DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel is basically good at everything, as far as I can tell. Remember, he's the one who drafted blueprints and built a wooden playscape for his kids. And he's a great teacher, based on all the things about VB.NET that he's taught me.
Well, he's also a writer, and he's working on an experimental writing project that is tremendously compelling (I've read what he's written so far, which are the first three chapters). And he's publishing as he writes, which is far, far braver than I've ever been. You can read a description below, and it is well worth your time.
Scientists at a particle accelerator research facility are
working to unlock the mysteries of non-causal communication, sending
information and objects backwards through time. At the apex of their ultimate
experiment, a nuclear explosion rips through the facility laying waste to the
region and killing tens of thousands. TIMESPLICE is a sci-fi mystery that
unfolds the trail of physical evidence tied to those scientists as they navigate
through the time stream of their own experiment. Following and using the clues
sent to them by their future selves, they rush towards a tragedy in their past
that has not yet happened.
TIMESPLICE is being published online for free at http://www.garretrempel.com/ with new
additions every Monday morning. The complete Chapter 1 is already available.
And if you would like to read ahead, TIMESPLICE has also been submitted to a
contest sponsored by Nerdist (http://nerdist.com/)
at Inkshares (https://www.inkshares.com/projects/timesplice/).
The top 5 pre-ordered books will be published in hard copy. By signing up for
an account at Inkshares you get a $5 credit towards a pre-order (which are
$9.99) and like Kickstarter, if the book doesn't get funded you don't pay
anything. Members who pre-order TIMESPLICE (https://www.inkshares.com/projects/timesplice/)
will get access to advance chapters, long before they are published on my
website. And if the book gets fully funded you will also get a physical copy of
it when its done too!
I hope you enjoy this work, it is not written in a
traditional narrative, but is presented in a manner similar to evidence
exhibits at a trial - allowing the reader to consider and construct their own
narrative of events that fits the evidence much as a prosecutor or defense
attorney would do for a judge or jury.
GARRET REMPEL graduated with a Bachelor of Mathematics in
Computer Science from the University of Waterloo and has been a Technology
Consultant with MNP ever since. He has been an avid computer nerd since his
parents brought home an Amiga 500 when he was six and has never looked back. He
has been a voracious reader since he was a child, with a keen interest in
fiction, science, technology, and current affairs.
Okay, I've put together a press release and I'd like feedback, please. ***
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Austin, Texas - August 25, 2015 - Gridiron Solitaire major release 1.3
Inspired by classic games like TV Sports Football, Front Page Sports Football, and Fairway Solitaire, Gridiron Solitaire combines football strategy with a solitaire-style card game for a new sports experience.
This is a card game for all kinds of players. Fans of casual games will enjoy a 15-minute experience full of excitement. More hardcore fans will appreciate the use of real NFL data and the excellent A.I., as well as the ability to generate realistic stats.
A full tutorial assists new players, who will be up and playing in about five minutes, thanks to game rules that are not complex but lead to a wealth of strategic decisions.
The new release features multiple card decks to choose from, as well as all-new interface screens, along with revisions to defensive gameplay and the in-game announcer. It all adds up to the best football experience you'll have this fall!
• A game world with almost unlimited depth. Create a 16 team, fully customized league, then play for up to 30 seasons.
• Guide your team through a 15-game regular season and playoffs. You can choose to play or sim each game.
• Unique gameplay combines football strategy with card play, and includes thousands of possible events to influence the action.
• Behind the scenes is a quality sim. Real NFL data is used in every aspect of the game.
• Experience roaring crowds and dynamic sounds in a true football atmosphere with 8 hand-crafted, vibrant stadiums.
• See a customized newspaper headline after every game you play, based on your performance.
• Offseason draft gives you a chance to improve your team ratings.
• Visit the team museum to review past seasons and see all-time franchise leaders.
• Custom difficulty levels let you tailor your experience from casual to the ultimate challenge.
“Gridiron Solitaire is a marvel: an elegant design with deep and intricate underpinnings. It’s the most straight-up fun I’ve had with a football game since Tecmo Super Bowl.”
--Phil Scuderi, Red Door Blue Key
Gridiron Solitaire is $7.99 and available for purchase on Steam, the world's leading digital distribution platform:
So there's going to be a price drop to $7.99, as you can see. And every time I send the press release to a website, I'm going to e-mail it to someone specifically and include a Steam code.
Here's the list of websites/youtubers I've identified:
10 Dollar Gaming
Buy Some Indie Games
Casual Game Revolution
Colony of Gamers
Games for Gamers
Gamers With Jobs
Indie Game Reviewer
Indie Games The Weblog
Indie Games Searchlight
Indie Game HQ
Jay is Games
Los Angeles Times
Out of Eight
Pixels for Breakfast
Rock, Paper Shotgun
The Game Jar
The Married Gamers
The Video Game Backlog
Tradition Sports Online
True PC Gaming
Wraithkal's Indie Gaming Corner
If you know of someone I'm missing here, or you have recommendations for a specific contact at one of these websites, please let me know.
