Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Iron Man Mode: The Blog

Zeke Iddon sent me a note last week about "Iron Man Mode":
I wanted to raise awareness to a fun charity drive I've recently launched. Iron Man Mode is a comedy gaming blog in which a bunch of us blog about playing stuff like Minecraft, Syndicate, EVE etc. with only one life - once we're dead, the blog and game is over completely. It's more for fun than anything, but we're also using it to raise money for the Child's Play Charity.

That's a terrific idea, and here's an even more clever description of what they're doing, taken from the website:
Clueless idiots playing the best games ever made...with only one life.

I can't stress this enough: any website that has a section titled "Social Media Bollocks" gets my immediate seal of approval.

Here's the link, and enjoy: Iron Man Mode. And if you'd like to donate to Child's Play, then go here: Iron Man Mode (Donate).

Dungeon Raid (two)

I'm still totally enjoing my time with Dungeon Raid (iOS and Android), and John Harwood is now hooked on it as well. His e-mail:
Yet again, I must point out a simple but unavoidable fact: You suck. Dungeon Raid has moved from something I play occasionally while waiting to a primary form of entertainment. Once again, my wife is "very appreciative" of your suggestions, and I presume she's completely sincere the eye rolling while she said that was just due to cedar itchiness or such.

Oddly enough, I think you did the game a disservice in your writeup and actually undersold it. It's really quite brilliant, compelling, and addictive, and for me is the current ultimate extension of the match 3 quick-play genre (I don't consider Puzzle Quest to be quick-play). It's compelling for one simple reason: Choices. You're making choices on nearly every single match. I think it's a testament to the design that, while making a 25-chain match and clearing the board may be awesome, it's frequently not your best move at that time. Do I take out 3 skulls, knowing that the other 2 are going to smack me, or should I instead do a small shield pickup to repair armor and avoid damage? Or should I do a potion grab first? It's also frequently not the best move to match everything. Sure, if I match a god-awful-large number of shields, I'll get upgrade bonus for that, but would I be better served matching just a chunk of them and save some of them later for repair?

By removing any pretense to storyline or questing (although I do appreciate his humor in the intros), he keeps it firmly in the Bejewelled realm of pickup & play where high scores are your mark of accomplishment. This is serious one-more-turn area and I often find it hard to figure out where to stop for the moment. Oooh, I'll kill those guys, then I'll stop. Oooh, a great shield match! Oooh, wait, have to kill those new guys. Okay, I'll stop when I hit my next upgrade. Well, I'm also close to levelling now....

I think eventually the design is probably subject to exploit, and I'm already finding some strategies that are starting to reduce the challenge, but that's after 40+ hours tossed into it. Even with all that time though, I've only begun to scratch the surface of his other brilliant carrot-on-a-stick: Character unlocks and levelling. Oh my but that is indeed a cruel but lovely thing to add in.... Speaking of, I must go see if I can get lvl 7 on the barbarian "real quick"....

What he said.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Console Post Of The Week (part two--following on from last week)

E-mail after last Thursday's post about the Xbox 720 contained two primary lines of dissent:
1. The PC gaming market didn't collapse after the end of used games.
2. The 720 will have a Steam-like marketplace that will actually be better than what we have today.

Let's talk about the first point.

I certainly remember that after retailers (like GameStop) stopped accepting PC games for refund or trade-in, I spent more money on console games. I still spent my gaming money, but I just spent it somewhere else.

So did lots of other people, too. In 1998, the PC game software sales were 1.8 billion. In 2008, it was 700 million. That's a 60%+ decline in just over a decade.

Sure, gathering this kind of data can be very complicated. Yes, by 2008, online gaming was contributing revenue not counted in the 700M number. Were there other complicating factors, like piracy? Yes. But is it true that refunds/trade-ins for PC games dried up during that period, and that the used game market for console videogames exploded? Also yes. And is there any question that PC gaming declined significantly during that decade? No. None whatsoever.

What brought PC gaming back? Even more than online games, I believe it was digital distribution--in particular, Steam, Which accounts for half to 70 per cent of the $4 billion market for downloaded PC games.

Again, the data collection issue rears its ugly head--4B? Is that an accurate number? I'm not sure, and I doubt that anyone else is, either, but I think we have an accurate arc, even if the numbers are imprecise: PC market declines from 1998 to roughly 2009, and then it recovers mainly due to digital distribution, led by Steam.

Let's translate that to the possibility of an Xbox "720" that kills the used game market (and the rental market as well--don't forget that). Hell, it's possible to make games unplayable on a second console inside your own house! I don't think that's actually going to happen, at least not now, but the technology can theoretically be extended to that point.

So let's say that one console giant releases a new console that doesn't play used games, and doesn't play rentals. Could the console market survive a decade-long decline? What if the other console manufacturers decline to follow suit? Why would I buy an Xbox 720, which can't play used games or rentals, when other new consoles could?

Well, I wouldn't, and a lot of other people wouldn't, either.

Folding this in with point #2, a Steam-like platform could potentially alleviate many of these problems, right? If I can't sell a used game, but I can get the new $60 games for $30 on sale, isn't that $30 savings more than I could've gotten by selling the used game?

Yes, it is, and if Microsoft sells new games for $30, or discounts them to $30 very quickly, Happyville would be full of citizens. Nirvana: a robust, dynamic pricing system with huge sales and discounts.

Here's the question, though: why would we think that would happen?

Is Microsoft more like Steam or the recording industry? I would strongly argue that a giant like Microsoft is far more similar to the recording industry, and we all know what happened there. The recording industry nearly strangled itself before they relented and provided more value to customers. The music industry was basically willing to die before it was willing to change.

$10. That's what I think the pricing difference in new games would be at launch, if that much. From $60 to $50. In other words, for millions of consumers, they'd save $10 but lose the $20-$25 value of trading in the same title (yes, I know those kinds of prices are only available for the first few weeks after a game is released, generally).

So we'd be paying $50-$60 for new games, including FPS games that often feature a single-player campaign of less than ten hours, and we couldn't trade those games in? We couldn't try out a game as a rental first?

Why would anyone think that's going to work?

And let me say this: the gaming market is a complicated beast. No one has reliable data on how the used game market affects new game sales. In other segments, though, the used market has been demonstrated to have a stimulative effect.

Destroying that market is wading into the great unknown.

I also think Microsoft is really missing the point. Look, Microsoft is in the videogame business to make money. Would destroying the used game market guarantee them more money? No.

Here's what would make them more money--much more--and it's simply following the most important rule or retail in the digital age: make it easier for people to buy shit.

Used games? Forget them. Irrelevant. Microsoft should be focusing 100% of its efforts on making it insanely, ridiculously easy for people to buy everything from Xbox Live.

Why do I spend 80% of my purchasing money at Amazon? Because they make it easy and convenient for me to buy stuff. Incredibly easy. Yes, the prices are generally great, but what's greater is the user experience.

That's what Microsoft should be doing: concentrating 100% on the purchasing experience when using Xbox Live. Put 500GB drives into the 720, and then sell us so much stuff that we fill those drives up.

Forcing me to buy all my games new because the used market was killed? Negative customer reaction. Making it incredibly easy to buy a ton of stuff on Xbox Live so that I have a better user experience and want to spend more money? Positive customer reaction.

Videogame companies need to stop beating us with sticks and start handing out cupcakes instead.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Links!

Here's an amazing magic performance at CES.

Here's an entirely riveting article from Sebastian Morgan-Lynch: High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace

Here is an absolutely tremendous article on South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a world-class 400 meter runner in spite of having both legs amputated below the knee: The Fast Life of Oscar Pistorius.

From Steven Davis, and this is quite remarkable, it's transparent aluminum. Also, this is an entirely fascinating article that will blow your mind: Gardens As Crypto-water Computers.html.

