Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off, a story about a brilliant piece of creative analysis: paintings provide precise weather history .

From Kevin W, a fascinating article about how a tremendously successful group of writers worked on their craft as players in the online game Ambermush. Also, a story about an automated pizza vending machine that is quite fabulous.

From Sirius, and this is the link you must absolutely follow: French Postman Spends 33 Years Building Palace by Hand.

Robert N sent in a link to the most amazing Freddie Mercury impression I've ever heard.

From Mike Gilbert, a terrific video: Amazing NASA Video Shows Fall Equinox from Space.

From DQ reader My Wife, it's The 10 best celeb visits on 'Sesame Street'. Ricky Gervais is a very, very funny man.

Matt Sakey has a new Culture Clash column, it's beautifully written, and it's Every Day Is Kids Day.

From Steven Davis, and this is quite an engineering feat, it's Two-Stage, Clustered Water Rocket Reaches Over 800′. Also, a terrific article about Joe Kapp, who was one of the biggest badasses in NFL history: The free agent. Oh, and here's one more, and it's a fascinating story about tide prediction: The tide predictions for D-Day.

 From Mitch Youngblood,  another in a series of Amazon products with hilarious reviews: Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass.

From Meg McReynolds, and hopefully this doesn't ruin anyone's day: "Talk Like a Pirate Day" Busted: Not Even Pirates Spoke Pirate.

From Frank Regan, an absolutely fascinating video of a slinky at 300 frames per second.

From David Gloier, and this is spellbinding: The Aircraft Boneyard.

Here's an interesting article about the developers of Colony Wars, a terrific series on the original Playstation that has sadly never been resurrected.

This link is a classic. If you want to know how unlikely the Red Sox's collapse was, read Nate Silver's analysis. Also, don't miss the video link on that page to the classic combination of Vin Scully's call of the last half inning of Game Six of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox World Series combined with video taken from the Nintendo version of RBI Baseball. It's always been one of my favorite mash-ups.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

As Usual, You're Funnier Than I Am

Kevin P. wins the week with this gem:
I went to the dermatologist as well last week for my annual checkup. Like you, it isn't about looking good, but more about having a history of skin cancer in my family.

Anyway, I am sitting there in my underwear when my dermatologist came in the room. I know from past conversations that we are about the same age because both she and her husband were in medical school at Duke when I was in grad school at UNC and living in Durham, NC. She is an attractive blonde as well as being a good doctor. I always feel uncomfortable at the doctors office, but I guess an old fashioned part of me is even more uncomfortable when the doctor is a female and a contemporary.

However, she immediately broke the ice and made me feel a lot better by saying: "I guess I should start out by saying that by law all doctors are required to discuss weight issues and the importance of not being overweight to all of our patients."

"I've still got it," I thought to myself.

Fuel Up!

This is quite amusing.

Activision has a new promotion in conjunction with Pepsi. Here's a description:
...the long and short of it is that by buying certain Pepsi products, namely Mountain Dew and Doritos, players can redeem codes in the packaging for Double XP time in Modern Warfare 3. A 20 oz gets you 15 minutes, a 12 pack gets you 45, and so on.

That's both ridiculous and fantastic.  Now people will be min-maxing snack food.  It's quite difficult to wrap my head around that.

What surprises me is that the author of the article linked above (which was titled "Modern Warfare 3's Pepsi Cross Promotion Steps Over the Line") is himself surprised:
I though the line was being drawn with pre-order bonuses promising weapons and attachments that couldn’t be found in the actual game, but to me, this is a new low for an industry that wants to keep digging.

A line? Has anyone seen that confounded line? Sorry, man, the line was crossed, then obliterated a long time ago.

Confused that Activision would promote their "Elite" subscription, which basically turns Call Of Duty into a sporting platform, then turn around and sign a deal for a promotion that hands an advantage to some players on snack-filled platter?

Don't be.

If you think this is a contradiction, you're just not thinking of it like Activision does. To Activision, anything that makes money, by definition, is not a contradiction. It's not a contradiction because their only goal is to make money, and today.

So if you see a crippling inconsistency here, just remember that Activision will do anything that generates revenue. Anything.

It's not a contradiction. It's a goal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Or, if you prefer, jambalaya.

Lots of sidenotes have piled up in the last few weeks, so let's take a look.

The sizable news that just came out today is that indie success Frozen Synapse is now part of a Humble Indie Bundle, so you can name your price for the next 14 days. Just go  here and get a crazy amount of stuff.

Kim Wong sent me a list (originally seen in the NeoGaf forum) of Madden "innovations" that are now at the bottom of the sea:
--Vision Cone
--"Weapons" Feature
--Obi-Wan John Madden
--Madden IQ Test To Judge Difficulty
--Fight For The Fumble
--Playmaker control system
--EA Sports Radio in Franchise Mode
--Owner Mode
--Ring of a Champion
--Live Opponent

That's quite a list, and unfortunately, for the last decade, the Madden franchise has been "innovating" from a position of weakness, not strength. The game itself is just fundamentally not a good game of football. You'd think that someone highly-placed at EA would eventually figure that out.

Next, DQ reader Rob Jellinghaus sent me a link to his project Holofunk, which he describes as "a Kinect-and-Wiimote-based live looping instrument, or soundspace, or synesthizer… not sure yet quite which." Whatever he wants to call it, it's cool as hell, and just another example of how the Kinect technology is far more interesting than the games that have been made for it so far.

DQ reader Darryl France told me this week about a project he's working on called "Rockstar Motel," a social music network that allows fans to promote their favorite bands. It's still in beta, but keep an eye out for it, because it's a terrific idea.

A Valley without Wind has entered its beta phase, and like I've said for the last two years, Chris Park is one of the most interesting developers going. Playing the game gives you access to the beta, and it's only $10. If you're interested, or would just like to see a trailer, go here.

 Also, Glitch has gone live. Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahasi was involved with the project, which looks so fabulously strange from the trailer that I really don't know what to make of it. In short, the game takes place inside the dreams of 11 giants. Oh, and it's a Facebook game, which automatically rules me out. However, like I said, the trailer is fabulously strange, and you can see it here (thanks, RPS).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


At work today, someone showed me a picture from the 1960s of his family's home.

In the corner of the picture was a bookshelf, and in the bookshelf was a set of encyclopedias.

The image of those encyclopedias sent me into a cinema-style flashback of what life used to be like. It really doesn't feel like I was a child in the 1960s, but I was, and boy, have things changed.

[Spinning up the way back machine--wup wup wup wup whoop whoop whoop whoop wup wup wup wup wup.]

Welcome to 1969.

There's no Internet. Newspapers are a vital source of information. So are libraries.

Most importantly, if you need to answer a question, it's tough. Without online resources, or the local library, what you have available as an information source is what's inside your home.

This is why we needed encyclopedias.

This is also why we needed encyclopedia salesmen, who went door-to-door and tried to convince you to buy a set on the installment plan. See, encyclopedias were so expensive for the average person that ads didn't even mention the price--they just pushed the "book a month" approach, figuring that you would want to make a payment each month so that you wouldn't have any gaps in your set.

