Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Precipice (part two)

Before I talk about the fourth game, I wanted to describe what our routine is like during a hockey tournament. Most people come and go based on when their games are played, but Eli 10.3 just wants to watch hockey. If he plays two games in a day, he'll watch three or four more. So we basically spend all day at the rink, leaving for brief periods of time to eat.

It's good time, even though it's tiring. Eli is never more relaxed than when he's watching hockey, and he's never happier.

Game four was on Sunday morning, and they faced a team from Fort Worth. Yes, it was another travel team, but they were one of the weakest teams in the pool, and Eli was in goal. Combined, I figured that gave us a puncher's chance.

"Three keys," I said to him in the dressing room. "Be aggressive and stay on your angle. Be clear. And stay in a powerful position on the ice, so that you can make more than one move."

"I feel really good today, Dad," he said.

"I love you and you should be proud of what you guys have done this weekend," I said. "Nobody's played harder. Enjoy the beautiful battle and remember how far you've come. A year and a half ago, you were learning to skate at spring break. Now look at where you are."

"I can hardly believe it," he said, laughing.

Usually, I can tell in warm-ups how Eli's going to play. Before the final game against McAllen two weeks ago, he didn't look sharp. He still played well, but there are times when he is absolutely dominant, and he wasn't like that in the final.

For this game, though, in warm-ups, it was the sharpest I've ever seen him. No one could score, and he was stopping an assortment of shots with almost no time in between. "He's razor sharp," I said Gloria. "He's going to play really, really well."

How well? In the first period, he had 14 saves. Yes, he gave up one goal on a rebound, but after getting outshot 14-3 in the period, his team was only down 1-0.

In case you're wondering, the length of the periods was 13 minutes, so those 14 saves represented 21 in the regular 20 minute NHL period.

In short, he was busy.

The second period started, and he was still red-hot. As he made save after save, the crowd noise started building. He was stopping everything: breakaways, point-blank shots, shots from range, wraparounds, high shots, low shots. He was a human action figure, Stretch Armstrong with a mask.

Our kids had been skating hard the whole game, but somehow they found an extra burst near the end of the second period. For the first time in over two games, they scored, and a minute later, they scored again. Incredibly, after two periods, the score was 2-1, and Eli had 24 saves.

Third period, though, had been a minefield in previous games, and the other team came out with wild energy. Within two minutes, they scored on a high shot that went just over Eli's glove and shoulder (even though he was standing). A minute later, they scored again, after Eli made a nice save on the initial shot, but couldn't get to the rebound.

It was 3-2, and it looked like it was going to get ugly.

But it didn't. Eli started making save after save--again--and they stayed in the game. He even made glove saves on two mid-air deflections, and I still have no idea how he tracked the redirect and adjusted his glove in time.

More and more people had wandered into the rink, and by this point, there were well over 100 people watching the game. And every time Eli made a save, they pounded on the glass. It got louder and louder, and still he roamed the crease with absolutely no fear, looking faster than I've ever seen him.

With two minutes to go, and the score still 3-2, I started to resign myself to a close loss. It had been a brilliant effort by everyone, not just Eli, because all of his teammates had skated their guts out. Sure, it's tough to lose four games in a row, but they were all going to be so much better after the experience.

I was already thinking about what I would say to Eli. It was a loss, but if it was possible for a 10-year-old to be transcendent, he had been. He had 35 saves in all, and most of them were highlight reel quality.

With just over a minute left, the coach pulled Eli to add an extra attacker.

Then we scored.

The arena collectively went insane. We were giddy. And 57 seconds later, the game was headed for a shootout. "We're going to win," said one mom, "because we have Eli in goal." That's what everyone thought.

Except me.

I knew the truth: that in House league, there are no shootouts, because there's not enough time. Ice time is always apportioned down to the minute, so when regulation time is over, the game is over.

Shootouts are very different, tactically, from regulation time. It's a version of chess on ice, really, and there are specific techniques that aren't instinctive--they have to be learned.

None of which Eli 10.3 had learned yet.

We shot first, and missed. Their player came down, deked about three times on Eli, and scored. I was afraid that he would be nervous--because he wasn't prepared--and lose his aggressiveness, and that's what happened. Instead of being disruptive and challenging, he just let the shooter do exactly what he had planned.

But our next kid scored, and their second skater hit the post, even though Eli was beaten, and when our next kid also scored, we were suddenly up 2-1. If Eli stopped the next shot, they would win a thrilling and unbelievable victory.

The shooter skated forward, and Eli came out, but I saw him retreating too quickly. The shooter deked left, then right, then shot along the ice. Eli went down in the butterfly, but he went laterally instead of diagonally to the post, and his left skate finished inches from reaching the puck as it slid past him.


In another 45 seconds, our kid missed, their next shooter scored on yet another deke, and the game was over. Eli lay face down on the ice, crushed by what he had almost done. The other goalie on his team, who had played defenseman in this game, was the first one to reach him, and he helped Eli up and put his arm around him. And his teammates skated up and consoled him.

I headed back to the locker room because I knew he wouldn't stop as he came off the ice. When he walked in, he took off his Captain America mask, jersey, and shoulder pads. Then he sat down in his red goalie pants and suspenders (he has suspenders because he's too skinny to keep his pants up). He had been so big on the ice ten minutes before, so much larger than life, but with his gear off, he was still a skinny little boy. He sat on a bench in the corner, leaning back against the wall, big tears running silently down his face.

It was enough to break your heart. I know it broke mine.

Tomorrow: the aftermath.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Precipice (part one)

This is the last hockey story this year--promise.

We went to Dallas last weekend for another hockey tournament.

In Laredo, it was a "house" tournament. House players don't play in leagues outside their own program, at least not down here. Everyone gets to play, and the atmosphere, while it can be intense at times, is still somewhat casual. Your team doesn't have enough players? Well, you do have to forfeit the official tournament game, but we'd be happy to loan you a few of our players and we can still scrimmage.

That was Laredo.

When we pulled into Dallas, then went to the ice rink Friday morning, the first thing I saw was a dad reaming out his ten-year-old son in the pro shop. "You were on the first line to start the season," he said, speaking in a low voice. "Then you got moved to the second line. Now you're on the last line, and do you know why? Because you don't backcheck, and because you don't skate hard enough."

I think I know why--because dad's a douchebag.

Welcome to the big-time. How disappointing.

We continued to look at items in the pro shop, and Douchebag Dad continued talking. "Are you just going to throw away all the time you put into this?" He challenged.

That was my depressing introduction to the world of travel team tournaments.

A travel team tournament is a galaxy away from house tournaments. All these teams travel, they almost all have three full lines, and they've been practicing together three days a week for the last three months, plus playing league games every other weekend.

Us? Our team is the top 15 kids in the house program. They had four practices before the tournament. They also had regular house practices, but only four practices where they could practice with each other and work on tactics, etc.

In other words, all signs pointed to an ass-beating.

However, that was okay. If these kids had all gone to Laredo as a team, they would've won every game by five goals and learned nothing, because their bad habits wouldn't have mattered. In this tournament, though, bad habits would be exposed, and the whole point of this "House+" team was to create an environment where the kids could get better.

Eli was thrilled, of course. In Laredo, there were about nine teams in three divisions. In Dallas, there were six teams in his division alone, and 14 squirt teams total. Adding up all divisions and ages, there were at least 40 teams. Even better, since the Austin squirt and peewee travel teams were also there, and he has friends on both teams, he had even more friends to hang out with.

Their first game was Friday morning. They were in the "bronze" division, and in the squirt age group, there were bronze, silver, and gold groups. Basically, "B" league travel teams played in bronze, "A" played in silver, and "AA" played in gold.

Well, except for us. Our team was playing up to be in the bronze division. Way, way up. It was the equivalent of a YMCA soccer team playing in a Select tournament. Even tougher, their first opponent was an "A" league team playing down.

Eli played as a defenseman in the first game, and it was ugly. Kids weren't in the right places, there were lots of breakaways--it was an 8-2 disaster, and it wasn't nearly as close as the final score. He only made one mental mistake-- getting beat to the inside in a 1-1 situation--but twice he was in position to intercept centering passes and the puck bounced over his stick (and both turned into goals).

After the game, kids were mad, especially the goalie, who struggles with his emotions when things aren't going well. Most of the kids are used to dominating House league, and they were in angry shock over the new reality. Eli went around and quietly talked to almost every kid, encouraging them. The ten-year-old who acts like a grizzled veteran.

Game two was Saturday morning, and Eli was in goal. And he was hot. It was a shooting gallery, but he was playing even better than he had the weekend before. After one period, he had 12 saves, all of them on close range shots, but the score was only 1-0.

It was still 1-0 after the second period, even though we were getting outshot 3-1. Then legs went dead, kids couldn't keep up anymore, and the third period lasted a long time. Eli gave up three goals in the period, two of which were stellar shots.

The final was 4-0, but he had 29 saves and had been terrific. A goalie parent from another team stopped after the game and said, "Boy, he can really play."

