Thursday, December 30, 2010

Friday Links!

Okay, in a rare and shocking development, I'm taking today off and posting Friday Links one day early--I'm trying to understand classes in VB.NET and it's killing me, so this will give me a few extra hours to study (plus, with New Year's Day on a Saturday, almost all of you are on holiday tomorrow). On Monday, I'll have the top 10 games of 2010, and on Tuesday, the top ten games of the decade (which I might have done last year already--I'll have to check). Best wishes for the New Year to everyone.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, an amazing bit of sleuthing: encoded Civil War message arrives 147 years too late.

For your enjoyment: an incredibly wonky article about mathematical probabilities in Monopoly.

From Skip Key, an absolutely terrific interview in Gamasutra with Rebecca Heineman, an old soul in the gaming industry who had a hand in so many major titles.

From Eliot Rogers, a man who rides a unicycle and plays the bagpipes--at the same time.

From Clayton Lee, and this is both very funny and NSFW, a music video: I Just Had Sex.

From Jacob Jaby, an amazing street musician known as The Birdman of Lisbon.

From Mr. Fritz, a very funny Jimmy Kimmel skit: Unnecessary Censorship: Sesame Street.

From Scott Sanders, and this is a very Tufte-esque link: Data Visualization.

From Kevin, and this is extremely interesting, it's Why the other line is likely to move faster, a look at queuing theory.

From Sirius, and this is very cool: A $670,000 X-Ray Camera That Sees Through Melting Metal. Also, and these are quite beautiful, take a look at The Living Bridges of India. Next, it's really deep snow.

From David Byron, an interesting look at the Uncanny Valley: Dead or Alive? The Eyes Hold the Answer.

From George Paci, a fascinating and amusing article about certain aspects of the business culture in China: Rent A White Guy.

Here's a terrific story from Michael O'Reilly: Homeless man lived double life in the U.S. for 40 years.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Brave New Future

Amazon has a new patent that's nothing short of genius:
A new patent from Amazon gives potential gift recipients the ability to set gifts from certain people to auto-screen or auto-return.  That way, when Grandma sends you the latest sweater -- it never ships -- saving you and Amazon much grief.

The patent [PDF] states:

[User instituted rules might include...] Convert any gift from Aunt Mildred to a gift certificate, but only after checking with me....For example, the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.

Understandably, etiquette experts are alarmed, but it seems like a wonderful idea to convert the seventeenth consecutive holiday sweater vest from Aunt Agnes into a gift certificate, should you so choose.

Rock Band Notes

Most of you have probably already seen this, but Harmonix was sold to an investment firm named Columbus Nova last week. Here's an excerpt from the Game|Life report:
...After four years under the auspices of Viacom, Harmonix is independent again.

Viacom has sold the Rock Band creator to an investment firm called Columbus Nova, it said Thursday. The New York-based Columbus Nova manages over $10 billion in assets worldwide, using what it calls “a value-oriented, long-term view to investing.” Harmonix will now be owned by Harmonix-SBE Holdings LLC, an affiliate company.

“We’re excited for Harmonix to return to its roots as a privately held and independent studio,” said Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos in an emailed statement.

I haven't seen anyone comment on what this means, and I think that's because no one can successfully wrap their arms around the implications. A few weeks ago, Microsoft, EA, and Activision were supposedly in the bidding mix, so I don't think anyone saw this coming.

I do think that Viacom will have to account for the sale in their next earnings statement (which should be released in early February), so some of the fog may dissipate then. I'm guessing that what Viacom received for Harmonix is a metric ton less than what they paid for it, though.

In far more interesting news, someone managed to buy a Fender Squier over two months early (thanks to the Qt3 forums, where I saw a post about it). He's posting impressions in the the thread, and they're quite detailed. It makes me look forward to getting my own Squier--in the distant future, because March is the distant future for someone with poor impulse control.

In other notes about poor impulse control, I'm still waiting for the MIDI adapater that would let me use my drum kit to play the game. I originally thought that offloading all kinds of peripheral crap to Mad Catz was a great move by Harmonix, but what hasn't been so great is that almost two months after shipping the game, the 360 adapter still isn't available (although Wii and PS3 adapters seem to be trickling into stores).

This Requires No Additional Comment

Cops: Man playing real-life 'Frogger' hit by SUV

A man has been hospitalized after police in South Carolina say he was hit by an SUV while playing a real-life version of the video game "Frogger."

In the "Frogger" arcade game, players move frogs through traffic on a busy road and through a hazard-filled river. Before he was hit, police say the man had been discussing the game with his friends.

Chief Jimmy Dixon says the man yelled "go" and darted into oncoming traffic in the four-lane highway.

Full story here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Squint Chronicles

A few pictures from our trip, with accompanying narration.

Here's something you don't see every day:

That's right--an 18-wheeler with a flatbed full of fire hydrants. Gloria said something very witty about dogs as we passed, but I unfortunately can't remember what she said.

Next is something you also don't see every day:

What, you say? Why, that's just a half-eaten piece of cheese pizza with parmesan sprinkled on top. Yes, but this is Eli 9.4's pizza, and he's a philosophical purist when it comes to pizza--cheese only, with no adulterations on top. He's never put parmesan on his pizza. This is Freud voluntarily going into Jungian analysis.

For the hat trick, here's one more thing you don't see every day:

That was painted by Rolinda, an elephant who lives at the Tyler Zoo. The handlers get dressed in rain gear from head to toe, take out buckets of paint, and the elephants go to work. Rolinda enjoys it more than anyone, according to the zoo employee we talked to in the gift shop.

Here's a picture of the savanna at the Tyler Zoo, although you probably need to click on it for the full effect:

Hey, it's squint-a-rific! This is a long view, with three lions in the foreground, a separation trench so that the lions can't eat the antelopes and zebras in the middle ground, and in the back left you can see the elephant's area (I think there are half a dozen elephants, but only one is in the picture). In the back left, beyond the reach of the frame, there are four giraffes.

The separation of areas using natural-looking barriers makes for long views that are open and very appealing. This is really quite a terrific zoo.

Last picture, and yes, there's glass or plexiglass or something between us:

That's very close and personal with a beautiful leopard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Penguin's Dream

I think of all the pictures I've taken in my life, this is my favorite:

(note: you can click on the picture to enlarge it)

When we stopped at the Tyler Zoo on the way home, we went to see the penguins. They have their own indoor area for temperature control purposes, and there are 15-20 penguins in all. This fellow, though, was all on his own, standing on the rocks near the edge of the window, looking intently out onto the African savanna area.

I felt a sudden rush of emotion when I saw him, because all of us, in some way, look out our own windows toward the savanna.

Holiday Potpourri Or Something

This is what our house was like on Christmas:

Yes, that Penguin's throwback jersey is ridiculously sweet, but the puppy slippers should not be overlooked.

This marked a significant change in the holidays, because Eli's gift list was about 1/10 the size of last year. He wanted hockey equipment, hockey jerseys, and some choose your own adventure books. There wasn't much else, really. I think that's part of his transition into being an older kid, where the number of things he gets doesn't matter anymore.

He also acted differently when we got back from Shreveport this year. Usually, because his every whim is indulged by his grandmother while he's visiting, he acts totally spoiled for 2-3 days, then returns to normal. This year, though, that didn't happen. He was just himself the entire time.

We went out yesterday for dinner with his old babysitter and her new husband. She was talking out how something didn't work as well as she got older, and I said, "Nothing works as well when you get older."

