Monday, December 31, 2012

Gridrion Solitaire #36

This is kind of cool:

That's GS running on Eli's ultrabook in tablet mode. Full touchscreen support automatically. I played a full game last night with the touchscreen and had zero problems. And that's a terrible picture from my phone, because it looked terrific on the tablet--bright and colorful.

Last week, I was working on the playoff bracket. I realized over the weekend that I was missing something obvious--instead of making the playoff bracket a kind of sloppy overlay of the team hub, I could make it very precise by overlaying just the center panel. Here's how it turned out:

I'm not totally sold on the background color of that canvas, but otherwise, I think it's complete. And the more precise use of that panel really appeals to the layout neatnik in me.

I also had one more thought last night. The offseason mini-game has been revamped to be more challenging, but there's one area that's very weak visually, and that's the outcome reveal. Here, have a look:

Man, that's bland. I've never liked it, but until yesterday, I couldn't think of anything else to do, really. There's just no personality on this screen compared to when the cards are first dealt, which looks like this:

Theoretically, at least, there's lots of personality there, with song titles and player descriptions all adding some flavor to the card.

At some point, it hit me that the "+" or "-" don't really take up nearly as much space as the artist title, the card description, and the card rating. That's quite a bit of available space. Why not have Fredrik draw images that would clearly show the card outcome (comically, if possible), and just overlay the image onto the available space?

The card name ("run offense"), "new ranking", and "old ranking" will stay on the card, but the "center box" is going to have an image instead of + or - symbols. Well, it's possible there will be semi-transparent arrows over the image, just in case some people don't understand the images, but the image is going to be the main focus.

I'm always trying to jam more of Fredrik's art into the game, because I think so highly of the personality that he infuses into everything he draws. Maybe next week I'll have something new to show you.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Sean Redlitz, a NY Times article that includes additional depth as a media presentation. It's a tremendous piece of work, as well as a tragic story: Snow Fall: The Avalance at Tunnel Creek.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is simply incredible: MIT discovers a new state of matter, a new kind of magnetism. Also, and this is very entertaining speculation, it's Crazy far--to the stars, that is. Will we ever get crazy enough to go?. One more, and this is not in reference to a specific article, just an excellent blog: It's Okay To Be Smart..and Other Interestingness.

From Yacine Salmi, and this is very cool: Drone made of Lego takes flight.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is a wonderful story and series of images: LA’s original subway.

From Sirius, and this a fascinating article: Mommy, what's a cephalophore?. Hint: it has to do with heads.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and what a discovery, it's World's Oldest Wooden Water Wells Discovered. Also, and these are tremendous, it's Celebrating Las Posadas With Villancicos.

From Aaron Daily, a card trick that even stumped Penn & Teller: Penn and Teller Fool Us - Shawn Farquhar.

From Steven Davis, and these are utterly amazing: New Trampled Snow Art from Simon Beck.

From Griffin Cheng, and this video absolutely stupefied Eli 11.4: Amazing Norwegian Kicker Can Put a Football Anywhere He Wants.

Math nerds, take note: Ramanujan's Mock Modular Forms: Indian Mathematician's Dream Conjecture Finally Proven. Proven over 90 years later!

That's it for the holiday links edition. We're always a little light this week, traditionally.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord

Les Sliwko let me know that his sequel to Age of Fear has been released, and it's titled Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord. There's a lengthy demo available, so you have a chance to try before you buy.

There aren't many turn-based strategic games in a fantasy setting being made these days, so AOF2 definitely fills a growing need.

The Future (part something or other)

I have seen the future, and it does not include us. Most of us, anyway.

Eli 11.4 increasingly needed the use of a computer for his schoolwork. I could have built him one, but the advantages of a notebook these days are undeniable. Then, when he saw an ultrabook convertible (notebook, converts to a tablet), that was immediately what he wanted.

Yes, I know that's ridiculous, except for one thing: I could play builds of Gridiron Solitaire on the tablet, since it runs Windows 8, and programs don't have to be Metro compatible to run in Windows 8.

That's probably all wrong, since I haven't tried it yet, but anyway, he got an ultrabook for Christmas.

Now, I understand that we all hate Windows 8. With a mouse, it's a nightmare. As soon as Eli started using the ultrabook, though, he was swiping and tapping on the touchscreen like he'd been doing it all his life. He was immediately, totally comfortable with the interface, and it was fast. Incredibly fast--with him at the helm, anyway.

That moment explained the future to me.

Microsoft couldn't care less if we hate Windows 8 when using a mouse and a regular monitor. Irrelevant. In five years, almost every monitor sold will be a touchscreen. In five years, a regular interface will be slow and archaic. In five years, we will all be used to this, because Microsoft dragged us forward.

Eli, and most other kids in his generation, has been using a touchscreen for most of his life. A mouse is positively clunky in comparison. Seriously, a notebook that bends over backwards and becomes a tablet? That is some Star Trek level shit.

The mouse, which is my choice for the most ingenious peripheral in the history of computing, is on life support.

Of course, if you think about it, a touchscreen makes a mouse obsolete, doesn't it? The mouse controls a cursor that "touches" things onscreen because we couldn't touch them ourselves. The touchscreen just eliminates the middleman.

Microsoft is so far ahead of the curve on this, and while you may think they're foolish now, that would be very, very incorrect. They are unmistakeably, positively brilliant this time, and in 2-3 years, everyone else is going to figure it out. Every Windows device will use essentially the same Metro-type interface, and we will be flying around that interface at lightspeed compared to using a mouse.