Kids were disappointed in the locker room, but it was different this time. They played much better, the game had been close for a long time, and it didn't feel hopeless all. Eli was down, but he rallied the troops again, and nobody looked defeated.

While he was taking off his gear, his coach came by and handed him a patch. It was for Player Of The Game, and when Eli realized what it was, it was like his coach had handed him the Stanley Cup. He was so proud.

Two hours later, they played their third game, and Eli was a defenseman. It went much the way of the second game--hopelessly outshot, terrific goaltending, and only 1-0 at the start of the third. Eli had his best game on defense ever, stopping a ton of 1-1 and even 2-1 situations, protecting the goalie, and sweeping away rebounds.

The third period, unfortunately, was almost identical as well, with the other team scoring three goals and a 4-0 final. As soon as the game ended, though, Eli skated off the bench and went directly to the goalie, putting his arms around him and talking to him. Yes, he'd given up four goals, but it was the best game I've ever seen him play, and I think that's what Eli told him. It was a singular moment in that most kids will tap goalie on the pads or make some kind of minimal gesture in a loss, but Eli stood with him for a good 10-15 seconds with no one else around.

Even though we were generally getting our heads handed to us, it was remarkable to see the improvement from game to game. Better discipline, Harder skating, and a degree of tenacity that you just don't expect from 10-year-olds. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to play them, because the amount of work it took to score each goal was off the charts.

0-3 in the tournament, outscored 16-2, but they had one more game, and it was against the second worst team in the division.

That game was really, really something.

Tomorrow: game four.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Run, Big Man, Run!

watch #60

The Aftermath

I know this is highly unusual for me, but I may not post anything today (besides this, obviously). Eli 10.3 had another hockey tournament in Dallas last weekend, we were there for four days, and it was exhausting. It made the trip to Laredo look peaceful in comparison.

I don't know how a ten-year-old can accumulate stories like this, but believe me, this tournament was epic beyond all belief. It was exhilarating and very, very sad, depending on the moment. I am so worn out emotionally that I feel hollow inside.

I know I wrote about a hockey tournament last week, but I'll probably be writing about this one as well. Apologies for the one-note content.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Links!

A little light with Thanksgiving week cutting e-mail volume in half, but we're still puttering along.

From Stephen Kreuch, another strange pillow (obviously, invented by the Japanese): Robotic bear pillow stops your snoring by gently mauling your face.

Adorably cute owl video.

DQ Rugby Advisor Scott Gould sent in what may be the most improbable scoring drive in rugby history (41 phases): Ronan O'Gara Winning Drop Goal v Northampton.

From Shane Courtrille, a remarkable project: The 10,000 Year Clock.

From Steve Davis, and this is so beautifully old-school: Mechanical Computer for Camera Settings.

From Jean-François Boismenu, a fascinating article about security, and how little we know about it: what you don't know about your Apps.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fascinating: Why Is China Building These Gigantic Structures In the Middle of the Desert?

here's an absolutely terrific link from the Edwin Garcia Links Machine: Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker.

From Sirius, and this is quite interesting: Europa appears to have an enormous lake of water. Also, this is intriguing, it's An "out-of-place-artifact" (OOPA) discovered in Alaska.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

EBGDAE #16: I'm Still Playing

Trailbreaker John Harwood is in the lead position this week. It's all John starting now:
I've certainly remained motivated by Rocksmith more than I ever was with RB3 Pro guitar. RB3 had slipped firmly into the chore category by this point, while playing in RS or working through Justin's lessons remains in my upper tier of preferred leisure time activities. Best example is chords: Chords are now fun, something I look forward to in a song, and has been keeping me over at Justin's site alot lately. Chords used to be a real pain, something that I had to get through so I could start having fun and a real point of frustration. It's night and day being able to actually hear what you play. If RB3 had been able to register notes without the mute on, it might have been a very different experience. I'm now finding myself increasingly fascinated with my tone and the sound of the chords and that was never even a consideration before. Heck, I even have favorite chords because I just like how they sound.

I'm getting around on the fretboard much better (thank you Scale Runner!) and much much more comfortable picking different individual strings. The Bermuda Fretboard area has shrunk to the 15th frets and above on the upper 3 strings instead of just generally anywhere north of the 9th fret. But yet, I can't really progress much further in most of the songs without really learning my chords by name and not just by fret number and string color. I'm nearly over the hump with that and am starting to delight in chord shapes for picking individual notes and that has drastically cut down on the amount of unnecessary movement around on the fretboard I was doing and is really helping make the guitar into a more intuitive musical instrument than just a very complex video game peripheral.

One of the most surprising things thus far is how often I find myself not looking at the screen, yet still playing. I never really did memorize much of anything in RB because it was just buttons to push and I could keep up just fine sightreading. RS on the other hand just innately encourages you to learn the songs rather than just playing along. I know I'm not supposed to look down at the guitar any more than necessary, but I find it very cool just how often I can look down for good chunks of time or practice a riff or couple of chords while in loading screens. Likewise, I'm finding that more often than not, I don't necessarily need to know that the next couple of notes are 2 frets above because I can hear that's about where the next note sounds like it should be and if I miss, I very quickly know that wasn't it and can adjust. I'd never fully realized what a disservice the "plunk" of a missed note in RB3 was compared to hearing your note *and* the correct note.

Now if I can just go memorize all of the chords to House of the Rising Sun real quick. Damn, but I really want to learn that song!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Are the Champions, Statistically, of the World, More Or Less (Part 3)

"I know you're feeling terrible," I said to Eli 10.2 in the locker room. "And I know you're upset with Jarret [the star]."

"The first goal was his fault," Eli said through his tears. "And he deflected the third goal--I was going to stop the shot."

"I know," I said. "But when you calm down, you need to go talk to him. He's only eight. He had so much pressure on him, and now he's over there feeling totally alone. You need to go tell him it's okay."

Jarret was sitting at the other end of the locker room, crying hard, with his head in his hands. Eli looked toward him. "I can't do it yet," he said, another tear falling.

"That's okay," I said. "You just need to do it before we leave. It's a good time for you to be a leader. Anyone can lead after a win."

We sat there for a few more minutes, and the tears slowed down, then stopped. Gloria and I helped him with his gear, his eyes still watery, and when the bag was packed, he said, "Let's go."

"Jarret," I said. "Then we'll go."

I could see that Eli was struggling, trying to compose himself as he walked over. Jarret was still crying, and Eli leaned over, put his hand on his shoulder, and spoke to him softly. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but I saw Jarret's dad nodding while he talked. Jarret didn't say much, but Eli talked to him for a few minutes, and he had stopped crying by the time Eli was done.

Eli walked back over to us. "I know that was the hardest thing you've done all weekend," I said. "Well done."

There's a Carino's in Laredo where we ate after the championship game last year, and for a combination of reasons, it was spectacular. Eli said he wanted to go there again.

On the way, he complained about everything.

"I've come here for TWO YEARS and lost in the championship both times," he said. "Nothing went right today. Everything has gone wrong."

By the time we got to the restaurant, it was lunch rush hour, and we saw a few people sitting on benches. "Oh, no," he said. "Now we're going to have to wait. Of course. EVERYTHING has gone wrong today."

We didn't have to wait (please note that this did not count as something going right), and sat down at a table with a good view of an HD screen showing an NFL game.

We didn't say anything for a while. I knew he was hurting, and it was a new kind of hurt. It's hard for grown-ups to handle that, let alone kids.

After a few minutes, I picked up his child's menu, which was on one sheet of paper. I neatly folded it and took off a strip of paper about 3" wide. Then I started folding it like a flag is folded, which makes a triangle shape.

"What is that?" he asked.

"A paper football," I said. "When I was a kid, we played paper football on our desks whenever we had a few minutes."

"I DO NOT believe you," he said.

I started sliding the paper football back and forth across the table top. "So you slide it back and forth," I said, "and if you get part of the football over the edge, it's a touchdown."

I slid the football toward him. He waited a few seconds, then pushed it back with his finger. I pushed it back towards him. After a few tries, he pushed it and the football just reached the edge of the table, with the point hanging over. "Here's how you check for a touchdown," I said. "You slide your finger along the edge of the table at a ninety degree angle, and if the football moves, it's a touchdown."

I did, and it moved. "TOUCHDOWN!" he said.

"Time for the extra point," I said, making goalposts with my hands. I showed him how to hold the football in place and kick it with his finger, which he thought was very silly (it is, which is one of the reasons I love paper football). He kicked and it hit the crossbar (my index fingers), then tumbled over.

"It's good!" he said.

We played for about 15 minutes while we were awaiting for our food. I taught him about footballs over the edge, and how three meant a field goal attempt for the other player. My attempts at kicking were so pathetic that he started giggling every time I lined one up. We also tried a few kicks over the breadbasket and assorted trick shots.

He blasted one kick over the table on an extra point. "Nice kick, Sebastian Fingerowski," I said, and he cracked up.

"Fingerowski," he said. "Good one, Dad!"