Everyone laughed, and then Eli pointed at me and said, "Exhibit A!" Everyone laughed much harder then.

I got a special gift for Christmas this year. My mom made popcorn balls with Karo syrup. That's right--you know the mythical status of those delectable objects. It's one of the nicest, most thoughtful gifts I've ever gotten.

Hey! Wake UP Out There!

Gamestop is accepting pre-orders for the Nintendo 3DS. $50 deposit required.

No three hour lines, no hassle, no bullshit. I reserved two (Eli 9.4 has full gamer standing now and will require his own device).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Links!

Holiday cheer, yay Santa, etc.

First, a staggering sight: Niagara Falls, without water. Also, a video link sent in by Jonathan Arnold. Plus one more from Jonathan, a video called How the Japanese multiply. It's a technique called the "lattice method."

Here's an absolutely tremendous link sent in by Tim Jones. It's Scale of the Universe, and it's interactive. This is a guaranteed way to waste half an hour, at least.

From Francis Cermak, and this is genius, it's the audio for the Dark Knight trailer remixed with video of Laurel and Hardy. Also, a video tour of the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans.

From Ryan Malinowsky, a tremendously detailed video explaining what happens during a space shuttle launch. DETAILED.

From David Wolfe, and this is sensational--an augmented reality app for iPhone called Dankam that is "designed to one of several unique and configurable filters to images and video such that colors — and differences between colors — are more visible to the color blind." That is awesome. Also, and this is incredibly interesting as well, an article about The Optical Illusion That’s So Good, It Even Fools DanKam. Totally fascinating stuff.

This is a terrific video sent in by Theo Halloran of the Calgary Hitmen Teddy Bear Toss, an annual event where fans throw teddy bears on to the ice after the first goal is scored in a designated game. How many teddy bears? Over 23,000 this year, believe it or not.

From John Rodriguez, a lighthouse turned into icehouse.

From John D'Angelo, an interesting sidebar on evolution: The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, an unbelievable image: 17 gigapixel photo of Yosemite.

From Sirius, and these photos are absolutely spectacular: Aliens on Earth: macro photographs of insects by Igor Siwanowicz. Also, and these videos are quite beautiful, it's Do Electric Sheep Dream of Dancing Fractals?

From Dan Quock, and again, these pictures are amazing, it's Amazing Satellite Images Of The Ghost Cities Of China.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is outstanding, it's Israeli air force sonic booms ignite crocodiles' sex drives.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Inappropriate Moments Theater #7, Or I Go Through This So You Don't Have To

It's hard to pick just a top five, but I tried. With apologies to Rutger Hauer, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

This is just "incredibly odd", not inappropriate, but on the last day of our visit, I ate both lunch and dinner with my brother-in-law(we spent the whole day together, basically). I also know that he didn't have breakfast, which makes what he ate for the rest of the day (in total) even more remarkable: two giant orders of french fries, and two pieces of Texas toast. Just try to wrap your head around that.

My father-in-law, who is over 80 now, takes the number four spot with two epic moments. One, every story he tells ends with "Of course, he's been dead for years now," and there's no better way to end a story. Two, even though he has a philosophical hatred of television, he is absolutely mesmerized by some redneck varmint hunter reality show that's on A&E. As best I can tell, he watched this show for over five hours straight one day, and it absolutely delights him, so much so that he suddenly turned the volume on while we were sitting in the living room chatting, and his hearing is so poor that the volume level was like a non-lethal weapon used to disperse a riot.

My mother-in-law has had a grudge against her older sister for over a decade now, and when her sister came over to visit us, everyone decided to play a card game. This game, played in a house that would have rivaled a Lakota sweat lodge in temperature, devolved into a series of cheating accusations that were far more entertaining than the game itself. I thought I was going to see two 65-year-old women walk outside and throw down.

I had my camera ready, just in case.

My mother-in-law was riding to dinner with us one night, and Gloria put on an Elvis Presley Christmas song ("Blue Christmas," because her mother loves Elvis Presley). "I used to cry every time I heard this song," she said, and she went on to describe in horrific detail that Jerry, the love of her life (important note: this is not the name of her husband), had dumped her just before Christmas when she was young.

She then went on to describe how she had looked for him online as recently as last year, sighed, and said, "He's still out there."

Incredibly, less than a minute after the splendid disaster that was #2, my mother-in-law surpassed it and took top honors. She said that her husband (Gloria's father) had been called by "some woman" that he had talked to, and that she had left several messages for him, saying that he was probably married, but if not, to please call her back. "I know what she was doing," she said. "She was just looking for a man."

There was dead silence for a few seconds, and then Eli said, "AWKWARD," which almost made me do a spit take, because I had been thinking the exact same thing.

The Future's So Bright We Don't Have To Wear Shades

From Engadget:
Toshiba's Regza GL1 3DTVs going on sale in Japan tomorrow, no glasses required.

What's that? The largest screen available is 20 inches? No worries:
The Wall Street Journal reports that Toshiba is planning larger members of this glasses-free 3D family with a panel of over 40 inches in the cards for the company's next fiscal year, which begins in April 2011. More to come at CES in January.

Someone's going to get this right.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dead Men Walking Comedy Theater #1

It has often been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. I don't know about that, but there always seem to be plenty of comedians.

"So many memories," I said, as we drove past an Outback restaurant where we'd eaten on a previous trip. "Remember when we had dinner our first night here, and I wound up excusing myself to go take a Xanax in the parking lot?"

"Good times," Gloria said.

I can't even describe this properly, but during one particularly stressful moment I started humming "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to the rhythm of a military march. I had Gloria in stitches, even though I am entirely unable to describe it properly.

"I like to have goals on vacation," I said on Tuesday morning as we drove to breakfast. "My goals today are: one, not to get run over by a car, and two, not to get food poisoning."

"Oh, Dad," Eli 9.4 said, laughing.

Please note that I almost failed number one.

"Dad," Eli said, "Nana didn't sit next to you at dinner because she doesn't trust you."

"That's funny," I said, "because you do."

"Do I, Dad?" he said. "DO I?"

Gloria and I were rehashing the day's events before we went to bed, much like coordinators stay awake watching game film after a 56-7 thrashing.

"Good grief," I said, "I can't talk about this anymore--it's too depressing. Do you know how people who are into bondage are supposed to have a 'safe word' when they want the other person to stop? We need a safe word when we talk about this. Like 'rutabaga.' So you could be telling me something and I would start shouting "Rutabaga. RUTABAGA!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Feliz Navidad

Eli made a little gift for Gloria where he wrote poems from popular holidays words.

The Best Holiday Ever
Always Jolly

I think he forgot the "R", but you get the idea.

Eli doesn't believe in Santa (I told you that story), but he loves the idea of Santa, as do I.

Santa is very loving
A very thoughtful man
Never unaware of people being naughty
The kindest man on Earth
A special man

Next, a salute to holiday beasts.

Never Rude
Dancing is their specialty
Especially cute
Emma, wait that's not a reindeer name
Rest is what they do in summer

Two more.

The thing you put ornaments on
Resting and Christmas is what it stands for
Especially cute
Eerie, not!

Sometimes valuable
Extremely thoughtful
Never bad
The special thing about Christmas
Santa has presents in his sleigh

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Tried To Work In a P.K. Dick Refence In The Title But Failed Because Nothing Usable Rhymed With "Solar"

For years, I picked out 365-day calendars for the people at work who actually do all the work--aka, not the managers or "vice presidents." It's about a dozen people, usually, and I always enjoy giving out the calendars, and everyone seems to enjoy getting them.