Almost everyone I knew had encyclopedias. And there were two tiers (three, actually, with Funk and Wagnalls). World Book was the "standard" encyclopedia. If you really wanted knowledge, though, Encyclopedia Britannica was the gold standard. They had much more information on individual subjects, and the content was written at a higher level.

We had encyclopedias, but I'm not sure which kind. I called my mom today and she didn't remember their name (blue cover, though), but she did tell me a terrific story about how she got them. She started working for a doctor when she was 15, and used the money to buy the encyclopedias because she wanted to further her education.

As an aside, my mom is a very educated badass. In an era where women still weren't encouraged to educate themselves-- hell, they were all but actively discouraged-- my mom was an exception because she was so determined to improve herself.

Here's another aside. The doctor my mom worked for sold a kind of insurance for children, which must have been very progressive for his time. For a monthly fee, if your child got sick, he would treat them.

In an era where most people had no medical insurance, this must have seemed quite revolutionary.

So back to encyclopedias. I have very vivid memories (and so do you, probably, if you're old enough) of afternoons spent thumbing through our encyclopedias. I tried several times to read through our entire set (at least 25 volumes), but I never made it past a few books.

Even today, I assume I still have better knowledge of subjects beginning with the letters "A" through "C".

There are two things I vividly remember about encyclopedias. One was the awesome feeling I had when I opened them. The WHOLE WORLD was in those books. There were articles on almost everything, including thousands of subjects I'd never even heard of before.

What I can particularly never forget, though, is how our encyclopedias smelled. It was a smell that has almost entirely vanished today, a sort of decaying smell of paper that was incredibly distinct and not at all unpleasant.

It was, to my mind, the smell of knowledge.

Surely, Someone Is Doing This Already

Since I have a smart phone now, the screen gets disgusting as I run my fingertips across its surface a billion times.

To help keep it clean, I have some of those 3M cloths that do a very good job of getting rid of fingerprints, smears, etc. I now have one of those cloths in my study and my car.

Today it hit me: why doesn't someone make a snug slip cover for a phone that has the cleaning cloth as the inside fabric? That way, every time you put your phone in or out of the slip cover, it would be cleaning the phone's screen. Plus, it wouldn't get dirty in your pocket.

Instead of your phone being filthy 90% of the time, the screen would actually look pretty decent. And there are probably 20 companies making these already, but I'm just oblivious to it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Other Side

I went to the dermatologist on Friday for my annual skin check.

I go to a "real" dermatologist who happens to office inside a cosmetic surgery factory. She has nothing to do with cosmetic surgery, but the comic collateral for me in visiting such a place is positively colossal. Every time I go, there is some surreal moment that reminds me I'm visiting an entirely different world.

This time, though, I heard what has to be one of my favorite stories ever.

I was checking out, and there was a woman at the front desk who was telling a story to the woman checking out ahead of me.

Now, the woman at the desk, even though she was in her 20s, had a face with the unnaturally angular look of someone who's had quite a bit of "work" done. Cosmetic surgery had made her fail the uncanny valley.

Then I noticed something odd. Her right cheek seemed darker--like a tan-- than her left cheek.

I wish I could recount her dialogue verbatim, but I'm just going to have to tell you what I remember. As she explained it, the right side of her face was darker because sunlight from windows in the waiting room shone on that side of her face in the afternoon. Because of the way her desk was positioned, she didn't get the sun on the left side of her face.

Normally, she said, this wouldn't be a problem, but she was taking various pills that were supposed to help her skin that caused extreme sensitivity to light. So now she had to put sunscreen on the right side of her face in the afternoons to keep both sides of her face the same color.

Basically, what she'd done was turn her face into a Rube Goldberg machine.

Mr. Touchdown Update

If you started Eli 10.1 on your fantasy team this weekend, I have only two words to say to you: good decision.

On his team's first offensive play on Friday, Eli lined up wide left, but a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. I knew this meant that he'd be going in motion, and would either take a handoff from the quarterback or run out the fake.

The defense had no one in position on the right side past the tight end, and I realized that if he did get the ball, he was going to score.

The ball was snapped, and Michael handed it off to Eli, who was already almost running at full speed. I turned to Gloria and said, "He's gone."

I was correct. 30 yards later, Eli 10.1 had his first touchdown of the season.

Later that half, he caught a pass on a slant route, but there were a ton of kids around him and his flag was pulled immediately.

Early in the second half, he caught a punt, ran to the left sideline, then cut back all the way across the field, so close to the right sideline that he was only inches away from going out of bounds.

40 yard punt return. Touchdown.

The sixth-grade coach, who is both a very nice guy and a friend of Eli's, turned to me and said, "When I saw him start that cutback, I was thinking 'Don't try that garbage.' Now that he scored, I think I'll just be quiet."

About 10 minutes later, Eli caught a pass on a slant route, ran between about five kids, and scored. 30 yard touchdown.

He had four touches on offense for the game, and on three of them, he scored. Plus seven tackles, two passes defensed, and about a dozen quarterback hurries. He even blitzed on one play, almost sacked the quarterback, then made the tackle on the completed pass.

I think he may have warping powers.

His team won 19-0. After the game, he came over and I handed him a Gatorade. "I'm pretty sure you made the SportsCenter Top 10," I said, and he laughed. He drank the Gatorade for a few minutes, then said, "Okay, Dad, I'm good. Are you ready?"

Well, you know what happened next. We walked across the street and played tennis for an hour before we went home.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Eric Barrett, my favorite wedding photos ever: zombies.

From David Yellope, a remarkable use for 3-D printers: Artificial blood vessels.

I'd like to stop there with 3-D printing, but unfortunately I can't, because Steven Davis sent in this: magazine for the AR-15 rifle.

From Michael M., and this is an intriguing idea:  Photophilanthropy.

From Jeff, and this is fantastic: Online gamers crack AIDS enzyme puzzle.

Here's a tremendously awkward video, courtesy of Kevin W. Nothing like winning an adult comedy contest, then performing the same material on a local television show-- in front of second graders.

From C. Lee, a poignant and sad documentary: Japan - A Story of Love and Hate.

From Geoff Engelstein, a phenomenal website created by a "recreational mathematician" that uses very clever videos to teach mathematical concepts.

From Ernie Halal, a very clever column by highly-regarded Joe Posnanski: Best Band Name Ever.

From Dave Prosser, and this is outstanding: escaped pet birds are teaching wild birds to speak English. Much of it expletives, amusingly.

Jim sent in a link to an entirely remarkable Mount & Blade mod website, and it's worth taking a look: Mount Fan Blade. Believe it or not, there's even a Wild West Mod now.

From Matthew Teets, the new DQ meme: run, big man, run!

From Sirius, and this is quite bizarre: Seagulls: pooping resistant bacteria on your beach. Also, and this is a wonderful blast from the past, it's Ruth Belville - the lady who sold time.