I was behind 36-30, but I just needed one more touchdown before the food came. Then Eli pushed the football halfway over the edge. "YES!" he said, and before he could kick the extra point, the food came.

Final score, 42-30.

"Good game, Dad," he said, tearing into his spaghetti.

"Same," I said.

We had an excellent dinner, and when we got back on the road, he was asleep within 15 minutes, not waking up until we were just outside San Antonio. We stopped at McDonald's to get drinks.

"I know it's hard to hear this now," I said, "but those three games were epic. They were unbelievable."

"They were, weren't they?" he said. "It was really exciting."

"Oh, you know something else?" I asked. "Corpus doesn't score many goals, and you scored three for them, so you might be their leading scorer for the season, and you don't even live there."

"That would be AWESOME!" he said.

"Maybe you'll get a plaque or something," I said, laughing.

"You know," he said, "we played McAllen twice and beat them once. And the score of those two games combined was 5-4. So really, we kind of won." Then he started singing: "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, statistically, OF THE WORLD, more or less."

We had a nice drive home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gamers With Jobs For Child's Play

Gamers With Jobs is having a fundraiser for Child's Play, and it involves an entirely spiffy GWJ poster that you can purchase. All the profits go to Child's Play, and the poster itself is entirely fantastic. So go take a look at the GWJ Unofficial Swag page and order a poster if you're so inclined.

We Are the Champions, Statistically, of the World, More Or Less (Part 2)

Ah, the joys of a 6:30AM Sunday game after not sleeping the night before because the people next door were trying to party like it was 1999. Plus, this game was against Laredo, and if Eli's team won, they were guaranteed a spot in the finals.

The thing about being in a rink at 6:30 is that once you step in, you have no sense of time, so it doesn't feel like pre-dawn or anything else. It just feels like rink time.

Eli played as a defenseman for this game, with his friend Sean in goal, and it was tough. Laredo clearly wasn't as good as McAllen, but we were clearly not as good as the day before, and it was a tight, tight game. But they held on for a 4-3 win, putting them in the finals.

It wasn't Eli's best game--he made good decisions with the puck, but clearly wasn't skating as fast as usual--but he made it through, and the coach had already told him that he would be in goal for the finals.

We went back to the hotel, ate breakfast, and then came back for the game between McAllen and Laredo, because the winner would be their opponent in the finals.

When we got there, it was 2-2 in the first period.

McAllen's best player (#99) weighed about (I'm not kidding) 150 lbs. He was huge, and he could skate very well. Laredo had very little defensive discipline, and he started getting loose on breakaways.

After two periods, it was 11-2 McAllen, and that one kid had six goals. That's when I fully realized how well had Eli played in goal against them, and how well our kids had skated.

And how unlikely it was for both to happen again. See, at the end of Scarface, Al Pacino does finally get killed.

"Okay," Eli 10.2 said. "Let's go." We went back to the hotel and hung out for a while, because the game wasn't until 12:10. But it didn't feel right to be sitting around, because Eli never sits around. We had this plush ball about the size of a softball, so we took it outside and threw it around for a while. The wind was crazy, and the ball was so light that it was like throwing a knuckleball. It was just a simple, goofy thing to do, but it was good time, not nervous time.

When we went back to the arena, we went early (we always go early--Eli wants to be at the rink all day long), but again, we were sitting around too much. We went outside and I saw that there was a series of messages (created with those peel-and-stick letters) near the front door about what couldn't be brought into the arena.

It was huge list, with nine or ten different items, but at least half of the letters were missing.

"Clearly, we need to figure this out," I said.

A typical line would look something like this (I'm still pissed that I didn't take a picture, because I intended to):

That's not an exaggeration--every line was like that. Stare at it long enough, though, and eventually, the words appear: "NO CARRIERS OR STROLLERS."

We spent at least 15 minutes trying to puzzle through the lines, and finally got down to the very last one, but it stumped us (another reason I wanted to take a picture, so you guys could figure it out). We did figure out "NO LONG CHAINS WITH", though, from " O ON HA S W TH" (or something very close to that).

Once we finished playing Arena Door Wheel Of Fortune, it was time for him to get dressed. We always talk a little before he goes out. "Don't try to be Superman," I said. "That will just cloud up your head. Just be yourself. Stay on your angle, be aggressive, and be clear. And don't show them anything--no emotions--because they're afraid of you. How funny is that? They're the most dominant house team in the southern half of the state, and they're afraid of you."

He laughed. "I know, it's just crazy, isn't it?" he said. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm not afraid."

"You know all those McAllen fans with flags?" I asked. Some of their fans bring these big flags with their team logo (Killer Bees) on it, and they waved them like crazy when they score. "You're going to shut down those flags."

"That's going to feel awesome," he said.

I felt like I was sending a tiny sailor to his death at sea. "I have an awful feeling about this game," I told Gloria on the way to the stands. "We're going to get our asses kicked."

"I've never heard you say that before," she said.

"I know," I said. "I've never felt it before."

The game started, and in the first minute, McAllen had a breakaway. #99. So this kid who weighed at least twice what Eli weighs was bearing down on him, but Eli was fearless, like he always is in goal. The kid didn't try to deke him, but shot low, and Eli kicked it away with his pad.

Then #99 got another breakaway. And another. On the third, he scored, even though Eli was in perfect position to make the save, but the shot was so fast that it went under him a split-second before he got down.

To make it worse, our best player and leading scorer had been skating 1-on-5 near the blue line and had gotten the puck stolen, and no one could chase down the breakaway. It was an awful, awful play, and seeing our best player get schooled like that, I was afraid it was going to turn into disaster.

It didn't, though. Breakaway after breakaway, most of them by #99, but Eli was fighting them off. It was only 1-0 after the first period. In the second, #99 scored again (Eli said the kid had the heel of his stick on the puck, then used the front of his stick to lift up Eli's goalie stick, then slid the puck through the gap, which is pretty freaking impressive). A few minutes after that, though, we scored an ugly goal on a shoved-in rebound, and it was 2-1.

Then our star finally got a breakaway and was almost tackled as he neared the goal. Penalty shot.

It was easy to feel what was happening. Momentum was shifting, we were handling their rushes better, and our guy was about to get going. He was going to score on this penalty shot, the game would be tied, and Eli would shut them down for the rest of the game.

It felt like that, all right, but as soon as I saw our star gather the puck, I knew it was all wrong. He was skating so fast that it was hard for him to control the puck, and when he shot, the puck never went off the ice, deflecting harmlessly off the goalie's leg pad.

After that, the momentum was gone. The kids fought hard--it was still 2-1 with 3:30 left in the third period--but on one last breakaway, their star scored again. Eli had read the shot perfectly and was in position to make the save, but the puck went under him again.

Final score: 3-1, McAllen.

I knew it was going to be very tough in the dressing room, and it was. Eli was crying, and in between tears he said, "They let me down, and I let everybody down," he said. That was an accurate description--his defense was terrible, but he still could've stopped all three shots that scored. He was bereft.

So was our star, who had what was surely the worst game he's ever played. He was crying harder than Eli. Other kids were teary, some were mad, and all of them were disappointed.

TOMOROW: The aftermath (sorry, I meant to finish today, but the length got away from me, which should come as no surprise).

Monday, November 21, 2011

We Are the Champions, Statistically, of the World, More Or Less (Part 1)

"I'M COMIN' OUT STEAMIN'!" Eli 10.2 was the first kid out of school on Friday because we were driving to Laredo for a hockey tournament. He exited at Mach 4, his backpack wheels smoking as he walked down the sidewalk. "LET'S GO!"

The Enthusiasm Engine.

It promised to be an interesting tournament. The two best players on Eli's team (besides Eli) were only eight years old, they were facing some very salty house teams, and Eli had just gotten his cast off two weeks ago.

What wound up happening, though, was much more than interesting.

The toughest team they played last year was a team from McAllen. It was basically a travel team that didn't travel--except to tournaments--and they played some house tournaments. That's how they wound up in the Austin tournament last year, averaging over 10 goals per game and winning by about the same margin.

It was ugly.

This year, their first game in the tournament was going to be against this team, and Eli specifically asked for the game. He wanted to be in goal.

"Look, this game may get out of hand," I said. "That's not what's important, though. What's important is how you respond. The score doesn't matter, and the last shot doesn't matter. Every shot is a beautiful battle, if that makes any sense."

"It does," he said. "I know exactly what you mean."

"So don't think about anything beyond keeping your head clear," I said. "You might pile up 40 saves in this game. Just stay focused and stop everything you can."

That's what I thought, anyway.

What I hadn't expected, though, was that Eli 10.2 would be like Al Pacino in Scarface, laughing on the stairway landing as 50 guys tried to kill him because they couldn't.

Kick saves. Glove saves. Blocker saves. Stick saves. Saves I couldn't even describe. 22 in all, many of them on breakaways, and only one goal allowed. We were getting outskated, but it didn't matter. He made one crazy save after another, as quick as any kid his age I've ever seen, and his team won 4-1.

