Monday, April 20, 2015


That's the best single game I've ever had (going back to the mid 1980s). Three home runs, a double, and a single, all scorched. This is with a AAA team, so EB has been promoted once.

However, it's boom or bust for Enormous Bottoms, huge games followed by multi-day strikeout festivals. I've gotten his power against left-handed pitchers up into the low 80s, though, and he's leading AAA in Home Runs.

A Fascinating Read (Boston Marathon related)

This is truly a phenomenal story (recounting the story of Katherine Switzer):
Behind The Photo That Changed The Boston Marathon Forever.


I received the following e-mail from Shrapnel Games on Friday:
Dear :

On 11.29.10 10:11 PM you placed an order at the Gamers Front, but did not complete your purchase. If you had trouble using our shopping cart, please contact our Customer Support Center so that we may assist you.

If you abandoned your shopping cart for another reason, we would like to hear from you so that we may improve our shopping experience. You may contact us here and let us know how we may make you shopping experience better.

We are sorry you had trouble, and would like to have you visit our site again. Please accept this coupon for a 15% discount on you next order:

Coupon Code: XXXXXX

You can enter the coupon code at checkout for your discount.

Happy Gaming,

The Gamers Front Staff
Shrapnel Games, Inc.

I guess should have expected this, because when I e-mailed their customer support address in 2010, I received this replay:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting Shrapnel Games. A member of our support staff will contact you within the next five years. 

Happy Gaming,

The Gamers Front Staff
Shrapnel Games

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Links!

I may have posted this link a few years ago, but it's so fascinating that it's coming up for a second run: Cracking the Scratch Lottery Code.

Here's an entirely wonderful story (it's nice to find these in the middle of large amounts of awful stuff going on these days): Classy Organization: Padres Keep Sick Pitcher on Payroll 20 Years After Last Throw.

From Scott Gould, and this is clearly the greatest cricket commentary ever: Scrotometer.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: Ankylosaurs, the armored dinosaurs that could pack a punch.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is stunning: Artists Hack an Xbox Kinect and Create an Experimental Film on Movement.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Guinness World Record Stick Bomb - 17,822 Sticks!

From J.R. Parnell, and I want one of these: Dare to Press the Mystery Button: Seattle’s Enigmatic Soda Machine.

From Brian Witte, and this link is hypnotic, because it's an infographic event horizon: Dadaviz.

From C. Lee, a terrific essay on one of the games that disappointed me most (KOTOR II): Vanishing Points.

From Jeff Fowler (Jeff, thanks for the link, but I couldn't e-mail you back--got an invalid domain error), and this is just amazing: Spider-tailed Horned Viper: Persian Horned Viper - Víbora Iraniana Rabo-de-Aranha.

This is spectacular: How Can This Self Alley-Oop Even Be Real?

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and the headline says it all: Woman blames coffee-drinking parrot for car crash.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Note

Sorry, the day got upside-down for me very quickly today, but just as a note, if you're not watching the NHL Playoffs, please do so.

Seriously, the NHL Playoffs are the best thing in sports. And in overtime, with no commercial breaks and players flying all over the ice, it's unforgettable.

There were so many great moments last night (particularly in the Ottawa-Montreal game), and it was just the first game of the first round!


This cat is a sloppy sleeper.

Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord

This is an item from the wayback machine, but several years ago, I wrote about a game called Age of Fear. The sequel has been released (Age of Fear 2: the Chaos Lord), and it's made its way to Steam. Here's the Steam page, and if you're into turn-based strategy (seriously, who isn't?), this might be right up your alley: Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Garret sent me a picture of snow in Winnipeg last week. This is not snow.

The pool opens on April 1, and even though the water is still cold (around 65F), I start swimming.

The funny thing about swimming is that if the sun is shining and it's warm (it was 80F today), the pool can be almost any temperature and I can survive. Swimming in very cold water on a cloudy day, though, is another matter entirely.

What does it feel like, swimming in 65F water? Well, for me, it means that if I swim for longer than 15-20 minutes, my extremities feel a bit "thick" when I get out of the pool. Your body dissipates heat 30X more quickly in water than in air, which means 65F water is much colder than it sounds. I've learned over the years, though, how long I can swim, and when I need to get out.