From Johan Nillson, and this is quite a wonderful bit of ingenuity: Arthur Lee's Portal + Snapshot Demo.

From Jeffery Gardiner, and these are spectacular, it's Ten Amazing Timelapse Videos.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Rock, Paper, Shotgun mentioned a new game in development called "Warco". Here's a description:
“In the role of war correspondent (‘warco’) Jesse DeMarco, the player must capture battle footage and edit together a news story, while trying to make it out alive.”

...apparently the real game will be in splicing together your footage at the end and deciding on the story you want to tell about the events you have filmed.

I've said this on multiple occasions, but what put the original Dead Rising completely over the top for me was the photography--in particular, that the photographs you took actually gained you experience. It was both entirely superfluous and completely brilliant, because it made you look at the game in an entirely new way.

So in concept, this is a sensational idea, and 1000x more interesting to me than killing 200 enemies per level.

The Pitfalls Of Medication

I have a long-running, daily series of exchanges with the pretend-to-be-mean person at my office.

I think that's a hyphen record.

These exchanges have a strict format: once a day I walk into her office, we exchange occasionally witty banter for 30 seconds or less, and I walk out.

I've enjoyed these so much over the years that I often wish I had written them down.

As for tone, when she went on vacation, I sent her a link to a corpse farm and wrote "Having a good time?" I also often call her "Lord Vader."

She likes this.

Today, I walked in and she was both staring at her monitor and annoyed, which is often the case. "Man," she said, exasperated, "sometimes I wish that I could give people a frickin' knowledge pill, you know what I mean?"

"You don't want to do that," I said.

"Because sometimes people--wait, why wouldn't I want to give people a knowledge pill?"

"It's a suppository," I said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I was in court Saturday morning at 7 AM.

Spelling--it's important. That should have been "on" court Saturday morning at 7 AM.

Eli 10.1, in his well-known role as sports tourist, discovered tennis this summer. He was in morning clinics for two weeks, and emerged ready to learn. We've been playing two or three days a week since then.

Much to your surprise, I actually played tennis at a decently high level back in the day, and I was also an instructor. So tennis is one of the few sports where I can give him quality instruction.

Tennis is a simple game. Well, most sports are, once you strip them down to their basic building blocks. For tennis, the basic building blocks are grip, footwork, and racquet position at the end of the backswing.

Well, and one more thing: seeing the ball clearly. It's so easy in tennis to think so much about what you want to do that you don't really see the ball. When you do, though--when you absolutely see it--your brain is overloaded with data, good data, and there's no room to think.

Like everything else, Eli is a quick student. Literally--he's the fastest player I've ever seen at his age. And it took him less than a month to hit topspin on both sides. Powerful forehand. Lovely and powerful two-handed backhand.

When we first started playing together, I'd feed him a couple of hoppers of balls (about 150 shots) to work on a particular technique, then we'd play. Two months ago, I fed him continuously keep the rallies going. Now, he hits so hard and so aggressively that I'm often forced to just return the ball defensively.

It's still 6-0 almost every set, but it's different. Points are pretty fiercely contested, and I don't feed him very often. Like I said, I'm not a slouch in this particular sport, and he'll be beating me within two years.

Which is great.

I tried something with him that I wish I had thought of to do when I taught kids before. Basically, I never told him that anything was hard. To him, everything is easy after he learns the mechanics, and the mechanics are always simple. So he has no idea that he's not supposed to be absolutely ripping a two-handed backhand after only a few lessons and less than a few thousand balls. He just does it.

Even better, playing tennis ties into every sport he wants to play. It's a short burst game, just like flag football or playing goalie in hockey.

If you're wondering when he has time to play, it's basically 7 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Plus, one ridiculous day during the week when he'll practice flag football for two hours (or have a game), then walk directly over to the tennis courts across from his school, where we'll play for another hour.

The funny thing is that I never drive any of this. It's actually killing me to play this much tennis, because it's high impact, and my body is no longer friends with short burst sports. But he loves it so much that it's impossible not to get swept up by his enthusiasm engine.

Actually, if I could pick one thing about Eli that was my favorite, I think it would be his enthusiasm. He's just this skinny little kid with a giant-sized enthusiasm for life.

That enthusiasm has changed my life, too.

The Oldening

Getting old isn't a digital process. It's more a series of analog drips that build up over time.

I was in Schlotzsky's for lunch today, and as I was walking out, the high school lunch rush was beginning. A kid walked in the door with a "Foster The People" T-shirt.

I like Foster The People. Terrific album, lots of hooks, highly listenable. So I looked at the kid and said "Excellent band."

He smiled and said, "Thank you, sir."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh recently sent me this:
Like you, I’ve been finding much more pleasure in independent titles in the sub-$15 price range of late than I have full-priced retail ones. In fact, XBLA and Steam are where I do all of my shopping these days. Gamefly the rest.

Unlike you, I don’t have any desire for a new console, nor feel there is a need for one.

I don’t feel as if the Xbox 360 has run its course at all, as I’m fairly confident no amount of new tech will jolt the major developers out of the rut they’re in. Sure, enhanced graphics would be nice, but given the relatively low-tech requirements of many of the games that you (and I privately) have been praising the most, what would change? The independent studios don’t have the capital/staff to take advantage of the current consoles’ power. If they’re the only ones making games right now that truly feel innovative, I fail to see how expanding the graphical fidelity and processing power of those machines would improve what the indie developers are already capable of. And whereas the leap from GC to Wii was significant and maybe the one to Wii-U will be every bit as startling, I can’t see the next Xbox making a technology leap beyond Kinect. Or the PS4 doing more than a mimic of Kinect/Wii-U. Personal anecdotes aren’t worth all that much, but I have to say that of all the guys in the group I game with regularly (these are guys I know in real life and work with) there’s not one of us that would buy a new console if it came out this year. Maybe we’ll feel differently next year or in 2013, but I think Sony and MS are right to be delaying the new console to 2012 or beyond.

So here’s my question for you: Given that you’ve publicly stated that you think we’re past-due for a new console, but that only the indie developers are making anything worth playing, how would a new, presumably more powerful console change this dynamic?

Boy, that's a great question.

First off, we are way past due for new consoles. A prediction: there's no holiday miracle coming this year to save 2011 sales. So far this year, look at U.S. unit sales compared to 2010 (to this point):
360: -6%
PS3: -14%
Wii: -33%

The big news here is not that the Wii is declining--we all knew that, and Nintendo has already announced its successor--but that Microsoft and Sony have declined as well.

Kinect gave Microsoft quite a boost, but what's come out for it since the beginning of the year? Anyone? Besides Child Of Eden (which about five people bought, unfortunately), I can't think of a single title that anyone cared about. That's quite a drought. And while I know Microsoft has games lined up for this fall, their sales aren't going to match what happened last year, when Kinect was new and everyone seemed quite giddy about it.

PS3? Forget it. Down.

Wii? Nope. Down

I don't think there's any question that hardware sales for all three systems have started the inevitable decline into obsolescence. That doesn't mean there won't be periods where the patients have good days, but the patients are terminal.