I was walking past McAllen's locker room on the way back to take off his pads, and I heard a kid say, "That goalie had SO MANY saves."

Why, yes. Yes, he did.

Corpus Christi always brings a team to these house tournaments, but it's almost impossible for the kids to get ice time, so they don't have many players. Eli subbed for them last year, so when they needed extra players again, he was ready to go.

They were still outmatched, but he played hard for them in the next two games. In the first game, an 8-2 loss, he had a goal and an assist. In the second game (against Laredo), he started out on defense, but behind 7-1, the coach switched him to center for the third period.

Early on in the third, he was high-sticked near the net, and he turned around to briefly complain to the referee (which is something you don't do). He glided a bit as he talked, winding up directly in front of the net, and when he looked up, a perfect pass was coming his way, which he proceeded to bury.


After that, he started causing all kinds of havoc on offense, and momentum was definitely shifting. It was 7-3 when he got loose on a breakaway and scored again. 7-4. Then he set up a teammate with a pass right to his stick in front of the net--wide open--but he missed the shot.

After that, Laredo scored, and scored again. It was 10-4 in the last 5 seconds of the game when Eli got the puck, and he was on a breakaway. He shot--and scored--one second after the airhorn went off. One second away from his first hat trick.

"Dad, did you see that?" He said as he skated off.

"I did," I said. "Maybe you could've gotten that third goal if you'd argued with the referee again." He laughed.

The Corpus coaches and parents couldn't have been nicer, and Eli wanted to sub in their third game (that started at 8:30 p.m.), but with a 6:30 game in the morning with his own team, I thought that was enough for one day.

He was, of course, outraged. In a good way.

Tomorrow: the conclusion.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Links!

DQ reader Mike Rozak's friend Derek DelGaudio is a phenomenal card magician, and by "phenomenal" I mean "this video will blow your mind." So watch it.

From Steffen Vulpius, a follow-up on the cold fusion "breakthrough" claim of a few months ago: What to make of Andrea Rossi's apparent cold fusion success.

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, and if you're a Star Wars fan, it's your lucky day: photos taken from the sandy set of "Return Of The Jedi".

There are a series of excellent links from Griffin Cheng. First, this is incredible, it's Watch this 230-ton Airbus A330 Stopping In Midair for a Few Seconds. Next, and this is very cool, it's From Poor to Rich to Richest: What Biking Through New York City in 5 Minutes Looks Like. One more, and it's Spectacular rainbow volcano on Mars.

From Jeff Pinard, and this video is quite spectacular: Nanotechnology Mirage Effect.

From Sean Redlitz, and while I might not agree with this article, it's a thoughtful read: A Brief Rant on the Future of Interactive Design.

From Jeremy Fisher, and this is both clever and cute: Angry Birds Seasons Ham'O'Ween.

From Frank Regan, and this is stunning (as well as the most submitted link, by far, this week): Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS. Also, an image that explains the phenomenon known as Troxler's Fading.

From Robb, and it's related to the book about memory I mentioned last week: Woman With Perfect Memory Baffles Scientists.

From Steve Davis, and this video will astonish you: Live demo of the Japanese archer automaton. Absolutely incredible. Also from Steve, it's Self-Assembling Objects – at Home. One more, and it's one of the coolest Kickstarter projects I've ever seen: The Lightning Foundry ("Two 10-story Tesla Coil towers will fill an area the size of a football field with lightning-like discharges hundreds of feet in length"). Holy crap.

From Phil Honeywell, and if you ever wanted to see the excitement of a Washington State football game via tilt-shift photography, then you're golden: WSU Seattle Tilt Shift Football Game .

From Steven Kreuch, a site full of personal and interesting videos: Everynone. Also, a wonderful story about the pilot who dropped candy from his plane into West Berlin in 1948: The Candy Bomber.

From Jaby Jacob, and its technology I don't think I've ever seen before: 360 video.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

EBGDAE #16: I'm Still Playing

This week, it's my turn, although trailblazer John Harwood (whose career score in Rocksmith OBLITERATES mine) wanted me to mention that you can read a Q&A with a Rocksmith developer on Reddit here.

Highlights (from John):
--Bass support definitely coming "next year"
--3-5 DLC songs coming every 2 weeks
--Several bands that had initially dismissed licensing outright approached the developers a week after release wanting to get in.

Bass support certainly does not suck.

Also of note, I purchased both "Jessica" and "More Than a Feeling" on Tuesday, and they're both terrific. Jessica was absolutely my favorite Rock Band song in the "pre-real guitar" era, and it's a huge pleasure to actually play it on a real guitar now, even if I'm just playing single notes.

Okay, I've certainly hinted at this in the last few weeks, but let's get right to it: this game is killer. KILLER.

Why? A list.
1. Hearing what you are playing forces you to focus on note production and sound quality. In the last three weeks, my finger placement and tone has improved dramatically, and it's all because I could hear how crappy I sounded. There are so many nuances to finger placement that I would have never understood without hearing how I sound.
2. The dynamic difficulty system is unfathomably brilliant. I'm always on the very edge of my competence, and often beyond, and I am never allowed to coast. Because of that, my rate of learning has been ridiculously high, because my brain is constantly being forced to adjust. I cannot emphasize enough how well this feature is implemented.
3. Also because of dynamic difficulty, I don't hit a wall. There are always options for me in my career, some more difficult than others, but I never feel like I'm going sideways. I'm doing chords now, and they're certainly challenging, but there's always somehwere I can improve. As an example, see #4 below.
4. Believe it or not, in addition to the standard "musician's career", Rocksmith also has arcade games, and even more unbelievably, most of them are an absolute blast. There's a baseball game that challenges you to hit individual notes, and if you do, you get hits, score runs, etc. and it doesn't look like some half-ass piece of work, either--it's actually quite well-done. There's another mini-game called "Dawn of the Chorded", with zombies approaching your bunker position, and the way you fire your guns is to play the specified chord (you can see the chord shape on the screen).

Learning how to play chords is hard work, and it's dull, really--there's just no way around it. Including a game that's cleverly designed, though, breaks up the monotony, and I've already noticed a difference in how quickly I can shift my hands around the fret board.

The biggest endorsement I can give this game is that I want to play it every day. I can play some of my favorite songs, I can work on my career score, or I can just play arcade games. There are enough options that it keeps feeling fresh to me, which must be the single most important thing when learning how to play the guitar, because it takes so much practice.

If you're wondering about the review scores, don't. In fact, some of the worst reviews I've read have been about this game.

Case in point: the Kotaku review, which is one of the single least-competent reviews I've ever read, and something that never should have been published.

When you first boot up the game, you see a visual that explains how to connect your audio for minimum latency (in short, use analog cables). You will see this screen every time you boot up the game. You will also see the same information in the information ticker that scrolls across the screen at menus. It's also in the tiny manual that comes with the game, I believe.

It's freaking everywhere.

So what does this reviewer do? Let him tell you:
Rocksmith's most immediate—and most problematic—issue is lag. After plugging my guitar (a G&L Telecaster) into my PS3 using Rocksmith's included USB-to-1/4" cable, I played a few notes and immediately noticed the lag between when I hit the string and when the note sounded on my TV's speakers.

Software recording programs like Pro Tools and Logic often use what's called "low-latency monitoring" to deal with lag, which usually requires immediately flipping a dry signal back through the monitor speakers while simultaneously routing it into the recording software for processing. Rocksmith is, perhaps unsurprisingly, incapable of this trick, partly because in order to provide the guitar tones it's emulating, it has to slow down for at least a fraction of a second and process the dry audio from the guitar. I should note that lag will differ depending on your setup—I was running audio through an HDMI cable into my HDTV. Analog audio cables straight from the console probably help with this. But no matter what, there's gonna be some lag, and furthermore, I'd rather not rejigger my PS3's entire cable setup just to get the game more functional.

That's awesome--Rocksmith can't "flip a dry signal back through the monitor speakers while simultaneously routing it into the recording software for processing," an apparently heinous omission. Meanwhile, this dumbass can't connect analog audio cables, which should take anyone less than five minutes.

Because of this utter lack of effort, it's a terrible review, and it's completely unfair to the game. Even worse, this guy is a legitimate musician (taken from the review):
I studied jazz saxophone at an intense music school and play a whole bunch of other instruments these days as well, including the guitar. (Here's me onstage looping a bunch of instruments at a show.) I've worked as a professional musician ever since graduating, gigging around San Francisco, composing and arranging music on commission, producing shows and recording bands, and I spent the last seven years directing a jazz ensemble at a local independent high school.

And yet you can't connect analog cables. Shame, that.

Surprisingly, this may not be a coincidence--a "real" musician bagging on the game. David Gloier send me this last week:
I've never been more irritated by reviews of a game than I have the ones for Rocksmith. "You won't become a real guitarist playing Rocksmith", "it doesn't do bla-bla-bla", "I've played guitar in a real band and this is a joke", etc...shit like that. First off, anyone with legitimate experience playing the guitar (i.e. - playing in a real band) really has no business reviewing this game. It's not for them. As I mentioned before, a large number of guitar players exist that hate the fact a learning tool is out there that they didn't have the privilege to use. I've been on guitar boards where guys refuse to even acknowledge that Rocksmith uses a real guitar, continually making references to playing with a toy guitar, even though I specifically tell them you use a real guitar plugged into the game, and have posted links that show them as much. It's like they don't want to admit it exists.