From Sean Redlitz, and I guarantee this will blow your mind as well: a motion-senstive frame that feeds realtime tilt data to a 3D scene.

From Sirius, and this could be incredible: New Telescope to Take First-Ever Black Hole Photo.

From Fredrik Skarstedt, and this is quite fascinating: Internet Porn Fills Gap In Spider Taxonomy.

From Mike Stinchfield, and it's the story of the helicopter rescue mission I linked to last week (as a photograph): Apache Pilots Save Comrades in Daring Rescue.

From Frank Regan, and this is a fantastic photo: 4K of IBM memory found in my grandpa's pole barn.

From Kevin W, and this little guy is fun to watch on the drums (salty language warning on this site): Avery, 5, Says KISS My Ass! I'm not saying his taste in bands doesn't need to improve, though.

From Don Barree, and if you thought you'd seen slot cars before, you didn't see them like this (speeds of nearly 100MPH!): Autorata EM-kilpailut, Helsinki.

From laelman, and guitarists, get ready to be stunned: 8 year old mini band guitarist Zoe Thomson working on Stratosphere! And here's another one, because she's absolutely incredible: 7 year old guitarist Zoe plays All Of You by The Crave.

In closing this week, the wonders and uses of technology never end:
For a fun time (and a fake girlfriend), text this number.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Console Post Of The Week: Xbox 720

This will be interesting.

On Kotaku yesterday, Stephen Totilo wrote an article about the successor to the 360 (which everyone is calling the "720" for the sake of convenience). Take a look at this excerpt:
Microsoft will upgrade its disc technology for its next Xbox from DVDs to Blu-Ray discs, catching up to rival Sony, games industry sources tell Kotaku.

...But that disc detail could be far less impactful to the next generation of game consoles than the assertion I've heard from one reliable industry source that Microsoft intends to incorporate some sort of anti-used game system as part of their so-called Xbox 720.

It's not clear if that means that the system wouldn't play used games or how such a set-up would work. Obvious approaches—I'm theorizing here—like linking a copy of a game to a specific Xbox Live account could seemingly be foiled by used-game owners who would keep their system offline. My source wasn't sure how Microsoft intended to implement any anti-used game system in the new machine.

First off, the obvious question: is this technically feasible? One of my most trusted sources e-mailed me yesterday and had this to say:
Some publishers are already relying on authorization apps and single-use serial codes that link the game to your Gamertag, Xbox MAC address, and network IP address for protection of their beta builds. If this technology was to ever migrate to retail builds under its current form, it would make it virtually impossible to even lend the game to someone let alone buy it used.

So yes, it is technically feasible. And it's possible to make this as restrictive as a publisher wants.

I've long considered "leaks" as generally falling into the "trial balloon" category. It's highly unlikely that Microsoft is freaking out about this "leak", because in some way, they likely caused it. Get the information out there and see how people react.

I don't react well.

Sure, if Microsoft made used games unplayable, but cut the price of games on the 720 by half, I would be borderline okay with it. Not in a philosophical sense--it would still be bullshit--but in a bottom-line sense, we'd be getting a game discount that was reasonably substantial in return.

Does anyone think that's what we'd get, though?

We'd get, at most, a $10 price drop on $60 games, with no chance of reselling a game once we finished it. Net result=screwed.

I'm actually a reasonably decent test case here, because I'm willing to buy almost any new hardware comes out. If even two or three games on a platform wind up being epic, I feel like I've gotten my money's worth. Remember, I'm the guy bought an Amiga 500 just to play TV Sports Football (not knowing how much other great software was available for the Amiga, although I soon found out). The system plus the monitor set me back almost $900--for one game--twenty-five years ago.

Would I buy a console if I bought a game disc and couldn't use it on another console beside my own? No.

If you've been following along carefully, then you notice that I was potentially "borderline okay" with this five paragraphs ago, and now I'm drawing a line in the sand.

Time apparently changed me. All 90 seconds of it.

Like everything else in the last 2-3 years, this comes down to value, or rather, how value to the consumer is steadily decreasing. Again and again in the last few years, value has been diminished. When is the last time a publisher gave us more instead of less?

Let me just say this: a console without a used game market will fail. I do not believe that the consumer market will support a product with $50-60 games and no possibility of resale. If Microsoft tries this, they are in for a rude, rude awakening.

Boat, meet anchor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Triple Town is available for the Kindle as well, and it only costs $3.99. Quite a deal.

I noticed today that--temporarily--the full version on Android is also $3.99, so I picked it up. No more turn limits.

On Concussions, From An Expert

I usually say that there's at least person of every profession who reads DQ, but I didn't realize how handy that would be when dealing with Eli's post-concussion recovery. In this case, the reader is a practicing neuropsychologist in Canada, and he offered to answer any questions I might have. His responses were so clear and helpful that I'm going to share them with you, in case you or anyone in your family has to go through this in the future.

My first question was sent the day that Eli threw up at school, asking if we should be following the same "step" approach with his school activities that we were with his physical activities. I wasn't comfortable sending him back to school unless he was able to do homework at home without getting a headache. I also asked him if perhaps the tennis we'd played the day before had caused some kind of delayed onset symptoms. His response:
My advice would be to follow the directions given by those who are already helping, using the rule of thumb: "start low and go slow". Small amounts of physical activity in brief intervals should be OK, but often the indicators that its "too much" are delayed, so you don't even get that immediate feedback about when its time to stop. Pacing, means using the clock rather than symptoms as a means of rebuilding stamina (stopping when you still feel OK, and before you get those bad symptoms of having already overdone it). And the fatigue you described is to be expected. Cognitive fatigue has to do with that feel of sleepiness and exhaustion that comes from mental effort. This too should be carefully paced as this stamina is slowly rebuilt. He needs time to recover, and the one thing that almost no one ever tells you when dealing with this stuff is that it takes longer than you think. You break an arm, put a cast on it, and 6 to 8 weeks later, you're good to go, especially as a kid. Brains are not the same. It will be a longer haul than you think (and want). It will get better, but in your haste to normalize, minimize, put this behind you, etc. don't push too hard or sweep this under the rug.

Maybe going back to school so fast is a little bit much. He does not seem to be ready from what you've said. Headaches are to be expected. Vomiting means "way too much". Helping him build back up to it in bits is the ticket, much as you suggested as an option for the near term. The school is, I'm sure, very supportive, but they just aren't set up to accomodate the kind of "work a bit, rest a bit" pattern he needs right now. Even passive TV watching can sometimes be overwhelming, and might not be "restful" enough for a brain that has a compromised ability to filter out unnecessary sensory information. Ask him if lights, movement, sounds, too many people talking at once, too much mental activity (such as problem solving), even just being in a crowded hallway bothers him. The brain does an amazing job of suppressing loads and loads of sensory information impacting our various senses, but that we "don't need" at the moment. When that gets compromised, suddenly everything has more of an impact on us than we want it to, and sensitivity becomes an issue.

I get really nervous when I hear you consider letting him play hockey again. I would put that and any other contact type sports on hold for a good long while. The problem with concusions is that, even if a full recovery is made....they kind of add up over the lifespan. Especially if they happen in relatively rapid succession (and rapid here means within months of one another). In close succession cases, they do worse than add up, they are much more than additive; the second one has a MUCH more pronounced effect on cognitive abilities (working memory, processing speed, attention, concentration, etc.). Regardless: he is going to be vulnerable to more pronounced effects on his cognitive abilities if a future head injury/concussion occurs, so managing risk is going to become something for you all to consider carefully. Of course, you can't wrap yourself in bubble wrap on top of five layers of cotton and live in the basement. That's not what I mean. I just want to encourage you to all think about how much is a reasonable risk for the few things we actually can control in our lives that might effect brain health. Helmets? For SURE! Risk being slammed headfirst into the boards in some future hockey game full tilt scamble gone awry? Not worth it in my books, but that is up to you.