Doug brings up an excellent question, though--what exactly will the next generation change? Unfortunately, the trends that we all dislike--lack of innovation, too few titles being released from major publishers, nothing but sequel, sequel, sequel--won't change as new consoles get released. There are endemic issues with the gaming industry right now, and new hardware will not reset the problems.

It's changed my attitude, certainly. I'm curious about what new hardware can do, and my interest in new hardware has really not declined significantly.

I'll buy the box.

But I won't do though, is buy nearly as many games. I don't think I've gotten more than a few hours of play out of any $50/$60 console game this entire year. I'm not paying that kind of money for three hours of entertainment. Sorry, but it's all Gamefly until I feel like there's something worth spending my money on.

I'll buy the portable hardware, too. But again, I probably won't buy that many games, unless developers try harder to innovate and decide to copy less.

Here's a tangent.

Like I said a few weeks ago, I've spent less than 10 hours with my 3DS since I bought it on launch day. I want to, but there's just no real reason.

For Nintendo, this launch has been a disaster. What stuns me, though, is that they launched the most successful console in history, then didn't follow the blueprint.

Here's the blueprint: release a new system with a pack-in game that clearly shows off the capabilities of the hardware. It can't just be a tech demo, either--it has to be a game that people want to play.

Wii Sports? Maybe the ideal pack-in game ever. It was totally fun, it completely demonstrated the capabilities of the motion controller, and it gave everyone something to play.

In marketing terms, it's great to have a lot of people talking about your system, but it's much, much better to have everyone talking about a game, particularly when it's the same game.

Why? No dilution.

Everyone was talking about Wii Sports. It was incredibly concentrated. Everybody had a story, and everybody could compare stories. There was a shared experience around Wii Sports that was like rocket fuel for the Wii.

In a business sense, it was absolutely brilliant.

So what does Nintendo do with the 3DS? No pack-in game. Well, a handful of games that were basically tech demos, but nothing anyone could put much time into.

They had a chance to define the conversation, but instead, they gave us nothing to talk about. That's why 3DS sales have been awful, and why Nintendo had to roll out a massive price cut.

Would it have been a lot easier just to make an excellent game and include it with the system?

Seriously, any executive who claims that new gaming hardware doesn't need a pack-in game should be fired.

Sony Vita? Almost FORTY launch games confirmed. Forty separate conversations. Dilution. Is it better than launching with eight games? Sure. Is it better than launching with eight games and a great pack-in? No. Too many different conversations.

How many games out of those forty can possibly sell well? Five?

Just have one great story at launch, and let everyone experience that story. In a few months, follow up with more.

By then, everyone will be ready.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I'd heard of the "Slingbox" before, but really didn't understand anything about what it actually did.

I do now.

Last week, I saw one of Eli 10.1s flag football coaches watching something on his phone during a break in practice. As it turned out, he was watching a channel on his mother's U-verse cable system--in San Antonio.

Well, that got my attention.

He was watching an ESPN show, and the video quality was excellent on a 3G network. He also showed me how he could change channels and watch any channel on his mom's system.

I knew immediately that I was in trouble. DirecTV is fantastic, but the one thing they do very badly is Sunday Ticket mobile. Conceptually, it's Sunday Ticket on your cell phone, but in practice, it's just crap. In over a year, I've never been able to watch a game for more than a few minutes on my cell phone, even when I can connect to a wireless network.

Basically, it's 100% fail, so the idea of having another option was instantly appealing.

Of course, I lasted almost 26 hours before buying one (Eli was as excited as I was, so we went together). Basically, this is how it works: your television providers (in my case, DirecTV) set-top box gets connected to the Slingbox, which then gets connected to your TV. You then connect the Slingbox to your router. Then, you can control (and watch) your set-top box from the Internet, basically.

We bought the Slingbox Pro-HD, which can output 720P to your mobile device (and accept up to a 1080i signal).

One catch: it's not compatible with HDMI, so you have to use component cables. Initially, that sucked, because HDMI output to the television from the set-top box was clearly higher quality than component output from the Slingbox, but then I remembered that my set-top box can output dual video streams.

In other words, I could send component output to the Slingbox, but entirely bypass the Slingbox and connect to the television via HDMI. Win.

You can access your Slingbox via computer on the Internet (which will make vacations a lot more interesting at night), or you can pay $30 to install it on up to five mobile devices (I think it's five).

It took about 30 very straight-forward minutes to set up. Not one problem. And on Sunday, we went to a restaurant and watched the Red Zone Channel on my cell phone for 30 minutes while we ate lunch.

It was awesome. No, it was awesome x awesome. Awesome squared.

On shows with lots of movement, 3G transmission speeds won't always support 720P (at least in Austin, they won't). So sports aren't perfect, but they are exponentially better than the previous option, which was nothing. Plus, on shows with less movement, the picture is quite sharp and very smooth.

4G LTE phones should absolutely tear it up with this device.

So being in the car (or anywhere else) during football season just became a lot more fun.

Oh, the price: $299. No subscription. Slingbox mobile is another $30 and can install on up to five devices (again, I think it's five--I'm not 100% sure, although I installed it on two devices myself).

My unlimited data plan is suddenly looking much more useful.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Nathan Carpenter, and this is quite incredible, it's 3-D printers--making food! Here's the story: Cornell lab prints food, says digital cuisine could change restaurants.

From George Paci, and this is entirely wonderful, it's Don’t Come to the Dark Side: Acquisition Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Here's one more, and it's quite odd: They're Breaking the Mold:
The British artists who make museum pieces out of gelatin

From Dave Prosser, and this is quite interesting, it's The Lifespan of a Link.

From DQ reader My Wife, a wonderful story of a man who created a custom D&D adventure for his eight-year-old son.

From Kadunta, and boy, are these unfortunate, it's 60 Unintentionally Offensive Business and Product Names.

Cliff Lee let me know that the setting for Vagrant Story I was inspired by the French town of Saint-Emilion, and he found a website with a beautiful 3-D view of the town (note: the website has beautiful views of other French cities as well). If you're curious, heres a video of the game showing the town square.

From Steven Davis, a fascinating idea: Open Source Ecology:
A Network of Farmers, Engineers, and Supporters Building the Global Village Construction Set
. Also, take a look at modular electric guitars.

From Jack, a lovely story of a 14-month-old girl who can now see thanks to stem cell therapy.

Derek Krause sent in a terrific link (DQ Film Editor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand, Please Note) to a fascinating video about "filmmaking grammar": In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight).

From Sean Redlitz, and this is entirely amusing, it's extreme tidying up.

From Michael  M., and this is a terrific video , it's time-lapse short film featuring rolls of adhesive tape. Also, a journalist has managed to sneak into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant and took pictures.

Well, sometimes headlines just take your breath away (thanks Geoff Engelstein): Gordon Ramsay's Dwarf Porn Double Found Dead In A Badger Den.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Difficult Patient

I've been having more muscle soreness/achilles tendonitis etc. than usual, enough so that it's really affecting my workout schedule. On a visit to my doctor for a periodic blood test, I mentioned that I was struggling.

