock’s Best-Kept Secret
From Rob Funk, and this is an epic read: The Last Unknown Man: He appeared out of nowhere. He had no name, no memory, no past. He was the only person the FBI ever listed as missing even though they knew where he was. How could B.K. Doe remain anonymous in the modern age’s matrix of observation?
From Steven Davis, and this is quite a story: Saving Classic Mickey
. This must be watched: Medieval helpdesk in English
. This is an excellent story from the wayback machine: The Office on the Move: Portable & Pocket Typewriters
. This is terrific: Earth's History Plays Out On A Football Field
From C. Lee, and what a bizarre story: The Medical Mystery Behind America's Best-Selling Hair-loss Drug
. This is an entirely fascinating read: The real secret to Asian American success was not education
. Boy, this is discouraging: For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks
. This is stunning: Your brilliant Kickstarter idea could be on sale in China before you’ve even finished funding it
From Wally, and the title of this video is somehow hilarious: Don't Build a Mini Metal Foundry Until you See This First
. This is a fascinating read: Who First Farmed Potatoes? Archaeologists in Andes Find Evidence
. This is very interesting: A Brief History of Copyright in the United States
. I had no idea: The Fire That Inspired 'Smoke on The Water'
. Next, and this is remarkable, it's How the Expansion of Paris could Start with an Abandoned Radiation Bunker
Here's a fantastic link from David Yellope: The True Story Behind Nintendo's Most Coveted Game
From Roger Robar, and this is quite interesting: Disney's teenage princesses have always been voiced by adult women. Until now.
Fighting Eleven #10: Extracting Convincing From Real
One of the biggest challenges I'm facing for this game is how I create verisimilitude without drowning in the details.
I have a database of all D-I signings for the last ten years. It's about 10,000 players, a huge amount of raw data.
It's a giant puzzle, really, and for the game to work, I have to understand how the pieces fit together.
What's the ratio of five, four, and three-star recruits for a five-star program? What percentage of players sign in-state, or from an adjoining state? Those are the kinds of questions I need to answer to be able to put a slice of that into the game.
The 100% way to do recruiting would be to have all schools recruit every year, incorporating their team style, program status, program strengths, and location.
That's always my first instinct, to go way, way overboard, but that's not an efficient way to do this.
My job is to not go overboard. I need to give the user a sense of reality with as few AI rules and programming as possible.
Here's an example of trying to extract a slice of realism, which is all that the user sees. I'm not generating a huge database of fictional recruits each season. Instead, I'm generating 4 recruits that the user can recruit for each graduating player. So if 3 players need to be replaced, there will be 12 recruits available (4 at each position that needs to be replaced).
I use the real database to create 15 fictional recruits that should plausibly be interested in the user's program. This sounds easy, but it's much more complex than you would image. What star level for the recruits? Where do they come from? Why are they interested (I have to generate their priorities for the recruiting mini-game)? Also, what other schools are interested in the recruit, and why?
Now, because the user will play the same teams in conference play every season, those teams will actually have their own deck of player cards, and I'll replace graduating players with appropriate recruits for that program. So instead of doing recruiting for 120 schools, I'll be doing it for about 10.
When the user plays in-conference teams, he/she will recognize player cards from previous seasons, instead of just playing against a random deck. So I go in-depth with the teams the user will play every season.
My goal is to come up with 10 rules for the AI. 10 rules that will create a realistic recruit, and bonus points if I can do it in 5 rules. I'll let you know next week how I've done.
Fighting 11 #9: On Campus
Have a look:
That's not art from the game. It's just an image I found (Middlebury College, from the Veritas Forum) that shows the perspective I want to use.
The campus view of the game is where you can upgrade facilities, which will increase your program's desirability to recruits. There are four major upgrade areas: Academics, training facilities, stadium, and a fourth one I've forgotten for now.
If you upgrade your program, you'll get more recruiting badges for that area, so you can get better recruits.
Users gain general upgrade points for campus facilities by winning games and exceeding expectations, be it on the field or in recruiting.
Instead of talking about the nuts and bolts of all that today, though, I want to focus on presentation.
Here's how I envision this working. The screen is going to be divided into four equal sections, and each one represents an upgrade area. In essence, there will be four big buttons on the screen, and clicking on one takes you to the upgrade screen for that area.
That's easy to create, but of course I don't want it to be easy.