And you know what else? We're going to like it, too.

Here's what else is going to happen: more and more apps like Adera, which has this feature:
Play, Pause, Resume – start a game on any device, pause the game, and then pick up where you left off on any other compatible device.

Playing a game on the computer and don't want to stop playing, even when you're in your car? Just keep playing it on your phone, or your tablet. They should call this feature "continuous play", because that's what it promises, really.

That's a damned exciting future. Hell, it makes me want to go out and buy a touchscreen monitor right now.

[SIDEBAR: Of course, after Microsoft blazes the trail for years on this, Apple will announce a touchscreen Mac like it's a brand new technology that no one has ever used before, and people will believe them. Six months later, a majority of people will believe that Apple invented touchscreen technology, and that Microsoft is copying them.]

Explosive sales in the future for touchscreen monitors might also serve as a lifeline for struggling Japanese firms that are billions of dollars in the red, although having a market and profiting from that market are two different things entirely. Sharp and Sony would seem to have an opportunity, though.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Late but Likeable

One of my favorite people in the world has a daughter who turned one a few months ago. I asked him what she might like for Christmas, and he said that a homemade card with a bird or a lion on it would be something that she would really enjoy.

I told Eli 11.4 about this, and he said he'd be happy to make a drawing for her. His schedule was so busy, though, that it didn't happen before Christmas. Last night, he said that he would sit down today and do the drawing so that our friend's daughter would have it by Friday.

I came in from work today and saw this:

"What is that?" I asked.

"It's a light table," he said. "The light shines up through the first drawing, and I can trace the outline."

Well, then. He knew about light tables from art class, then decided to make his own with whatever he could find around the house.

I was surprised by how much time he spent working on the drawing. Over an hour, easily, and he was very careful and tried to be precise (even using marking pens, which make it tough to fix mistakes).

Yellow and purple were reported as favorite colors, and he wanted to make it look like something a very little girl would like, so here's what he wound up with:

A Critical Chad Henne Update

I totally forgot that Chad Henne isn't even with the Dolphins anymore. He plays for Jacksonville, has been the starter the last few weeks due to injury, and has been utterly forgettable.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas, and if you don't believe in Christmas, Merry What You Believe. And if you don't believe in anything, no one said you couldn't still get presents.

DQ Reader My Mom came over for lunch today, and we were watching the Knicks-Lakers game while we waited until we had enough room for pie. [you will remember that I get my own tub of Cool Whip, then just dump the pie into the container] The Knicks were wearing a funky "Big color" uniform:

We all agreed that they were hideous. They actually looked much brighter and more obnoxious under the court lights. This was a big holiday promotion for the NBA and Adidas, and a chance to sell yet more jerseys ($90 on Amazon).

"They look like they came from The Dollar Store," my 82-year-old mom said, proving that A+ comedy doesn't have to diminish with age.

Earlier, Eli 11.4 and I had gone to play tennis so Gloria could cook and listen to holiday music in peace. When we left the house, it was 72. After ten minutes on the court, the wind started picking up. By the end of an hour, the wind was gusting to 30MPH.

Tonight, the low will be 25, with a wind chill of 13. It's a drop of 47 degrees in about 18 hours.

Jumping tracks.

Chad Henne (Miami Dolphins) is a riveting example of an average NFL player. He plays quarterback, and his career stats over five years include 40 TD passes and 45 INT. That's not good.

In other words, you wouldn't expect to see a Chad Henne jersey--ever--in Austin. Last weekend, though, we did.

"Boy, you don't see that very often," I said.

"What?" Eli asked.

"That guy in the Chad Henne jersey," I said.

"Chad Henne? Does anybody even wear a Chad Henne jersey in MIAMI?" he asked.

"I doubt it," I said.

"Chad Henne's mother wears a Reggie Bush jersey," he said.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #35: A Big Week

Gloria and Eli 11.4 went to San Antonio for an overnight trip last weekend, which meant that I got in 10 hours of development time in two days.

For playoff games, we now have a national anthem, sung by this lady:
Fredrik really outdid himself on this one. The spittle puts it totally over the top.

The singer only does the last line of the anthem, in "blah blah blah" format, and there's a different singer depending on if you're home or away (no neutral sites).

I also had time to dig into something I've wanted to change for months: field goal logic. I wanted the highest and lowest possible special teams rankings to correspond to the best and worst kickers in the NFL, but I couldn't quite manage it the first time around. What I discovered after doing some additional research, though, is that from 35 yards in (field goal distance, not line of scrimmage), all NFL kickers are basically money. There's very little difference between them, because their accuracy is almost 100%. The difference is in kicks longer than 35 yards, and the longer the kick, the greater the difference, particularly for >50 yard kicks. I was accurately able to model that this time, and also able to add in the correct accuracy adjustment for snow games (again, there's only an affect on the success rate beyond a certain distance). It's something little that most people wouldn't notice, but it was driving me crazy.

I also made a few changes to the offseason broadcast, and now, you'll get to see the three favorites for the Gridiron Bowl before the season begins.

The extra time I had to work also meant that I finished testing the team history screens. They're all displaying data properly now, navigation is working, and I've very pleased with how they turned out. Having a card for each season is consistent with the card theme of the game, and there's plenty of information to work with if you want to compare different seasons.