This year, though, I had another idea.

"So," I said one day in early December to three people who work in the back office, "would you guys rather have your pick of calendars this year, or would you rather have the equivalent amount in lottery tickets?"

In less than a picosecond, they all said "LOTTERY TICKETS!"

Every person in the office wanted lottery tickets. Remember, this was a choice between a calendar with a different page every day or lottery tickets that could (in total) be scratched off in less than two minutes. But there's that gambling thrill, that one in a million chance, that somehow makes it exciting.

I'm the wrong person to get that thrill, because I've always said that lottery tickets are a tax on people who don't understand math. But free lottery tickets are a different matter.

A woman who works near me (who is one of my favorite people in the office) came up to me after she had scratched off her lottery tickets. "How'd you do?" I asked.

"I made twelve dollars!" she said.

"Hey, at least that's enough for a nice lunch," I said.

"Or," she said, laughing, "it's enough to get--a calendar!"

Monday Notes

We went to see Tron Legacy in 3D on Friday, and it was one of the most satisfying movies I've seen in a long time. It steals from everything: Blade Runner, 2001, Star Wars, but it steals so expertly that it doesn't even seem like theft. It's also spectacular visually, and even has a few ingenious moments in the story (ingenious for a science fiction movie, anyway).

Eli 9.4 was so blown away that he rates it as the second best movie he's ever seen (just behind the most recent Harry Potter film).

I also may have sort of promised to take him to an NBA Finals game if the Spurs make it this year.

I believe I forgot to mention this in the DisneyWorld posts, but the airport in Orlando doesn't sell chewing gum, and neither do any of the DisneyWorld theme parks or resorts. Less to clean up, said the lady at the gift shop.

The way I usually write the blog is that I write down any idea I have on a piece of paper, often a scrap, then look through the lists/scraps to get a list of topics for the day. Occasionally, though, I'll write something down and have no idea what the hell it actually is when I'm ready to use it.

For example, there's this: "Jungle--the unknown genius." Okay, then.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Cheer

I'm making my annual pilgrimage to FailureTown, so I won't have access to e-mail again until Wednesday. However, through the reliability of auto-post, you will be supplied as usual with whatever it is that I write.

Happiness: measured in yoctometers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Links!

We have a very strong assortment of links this week to start off your holiday season (or just end your work week). Let's get started.

Leading off this week, a wonderful, wonderful profile of Shigeru Miyamoto in The New Yorker.

Yes, this is one of the most brilliant things ever: duplicating the Antikythera Mechanism --with Legos.

Here's another story with a mention of Stuxnet, but apparently, much more is going on: The Shadow War.

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash has a new installment, and this time, he takes on Adobe.

This is an incredibly cool "turntable", but I'm going to have to quote the description to explain it:
...what you're looking at is a box filled with specially-angled Arduino Pro Mini boards constantly searching for RFID tags on top, and a set of cards each with two RFID tags, with each tag representing one song. When you drop one on the turntable, it begins playing within a second, thanks to the clever array of Arduinos underneath, and you and your High Fidelity soulmate can leave multiple cards on the table to create an impromptu mixtape, or, presumably, flip one of the "cassettes" to play Side B.

Technology and cleverness. Yay.

Also amazing: watch an entire hemisphere of the sun explode. Here's more, from Tim Lesnick.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a tremendous cover by accoustic group Túcan--
of Daft Punk. This is a very, very fun listen.

From John D'Angelo, a fantastic image of the moon rising through the shadow of a volcano.

From Sirius, a fascinating article on White Nose Syndrom, a fungal infection which has killed millions of bats. Next, and this is quite bizarre, a hornet that can "harvest" solar energy. Solar panels on its abdomen, more or less. Also, and hold on to your hat, there's this: scientists create computer-programmable bacteria.

From Michael M., and this video will blow your mind, a video of SawStop technology, and it's remarkable (and just what you think it would be based on the name).

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is both interesting and tremendously depressing, it's A Map of American Slavery.

From George Politis, some quite magnificent videos of Space Shuttle launches.

Here's another link that's so surreal I have to quote the description:
In 1973, the Navy made a 20-minute animated movie warning sailors -- in graphic detail -- about the dangers of venereal disease. The plot: The annual Communicable Disease of the Year Awards sees a huge upset when Venereal Disease, represented by the syphilis-carrying Count Spirochete, wins the coveted Fourth Horseman award over diphtheria and smallpox.

It's such an upset, in fact, that the host must explain in great, cringe-worthy detail, the history, science and symptoms of syphilis. Think lots of tiny horned devils stabbing mucus membranes with their pitchforks.

Wow. And you can watch the whole movie here.

From Andrew B, and this shouldn't be missed:
the KISS versus Doctor Doom comic book.

Don Barree sent in a terrific article that explains how holographic imaging is being used in architecture.

From Michael Clayton, and this is pretty wonderful: caterpillars can whistle.

Brett Barksdale sent in a link to a fascinating story about board game designer Brenda Brathwaitet, who designs one-of-a-kind board games that are both disturbing and exceptional.

From Kevin W, and this is awesome: Rockets Of The World.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


This is an interesting game: Bronze.

Bronze is a simple game--or, at least, the rules are simple. Set in the "ancient lands of Mesopotamia," you're tasked with taking one of twelve historically-based civilizations and expanding your empire.

Okay, stop right there. This isn't a Civilization clone. It has much more of a board game/chess feel. The maps are much smaller, conflict is resolved immediately, and all unit effects take place immediately as well. While resources are necessary to build units, a unit is built with no delay when requested.

It's not quite chess, either. Going beyond chess, some units have area effects. An example: if a civilization has surrounded yours by building farms, you have a unit that can "convert" farms of another civilization into your own, if any of the squares are touching your unit. Once that's done, though, that civilization might well have additional options to take some of those hexes back. From the game's webpage:
Each construction on a tile has a unique function. One building might convert enemy Farms through religion, while another may create an alliance. Mining villages add to your treasury depending on what type of ore deposit they are built near. Towns will claim all the territory surrounding them. Armies will convert enemy buildings, while Citadels can protect against this effect. Knowing what to build and where is the key to winning. Since each of the twelve civilizations plays differently, it's important to also understand how each civilization uses its construction abilities.

No, it's not revolutionary, but it's put together enjoyably well. Very crisp graphics, well-chosen music, and some interesting historical information all buttress the clever gameplay. There are several modes, including campaign and survival, and they offer significantly different challenges.

This game is interesting and should absolutely getting more attention, but I think the price point is hurting it quite a bit. It's $29.99, and that's a tough sell for an indie game these days.

So, if you'd like a challenging and interesting experience, you can check out the demo here.

New Developments in Autostereoscopic 3D

I assume you're already familiar with my position on the future. This one, anyway.

[skipping pedantic rant about autostereoscopic technology]

Toshiba's doing something quite interesting, which you can read about here: Toshiba's new glasses-free 3D display tilts images and viewing angles your way. This is tablet technology, but it's quite ingenious, and here's a description:
By sticking a six-axis accelerometer in this 12.1-inch slate, the company can tilt the tablet's viewing angle as the tablet itself is tilted, letting viewers effectively look around 3D objects on screen, using software algorithms rather than the fancy lens-and-camera assembly that Microsoft's been prototyping.