Most importantly, inform yourselves. Look up and read about mild traumatic brain injury and all the other terms used to describe concussion. Go and learn about the metabolic cascade that occurs in the brain following mild traumatic brain injury, learn about symptoms, the various cognitive effects, cognitive fatigue, recovery expectations, tips and tricks to optimize recovery (everything from diet, sleep regimen, activity level, etc.), and how to slowly pace and rebuild stamina, and regain normal daily life. Ask questions. Take it seriously. Monitor signs and symptoms closely. Be patient.

It's worth noting that his response was more conservative than what I was hearing from anyone here, which I appreciated.

A few days later, I asked him if it was in the "normal" range of recovery to have his abilities be so fully recovered before his ability to read, write, or do math. Here's what he had to day:
Mental effort (thinking hard about something, problem-solving, focusing attention) uses integrated activity from many different cognitive systems, or put more simply, requires a wide range of structures in different regions of the brain to work together. If they aren't in sync or if the' connections' in the 'lines of communication are loose' (to use an inadequate metaphor), then this process can be very inefficient, and require more 'work' to reach the desire end point. He was hit on the side of the head, right? Was it in front of the ear, above it, or behind the ear? Right side or left? [note: it was just in front of the left ear] It may not be terribly important, but you might want to look up coup/contre-coup type injuries. The brain is a soft thing inside a hard thing. Think of it as having the consistency of a bucket of lard, or a bowl of jello. If you bang on one side of the bowl with a utensil, you can see the waves propagate and reflect back and forth. The brain is fantastically complex, so those mechanical waves can disrupt some of that complex organization, or functioning abit. Sometimes the force of the impact is enough to create a kind of sloshing back and forth of the brain against the inside walls of the skull: first on the side of the impact, as the kinetic force is transferred from the skull to the brain, and then the opposite side, and the brain "bounces back" against the other side, often sort of bruising the two sides from the point of impact. Even without gross imaging evidence for contusions, there is a massive depolarization of neurons followed by an intracellular "energy crisis" gobbling up ATP, straining mitochondria, and all the organelles inside those cells, as all those ion pumps in the cell walls work like crazy to try to re-establish the ion gradient across the neuonal membrane.

That was maybe too much info, but my point is that the gross motor stuff (his physical actvity stamina) and the areas required to use a console controller foe games in conjunction with well-learned visual-motor activities might be fine, but those heavily cross-(brain)-zone integration tasks, like arithmetic, or reading, still not as over-learned and second nature (meaning effortful) in a 10 year old as they are in older folks like you and me, are much harder work for him to integrate right now. Stick with the "start low and go slow" model across all activities as you rebuild that stamina, and it will be fine. Don't expect every different aspect of his functional abilities to recover at equal paces; they all use the brain in different ways, so the loading may vary. Be patient. 3 to 6 month recovery time is normal. He has a young healthy brain, and has loads of redundancy and cortical reserve to repurpose for all the things that are abit tough on him right now. Plus some of the things that are hardest for him right now were skills that were in the process of being learned and practiced, so it is to be expected that those "less expert" areas of the brain seem the weakest at first. It really will be fine.

Much thanks to this reader for the excellent and detailed information about concussions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Third Reason

The third reason I had a good day yesterday (well, the third and fourth reasons, actually) is that I stumbled (thanks, Qt3 forums) onto two excellent Androis/iOS games: Dungeon Raid and Triple Town.

Dungeon Raid reminds me, in some ways, of Match & Magic, Jeff Latham's indie game that should be released this year. There's no map, and no location progression, but the feel of the game is otherwise similar. Here take a look at a screenshot (thanks, iTunes store):

Dungeon Raid is a three-match game, but there's so much more to it than that. You gather swords, shields, potions, and gold coins. Monsters also appear in the playing field, and you must trace a path through swords to the monsters to attack them. Tracing with your finger is a tremendously satisfying mechanic in this type of game, and the controls work perfectly here, as precisely as any Android game I've ever played.

The symbols at the top of the screen represent skills or one-time use spells, which you acquire as you increase in level (choosing from a skill tree). Filling up any of the various meters (sword, shield, coin) grants you a new skill (or new skills/upgrades to choose from), but you can have only four active, so there are choices to be made.

Traditionally, the problem with this kind of game is that the difficulty hits a wall at some point, and you'll quickly die. In Dungeon Raid, though, it's possible to last longer and to die in what feels like a fairer way, because the skills (which have cooldown periods) can be quite powerful, giving you a chance even as you reach the higher levels.

My favorite moment? Tracing a long, long trail through swords and enemies, sometimes 15 tiles long, and wiping out ten enemies in one turn. It's incredibly satisfying, and quite a charge as well.

It's an absolutely terrific game, highly polished, and it is perfect for a 10-15 minute session. It also looks fantastic on a tablet as well as a phone.

Like I said, versions for both iOS ($2.99) and Android ($1.99) are available.

Next, another game available for both platforms (as well as Facebook and Google+): Triple Town. It's also a match-three game, but again, that's a vast undersell. In Triple Town, you're trying to match landscaping, basically--grass, bushes, trees, churches, houses, etc. It's all part of building a town, and when you match three similar items, they compress into one item (leaving the other two tiles free again). The more items you match at one time, the bigger the subsequent item.

As an example, if you match three bushes, you wind up with a tree. If you matched four bushes, you get a larger tree, etc. Simple, but clever, and the feeling of "building" is very satisfying.

Here's a screenshot (thanks, Android Market):

This game requires more patience and more careful planning than most match threes, because the collapse into one item occurs at the last square involved in the match. So it's slower-paced than Dungeon Raid, and games last a bit longer, but it's every bit as enjoyable.

One negative note: for the iOS and Android versions, there's a turn limit, and to remove it you have to pay the entirely ridiculous price of $6.99. I've only played it enough in one day to hit the limit, and you regenerate a certain number of turns per hour, but it's still silly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Good Day

It's been rough for the last couple of weeks, but today was a good day.

First, it was a good day because Eli 10.5 made it through half a day at school in "observer" mode. That's something that's becoming more common for children recovering from concussions when they can't handle doing schoolwork yet. They go to school, listen and participate in all the classes, but do no work that requires reading, writing, math, etc.

In theory, this is supposed to keep kids more connected to their school while they're recovering, and it also helps them get back into the rhythm of school.

In practice, it did both for Eli today. I picked him up at noon, and he was so excited that he made it through the morning. "I feel great!" he said when I saw him. "No headaches!"

"Did you do any work?" I asked.

"Not a bit!" he said, laughing. He was so relieved that he could be in school and not get a headache. So was I.

Second, it was a good day because of this:

I've mentioned several times that I love (not too strong a word, either) to mix Dublin Dr. Pepper with Diet Coke, resulting in the perfect drink. I spend hours each week at P. Terry's burger stand (by Eli's school) because their soda fountain is the best, most consistently mixed soda fountain I've ever tasted, and they have Dublin Dr. Pepper.

Dublin Dr. Pepper is still made with real cane sugar, in Dublin, Texas, and it's been made with the same formula for 120 years.

Until last Friday.

Last week, the complete assholes at the Dr. Pepper/Snapple finally won a lawsuit against the people who made Dublin Dr. Pepper. There's a long history in this matter, but basically the bottlers of the Dublin version had the right to continue selling it in six designated counties (even though it wasn't an official Dr Pepper product), but not outside that area.