Along with those additions, I was able to make a fair number of small, cosmetic fixes to various screens.

Right now, there are really only two features of any significance that still need to be added: playoff brackets to display over the Team Hub (during the playoffs, obviously), and a cut scene that comes up when the game is started for the first time. Fredrik has created some outstanding images for the cut scene, and I have a script written, so things are proceeding, although it may be a few more weeks before even a rough cut is ready.

I also bought a cruddy, low-end notebook for testing purposes. I figure that if I can get everything to display properly at the lowest possible resolution someone could run the game, and also optimize the code so that it runs quickly, then it should work on anything.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beautiful Pipes Requested

If you are a DQ reader and have a (female) melodic singing voice, or you know someone in that category, I would really appreciate a small favor.

I need someone to record a very small portion of the National Anthem ("O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave") in "blah blah blah" format. In other words, instead of singing the words, they would sing "blah blah blah". It's the same format the "television broadcaster" uses before the game.

She will receive credit in the game for her contribution, and I really, really appreciate the help. We are not a singing clan--so poor, in fact, that our collective voices could be used as weapons in wartime.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Links! (hopefully posted on Friday this time)

From Mitch Youngblood, and this is just ridiculously cool and quite ingenious: Indiana Jones Mystery Package.

From Francis Cermak, and this is an entirely remarkable piece of investigation: A post-mortem of Silicon Knights.

From MSNBC, and this is quite a story: Unbreakable WWII carrier pigeon code cracked, says Canadian enthusiast. Someone should write a history of carrier pigeons.

From Steven Davis, and this is nerdtastic: Calculus Rhapsody. Also, and this may well be the most astonishing watch I've ever seen: Exquisite Jaquet Droz watch features a complex bird automaton. This next short video is nothing short of astonishing, really: Redwood Lumber Industry, Northern California - 1947.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is remarkable: A visit inside a vault holding $315,000,000,000 in gold bricks. Also, and this is entirely fascinating: ARPANET Test April 1976 with Jim Henson, Ayn Rand, Sidney Nolan & Yoko Ono. Please note: Ayn Rand comes off as the most pedantic, lifeless bore you could ever imagine. One more, and it's stunning: Immaculate Tomb: Exploring Actun Tunichil Muknal.

From Sirius, and who wouldn't want one of these: "Chicken-footed" building (Sami storehouse).

From Paul Adams, and this is an amazing piece of technology: It will take a 'baby elephant' to knock over this bike.

From Josh Eaves, and this is another set of "blending" photographs that combine the past with the present: Link to the Past.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is entirely fun: 2,000 ping pong balls and 30 teachers in zero gravity. Also, and this is quite incredible, it's Virus rebuilds heart's own pacemaker in animal tests.

Here are some amazing photos of the flight deck of the Endeavor: Endeavor cockpit.

Lastly, from Max Weinstein, and this is absolutely fantastic: The master map of all game companies and their connections.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Holiday Collaboration

You may remember my favorite Christmas decoration: Rudolph the Headless Reindeer. I saved it from the trash one year, and it has been placed in a position of holiday honor ever since.

This year, Eli 11.4 and I decided that Rudolph deserved his own song, so we wrote one together on the way to Krispy Kreme.

That's Rudolph in the foreground, sans head.

Here's the special holiday song (please, sing along):
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Never seemed to have a head
And if you ever saw him
You might even think he's dead

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
It didn't bother Rudolph
Words can't hurt you when you're maimed

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa, dressed in red
Looking through a storage room, said
"Hey, I found a head!"

Now all the reindeer love him
Though it's true a few have said
"He really was much nicer
When he didn't have a head."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Mobile Games

I haven't been able to game much this year, unfortunately, but what gaming I have done has been almost exclusively on the iPad. If I'm at my computer, I'm either writing the blog, answering e-mail, or working on Gridiron Solitaire, but when I'm away from the house, I can't be productive, so that's my gaming time.

I've recently run across a few excellent and unique games that are very much worth playing. Let's have a look. Oh, and if you're looking for an excellent, thoughtful information resource for mobile gaming, I highly recommend Pocket Tactics.

Knights of Pen and Paper (iOS and Android, .99)
This is a retro-style (both in art and gameplay) RPG, with a twist: there's a Dungeon Master "running" the game, and you can buy items for the gaming table/room that affect your journey through the game world. There's certainly a fair bit of grinding, and the game is somewhat unbalanced in places, and the treasure is quite skimpy.

Having said all that, though, I played it compulsively for almost two weeks, putting in 20+ hours and having a tremendously good time. Even with its flaws, it's compulsively playable, and very nostalgic. Certainly, it's one of my favorite games of the year.

Grading Game (iOS, .99)
This must be the most unlikely subject for an entertaining game ever, but somehow (especially for English majors and grammar nerds), this is a blast. The premise is simple: you're a graduate student with a huge number of student loans to pay off, and you get paid for grading papers. The twist is that the professor can't stand his students and wants everyone to fail, so your job is to find all the errors in the papers you grade so that they will flunk.

Again, unlikely fun, right? It's a well-designed game, though. There are several types of "levels", and there's a time limit, so there's a sense of urgency. The graphics are crisp, there's a nice bit of polish, and it's just fun.

Here's a screenshot from the Apple Store's page for the game:

I do wish there was more of a sense of progression--you go through four years of papers, but there doesn't seem to be any use for the money you're making except to pay off your student loan--but the individual levels are interesting enough to carry the game.