This is my favorite moment of spring, actually. Pool's open, the water is brutally cold, and the sun is shining.

Make Better Decisions (Plastic Baby Edition)

You should not be living at the post office, small plastic baby.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MLB 2015 The Show: Road to the Show (part two)

What usually drives me crazy about annual sports franchise releases is that so little time is spent on making the game better for the people who play the most.

The best example of this is Madden, which will have a bunch of new crap "features" that just represent churn, not improvement, and in some cases, they actively make the game worse. Almost always, though, those features are useless for the hardcore user.

If you wanted to play Road to the Show last year, and by "play" I mean multiple seasons, cranking through games, here were the problems
1. Loading times. Getting in and out of a game during the season meant 30+ second loading times each way.
2. Pitchers threw over to first base. All the time. I saw four consecutive throws over to first base between pitches dozens of times. Brutal.
3. Fielding cameras for outfielders. There were lots of edge cases where the fielding cameras was totally useless. There was an "arrow indicator" under the player's feet, but that could be imprecise. This made good fielding almost impossible for an outfielder.
4. "Hair Salem" (damn it, I can't read my writing. That could be anything).
5. Lots and lots of screen hopping to do things.

Guess what changed?
1. Loading times have been cut in half. Very, very impressive.
2. Pickoff moves are rare, and I've never seen more than one throw over between pitches.
3. Fielding cameras are still problematic for outfielders, unfortunately. This is easily fixable--just pull the camera back further--but there's no option to do that.
4. "Hair Salem". Yeah, I'm going to assume that's fixed.
5. Screen layout is much improved. I didn't like it--at first--but the more I played, the more it made sense. For the vast majority of what you do in RTTS, it requires less hopping around screens now.

Here's a view of the main menu for RTTS mode:

That is a TON of usable information on one screen: next game, team calendar, league updates, training info, player comparisons, and equipment (kind of a crap feature where you can earn and equip certain brands of gear for a stat boost. Not interested, and get off my lawn, you damn kids.).

Everything--absolutely everything--is one or two button presses away, at worst. Again, this is something that's most useful for the players who play hundreds of games, and it's terrific to see that player group being rewarded.

What this all means is that when I sit down to play, there's no single thing that is annoying enough to make me stop playing. Last year, the loading times drove me insane, and then, when I got into a game, the throws to first base were even worse.

Now, that's all fixed. Single games take around 5 minutes to play (you only see the plays your player is involved in), loading in and out is very quick, and it's all pretty fantastic.

Except for the $*#*@ fielding camera. Hey, nothing's perfect.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MLB 2015: The Show (Road to the Show)

Enormous Bottoms is my character to role play the hell out of Road to the Show. I wanted a guy whose skills were massively unbalanced. So Enormous Bottoms has never sunk one training point into anything else but power.

This is a terrible strategy for success. It's an excellent strategy for role playing, though, and there are a ton of guys like EB in real life, big power hitters who strike out a ton and can't field their position with any degree of competence.

Here's the current skill set of Enormous Bottoms:

That's all default ratings, with the exception of power versus right handed pitchers (99) and power versus left handed pitchers (60).

Here's the rules I use in EB's career:
1. A rating category must be improved to 99 before any other category can receive training points (with the exception that if a rating starts to degrade, I will spend points to restore it to its original level).

I reached 99 with right handed power, then started on power versus left handed pitchers. Once that hits 99, the next category will be Arm Strength.

If you look at that image, you'll see that Contact is 25. So what I wound up with is a massively unbalanced player, which is just what I wanted. He's going to be hugely powerful, hit a ton of home runs, with a massive number of strikeouts. And a cannon for an arm, even though he doesn't catch very well.

2. Every swing Enormous Bottoms takes, for his entire career, is a power swing. No contact swings. No regular swings. He's Dave Kingman, basically, for those of you who remember back that far.

3. No bat adjustments. It's possible to reposition the bat during the swing, to adjust to high/low pitches, but I'll be doing none of that. Instead, Enormous Bottoms has to wait for a pitch in the optimal zone for his swing. If he swings at a low strike or a high strike, he's unsuccessful. So there has to be a ton of plate discipline in terms of pitch selection.