In other words, fear the "professional musician" review, unless you're a professional musician. For this game, I recommend other sources.

Overall, if you want to learn guitar, or want to learn new songs more quickly, Rocksmith is a terrific teaching tool. It's fun, it's diverse, and it makes practice interesting instead of drudgery.

And I'll be playing again in a few minutes.

Console Post Of The Week: Fuel For What Is Still A Tiny Fire

From Edge:
Ubisoft Montreal is hard at work on 'target boxes' based on the intended specifications of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 successor, according to an Edge source. Delivery of the first iteration of genuine devkits, running custom hardware, is expected to reach studios before Christmas, and all signs point to the finalised console arriving at retail in late 2012.

...We can also reveal that one major Sony-owned studio has now ceased PlayStation 3 development, its entire focus having shifted to the console’s successor. The studio is also said to have been involved in the development process of the graphics technology adopted by Sony’s new hardware.

It's about time.

We all knew this was coming, but just didn't know when. And while this report might be premature, it has the ring of truth this time (unlike earlier reports that always seemed a bit sketchy).

This could be the last generation of standalone consoles--at the very least, I think it's the last generation with three major players. However, it is also fair to say that the Xbox 360/PS3 aren't really "standalone"-- they both have so many different possible functions that they already qualify as convergence devices. It's probably more accurate to say that gaming is the centerpiece of these consoles.

The new consoles will extend the functional diffusion, and quite possibly, their chances of success will depend on taking an approach like the one taken by the Kindle Fire:
Instead of having a standalone shopping app the entire tablet is a store -- a 7-inch window sold at a cut-rate price through which users can look onto a sea of premium content.

Certainly, that's the future, and Amazon, as usual, is pushing ahead with low-cost hardware to get the "device that buys stuff" into the hands of as many people as possible.

In this era, I think that's the way to make money, because each unit can be its own revenue stream, with almost unlimited downloadable content available. That's why it's stupid to charge a fortune for the hardware, or design hardware that costs a fortune. It's unnecessary, and it gets in the way. It's not exactly selling the razor at a loss and making it up (and more) on the blades, but it's in the ballpark.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writings Of Mass Deduction

DQ reader Steven Hurdle sent me an e-mail:
A year ago, frustrated with what I saw as short-shrift being given to passionate independent developers, I began a project to purchase and review a quality Xbox Live Indie Game every day. My idea was to prove that the indie games channel was so much more than just avatar massage games, and that doing reviews over a large number of consecutive days would help prove that. I also limited myself to games not well represented in the top-50 lists in the Xbox dashboard, in the hopes of finding the hidden gems beyond the few good ones that do get regular attention on message boards and websites.

Somehow I find myself doing the 365th review tomorrow (Thursday). I wouldn't have dreamed I'd get that far, having either run out of good games by now (I won't review games I think are of poor quality), or having life issues get in the way. But there we go.

The site is Writings of Mass Deduction  and I thought I would let you know about the project. I don't know how far I'll be able to take it (to a degree it depends on whether XBLIG developers keep turning out good content or not). In an era of major publishers trying to only publish AAA games, indie games have an opportunity to step up to the plate and to fill that B-game role that the major publishers are ceding. It's also an opportunity for racing games, rhythm games, and any other genre that is getting squeezed for retail shelf space. For those reasons and more, I know own hundreds of indie games and I'm loving it.

There are too many games to know where to even start in what to recommend, but one I bought early on that I want you to know about is Battle Beat (purchased way back on Day 30). This is a game that puts traditional Guitar Hero/Rock Band guitar controllers to great use, with a tremendous amount of personality and flair.

That's both a great idea and an absolutely incredible amount of writing. What's also quite remarkable is that Stephen noted he doesn't review the bad games; in other words, he may play several games each day before he finds one worthy of review.

I would usually mention a reader's website in Friday Links, but Steven's site is so useful and fills such a gap that it deserved its own post.

The Future In The Present (part #3 or so)

From the WayBack Machine of A Few Weeks Ago, I noted that Android phones supporting version 4.0 of the OS had both HDMI output and support for USB controllers.

Apple has its own version of "future in the present", and reader Mike Dunn explains it:
I have this and have played it: 
Real Racing 2 with 1080p output .

There are multiple ways you can play this game:
1. The way described in the article--plugging your iPad into the tv.
2. If you have an iPad AND AppleTV you don't even need the cord, you just stream from your device to the tv (Dual Screen AirPlay Gaming Demo with Real Racing 2 HD).  
3. There is multiplayer that allows iphones to join in on the racing fun as well.

Now, obviously this is on iPad, but it's available for iPhone as well.

Very interesting, and here's more, from Matt Shields:
When I saw your note about USB gamepads plugging into mobile devices, plugging into TVs, I wondered if you'd seen this:
AirPlay Mirroring on iPad 2.

It's an iPad 2, wirelessly transmitting game video to an HDTV. It's acting as both the console, controller and supplemental display for various videogames. And it works. Today. (Game demos proper starting at ~1m 36s). Granted, the latency makes it a little dodgy for some genres. But I think improvement on that side is more likely to produce something that catches on; rather than solutions involving sets of cables.

Apple (iOS to Apple TV), Microsoft (phone7 to xbox), Google (android to googleTV) and Sony (ngp to ps3/bravia) are all positioned to make this a reality sooner, rather than later. Nintendo has the appearance of having understood this move, but has the architecture exactly backwards.

(Tangentially: A single hardware iteration is all any of them need -- which highlights the seriousness of the challenge Apple and Google present to Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Apple and Google are innovating and improving every single year. The pricing and upgrade rate of mobile devices and set-top boxes are massively in their favor. Can Microsoft and Sony remain relevant, after this next-generation, if they stay on a hardware cycle of even five years?)

Finally, what I take away from all this mobile gaming progress, is concern for the future of the gamepad. I don't think it's going away. Very little actually does. But it certainly looks like its de-emphasis, kicked off by the Wii, is continuing; if not accelerating.

Matt makes an excellent point about the hardware cycle. I strongly believe that innovation is more rapid with short hardware cycles and maximum competition. That's what exists in the mobile phone market today. It's not what exists in the console market, though, as both Sony and Microsoft much prefer a 7+ year hardware cycle (compared to <2 in the cellphone industry).

It's easy to envision a future where our gaming consoles are in our pockets. It's a handheld when we're away from home, but at home, it's a fully-featured gaming console with 1080p output and gamepad support. It's also our phone and about a dozen other things.

Actually, I would be very surprised if that's not the future.

Here's one variation on the future: tablets doing the same thing. And they're already doing it, as Jeff Forrester noted when he sent this link:
GameStop Cancels Its Own Tablet But Delivers Android Tablets, Wireless Android Controller. Gamestop's "hybrid" of existing tablets includes HDMI output and gamepad support.

I've mentioned more than once in the last two years that I was disappointed at the glacial rate of innovation in the console market as companies tried to extend the lifespan of consoles beyond "the natural order" of things. Now I realize that innovation is happening as quickly as ever--it's just happening in another place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Been A Bit Crazy Here...

for the last few days, which is why I've posted relatively little. Everything should be back to normal tomorrow.


This day started off normal, but got shitty fast.

I haven't upgraded my video card since I built this system several years ago, so it still has the original Radeon 5850. A few weeks ago, I saw a review of the Radeon 6950 "Twin Frozr III" from MSI, and it was both significantly faster and ran 15-20C cooler under load than my 5850.

It wasn't expensive, either. Win-win-win.

I installed the card on Sunday in about 15 minutes, and not only was it quieter, it was even cooler at the desktop by 5C. Awesome upgrade.

This video card was specifically purchased for one game: Skyrim. I was able to use "ultra" settings at 1920x1080, add a few visual enhancements to shadows and whatnot, and it still ran as smooth as butter.

I hadn't been able to spend much time in Skyrim, and I had decided to walk everywhere in the game (savoring and stuff), so I hadn't seen much, but I was going to spend several hours today playing, then write up impressions.

A storm came through this morning (believe it or not), so I shut down my PC (which I rarely do) for the first time since installing the new video card. Storm passes, I sit down at my desk and turn on the system, and I'm ready to go. Damn, that video card was a great upgrade. Great!

System boots to the desktop, stuff loads up--hmm, what's this? It's Christmas on my screen--red and green blotches.

About 10 seconds later, I get a message that the display driver had failed, but had now recovered. Aces.

2 seconds later, Christmas is back.

All right, I can sort this out. Let's try a reboot first. Same. Can I boot into safe mode? Yes. Tried to install a driver, Catalyst couldn't find the card--or something.