Spaceteam (iOS, Free)
This is absolutely one of the best multiplayer games I've ever played in terms of laughter per second. You and your comrades (up to 6 players can play together) are all crew on a space ship. You have an instrument panel in front of you. Every other player has a different instrument panel in front of them. Everyone sees different commands at the top of their screen. If you see a command, and you have that control on your instrument panel, then you set it as instructed. However, if you don't, you have to call out the command for one of the other crew members to execute.

That sounds simple, but even with just two players (myself and Eli 11.4), it's hilarious. Every time we play we're laughing our asses off, because the names of the controls are ridiculous, all kinds of silly things happen to the instrument panel if you make a mistake or don't execute a command in time, and it's all high farce to a wonderful degree.

The base game is free, but there are expansions available (each costs .99) to add more ships, missions, etc. It's a terrific idea for a game, and it's extremely well-executed. And silly.

The Lords of Midnight (iOS, $4.99)
If you don't remember, Lords of Midnight is a classic 1984 game created by Mike Singleton (who sadly passed away recently). It was huge and dense, a tremendous, epic challenge, and it's a huge gift to see it available on mobile platforms (Android release coming soon, apparently).

I'll have another post about this game next week, hopefully.

Cloning (Update)

Thanks for the number of you who wrote in to offer recommendations and advice about swapping out my existing SSD for a faster, larger model.

I thought it might useful to share the results, because I was very surprised that there are so many software options for cloning a drive. These are listed in order of number of recommendations:
Acronis True Image (5)
Norton Ghost (2)
Windows 7 (there's a built-in utility) (2)
Macrium Reflect (2)
Paragon Drive Copy 12 Pro (1)
Casper (1)
Redo Backup and Recovery (Linus) (1)
Clonezilla (1)
Drive Image XL (1)

I've actually used Acronis True Image before, to migrate the contents of my previous hard drive to the SSD, and it worked fine. It's been so long, though, that I had forgotten.

The drive I ordered (Intel) has a built-in utility for cloning, so I'm either going to use that or True Image. Again, thanks for the advice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Middle Manager Of Justice: Single Fine

Yes, I wish it was double fine, but it's not.

Middle Manager Of Justice is now out for iDevices, and in it, you play the role of an office manager whose office is full of superheroes. You manage these heroes as they try to keep their city safe and eventually kill the Foozle (+10 Gaming Lore if you recognize that reference).

Let me just say this: I have never seen better art in a game. That covers twenty-five years of playing a jillion games. The art is so incredibly appropriate to the game, and so detailed, that I felt like I was playing an animated cartoon. It's also razor-sharp and beautiful, particularly on an iPad 3. Here, take a look:

Just click on that screenshot and revel in the detail. It's absolutely spectacular. And yes, it does immediately bring one word to mind: Bullfrog. That's a high, high honor.

Interface design? Impeccable. Everything is wonderfully laid out, easy to access, and logically located.

So this is Game of the Year, right? Well, unless you actually have to play it.

Here comes the Not Fine, and let's rip the band-aid off (hi Ben) right now: the gameplay is awful. It's bog-standard, completely repetitive, and totally uninspired. You will do the same small set of things over and over and over again, with very few strategic choices that have any real impact. It's boring--so boring that even the spectacular, wonderful art can't drag it out of Snoozetown.

It's so boring, in fact, that after getting about 2/3 of the way through the game (solely on the quality of the art, animation, and sound), I quit. It was just so mind-numbingly repetitive that I couldn't continue.

Here's what happens. In the top left of the base screen is a map, which is basically a map of the city. When crime events happen, the number on the map tells you how many crimes are in progress. You decide which superheroes will group and which crimes to go fight.

In the battle itself, there's not much to do. There are various special abilities that can be researched (each hero can have one active), but most of them can only be activated once in battle. So either you're stronger than the bad guys, or you're not, and your influence basically comes down to activating a special ability.

If you lose, you go back to the base and train up abilities. There are no special events at the base, no variations, just resting and training, mostly.

If that sounds boring, well, yes--it's boring. There are also emergencies (fires and runaway buses), but they're even worse--in those situations, you do nothing but assign a hero and watch.

So Middle Manager of Justice absolutely looks like a Bullfrog game, but it utterly lacks the energy. Sadly, it's flat as a pancake.

Now, the good news. It's free. I think I spent $3.99 on an IAP just to acknowledge the time I did spend with the game, and god knows I don't want the artists to starve, because they're geniuses. The game itself, though, is totally free if you choose to play it that way.

This game should have been great. Everything was in place for it to be great. Hopefully, Double Fine can learn from this.

Oh, and please give the artists a substantial raise.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Drives, not people.

Right now I have an 80GB SSD. Yes, it's incredibly small, and that's getting pretty annoying at this point. However, I hate changing ANYTHING if it's working.

So here's the question: if I buy a new SSD to replace my existing one, what is the simplest way to put everything from the existing drive onto the new drive? I want a software program that is so simple even an idiot like me can't mess it up. A tall order, to be sure, but there must be something out there for people like me. Thanks for any suggestions/advise you might have.

Gridiron Solitaire #34: Team History

Last week, I discussed the Team History layout and how the beta testers wanted much more detail than was presently available (just team record and an acknlowledgement of how far the team had made it in the playoffs). That required an entirely new layout.

