Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Links!

Sorry, no links to the Royal Wedding. Please curb your disappointment.

From Jeremy Fischer, it's 6 Hilarious Ways Game Designers Are Screwing With Pirates.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and this is insane, it's Avalanche Cliff Jump (on skis).

Here's an interesting article about helmet safety, with possible applications for the NFL and other helmet-using sports: Tweaked helmet would better protect our troops.

Matt Sakey's Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this month, it's Fun with Franchising.

From Brad R., it's A visual history of the computer mouse (there are some fantastic pictures here).

From Keith Ganey, a series of fascinating links. First, Gang tattoo leads to a murder conviction. Protip: if you don't want to be convicted for a murder, don't tattoo the crime scene on your chest. Next, it's Mystery illness may be tied to Playboy Mansion’s famed grotto, and "grotto" will always be a great word. Last, and the title doesn't sell it very well, but it's quite interesting: China feeds pirated DVDs to the chipper to make a point.

From John D'Angelo, two beautiful astonomy video links: Walu Ngalindi and Sub-zero.

Russ Pitts, who is a terrific writer, wrote a piece for The Escapist this week: What Purpose, Minecraft Zombies?.

From Jonathan Arnold, an excellent collection of images: 75 Awesome “Looking Into The Past” Pictures.

I'm pretty sure you already know this, but if you don't, stop eating armadillo.

From Sirius, and this is quite remarkable: Material That If Scratched, You Can Quickly and Easily Fix Yourself, With Light Not Heat.

A timely article from Eric Barrett: Remembering the Soviet response to Chernobyl.

Believe it or not, this link is from Chevrolet, and while I'd normally dismiss it out of hand, it's for a good cause: Diamonds and Dreams. That's baseball diamonds, by the way.

From Kevin W, it's Meatcraft: Minecraft in the real world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #8

It was a tough week for both John and me. My total playing time was only an hour and a half. I'm not progressing much, the lessons have become much more difficult, and I'm frustrated. Well, and busy as hell on top of that.

From John Harwood:
Just wasn't feeling it this week, and had plenty of other distractions, so not really much to say. Played random songs for a couple of hours, but not much really notable. Going to try to go back and work on chords on Justin's site this week. Guitar on easy bores me and guitar on medium is a wall due to not knowing the chords, so need to work on that.

Fortunately, tour guide David Gloier saves the week with an excellent discussion of strings:
So you thought it'd be a snap to graduate from five plastic buttons to six strings, eh? I mean, that's only one more, right? Suckers.

It all starts with the strings. Every musical instrument, has some sort of input device, something that moves to create the sound. The guitar has six strings of varying diameter and construction that create sound through vibration. Each of those strings is at a certain tension and that tension creates a specific vibration along the length of the string when you pluck it, which results in the note. So, unfretted, each string when played produces a specific note. Pushing the string down at a certain fret changes the pitch and produces a certain note by shortening the length of the vibrating string. The fret at which you are pressing the string down effectively becomes the nut, that little white piece the strings sit in at the top of the neck. As difficult as this may seem to those of you just beginning, (and even for those of us that have been playing for some time) it is much easier than reaching up and turning the tuning pegs between each note you play. At least I assume that to be the case. I don't want to try. Anyway, your strumming hands puts the string in motion so that the strings can produce the sound, and your fretting hand controls the pitches produced by the strings. That's pretty basic and there are many nuances to the techniques of both hands that decide what sound is ultimately coming out of the guitar or amp.

The strings also provide tension on the neck. That tension is very important to the guitar itself as it helps keep the neck true. You should never really leave a guitar unstrung as it will possibly cause problems with the neck. That tension is a good thing even when the guitar isn't being played. Different string gauges provide different tensions and when moving from lighter to heavier strings, you will likely need to make some adjustments in your set up to compensate for the change in tension. This usually involves adjusting the truss rod to compensate for the change in neck relief (the bow in the neck) caused by the increase or decrease in tension. You will also likely need to check and adjust the intonation of the guitar, as needed, when moving to a higher or lower gauge string.