Rebooted. Christmas. $*$*#*#*! Tried rebooting into safe mode, got a certain distance into the process, and froze. Can't figure out why until I look at the top of the screen, and there's a little row of Christmas at the very top.

This is why I don't upgrade hardware very often. 15 years ago, dicking around with this for a while would've been no big deal. Now, even 30 minutes wasted blasts a big FUBAR into my day.

All right, damage control. I pulled out the wonderful new card that is now apparently dead and put in my old, slow, reliable 5850. Which booted flawlessly to the desktop and everything works fine now.

Adios, upgrade.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I was watching a new Disney movie with Eli 10.2 on Friday night called "Geek Charming."

The basic set-up of the movie is that the most popular girl in school, who is obsessed with being popular, winds up falling in love with an unpopular film geek. What's interesting, though, is that even though the movie was goofy, the way they described popularity very much mirrors how it works in real life.

At one point, the popular girl was explaining to the film geek how popularity worked and how rigid the separate levels were. She explained the multiple levels in detail, and while she was still talking, Eli 10.2 said, "Hmm. Popularity is like the Hindu caste system."

A Palliative

Eli 10.2 had a "well check" with the pediatrician for his tenth birthday last week, and when he came home, he was crying.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Flu shot," he said, holding his left arm like a broken wing.

"I'm really sorry, buddy," I said. "Do you want to put some ice on it?"

"NO," he said. "I don't want to touch it."

I was taking over in just a few minutes, but I had to finish one or two things (including a post). Eli laid down on the couch with a blanket over him. "I'll be in my study," I said, "but I'll leave the door open in case you need anything."

A few minutes later, I heard an unholy moan from the living room. About thirty seconds later, there was another. I walked out of the study.

"Hey, where's your travel bingo game?" I asked.

"It's there on the shelf," he said. "Why?"

"Look, your arm is probably going to hurt for at least the rest of the day," I said. "Instead of moaning when your arm hurts, yell the name of a state instead, then flip it over on the travel bingo board."

He laughed. "I'll do that," he said.

I went back into my study. A few minutes later, I heard this: "O-O-Oklahoma!" A few minutes later, "MISSOURI!" (he pronounced it "misery", which was very clever). Then, a big one: "MISSISSIPPI TENNESSEE FLORIDA!"

In another few minutes, I'd finished the post, with a pleasantly spaced series of state names shouted from close distance. Always followed by laughter.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Links!

It's a huge links blowout this week, so let's get started.

From DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, in a week where we can all use something to lighten the tone, it's Badass Of the Week. Just writing style ever (and NSFW, but damn, it's funny).

From Frank Regan, and this is being touted as the largest wave ever surfed:
Garrett McNamara rides 90 Foot Wave!

From Eric Higgins-Freese, an amazing animation, and here's the description:
What would it look like to tour the solar system at near-light speed? In this animation, created by physicist Paul Altin from the Australian National University, you can experience the weird effects predicted by Einstein's special theory of relativity as you fly by different planets.

This is from Jesse Leimkuehler, and I had no idea: Easter Island Statues Have Bodies.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, an odd historical note: the Bulgarian folk song, Izlel e Delio Haidutin, sang by Valya Balkanska, was shot into space on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in 1977. And you can listen to it here: Interstellar Voyager Overdrive.

From Griffin Cheng, and this video is absolutely stunning (and also viewable optionally in 3D): The Most Incredible 3D Time-Lapse Yet Is a Beautiful Love-Letter to San Francisco. Also, and these are remarkably confusing images: These Pictures of People with Half-Faced Illusions Are Twisting My Brain.

From Steven Davis, and this is another incredible Halloween costume: Rad Green Army Man Costume. Also, a wind-driven vehicle that goes faster than the wind: Ride Like the Wind (only faster) .

From Shane Courtrille, and this is entirely wonderful: 86th Birthday Rage.

From Josh Eaves, and this is amazing: Suspended Animation Is FDA Approved and Heading To Clinical Trials.

From Kadunta, a detailed analysis of an age-old dilemma: The Urinal Problem.

From Keith Schleicher, and these are stunning: Dice Sculptures.

From Mitch Youngblood, and good luck answering this: Best statistics question ever.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: The ears of the cracker butterfly. Also, and this is a brilliant discovery: Using A Light Barrier To Repel Mosquitoes.

From John Harwood, and you absolutely need to go see this: 3D wireframe chalk sculpture.

From Scott Ray, and if you're interested in technology, this video will blow your mind: Augmenting Indoor Spaces Using Interactive Environment-aware Handheld Projectors.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is quite bizarre: NASA Studying Ways to Make 'Tractor Beams' a Reality.

From Phil Honeywell, and if you don't know what a "murmuration" is, you're in for a treat: Murmuration. Also, and this is quite impressive: Spectacular Time Lapse Dam "Removal" Video.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is truly a remarkable piece of work: stop-motion music video shot over two years with 288000 jelly beans.

Last, but extremely interesting, is a link from Jeff Davis: AI Challenge (Ants). Start churning out those algorithms.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

EBGDAE #15: Meet The New Journey, Same As The Old Journey

Well, we're back. This time, with Rocksmith instead of Rock Band 3 Pro mode, and with a new format as well--this time, one of us will be writing each week instead of all three. Hopefully, that will keep everyone fresh and sustain this for quite a while.

However, the goal hasn't changed: learn how to play guitar.

This week, Tour Guide David Gloier is the primary writer, but first, a few comments from additional voices.

First, from Fredrik Skarstedt:
I saw your post regarding guitars and I have a short note. When people ask about guitars what springs to mind are Fender Squire and Gibson Epiphone, the two premiere American "starter" brands. I have tried and tried to like these guitars, but never could.

For beginner guitarists, I would actually recommend another brand: Ibanez. They are cheap, very well built, and not a "junior" brand. The Ibanez GR series usually retails around a 150 dollars (quick look: ).

What I really like about the Ibanez brand model of guitars is that they are some of the easiest to play for beginners. Their necks are very, very thin which helps with the dreaded hand cramp syndrome + almost all their fretboards are flat which tends to help with finger cramps. They are also very light so your shoulders will thank you for that. The Ibanez Infinity series pickups (usually comes standard on most cheaper versions) are really quite decent little pickups built by Seymor Duncan and have a great range and a great bite for rock sounds, but they also clean up really well.

Another great thing about the Ibanez guitars is that almost all of them come with a standard locking nut and floating bridge which makes the guitar stay in tune + you can have a ton of fun just slamming the whammy bar up and down without going out of tune.

If you want to step up a little, the RG series retails around 200-400 dollars which is a great medium guitars.

Dan Plantholt also sent in advice about buying a guitar, after a few comments about the game itself:
I've played it a bit more now, and am still liking the game. One thing that might be a little rough on beginners that I see is the length of sets as you progress through the game. 2 and 3 song sets are good, but 5 and 6 song sets get to be really long, and then add on an encore or two. Woof, that gets to be a long time standing and playing guitar there, and I can see where that would turn some folks off to the game, if that's what's facing them, and they need to break out at least half an hour to 45 minutes of solid playing. I don't know if it's possible to save halfway through the event, but I hope it is.

I finally got to some drop-tuned songs, and know now that it requires actually tuning your guitar down. It's better to do it that way, than with some kind of electronic pitch shifting, but that poses a little bit of a problem with my guitar, which has a floating tremolo bridge and a locking nut. It stays in tune like no other guitar, but to change to a drop tuning, I have to mess with every string. Oh well.

That leads to a couple of the points I had about getting a guitar for the folks that don't have one. I think David's got a lot of good suggestions, but I'd add that people should try to go to a place like Guitar Center and sit down with some of the guitars they have. They have demo versions of most of the ones out there, and there can be a lot of variation in the way guitars feel: Folks should try them standing with a strap, not just sitting in your lap. Check the weight, the reach, the balance - neck or tail, and most importantly for people, I think they should feel different kinds of necks to see what they feel like. There's a significant amount of difference in the way they feel, and someone with smaller fingers might not like, for instance, a wider Gibson fingerboard, or maybe the Fender thick neck won't fit them that well. Maybe they really like the way that Ibanez feels, or think that the cutouts on the Dean are really nice.

Also, going along with my point about the drop tuning, I'd *really* recommend staying away from a tremolo bridge, like on the Strats (and Strat style other brands), or talk to the guys at the store and see if they can set it up to be more fixed, with stronger springs. For a beginner, a fixed bridge is a lot easier to deal with, less frustrating to tune, and will be easier to drop for two songs in a set and then back up.

A last point about the guitars in the entry-level: There's certainly some variation in quality but overall they're pretty consistently passable instruments now (unlike when I got my first Harmony guitar from a Wards catalog which had the nut in the wrong place). And while a Squier or Epiphone might be more recognizable, or *maybe* slightly better quality than an ESP or a Dean at the same price point (or maybe not, since they're getting a little bit of premium for name and shape), I gotta say that if one of those guitars calls to you while you're there, and playing it, and you think it is so cool and you want to play it (assuming it's not a complete lemon, of course), then you should get that one. If it's inspiring you to play, that's worth much more than having a 'safe' brand, or one that would be good enough to play on stage, but doesn't make you want to play it.