All in all, this creates a player that seems--to me--to be fairly realistic. Let's look at his minor league stats through nearly two full seasons:

That's just what I was hoping for. 58 home runs in two seasons, 164 RBIs, and 250 strikeouts.

His line this season is strong: .283 BA, 34 HR (leading his AA league), 90 RBI (leading the league), and 141 Ks. I'm not sure they have league "leaders" in strikeouts, but believe me, he'd be crushing that, too.

He almost has as many extra base hits as he has singles. So a typical game for Enormous Bottoms might be 3 strikeouts and a towering home run.

I unintentionally avoided one of the biggest problems (for me) with RTTS mode. Building a player evenly tends to get him promoted too early, because as soon as his overall rating is better than the player in the league above him, he'll get promoted. Playing in a higher league, though, makes it harder to get training points based on performance (because performance will usually go down in a higher level league).

Enormous Bottoms, though, doesn't have that problem. He's spent almost two solid years in AA ball, because cranking up one ranking doesn't improve your overall rating nearly as quickly.

Plus, I love the minor leagues in this game. They added new ballparks this season, and most of them are terrific. So it's very pleasant to bumble around in the minor leagues for several seasons.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the game design elements of The Show and how they've substantially improved the game this year.

He's Baaack

That's right. 5'5" and 220 pounds of balding Puerto Rican-Japanese dynamite. Enormous Bottoms, #44 in your game program, but #1 in your heart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week is a fascinating article about a baseball legend: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Dalkowski?

Maths expert Craig Miller sent in what is possibly the first camel-related link ever posted in this space: Intact Ottoman 'war camel' found in Austrian cellar.

From C. Lee, and all I can say is thanks a lot, assholes (ESA): Videogame Publishers: No Preserving Abandoned Games, Even for Museums and Archives, Because All "Hacking" is Illegal. Also, and this is excellent, Gabe of Penny Arcade talks to the local PTA: I spoke at our PTA about games.

Eric Higgins-Freese sends along an article about solar road panels (I had no idea): This Invention Will Change The World, Just Watch. The link is a Facebook video, so if those are toxic to you, be forewarned.

From Sirius, and these are quite excessively large: Giant Rabbits Make Excellent Pets, Just Sayin'.

From Nate Carpenter, and this will bring back some nice memories if you're as old as I am (and my condolences): LIVE AND DIRECT: THE DEFINITIVE ORAL HISTORY OF 1980S DIGITAL ICON MAX HEADROOM.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is stunning (it's the world's largest cave): Hang Son Doong. Next, and this is now a thing, it's China's Elite Female Bodyguards. Next, and this is a fascinating story: The Woman Who Hacked Hollywood: Laura Poitras’ name was once on terror watch lists. Now it’s on an Oscar. Here’s her personal journey.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire (number unknown): It's Never Just One

I've learned an inescapable truth about bugs.

For a long time now, GS has had an obscure bug where the first time someone clicks on a card, the game crashes to Windows.

If they then restart the game, it plays just fine. And it will play fine as many times as they want until they reboot, and then it happens again. Rinse, repeat.

What makes this very difficult is that it's not an internal crash in the game code, because I have a routine to trap that and write the information to a file. This is some kind of strange Windows-related crash, it produces no file, and it only happens with Windows 8.1.

Only a very small subset of users (1 in every 200 or so) have this problem, and it only happens a small percentage of the time that they're playing the game, so as bugs go, this isn't a disaster.

I've tried to fix it, though, and haven't been able to, which is what bothers me. This is the only outstanding bug I have.

Well, until someone reported a few weeks ago that they were crashing in the tutorial the first time they clicked on a card. And unlike the other bug, this doesn't resolve itself by restarting the game. It's terminal.

This user was able to play the game without incident on two other systems, but his primary system was a mystery, and we spent hours troubleshooting (and DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel was also involved).

Still, though, only one user, right? Except that's not true, because I've learned in the last few years the Prime Directive of the Single-User Bug: IT'S NEVER JUST ONE.