"Let's check your vitamin D level," she said. "If it's low, it affect your level of muscle fatigue."

"The only other thing I can think of that I haven't mentioned is that my circulation is pretty poor," I said.

"Why do you say that?" she asked.

"My hands are cold almost all the time," I said. "Well, much more often than other people, anyway."

She laughed. "There's nothing wrong with your circulation," she said. "It's good."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "Because I did some research, and according to the Internet, I may already be dead."

She's a patient person.

The Post Where I Finally Stop Bitching About The Weather

Well, after this post, anyway.

They should give you an idea of how hot it's been here:
Texas just finished the hottest June through August on record in the U.S., the National Weather Service said Thursday.

Weather service meteorologist Victor Murphy said that Texas' 86.8 average beat out Oklahoma's 85.2 degrees in 1934.

That Dust Bowl year is now third on the list for the three-month span, behind No. 2 Oklahoma's heat wave this June through August (86.5 degrees).

The average figures are taken from the entire 24-hour cycle of the day, not just from daily highs.

...The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows that not an acre of Texas is anything other than abnormally dry, and more than 80 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, the worst category. A year ago, just 15 percent of Texas was abnormally dry, the least dry status on the map.

Nasty. And now banned as a subject until next summer, at the earliest.

Splitting (Ass)Hairs

Pete Johnsen is a very funny guy.

In your column "Boom", you reference the unit of measurement "gigantic ass ton". As an amateur grammarian I must politely correct you. The correct phrase is "metric ass ton"--please see the Urban Dictionary entry.

"Gigantic ass ton" is repetitive in the same way as "pizza pie."

And metric ass ton is quite possibly my favorite phrase ever.

Stephanie Assham definitely deserves to be mentioned at this point.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zombies, Run!

Like many of you, I work out at least five days a week, but I also fight boredom. Severe, mind-numbing boredom.

To remedy that, there's a Kickstarter project titled ZOMBIES, RUN! Running game and audio adventure for iOS/Android, and it looks entirely fantastic. Here's a description from the webpage:
Zombies, Run! is an ultra-immersive game for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android where you help rebuild civilisation after a zombie apocalypse. By going out and running in the real world, you can collect medicine, ammo, batteries, and spare parts that you can use to build up and expand your base - all while getting orders, clues, and story through your headphones.

Here's more:
You’re Runner 5. Hundreds of lives are counting on you. You've got to help your base rebuild from the ruins of civilization by collecting critical supplies while avoiding roving zombie hordes. Can you save them?

You receive orders and hear the story told through radio messages and voice recordings between your own custom playlists. Missions last around 20-30 minutes in real time and there'll be over 30 unique missions in Season 1.

Seriously, that is the coolest idea I've seen in a long time. And apparently, lots of other people agree--the project had a funding goal of $12,500, and they've already hit $21,915 with 25 days to go.

Maybe I can complete it on the unicycle.

It's Hot Cocoa Time

I went to Sonic last night.

Eli 10.1 had a two-hour flag football practice followed immediately by a one-hour hockey practice. He needed gigantic amounts of food stat, so we went to the closest place.

That's where I saw this couple:

That was unexpected.

First off, what the hell is the Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa girl doing in Sonic? And why is she dating a guy who is tatted up along the length of both arms and looks like a character from Brütal Legend?

I believe the word is "incongruous."

Russ Pitts Leaves The Escapist

Russ Pitts announced that he was  leaving The Escapist last week.

In my mind, Russ was the single person most responsible for the personality of The Escapist. As Editor-in-Chief, his imprint was on everything, and in particular, the ridiculously high standard of writing for the long-form articles that just weren't available anywhere else.

It was a unique endeavor, and its tremendous critical success wouldn't have happened without him.

What I'm curious about is what he's going to do now, because he seems to have the asskicking gene in his DNA. Anything he gets involved with is going to be very, very good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


And the bomb has officially dropped. Except, there's a second bomb:
The company also revealed today that it is set to launch its own brand of Android gaming tablet, which will be classed as a "GameStop certified gaming platform."

Double boom.

The iOS device move is pretty conventional, seemingly. It's a very popular piece of hardware, there is a gigantic asston (now an official unit of measurement) of units out there, and letting people trade them in for credit at Gamestop is another way for Gamestop to print money.

The second boom, though, is much more interesting.

In a business climate where fewer and fewer games are coming out for consoles, that should theoretically mean lower profits from used game sales. Plus, every console released in the future will have substantial amounts of content released via digital distribution, which can't be sold back to Gamestop for $.25 on the dollar.

If you look at the picture as a whole, the future doesn't look bright for buying and selling used shiny discs. In fact, in software terms, it doesn't look like "used" has any future whatsoever.

Clearly, Gamestop is unwilling to sit back and drift slowly to the bottom of the sea as these various large anchors land on the deck of their golden ship. They purchased Impulse five months ago, and now they're to have a Gamestop-branded tablet.

It's quite forward thinking of them. It could also, obviously, turn out to be a total disaster.

Gamestop is a one-trick pony, but that pony prints money. Their knitting is buying used crap that other people made and selling it for much more than they paid for it. They've stuck to this knitting quite successfully-- incredibly successfully, really. Now they want to move into the business of making shit? It's like trying to transition from pawn shops to selling new televisions. What's the difficulty of that on a 1 to 10 scale--15?

It's very brave, and I'd say "even if they wind up with an arrow in their chest", but that's mixing metaphors. It's clear, though, that the future--the 5+ year future--doesn't really have Gamestop in it, at least not in its current incarnation. So dipping their toe (back to the water) in the future is a very, very good idea.

Look, this may all totally fail, but I give them credit for not standing idly by while the future hits them in the face.


Chris Kohler wrote an absolutely phenomenal article for Game|Life titled The Quest for the Golden Nintendo Game. It should be read immediately.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mr. Touchdown U.S.A.

+10 if you get that song reference in the title.

Eli 10.1 had his first school flag football game on Friday.

Flag football is an odd little sport, with all kinds of strange rules. Example: the halves are 18 minutes long, and the clock doesn't stop running, but after the clock runs out, there are seven untimed plays at the end of each half. Every rule sounds like somebody sat down with a 16-sided die and just rolled the shit up.

This is a big deal for Eli, though, because it's a school sport, and his friends are on his team. So there's that whole school pride thing going on.

We had a quick dinner before the game on Friday.

"Okay, here are your three keys," I said. "Leadership and hydration." Eli started laughing. I'm always reminding him to drink freely, because it's so freaking hot down here. "Kids on your team are going to get discouraged. They're going to make mistakes. You can't be frustrated with them, because that will make them feel worse. You've got to pick them up and get them to believe in themselves.

"That's only two," he said. "What's the third one?"

"What's the one thing in flag football that can't be countered?" I asked.

He thought about it for at least 15 seconds. "I don't know," he said. "What?"