Lots of choices when it comes to strings. Many manufacturers, many gauges, many compositions. Most guitars tend to come with 9 or 10's The higher the number, the heavier the strings. The heavier the strings, the more difficult bending becomes, but the tone tends to be fuller, particularly on the low end. Some use hybrid sets with a higher gauge on the low strings and lower gauge on the high strings, the ones you bend more often. Just starting out, you're probably better off with a lighter gauge and moving up higher as you develop some strength in the left hand.

Standard string types are nickel plated, pure nickel, and stainless steel. Some are coated with a substance that supposedly helps them last longer, most are not. I don't like the coated strings for a variety of reasons, but I won't go into those. Strings are a very personal choice. Nickel plated strings are strings that have nickel plated wraps around a steel core.The steel gives a good magnetic pull you need for the magnets in the pickups and the nickel helps against corrosion. Pure nickel strings have pure nickel wraps around a steel string. It produces a mellower tone due the the lower magnetism. You hear this tone referred to as "vintage". Finally, stainless steel strings produce a much brighter tone and may cause your frets to wear quicker as they are harder than the two nickel types. I personally use Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys. They are nickel wound (plated) and the gauge is .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046. They are a good compromise, in my opinion, as the .09's are like spaghetti to me and .11's would require more set-up adjustment, and I'm kinda lazy. I like Ernie Balls and out of all the strings I've used, since I seem to break them the most infrequently.

Strings have to maintained and changed regularly, although your mileage may vary, depending upon a number of factors, which includes anything that might be on your hands when you play and the amount of sweat on your fingers and the pH of that sweat. I recommend washing your hands with soap and water before playing and drying them thoroughly, and wiping the strings and fretboard down with a soft cloth when you finish. It should help extend the life of your strings. You should be able to hear when the strings are dead. They lack that pop of fresh strings. I change mine once a month, on average, although sometimes you'll get a set that seems to last forever and I have a few guitars that seem to love old strings. Tone is a funny thing and everybody has their own theories about it.

The strings interact with the guitar at several points and I'll go over all of that with you at some point, and some tips for stringing a guitar properly, which hopefully will minimize some of the breakage and help with the guitar holding tune.

Don't be afraid to try different strings and find what works for you. Strings are pretty cheap and it's good to keep sets around, as you never know when you'll need them. And remember to keep your hands clean and wipe those strings and fretboard down when you finish playing. Restringing can be tedious and I like to minimize the frequency with which I have to perform that task.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Note About PSN Outageageddon

Yeah, just try pronouncing that imaginary word.

From Game|Life:
Sony thinks an “unauthorized person” now has access to all PlayStation Network account information and passwords, and may have obtained the credit card numbers of the service’s 70 million users.

Oh, shit--somebody's ass is about to get grounded big-time.

I think there are several points worth mentioning here (as always, your mileage may vary):
1) If Sony plays the victim card, please feel free to burst out laughing. We're not talking about an indie developer being hacked. We're talking about one of the most visible (and arrogant) companies in the world, and they have utterly failed at securing a network that contained personal information from over fifty million customers. There is no conceivable excuse or rationalization for that.

Should they have been hacked? No. Should we feel sorry for them? Also no. Are they victims? Only of being technically incompetent, apparently.

In spite of all that, I'm just waiting for Sony to start using the word "victimized", so that we can all associate them with a five-year-old girl who had her Easter candy stolen by a bad man.

Sorry, Sony. Not happening.

2) The real smoking gun here, potentially, is what Sony knew and when they knew it (greetings, Watergate). There are going to be lawsuits, unquestionably, and through the discovery process, if documents emerge that Sony knew credit card numbers had been compromised, yet neglected to inform us for a period of X days, the public will go thermonuclear.

Remember the Sony rootkit fiasco? Yeah, that will look like a picnic in the park compared to this.

And remember, this is Sony. It's not like they've exactly been forthcoming in the past. They don't handle situations like this well, and that's being kind. Look at the non-denial denial they issued yesterday (after six days of PSN outages):
While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility.

Sony's executives have acted for years like they're part of some secret "bro" culture, where they're the rockingest thing that ever happened and everyone else is just a poor poser. That's not exactly the kind of personality I expect to respond effectively in times like this.

It could get very, very ugly.

Your Knowledge Requested

If any of you guys (or ladies) skate with a knee brace, and you like it, please let me know. I'm not talking about the elastic sleeve kind--I'm looking at something more substantial.