Dublin Dr. Pepper was always available outside the designated area (in Texas), it wasn't considered a problem, since the drink constituted a tiny fraction of Dr. Pepper's sales.

Recently, though, Dr. Pepper started marketing its own cane sugar version, and decided to muscle Dublin Dr. Pepper out of the market via lawsuit.

It was settled last Friday by Dr. Pepper buying the Dublin plant and shutting down the Dr. Pepper portion of the operation.

You'd think that Dr. Pepper would have bought and promoted the Dublin version, since it is so beloved, but that's not going to happen. Instead, they destroyed it. They say that they'll still be making cane sugar Dr. Pepper in other plants, and they will, but it won't taste the same.

I hadn't been to P. Terry's in weeks because of holiday break and Eli's concussion, and the last time I'd gone, I'd been in a hurry and not tasted my drink until I drove off, and it was all carbonated water. I didn't have time to go back, not knowing that it would be my last chance ever.

So I went to P. Terry's today about 10:30 so that I'd be only blocks from school if Eli had to bail early, and--oh, who am I kidding. I just love hanging out there.

I asked them what they were going to do about the loss of Dublin Dr. Pepper, and the cashier said, "We haven't decided yet." I told her my story of not having been around the last few weeks, and that I was sorry I missed my last chance to taste it, and she said, "Oh, we're not out yet."

Clouds parted. Sunlight shone through.

As it turns out, they still have a few more days of supply, and I swear I drank half a gallon before I left-- my stomach should have exploded from the carbonation. And it tasted perfect, like it always does, and even though this sounds silly, it made me very happy to get to drink it again before it vanished.

A little thing, but a good thing.

Third, I found--well, let me tell you about the third reason tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, one of the most amazing technological stories of this decade (or longer): Technology's End. It's discussing the future obsolescence of the wheelchair, and this is why: Ekso Bionics. Stunning!

From Matt Anderson, and you might not think you need to watch this, but you'd be wrong: the greatest volleyball ralley ever.

From Steven Davis, a delightful Rube Goldberg machine: The Page Turner. Also, an equally delightful animated short: The Joy of Books. Next, one of the most amazing automatons you'll ever see-- it's an entire city, and here's a video about how the city was made. Last one from Steven, and it's huge: Massive Apollo 11 Saturn V Model Built out of Lego.

Also in Lego Apollo 11 news, The Edwin Garcia Links Machine sent in a link to a Flickr photoset. Also, and I would definitely have a pants peeing issue if I had to do this, it's Apache rescue.

Here are two ridiculously adorable animal videos: A frog catching bugs on a touchscreen, and Cats playing "Game for Cats" with Apple iPad.

From Sirius, and I didn't even know these existed: adobe brick pyramid.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and here's a side of Star Wars that you've never seen before, it's Love Wars.

From Scott Z, and this makes a turducken look unimaginative: the Cherpumple.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is quite remarkable research, it's Multicellular Life Evolves in Laboratory (in 60 days). Next, it's Dark matter galaxy hints seen 10bn light-years away.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is a wonderful story (wonderful in the sense that it's righting a disgrace): Black WWII Vet Gets Medal From Navy 66 Years Later.

From Andrew Martin, and this is simply amazing: This amazing optical illusion video will make a man’s head disappear.

Finally, from Eric L, and this had all three of us bursting into laugher when we saw it on t.v. last night, it's The Bark Side.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Annual "The BCS is Shitty" Post

One thing I have been able to do this week, even in the chaos, is to look forward to the NFL conference championships on Sunday. It's also reminded me how empty and useless the college postseason is in its current format.

The Rose Bowl this year was a terrific game, tremendously exciting, and I had forgotten all about it 30 seconds after it was over, because it was meaningless. No one outside of Oregon and Wisconsin cared, because it led to nothing. I just watched it for entertainment--it could have been an episode of SpongeBob for all I cared.

In contrast, in the NFL, stories build. Every game is win or go home, and story lines rise and fall and are extended for weeks. San Francisco beat New Orleans in an incredibly dramatic game, and now the 49ers can go to the Super Bowl with one more win. There are a ton of interesting stories around the game, none of which would be written if that game had been a "bowl" game.

Yes, the story lines for the "mythical national championship" are extended for six weeks, but only because that's the weight until the game is played. That's not extended--that's dragged out.

Dragon Naturally Speaking originally interpreted that last phrase as "that's dried out." Yeah, it's that, too.

There has rarely been as much unanimity of opinion as there is now regarding the shitty state of the BCS. It's nothing less than a joke. And yet the d-bags that run college football refuse to effect change (I'm looking at you, Jim Delaney).

8-team playoff? We'd watch every second of every game. 35 exhibition bowl games? We watched a grand total of four, and none of them all the way through.

What a waste. And what a shame.

To My Surprise

I'm having a surprising response to Eli's concussion recovery. It's kind of a running joke that I can handle emotional stress--lots of it--without compromising my productivity (to such a degree that I'm not sure it's even healthy), but I'm having a unique response to this whole episode.

It's severely depressing me.

I'm such a hyper-rational person that I can almost always think through emotions, but not this time. The complications with concussions and the possible long-term consequences, and the accompanying fear, have totally drained me.

So if at some point one of your children has a concussion (I certainly hope not), and you feel this way, don't be surprised. I'm the guy who has sandbags piled up next to Emotion River, to prevent a collapse, so if I'm going through this, then almost everyone probably does.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I forgot to tell you the only funny story on the day Eli had his concussion.

Once we got home from the hospital, and he was more himself again, I asked him what happened after he got hit in the head. "The teacher asked me if I was okay, and I thought I was," he said. "We pitched to our own team, and I was up to bat next, so I went ahead and batted."

"What happened?"

"I hit a homerun," he said. "I hit it so far that I could just walk around the bases, and I felt dizzy when I was walking. That's when I knew something was wrong."

"So let me get this straight," I said. "Not that you're ever supposed to do this, but you got a concussion, then went up to bat and hit a home run?"

"That's right," he said.

"BALLER!" I said. He started laughing.

We stopped at Target last week and bought him some sunglasses, so that he would have something to wear if his eyes were sensitive to light. Today, when we went out for lunch as part of a "get the hell out of the house" trip, he put them on. He said his eyes aren't sensitive to light anymore, but he likes wearing them. "These sunglasses are seriously cool," he said.

"Do you know who wears those sunglasses?" I asked.

"Who?" he said.

"Ballers," I said. "That's who."

He laughed. "Remind me why I'M wearing them again?" he said.

"I have no idea," I said, and we both laughed.

IGF Finalists!

I'm a few days late with this given the concussion-related chaos of last week, but the Independent Games Festival announced their 2012 finalists, which is always one of my favorite gaming-related moments of the year.

The full list of finalists is here, and of particular note: DQ reader Ian Hardingham of Mode 7 Games is a finalist for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize with Frozen Synapse, which was undoubtedly the biggest indie breakout hit of the year.

Also of note is Atom Zombie Smasher, which is a highly entertaining game (I'd link to their website but it seems to be temporarily down), Wonderputt (entirely fun), and To The Moon, a charming and deeply affecting game.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Boy With The Blank Face (Part 2)

Eli 10.5 was steadily improving after we left the hospital and drove home. Clearly, he wasn't quite the same--he took an hour to eat one tortilla for dinner--but he was smiling and talking normally, and he seemed like himself again, even though his head still hurt.

Wednesday morning, we kept the blinds closed, dimmed the television, and turned on the Sprout channel. It's for preschoolers, and if you're an adult, this channel will make you want to stab yourself after a few hours. If you're 10, though, and had a concussion the day before, and it's the only television you can watch, then it's damned good entertainment.

"I could watch Caillou all day," he said, laughing.