Darryl Dawkins passed away today at the age of 58.
Dawkins was a colorful, larger-than-life person, both physically and his personality. One of the greatest athletes to ever enter the NBA, he did so straight from high school.
He was the first player, to my knowledge, to shatter a backboard with a dunk in an NBA game. He destroyed a backboard, more accurately, and I still remember the Sports Illustrated article the next week mentioning that one of the players had found glass--at midcourt.
He also had one of the greatest dunks I've ever seen, backing down Bill Walton in the post, then dunking on Bill Walton while still facing away from the basket. He didn't even look, just dunked right over him. Incredible.
As befits a larger than life character, his nicknames were tremendous. Chocolate Thunder. Dr. Dunkenstein. He named his dunks (the Rim Wrecker, the Go-Rilla, the Look Out Below, the In-Your-Face Disgrace, the Cover Your Head, the Yo-Mama, the Spine-Chiller Supreme, and the Greyhound Special (coast to coast).
Thanks, Wikipedia, for the dunk names.
Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry: At one point, Dawkins claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron, where he spent the off-season practicing "interplanetary funkmanship"...
There will never, ever be a better phrase than "interplanetary funkmanship." It's just not possible.
Yes, he didn't play up to his potential, but anyone who saw him play in the league remembers. He was unforgettable.
Short version: in the AM database, there were 31.5 million registered male users and 5.5 registered female users. Over 20 million men (of 31 million, remember) had checked their mail messages after creating an account. 1,492 women had.
Yes, that's not a typo. Just a shade under fifteen hundred.
They also had some kind of instant chat system. 11 million male users had used it. 2,409 women had used it.
Again, not a typo.
So it certainly appears that AM had people creating buckets and buckets of profiles, just for their male users to have profiles to scan. Over 99% of the female accounts had no activity once they'd been created.
Fredrik is finishing the new trailer in the morning. He's been working on it almost all day.
I found a pixel player running in the wrong direction tonight (long story). Fixed a few very small bugs today. Actually created the build, but now I'll have to create another one when the pixel player image points in the correct direction.
So 1.3 will go out sometime tomorrow morning.
All the Steam marketing materials have to be replaced with the new versions. Then I have to finish the press release and write personal e-mails to 700 websites. Not exaggerating the number of websites, either. If I can do 50 a day, I can do it all in two weeks.
Oh, and I'm dropping the price to $7.99.
Marketing? Yes, I learned my lesson. I'm going to go at it very hard.
It's hung above the chimney with care, so to speak.
So 1.3 is done. New card decks, all new background screens, big new scoreboard, and changes in the way text events are presented. Lots of good stuff.
It's not released yet, because I'm trying to sync up with the revised materials for marketing, but I'm probably letting it go tonight. It would be helpful to build up a few forum posts about the new version before I make an aggressive push for press.
Ha. "Aggressive push for press". "Aggressive" and "push" are not really part of my personality--not anymore, at least.
There's one other change to the game that I want to mention, and discuss. Defensive gameplay has changed, and after about 20+ games with the new rules, I think it's significantly improved.
The basic principle of defense has been that the opposing team starts with a gain, and you play cards to "rewind" (reduce) the gain. I have always strongly believed that the right approach, conceptually, and still do.
The details, though, have been difficult.
In the old system, the max possible gain for the CPU was based on whether the player matched the CPUs play call. It still works that way, but the details are different. Here are the old yardages on Veteran difficulty:
Run/Pass match = 15 yard max gain
Run mismatch = 30 yard max gain
Pass mismatch = 35 yard max gain
Once the max gain was established, card play could then reduce the gain (2 yards at a time). However, in practice, the play call was much more important than the card play, because missing the play call was so punitive in terms of possible max gain. If you missed the play call, you needed 15-18 " card matches" to get down to 0 gain. If you matched the play call, you only needed 8.
Such a large disparity in max gain meant that it tended to result in a few fairly predictable situations after 1st down. Match the play call on 1st and 10, and it was going to be 2nd and 30 (roughly). Miss the playcall, and it was going to be 2nd and 10-15. The full range of down and distance situations wasn't represented.
I've spent so much time on tiny things in the game, things that almost no one will ever see or notice, and yet this major gameplay element wasn't working nearly as well as it should. So I desperately wanted to make playing defense more dynamic and robust.
One day a couple of weeks ago--after thinking about this almost non-stop for several days--I wrote down all the mins/maxes and the reduction per card play and started watching a movie. I've found in the past that sometimes thinking about a problem as part of multiple streams helps me, particularly when I'm trying too hard to solve something. In this case, watching the movie made defensive gameplay a background task.
