Wednesday, September 18, 2019

That Seed From Monday

Two possibilities, both advocated for strongly via email.

The first is a sycamore tree (Andrew Rawnsley):
It's a sycamore seed.  Where I grew up in England, they were extremely common.  I'm not a tree person (at all), but when I saw it, some deep-seated 40 year old memory burbled up, "sycamore!" and google confirmed.  I guess we must have looked at them at primary school or something, although I have no recollection of that.  Funny how the mind works.

The second is a maple tree (from John Brown):
Those seeds are another distinctive characteristic of maple trees along with leaf shape (as seen on the Canadian flag).  The wind catches the seed and (hopefully) pushes it some distance from the parent tree.   I grew up calling them whirlybirds. 

A follow-up email from John:
A few new facts I learned later yesterday:

1) Technically, those are a fruit as the seed is in a nutlet with the wing attached.  The fruit is called a samara.  
2) Several varieties of tree produce samara.  The other possibility for that configuration of samara is an ash tree.  Both can be found throughout Michigan so you might have to check the leaf structure to see if it matches a maple or an ash.
3) A few other varieties of tree produce a samara with a different configuration where the seed is in the middle instead of to one side.

A fruit! Well, everything's a fruit, nowadays. Avocados. Tomatoes. Ham.

Seeing dozens of those whirling from a tree in 30 MPH winds was a wondrous moment.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Gloria went to Chicago for two days last weekend.

When she got home on Monday night, she started telling me about her trip, particularly her visit to The Art Institute of Chicago. We went through many painters and dozens of photographs, then she offhandedly said, "Oh, we saw an Amazon Go store, but we didn't have time to go in."

"Wait, what?" I asked. "Look, Cezanne and Monet are fine, really amazing, but walking into a convenience store and not having to check out is huge! Are you telling me you didn't stop and experience that?"

"Well, you had to download an app--"

"Which would take you sixty seconds," I said.

"We really couldn't do everything we wanted to do," she said.

"Again, let me explain that you walk into a store, gather your items, and walk out. You pay automatically. That is cutting-edge, futuristic technology. Available time is not relevant."

Monday, September 16, 2019

Nature Monday

First off, check out this fuzzball:

Here he is in a different form:

Those were both sent to me from a friend in Austin (her backyard), where he frequently stops by. And look at those claws in the second picture!

Okay, now look at this little guy:

That's a seed from this tree:

What tree? Gee, I don't know. That's for the so-called experts to argue about.

What's absolutely amazing about that seed is that it has that little blade. The seed doesn't detach until it's windy, and when it does, that blade spins like a helicopter blade. The seed then flies with the wind, up to over a hundred feet away (I stepped it off).

It was unbelievably beautiful, watching those little seeds fly away.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Frank Regan, and it's huge (at least to me): Unearthed Audio Reveals Beatles Discussed ‘Abbey Road’ Follow-Up.

This is a difficult story to read, but it's phenomenal: An Unbelievable Story of Rape.

Just boxing with horses: Report: Triple Crown Winner Justify Failed Drug Test Ahead Of Kentucky Derby.

From Ken Piper, and this is excellent: Practical game writing insight from No Man's Sky: Atlas Rises' Greg Buchanan. This is mesmerizing: Human speech may have a universal transmission rate: 39 bits per second. An excellent read: Ultimate Review: How Could mRNA Overtake all other Biologicals in Medicine?

From C. Lee, and this is amazing: How to 3D Print Some of the Smithsonian's Artifacts at Home. This is a fascinating perspective: How Prohibition Tossed a Wet Blanket on America’s Inventors. This is wild: 'You’re Not a Person if You Don’t Drink.' How This Tiny European Country Developed the World's Worst Drinking Problem. What a story: They were CIA-backed Chinese rebels. Now you’re invited to their once-secret hideaway. Big surprise: Blow to 10,000-hour rule as study finds practice doesn't always make perfect.

From Wally, and it's an interesting bit of history: How a Chinatown-by-the-Sea Popped Up on the Jersey Shore. Very entertaining: Fandom under fire: how fanzines helped sci-fi survive the Blitz and beyond. Be careful out there: What happened to the guys who invested their life savings in cryptocurrency? This is very slick: When A Racing Drone Pilot Gives You A Tour Of His New Home.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Nintendo Ring

There's another teaser video out today, including footage of the adventure game included with the Ring.