"Good," I said, "because you pretty much have to." Caillou is a very gentle little cartoon that features a family with the worst haircuts I've ever seen. Well, except for Caillou, who is a little boy with an enormous, entirely bald head.

Eli wasn't really going to watch television all day, and fortunately, Gloria found something he wanted to hear. I'd read The Hunger Games series (three books) last year because I thought it was something he might enjoy. I wound up enjoying all three books, but they were intense and fairly dark. Now, though, his friends were reading them, his teacher recommended them, and he wanted to see what they were all about.

It's a heartwarming story: one child from each district put together on an island to battle to the death, with one child emerging victorious.

A feelgood story, in other words.

Eli was fascinated, though, and Gloria read for hours, because listening required much less effort from his brain than watching. By early afternoon, his headache was gone, thank goodness, and his appetite was back to normal. He was fine for the rest of the day, and Thursday, too, but after consecutive days of the Sprout channel, he was thrilled to go see the neurologist on Friday for a post-concussion evaluation.

Which he aced.

They said his balance was better after a concussion than most people without one. He destroyed every test they gave him, basically, and they said he could start exercising the next day.

Steps. Concussion treatment is big on steps. Like this:
Saturday: 15-20 minutes walking
Sunday: 10 minutes light jogging, 10 minutes walking
Monday: 30-45 minutes tennis, with breaks

He handled everything with ease, until Monday night when he tried to play a three-person game of Life (the boardgame) by himself, and he said it made his head hurt. Actually, his head had hurt briefly the night before at Barnes and Nobles when he tried to read a book. Exercise was easy for him, but "close work" like reading or concentrating for too long still gave him a headache.

The doctors had cleared him to go back to school today, and we sent him, but I don't know why, since he hadn't done any homework at home. We were basically ignoring "the steps" on the mental side of recovery because the doctor had cleared him for school.


When he got to school, the first thing they did was science class, and they looked through microscopes. Shit. That's probably the single worst thing he could have done. He stopped when his head hurt, and told his teacher (who is a wonderful, warm person), who told him to "take it slow."

That's the wrong advice when you're recovering from a concussion, because if you have a symptom, you don't take it slow, you stop. Eli kept going, wound up with a headache, and went to the nurse, who gave him some Tylenol. He went back to class, which was now math class, and his headache got worse trying to do some math problems. He needed to pee, and when he went to the bathroom, he suddenly threw up.

Game over. He was home by 11:00.

In retrospect, we were so stupid that it's embarrassing. He had zero chance of making it through the day, and we should've known that. We also should have known that it would be impossible for his teacher to monitor him as closely as we could-- of course he couldn't, because he has 20 kids in his class, not just Eli.

Parenting fail, and he suffered because of it.

By early afternoon, though, he felt fine again, and he was scheduled for 30 minutes of skating (with doctor's approval) today as part of his activity rehab. Gloria called the doctor, who said he could skate if he didn't have any symptoms while exercising. We went, he skated, he had a great time, and he was fine.

Tonight, he was still fine, and we watched hockey and hung out together. He's not going back to school tomorrow, and we're going to start the "mental steps"--5 to 10 minutes of homework an hour, if he's able, and we can build from there. Until he can do a sizable amount of homework in a single day at home, he's not going to get through a day of school.

I wish I had that kind of common sense this morning.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Boy with the Blank Face

I waited almost a week to write about this, because it was just too hard. And this isn't the entire story--I'll do the second half tomorrow--but know that Eli is going to be fine, so don't be alarmed by where the post ends.

Last Tuesday, I was on my way to Eli 10.5s school to pick him up. I always go early and hang out for an hour or so at a burger place by his school. As I was pulling into the parking lot of the burger place, my phone rang.

It was Gloria. "The school just called and someone needs to go pick up Eli," she said.

"What happened?" I asked.

"He was in PE class, playing slow-pitch softball, and he got hit in the head."

"Shit," I said (I actually did not say "shit". I said much worse, repeatedly).

It's only about two minutes from the burger place to Eli's school, so I was there quickly. I went to the infirmary and he was lying down on a bed.

"Hi, buddy," I said, walking over to him.

"Dad," he said weakly as I put my hand around his.

The nurse was talking, but I don't think I heard a word she said.

"How are you feeling, little man?" I asked.

He paused for a few seconds before answering. "I'm really dizzy and my stomach hurts," he said. Nothing he said sounded normal--it was like he was talking from the bottom of a well.

"Do you remember what happened?"

Again, a long pause. "I was pitching a softball to Caroline"--Caroline weighs 110 and can bench-press Eli--from about 10 feet away, and she hit a line drive that hit me right here." He gestured toward his left ear, then moved his hand toward the front of his face. "I can't hear out of my left ear right now."

"Okay," I said. "We're going to get you to a doctor. Can you stand up?"

"Not very well," he said.

I put my arm around him and he took tiny, shuffling steps. I held onto him, almost carrying him, because he was so unsteady. It took a few minutes, but we reached a bench just outside the school, and he sat there while I pulled the car around.

"Dad, can you help with the seatbelt?" he said when I got him in the car. I did, and then we headed for home, because Gloria was on the phone setting up a doctor's appointment, and home was on the way. I looked in the rear-view mirror when we hit a stop light.

My boy, the funniest, warmest, most enthusiastic boy, had no expression on his face. He wasn't there.

We got home and Gloria said that the doctor recommended we go to Dell Children's Hospital, which was about 20 minutes away. She gave Eli a pair of sunglasses that he could wear, and off we went.

The people at the Children's Hospital couldn't have been better. Eli didn't wait one second after we arrived--they took him into a room immediately. We sat there, scared. Eli's face was still blank.

"On a scale of one to ten, how much does your head hurt?" the nurse asked him.

"Ten," Eli said slowly.

"And your stomach?" she asked.

"Ten," he said. She gave him some Zofran to help with the nausea. The little room was quite comfortable, really, so he laid back on the bed, propped up at about a thirty degree angle, and we made small talk, trying to comfort him.

When the doctor came in, it didn't take her long to reach a diagnosis. "We're going to give him a CT scan, but he definitely has a concussion," she said.

"I can't go to my hockey tournament this weekend, can I?" he asked.

"No, sweetie, you won't be playing hockey this weekend," she said.

Eli squeezed his eyes together and one tear ran down his cheek. "I'm so sorry, little man," I said, "but the most important thing now is to help you get healthy again. You're going to play a ton of hockey when you're well."

"I know, but my team really needs me," he said. He was right--they do. He's the one who's always positive, the one the kids always gather around, the one who makes them believe in themselves. They did need him, but they were going to have to do without him now.

"I know they do, and I'm sorry," I said. "But the only thing that matters right now is helping you get well."

A nurse came in and put a bracelet on him. "FALL RISK," it said.

"I should just put that on a T-shirt," I said. He smiled, even giggled a little. I think I breathed for the first time in two hours.

The CT scan was normal, so no additional complications, and the doctor explained the treatment protocol. No bright lights. No loud noises. No exercise. No video games. No reading. No homework. No "active" television. If we dimmed the television and turned down the volume, he could watch something like the Sprout channel, which is for pre-schoolers. "Looks like lots of Franklin, Max and Ruby, and Caillou for you," I said.

He smiled. "That doesn't sound so bad," he said.

The doctor explained that with what had been discovered in the last few years, they believed that near-complete brain rest for 48 hours greatly speeded the healing process. "Anything that makes your head hurt, stop doing it immediately," she said. She was awesome--very warm and kind, but stern when she was talking about his care.

"How's your head now?" she asked.

"It's an eight," he said.


"Five," he said.

"That's good," she said. "Improvement is good." She cleared us to go home, and they brought a wheelchair to take Eli out to the car. While we were waiting, I sat across from him and took his hands. "We're going to get through this the way we get through everything else," I said. "Together."