I don't know why that works, but it does.
Early on in the movie, I was looking at giving 3 yards per card match instead of 2. Definite benefits there: fewer cards to play, more sense of progress on defense, etc. But there was still a straight line problem with how many card matches were needed for matched/mismatched play calls. It was still too punitive to miss a play call.
A while longer watching the movie, and then it just kind of hit me: why not give different yardage credits?
To me, that's absolutely counter-intuitive. The more I worked on the details, though, the more it made sense. I started playing games, and it worked better than I could have even hoped.
Let me cut to the conclusion and show you how it works.
Now, if you match the CPUs play call, the max gain is 20 yards, not 15. And you get 3 yards gain reduction per play of cards.
If you miss the play call, the max gain goes up to 35, but you get 4 yards gain reduction per play of cards.
The math: if you match the playcall, it takes 7 card matches to get the gain to 0. If you miss the play call, it takes 9.
Why does this work? Because previously, I was double-penalizing the player for missing the play call. The max gain was 2X or more, AND they had to play a ton of cards. In a gameplay sense, that didn't work.
The penalty for missing the play call is still there, but your players (the cards) can more readily recover and reduce the gain. However, if you don't manage to play cards, the max gain is still punitive compared to the gain if you matched the play call, and that's as it should be.
Because of the changes in max gains and credit per card play, the full spectrum of down and distance is represented now. The formerly predictable down and distance situations don't happen nearly as often. It makes calling defensive plays more challenging, and more interesting.
It also makes the game more dynamic as a whole, with a wider spectrum of game types and scores. I'm very happy about that.
It's funny how I thought this game was "complete" when it shipped. Like a novel.
PROTIP: when you buy something at Walgreen's and use a debit card, you get asked a cascading wave of questions after you put in your PIN #. It's incredibly annoying. However, once you put in your PIN, when you get asked the first question, just hit the red X in the upper right corner of the keypad. It will skip all the rest of the questions and you'll be good to go.
It's interesting both because it's been developed on and off for over a decade, and--in quite a twist--this happened: We were contacted by the owners of The 7th Guest, and offered a licensing deal! If we can fund this Kickstarter, thus proving we can market the game and build a community around The 13th Doll, they will allow us to sell the game commercially.
That's remarkable, and I still remember how amazing The 7th Guest was for its time.
I've been wondering for a while why I buy highly rated mobile games and wind up not liking most of them.
Today, I realized why, and I can describe it in terms of music.
In the sixties and seventies, rock music focused on the album. Yes, singles were released, but the focus was primarily on the album. Most of my favorite albums told stories. They were journeys.
They were substantial.
Interestingly, many of the most popular bands of that era were also the best in terms of quality of music.
Today, rock music is floundering. Most of what we'd think of as "rock" music is crap, really. And because of digital distribution, the focus has shifted from albums to songs.
Now, think about games.
When I started gaming, playing games like Ultima IV, the games were epic. They were journeys.
They were albums.
They weren't all albums. There was plenty of crap put out back then. But it was the objective of so many developers to put out something substantial.
Today, with the rise of phones and tablets as gaming devices, it's forced a change in gaming design. With mobile devices, the essential gameplay element is the tap. Tapping on the screen.
That alone would simplify games for developers who want to put out a product across all platforms, but mobile devices are also perfect for playing games for a few minutes at a time.
The length of a single song.
So the mega-hits in mobile gaming aren't albums, generally. They're songs. Hell, they're riffs--not even songs.
Fortunately, some older games have been ported--like King of Dragon Pass--and they're certainly epic albums. And a few, rare developers (like Luca Redwood with You Must Build A Boat) have somehow managed to create a hybrid game that is almost an EP in music terms--not as long as an album, but packed full of quality and entertainment.
I'm still finding plenty of terrific games to play, but really, it's an indie rock kind of situation now. Except for one or two big titles like MLB: The Show, almost everything I play is by smaller developers.
Gridiron Solitaire artist Fredrik Skarstedt has his own delightful game, Card Dungeon, and it's on sale today at Green Man Gaming. Add the voucher code GRAB20-PEROFF-NOWGMG and you get the game for 33% off! Here you go: Card Dungeon Sale.
Sorry--late start today because I'm trying to update all the marketing screenshots/gameplay trailers for Gridiron Solitaire so that I can go live with all the new material when 1.3 gets released.
Two interesting things, in particular, at the magic festival in Colon, although neither involved magic. The first was this:
This let to a round of joking between Eli and I. Imagine our shock, then, when we saw a woman drive up, pull an American flag out of her car, and deposit it in the mailbox. Who knew?
Here was the other remarkable moment:
Those are Cushman Eagle scooters, which were staggeringly popular 50+ years ago. There was a "gang" of seriously old folks who all pulled up together, those Cushman engines roaring like lawnmowers.