Very, very cool, and the video is worth watching as well.

If you believe that the viewing angle problem for autostereoscopic 3D and large displays will never be solved, I can appreciate that position, but I also believe that all of the interesting research is going in this direction, not to improving the passive 3D experience.

Amusing Translation #3

Mike R. said he got a flyer for a new Chinese buffet near his neighborhood. This restaurant has a wooden ship in the main dining room, believe it or not.

Mike sent me an excerpt from their advertising flyer:

From the stormy sea journey to the safety gentle home, the legend of ancient ship with oar sound and sail shadow, steer to the sea from shore and now back form the sea. The ancient ship was ever opening up the broad sea and width sky, now retired, comfortable charm of endless block make furniture means" ship wooden furniture". The shape of fishing boat has kept fully, and is hand crafted made that has also retained its original shipping timber scars, ravines, holes and other signs of water erosion. boats. purify environment.

[an aside: while I think mistranslations are invariably hilarious, I also think it's awesome that someone tries to speak or write in English when it's not their first language. And this country would absolutely suck ass if people didn't come here from other places to live. That's the only reason it's any fun.]


When I posted last week about Cinnabon and Schlotzsky's, one of you (as usual) came up with a much more interesting angle. Adam Williams sent me a link to an article titled Do 'Clean' Smells Encourage Clean Behavior?, and here's a teaser:
In two separate experiments, researchers were able to influence participants' behavior by exposing them to "cleanliness" in the form of a common cleaning agent's odor — in this case, citrus-scented Windex. It turned out that people who sat in a room spritzed with Windex were more likely to act fairly and charitably than those sniffing unscented air.

It's a very, very interesting concept, and it makes me wonder about other kinds of behavior--for example, does North Korea research whether certain smells in public places encourage respect for authority?

Orwell would have had a field day with this.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Up Ganymede Without A Paddle

Eli 9.4 has created the most elaborate fortune teller I've ever seen.

In this instance, a fortune teller is a series of questions asked to the fortune tellee ("tellee" is invented, but useful), followed by an arcane and difficult process to eliminate possible answers until the future emerges. In this particular fortune teller, four of each of the following are required before the divination process can begin: cars, locations, best friends, possible spouses, cash amounts, number of children, and house types.

Then, a spiral is drawn until the tellee says "stop," at which point, a complicated mathematical procedure is used to determine how many "points" exist between the outer and inner edges of the spiral. This number is then used iteratively to cross out entries until only one for each category remains.

Eli enjoys this so much that after he told my fortune yesterday, he decided to do his own (for about the fifth time). We will now skip the 10-15 minute process and get to the (hopefully) interesting bits.

"Yes!" he said. "I married Genevieve--she has an excellent sense of humor. I'm living on Jupiter. And only you and Ethan are left as possible best friends."

"Excellent," I said. "I'm tired of living in this seven billion person burg. My bags are packed."

He started tapping entries with his pencil, then crossed out my name. "Ooh, sorry, Dad," he said, laughing. "It's Ethan. Burn."

"Burn?" I said. "Burn doesn't even begin to describe it. This is an intergalactic burn. I am outraged." He laughed again, then resumed working.

"Uh-oh. I have one hundred children," he said.

"Good luck trying to find reliable child care on Jupiter, my friend," I said. "Jupiterians have three noses and flippers for arms."

"Dad," he said, laughing. He continued working, hunched over his paper, then looked up. "I have one cent and I'm driving a Cobra."

"Ha!" I said. "You'll be driving that Cobra for a week before it breaks down. Then you'll have to sell it to get money for diapers and baby food. Livin' the high life on Jupiter, baby! Here we go!"

At this point, he started laughing and couldn't stop. Neither could I.

Gaming Notes

NFL Training Camp continues to be an excellent workout. Eli 9.4 and I both finished "Phase 1" of the 60-day challenge on Monday, and I'll do the first workout of Phase 2 today. The way that difficulty ramps has been excellent, with consistently  more challenging workouts.

The irony of EA releasing an outstanding product using the NFL license and having that product be roundly ignored is just staggering. There isn't even a single review listed at Metacritic.

Next, I pre-ordered the Fender Squier for Rock Band 3 from Best Buy this morning. Here's the link if you're interested. It's unfortunate that Fender wasn't able to finish this product in time for the game's launch, and even more unfortunate that it's not shipping until March. It felt strange to order a product feeling almost no excitement, but the shipping date is so far away that there wasn't anything to get excited about.

I'm playing a DS game called 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. That's all I'll say for now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Additional Notes On Evan

1. Evan's name is stitched on his right elf boot, believe it or not (if you click on the full-body picture in the previous post, you can almost make it out, although it's blurry)
2. Yes, I got a dozen e-mails about the Saturday Night Live sketch Dick In A Box (which is a classic, but entirely NSFW).

Evan The Inappropriate Elf

I was in Randall's last week and saw a holiday display with an elf.

His name was Evan, and he was the size of a large nutcracker (about 20" high). He was also utterly, ridiculously cute, and Eli 9.4 would love him. Hell, I'd love him. How can this little guy not melt your heart?

That's when I noticed Evan's special gift. Literally. This was going to be the Christmas purchase of a lifetime.

I went from the store to an event at Eli's school, and I saw Gloria inside. "Hey, you need to come with me to the car after this is over," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"Trust me," I said.

Later, in the parking lot, I held up Evan by the waist (showing her the same view that you saw in the picture above). "Look," I said. "His name is Evan."

"Oh, he is adorable," Gloria said.

"Yes," I said. "And inappropriate." I took my hands away from his waist.

"Oh my God!" she said, bursting into laughter. "That's quite a package."

"He starred in an erotic film called 'A Piece of Evan'," I said. "Totally legitimate."

"What was the unit price?" she asked.

"I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it was jacked up," I said. "Really, he's a masterstroke."

Level 3 vs. Comcast (your update)

Some of you guys have a far better understanding of the dispute between Comcast and Level 3 than I do, so let's go to the phones, to to speak, and hear from you.

First, from Skip Key, who is more willing to dig into documents for a clearer understanding of something than anyone I know:
This wasn't really a surprise, and honestly, even leaving out the whole 'comcast doesn't want competition' angle it was the correct thing for them to do. And in fact, due to antitrust concerns, quite likely didn't have much to do with the competition angle at all.

See, the Internet, as you know, is a series of tubes, and you don't connect a small tube on one end to a big tube on the other...

No, seriously, essentially all of the backbone providers have peering agreements with each other, where they don't charge each other to route traffic to each other. But the base assumption of all of the free peering agreements is that the traffic on both sides needs to be equal in both directions, otherwise one side is leeching from the other. When Level 3 signed a new deal with Netflix, that essentially broke the deal, the traffic was going to be one-sided. So Comcast, as a backbone provider, has to do this - Level 3 does the same thing with other folks who peer with them who become net leeches. Here's an example from 2005:
Level 3 and Cogent

There are probably other examples where Level 3 has done the same thing that I could find if I searched longer.

Other industries do the same thing - consider railroads for example. A railroad company like BNSF does not own all of the tracks that its trains travel across. Nowhere near all, in fact. What the railroad companies do is have peering agreements with each other where they charge basically by the car. But as a general rule things tend to work out with the big companies, they're just about even in terms of traffic with each other, but for a smaller company the charges can become quite significant. This was one of the driving forces behind the railroad consolidations in the early 20th century, I think.