Actually, it doesn't have to be limited to skating. If you're in any sport and use a lightweight knee brace that you'd recommend, please let me know. Thanks.

I've got full flexibility back, and I'll be skating again in about three weeks, so I need to sort through this in the next few days.

Unfortunate Juxtaposition Theater, #74

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Here We Go

From Pastrapadre:
It was only a few weeks ago that EA Sports president Peter Moore talked of a persistent social profile that would transfer from game to game. Now the manner in which that may be carried out is becoming clearer. Thanks to several people who took the time to forward over the included document, the plan of a subscription service that EA Sports is investigating has gone out in the open.

Here we go.

From the document:
--Discounts on all downloadable content for all participating EA Sports titles.
--Full downloadable versions of participating titles before they come out in stores.
--Ability to transfer paid content from your current participating titles to future title versions.
--Free and exclusive opportunities to extend your EA Sports experience to PC and Web.
--Free and exclusive EA sports downloadable content for participating console-based titles.

Let's take a deeper look at some of those:
1) Full downloadable versions of participating titles before they come out in stores.
That's a double win. I can download a game for full price that I can't resell, and since Madden and NCAA are totally unplayable until three months of patches (and sometimes, they're not even playble then), I can get a head start on the waiting!
2) Ability to transfer paid content from your current participating titles to future title versions.
Also awesome, because I can pay a yearly fee to not have to pay a different yearly fee. Yeah!
3) Free and exclusive opportunities to extend your EA Sports experience to PC and Web.
Also fantastic, because after trying so hard to use the web-based recruiting interface in NCAA, which failed time and time again, I can now EXCLUSIVELY fail.

Hell, yes.

Seriously, this is just sad. Inevitable, but sad.

You know what? If they want to do this by sport, so that I could show the NHL developers some love, I'm fine with that. But if they want me to help subsidize the idiot factories that make Madden and NCAA, count me out.

EA has one real problem with their sports games, and this is true of basketball, football, and golf: the games bear little relation to the sports they allegedly represent. And while golf has its own set of problems, it's incredibly simple to explain what's wrong with the football and basketball games:
1) if players don't move at a realistic speed, both by themselves and in relation to other players, the game will feel wrong and play poorly.
2) if the ball doesn't move realistically, the game will feel wrong and play poorly.

Those two rules should be on the monitor of every single developer of EA Sports, because if those two things are right, everything else can be fixed. But if those two things are wrong, it doesn't matter if the f-ing sweatbands and spirit patches are accurate.

There are multiple reasons why these things don't get fixed:
1) Zero leadership.
2) It's awkward, isn't it? Can you imagine a bullet point on the box that says "Players finally move at realistic speeds"? Far better to spend hundreds of hours getting the correct nipple size for all the FBS cheerleaders instead.
3) Why would they want to fix any of this? The EA Sports product line is relative mediocrity paired with exceptional, cutting-edge marketing. They're not about making the product more realistic--they're about selling more product.
Look, Madden was much better the first year that Ian Cummings took over. It was playable (after a lot of work from users, but I'm okay with that). But last year was a disaster, and when I heard that Ian Cummings had left, my first reaction was: who cares? He's no better than anyone else in the parade of clowns that have led development on that game for the last 20+ years.

The sad part: even after 20+ years, Madden, the flagship game, still doesn't resemble professional football in any meaningful way.

NCAA is even worse. They've released what amounted to late alphas the last two years, absolute fireballs plummeting to Earth.

What does it matter, though? They've bought exclusive rights. There are no incentives to improve the game in any meaningful way when there's no competition.

What are the two EA sports games that really shine? NHL--no exclusive license. FIFA--no exclusive license (they've locked up as much as they can, but the soccer world is too fragemented to get every license).

Yes, I know that NBA Live is the exception to the competition. I have no explanation for that, except that Live has always failed both Rule 1 and Rule 1. Miserably.

Everyone who likes sports games has a "favorite" memory of just how awful Live has been. My favorite was two or three years ago, when the ball would warp as guys dribbled. In a replay, you could clearly see that it took about three frames of animation for the ball to go from the floor to a player's hand. It was so incredibly bad that it immediately became incredibly awesome.