Even better, an even older fellow (80+, and he was a badass) who lived in Colon walked up, looked at all the scooters, and told us all about them. He said the original Cushman scooters only had 7 horsepower (is that possible?), but that a few of these scooters had the custom "Vanguard" engine which had 20+ horsepower.
I remember seeing a ton of Cushman golf carts when I was a kid. I had no idea they made scooters, though, or that they were so hugely popular.
All right, one last trip picture. On the way back from Colon, we stopped at a Walgreen's in Battle Creek. For some incredibly awesome reason, they had a huge selection of merchandise from local high schools and colleges, including this:
That's the Kellogg Community College Bruins, baby! Also known as "My Favorite Shirt Now".
There's this annual ritual down here when it comes to hockey.
Every year before tryouts, there's a rumor about some kid coming from ZYZ state who played AA or AAA and he's going to try out for the team. Every once in a while, a kid actually does come down. Most of the time, though, it's just vapor.
"Those tryouts are going to be tough," Eli 14.0 said as we drove back to the hotel on Friday.
"Yes, and you should embrace that," I said.
He started laughing. "Motivational speech coming."
"You have very high goals," I said. "When it gets hard, it means you're getting somewhere. You're moving forward. That's when it gets fun."
He knows that. It doesn't hurt to say it every once in a while, though.
"Hey, I just realized something," Eli said. "Next spring, when I come up here for tryouts, I AM the rumor!"
I burst out laughing. "You're right," I said. "That's a real upside-down situation."
I'm wiped out today and still have a ton to do on GS in preparation for the new release tomorrow/Friday, so here are some pictures.
If you're doing laundry in the sink, controlling soap amounts is crucial. If you're not careful, you'll wind up with the Caldera Dome:
The mall next to where we were staying had what might be a possibly strategic juxtaposition of stores:
I find this alarming because my brain can't unpack the image at all. What's happening here? Are those thin creatures sweating, or is that salt?
Apparently, wedding school buses are a thing now, and it's about time:
We wound up going to Colon, Michigan, for a magic festival on the day after camp. Western Michigan is beautiful, but it's very, very different from the less rural parts of the state.
This was outside a VFW hall. Eli's best friend is beside him:
More pictures tomorrow, including two that I believe are quite rare.
Believe it or not, there's very specific conversation protocol at a hockey camp when you're talking to other parents for the first time. Here are the rules.
1. Walk up and ask who there kid is and where he/she is on the ice.
2. If you've seen the kid play, compliment something about their game.
At this point, if the parent wants to talk, they'll ask where your kid is on the ice. If they do, then you ask about where people are from, etc. If they don't ask about your kid, then that's the universal symbol that they don't want to talk.
Mostly, parents at these camps are very friendly. There's a lot of down time and a lot of time sitting in the rink, so having someone to talk to can be a relief (even for me).
At lunch, I decided to go on the other side of the highway near the rink (this side of the highway is almost all strip malls).
I think I experienced peak Michigan.
It was 79 with a light wind. Partly cloudy.
I was looking for banana bread (my P. Terry's breakfast routine), and I saw a bakery that was a few minutes in the other direction from where I was used to driving. So I went during the lunch break and wound up on the downtown square of Plymouth.
Man, it was beautiful. Just beautiful. Charming but not in a trying too hard kind of way. Incredibly relaxing, with people happily walking around the square and enjoying the weather.
These pictures absolutely don't do it justice, but here are a few:
In Michigan, when they want you to do something, they're quite polite about it:
In hockey news, Eli looked good today. As each day of camp passes, he gets faster relative to the other kids because he's less tired.
Eli winds up making friends with almost everyone at these camps, including the shooters. The shooters are a special category of kid, brought in not to work on their game but to provide work for others. And they're great.
All the kids chirp back and forth, but it's always funny and never ugly. I mentioned to Eli that he should ask those kids what they see when they start to shoot. Are they so skilled that they see holes everywhere, because they can hit such small spaces, or do they see one or two specific areas that he could adjustments to and make them smaller?
On Friday, I didn't think Eli was as strong on the ice as he had been on Wednesday-Thursday, but he was terrific in the off-ice workout. He survived a week of Barwis and felt good doing it.
At the end of camp, I talked to one of the founders about Eli. He's the same coach who told us last year that we needed to move up to Michigan and that he'd find the right team for Eli (with a coach who would be a good fit for Eli's personality).
I told him that we'd talked about it together, that Eli had done everything we asked of him, and that we would move if he was still committed to helping us get Eli into the right situation. And, in a typically generous move on his part (he's been very, very good to Eli over the years), he said he would.
I can't even begin to tell you how much I respect this coach. He's the kind of mentor that Eli needs at this point in his life, a person who is an honorable, strong example for him. And I trust him.