"Speed," I said. "In tackle football, power counters speed, but in flag, speed rules. So don't make five cuts when you have the ball. Make one cut, and get to top speed as fast as you can. I guarantee you'll be the fastest kid on the field, and nobody will catch you."

"Got it," he said. "Thanks, Dad."

Eli is the number one receiver, the middle linebacker, the kicker, the punter, and the kick and punt returner. He never comes out of the game (no one does--they only have 8 players, which is how many players are on the field).

There are basically two offenses in fifth grade flag football: the "two guys run the ball all the time" offense, and the "throw 5-yard slants" offense. Eli's team runs the slants offense, and they have a quarterback who has a very nice arm (Eli is the backup quarterback, too).

The way the passing offense works, literally, is that almost every play is a five-yard slant or a quarterback scramble. When passes are completed, flags are almost immediately pulled, so gains over 7 or 8 yards are exceedingly rare.

When the game started, Eli's team was on defense. He made two of the three tackles, and the other team punted. They punted away from him (a friend from his YMCA soccer days was on the other team, and he had warned their coach, believe it or not), and the punt went all the way down to the 2-yard line.

I was sitting with Gloria, next to the quarterback's dad. "So here's what's going to happen," I said to Gloria. "Michael is going to hit Eli in stride on the slant and he's going to score." The dad laughed.

Clearly, he does not know my son.

The ball was snapped, and Michael did indeed hit Eli in stride about 5 yards down the field. "He's gone," I said. The dad laughed again.

Then Eli started running past people, right toward us. "GO!" yelled the dad. "GO!" Eli looks like this funky combination of giraffe and gazelle when he runs, and his strides are huge. Half the opposing team had an angle on him, and he just ran right past them anyway.

I'd like to say he went for a 98-yard touchdown (actually, 78, because it's a shorter field), but their fastest player (and the last one back) had an angle and managed to pull his flag at the last possible moment.

After 48 yards.

Eli's team had about 150 yards of passing on 15 completions. Eli had five catches for 97 yards. On four of those catches, he was one player away from scoring. The coach on the other team was going absolutely bonkers trying to stop him.

Eli really enjoyed that.

He also had nine tackles on defense, which doubled the tackle total of any other player.

His team dominated the game (his teammates played very well, and there was only one dropped pass the whole game), but they couldn't score. It was 0-0 all the way into the untimed plays of the second half. Then, on the fourth play, Michael completed a pass to the center (an eligible receiver in flag football). He's a terrific center (very accurate snapper), but as a receiver, he's very big and very slow. So he caught the pass on about the ten yard line, turned, and headed for the end zone. It was like watching an NFL films production, because he looked like he was running in slow motion. Over those 10 yards, at least five kids grabbed for his flag.

They all missed.

He rumbled into the end zone with the unlikeliest touchdown of the season, surely, and they were ahead 6-0.

The other team had three plays left to score. Eli made a tackle, knocked down a pass, and then made the tackle on the final play. Game over.

"Do you know what I was thinking when Gary was running with the ball?" Eli asked as we walked back to the car.

"No, what?" I asked.

"RUN, BIG MAN, RUN!" he said, and laughed.

When Metaphors Attack

I've started listening to Pandora when I ride.

I have an Adele channel. Eli was the one who turned me onto Adele, believe it or not, and she's fantastic. And I don't have to worry about her dying anytime soon (I'm still pissed off at Amy Winehouse).

So I'm listening to this station and a Neil Diamond song comes on, and even though I'm 50, I will never be old enough to listen to Neil Diamond. This time, though, I'm a captive audience, because I don't want to stop riding to fix the problem. So I'm listening, and the song is "Sweet Caroline", which has been played roughly 1,000,000,000 times on the radio.

I've never really listened to the lyrics before. This time, though, I do, and I hear this:
And when I hurt
Hurting runs off my shoulder

What the hell, Neil Diamond? Are you sweating hurt, or is it sluicing down your body in some kind of torrent? What is wrong with your hurt gland? Dude, you should get that shit checked out, because it sounds like you are in need of immediate medical attention.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday Links!

Here's one of the most interesting things I've seen in a long time: when dolphins communicate, they aren't whistling. Instead, they're using much the same technique that humans use to talk. That's a terrible explanation, but just hit the article, because it's fascinating and very well explained.

Dolphins continue to be totally awesome.

Here's a link to additional total awesomeness: DIYbio. Here's a description: is an organization dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists and biological engineers who value openness and safety. This will require mechanisms for amateurs to increase their knowledge and skills, access to a community of experts, the development of a code of ethics, responsible oversight, and leadership on issues that are unique to doing biology outside of traditional professional settings.

From Jonin, a link to a badass: Colorado logger cuts off toes after foot is pinned.

From, Sirius, here's some outrageous irony: Time-Warner owns the rights to the image of Guy Fawkes, and they collect a licensing fee each time the popular plastic mask is sold to anarchists and other protesting types. Revolutionary ouch.

From Les Bownman, and this is a terrifically entertaining few minutes: Sylvia Nasar’s Animated Guide to Economics.

From Scott Gould, a video of John Butler  doing indescribable things to a guitar. In a musical way.

From Sean Redlitz, a story about a man who wants to build a house that is less than 4 feet wide (and in some cases, only 28 inches).

From Kevin Womack, and these are spectacular images: The Secret Cities of Yemen.

From Meg McReynolds, a new version of the American Enclaves application is now available.  Fascinating.

From Jeremy Fisher, something I never thought I'd see: a harmonica in Carnegie Hall.

From Kevin W, and this is absolutely my favorite link of the week, it's stop-motion Johnny Quest theme. You absolutely have to go watch this--trust me.

From Greg Bagley, and it's quite a magical headline, it's Drunk Swedish elk found in apple tree near Gothenburg.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


This week has just totally gotten away from me.

On the Eli 10.1 front, all kinds of good things are happening: great teacher, good friends in his class, first school flag football game on Friday, and fifth grade is generally awesome. He's also taken up (and is quickly mastering) another sport, believe it or not, and I hope to tell you about that next week.

The fires down here look like they'll be extinguished soon, and at least the wind has died down so that they stop spreading. And speaking of spreading, Erik Highter sent in a link to an incredible video that clearly shows how fast the fire in Bastrop was moving. As far as I can calculate, on the windiest day, it was moving over a foot a second, which is quite terrifying.

There's been an absolute crush ton of gaming industry news this week. Nintendo is apparently adding a snap-on base to the 3DS in Japan to add a second analog stick. This might only be available for Monster Hunter 3 G, but it could possibly be coming here as well. Take a look for yourself.

Yeah, I don't think that's a great idea, either. Nintendo may be entering another "WTF?" era (they had several in the past).

Here's a bit of a bombshell: Gamestop to start accepting (and reselling) iOS device trade-ins.

Well, I'll say this for Gamestop: that sounds like a pretty damn good idea to me, at least in the corporate sense. Apple creates so many versions of their hardware that their devices are perfect candidates for resale. And Gamestop better start building their mobile device business, because (as I mentioned yesterday) I think the console business is in serious jeopardy, and it will drag Gamestop down as well.