EA has crushed their competition not by making their games better, or by adding value to their products, but by cornering the market on exclusive licensing. They've bought up every exclusive license they can. No competion. Big win.

Ironically, though, in the end, it's a pyrrhic victory. I'd love to see a chart of how much their exclusive license fees have gone up in the last five years, because it must be killing them. And once you've tapped the market to exhaustion, maybe your sales will stop going up, but licensing fees will never stop going up. At some point, certain games are going to hit the wall.

Let me just say this, and I believe it's a stone-cold guarantee: in the next five years, EA will begin backing away from these exclusive arrangements. Maybe they'll keep the NFL, or try to, but that's just one league. How exactly are they going to keep buying exclusive licenses for dozens of the world's best soccer leagues, particularly when every single time they have to renew a license for one league, the price of renewing everyone else goes up?

It's unsustainable.

Maybe they'll be able to obtain some licenses for chicken feed--the PGA Tour comes to mind--but in an era where television rights are shooting into the stratosphere, I promise you that licensing fees are going to increase at the same pace.

This subscription free isn't innovation, it's desperation. EA has tried to expand the base of these games in every conceivable way, but once that's tapped out, all they have left is to soak the existing customer base even more. That means they have to jam a "subscription" free of $15-$35 (the figures mentioned in Pastapadre's article) down our throats.

This isn't from strength. It's from weakness.

So try to soak us with this bullshit subscription fee, EA, and by "bullshit" I mean you're going to start transferring game features we actually want to "exclusive subscriber status" so fast it will make our heads spin. Soak us all you want, boys, because every time you have to renegotiate the fee for an exclusive league license, we'll be the ones standing at the back of the room, laughing our asses off.

EA Sports "won" by eating a bomb, and it's ticking.

To Grow

We have lots of rink friends.

Since we're at the rink several days a week (and when I can skate, I'm there almost every day), we get to know people, especially if they're at the rink as much as we are.

In particular, we're rink friends with two girls who are figure skaters (and their mom). They're both close to Eli's age, extremely nice kids, and they skate their asses off, which makes them the figure skating equivalent of Eli.

Here's the thing, though: they skate three hours a day, five days a week.

Figure skating, as I've found out, is hardcore.

These girls had a competition in Dallas last weekend, and when I saw them at the rink, I asked their Mom how it had gone. While we were talking, she mentioned some of the coaches she'd seen at the event.

What I didn't know about figure skating is that after the Soviet Union fell, their battalion of skating coaches (the best in the world, based on results) scattered, with many of them heading to the U.S.

What she said is that some of the coaches (not just Russians, but largely so) were incredibly cruel to their skaters. Brutal. And she told me some stories she'd heard about how these coaches train their skaters, which was even worse.

That made me think about the classic, old-school coach, the one who screams all day at his kids to "build character" or "toughen them up." In a lot of ways, the hardass football or basketball coach really isn't any different from the hardass skating coach.

Different sport, same guy.

It's always bothered me that people defend those bastards, or that humiliation and cruelty are somehow supposed to build character. But until the nice skating mom started talking about the coaches she saw, I've never been able to put into words just what was wrong with the bastard approach.

In an instant, though, as I was thinking about what she said, I finally got it.

There's a way to build character that involves thoughtfully challenging a child in a nurturing environment so that they learn to challenge themselves. It's a way to make something grow.

The other way to build character is to use cruelty and borderline sadism to make someone stronger. It's a way to kill something so that what's left is tougher.

That seems like a sad, small way for children to become adults.


Someone who knows e-mailed me after the console post and said that PS3 sales were actually up over last year in March. He didn't give exact numbers, but I think it's fair to say, based on the percentage spread he presented, that the real number is in the 335,000 range.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Artist Needed

I was contacted by a developer (who wishes to remain anonymous) who is looking for an artist.

This developer is making a sports-themed game and needs an artist who is experienced in vector graphics (and liking sports is certainly a plus). It's a paying position, but there are a limited number of images that are needed.

If you're interested, plese e-mail me.