Layout is difficult, but it can be enjoyable. It's very, very interative: create a design, get feedback, tweak, think about it, tweak again. I must have gone through at least half a dozen layouts before I finally narrowed in on something I liked:

I'm very pleased with this layout (with the exception of reversing "Att-Comp", which has been fixed). Played/Simmed games are broken out, everything is easily readable, and those badges on top (which are just placeholders, for now) show how far you progressed in the playoffs (so if you make the playoffs, get a badge, and for each level you progress, you get an additional, distinct badge). Plus, the card incorporates the team's primary and secondary colors, which reinforces the team brand.

On each screen of Team History, there will be five of these cards, plus a sixth card that represents your overall franchise history. Here it is:

There are navigation buttons to move forward/back between the seasons, and this new layout gives you the ability to compare multiple seasons at a single glance.

So the layout has been changed, and the data has been captured and written to file. What's left is that I have to actually display it (everything you see here is just dummy data). The good news is that I know how to do this in a reasonably optimized way, and I'm hoping to put it all together this afternoon.

It's very grinding to do feel like I'm proceeding at a snail's pace, but everything I'm doing now is adding richness and flavor to the world that I didn't really conceive of when I started.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Not Today

I had a little post about recent iOS games I've been playing ready to go up, but it seemed so pointless and small after hearing about the shootings in Connecticut. Today is a day for respectful silence.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Really, that was, um, All According To Plan

Stephanie Assham, administrative assistant, has apologized for the early posting of Friday Links. That or I can't read a calendar.

PT Games!

Tim Plum, formerly of Wolverine Studios, has started his own tabletop sports game company, and it's called PT Games. Hit the website link if you'd like to check out dice-based basketball, football and hockey. I've checked out the game sheet for "Football Bones" and it looks quite good.

Carolina Games Summit


GOLDSBORO, N.C. (November 29, 2012) -- The 8th Annual Carolina Games Summit will feature an official Ghost Recon: Future Soldier 4v4 tournament hosted by Red Storm Entertainment on Feb 2nd 2012. To promote this exciting addition to the event a free autographed copy of the game will be given away via re-tweet contest @cgsummit. “Over the past seven years Red Storm Entertainment has exhibited, contributed prizes, keynoted, and hosted game development sessions at our event. We are extremely excited to add hosting an official tournament on their latest entry to the Tom Clancy franchise to that impressive list,” states Michael Everett, Creative Director for the Carolina Games Summit.

...Prospective e-Sport competitors should gather three friends and register online now at for just $10 per player, this price also includes full access to all the speakers, exhibitors, and excitement Carolina Games Summit has to offer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is extremely cool, it's Isaac Newton vs. Rube Goldberg: A Gravity-Defying Chain Reaction. Also, and these are stunning, it's Remarkable Macro Photographs of Ice Structures and Snowflakes. One more, and this is really quite incredible (it's probably my favorite link of the week), it's The finest bird song of 1890 produced by lovely brass mechanism.

From DQ reader My Wife, a holiday classic: the 42 worst nativity sets.

From John, and if you enjoy excellent sleight-of-hand work, this is for you: Yann Frisch. Also, and while it's not quite a Bird Segway, it's close: BirdBuggy.

From Brad Brasfield, and boy, this is a tantalizing possibility (that this may be the source of "vampires": Brothers Suffer From Rare Condition Similar To Vampirism.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is a remarkable adapation: Birds use cigarette butts to line nests.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is quite amazing: Back-up Tut and Other Decoy Spatial Antiquities.

From Chris Pencis, and the title says it all, it's The Unicycling Bagpiper of Portland...The "Unipiper".

From John Harwood, and this is the greatest safety video you'll ever see: An Unexpected Briefing | Air New Zealand Safety Video Boing 777-300 The Hobbit.


So there's this:

What the hell?

You are probably wondering--with good reason--why I've put up a picture of my hand, seemingly focused on some pretty crappy fingernails. Well, it's because they're unbitten.

I bit my nails for over forty years. I quit in March.

If you've ever developed the habit of biting your nails, you understand that it can be a very strong compulsion. When people used to ask me why I had such a bad habit, I'd say, "It's more of a hobby, really." It was a blithe response to a question I really couldn't answer.

Over the years, I tried many, many times to stop. It was always an organized effort, with goals and data and all the things that I know work best for me. It never worked, though. I think I made it almost ten days once, but usually it would collapse after a few days, at best.

Even though I had a strong conceptual aversion to what I was doing, I was still doing it. I can only imagine what alcoholics and drug addicts must feel.

In March, I just stopped. There was no plan, no official attempt to quit. I just woke up one day and didn't want to bite my nails anymore. It was almost as if a chemical need had vanished. A few times, I started to raise my hand to my mouth, then thought, "Oh, I don't do that anymore," and put it back down. It wasn't difficult at all, because I wasn't even trying.

I do still pick at my nails, on occasion. At times, I clip them fairly compulsively. What I don't do, though, is bite them.

I've tried to go back in my mind and figure out what event might have precipitated the change, but I've found nothing. No big emotional events. No dietary changes (it's as terrible as ever). No supplement or nutritional changes.

After the first three weeks, I was taking Eli 11.4 to hockey and I said, "Hey, something is different about me. Do you know what it is?"

Immediately, he said, "You stopped biting your nails."

Amusingly, Gloria still doesn't know, even though she always wanted me to stop. So she's going to read this post tonight, then come into my study and throw a book at my head (or something).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


New word. Please use as needed.