It might seem like that, at first. But what you've had reported is a bug that--presently--affects only one user. The odds of this bug, over time, appearing again are 100%. Someone else is going to encounter this bug, eventually. Guaranteed.

It's never just one.

Yesterday, #2 showed up. This was a very good thing, actually, because it let me compare the user's systems, OS, etc. I knew it must be an 8.1 system, and it was.

I also realized that these users can click button controls in the game for as long as they want, in any combination, without crashing. The cards, though, are image controls. The first time they click on an image control, there's a funky crash to the Windows desktop.

That certainly seems like a thing.

This gives me a path, finally. I can replace the first image control that gets clicked in the tutorial with a button control. If the user can select the button control (with the card image as the background) with no problem, then clicks on the second card (which is still an image control) and crashes, then I can replace image controls with button controls. In XAML, that's not terribly difficult.

Plus, and this might be even better, I'm not the only developer (Can I actually call myself that? Still seems highly unlikely) reporting some funky issues, and Garret let me know that the 4.6 RC of the .NET Framework might resolve the problem.

Resolving it without having to code a workaround would be outstanding, because I don't think my code is causing the problem. So I e-mailed both users and we'll see if the new .NET Framework fixes things.

The Projectile Incident (updated)

Craig Miller sent me an e-mail:
Since you gave numbers it would be a shame not to try and figure out the answer. So doing some simplified calculations that ignore factors like drag, spin, etc. and go on pure speed, distance, and time here are the calculations I start with:

V(x)= horizontal velocity ft/s at mower
V(y)= vertical velocity ft/s at mower
V(t)= total velocity
T(1)= Time when it hits the door s
T(2)= Time when it hits the wall s


A whole bunch of math, conversions and stuff goes here.

This yields

Yielding a rock speed of roughly 51.75mph as it leaves the mower.

Now these numbers are probably off, since there are several assumptions here, such as the rock having a vertical height of 0 at T(0). Also things like lawn elevation could potentially have huge impacts on the resulting equations. 

In reality the speed would be higher, simply because the window would take energy out of the rock, therefore slowing both it's horizontal and vertical speed, but that would be impossible to calculate with the information given. This speed also assumes no velocity lost in breaking the window, an obviously false assumption.

Thanks very much to Craig for taking the time to do this. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


It was my birthday last Saturday, and Eli 13.8 helped decorate the cupcakes:

I mustache you a question about my eye.

Oak trees are scourges of the earth. If you live where they don't,  you're lucky, because of this:

That brown stuff? It falls from oak trees at the rate of about a ton an hour. My car had been parked there for about ten minutes, and overnight, my car would be almost covered. And this goes on for several weeks.

I'm not even including a picture of when the pollen drop makes cars yellow (not exaggerating).

We went to play tennis the day after Easter, and take a look at this picture:

And this one:

You'll probably have to click on the pictures to see the detail, but all those little bits of color? Remnants of confetti eggs. It was all over the place, colorful happiness memories.

Eli got me a book for my birthday titled Darth Vader and Son, and it is funny and poignant as well. Here's a sample:

It is very, very funny.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Projectile Incident

I was working in my study. Eli 13.7 was practicing the diabolo in the living room, and I heard the steady whir as it spun.

Then I heard a bang, or something.

Eli walked in a few seconds later. "Dad, I think the lawn guys just broke our door," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"Come look," he said.

There are about a thousand services in Austin that mow lawns, and we use one. They come by every two weeks in a big riding lawn mower.

We reached the entryway and Eli pointed (bottom right of the glass):

"You're right," I said. "Let's find what came through the glass." We looked around for a few seconds and saw a rock. This rock:

That's Gloria's hand, by the way.

The rock had only stopped when it hit a wall. That got my attention.

Here are the numbers, even though I've long forgotten how to calculate the speed of the projectile (I bet a bunch of you haven't, though):
Approximate distance from door when rock was ejected from mower: 25 feet.
Approximate mower blade RPM: 3,500
Rock height when it hit door: 26"
Rock height when it hit wall: 21"
Distance from door to wall: 15'

I don't know the exact speed, but that rock was moving.

The lawn service had the glass panel replaced in one day. Impressive.

Make Better Decisions (Couch Edition)

That does not look stable, sir.

Site Meter