I want to make a "sandwich" of elements, with a transparent button on top. So there would be a background image (just the landscape, essentially) for each season.
That's the base layer.
The second layer consists of trees and buildings, and they're individual elements that can be placed anywhere on the background layer. Then the top layer, which is transparent, is a button control--one for each quadrant.
There are some strong advantages to this approach. For one, individual buildings can change their appearance when they get upgraded, so if you upgrade an area, you're going to see your campus change in appearance as well.
It also lets me create custom presets that would produce different looking campuses, so if you play through multiple dynasties, you won't have to look at the same campus every time.
The best part about this, though, is the tinkering.
I really enjoy games where I can do non-directed tinkering. It doesn't even have to reward me in the game, because the tinkering is the reward.
Want to make your campus look different? Well, you can. You can go into a campus construction screen and place individual elements where you want. All I have to do is save the coordinates for the element locations to reproduce them in-game.
You won't have to tinker if you don't want to--the presets should look very nice--but if you want to do everything down to the last detail, you can.
No Man's Sky
A big update for No Man's Sky was pushed out last weekend.
RPS has a nice summary here
, and even though there are many people who drank so much haterade they can't get it out of their systems, this is a substantial update which points to even better things down the road.
Not communicating at all was still a huge PR gaffe. They could have just said "We're working on the game and won't have an update for a while", along with a sentence or two every few weeks. That would have been much better in a PR sense.
However, much to their credit, they're improving the game, and not trivially.
A Multimedia Extravaganza Worthy of Off Off Off Broadway For the Holiday Season
Please look at this image while listening to this
Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold, With a Side of Peruvian Cheese And a Most Curious Tea Set
This story is from yesterday, so I'm out of sequence now, because I still haven't finished the Philadelphia story.
If you remember, Eli 15.4 was in Detroit for 12 days last spring, trying out for a Tier One team.
He played great, was clearly the best goalie in the tryout (out of 12), and was the final cut.
It was the worst night of my life as a father. When Eli found out, he made a sound that was like an animal in terrible pain, like something had broken deep inside him.
Something broke in me, too.
Then, because we had no choice, we recovered.
It still hurts, though.
Well, he played that team on Sunday, the one that cut him.
They're having a tough season. Eli's team is in the top twenty nationally, but the other team is in the fifties.
The game was supposed to be at 11:30 on Sunday, but on Saturday night at 9, we found out it had been moved to a different rink--oh, and it was going to start at 9. So we had to leave home at 5:30 Sunday morning to drive down.
Eli has been struggling a bit with a borderline sinus infection (on medicine now, thank goodness), but he didn't care. "They're not scoring," he said, with a big smile. "Nothing. I don't care how I feel."
He left halfway through the game with a 7-0 lead. They only had 8 shots against him, but he was still in command. He's developed a kind of confidence that I don't think he had when we moved up here, and at this level, a goalie has to have that kind of confidence.
His team wound up winning 9-3.
We stopped at our favorite mall on Earth--Laurel Park Mall in Livonia--and went to California Pizza Kitchen for lunch before we drove back home.
I ordered a salad, received a different salad, and didn't care. This new, unordered salad had feta cheese.
"Do you like feta cheese?" Gloria asked.
"It's okay," I said. "Really, though, I prefer my cheese to be from the great Midwest--cheddar--or from the passionate Latin regions--pepper jack."
Eli started laughing. "Oh, Dad," he said.
"What? Have you never heard of Peruvian cheese mines?" I asked. "Sweaty, dangerous work, mining that pepper jack."
Eli was laughing and sort of waving at me.
"I think he needs a minute," I said.
"Maybe he's delighted," Gloria said.
"Delighted is NOT the word," Eli said.
After lunch, we went to the parking lot. Gloria started the car and began backing out, then stopped before she'd even gone three feet. "What is that sound?" she said. "Are we caught on something?"
No flat tire, I thought. No flat tire.
As it turned out, though, it was much stranger than a flat tire.
I got under the car and looked carefully. "We appear to be driving over an ornate tea set," I said.
"What?" she asked.
"A TEA SET," I shouted. "In a plastic bag. It's sturdy."
Logically, this was impossible. While we were inside, someone had to carefully put this bag under our car, because it was well underneath.
Impossible it was, yet true. Here is the curious tea set in question:
It was undamaged, remarkably, and I did my best setting it up with the care deserving of a fine tea set before we drove away, entirely forgetting to take a picture.