So this is how it's going to work. In March, we'll go up for tryouts. These are going to be very high-level teams.
If he makes a team, then we're moving to Michigan.
Tomorrow: a weekend magic festival and finally back home.
I realized this year that these trips are all about rhythm.
It's hard to be away from home for 7+ days. It's hard to live out of a hotel. I find that draining. I don't like being away from home. I have FONMO (Fear Of Not Missing Out).
If you can find a good rhythm, though, some of that is mitigated.
This was our day, every day, during the week:
7:25 am Wake up
7:40-8:10 Breakfast downstairs
8:10 Return from breakfast. Pack bag.
8:35 Leave hotel with hockey gear
8:50 Arrive at facility for off-ice workout
9-6:30 Hockey Camp
7:10 Arrive back at hotel. Put out gear, turn on fan.
7:20 Fill up bathtub halfway. Put in half a bottle of Softsoap. Throw in Eli's wearables from day of camp.
7:25 Dinner in mall
8:05 Dessert in mall (usually with Hilarious Cookie Lady, and she certainly was)
8:15 Return to room
8:20-8:35 Wring out laundry, dry as much as possible, put near fan.
9:15 pm-Lights out
That sounds too busy, but it wasn't. It was focused, and Eli 14.0 was on point all week. This year's camp was a big, big deal, and he wanted to do well. So he was--even by adult standards--very disciplined.
And it was fun. It didn't feel like work (well, except for washing out the laundry--man, that sucks). Funny things happened every day, and amazing things, too.
Also, if you're in a good rhythm, sometimes small spaces elongate. I can't even unpack that statement for you, but that's how it works. Small amounts of time can feel pretty luxurious in context.
We went to Walgreen's to get supplies the day we got to Detroit. Fan, notebook, pens, etc. The clerk was ringing up our stuff and she said, "Are you going off to college?"
Eli said "No. I'm fourteen."
We walked out and headed back toward the hotel. I stopped and looked at him carefully. "You know, from the right angle, I think you could pass for a sickly college student," I said.
"Hey, I did manage a Brookstone," he said.
Okay, back to camp.
Eli looked better on Tuesday morning. Much better. A big part of this camp is being good enough (and aggressive enough) to challenge the best shooters, even if you don't stop them. He started challenging.
Plus, I can tell how he's playing without even seeing the shots because I've watched him for so many years. When he's on, he has unbelievable balance. He's never leaning, and everything starts with his feet, which are entirely stable underneath him.
Monday, he hadn't played like that at all. But I could see on Tuesday that he was heading in that direction.
Wednesday morning, that direction resulted in a terrific performance. I texted him right at the end of the morning session: Very Chuck Norris of you. Well done.
Here's video of a drill against Midget Minor shooters (15-16 years old, maybe a Midget Major mixed in there, too):
Part of playing against shooters at this level is being on the right angle and depth to look big enough that they don't see holes, so they miss wide/above the net more often. Eli was never big enough to do that, but he is now.
One of the things about this camp (Bandits) that makes Eli enjoy all the work is the positive atmosphere. Kids are constantly challenged, but in a positive, constructive way.
Counselors (and kids) come back year after year. It feels like a big family, and Eli is happily part of that family. It's a special place.
Tomorrow: Thursday-Friday, more video and pictures.
The first off-ice workout at Barwis on Monday morning has a difficulty of "legendary" on any gaming scale. When he was done, though, Eli 14.0 had a big smile on his face. "I'm in so much better shape than last year," he said. "I murdered all the strength stuff."
I was hoping that would happen. He's worked so hard this summer, doing workouts that are ridiculously difficult, just to be ready when he went up to camp. Feeling that good after a brutal workout was a sign that his training worked.
Once he got on the ice, though, it was tough.
In the very first drill of camp he was facing AAA Midgets, and I think at least two of the guys were wearing USA hockey gear that I'm betting they didn't have to buy, based on their skill level (it turned out that one of those guys had been on the 16U U.S. national team). They tore him up, but as the day progressed, I noticed that they destroyed everyone else, too.
His legs didn't have the pop they normally do, either, which was something else that surprised. It's a long week, though, and his advantage is that he asks questions and lots of them. That's his job while he's here--ask every question he can. Ask and learn.
When he was done for the day, we talked on the way back to the hotel. "Not my best day," he said, "but I was better in the afternoon. And it's a long week."
The week usually works to his advantage. By the end of the week, most kids are totally exhausted from the off-ice workouts, but he usually gets on top of the curve by Wednesday, and the last two days are his.
I saw those Midgets walking down the hall together later in the week, and I said "You guys are brutal." They stopped, wondering what they'd done. "Every time you look at my kid, all you see is opportunity." They burst out laughing.
We were only doing two things on Sunday, both of equal importance: visit Perani's so that Eli 14.0 could try on new leg pads and chest protectors, and go to Clawson to the Wunderground, one of the best magic shops in the country.