It's a pilates ring, basically, and you put in the Joy-Cons into the ring and it detects your upper body movement. There's also a sensor you strap to your upper leg to track your lower body.

Both of these statements are true: this is going to fail badly, and I am going to love it.

Why is it going to fail? Because Nintendo isn't a video game company, or a fitness company. They're a toy company. They make toys that happen to be video games, Like Wii Sports. Mario games are toys. It's obvious with Labo, but it's always there beneath the surface.

This makes me deeply love Nintendo.

It alsomeans that Nintendo is deeply vulnerable when they make a product or game that isn't a toy. Wii Music? That was the WTF moment for the Wii, because Wii Music wasn't really a toy, and it bombed hard. Wii Fitness? Same thing.

Well, that train is coming down the tracks again.

Here's the new video: A closer look at the new experience for Nintendo Switch.

There was quite a bit of new information, including a decent amount of footage from the pack-in game, which is Ring Fit Adventure. It looks like it has endless runner elements with battles and stat upgrades, allegedly taking you months to complete at an hour a day. Seems reasonable, and I'm sure Nintendo will make it fun.

There's trouble ahead, though.

Here's a screenshot from the video of something that is literally never going to happen:

Look at our high-waisted champion, his furrowed brow, straining with concentration. That could happen. Those four friends watching him? Never. No one is going to sit around and watch someone working out with an adventure game.

Wii Sports had competitive games that kept score. People actually did sit around and watch each other play, because it was like watching a sport. This isn't a competitive game--it's a fitness trainer.

Also nope:

Still nope:

There is no scenario in which this actually happens.

THIS scenario, though, is 100% plausible:

That's my guy. He wants to work out, but he doesn't have time, and workouts are boring. So he works out playing a game. That's me, right there, and that's going to be 90% of the people who use this product.

Which is why it's going to fail, in a commercial sense.

However, overall failures can be joyful successes for a few, and in this case, I'm one of the few. This will be fantastic for me, particularly when polar bears are rustling against our porch screens in winter. I won't have to drive through ice and snow to get to the YMCA on low motivation days, but I can still get some kind of workout.

For me, that's great!

Dear Nintendo,
Thank you very much for making a product just for me. I hope the charge you will need to take against future earnings will not be too severe. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This just got very interesting

Lookie here: California Lawmakers Pass Bill Allowing College Athletes To Profit From Endorsements.

The California State Assembly on Monday passed a bill that would allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals. SB 206, the Fair Pay To Play Act, cleared the Assembly by a vote of 72-0. A version of the bill passed the Senate by a similarly decisive vote in May.

The bill, if it becomes law, would go into effect January 1, 2023. Though none of the bill’s provisions involve schools paying athletes directly, it would prohibit schools in California from revoking scholarships or scholarship eligibility from athletes who profit off their own name, image and likeness.

That is totally reasonable and long overdue. Being a D-1 athlete is a job. Particularly in the big team sports, players generate unfathomable amounts of revenue for universities. Allowing them to receive compensation (not even coming from the schools) is a no-brainer.

Oh, wait:
“We’re firmly against anything that would lead to a pay-for-play system,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the New York Times.

Yeah, see, that's a lie. It's not a "pay-for-play" system that's being proposed. It's a "pay for work" system.

Being a high-level athlete is not play. In absolutely no sense is it play. The fact that it's a sport does not make it play, not when the players involved generate millions and millions of dollars for schools.

If universities didn't charge admission to sporting events, they'd be totally right! But they don't.

The present system is just a vast, unpaid labor market. Which is shitty.

In a June letter, NCAA President Mark Emmert had urged California lawmakers to postpone consideration of the bill while an NCAA working group study of amateurism policies is ongoing. 

In the letter, Emmert suggested that colleges in California could be prohibited from competing for NCAA championships, because the bill might give those schools unfair advantages in recruiting athletes:
"We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate. Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it would likely have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it indents to assist."