I know, some of that advice is in conflict with what David said last week, but when it comes to guitars, there's always more than one opinion, and this gives you an assortment from experienced guitarists.

Now, let's bring in David, and this week he has more information about the game and how it plays:
Bill, I'll try to address some of the games shortcomings in another post, but I'm still so excited by this thing I don't want to badmouth anything about it, yet. It's doing too much right.

The more time I put in with Rocksmith, the more impressed I am with the AI the developers built. The game finds a way to push you to improve by challenging you with new techniques as soon as it senses you may be ready. It walks you up to the edge of the pool, lets you put your toe in the water to become acclimated, and then gives you a big shove into whatever depth it has decided you are capable of handling. At the same time, it has you on a lifeline and pulls you out the moment you start to panic and thrash. No matter how freaked out you become, it quickly settles you back down.

I know John commented that I'm probably not seeing the hand-holding the AI provides, as I'm playing at a higher level. Let me say that while I've been playing for four years now, I'm by no means an expert player and I have plenty of room for improvement, but I definitely have a lot of playing hours under my belt. Anyway, the AI is making noticeable adjustments on the fly when I play.

As a basic example, I went back and played "Play with Fire" by the Rolling Stones last week. I first played the song when it came up in the list of songs for one of the venues. I played it pretty well in practice and received a good score. Then I played it in a set to a crowd. They seemed impressed. I earned a similar score. I played what I felt was a pretty complete version of the song. It was, but it apparently hadn't been completely fleshed out. Once I passed the song and the set, I moved on and didn't go back to the song until the next day. When I started in on "Play with Fire" again, one section where a chord sequence had a note played on the open D string after a G chord suddenly converted that note to a D chord after the G. It threw my timing off, as I wasn't prepared for the chord change. A minor change in the note chart, but I was thinking about it too much, and when the sequence came back around, I missed the timing on the G D G change again. The song continued, but didn't give me that chord again in that sequence, almost like it could tell it rattled me, and I got back on track and finished the song. I restarted and, this time, I was ready for the chord change. It came at me with it straight away and I hit it dead-on the several times it tossed it at me. As I continued, it didn't drop back down to the easier chart this time. I finished the song with my highest score yet. Now I'm thinking "If the AI gives me an open string I should figure the corresponding chord they will use to replace it." So, not only am I learning the songs, I'm beginning to think more about how they are put together and planning for, instead of reacting to, what the game is going do next. Sure enough, the next couple of songs I play, a few single open strings were converted to chords. From that one song, the game figured out the next step I was ready to take. That is truly amazing. The changes aren't just suddenly there. It walks you through the process and it makes it seem not so difficult. The dynamic AI does a good job of tempering frustration while it challenges you with a higher degree of difficulty. It's all very satisfying.

I haven't been messing with the technique lessons or the mini-games very much. I've just been having too much fun playing the songs, but that's where I'm at in my playing at the moment. I've spent hours upon hours doing exercises, but now, in a way, the game is allowing me to play as part of a band. Rocksmith as a tool for learning the guitar parts of songs, in the context of the entire song, is fabulous. With the AI adjusting to my abilities, I'm picking up songs much at a much faster rate than if I was trying to play along with a recording of the song and having to constantly stop and start the song and learn it one little part at a time. A big improvement over Rock Band is the fact that the song continues to play when you miss, instead of giving your that horrid "clank". It lets you play badly. That seems only natural, as an amp doesn't come screeching to a halt when you miss a note. Pushing through mistakes is part of learning. When you finish a song, it also replays it, allowing you to listen to how you did and really understand what you played well and what you didn't, where you missed notes and chords, and how your tone sounded as you played. Sometimes, when you're playing the song, you're working too hard to really hear yourself. This has been a big factor, I believe, in my timing and rhythm improving since incorporating Rocksmith into my practice routine. Another nice touch is when you master a song and reach a certain score/percentage correct, it lets you play the song without the note charts. It's daunting, but well worth trying to unlock for each song, and a true test of just how much improvement you've made.

I've also noticed that my playing away from the game, whether it's songs from the game (please hurry with more DLC, Ubisoft) or music completely unrelated to the game, has gotten much stronger and more confident. I'm getting a ton of practice in away from Rocksmith because of Rocksmith, as I'm really enjoying putting the practice from the game to use. It has been fantastic for my muscle memory, as practicing with the game is much less tedious. I don't get stuck in a rut doing the same things over and over again when using the game. The AI brings things in as you learn them and, applying that knowledge into other songs as it sees you're able to handle it, sneaks in the repetition you need to build the memory without making it tiresome and frustrating.

One feature of the game I'm finding enjoyable is the Amp mode. You can set up any of the amps and pedals you've unlocked in any combination and toy with your sound, much like having a modeling amp. It's a open sandbox that just lets you noodle around and play whatever you want. I wish I'd had this years ago and maybe I would've spent a bit less money on amps and effects. One drawback is you have to either unlock all the amp and pedal models, or buy the bundle from Live, but the unlockables are another carrot at the end of the stick that may drive you to keep pushing forward.

I firmly believe that, for novice and bedroom players, Rocksmith is a fabulous practice tool that should remove much of the tedium from practicing. It's not the only tool you should be using, because it's not teaching you the "why" behind what you're playing, but as a tool for building the muscle memory you will need to become a better player, it's fantastic, and one heck of a lot of fun.

There you go, and thanks very much to David and the other contributors this week. Next week, it will be my turn.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Halloween ARGGHHH!

DQ reader Steven Kreuch (one of the Brothers Of Dubious Quality, along with Matt) sent me the best Halloween costume picture I've ever seen, and with his permission, I was going to lead with it in yesterday's costume tally post. I looked forward to it for an entire week.

So, of course, I forgot.

Fortunately, my brain re-engaged a few minutes ago, and I am very happy to show you Samson 0.7 in all his kick-ass Halloween splendor:

To The Moon

Games don't often affect me emotionally. On rare occasions, yes, but always as a passing moment.

"To The Moon" was released last week, and it is both a lovely and deeply affecting game. The basic premise is quite unique, and since John Walker of RPS describes it perfectly, let me step out of the way for a moment:
At some point in the future, there exists a technology that allows people to backtrack through a person’s memories, such that they can create a complex timeline of their past, and implant new memories that create others, which create others still, that allows a person’s wishes to be fulfilled. Albeit only in their memory, since the events never took place. It’s a service that’s provided, by the company involved here at least, to those who are dying. It’s granting a dying wish, without the patient having to get out of their bed.

As a game, it's deceptive. The graphics are Super Nintendo quality, the play mechanics are very simple, and nothing in the first 15-20 minutes gives you any indication that anything special is in store.

Those first 15-20 minutes, though, are terribly deceiving. Soon after, waves of emotion begin descending from the lovely, carefully crafted story. I find myself almost in tears at regular intervals, overwhelmed. Given that I cry roughly once a decade, it's a singular reaction for me.

This isn't a game that will sell a million copies, because it is a quiet, thoughtful experience. It will deeply, deeply resonate with many of us, though, and it will be something that you won't be able (or want) to forget.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention--in addition to having a thoughtful, poignant story, the music in To The Moon is just absolutely sensational. The soundscape is tremendously immersive and very, very special.

Here's a link to the game's website, and there's a demo available (the first hour of the game).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Oh, And Please Remember

Admiral Dan Sinking compiled these results, and his recording methods are a bit sketchy, to say the least. So if you were asked follow-up questions about your location, and your city isn't listed, I'm sure he was busy polishing the buttons on his jacket that he continues to insist on wearing whenever he goes out, even when he's going to Luby's at 4:00 p.m. for dinner.

Halloween Costume Count 2011

First off, thanks very much for participating. This is always fun.

Here's a look at our respondents by location:
Cumbernauld (60)
Sunshine Coast (111)
Halifax, Novia Scotia (69)
Halifax, Novia Scotia (58)
South Slocan, British Columbia (103)
Winnipeg, Manitoba (77)
United States:
Austin, Texas (52)
Bainbridge Island, Washington (6)
Baltimore, Maryland (31)
Canton, Michigan (86)
Corona, California (99)
Hudson, Wisconsin (59)
Huntsville, Alabama (40)
Kent, Washington (27)
Mountain View, California (2)
Pullman, Washington (39)
Redwood City, (40)
Simi Valley, California (96)

That's right: the city in the world most highly represented (by number of costumes) in the survey is Halifax, Novia Scotia.

Total costumess submitted: 1,053.

Here's a list of what I thought were the most interesting costume:
The city of Paris, France
Sheldon Cooper
Price is Right Contestant
Montreal Candians Zombie
Ninja Banana
Pinky Tuscadero and Arthur Fonzarelli
A handlebar moustache
Piece of rainforest
HazMat Spill Victim
Pirate Vampire Butterfly

The little girl who was "the city of Paris, France" came to my door, actually. She was five or six, and she giggled as she explained her costume.