He squeezed my hands. "I know," he said.

Eclipse Giveaway

Dan Spezzano of The Old Board Gamer's Blog LEt me know that they're giving away a free copy of Eclipse. Just hit the TOBGB link above for details.


Today, an annual post.

Today is a national holiday in the United States to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's easy to forget the kind of hatred and stupidity that King was fighting against, but a good place to start is with this docmentation of the Jim Crow laws in the United States (this is a different source than what I've linked to in the past, and it's much more detailed). The Wikipedia entry for Jim Crow laws also has detailed information. And the Wikipedia entry for King is here.

It's painful to read about the Jim Crow era, and as an American, it's both embarrassing and shameful, but it's important to learn about the past, even if we wish it hadn't happened.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and what a classic: Graffiti From Pompei.

From Steven Davis, and this is quite remarkable: Android Sign Language Interpreting Glove. Also, and here they come, it's Parrot AR.Drone 2.0. One more, and it's quite interesting: Computer Vision Camo.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is one of the greatest unicycle tricks I've ever seen (watch to the end), it's Impossible Unicycle Trick.

From Tateru Nino, and this is absolutely amazing: Researchers Find that Parasitic Flies are Turning Bees Into Zombies.

 From C. Lee, an excellent three-part series about the ineffectiveness of Japanese newspapers in a journalism sense:
Stop the presses and hold the front page
Stories spiked despite journalism's mission to inform
Fukushima lays bare Japanese media's ties to top

One more, on a different subject (but near and dear to most of us): X-Com is brilliant because it's broken.

From Mark Vines, and this is a stunning bit of artistry: Goldfish Salvation.

From Sirius, and this is just fantastic: Under the ice at Lake Saarijärvi in Finland. Also, take a look at Audubon's "The Birds of America".

From Griffin Cheng, and I've always wondered about this: Is the beer-goggle effect real?.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is a wonderful video: The Joy of Books.

Finally, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, an absolutely insane video: First-Person Cliff Biking.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Remote Survey Results

Thanks to those of you who sent in suggestions for remotes that would be easier for my mom to use. It's easy to break down the results: 85% of you recommended some version of a Harmony remote.

In particular, you like the Harmony One  remote, which has about 40 buttons and a nifty little touch screen as well. One particularly cool feature is the help button, which will ask the user questions about what's wrong and guide them through fixing the problem.

Big points for that, and what a great idea.

At the other end of the spectrum is something like this: RCA 4 Device Big Button Remote. Very inexpensive, bigger buttons, but less functionality and dicey compatibility in some cases.

A Time Warner technician came out yesterday and replaced Mom's remote, and she's certainly having a better experience now, even before I replace her remote control. But the number of buttons (62--seriously?) still boggles my mind.

I'll let you know how the replacement goes, in case any of you are in the same situation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CES Tidbits (two)

After reviewing the new plasmas introduced by Samsung and Panasonic, it became clear to me that, unfortunately, these new sets aren't about image quality. They're about revenue stream.

That is, by far, the defining trend of the new displays this year. Everyone is desperately trying to co-opt the content on-demand revenue stream, with a bazillion integrated apps, all of which lead to places where you can pay for shit.

In Samsung's press release, their first three bullet points are:
--smart interaction
--Smart content
--smart evolution (kits you can install to "upgrade" your set each year, and I guarantee the "upgrade" will consist of additional apps leading you to places where you can buy even more shit.)

Image quality? It's down there toward the end of the press release. Way down there. In the twentieth paragraph.

Panasonic? Second paragraph of their press release:
Also new for 2012 is a cloud-based architecture to increase the VIERA Connect IPTV platform to an unlimited number of apps, thereby cementing its reputation for creating innovative and cutting edge products and focusing on providing the consumer with the ultimate in home entertainment.

AKA "so you can buy more shit now." At least Panasonic mentions image quality in the third paragraph instead of the twentieth.

So something important is happening, and no, it's not my sarcasm. All these television manufacturers want a piece of video on demand. They want to be the toll collectors from content providers, not cable companies. In some ways, this is war, with the television manufacturers cutting deals and trying to cut out traditional cable providers like Time Warner.

Seriously, if someone bought a new Samsung plasma this year, could they just get rid of cable or DirecTV entirely? For most of us, probably not, but I believe the market is inevitably headed toward 100% content on demand, except for live programming. No need for a DVR in a decade, really--everything will be available at any time.

If you weren't a sports fan, I think you could actually get rid of cable today. Every major network has episodes on demand, and there are plenty of online content providers like Netflix to stream almost any movie you want to see.

I do see one tremendous advantage to this, which is it would promote true competition among content. I wouldn't have to subscribe to six shitty ESPN sub-channels anymore, and ESPN eventually won't be able to hold cable companies hostage during renegotiations. So I wouldn't have to help pay for thirty horrible ESPN shows where hosts yell at each other for 30 minutes and call it "debate."

Consumers only paying for the content they want to watch. What a novel approach.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CES Tidbits

First off, this has to be my favorite announcement of the entire show:
Fisher-Price will offer a selection of images from the company's View-Master image archive, regarded as the largest collection of 3D still images in the world. "The View-Master archive is a virtual treasure-trove of 3D imagery capturing over 100 years of history and culture," said Peter Snajczuk, Vice President of Marketing for Fisher-Price. "We're thrilled to be working with Spatial View to make these spectacular images available digitally for download from ViewMasterDigital3D.com to a variety of 3D mobile devices and Internet-connected 3D TVs."

...Launching in late Q1, 2012, the online digital content store - www.viewmasterdigital3d.com - will include a selection of titles consisting of national parks, travel, nature, and history. The content will be sold in packs of 18 to 21 images for $1.99.

That's right, baby--Viewmaster lives. What a great idea.

All right, let's move on from Viewmaster to OLED, and that's sort of describes how far we've come in terms of technology as well. I'm not going to go into the technical details of OLED (organic light-emitting diode), because it's mind-numbing. The takeaway, though, is that OLED sets (on paper) are brighter, have higher contrast, deeper black levels, wider viewing angles, and lower power consumption than LCD or plasma sets. Spectacular, potentially.

However, there have been two primary obstacles in getting these displays to market: the longevity of the blue OLED and high production costs.

This year, though, two companies announced 55-inch OLED displays: Samsung and LG. LG, historically, announces all kinds of shit at CES and never ships most of it. Samsung, though, is a big boy, and it looks like their OLED set will actually hit the market (second half of this year, although that might slip).

I don't want to buy a first-generation OLED display, because I have concerns about the reliability and life span of the first generation, plus they'll be ridiculously expensive (I wouldn't be surprised if the 55-inch Samsung is 8-10K), but this starts the timer ticking toward the day when these displays are reasonably priced and we all get them.

Links: LG OLED display, Samsung OLED display.

I forgot one more category of products I'm particularly interested in: 3D printers. And Makerbot announced a new printer that allows you to print objects "roughly the size of a loaf of bread." Take a look:

I find that entirely amazing, and I find it even more amazing that the printer is under $2,000. This entire technology seems like something beamed in from the future.

I'd be willing to bet that we're going to buy one of these in the next year. Eli 10.5 would go wild with it, and it would sneakily introduce him to all kinds of interesting creative and engineering concepts.

I planned for this to continue from here(discussing in particular the new Samsung and Panasonic plasmas), but unfortunately I am completely jammed up today in terms of time, so I will continue with this tomorrow.


My sister and I bought an HDTV to replace Mom's 1995-era television for her Christmas gift. In theory, this was a great idea--now she could watch programs in HD, and the screen was almost twice as big as her old set.

There's just one problem: the remote.