Rock of Ages came out yesterday, and I was very briefly able to take a look at it last night. I wasn't particularly enamored of the keyboard control scheme, so I'm going to try it with a game pad tonight. It's very, very funny, though, and Terry Gilliam could have easily done the visuals.

I've gotten some very clever e-mail about the Maryland state flag this week, but my favorite was from Daniel James:
I'm sure about 100 people e-mailed you this already, but the flag of Maryland is actually the heraldic banner of the Baron Baltimore, who founded Maryland.
flag of Maryland Wikipedia entry

When you see it fly, it's actually a hell of a lot more attractive a state flag than most. The colors are bright, but their flag looks a lot classier than the dozens of state flags with clip art on them (I'm talking to you Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York). And this is speaking as a Virginian who live in London. Heraldry does it better.

state flags of the U.S.

Seriously, there isn't really much good competition in there. Apparently no one took the "create our state flag" contest very seriously.

Daniel makes a terrific point: there are some seriously shitty state flags in the U.S. While I still think the Maryland flag looks like a 4th grade art collage, who cares what I think? As long as the people in Maryland are happy with it, then good for them.

I still believe the Maryland football team looked like the desperate girl in college who was so insecure that she wore a beret to get noticed, though.

Last note: if you're fortunate enough to have an Android phone, the next completely addictive game from Kairosoft, Pocket League Story, was released yesterday. It's a soccer management game, believe it or not, and so far, it's even more addictive than Grand Prix Story. I highly recommend buying it immediately.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Let me briefly connect the dots that I didn't connect earlier. The two biggest trends, by far, of the last twelve months in the gaming industry have been the rise(and success) of free-to-play online games, and the rise of inexpensive mobile gaming.

The traditional pricing structures of the gaming industry are collapsing.

Meanwhile, Activision is adding premium subscriptions to Call Of Duty, and EA is charging "Season Pass" premiums for damn near nothing. They're performing CPR on a patient that has congestive heart failure. Maybe they extend the life of the patient, temporarily, but death is still coming soon.

The industry better wake up, and quickly. Very quickly.

Things Have Taken a Curious Turn

Yesterday, I saw an article that said Activision had over 500 people working on the Call of Duty series.

Today, I went to look at iPod Touches.

Mind you, I don't like Apple. I don't like how they lock down their shit, I don't like how they pretend to be all warm and fuzzy when their corporate actions are often more like Darth Vader, I don't like the whole snobby "we're Apple so we're automatically better" garbage.

I do however, like to play games.

So when things like King Of Dragon Pass, an absolute obscure legend on the PC, comes out for iOS, I have to take notice. Cult classics being ported to a mobile device have now created a kind of momentum that can no longer be ignored.

Let's look at the competing scenarios.

Scenario one: a guy loves Call of Duty. He buys the game every year for $60 and buys an Elite subscription for another $50. If he plays almost 2 hours a day, he will play over 700 hours in the year.

Scenario two: a guy has a Samsung Fascinate (Android), which he purchased on contract from Verizon for $99. He also buys an iPod Touch for $250. That's a little more than a 360 or PS3, but not much, and it's much cheaper than buying both of them.

For the same $110, he could buy at least 30 different games, plus download an unlimited number of free "lite" versions of other games.

It surprises me to say this, but I think many of us are turning into the guy in scenario two. Hell, I AM the guy in scenario two.

I've put serious time into three games this year: Grand Prix Story, Game Dev Story, and Dungeons of Dredmor. Combined, they represent about 100 hours of gaming time. Two Android games, one indie PC game.

My cost? $15.

Would I rather buy one $59 game or 20 mobile games? With almost no exceptions (NHL and Skyrim are the only two this year, I bet), I'd rather have a mobile games. They fit into my 10-minute lifestyle really well, and I can start them up in 5 seconds.

I was slow to jump on this train, but Chris Kohler was right: this is absolutely the elephant in the room for Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. Sorry, the market just isn't going to support $60 games anymore. Well, that's not quite true--there are a handful the market will support, but it's only a handful, and it's not enough for these companies to preserve the price structure.

There's another problem, too. These little mobile devices reward creativity, because it's very difficult to stand out graphically. Most of the AAA games on consoles, in contrast, aren't creative at all-- they're just copies of previous games, with most of the cost due to increasingly high-end graphics and art.

But wait, you say--aren't most mobile games just copies of other games? Yes, they are, and here's why that's irrelevant. There are so many games coming out for mobile devices that if even 1% are truly creative, we will be drowning in fun. The number of games coming out on consoles, in contrast, is so much smaller that the lack of creativity really shows. Plus, when creative games do come to the consoles, people don't even buy them!

The sheer volume of mobile games is overwhelming other platforms. I bought the 3DS at launch, and it's fantastic. The 3-D effect is truly magical.

And I've used it for less than 10 hours in five months.

I don't know how many companies are developing games for the 3DS, but I guarantee you there are 100X that are developing games for mobile platforms. And when I say "company" I'm including those two guys in the garage, because they count.

They've always counted.

Frankenjersey: the Updatening

I'm just making words up today.

Pete Thistle (who presently lives in Maryland) sent in additional information about those nightmarish Maryland jerseys:
I've been really surprised by the amount of coverage the jerseys have received. They were even talking about it on CNN yesterday with some designer from Say Yes to the Dress. The thing no one mentions is that the design comes from state flag of Maryland. If one doesn't know that, then yes, they are simply a hideous mess. And even if one does know that, they might still look hideous, but at least you know that it isn't just a mess; there's a reason for the hideousness.

Holy crap. Who designed that flag--a Pokémon developer?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Last night, I sat down with Eli 10.1 to watch part of the Maryland-Miami game.

When we turned on the television, this was the first thing we saw:

My goodness--isn't he late for an appointment to entertain at the King's court?

I think that qualifies as the worst college football uniform I've ever seen. At least it did until I saw the rest of it:

That's the SAME TEAM'S JERSEY on the other side. Half harlequin, half red and white.

And in that moment, the world officially ran out of ideas for new jerseys.

"What IS that?" I asked.

"Dad, it's a cross--don't you see it?"

"I think I might see a 'T'," I said.

"It's a cross," Gloria said.

"Wait--I think I see Abraham Lincoln's profile," I said.

How did these jerseys get approved? Did all the grown-ups leave the room at the same time?

"I really think they missed an opportunity here," I said. "If they put an animal mascot over one ear hole, and a different animal mascot over the other ear hole, they could combine them into a terrifying hybrid creature on TOP of the helmet."

"That would be wicked!" Eli 10.1 said. Helmet manufacturers, take note.

Later in the game, something happened that I always love: a huge defensive lineman picked up a fumble and started heading for the end zone. "RUN, BIG MAN, RUN!" I shouted. Eli always loses it when I say that--I think my enthusiasm sends him up, but he always starts laughing and then can't stop.

There's something about seeing those big men run, though, that's straight out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Their big bellies are always out in front, and it always looks like they're about to explode. The effort is so extreme that every 10 yards, some piece of equipment should blast off them. A shoe at the 40, thigh pads at the 30, the helmet at the 20.