With three hockey trips and a trip to Shreveport in the last six weeks, I was very tired and looking forward to spending some time at home. I was drained and very much needed to recharge.

Mostly, I'm tired of talking. We've been around so many people, and so often, that I feel like I've talked nonstop for a month. I'd be thrilled to have a day where the only words I spoke were "Turkey sandwich with chips and a large drink, please."

Gloria has been sick for a few weeks now, lingering throat/swollen gland stuff that just won't go away. She went to the doctor before last weekend's hockey trip to Dallas and was told she "probably" had a virus. She can still function, but feels like hell.

On Monday morning, I was about to leave for work when the phone rings. It's Eli 11.4. "Dad," he said, "I feel terrible. I think I have what Mom has."

Oh, hell.

He's been home from school since then, only a pale shell of The Enthusiasm Engine, although I don't think he has the same thing that Gloria is still dealing with. From what I can gather, roughly half the city is sick right now with flu and other respiratory viruses. Gloria's sick. Eli's sick. My mom's sick. Another 500,000 people who aren't in my family are sick.

In short, it's an exellent day for a picture thread.

When we reached Grapevine (Dallas suburb) on Saturday, we had several hours to fill, and since the rink was attached to a huge mall, we had some built-in entertainment. Here's Eli on a bungie jumping contraption, turning a flip while he's far, far off the ground:

That was more scary to watch than it was to actually do, I think.
We saw some odd things in this mall. Very odd. A sample:
A "brow bar"? What the hell? I must have lived on a farm for the last ten years.
This gets my nomination for best marketing ever:
Chewable toothbrush? This is gum, right? The marketing copy was so brilliant, though, that I almost bought one, just so I could unwrap it and see a piece of gum. [I went to the company's web site and they said that their product "contained 74% Xylitol." Hey, isn't that the sweetener used in... chewing gum?
Now, a new product:
Yes, you plug your cellphone into a shell that looks just like a phone from the 1960s. Irony Retrograde Inversion Field encountered, Captain.
This next picture is a little blurry, but the little sign says "Control Valve":
Man, I've turned a ton of those in the last two decades.
Gloria wanted this next picture included, because (long story, but we had one of Eli's teammates with us all weekend) she had to pack all of Eli's gear--both goalie and player--into ONE bag, because we didn't have enough space in the car to pack them separately:
That's full gear for goalie and player--most of it packed like Russian nesting dolls. When I pulled it all out, I felt like I was in a Marx Brothers movie: this one, actually.
On Saturday night, Eli had a game that started at 7:30 p.m. We didn't get back to the hotel until after 9. Then, on Sunday morning, he had a game at 6:00 a.m. (why the hell doesn't the Geneva Convention have a section on hockey tournaments?). After the game, he came back and claimed he didn't need a nap. That lasted for about an hour. Then the little warrior, who acts so strong on the ice, fell asleep cuddling his little puma from Build-a-Bear:
 We could all use one of those little pumas, sometimes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #32: Team History

In the last six weeks, we've had three hockey trips and a trip to Shreveport. It's going to kill me, if it hasn't already.

In spite of that, I got an idea in the car on the way to Dallas for the team history screen. In case you don't remember, the team history screen currently features small banners for each season, with the team record displayed as well as a small graphic overlay that shows you how far your team advanced that season. Here, take a look:

You can click on that image for more detail, if you're interested. That 0-15 season, by the way, came after I gambled on three high-risk, high-reward cards and lost on all of them.

I like that layout, visually, and I particularly like the little logos Fredrik created. And when I first designed the team history page, I thought I was adding flavor that almost no one would care about. I wanted it, but I didn't think anyone else would. I mean, how many people would even consider playing multiple seasons, let alone follow through on it?

In the first beta test, though, I found out that that most people actually wanted more information on that page. They did play multiple seasons, and they wanted a finer comparison of what happened.

I liked that idea, so I started thinking about redesigning the page. I knew that I wanted to be able to click the banner to get more information, but couldn't come up with anything interesting in terms of presentation.

On the way to Dallas, though, I had an idea.

Sports trading cards always show statistics on the back of the card, and they can summarize someone's entire career. What if I presented the information in "trading card" format? Plus, because the information lays out better horizontally than vertically, what if I made that trading card the shape (roughly) of a regular playing card?

Here's how it would work. On the front of the card--what you'd initially see when you went to the page--would be the season year, team record, and Fredrik's icon that represents how far the team went into the playoffs that season. It might also show the team ratings (in A-F format) on the front of the card. In terms of layout, there would be a thick stripe down the left side of the card for the team's primary color, with a thinner stripe down the right for the secondary color. Or maybe just one stripe on the left, but with two color bands to show primary/secondary colors (as I type that, I realize I like the one stripe look better).

If you clicked on the front of the card, it would flip, and on the back of the card would be all the statistics for that season. Separate statistics for simmed games versus played games (and your record in each type of game as well), as well as any flavor from the season I could toss in (maybe a few "best of" statistics, like most points, most total yards, etc.

 I won't be able to fit all 30 years onto one screen anymore, but 10 seasons a screen should work fine, and the extra information makes it worth it.

In terms of data, all the additional information is now captured in the team history file, so it's all available. I just need to come up with a layout that conveys the information at a glance and is visually pleasing. I'll share that layout with you when it's ready.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Links!