She got 5X candy.

Here are the most popular costumes (any costume mentioned over 20 times is listed):
Witch (86)
Princess (74)
Ninja (34)
Pirate (29)
Fairy (28)
Zombie (27)
Vampire (25)
Skeleton (18)
Superhero (18)
Scream (18--the movie character, not the painting)

If you're curious (of course you are), the most popular costume for very small children is the bumblebee (15).

Now, and this a sizable data dump, a list of every type of costume submitted:
80's Girl
Alice in Wonderland
Alien Abduction
Anakin Skywalker
Angry birds
Arab Princess
Army man
Army trooper
Bag of jelly beans
Banana Split (dog)
Baseball Player
Basketball Player
Beastie Boy
Belle (princess)
Bloody Doctor
blue superhero guy
Boba Fett
Bumblebee (Transformers)
Buzz lightyear
Captain America
Cat in the hat
Cat Woman
Chargers fan (Football)
Clone Trooper
Clown, Funny
Clown, Scary
Construction Guy
Construction workers
Cookie Monster
Crazed Rams Fan
Daphne (Scooby Doo)
Dark Fairie
Dart Board
Darth Vader
Dead Clown
Disco dancer
DJ Pauly (Jersey Shore)
Evil Clown
Evil jester
Exorcist priest/monk
Female baseball player
Female gypsy
Female pirates
Female spanish dancer
Figher pilot
Football Player
Freddie Krueger
Gangster Nerd
Generic Halloween tee shirt
Gilly Suit
Girlscout (boy)
Glitter girl
Glow Stick
Greek Goddess
Green lantern
Green skin (full body suit)
Grim Reaper
Harry Hill (English comedian)
Harry Potter
Harry Potter
HazMat Spill Victim
Hockey Player
Hogwarts student
Horror Victim
Hot dog
I am Rich $$$
Ice Cream Cone
Iron Man
Japanese Princess
Julias Caesar
Karate Kid
KISS (Paul Stanley)
Kitty Cat
Lacrosse Player
Lady Bug
Lady Gaga
Laker's fan (basketball)
Link (Zelda)
Little Bo Peep
Little Red Riding Hood
Mad Hatter
Mad Scientist
Male nurse (girl)
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
Meg (Hercules)
Mexican Soccer Player Chichanito
Middle School Student
Minnie Mouse
MIT Graduate
Montreal Canadiens Zombie
Motocross Rider
Movie/pop star
Mummy/casualty victim
NASCAR driver
Nerdy Minnie Mouse
Nicki Minaj
Ninja Banana
No Costume
Old lady
Old Timey Paper Boy
Olivia the Pig
Optimus Prime
Packers Football
Padma (Clone Wars)
Peter Pan
Piece of rainforest
Pinky Tuscadero
Pirate Vampire Butterfly
Power Ranger
Princess Jasmine
Purple crayola crayon
Raggedy Ann
Random Mask
Random throw together from closet
Red Riding Hood
Red skin (body suit)
Renaissance Squire
Rock Star
Sandwich (very well done!)
Scary Clown
School Girl
School Teacher
Shrek Donkey
Snow White
Soccer Player
Speeder Trooper
Spider Man
Spongebob squarepants
St Trinians schoolgrils
Star Wars Clone
Star Wars Guy
Stick Figure People
Strawberry Shortcake
Sully (Monster's Inc)
Super Hero
Super Mario
Team Rocket
The City Of Paris, France
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Thomas the Train
Trick or Treater
Undead Jester
Unknown Manga Character
Vampire Skeleton
Varsity Volleyball
Whoopie Cushion
Wonder Woman
Zombie Bride
Zombie Fairy

Sometimes the description makes you want to see a picture. "Undead jester"? I'd like to see that.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted data, and we'll do this again next year.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Last Call For Halloween Costume Tallies!

I'm working on the post, which will probably go up tomorrow afternoon, so if you have data, please send it in. Four countries represented so far (U.S., Canada, Australia, and Scotland).

Child's Play!

Child's Play 2011 is underway, and I cannot think of a more worthy charitable endeavor than this one.

Monday: without the Nicks and Cuts of a Blade

Everything is going into one post today, so here we go.

Item #1: Rocksmith. I still haven't finished the longer impressions post, but this is great. Not nearly great, not almost great. Great.

Ignore the handful of bad reviews that basically consist of people whining that they're too lazy to spend five minutes changing their audio cables. If you want to learn how to play guitar and can't spend five minutes on audio cables, then you're not going to learn how to play the guitar, no matter what method you use. Sell that instrument and take up the mouth harp.

I'm the biggest Harmonix homer anyone could possibly be, and I'll tell you this flat-out: this is far, far better than Pro mode in RB3. It's not close.

So is it worth a few minutes of your time to sort out potential lag issues in order to enjoy what the game has to offer? Yes x1000.

Now, if you already have the game and you are having lag, David Gloier sent this along:

I also asked David what he would recommend if someone was interested in buying an entry-level guitar for the purpose of learning. Here's what he said:
For about $169 or $179 new, you can get a Squier Affinity Telecaster. They are decent little guitars and can always be upgraded later. I actually know a couple of guys that use them on stage. Also, just starting out, the little Squier Bullet Strats are decent beginner guitars.

The best deal of all may be the Epiphone Les Paul Junior that retails by itself as well as the pack-in on the $199 Rocksmith package. Basic, single pup guitar that is really a decent player and also a good candidate for upgrades down the road. So for $200, someone gets the guitar, the game and the cable. If they have the game and the cable, Guitar Center sells those Epi's for about $119, sometimes on sale for $99 and they usually have coupons on the website you can print out.

like I said, I'll have more later this week, and EBGDAE is definitely alive again.

Item #2 The Wager.
I played a game several months ago (thanks to RPS) called "The Wager", and it was charming and quite addictive. Sea exploration, basically, with loads of humor, and a game typically took 15-20 minutes.

For months, the game's website has been promising a new version with additional content, and suddenly, it's being released tomorrow. I highly recommend this as an entertaining and clever time-waster, and that was before the new content.

Item #3: One of the Biggest Bad Asses of All Time.
If you don't remember Alex Zanardi, he was a premier auto racer who won two CART championships. In 2001, he was involved in a horrific accident and lost both of his legs (although it was miraculous that he survived-- you can see the wreck here, but be warned, it's difficult to watch).

So what does a championship auto racer who is suddenly a double-amputee do? If your first thought is "give up," I don't blame you--I don't see how anyone could be expected to recover from losing both their legs and what they most loved to do in life.

He did, though.

Alex Zanardi became a champion handcycle racer, and he won the handcycle class of last weekend's New York City Marathon in 1:13:58 (that's an average speed of over 21 miles an hour, incredibly). He has an excellent chance of qualifying for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Jalopnik has the story here, and it's a story of courage without bounds.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Friday Links!

What a week. And sorry for the premature post-ulation there.

A bevy of interesting links from Steven M: Exclusive Area 51 Pictures: Secret Plane Crash Revealed, Arnold Schwarzenegger Complete Japanese Commercial Filmography (some of these are outstanding), and a classic and thoughtful teleplay from 1969-- The Cube starring Richard Schaal. An interesting note about The Cube (which "covers many themes such as, the nature of reality, individual versus scientific perception, self-reference, man's relation to others and society, insanity, social projections, and race relations"): it was produced and directed by Jim Henson before he focused on The Muppets.

From Steven Kreuch, and this is entirely bizarre and fantastic, it's The Doggie Doo Game, and yes, you must watch the video.

From Greg, and this is nothing short of incredible, it's Michael Winslow (the genius sound effects guy from the Police Academy series) performing Whole Lotta Love. The guy is a flawless lead guitarist, and he doesn't even need a guitar!

From Brad Brasfield, and this is the closest thing to a holodeck I've ever seen: Ultimate Battlefield 3 Simulator - Build & Test (Full Video) - The Gadget Show.

From Doug Walsh, and who knew: Sunrise Death Ray Over Mt. Lanier (okay, it's just a shadow, but still cool).

From Kevin W, and if you've seen this, hopefully you can forget: Sperm bike attracts attention in Seattle. What's next, a Plan B bike?

From Sirius, and I guarantee you will be amazed by this video: Hagfish produce enought slime to choke a shark. Also, it's the greatest Halloween costume I've ever seen.

From Frank Regan, an absolutely ridiculous unicycle stunt video.

From Griffen Cheng, and these are stunning: Journey Into The MicroWorld. Also, and I think this is the most interesting link of the week, it's Mathematicians on Ham Sandwiches. One more, and it's Pictures of Exploding Objects .

From Dave Yeager, and this is a terrific article (with an incredibly poignant photo as well): Mr. Celery, Unmasked! Yes, it's about a team mascot.

From LummoxJR, and this is absolutely NSFW, it's Project Rant.

From Jeff, and be sure you didn't eat anything before you play this, it's First Person Tetris.

Finally, from John Catania, and what a high-concept way to end the week, it's A Frightened Face Appears in Ultrasound of Man’s Testicle.

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