Console Post Of The Week

February NPD:
360: 535,000
Wii: 454,000
PS3: 403,000

February 2010, for comparison:
360: 422,000
Wii: 397,900
PS3: 360,100

Mildly interesting factoid: excluding the holiday months of November and December, February was the first month in history where three consoles sold in excess of 400,000 units.

In other words, it was a huge month.

March, though, not so much. March numbers:
Xbox 360: 433,000
Wii: 290,000
PS3: Apparently, so shitty that they won't even tell.

March 2010:
Wii: 557,500
Xbox 360: 338,400
PS3: 313,900

Wait, "not so much" isn't true for Microsoft--that's still almost 30% over last year, although nothing near the staggering February numbers (remember, March is a 5-week month for tracking purposes, while February is only 4 weeks). Nintendo was down almost 50%, though (gulp), while a reasonable estimate for Sony's March 2011 sales is probably in the 260,000 range, which would be a 20% drop from 2010.

And as stirring as Microsoft's sales numbers have been, thanks to Kinect, they're now facing the same growing grumble that Nintendo faced: namely, quality of software.

Actually, Nintendo's quality of software for the Wii was exponentially higher than Kinect has been. At least the Wii had a fantastic launch title, and Nintendo followed up with tremendous versions of the their most popular franchises for the console.

Kinect has what, exactly?

Well, there's Dance Central, and EA Sports Something Or Other Fitness 2 (which DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh recommends quite highly, by the way). Then there's, um, almost nothing. And since Kinect's launch, there's been almost nothing.

As something to hack, it's the coolest device ever. Right now, though, it's not much else.

At least Xbox Live is up, though, right?

As I write this (Monday afternoon), PSN is still down, there's no expected time for it to be up again, and Sony is basically telling us nothing.

Five days.

I wonder if Jack Tretton, otherwise known in this space as "Douchie McDoucherson", has anything supremely arrogant to say about this? Because he's certainly been making the rounds lately. A few samples:
"Our view of the 'Game Boy experience' is that it's a great babysitting tool, something young kids do on airplanes, but no self-respecting twenty-something is going to be sitting on an airplane with one of those," he says. "He's too old for that."

"If you're really going to sustain technology for a decade, you have to be cutting edge when you launch a platform," he says. "Here we are 4 years into the Playstation 3, and it's just hitting its stride. We'll enjoy a long downhill roll behind it because the technology that was so cutting edge in 2006 is extremely relevant today and is conspicuously absent in our competition."

Yes, it will be a "long downhill roll", all right, because Sony so ridiculously over-engineered the PS3 that they can't afford to replace it for another 4-5 years. And by "over-engineered", I don't mean "significantly more powerful", because if it is more powerful than the 360, it's certainly not by much, and not in any meaningful way.

Wait, here's one more bit of smacktalk from McDoucherson:
"They're starting to run out of steam now in terms of continuing to be relevant in 2011 and beyond," he says. "I mean, you've gotta be kidding me. Why would I buy a gaming system without a hard drive in it? How does this thing scale? Motion gaming is cute, but if I can only wave my arms six inches, how does this really feel like I'm doing true accurate motion gaming?"

The Wii, running out of steam? That's the first intelligent thing he's said in about five years, and he's correct, which is why Nintendo is launching a new console next year.

2012. Oh yeah, that's at least three years before a new Playstation.

Here's the thing about Moore's Law, and the rate of technological change. I promise you that Nintendo can come out with a new console at $299 that is just as powerful (or more so) than the PS3 was at $599 in 2006.

In the meantime, Nintendo put out a less powerful console at $249 that became the fastest-selling console in the history of gaming. Sony, on the other hand, lost billions of dollars.

Gee, what kind of self-respecting executive would want to do that?

Cutting Edge

From the Austin-American Statesman last Thursday:
Because of the severe drought and massive wildfires in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has proclaimed Friday through Easter Sunday as Days of Prayer for Rain.

Texas: party like it's 1899.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Links!

Here's an epic way to start off this week: The Dan Plan. The short version: a guy who's never played golf decides to spend six years building up 10,000 hours of experiece to see if he can play on the professional golf tour. Yes, add overrated Malcolm Gladwell bullshit [here].

That might sound simple, but the conceptual approach he's taking is fascinating (and brilliant, I think), and for a high-level introduction, read the magazine profile here.

