Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Links!

This is quite a story, and quite bizarre (thanks Wally): Fantasy's Widow: The Fight Over The Legacy Of Dungeons & Dragons.

Hopefully, you don't need this, but if you do, here goes: How a Bitcoin Evangelist Made Himself Vanish, in 15 (Not So Easy) Steps.

Also from Wally, and they're actually quite good: Vienna's Unpredictable Vegetable Orchestra. This is quite amusing: Exploding Chocolate Teacakes. This is quite a rabbit hole: The Curta Calculation Page.

From Steven Davis, and it's a fantastic read: How a Sneaky Furniture Expert Ripped Off the Rich and Tricked Versailles. And another fascinating article: Lessons from the Afghan Women Who Weave Modern War into an Ancient Tradition.

From C. Lee, and it's good information: Hundreds of hospitals punished for lax safety. Here’s how to see if yours is one. This is concerning: Your landlord turns your apartment into a smart home. Now what? This is incredibly interesting: Why parrots can talk like humans. These are stunning: New Masking Tape Paintings by Nasa Funahara.

From Ken Piper, and my brain exploded: Massive Attack album stored in a painting using DNA.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday, In Which I Still Wish I Was Talking About Burger King

The Panasonic VT50 Plasma (2012) needs replacing.

It wasn't the best plasma ever made (Pioneer Kuro), but it was close. And it's been spectacular, but after seven years, it's starting to lose light output to a significant degree.

Replacing a TV is easy, right?

Not so fast, my friend. Upgrading creates a nightmare of dominoes. 

First off, we can't get an OLED (damn it), because the lighting and usage in the family room are utterly abusive, so an LCD is the only reasonable choice.

I found an LCD I could live with.

Here's the process:
--buy LCD
--buy multiple certified hi-speed HDMI cables
--buy new 4k Blu-Ray player and install (be sure it's compatible with soundbar)
--reprogram Harmony remote to work with new LCD
--calibrate new LCD
--upgrade DirecTV receiver to 4K
--buy new stand because legs on LCD don't fit on stand
--build new stand
--run Ethernet cable through house down to router (it's quite a ways) because wi-fi is garbage for streaming 4k consistently

I'm probably leaving five things out, at least.

So I was at Best Buy, finding out I had to go 20 minutes to another Best Buy because only they had it in stock, and then I pulled on one of these threads and my confidence sweater began to unravel.

Now I'm just huddled in the upgrade corner, weeping.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday, In Which I Wish I Could Have Talked About Burger King All Week

To read:
1.  College Coaches Took Cash Bribes As Part Of Multi-Million Dollar College Admissions Scandal
2.  These Are The College Coaches Accused Of Turning Rich Kids Into Fake Athletic Recruits
3.  Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman among 50 charged in college admissions scheme

Yeah, that's depressing. Also, why is it that coaches are always in the middle of every shitty thing? Boy, that's a tell.

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children's chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale University and Stanford University, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches and administrators to identify the applicants as athletes.

Everything in this country is about two things: wealth or race. Anyone who says it isn't is deluding themselves. There are elements of merit in our country, but it is not merit-based. It never has been.

Basically, rich parents who had kids with every conceivable advantage decided that wasn't enough and flat-out bribed people to get their unmotivated kids into prestigious colleges. They also got their kids classified as athletic recruits (lower admissions standards) or claimed some kind of disability so that they'd get extra time to complete standardized tests.

I can't imagine why their kids would be lazy. Teaching kids to be responsible for their actions and learning about consequences--oh, wait.

We're not talking about small amounts of money, either--anywhere from $15,000 up to $500,000, from what I read. $250,000 seemed to be the average payout for the athletic recruitment scam.


I've talked to Eli 17.7 on more than one occasion about what I call the Intent To Deceive rule. In short, it's that any situation where you're doing something with an intent to deceive is probably a very bad decision. It's always worth asking why you need to be deceptive in the first place.

Most situations like this have low risk but very high consequences, and it's hard for kids to understand that scenario. But this time, some very famous people revealed themselves to be absolute dirtbags and have been utterly humiliated, and they (and their children) are going to mocked for a very long time.

High consequences.