So what's going to happen? Well honestly I expect Netflix will end up signing agreements with most of the backbone providers and just pay them directly. So there'll be a netflix hub on L3, on Comcast, on AT&T, etc. That will help everyone, as the routes will be shorter. but it'll take them awhile to get there, probably a few years.

He also sent in a later update:
Comcast had been allowing a 2-1 ratio without charging, but that L3 wanted to go to 5-1.

Now, as Skip mentioned Cogent, let me now present an alternative view sent in by Garth Pricer:
Cogent wanted to send traffic across Level 3’s network to 3rd parties. That was actual transit data. Level 3, on the other hand, is just delivering data to Comcast’s customers within Comcast’s own network, a service for which Comcast is already being paid.

Lastly, a series of links from Richard Lawler if you want to explore this issue further:
There's been a bit more development since that initial press release:
FCC looking into Comcast / Netflix blocking threat

I've got most of the info there including Comcasts (incredibly specific) letter to the FCC. Of course it all depends on who you believe, but it seems like this is more about Level 3 trying to undercut its competition than ISPs vs Netflix, at least so far. they had one type of agreement, and tried to switch to another without renegotiating first. This is another take on it:
Video – Level 3 versus Comcast peering dispute
vs. a counter opinion
Level 3's Lower Cost Comes From Owning The Network, Not Free Peering
The Real Issue In Comcast's Dispute With Level 3 Is About Power, Not Money

Lots of interesting reading there, if you're so inclined.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Faith (the little girl version)

DQ reader Jeff Pinard sent me an e-mail about Faith, a very cute little five-year-old girl who has Cystic Fibrosis. I know you guys are generous in general--particularly around the holidays--and it would be very kind of you to take time to read the following and consider helping out. If you would like to donate, just hit the "Faith" link above. Thank you.

Faith is one of the youngest members of our Cystic Fibrosis community. She is hospitalized 4 times a year with each hospital stay averaging one to two weeks. In addition to her hospital visits, she also needs to be seen in a specialized CF Center. This is critical to the care of each Cystic patient to monitor the progress of the disease. Faith and her mother Susan have a long drive - nearly 3 hours to reach the closest CF Care Center: the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. These appointments are necessary to maintain Faith’s health and put her and her family in touch with leading doctors that are experts in the care of children with the disease.

The distance and frequency of care Faith requires has become a crisis as her Mom Susan is suddenly without a car. Dependable transportation to and from these appointments can literally be the difference between life and death for Faith.

Therefore the Michigan Pulmonary Disease Community, a Cystic Fibrosis charity, is facilitating the purchase or donation of a gently used car in minimal need of repairs and/or assistance in the form of a Paypal donation to insure that Faith can make it to her appointments and her Mom can get her to the hospital. Your donation is completely tax-deductable based on the value of the car or the total amount of cash given.

November NPD

Let's see the numbers again before we get started:
Microsoft: 1,370,000
Wii: 1,270,000
PS3: 530,000

Last year, for comparison:
Wii: 1,260,000
360: 819,599
PS3: 710,400

So the Wii was flat, the 360 was up over 65% (!), and the PS3 was down 25%.


For three mature platforms, those are relatively shocking changes. What a huge shift since last year, and let me take this opportunity to eat more Kinect dirt pie. Microsoft really did know what they were doing, apparently.

Okay, here are the NPD sales totals for 2010 through November:
360: 4,893,689
Wii: 4,691,600
PS3: 3,141,800

Year-over-year changes from the first 11 months of last year:
360 +41.4%
PS3 +5.6%
Wii  -18.9%

Lifetime installed base based on NPD:

Dear Sony Defense Force,
Yours Truly,

Let's move past the this-has-been-happening-for-four-years-now PS3 numbers and move to Nintendo. Look, if Nintendo didn't sell even one more Wii worldwide, the system would have still been the most financially successful console Nintendo has ever produced. It's been a money printing machine since it launched, and while it's undoubtedly past its peak, it's been an epic run.

What the hell does Nintendo do now, though? Look, for all the goofballs saying that the motion control wasn't a big deal, it WAS a big deal., and Wii Sports was a big deal--that's why the console was sold out for over two freaking years.

Where can you go from here, though? It doesn't seem like Nintendo would be willing to copy Kinect, and they can't use the 3DS technology in the next Wii, because it's screen-dependent. The obvious change is to upgrade to HD resolution, but that's not enough to justify an entirely new console.

So there's your $100 question: what's the next innovation from Nintendo? What can they do to make everyone care?

Wait, that's not one question. All right, those are your two $50 questions. Over the next few months, let's figure this out.

Now, let's move on to something I received from a Best Buy employee. Let's call him "Mr. Z.," and since Best Buy is totally paranoid about stuff like this, I'll just say he works in the South. Here's what he has to say:
I just wanted to comment on the sales of the three systems in my corner of the world.

Wii: We have a TON of these in stock, all three colors: black, white and red. We can't keep the red ones in stock for very long though because they come with Super Mario Wii instead of Wii Sports Resort. I see tons of Wii accessories go flying off the shelves as well.

Xbox: This is by far our biggest seller. Kinect and Kinect/Xbox bundles don't last a day in our store. I think they're on limited inventory too so we always get varying numbers in when we receive shipments. We always seem to have a few Xboxes w/ no Kinect lying around (the 4GB ones) but the 250GB ones sell out faster than any other system.

PS3: I've physically seen one person buy a PS3 in the last week, and that's because we have some sort of package deal going on with it if you buy a Sony Bravia television. We have piles and piles of PS3s and accessories sitting around that no one wants to buy.

When the Kinect first came out we had two different interactive displays set up in the gaming department next to each other: one for the Kinect and one for the Move. There would be a *crowd* of people standing around the Kinect display wanting to try it. The occasional person would pick up the Move remote, play for less than a minute, then move on (no pun intended). I think Sony really missed the boat.

I'm interested to see how well the PS3 holds up after this holiday season.

What Mr. Z. has to say certainly seems to mirror the November NPDs.

Please Let It Be A Joke

Surely, this can't be true:
New Division Names For The Big 10

The divisions are going to be called “Leaders” and “Legends”…seriously.

Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern are the “Legends” while Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin are the “Leaders.”

This will go well.

Chicago Loot Drop!

There's another benefit for Child's Play taking place, and this time it's in Chicago. It's called Chicago Loot Drop, and it's a Rock Band tournament in  500-seat Lincoln Hall with a 220" HD screen. The tournament will be judged by a chiptune band called I Fight Dragons, and it sounds like a blast.

Times and such:
Wed., Dec. 15th, 2010 @ 7 pm
Lincoln Hall (map)
2424 N Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, and this is Andrew B's fault, I demand that you watch this video in its entirety:
Worst Band Ever Butchers Pink Floyd. Don't think you can stop after a minute, or even two, because the epic nature of this video just keeps on giving (2:53 may permanently damage me).

From a bunch of you, the story of Stuxnet (probably the craziest thing you'll read all week).

From Sirius, a list of the biggest badasses in the history of the scientific world: The world's hardest scientists. Also, and these images are so spectacular, it's Lascaux. Also, an HD timelapse video of the Aurora Borealis.

This is actually a game (thanks Brian DeyErmand): Phylo. It's a game that helps solve the problem of multiple sequence alignments (D.N.A., R.N.A., proteins). Also, one of the most ingenious Dads ever.