From Dirk Knemeyer, and this is both interesting and beautiful, it's planetary orbits, with both Copernican and Tychonian models.

From George Paci, and these are beautiful as well, a collection of graphs of sparse matrices.

From M.J. Reese (whose links are always fascinating), it's The World Of Holy Warcraft: How al Qaeda is using online game theory to recruit the masses. Of particular and sublime note from the article: "After all, the life of an online administrator for a hard-line Islamist forum is not as exciting as one might expect.

From Sebmojo, and this is fascinating, an article about an organism with "social intelligence" devouring the Titanic.

From Jonathan Arnold, a doubleheader. First, it's Geek Zodiac. Also, and this is tremendously clever, it's Google Exodus.

I'm linking to the Japan Quake Map again because there have been over 1,000 earthquakes in the last five weeks. Incredible.

Forget dogs living with cats. Thanks to DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, we have Monkeys Riding Dogs.

Two links from Dave Schroeder. First, the Oregon State House gets Rickrolled. Next, and this is just as funny as the best of Candid Camera, it's Funniest Japanese Girls Prank.

From Derek Krause, and this drummer is just amazing, it's Vadrum.

From Kevin W, and you're going to want to do this: Coffee Table Train Set.

Here's a tremendously interesting GQ profile of Stephon Marbury, now playing basketball in China: Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference.

Okay, there's a cutness overdose warning here, but man, it's both funny and adorable:
Little Penguin Tickled

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Speech

Eli 9.8 had a soccer game last Saturday.

So far, the season had been a big bag of fun. He'd played in two games, scored three goals with two assists, and was enjoying being the fastest kid on the field again (he's not the fastest in hockey, although he's certainly made up a ton of ground). Even though he was playing up to a 10-12 league, and so were his friends, they were tearing it up.

Through a scheduling quirk, they were playing the same team they'd played the week previous. They'd beaten them 7-2, it could have been worse than that, and on the surface, it seemed like another rout.

"Don't expect this to be easy," I said on the way to the game. It's much tougher to beat the same team twice in a row."

"Like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay," he said.

"Right," I said. "Pittsburgh looked in control in game one, and then Tampa Bay came out and totally outplayed them. These guys got embarrassed last week, so they're going to come out full strength from the first second this time. And if they do, just be ready to match how hard they're playing, and don't get discouraged."

"Got it," he said.

The game started and I was wrong. It wasn't a rout--it was an ass-kicking. Unfortunately, it was Eli's team that was getting its ass kicked. The other team had an additional player they hadn't had the week before, and both he and the other best player were 12. And Eli's team was missing their third-best player.

Eli started out on defense, and managed to hold the score at 0-0 with what seemed like a dozen long clearances, but as soon as he shifted to forward, the dam broke. The ball was in their end at least 80% of the half, and they were lucky to only be behind 2-0.

Walking off the field, all the kids looked discouraged. They were shocked.

Eli walked toward me and just nodded. When he reached me, I put my hand on his head. "You're a leader," I said. "Go lead."

He started walking toward his teammates, and at that moment, the referees called the coaches from both teams over (to discuss their constant complaining in the first half). While their coach was gone, Eli gathered everyone in a circle, put his arms around the shoulders of two teammates, and started talking.

I couldn't hear what he was saying, but after a few seconds, he started gesturing as he spoke.

This went on for at least a minute, then the coach walked over. She barely had time to say anything before the second half started. She did tell Eli, though, "I want you as a midfielder, but you can go anywhere you want. Get the ball."


Now the ball was in the opposing team's end 80% of the time, and Eli was flying all over the field. His teammates were flying all over the field, too. He scored, then less than 30 seconds later, he stole a ball, made a perfect pass to a teammate, and it was tied 2-2.

I'd like to add the dramatic, storybook ending here, but the storybook part fell out. They put tremendous pressure on the other team, but couldn't score a third goal, and in the last thirty seconds, a long ball into their end wound up in the winning goal for the other team.

Loss, 3-2.

The coach gathered the team around as they walked off the field. "Now will SOMEONE tell me why you guys played so much better in the second half?" she asked.

"Eli's speech," said Samuel, one of his teammates. The other kids nodded.

"His SPEECH? What did he SAY?" she asked.