Eli's card magic is just ridiculous now. No trick decks, just skill. He's meticulously working his way through a five-volume set called The Card College, and he's picked up so many new techniques that I no longer have any idea how he does anything.
First up, though, was Perani's.
Every year, we seem to find someone at Perani's who is entirely willing to help us for two hours, because that's how long we're there. Eli tries on every conceivable piece of equipment, and we get invaluable advice from the staff, because they really know what they're doing.
The problem with fitting a chest protector for Eli is that he's 5' 9 1/2" and 125 pounds. If a company caters to that physical demographic, it's a recipe for bankruptcy, because there just aren't many kids that size.
Incredibly, though, after a series of chest protectors that were comically oversized (and heavy), he found an incredibly light protector that fits him perfectly. And it has kevlar. It's a huge upgrade.
He knew which leg pads he wanted, but they were out of stock. However, they found a pair in Cleveland, and shipped them so that we would have them three days later.
Then we were off to Clawson, which was about half an hour away.
If you ever go to a magic shop, you need to understand that every magic shop is actually two magic shops.
There's the shop that sells "tricks" to novices and kids, and provides most of the financial support to keep the business open.
Then there's a second shop. It's invisible. You'll never see this shop unless you do magic yourself.
Eli walked into the shop, which was spectacular, and spent a long, long time walking around, carefully examining almost everything in the store. The fellow behind the counter was quite cordial, but clearly, we were in the first magic shop.
Then, after quite a long while, Eli took a deck of cards out of his pocket and did a trick. A David Blaine trick, and it was a difficult one.
Then he asked a very technical question about pressure fans.
And with that, the second shop was open.
The second magic shop is always great. People doing tricks for each other, swapping information on techniques. A brotherhood.
There was a fellow sitting next to a table who said he'd been coming to the shop on Sundays for many years, just to hang out.
He was also in a wheelchair, and his hands were gnarled. It looked painful, and he said he'd started learning card magic as a way to make his hands more dextrous.
There's a technique in card magic called a "double lift", and it's just like it sounds--taking two cards off the top of the deck instead of one, but doing it in a way that the audience can't tell what you've done.
This is one of the most basic skills in card magic.
He said he spent four hours a day for a month learning how to do it, because of the difficulties his hands presented.
That's some damned persistence, which I greatly admire.
He did a few excellent tricks for Eli (really--they were outstanding), and then Eli, in exchange, did a few tricks of his own. Even though they were separated in age by at least twenty-five years, they had a common language and bond.
This will follow the format of other years, with plenty of detail at first, then dwindling as the week goes on and I get progressively more burned out.
"Seven dollars and forty-seven cents," said the clerk at the airport shop.
"Hey!" I said to Eli 14.0. "Airplane pun!"
"Oh my god," Eli said, laughing. "You idiot."
We had a surprise for Eli on this trip.
There were at least eighty people in the regular Delta line to check luggage. I steered him over to the priority line, though, which only had about fifteen people. "This isn't our line," he said. "This is for people flying first class."
"We ARE flying first class," I said.
His eyes popped out of his head in the finest Warners Brothers tradition. "WHAT?"
"Your mom and I agreed that since you've worked so hard all summer, and since it's the day after your birthday, you should get a one-time treat. Don't get used to it," I said, laughing.
It was a treat for me, too.
I flew first class once about fifteen years ago when my boss gave me a bunch of her miles on a business trip. I didn't even care about the service--all I wanted was legroom, because on regular flights now, my knees are jammed into the seat in front of me. So to have a flight where I didn't feel like a giraffe stuffed into a suitcase was a real treat.
First class, of course, is unnecessarily ridiculous. Here's a picture of our breakfast:L
All this while they were shooting bags of pretzels out of a t-shirt cannon to people in coach.
I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that we had signed up for TSA Pre, and we received our numbers in only two weeks. There were at least two hundred people in the regular security line, but the TSA Pre line had two people in front of us. Security literally took less than thirty seconds.
Sign up and take advantage of this before everyone else signs up and ruins it.
After we landed, we drove out to Ypsilanti (I think Pflugerville and Ypsilanti should be sister sisters, just for spelling purposes) to watch a machine-pitch baseball tournament for eight-year-olds (and one eight-year-old in particular who is a very good friend of ours now).
That was fun enough, getting to see him play, but there was an added bonus. Eastern Michigan replaced their turf with gray FieldTurf as part of a factory/manufacturing theme. We actually snuck on the field and threw passes for 15-20 minutes, and the field was so soft I could have napped on it. The gray is crazy, though, and here's a picture:
Man, what a week in Detroit. And I have lots of info about the trip, but that's not starting until tomorrow, because I'm buried in catch-up right now.
A few excerpts, though.