From Geoff Engelstein, and no, that's not me: Probably Not The Best Christmas Decorating Idea.

From Robert McMillon, and this has to be one of the best wonk links ever, it's Xbox Serial Number Statistics (really, the analysis is totally ingenious).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a fantastic series of RC plane flights through New York City. Also, and these are remarkable images + story, it's The Dutch Revolt.

Here's something bizarre and amazing: Augmented reality turns candy into tasty fireworks, anything else.

From Kevin W, and this is remarkable: Image deblurring using inertial measurement sensors. Also, it's Best Space Pictures of 2010. And, with the hat trick, it's 2010 Zombie Safe House Competition.

From John Willcocks, a lovely random act of culture.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

November NPD Scraps

Microsoft: 1,370,000
Wii: 1,270,000
PS3: 530,000. Hey, we have tons of new information about Uncharted 3 today!

Holy cow, that is an absolutely terrible month for Sony. Getting more than doubled by both competitors? Yikes.
More on Monday. In short, though: Microsoft was right about Kinect. I was not.


If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, don't forget about Ümloud tonight. It's a special Rock Band event to raise money for Child's Play. Chris Kohler posted on Game|Life yesterday about the event:
We've taken the "Rock Band bar night" concept to the next level, letting people play on a massive stage at San Francisco's DNA Lounge with full lighting and sound systems behind them. Guests lined up to purchase $150 "band passes," which are now sold out.

But we still need SF's gamers to come out and show their support. We're holding a massive raffle and silent auction, and everyone who pays the $10 door charge gets a piece of smaller swag off of our prize table.

That sounds like a blast, and here's a link to the full article:
SF Bay: Come to Ümloud!, Win Prizes for Child’s Play.

If you're too lazy to hit a link, here's the time and location:
7 p.m., Thursday December 9 at DNA Lounge, 375 Eleventh Street, San Francisco. $10 at the door, 18+.

An Appropriate Image: Mr. Bean Riding A Giraffe

The apocalypse has apparently arrived, because I bought a pair of ice skates today.

I'm not telling Eli 9.4. The plan is to walk around for a few days on carpet (with skate guards on) when he's not here, then take a few lessons, then skate an hour a day for the next month. Once I've learned and have a lower chance of killing myself, I'll surprise him. I'm hoping that 30 hours of on-ice time will at least be enough to not look like a complete idiot (insert your joke here).

I was very surprised at how technical and complicated the process is to buy skates for the first time. I tried on five different pairs, talked about all kinds of skate-related things with the person who was fitting me, then went through the oven baking process (the skates, not me) to help the break-in process.

All told, it took an hour and a half.

I also have a helmet on the way, so put that e-mail back in the holster. Believe me, my number one priority is to not break something (including my head).

If you have any tips for learning, though, fire away.

Your Follow-Up Question

Several of you e-mailed to ask if it was actually enjoyable to be with "this woman." It was, in the same sense that witnessing the awesome power of a hydroelectric dam is enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Strange Similarity

So I dated this woman. Everyone dated this woman once.

Not the same woman, obviously, but someone of her type.

This was the woman who used you as a sort of gymnastic apparatus. She was highly sexed, and, in an orgasm sense, was faster than a dragster on the Bonneville Salt Flats. She could orgasm before you could even finish saying "Bonneville Salt Flats." She was the eighth wonder of the world, and I would certainly rank her above the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Sadly, it had nothing to do with you. For her, you were barely even there. No, it was a private fireworks display, and it was very difficult to figure out what set it off and when it might stop.

I was reminded of this as I was playing Bejeweled 3 today. It's quite entertaining, and pleasantly enjoyable, but there are times when the gem cascades are so over-the-top that the game almost looks like it's playing itself.

Equal Time

Translation errors always crack me up, for some reason, but it's funny in any direction. Here's an article about ten advertising blunders when going from English to another language: 10 Product and Campaign Blunders To Learn From.

My favorite? This:
When Ford tried selling its car “Pinto” in Brazil it was a huge failure. The reason - the word “Pinto” is a slang for small penis in Brazil.

It Is Better To Have Smelled And Lost Than Never To Have Smelled At All

I eat lunch at Schlotzsky's on a fairly regular basis.

Some history. When I was a kid, my cousin came down from the Arkansas boondocks to live with us and go to college. Remember, I grew up in a town of 7,000 people (Portland), and Corpus Christi was just across the causeway.

The only "restaurant" in Portland, for years, was Dairy Queen. There was also a pit barbecue place. That was it, though.

Corpus Christi, though, was much larger (over 200,000 in 1970), and it was food heaven by comparison. We didn't go there often, but my cousin had classes at a junior college there. One of the exotic franchises available in Corpus Christi was Schlotzsky's, and my cousin used to bring home these gigantic sandwiches for us to eat.

There was a particular smell to a standard Schlotzsky's sandwich back then. Not a bad smell, just kind of "mustardy." To this day, I'm sure I could identify that smell immediately.

Plenty of fast food/casual dining restaurants have "their" smell. Put me in an Arby's and I know where I am immediately. Chic-Fil-A is the same way. And Schlotzsky's, in the modern era, has always smelled like fresh baked bread with sandwich-type accents.

Recently, Schlotzsky's started carrying Cinnabon cinnamon rolls. Since Cinnabons are basically 90% sugar and 10% butter, they are my ideal product. Any time I want to blow 1000 calories on a cinnamon roll, my frist and last choice is Cinnabon. They also have this incredibly fabulous cinnamon smell.

Therein lies the problem.

When I walk into Schlotzsky's now, instead of smelling like Schlotzsky's, it smells like a gigantic cinnamon stick. That's a great smell, but it totally kills my appetite for a sandwich. Instead, I just want to stick my face in a vat full of cinnamon roll icing.

Also, it makes me less likely to go to Schlotzsky's, even though their product line is now enhanced. There's something about that smell not being there that mutes their standing when I'm trying to decide where to eat.

It will be interesting to see if I'm the only person who feels that way, or if their revenues begin to drop off due to their olfactory manipulations (a fine band name).

Yes, an alternate title for this post was "The Smell Is Gone," but I wasn't sure if it was easy enough to get from there to B.B. King.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

No Sticker Shock

I should have mentioned in the NFL Training Camp post that the retail price of the product (game, sensors, exercise band) is $99. However, it's being discounted significantly--I got it at Fry's for $79.

EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp (Wii)

Against my better judgment, I bought this workout program two weeks ago because Eli 9.4 was interested in trying it out.

I fully expected it to be crap.

Instead, it's EA's best use of the NFL license in years. It's an excellent workout program, the NFL integration is spot-on, and it's fun.

After months of playing games I'm supposed to like and don't, it's a real pleasure to find a positive surprise.

Okay, so this is how NFL Training Camp works. The first time you start the game, you create a character. The customization options for your character are complete crap, but thankfully, that's one of the very few areas that aren't fleshed out properly.

There are two sensors you wear--one just below your elbow, and one on the opposite thigh. With them, your position is sensed as well as your heart rate.

We decided to go with a pre-set program and started the "60-Day Challenge." This is a two-month series of workouts (four a week) that are getting you ready "for the draft."That's right--at first, you're just a lowly seventh round draft choice, but as you complete workouts successfully, your stock rises.

Needless to say, Eli loves this, and it's fun for me, too.

For each workout, you can pick the stadium (all NFL stadiums are available) as well as your training guide (10-15 players from each team are available). I also found that if you let the game select the location, it will automatically give you a different stadium each time, which is a nice touch.