Those issues aren't "complex" at all. You have a captive labor force that generates hundreds of millions of dollars, and they are not compensated. They are not "student-athletes." They are "employee-students." The next time you hear the phrase "student-athlete," substitute "employee-students" and see how different that feels. 

The NCAA is on the edge of panic here, because this isn't the only state where legislation is happening. So they can either get out in front of this, or they can get steamrolled, because it's going to happen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Arbitrage, of Humans

Here's an article from Bloomberg: Former MLB Pitcher Backs Betting Software With $10K Refund.

Betting software, of course.

The front man for this product is ex-MLB pitcher Michael Schwimer, and (of course) there's a breathless origin story about a guy just being smarter and more savvy than everyone else, with "analytics" thrown in (also of course) and how this model is the real deal.

Then, there's this:
Schwimer, who is a contributor to ESPN’s gambling show “Daily Wager,” is ready for criticism. He faced it recently with his baseball investing -- Big League Advance was briefly sued by a player who claimed he was deceived -- and he knows that a lot of touts make similar promises about breaking from the industry norms.

That’s why he’s heavily promoting his refund policy. The discounts vary depending on how long you subscribe, but the full 17-week plan, which costs $3,000, carries a $10,000 refund if the picks don’t make money overall.

“We’re actually giving people that are skeptical the opportunity to short,” he said. “If you think, ‘There’s no way they can do this,’ then you’re the No. 1 person that should buy our package. If you’re right, you win $10,000. If you’re wrong, you only lose $3,000.”

Now THAT is some delicious stuff.

I mean, this guy must be 100%, gold-plated legit to do this, right?

And now we hit the moment where Michael Schwimer is indeed revealed as a genius, although not, perhaps, in the way that you were expecting.

Absolutely no one who is a legitimate tout would ever offer a 3X refund if their picks are below 52.5% (the break-even point, including the bet fee) for a season. Even the best system is subject to variability and just plain bad luck. Picking sports games is not entirely unlike playing poker--you can make the right play, every time, and still lose money due to randomness.

This is what he's actually doing: attracting a ton of attention. Lots of money coming in, and if his picks don't work and he's below the threshold for refunds? Just declare bankruptcy!

Zero risk for him, 100% reward.

Like I said, he's a genius. In an evil genius kind of way.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Ninendo Ring

Have a look at the trailer: Nintendo reveals flexible ring accessory for the Switch.

Yup, it's a ring, all right.

A few more details:
The clip shows how the Switch’s Joy-Con controller slots into the ring, which is used to control the action on screen. There’s also a strap that lets users attach a Joy-Con to their leg and track body movements, allowing players to perform different activities including sit-ups, squats and, as the cowboy at the end demonstrates, what looks like Kegel exercises.

You can also squeeze the ring or flex it, although it's firm enough that it's not easy.

From the video, it appears that this is almost entirely a fitness device, given that there were no children in the video. Seemingly, most of the people in the video were the proper age to have had Wii's as children, which is clever marketing.

The problem, though, is that the Wii wasn't about fitness (Wii Fitness was executed very poorly). It was about Wii Sports, and that program alone kept the system sold out in the U.S. for over TWO YEARS from launch.

Even now, that's incredible.

What made Wii Sports wonderful was co-op. It was ridiculously fun to compete against each other.

The Ring video, though, doesn't show any co-op play. It shows adults sitting around watching one other adult "play" (hint: that doesn't happen in real life).

Still, I'd really enjoy a device that made working out more fun, especially something I could do at home. EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp was one of my all-time favorite workouts (when I went to the Amazon page to retrieve the link, it said at the top: "purchased 3 times." Yeah, that sounds about right).

The chances of launching big and dying quickly seem high, but I'd also be happy to be wrong.

More information coming on September 12, and I'll post an update.

A National Treasure

Chrissy Teigen has always been awesome, but today she leveled up.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a very, very touching story: Car Talk's Long Goodbye.

This is a towering read: The Secret Story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Last Tango.

Wait, we needed a study to tell us this? Study: South reinforcing segregation; dividing students.