Big News (Dwarf Fortress)

Here's the announcement: Dwarf Fortress coming to Steam and, free version always updated and available,

In addition, the paid Steam version is going to include a new tileset (no ASCII) and enhanced graphics and audio.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday, In Which Burger King Becomes A Koan

DQ Guitar Advisor David Gloier sent me this email:
The Burger King by my house burned to the ground, and for almost a year, the burned out shell remained, with the sign still standing over it, proclaiming "Now Serving Flame-grilled Hot Dogs."


They finally rebuilt it. Shiny and new. Nice store, but you're right, nobody is ever there, and when someone is, they look miserable. This includes the employees.

I told him he should have taken a picture, but he was way ahead of me:

Then he sent me something incredibly profound:
I just realized...I guess I must look miserable when I'm in there, too. 

That's a Burger King koan.

Monday, March 11, 2019

There's Always Parking At Sears

"Have you ever been in a Burger King where people don't look despondent?" I asked. I'd stopped with Gloria on the way back from a hockey trip to Detroit, and Eli 17.7 was traveling with his team.

"I don't remember," Gloria said.

"Everyone in a Burger King looks like the revolution failed and they're just waiting for the police to arrive," I said.

It's true. Burger King has surprisingly good food, usually, but everyone looks like it takes all their effort to draw their next breath. It smells like onion rings combined with your grandmother's house, greasy and musty at the same time.

Plus, most Burger Kings are sadly enormous, with seating for 20X more people than will ever eat there at at one time. The parking lots are vast, empty tracts.

On our way out, walking across the asphalt wasteland, I had an insight.

"Burger King is the Sears of fast food franchises," I said.

Gloria laughed.

"There's always parking at Sears," I said.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Friday Links!

We are very, very light this week, so enjoy and the deluge will resume next week.

This is a terrific read: The Psychiatrist Who Believed People Could Tell The Future. I could definitely do this: The People Who Eat the Same Meal Every Day. This is an absolutely great read: Still Waiting For a Savior: Before GM Left, Avanti Sold an Ohio Town an Impossible Dream.

From Ken Piper, and this is fascinating: Fierce, Feared, and Female: The WWII Pilots Known As The 'Night Witches'. Also, and it's alarming: The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn.

From Wally, and this is very cool: Live in the ‘House of Tomorrow’ from the 1933 World’s Fair. Welcome our new robot overlords: Backflipping MIT Mini Cheetah.

From C. Lee, and I never thought of this: Robotic vacuums can push heaters and cause fire, authorities warn. This is interesting: Remembering When Only Barbarians Drank Milk. This is incredible: This Perpetual Calendar Hidden in an Italian Chapel Is a Mathematical Marvel.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Villain, Denied

I have a list of topics, and they're all depressing as hell. So instead, let's talk about super villains.

Eli 17.7 has mentioned over the years that I'd make a terrific villain. I'm thorough. Organized. I know how to plan, and to execute that plan. I would not make amateur mistakes like telling the hero my life story and every detail of my plan before I sent him to his death.


It's not you, it's me, I'd say to the superheroes as I sent them away, dejected. The ones I didn't kill, anyway.

Plenty of autonomy (I'd like that). Growth opportunities (seriously, look at the world right now--villains are doing great!).

One thing, though, would stop me.

Not moral qualms. Not the workload. Not staffing issues.

The reno. The reno would kill me.

Think about it. A high-end villain needs an evil lair. Instant credibility with one, and reeking of poser wannabe without one.

It's got to be big, too. Basements are out. Even McMansions, because 4,000 square feet just isn't much room after you bring in all the terrifying equipment and staff.

Plus, what kind of layout? Open floor plan? A castle? Backsplash tile in the kitchen? All questions that need to be answered.

10,000 feet would probably be adequate in terms of regional villain credibility. That's enough for me. I don't want to chase worldwide status. The email alone would kill me.

Here's where it all breaks down, though. Buy that 10,000 square foot dream lair, and realize immediately how much renovation it needs. I mean, you're not going to buy an evil lair and let it be the vision of the villain that preceded you, right?

Your vision. And that means years of renovation.