The workouts themselves are solid. We're both working out on the "Hard" setting, and if you make an honest effort, you can get a nice workout. There are traditional football drills (foot fires, for example) as well as strength-building exercises using an included exercise band. Plus, there are positional challenges, where you go through catching/throwing/kicking drills.

For a workout program, it's quite entertaining, and the NFL setting makes it more interesting. Each workout is different, depending on what's being stressed that day, and new exercises are slowly added as you progress.

Both Eli and I are on the third week of the 60-day program now (ten workouts in), and it's very funny to see how seriously he works out. He wants his form to be just right in the exercises, and he works hard.

I've been working hard, too. My chronic Achilles tendinitis has really reduced my fitness level in the last two months, so I needed a program to help me get my base back, and this is just right. Like I said, with an honest effort, this is a good 30-minute workout, and it's fun, so it doesn't get boring (or, at least, it hasn't gotten boring yet).

Negatives? In a few exercises, the sensors seem to have a difficult time detecting your position. However,it's easy to just pause the program, do the reps, and then "skip" that exercise. You still get your work in, but you don't get credit from the program for having done that particular station. In a 30-station workout, though, that usually only happens once or twice, so it's manageable.

As an exercise program, NFL Training Camp deserves an "A." It's easy to use, it's interesting, and it's a solid workout. There is a degree of polish that I absolutely did not expect, and it's a shame that this program is getting so little attention, because it deserves a much higher profile.

Monday, December 06, 2010

If It's And Cultural, I'm In

Gloria went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch today. Here are the instructions printed on the paper packaging for the chopsticks:
Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
the traditional and typical of Chinese glonous history.
and cultural.

GT5 (your correction)

In the pre-Disney era, I made a post about Gran Turismo 5, questioning how much of the game was being held back as DLC (for financial reasons). Several of you pointed out (quite correctly) that the "Prologue" (beta) version already sold a gajillion copies at $40,which means the final product should already be profitable.

Yes, and I should have accounted for that. Me Fail.

It's The Law

We just saw a trailer for the new season of "V."

In the trailer, a women in a provocative red dress is shown as the narrator says "When the aliens came, they said they came in peace."

"There's no peace with that dress," I said.

"Why couldn't female aliens dress in something that isn't sexy?" Gloria asked.

"That's right," I said. "Where are the bland aliens?"

"They don't exist, apparently," Gloria said.

"There must be an intergalactic law that decrees all female aliens must be sexy," I said.

The Brilliance Of The Macy's Parade

We watched thirty seconds (accidentally) of what has to be the most insipid television of the year, and heard this gem from Matt Lauer as the Kool-Aid Man balloon floated by:
"If you filled up Kool-Aid Man with Kool-Aid, there would be 160,000 cups for us all to enjoy."

A Warning Shot Across The Bow

I mentioned a while back that there was going to be a huge face-off between content providers and bandwidth providers (and companies who want do both) at some point in the near future. This may be the inception:
Level 3 in essence operates a highway on the Internet that handles traffic to and from individual Web sites. Comcast customers rely on the company’s on- and off-ramps from that highway. With 17 million broadband Internet customers, Comcast is the nation’s largest such service provider.

The scuffle between the two started on Nov. 19, when Level 3 says Comcast demanded a recurring fee to “transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content.”

Three days later, under pressure from Comcast, “Level 3 agreed to the terms, under protest, in order to ensure customers did not experience any disruptions,” Mr. Stortz said.

Mr. Stortz did not cite Netflix in his statement. But just a week before Comcast’s demand, Level 3 announced a multiyear deal to support Netflix’s rapidly growing streaming service.

A recent study found that at peak times, Netflix represented 20 percent of Internet download traffic in the United States. That makes it a de facto competitor for incumbent distributors like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which are eager to protect both the subscription television business and the emerging video-on-demand business.

As the Bud Lite commercials (and Eli 9.3) are fond of saying: here we go.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, and this is just huge: Subsisting on Arsenic, a Microbe May Redefine Life. Incredible.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a fascinating look at how AT&T suppressed the discovery of magnetic recording tape for 60 years.

From DQ reader My Wife, a remembrance of a massive jewel heist from the American Museum of Natural History in 1964. Also, a link to a very, very blog: Hyperbole And A Half.

From Sirius, an article about how, to no one's surprise, we are completely misinterpreting the Boston Tea Party in almost every way. Also, an interesting article about, um, very large things: Dinosaur die-off cleared way for gigantic mammals. There's more, and it's spectacular images of perhaps the most beautiful lake in Russia: Baikal. Last one, and it's a genetically-modified bacteria that can knit cracks in concrete back together.

From Scott, and this is wonderfully clever, it's Complete History Of The Soviet Union--with Tetris.

From Marc Pagliaro, a long and fantastic tale of a couple driving (incredibly) across the Democratic Republic Of Congo.

From Derrin Phillips, a fantastic collection of the work of Liu Bolin (the guy who disguises himself to hide in plain sight).

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is quite bizarre: a secret chamber discovered in the National Library of India.

If you weren't lucky enough to see Barry Sanders play, here's a highlight reel. For my money, the best running back of his era.

From Ben Younkins, and this is both interesting and disturbing: A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web. But wait, before that link even got cold, Google put down the hammer: Google sucker-punches online retail bully.

From Jarod, and they're an apex invention for a lazy man: vacuum shoes.

From Kevin, and it's just what you holiday fans have been waiting for: hacking Christmas lights.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Okay, I Lied: The Return Of Mr. X

This really is the last post about Disney.

Mr. X sent me another e-mail, this time about the characters, and it's just as interesting as the first:
The vast majority of Mickeys and Minnies and Donalds (basically, all the shorter characters) are actually girls inside those suits. They're shorter, and thinner, and less intimidating to smaller kids. Of course, Goofy and Jafar and the taller ones are guys, but most are women. All are actors/actresses (usually Broadway trained) and they rotate between character work and other shows. "Face" characters, where you don't have a mask on (Snow White, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, etc), are much more tightly controlled than ones in full-body suits (in terms of weight).

Now characters go out with a partner who's not in a costume, just appropriate Disney dress for that area. The main reason? Well, apparently word got out amongst tour groups (and it seemed especially among some large South American teen tour groups) about the gender of the costumed characters. Well, all of a sudden there were a LOT of wandering hands... especially when taking pictures with their arms around the characters' shoulders. Of course, Cinderella couldn't slap anyone in the face... thus the non-character "handler" to keep an eye on things.

By the way, no one at Disney has uniforms--they have "costumes."

Did you know about the Magic Kingdom basically being the second floor, that underneath the "ground" is actually all the service/staff area? I got to go in there a few times... for being built in the late 60's/early 70's... pretty damn cool. You'll very rarely find a full wastebasket at the Magic Kingdom - most of them are hooked into the pneumatic tube network.

Oh, and a metagame for the Disney hardcore. Google "hidden mickeys." All friggin over the place.

Vacation (The End, Thank God): Ruminations on Mouseification And Scattered Pieces Of Paper

As much as I am made philosophically uneasy at times by DisneyWorld, I will never deny the genius of Walt Disney. Orlando is thickly treed, with heavy vegetation cover. It's not a jungle, but it's nasty, sweaty, and hot for much of the year. It's as if Cabeza De Vaca, while marching through the Florida swamp, decided to build a theme park.