From C. Lee, and this is quite a blunder: Gene-edited cattle have a major screwup in their DNA. Come on, you have to be watching the British version of "The Office": The age of comfort TV: why people are secretly watching Friends and The Office on a loop. +10 INT: Automatic cat feeder is no match for this clever kitty. This is a fascinating read: Unix at 50: How the OS that powered smartphones started from failure. Kind of a terrifying flavor profile: How a Banana-Chicken Casserole Defined Swedish Cuisine. These are amazing: Ishida’s works of despair in Japan drawing big crowds in Spain.

From Wally, and my god, rhinos are enormous: Rhino Flips Out. This is striking: The Block Tower // By Toby Harriman. This is fascinating: Meet The Man Who Guards America's Ketchup. So, so bizarre: Inside the Intense, Insular World of AOL Disc Collecting.

Thursday, September 05, 2019


I mostly stopped working on The Man You Trust this summer, because I wanted to spend that time with Eli 18.1.

I did make about thirty pages of notes, though, and I'm in the process of incorporating them, although it will probably take until roughly Thanksgiving.

At that point, or soon after, I think it will be done.

I'd like to have Fredrik do a few more images (although, at this point, I'm not sure what they'd be), but beyond that, I think it will be time to let it go.

This is theoretically part of a three novella arc, and I have a good portion of the plot done for the first story. The Man You Trust is the middle story of the three.

I now have a Spanish vocabulary of 250+ words, although that is probably only accurate in a multiple choice or flashcard setting. I'm almost certain that people don't talk in multiple choice, although I'm hopeful.


Eli called me yesterday and said that his Spanish class had him and 21 upperclassmen. Well, upperclasswomen, I guess, because they're all girls. He was not displeased.


Here are a few very brief notes about the upcoming NFL season.
1. The Cardinals will be terrible.
That ultra-high speed offense has a foundation, which is the offensive line, and the offensive line of the Cardinals is maybe the worst in the league. Plus, Kliff Kingsbury was not even a good head coach at Texas Tech, so he can be The Quarterback Whisperer all he wants, but it's going to be very, very ugly.
2. The Raiders are a dumpster fire.
The Raiders wanted "all character guys," but that's not what they mean. What they mean is 'entirely obedient guys', which is not character at all. Jon Gruden is a big bag of gas, and that organization is a real train wreck. They appear to be far, far out of their league.
3. Here's the obligatory Tom Brady Demise mention. He's not in the first tier of quarterbacks at this point, but he's still in the upper half of tier two, which is pretty impressive for someone his age. But his arm strength isn't there anymore, because any time he throws more than 20 yards downfield it looks like a punt. That's what happens to guys as they age, and he's not immune. He was lousy in the Super Bowl, but they still won, so kudos. I think he's going to drop off significantly this year, but I said that the last two years, too.
4. Kansas City will be more fun to watch than the rest of the NFL combined.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A Toast to Toast

"Okay, I'm going to have a piece of toast for lunch," I said. "I really like this new multi-grain bread."

I put a slice in the toaster. Seriously, this bread is terrific.

"Ooh, you can't do that,"Gloria said, holding up the bag. "There's mold."

"Well, no toast for lunch, then," I said.

"Wait," she said. "I can slice this loaf of French bread and you can use that."

"That seems like a lot of work," I said. "I can just put it in the microwave."

"Don't do that." She sliced. "Here, try this piece," she said.

"That won't fit," I said. "It's too wide."

"You're very negative about this," she said.

"Toast is very geometric to me," I said. "You have a product specifically made to fit precisely inside a toasting device. There is no reason not to use that product."

"You just put it in the toaster diagonally," she said. "Then, halfway through, you reverse it."

"I feel like I went to the beach with a lawn chair and it turned into D-Day," I said.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

A Stern Warning

Wavy Lays are very, very big in our house.

"Hey, I saw that there's a new Wavy Lays version that's low sodium," I said.

"Oh, that's interesting,"Gloria said.

"Only half the sodium of regular Wavy Lays," I said.

"That's much healthier," she said.

"Under absolutely no circumstances should you buy these," I said.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Happy Labor Day

Here's a view from Eli 18.1s seat at the Michigan game on Saturday:

I am taking an almost day off and will see you tomorrow. I hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend in the U.S.

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