Construction crews all over. Constant noise. Power outages. I wouldn't be able to keep my enthusiasm for evil while I decided if the blinds should be fabric or wood slats. 

You have to love what you do.

Plus, there are health and safety issues. Cape closet? Don't need that, because I'm not one of those idiot villains who wears a cape that causes their death. Narrow stairs? I'm not going to fall down a sixty-foot staircase because I was too cheap to have stairs safely sized.

An evil villain apartment, in a new building. That sounds promising.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Scrabble, Strongly Modified

"Only band names are allowed," I said to Eli 17.7. "And you must announce the band's backstory before playing the tiles."

In alphabetical order:
--Aged Dr (Former doctor plays hip-hop at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.)
--Brats (Girls band similar to the Go-Go's. Popular at Six Flags.)
--Crank (Speed metal band. Norwegian. Two members currently in prison.)
--Defame (Black metal band. Lives in a van in the woods of North Carolina. Burned down the stage in their last appearance. No, they literally burned down the stage.)
--Douxlit (Cajun hip-hop based in Metarie. One member lost recently in gator attack).
--EIEIO (Band that only wears overalls and plays at county fairs)
--Elwis (Children's band that does Elvis covers)
--Evo (Band made up of scientists fighting disinformation. Rarely play in front of more than five people).
--Grinz (Similar to "Up With People." Primarily appears at churches and fairgrounds.)
--Isour (An angry rapper or a folk duet. Your call.)
--KBI (Bisexual rapper from Detroit. Recent hit song "Open For Bidness.")
--Nadir (Death Metal band from Winnipeg, Canada. Also refers to winter in Winnipeg.)
--Nags (Housewife band, plays locally at bookstores.)
--Nutter (Band made up of practicing psychologists. Plays at local bars.)
--Reefson (Surfer Band headed by son of local fisherman. Mostly gets high in the van.)
--Share (Band that plays the high school assembly circuit, with songs about the importance of sharing and good citizenship.)
--Sincipee (Slightly risque children's band "Sin Sippee", tile shortages were a problem in spelling)
--Trejo (Cover band that only plays songs from movies with Danny Trejo. Based in southwest.)
--VTOL (Band of ex-military pilots, shows Harrier footage in background of VFW shows.)
--Yadig (The hip-hop artist formerly known as "Yadown")
--Yeah (Slacker band. Plays twenty-minute jams.)

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Genius in Design

John Harwood sent me this picture yesterday:

That is one of the smartest pieces of design I've ever seen.

Local Weather Terminology

"Partly cloudy."

Monday, March 04, 2019


I hit a milestone last week in a project I'm working on (well, I'm calling it a milestone), and I have a self-imposed ten day "don't work on this" period.

Okay, I can work on it a little, but not much. So I guess it's actually a self-imposed ten day "don't work on this much" period.

I decided to play Hexcells.

For your convenience: Hexcells Complete Pack. This includes Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcells Infinite.

Here's the game description from the Steam page: Hexcells is an ambient logic puzzle game for PC, Mac and Linux.

You know a game is badass when that's all you get in the description.

To me, Hexcells is basically Minesweeper with much, much more complex rules on top of the foundation. For instance, here's the most difficult puzzle in Hexcells Plus (click to expand):

Those numbers all over the freaking place? They're rules. Many rules, all governing what cells must be filled in. 

I think this level took me 20-30 minutes (and I didn't solve it the first time, not by a long shot), and this game gets you into a flow state like you wouldn't believe. Somebody could drop an anvil behind me and I wouldn't hear a thing. 

This is not a typical level. Most of them are quite a bit simpler, and as far as I can tell, they require no guessing (although figuring out why you don't need to guess can be very, very difficult at times). 

I worked my way through the first two games in about a week, then started in on Hexcells Infinite a few days ago. 

Yeah, this is supposed to be my break, and I'm grinding levels on a math game. I used to be able to relax, but at some point after Eli 17.7 was born, I lost that ability. So this is both relaxing and taxing, which is what relaxation is for me now. 

If you've never played this series of games, they are just amazingly good. Oh, and they also have ambient soundtracks that make you sink even deeper into concentration. 

Now back to that level I can't solve.

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