Most Terrifying Thing I Heard All Week: "My left shoe is getting pretty tight."
Eli 14.0 already wears a size 14 sneaker. I'm not sure where you get size 15 shoes. Outer space, maybe?
The Boy Has Large Hands:
That's a regulation NBA basketball.
Here's What Happens When You Do Laundry In The Sink, And Poorly:
Eli found a new chest protector in Detroit that actually fits. I don't know of any company on earth who could make money by supporting his physical demographic, but we appreciate it. This is how much he's grown in the last two years (that's his old chest protector):
The eventual setting for the recording itself helped to determine the makeup of Richard Barone's backing band and song selection for Cool Blue Halo. Barone's name still had some juice in the New York music scene and finally the legendary music club The Bottom Line (folks from Dylan to Lou Reed were Bottom Line vets) was secured for the venue. He felt he could get a great recorded sound in that intimate club setting...but not if he played with the same volume and bounce as he had with The Bongos.
To that end, Barone put together a radically (for that time) different combo with some musicians and friends from around the local scene. He enlisted Jane Scarpantoni, a cellist who was at the beginning of what would be a prolific career as a session player (if you heard cello on a rock record in the last 30 years, there's a decent chance it's her playing). Deciding that using a traditional drummer might overwhelm the sound, he instead turned to percussionist Valerie Naranjo, who did New Age music. As if that wasn't the most unlikely choice for the band he could make, Barone decided to bring along his buddy Nick Celeste as a second guitarist and vocalist. Celeste's day job was writing ad copy for the New York Times. (As the recording reveals, this was an inspired choice; Celeste's backing vocals are like Cool Blue Halo's secret weapon.)
It turns out, Barone couldn't have done a better job of picking a band and matching it to a space than he did here. The recording that resulted in the Cool Blue Halo album is pristine and clear, giving the illusion of a studio recording while still maintaining the urgency of live performance. And, as if to stick the landing, he also nailed it on song selection. The set list that night consisted of a few old Bongos songs, some new material, and then some well-chosen covers.
For instance, Cool Blue Halo opens with a Bongos song, a weird little track called Bullrushes that was one of the band's first singles. Here the song is slowed a bit, and the brilliance of the way Barone put this band together comes to the fore. With he and Celeste harmonizing like Lennon and McCartney, Scarpantoni's cello flows like the Nile while Naranjo's busy percussion fills are interesting without intruding on the song.
I think I'm personally most taken by the original songs on the record, though. None of these live versions were ever recorded in studio, so the live performance here has become the definitive version of these tracks. That's fine though. A song like I Belong To Me is so breathtakingly good, and the arrangement and playing here so perfect, that it's impossible to imagine it in any other way.
As great as that song is, and it is spectacular, Barone actually tops it further on. After a weirdly wonderful T-Rex cover “The Visit”, things turn to a three-fer of original songs.
These three songs are the heart and soul of the album, and they're presented one after another in as if Barone is deliberately trying to make each song outdo the previous. The first is the gloriously seductive Tangled In Your Web which shows off not just a great song, but an utterly stunning arrangement, right down to the yearning call and response vocal between him and Celeste as the song closes.
From there, Silent Symphony follows. There are a lot of beautiful rock and pop songs in history, but I'm not sure any are more gorgeous than this. From the evocative lyrics (“When the moon is rising high, angels shrug their shoulders”) to Naranjo's goose-bump inducing vibe bridge, it's the kind of song that transports a listener into a completely different time and place. If a Winsor McKay cartoon could be a 2 minute pop song, it would be “Silent Symphony”.
Then, without a break for even applause, the band swings into the dramatic and theatrical “Flew A Falcon”, with it's sighing cello and booming, dramatic kettle drums that wend around each other through a bridge that blows up in a final verse that allows Barone to show off his vocal range and dramatic singing flair.
While those three songs are the tentpost for Cool Blue Halo, Barone is hardly done with his listeners. A cover of The Beatles Cry Baby Cry is as obvious as it is brilliantly executed. His version of The Bongos' semi-hit Love Is A Wind That Screams is both tense and languid thanks to allowing Scarpantoni's cello to carry the melody away. It reveals layers to the song that weren't apparent on the original.
There's also arguably the most influential track on the record, a cover of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World. Barone's arrangement of the song for this scaled-down acoustic setting was heard by his friend and Bowie producer Tony Visconti. A few years later when Nirvana wanted to cover it for their Unplugged album, Visconti suggested they mirror the arrangement on Cool Blue Halo. If you're only familiar with the Nirvana version, it's almost shocking to hear how closely it hews to this one.
Cool Blue Halo came out the same year it was recorded on Line Records, a German midline indie. It got limited distribution. Despite this, the record garnered almost universal praise in the music press, and to this day holds a reputation as a “rock critic's record”, as if winning over the jaded jerks like me who write about music was somehow pejorative.