Starting off this week, from Griffin Cheng, and this leaves me speechless: What DNA Actually Looks Like. Yes, an actual image. Also, and this is entirely spectacular: Starry Nights, in Quick Time.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and I can never get enough Adam Savage videos: Mythbusters/Tested XOXO Festival (2012).

From Lael, and these are stunning: Staring into Saturn's baleful eye.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is quite incredible: US planned to nuke the moon.

From Matt Kreuch, and this is outstanding: Extremely Scary Ghost Elevator Prank in Brazil.

From Donny Plumley, and this is fascinating: Reinventing the fastest forgotten archery.

C. Lee let me know that NHK has their own YouTube channel with a wealth of outstanding features. An example: TAKESHI Art Beat -- Eriko Horiki, expert washi artist .

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and these are always fantastic: National Geographic Photo Contest 2012, Part II (my favorite is #16). Also, and this is amazing: Water On Mercury: NASA Announces Discovery Of Ice At Planet's Poles.

From Sirius, and this would make a fine holiday gift: New liquid nitrogen lamp recreates weather inside your home.  Also, and this is quite promising: Plastic bulb development promises better quality light. One more, adn this is beautiful: I wish Earth had rings.

Rob Varak sent in a link to a wonderfully written and deeply touching article about a son helping his father grow up: How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal With Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood.

Joseph Holley sent in a link to a spectacular presentation of information: Fun with data: 37 years of video game history organized by genre and platform.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

So How Does This Go? (your e-mail)

Sadly, I found out that Alzheimer's does indeed take your muscle memory as well as everything else.

Brad Brasfield sent in a link to a video, though, of a man whose memory literally lasts 30 seconds, due to retrograde and anterograde amnesia. However, his procedural memory was undamaged, so he is still able to play a piano (he is described as an "accomplished musician" by Wikipedia. It's both fascinating and sad: The Man with a 30 Second Memory.

Also, Iain Bruce sent in a lovely and touching story about his grandmother. It's sad, but it's also funny and poignant, and he was kind enough to allow me to share it with you:
My grandmother had the disease in her later years.

When my brother and I were younger, we would call her "Mad Nan", as she was crazy fun, with little things like a spoon with a hole in it in the sugar bowl, and the "just going down to the cellar" trick behind the couch.

As she approached 80, the disease took hold, and she had to move closer to her son, my father, and as it progressed further, in to a (really quite great) care home.

During this period, she fell and broke her hip. We saw her a week later, and she said "let's go out for a walk". She'd forgotten she had broken her hip and couldn't walk. The inability to recognise anyone was heart-breaking, and the love my father showed her during this time was extremely moving.

There were however two moments that were rather lovely.

My brother had a son, and Mad Nan met him for the first time, not knowing any of our names. She sat with the child on her knee, and while we were all a bit choked at four generations of the family being together, she started singing him a nursery rhyme. How did she remember that, but not our names? It was beautiful.

The other moment, which just summed her up: my Dad and I took her to a little café she liked for a tea and a cake. As we were chatting, she took a sad turn, and said, "Well, you won't need to worry about me, I'll be dead soon."

My Dad said: "Well, you never know, Mum, I might be dead before you."

Mad Nan: "Oh, you can't do that, dear, who would drive me around?"

Madden (your e-mail)

This e-mail came in shortly after I put up the Madden post earlier this week:
As you may (but probably don't) remember, I once worked at EA.

They have historically been able to attract some of the better talent in the industry simply because they've had the money.  I'd convinced another studio, after much hemming and hawing, to offer me a 12.5% increase over my previous salary, so I was emboldened to ask EA for 25%.  They agreed so fast I was certain I'd under bid, and they then proceeded to give me bonuses, raises, and stock.  My average compensation for the two years I was there (including stock and eventual "EA spouse" overtime compensation) equaled a full 100% more than my ending compensation at the previous studio.

I experienced the exact same situation described in those tweets, of talented developers in the hands of incompetent management.  The executive producer on my project was an ex-soap-opera-actor, who'd presumably got into television production before making the leap to video game production.  There was no evidence that he'd ever learned anything about software development, never mind the special challenges of producing video games.  And he certainly displayed no aptitude for working with engineers, or the technical understanding to do so effectively.

There was almost no time spent on development that wasn't an effort to shoehorn some new feature into the game for an upcoming trade show or executive demo.  And as alluded to in those tweets, the level of thinking that went into production was, "Let's see, we've got 10 new features we want this year, and about nine months to deliver them.  John, how much time does that work out to per feature?"  On my project, that level of production competence led to tens of thousands of known bugs.

It doesn't take a genius, but making video games is hard.  Big personality, executive experience, and even honest-to-God management skills just don't cut it.  Video games management needs actual video games production experience (including the software development side of the business).  And "management" experience at EA doesn't count.

The Maddening thing is that this situation is not forced by being a publicly traded corporation.  There's no reason they can't afford the best management in the industry. 

That's an excellent point (nice pun, too). Even with the annual development cycle, highly competent management could result in a much better product than we're currently seeing. The NHL and FIFA series from EA, as well as the NBA2K series from Take-Two and The Show series from Sony, are all proof that annual franchises can be excellent and continue to improve over a sustained period of time.

Madden and NCAA? Not so much.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

So How Does This Go?

I was talking to Gloria last week (about her mom, I think), and the subject of Alzheimer's came up. We were going through the usual dark humor routine (a way that people give the finger to things that scare them), and I had a thought that had never occurred to me before.