There were a few things I didn't know about DisneyWorld that you should absolutely know before you go there. First and most importantly, the separate theme parks really are separate. You can't walk from one to another because they're separated by a 10-15 minute drive. Unless you want to rent a car, the first thing to do is figure out the Disney bus network, which is extensive and very well-organized (and free). Oh, and if you want to go anywhere outside Disney, you probably do want to rent a car.

Second, the Animal Kingdom resort is a tremendously nice place to stay (and quite lovely, really), and it's worth it to pay a little extra so that you can see giraffes from your patio. 

Third, and I know this sounds cynical, but the focus of DisneyWorld is not rides and entertainment--it's gift shops and restaurants. Think of it as an already-expensive game where's just an unbelievable shit-ton of DLC, much of which is so tightly wound into the game that it's hard not to buy it.

Fourth, you need help planning. Based on a recommendation from a nice person at work, we paid $22 to use the Tour Guide Mike website, which plans a custom itenerary based on your schedule. Everything they said was golden in terms of helping us avoid crowds and lines, so I highly recommend them.

Yeah--we had a fairly optimized experience and I still didn't really have that good of a time. Go figure.

I think most of my disappointment was created by my own expectations. Going to DisneyWorld is expensive, and reputation alone made me expect to be wowed. Really, though, I had about one "wow" moment a day, and as much of a grind as the trip was, that wasn't enough. And make no mistake, this trip is a grind for most grown-ups. It's work. It's not relaxing.

Remember how we went to San Diego two years in a row for vacation? We stayed at a "family resort," went to the beach, went to Lego Land, and generally just hung out for four days. It was great, so great that we went two years in a row, and wanted to go again this year (well, some of us, anyway).

On our last day at DisneyWorld, Eli turned to me and said, "Dad, I've had a really good time, but you know what? I like San Diego more."

"So do I, little man," I said. "So do I."

What that helped me understand is that there are different kinds of people, and they enjoy different kinds of vacations. For us, the relaxation is what makes it fun.

Now, under the "scattered pieces of paper" category, some notes that just turned up from the first day (basically, before we arrived at the hotel).

A sign I saw on the way to the airport: "Longhorn Fried Rice and Shaved Ice."

Gloria was trying to say something positive about her ancient cellphone, and I said, "Don't try to show off that phone. It's like showing off a 1985 Lincoln Town Car."

There was a positively enormous woman on our flight sitting on the aisle seat across from us, so enormous that she could only work on her laptop while it was opened in a "V" shape (there wasn't enough room to use it in the "L" shape). During the flight, the fellow sitting by the window in her row needed to get out to use the restroom.

She didn't move, and the reason this was funny is that it forced the guy to go all Bruce Willis in Die Hard to get around her, climbing and leaning and damn near mountain climbing. It was action hero deluxe.

It was a bit of a process to get from our exiting gate to the proper place to board the Disney bus:
To a line. To another line. To a counter. To a bus. Herded. Herded. This must be what the buffalo felt like.

As soon as we got on the bus from the airport to Animal Kingdom Resort, Disney videos start playing, with little children singing. I wrote this in my notebook: the indoctrination begins.

On the bus, as we started to reach the outskirts of the resorts, we passed a hotel with a gigantic pink swan on the roof. "I stayed there during a business trip," Gloria said. "It's tasteful for a peach-colored swan hotel."

"Little known fact," I said. "The toilets in that hotel are shaped like swans, and you have to pull their necks down to flush."

"Where do you sit?" Eli asked.

"That's none of my business," I said. He laughed.

When we reached the hotel, we were looking at a map of the entire scope of DisneyWorld. "What is the scale of this map?" Gloria asked.

"This is an imaginary world. There is no scale," I said.

We were all amped up about seeing giraffes and zebras outside our hotel window, but we didn't arrive the first night until it was already dark. Eli would walk out on the patio every fifteen minutes or so, though, hoping to get lucky.

When we went back in, I stepped out to take a look.

"Hey! I said. "Come over here, you guys!" They both rushed over. I pointed to a maintenanace truck, lights on, that was slowly driving across the hotel savannah. "Look! It's a lighted maintenance truck!"

They laughed.

"Man, we're lucky to see one," I said. "They're nocturnal. Watch out if that red tail is lit--that means they're angry."

The next morning, Gloria called room service to ask for something, and she was so soft-spoken that I could barely hear her. When she hung up the phone, Eli said "Come on, Mom! Confidence! Passion! Determination!"

Those words are the perfect description of how to survive a trip to DisneyWorld.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Vacation (Part Four)

Hey, I had to survive it--so do you.


I have Chronic Theme Park Fatigue Syndrome.

We're all just prisoners here, of our own device.

Wildlife spotlight: Lighted Utility Truck.

This is the apex predator of American commercialism.

There are more LSU and New Orleans Saints jerseys than every other team combined.

Learning about other cultures via restaurants and gift shops.

Gordon Lightfoot is playing in the Canada section, right next to a tiny Niagra Falls.

I want to see a fleet of motorized scooters traveling in a V-wing formation.

I've had my fill of the mouse.

Epcot was, by far, our favorite park, because it was less geared to 5-7 year olds. We went on a boat ride through the history of agriculture, then emerged in a greenhouse as ways of improving agricultural productivity were discussed (along with all the crops being grown). This, oddly, was fascinating and incredibly entertaining for all of us, mostly because it lasted longer than three minutes and wasn't frantic.

There was a warning leading up to a ride that started this way: "If enclosed spaces frighten you..."

"Are you kidding me?" I asked Gloria. "I'm trying to get BACK to an enclosed, dark space."

Eli almost got run over by a motorized scooter--literally, it was about three inches away from running over his foot--and it made me think about design and functionality. Seemingly, in a theme park, scooters would be designed to go no faster than a brisk walking pace (4 mph). These scooters, though, seemed to be capable of going nearly twice that fast, which was relatively disastrous at times in crowded areas as people floored their scooter to get into open spaces before they closes.

We did do a ride that was "space mission training," where all three of us sat inside a mock spaceship and flipped various switches at various times in responde to verbal commands. It sounds mundane, but it was actually quite fun, and I still want to figure out a way to take Eli to Space Camp one summer, because he would love it.

After Epcot, we went back to Downtown Disney and stumbled on another highlight of the trip: a magic shop. Harry Kellar posters and everything, and there was one fellow in particular who had absolutely fantastic sleight-of-hand skills. Eli was mesmerized (since he's a fellow magician and has one paid show under his very small belt), they talked shop for a while, and Eli wound up buying a deck of marked cards.

I thought of a good way to rile up an Auburn fan: just yell "HE'S NOT ELIGIBLE!" Sadly, I didn't get a chance to try this out.

Once we got back to the hotel, we went to the arcade and had our best time of the day. Actually, the best time of every day was in the hotel arcade, and it was all because of this:

Yes, that's an air hockey table, and unlike any table I've ever seen, it has space behind the goals like a hockey rink. This changed the entire dynamic of the game to such a degree that we played it over and over again. As air hockey tables go, it was epic.

Of course, we had to pay for the arcade games. Leave it to us to go to Disney, spend a fortune on all-inclusive things, and find something we have to pay extra to play. Well done.


That's Eli outside Mythos restaurant, and he's pointing a wand.

Here's my favorite picture of the entire trip (and Eli's):

Those people are feeding every creature in sight while sitting just in front of a sign that is telling them (in sizable letters) not to feed any animals. Well played, infrequent readers.

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