My favorite remote of all time was the original TiVo remote, fondly known as the "peanut". Here, take a look (thanks Tivopedia):

What a piece of design. 32 buttons to do anything and everything. I don't know anyone who used the peanut who didn't absolutely love it.

Well, Mom doesn't have the peanut with her Time-Warner HD cable box. She has this:

Holy crap. That beast has SIXTY-ONE buttons. It's two steps away from being a Japanese typewriter.

Because of this piece of mediocre design, Mom is quite frustrated, and I don't blame her. It's far too easy to hit a button by mistake and be FUBAR immediately.

What I'm considering doing is buying one of the simpler universal remotes (30 buttons or less), then setting it up to work with her cable box. Over half the functions on the Time Warner remote are totally unnecessary for her equipment or her viewing habits, so I think this would probably work, and it would be significantly less complicated.

Here's my question for you guys: have any of you done this in the past, and is there a particular remote that you recommend?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Awkward Underpants

I took Eli 10.5 to the tennis center on Friday for some afterschool fun.

There's a nice tennis center less than five minutes from his school, and it features old-school prices (about $6 an hour to play) and a relaxed attitude that we both enjoy. Plus, no waiting.

So we were hitting on a court, it was a bit windy, and Eli was frustrated. It's odd for me to see this, because he never gets frustrated in hockey. In tennis, though, for some reason, he will get down on himself.

"That was terrible," he said after one shot. "I'm horrible," he said after another. Remember, this is a ten-year-old who's been playing for six months and hits topspin off both sides. I can also rally with him at 80-90% of my skill level, and we have frequent 10+ shot rallies.

For him, though, somehow it's not enough.

"Look," I said, after he muttered about another bad shot. "The problem with getting upset is that it interferes with you seeing the ball. Anything that interferes with you seeing the ball absolutely clearly is going to mess you up. Getting upset is sometimes easier than refocusing, because that requires real concentration. But getting mad at yourself never help you hit the ball better."

There were two people on the lower court next to us--a woman and a boy. As we sat down to take a break, he turned and looked at them.

"I would get KILLED in a tournament," he said.

I started laughing. "Let's see--topspin on both groundstrokes and no one could hit a clean winner because you'd track it down? You'd do just fine. But we need to find a way to help you be more positive. I don't want your attitude here to infect your attitude about anything else, because it's easy for that to happen."

"Well, it's because I stink," he said.

I wanted to tell him that he couldn't say things like that anymore about himself, but then I got what I thought was a better idea.

"Okay, let's try something," I said. "You can keep saying bad things about yourself, but whenever you do, you have to follow it with 'My Granny's underpants.' "

"OH MY GOD," he said, laughing. "So I'd have to say 'I'm terrible my Granny's underpants'?"

"Yes, that's right," I said. "And you have to say the second part as loudly as the first."

We started hitting again, and after a long rally, he hit a bad shot. He started to say something, then looked at me and started laughing. "No way," he said.

"Focus on the shadows on the ball," I said. "You can even focus on the fuzz, because the angle of the sun is highlighting individual fibers. It's cool."

We hit for about 15 more minutes, and both got into a groove where the rallies were long and spirited. I walked over to the side of the court with the fence we shared with the other players, and as I picked up a ball, the woman walked over to the fence.

"Excuse me," she said.


"Is that your son?" she asked.

"Yes, he is," I said.

"Is he already in a program?"

"No," I said. "I used to teach, so I've sort of shown him the basics."

"We have junior workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays," she said. "I think he would fit right in. I hope it fits into your schedule."

"Thanks," I said.

"What did that lady want?" Eli asked me when I walked back up to the net.

"She wants you in the junior program," I said.

"Me?" he asked.

"Who knows?" I said. "If the other kids hear you saying 'my Granny's underpants', it may turn into a popular local expression."

He laughed. "That is NOT happening," he said.

Saturday night, he played goalie in a league game, and had his first shutout in quite a while. His team played terrific around him, but he had two beautiful saves in the same sequence that are among the best he's ever had. The game didn't end until 9:15 (after his bedtime), and he had practice the next morning at 9:45.

He skated out and caught the team's best skater from four spots back when they skated two laps of the rink at the end of practice. Eli won by about a yard.

"Did you see me catch him?" he said with a big grin on his face as he left the ice.

"I did," I said. "And you know what I said when you started that last lap?"

"What?" he asked.

"I said 'He's going to catch him'." I did actually say that. I knew.

He smiled. "Thanks, Dad," he said.


The Consumer Entertainment Show begins today, and the amount of information emerging is quite staggering. I recommend Engadget for blanket coverage, plus CNET to fill in the gaps.

I am particularly interested this year in the new OLED displays, which are a substantial leap forward in image quality (as well as saving a ton of power), as well as the new 4K displays, which are also quite impressive. Plus I'm keeping track of glasses-free 3D, Android-related news, soundbars, and gadgets in general. So expect a few posts this week on specific bits of tech that seems interesting.

If you're at CES and want to send me impressions, please do.

A Disturbing Coincidence

Jimmy Page turned 68 today and I had oatmeal for lunch.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday Links!

Here are two phenomenal stories included in a Deadspin roundup of the best sports stories of 2011:
Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph Basketball Scandal
"Jerry Joseph was a basketball dream: six feet five and built like LeBron. Then the rumors started—and suddenly the 16-year-old golden boy was more illusion than dream."

The Confidence Man
"How Lalit Modi, possessed of inhuman energy, ambition and audacity, built a billion-dollar cricket kingdom—only to be rudely ejected from its throne."

From Sirius, and this is amazing, it's Transistors made from cotton yarn, t-shirt computers incoming. Also, and this is a remarkable video, it's Cézanne Was A Wimp . . . This Is True Water Colors. One more, and it's fascinating: This photograph is a cryptogram. And if you want a little more detail, Josh Eaves sent in a similar article: How to Make Anything Signify Anything.

From Rob, and it's tremendous: This music video was made using Kinect.

From Griffin Cheng, it's 11 new animal species. Also, and this is quite beautiful, it's What a Wonderful Sea of Fireflies.

From Josh Eaves, and this is an absolutely wonderful and interesting article (from Poemas del río Wang, which has lots of them), it's The Language Of Stamps.

From Dave Prosser, it's the BBC audio version of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy --for free!

From Frank Regan, and all I can say is "holy crap!": Controlled Quantum Levitation on a WipeOut Track.

From Steven Kreuch, and man, I admire the big brother in this story: Dear Customer who stuck up for his little brother.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The NHL Grind

Eli had hockey practice on Tuesday. He had hockey practice tonight. He has a game on Saturday. He has practice on Sunday. He has practice on Tuesday. He has practice on Thursday. Then he plays in a tournament from Friday-Monday.

It's house hockey on steroids.

The "non-travel league" development team he's on has phenomenal coaches, one of whom had a very nice minor league career. He's also incredibly thorough and meticulously organized. It's completely ludicrous to have this level of instruction down here, but somehow we have it anyway.

I got some footage of Eli in goal tonight, and I'm going to get more on Sunday so that I can share it all with you next week. I saw that little YouTube video I made of him in goal last year, and it made me laugh because he has improved so much since then.

He was doing an up-down drill tonight where his coach would shoot along the ice, forcing him into the butterfly, then very quickly launch a high shot that required him to be upright to stop it. It's hard to do that on carpet (try it), but doing it on skates is much, much tougher. He was bouncing up and down almost instantly, though, and there were parents around me who were laughing because it was just ridiculous how fast he was.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I was highly skeptical that SW:TOR could be successful in an environment where there are so many freemium MMOs, but I will say this: Dubious Quality Timesink Advisor John Harwood is definitely on board. I'm not sure he even sleeps anymore.