Let's say that I was a tennis player and had played for decades. If I had Alzheimer's, I might not recognize my own family, but would I still know how to easily hit a tennis ball? Would my  muscle memory remain intact?

It's an odd thought, to lose the memory of so much of what made your life, but to be undiminished physically.

Memory has always fascinated me because it can be so strange. I go to a burger place near Eli's school called P. Terry's three days a week, because I hang out there for a while before I pick him up (I joke to Gloria that it's my satellite office). I wrote some code (on paper) while I was there last week to improve the field goal logic in GS. It was fairly detailed, and instead of writing it in my design notebook--which is where I write everything--I wrote it all on a loose sheet of paper.

When it was time to leave, I specifically thought to myself that I needed to make sure I didn't lose that paper.

By the time I got to Eli's school, which took all of two minutes, I'd lost it. I was very pissed off, because it was good code, and I forget things this way all the time. I have so many things in my head that it's easy for me to forget what I'm doing on my way to doing it.

Here's the strange thing, though. While I was sitting in the car, being thoroughly annoyed that I couldn't remember where I put a piece of paper only a few minutes before, I realized that I remembered all of the code. It was at least thirty lines, and I just wrote it out on another piece of paper.

Like I said, it's strange.

Eli 11.4 loves it when I joke about being old. We were playing in the cul-de-sac last week and I felt like I was a hundred years old as I chased after a ball. "Good grief, I'm moving like an arthritic turtle," I said. Eli started laughing so hard that he grabbed his stomach.

"If I fall and somehow wind up on my back," I said, "you need to flip me over. Otherwise, I'll die in the sun."

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Crickets, Stop Chirping

In reference to the previous post, Bethesda deserves to be exempted. And Harmonix.

Madden: Is Anyone Surprised?

An ex-Madden developer, who recently left EA, put up a series of Tweets that confirm what we already knew: Madden is a hopelessly compromised game. It's tremendously interesting, though, that he broke the Omertà and actually talks about what goes wrong.

The full list of tweets is here (thanks to PastaPadre for gathering the tweets and Jesse Leimkuehler for sending me the link), and it's impossible to pull excerpts from AJ Dembroski's stream of consciousness, but here's the gist: there are brilliant people working on Madden whose work is undone by people in charge who have no idea what they're doing, and the result is a game where lots of the best work gets left on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

Well, duh.

Anyone who plays Madden for more than a few hours (and knows football) very quickly realizes that Madden has little bits of brilliance, but the damn game--overall--just never works. It's like an intricate canvas with a gaping hole in the center where the cannonball went through.

Bill Abner can sit down with Madden for five hours and find 90% of what's clearly wrong with the game. Other people can, too, so why can't EA?

Well, according to Dembroski, they can. There are very smart people who know what's wrong, but they can't fight their way past the stupid people to get things done.

Big software companies that are publicly traded are driven by marketing cycles. Period. How many publicly traded software companies can you think of that have a track record of putting out consistently excellent games?

Crickets chirping.

Individual franchises (hello, NHL) can sometimes escape the lessening effect of their corporate overlords, but it's much, much more likely that a franchise becomes something like what Tiburon churns out every year: a hamburger that's perfectly cooked in one spot, frozen in another, and burned in the center.

This is, quite simply, the greatest thing I have ever seen

I'm speechless.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #32: Down the Rabbit Hole

I finished up a working version of the newspaper icon/stat summary feature last week. It showed the basic stats that generated for a simmed game: score, rushing yards, and passing yards.

It worked just fine, but boy, it seemed bare. And there were stats I wanted to see when I played a game that weren't showing. I couldn't show them, actually, because I wasn't saving that information to the schedule file (where stats are recorded after games).

Basically, the nice stat display at the end of a played game was a superset of data, and I took a small subset of that data and wrote it to the schedule file. That was the subset I had available when someone pressed the newspaper icon on the team hub screen.

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how that made any sense. In essence, I was spending all this time trying to create a dynamic world when you played the game, but almost all of those details were lost as soon as you went back to the team hub.

Well, that was wrong. What I needed to do was capture every scrap of data I could to the schedule file, and then I could decide to use it however I wanted.

Two initial ideas:
--have two different possible information displays when a user clicks ont the newspaper icon at the team hub. One shows just the fields applicable to a simmed game, while the second--for a played game--shows a richer data set.
--record a much wider set of information to the team history at the end of the season. Then expand each year of team history so that data for simmed games is shown as well as data for played games. For instance, the user could see the season average of their playcalling percentages for the games they played.

As soon as I thought of those two possibilities, I realized that they were far better than what I currently had, and they needed to be in the game. This meant changing all the data that gets written to the various text files, though, and then testing all the changes. It sounds simple, but it was (for me) very non-trivial and very time-consuming.

Not to mention incredibly boring.

I'm beginning to understand why some games have all these cool features, but sometimes lack the most basic, obvious things. It's because the basic stuff is deadly dull to work on. It's just not fun. So I can see the temptation to program the fun stuff as much as possible, and avoid the boring stuff like the plague. It turns out not to be tempting for me, because I want to play this game for a long time after I'm done, and not putting something in that I know needs to be there would drive me crazy. I understand the impulse, though.

So this newspaper icon/stat review feature started out as something quite simple, but there was a loose thread, and I pulled on it, and I wound up temporarily unraveling the sweater.

I know, I was supposed to tie that up with a rabbit hole reference instead.

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