Through the 1990s, Barone's music career centered more around theater, stage, and eventually even turned to classroom instruction (he teaches a class at NYU's Tisch School For the Arts). Although his recorded output has been sparse, he has some notably wonderful music to his name (particularly Clouds Over Eden, a rumination on life and death recorded in the wake of his friend, music writer Nicholas Schaffner's, death).
When the chamber pop revival in indie pop came to the fore at the end of the 1990s and early Aughts and made cellos in rock more commonplace, it wasn't unusual to hear Cool Blue Halo name-checked as a reference.
Perhaps, though the best measure of the record's staying power is that while it was originally released on a small, now-defunct German label, it has remained in print most of the time on some label or other since that time. As a testament to what is simply a wonderful recording, in 2012 to mark the 25th anniversary of its recording Barone re-assembled the original combo for a concert and DVD release that also included special guests like The Band's Garth Hudson and the aforementioned Tony Visconti guesting at various times. (Those performances are the ones linked throughout this article, in fact.)
Cool Blue Halo endures with a timeless sound. It is a triumph of small group arrangement, a set of songs that in the right setting work a kind of beautiful, delicate magic.
I'm very happy to introduce a new Musiquarium by Chris Hornbostel, who has become my favorite music writer. It's all Chris from here on out.
This summer marks the 28th anniversary of the recording of one of the more interesting, great lost live rock and roll records in recent memory. It's an album called Cool Blue Halo, the first solo effort by a guy named Richard Barone.
I don't want to distort or oversell this record for being things that it isn't. Cool Blue Halo isn't one of the most influential records ever. It probably did made some mark on music over the last 20 years, but there have been far more influential pieces of music recorded in the interim. This thing never sold a million copies, nor was it a groundbreaking launching pad for a meteoric career in music. Barone is a well-known New York music figure, but he was probably more famous to the public before Cool Blue Halo than he was after it came out. His solo recording career since can be best described as “sporadic”.
No, Cool Blue Halo (the name comes from a spotlight setting for stage lighting) isn't any of those things. What it is, however, is simply a stunning and beautiful recording. It might be the single greatest 2am-sitting-outside-watching-stars-wheel-across-the-sky album ever recorded, if that's a genre category. It is a delicate, lovely, and fragile snowflake of a record that, given the wrong frame of mind, can sound melodramatic and overcooked. This is not the record to put on to kick off a party, in other words. This is a record for quiet evenings and taking stock, for moments of reminiscence and contemplation. It is an album which, given that context, can feel like being run over by a runaway city bus of emotions.
The other wonderful, odd thing about this album is that it was even recorded by a fellow like Barone at all. Cool Blue Halo is subtle and elegant, a slow-burning charmer that reveals its genius gradually over time. No one will ever accuse Richard Barone's outsized personality of “slow-burning”. He's a gregarious, charismatic lightning bolt of energy, and in interviews exudes a bold self-assuredness that the uncharitable might describe as brash. He started a career in music as a 7-year-old DJ on the air on a station in Florida, and has never left the biz.
Like many music-interested folks, a teenaged Barone watched with great interest as the punk and new wave movement in New York City seemed to take off in the late 1970s. That scene birthed what was then the biggest music act on the planet in Blondie, but groups like The Talking Heads were selling a lot of records as well. In fact, record companies were on the lookout for other groups with a similar feel. Richard Barone was determined to put together just such a band. He moved to New Jersey and recruited some like-minded bandmates, christening their group as The Bongos. Barone served as guitarist, lead vocalist, and wrote or co-wrote most of their songs.
The Bongos combined musical things Barone loved. At their best they had the kind of jittery, caffeinated energy of early Talking Heads, but combined that with their own innate pop smarts. Which is to say that Richard Barone and his cohorts could write a massive melodic hook. After an excellent, independently released set of singles and album, the group was at the center of a record company bidding war. The band's major-label album came out to a hefty amount of hype but despite a handful of great songs it was both a critical and marketplace flop, and the members of the Bongos began to drift apart shortly thereafter. For some, perhaps the lasting legacy of the end of the Bongos recording career was having the director for the video of their song “Numbers With Wings” be nominated in that category at the first MTV video music awards.
And so it was the winter of 1987, and Richard Barone found himself without a band, a recording contract, and a once-promising career idling in neutral. He wanted to do something to get his name back out there as a performer, and perhaps even record something...but in his situation that was a tough ask. He finally hit on a working solution. He'd put together a band and try to record a live album he'd hawk around to gauge label interest. All of that was easier said than done. Barone didn't want to just re-form The Bongos for a one-off, and he was picky about sound quality and found that many of the clubs in New York simply weren't a good acoustic match for recording a live record. There was also an issue of material: Barone had a few songs he'd been working on, but not enough for a full album.