I've heard from other people I trust as well, and their reaction is almost uniformly positive. The game isn't perfect, they say, but it is extremely engaging and very satisfying to play.

I also think it was very clever to have a limited launch. Guaranteeing a sellout, so to speak. Queues always better than the sound of crickets.


Someone told me this story at work today.

The "someone" is a guy nearing 60 who has several granddaughters (1-4 years of age) living with him and his wife. Because of this, he hears a ton of stories about little kids.

So a friend of a friend has a daughter who has a three-year-old. The three-year-old is potty-trained, but his parents are now going through a divorce, and he's upset, and he's started having accidents.

Last week, he walked up to his mother and said, "Mom, somebody peed in my pants."

I know so many grown-ups like that.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

So Much For Sarcasm

Incredibly, that safety warning I mocked yesterday turns out to have a legitimate foundation in reality. Thanks to all of you who sent in this link: Infants & Toddlers Can Drown in 5-Gallon Buckets:
Large buckets and young children can be a deadly combination. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received reports of over 275 young children who have drowned in buckets since 1984. Over 30 other children have been hospitalized. Almost all of the containers were 5-gallon buckets containing liquids. Most were used for mopping floors or other household chores. Many were less than half full.

Of all buckets, the 5-gallon size presents the greatest hazard to young children because of its tall, straight sides and weight, even with just a small amount of liquid. At 14-inches high, a 5-gallon bucket is about half the height of a young child. That, combined with the stability, makes it nearly impossiblefor top-heavy infants and toddlers to free themselves when they fall into the bucket head first. A child can drown in a small amount of water.

Out of curiosity, I measured the capacity of the tennis ball bucket, and it was 4.5 gallons. So certainly differently-shaped and not as large as the standard 5-gallon bucket, but still similar enough to be required to carry The warning label.

Seriously, I must have been one of the most cautious parents ever (I am still laughingly called "Mr. Safety" by both Gloria and Eli 10.5), but this would have never crossed my mind.


It's been quite a while since I've mentioned books that might interest you, so let's remedy that immediately.

First we have The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter, which is one of the best studies of human nature I've read in years. Here's a description from the Amazon product page:
The story of Clark Rockefeller is a stranger-than-fiction twist on the classic American success story of the self-made man-because Clark Rockefeller was totally made up. The career con man who convincingly passed himself off as Rockefeller was born in a small village in Germany. At seventeen, obsessed with getting to America, he flew into the country on dubious student visa documents and his journey of deception began.

Over the next thirty years, boldly assuming a series of false identities, he moved up the social ladder through exclusive enclaves on both coasts-culminating in a stunning twelve-year marriage to a rising star businesswoman with a Harvard MBA who believed she'd wed a Rockefeller.

The imposter charmed his way into exclusive clubs and financial institutions-working on Wall Street, showing off an extraordinary art collection-until his marriage ended and he was arrested for kidnapping his daughter, which exposed his past of astounding deceptions as well as a connection to the bizarre disappearance of a California couple in the mid-1980s.

The story of The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a probing and cinematic exploration of an audacious imposer-and a man determined to live the American dream by any means necessary.

What makes this story so fascinating is the willingness, even eagerness, of people to believe. Not just socialites, but employers, government officials--hell, everyone wanted to believe they were in the presence of a Rockefeller. And even before the Rockefeller con, there were others that were almost as impressive.

It's a strange, strange story, and told very well.

Next we have Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney. Yes, I know--George Harrison is, by far, my favorite Beatle--but I find that reading about Paul McCartney is far more interesting than listening to his solo music. This is an excellent read, filled with little tidbits (origins of many Beatles songs, for example) that I haven't seen elsewhere. This also isn't a whitewash--it's very frank about McCartney's shortcomings and limitations, as well as discussing his virtues. There is also a thorough discussion of his time with the Beatles, which is tremendously interesting, as well as his life after he left the band (including his marriage to Heather Mills, which will have you shaking your head in disbelief). All in all, an excellent read.

Another musical biography is When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, which is an exhaustive look at Led Zeppelin. The product page describes this book as "unflinching", and that is a fair assessment. It's also quite fascinating, and I believe it qualifies as the definitive biography of the band. If you are interested in rock music, even if you have never been particularly interested in Led Zeppelin, then this is a must-read, and if you are already a fan of Led Zeppelin, just get it immediately.

Finally, there is Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History. It's by Ben Mezrich, who writes books that I describe as potato chips--extremely tasty and briefly filling.

It's the story of a NASA intern who decides to steal some moon rocks, and like all Mezrich books, it's a page turner. If you're tired of plowing through weightier tomes, consider this the perfect palate cleanser--light and refreshing.

"An Exciting List Of PC Games For 2012" (RPS)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a tremendous 2012 games preview that includes 75 upcoming PC games. If you can't find at least 10 or 15 games on that list to get excited about, then you are dead inside and no one can help you.

Also, each game has links to previews, etc. Outstanding.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

An Excellent Warning

We bought a new bucket of practice tennis balls yesterday before we headed out to play.

This bucket:

Eli 10.5 wanted the bucket with him in the back seat, and while we were driving to the courts, he was trying to open it up (more difficult than it seems because of a realtively stubborn plastic tear strip).

Then he burst out laughing. "Dad, you are not going to believe this!" he said. Then he started reading from the safety label on the bucket. This label:

If you're too lazy to click on that image to enlarge it (hey, it's the New Year, and we're all tired), here's what it says:


The best part, though, is the illustration, which shows a child desperately trying to climb into this tiny bucket, clearly demonstrating that the only way a child could actually drown would be if they could do a headstand with their head inside the bucket. For several minutes

I lack the Photoshop skills to rotate this image appropriately, but the more accurate warning is clear:


Monday, January 02, 2012


Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with McDonald's. The company is a Rorschach test, really--you can find whatever good or evil you're looking for in McDonald's.

One thing I have always liked about McDonald's, though, is that they are remarkably efficient in an engineering and design sense. They pay attention to the "little" things that most other companies ignore.

I used to take Eli 10.5 there for breakfast almost every weekend, but as he's gotten older, it's fallen out of the rotation. Since they have "blue" Powerade (his favorite) on tap, though, we still often stop there for drinks, particularly after tennis or hockey.

Yesterday, after we played tennis until I couldn't stand up anymore, we stopped to get drinks at the drive-through. As I handed Eli his drink, I noticed the lid, which looked different:

See that sizable bulge in the center of the lid? I noticed that as I passed it back, and its purpose was working its way from my brain to my mouth, but Eli beat me to it:
"Dad, look at this lid!" he said. "They've added that dome at the top so soda won't spill through."

He was exactly right--that clever design change should almost entirely eliminate soda overflow through the lid. And he understood in less than a second why the lid had been changed.

I will be rendered obsolescent.

Epic Astro Story

After spending more time with Epic Astro Story (Android), I think it's probably the most interesting Kairosoft game I've ever played, and that's a high bar.

For one, the addition of territory exploration, with your own party of adventurers, is a significant and entertaining addition. Yes, combat is very simple, and the strategic options are limited, but it's still quite fun to send your intrepid band of adventurers into strange lands to explore.

In addition, managing things planet-side is quite complex. In addition to managing your own citizens, you're also trying to attract tourists, make the right products for those tourists to buy, research and develop new technologies, even visit other planets.

In other words, there are a ton of things to do in this game, and more so than other Kairosoft games I've played, it's just not possible to do them all, so the choices are more interesting.

One more note. This is the first time I've preferred playing a KS game on my tablet instead of my phone. I just find it much easier to make selections and see what's going on, because the world is quite busy.

Here's a link to the games page on Android Market, where you can see a ton of screenshots (bright and colorful, like all Kairosoft games).

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