I keep expecting it to happen someday, and the way jerseys are headed, exploding equipment is clearly not impossible.


The Internet has swallowed up the old Abraham Lincoln candlestick illusion. Seriously, it's vanished. If you can find it, please send me a link, as it's necessary for (hopefully) a post later today. Thanks.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Craziness

Well, it's gotten a little crazy down here. Have a look:

25,000 acres is forty square miles.

The big fire is 25 miles away, as the crow flies, from the state park where Eli 10.1 attened Camp Half-Blood a few weeks ago. The fire started in another park (Bastrop State Park), in a section called Lost Pines, which is a particularly special place:
The Lost Pines Forest is a 13-mile (21 km) belt of loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) near Bastrop in Central Texas. The stand of pines is unique in Texas because it is a disjunct population of trees that is more than 100 miles (160 km) separated from, and yet closely genetically related to, the vast expanse of pine trees of the East Texas Piney Woods. It is thought to have originated as part of a much larger pine forest that shrank in size during the last glacial period of the Pleistocene era.

That's from the Wikipedia entry.

I can attest to its beauty, because I was there about 15 years ago. A narrow, one-lane road runs through much of the forest, and the pine trees are so thick that they form an archway of sorts that the road passes through. In the summer, it's so much cooler in the forest, and so much darker, that it feels like you stepped through a passageway into another world.

I don't use this word often, or ever, but it was enchanted.

It's so dry down here, and the winds have been so high for the last two days, that fires are breaking out all over the place, but resources are limited to fight them because everyone is at the big fire in Bastrop.  Some of our friends have been temporarily evacuated because their neighborhoods, or part of them, are in flames. We're fine (and our neighborhood is at very, very low risk of fire), but it's surreal to have all of this happening so relatively close to us.

I thought about fire as I was thinking about Lost Pines today. Fire is so uniquely vengeful because it never recedes. It just stops burning, and everything that was already burned is destroyed.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Links!

From Meg McReynolds, and this is just brilliant, it's the Grand Taxonomy Of Rap Names.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a numismatic mystery: Gold Coins: The Mystery of the Double Eagle.

From Kadunta, a terrific article about high-tech food: Incredible Edibles: The mad genius of “Modernist Cuisine.”. And in the same vein, it's ultrasonic french fries.

From Josh Eaves, an article about a remarkable young inventor: The Secrets of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees.

From Sirius, and this is quite nasty: Frogs With Fangs. This is quite nasty as well: The Invisible Mouse.

From Steven Kreuch, a ridiculously cool slow-motion video: 8 Hours in Brooklyn. Also, an equally interesting video about how it was filmed.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these are very funny, it's The world's most brilliantly pointless street flyers. Also, and I had no idea that books had trailers nowadays, it's Making the trailer to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

From Rob Funk, and these images are totally spectacular, it's Toronto lightning storm August 2011.

From Sam Veilleux, a PS3 game cover redesign thread that features some fantastic art.

From Juan Font, and these are fascinating, but it's grim reading: Top 10 Unethical Psychological Experiments.

From Steven Davis, and this is entirely wonderful, it's How-To: Cut-out Animation with Monty Python's Terry Gilliam

Thursday, September 01, 2011


There's a rash of new previews out today for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

As I read these previews, I noticed that I was very interested. Excited, even.

Then I thought: why is that?

I don't think I've bought one big-budget game this year. If I did, it disappointed the hell out of me to such a degree that I don't even remember it. So why are the Elder Scrolls an exception?

I'm not going to list the obvious reason: the games are great.

No, it's not that, because to some degree, it can be argued that the Call Of Duty games are "great", and they bore the hell out of me.

The difference, I think, is timing.

Morrowind came out in 2002. Oblivion came out in 2006. Skyrim gets released in November, and that will be three games in the series in nine years, plus 5 years since the last entry in the series.

I can get excited about that.

I can't get excited about games that get released every year. I used to-- there were at least four or five series that were a big deal-- but my attitude has changed over time.

I received the new edition of NCAA from Gamefly the day after it was released. It sat on my desk for two months. Last week, I sent it back--unopened.

Look, it didn't work last year, and it's not going to work this year. What's the point, really? Plus, there will be a new version out in another 10 months!

I think it boils down to this: I can't continuously care. That's what the big companies want from me now. They want me to buy the annual or semi-annual release, then buy new DLC every two months.

They want a continuous, monthly revenue stream.

Sorry, but I can't do that. I want to play a game, then forget about it for months. Years, preferably. Then, when the new version does come out, I can be excited again.

I just realized this is like farming. Well, my imaginary understanding of farming, anyway.

I want to have a game be like a crop. I harvest it, eat, and then I want the field to lie fallow. I want the earth (creativity) to have time to renew its resources.

That's not how it works these days. Every franchise is a mine, and these bastards are strip-mining as fast as they can. And when that mine is eventually dry, they're done.

That's exactly what Bethesda hasn't done.

Can you imagine what it would be like if Activision was in charge of this series? Every province in Tamriel would have had its own game and four expansion packs by now. We would all be so sick of this world that it would be ruined forever.

I'm awfully glad that isn't happening.

I think this is how it works when it comes to gaming--for me, at least. I'm very much gravitating toward franchises where each release can make a significant addition to the canon. Franchises that don't do that don't interest me anymore.

[Exception: NHL.]

That's also related to the reason why I play more indie games now--much more, actually. For those games, there is no canon, so it feels like I'm exploring something new when I play them. I'm still capable of being surprised.

Here's an example, and I know I keep referring to Dungeons of Dredmor, but that's because it's my game of the year so far. I had this tremendously strong character build, so strong that I could take out monster closets on Level 6 of the dungeon in less than 5 minutes with 0 health loss.

That's invulnerable, really.

So I know, at this point, I'm going to finish the game. I've got this kick-ass character and 200,000+ gold, and I am practically printing money as I walk.

One of the spells I used to clean out the monster closet was a Thaumite Swarm spell. Here's the description from the game's Wiki:
A cloud of thaumaturgons come alive and consumes any being it touches with thoughtless voracity until sated, at which point it exits the body to await a new host.

They basically look like a swarm of purple mosquitoes, and damn, they can be deadly.

So I'm cruising through this dungeon, enjoying world domination, and I run over a trap. A thaumite swarm trap.

I was speeding through the dungeon, so I didn't even notice for three or four steps, and by that point, I'd lost 2/3 of my health. One of my skills was Vampirism, so I couldn't eat food to regain health. I had one potion, drank it, kept losing health with every step, and in three more steps I was dead.


I'd put at least five hours into this game, and in 10 seconds, it was over.

Pissed? For about ten seconds. Then I wanted to stand up and cheer. It was so incredibly ironic that my superhuman character was laid low by glorified insects. Totally brilliant, really, and I entirely appreciated the deviance of design that allowed that to happen.

If I was playing Dungeons of Dredmor VI, I wouldn't have been surprised.

Site Meter