"He said that we needed to communicate better and pass the ball more," Samuel said.

She laughed. She has a big, booming laugh, and she cut loose. "Well, he was RIGHT," she said. "THANK YOU, Eli," she said.

When she was done talking, he walked over to where I was sitting. We were going to walk a lap around the park together (about 1/2 mile) as part of my knee rehab. "Ready to go?" he asked.

"I am," I said.

We walked in silence for a while, then started talking about the game. I like to do this--ask him what he saw in the game, and then tell him what I saw. We both learn something.

"I know you didn't win, but I'm really proud of you," I said. "You didn't just play harder in the second half--you also inspired your teammates to play harder."

"I know," he said. "It just wasn't our day."

"Actually," I said, "it kind of was. That's the best you guys have ever played, by far."

"I didn't think about it like that," he said.

"Sometimes winning is less special than rising up," I said. "Today, you rose up."

"Thanks, Dad," he said.

I know that I told him to go lead, but that wasn't what was important, not at all.

Even though he's still only 9.8, he knew what to say.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Age Of Fear: The Undead King

Les Sliwko let me know that he is extending the 50% off promotion until April 25, as sales have "greatly exceeded our expectations." Awesome. Find it here.

Here's A Somewhat Astonishing Number

From Deadspin:
Sports Business Journal has the local TV ratings for all 30 NBA teams this season, and there are quite a few interesting numbers in there... The Charlotte Bobcats drew an average of 12,000 television sets per game on SportSouth, a number not much helped by their zero(educated guesstimate) national TV appearances.

It's not just them: Milwaukee and playoff darlings Memphis also attracted less than an arena's worth of viewers [13,000 and 17,000, respectively].

That's quite stunning, really.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Fruit Tree Project

DQ reader Jon Hui sent an e-mail asking that I mention about the relief organization he's started in Japan for victims of the recent earthquakes, but he was so eloquent that I'm just going to let him tell you:
"Living in Japan for the past four years has invariable led me to think of the people around me as friends and family, and especially as a community. So when the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis struck last month, I have been scrambling around trying to find a way to help. Living in Akita prefecture, the most unaffected prefecture in the Tohoku area, it was hard to be so close and not be able to do anything.

At first we were all told to leave the relief work to the professionals, if we went to the effected areas at that time, we'd just be getting in the way. So we stayed put, and waited until they were allowing volunteers in to help with the relief effort. About two weeks ago, a friend of mine and fellow English teacher had set himself up through official channels to make a donation delivery to one of the shelters in Miyagi. We gathered what we could and gave him a SUV full of goods to take down there. While he was down there, he asked the shelter residents what they could use the most. The overwhelming response was fresh fruit.

Since then we've been working to set up a project that aims to provide two fruits to each of the 1100 residents of the shelter for 10 days during the upcoming national holiday in Japan, April 29th to May 8th.

We were able to set up donations for residents in Japan, but up until yesterday, we were working to be able to accept donations internationally.

We've partnered with an NGO in Japan called Second Harvest Japan, whose main goals are to distribute food to the poor and needy. They have set us up an avenue of collecting international donations through their donation network.

I was wondering, if you felt our cause was worthy, if you could write a small post to put up on your blog. I know your readers to be generous people, and if people were looking for a more direct way to help some people in need in Japan, I'm hoping we could be those people.

I know our organization isn't big, we are just a group of local people who are working together to try and provide fresh produce to victims of the disasters, but we hope to raise awareness about what people in shelters want.

Any money we get would greatly benefit the people we are trying to help. We are also making sure that all money goes directly towards the project. Everything else is being funded by volunteers.

Our website is The Fruit Tree Project."

Please Note

Sorry, the EBGDAE post went up a bit prematurely (auto-posting mistake FTL). I hadn't added the explanation for why tour guide David Gloier wasn't included, but he's having one of those epic allergy attacks that can only happen in Austin. We're in a severe drought situation right now, so every single bit of pollen from the last two months is still floating around in the air. I washed my car once and it was yellow from pollen the next morning.

Our weather has basically been pestilential the last three years: severe drought, 2X normal rainfall in the middle year, then severe drought again. It's insane.

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #7

I did my write-up this week before I received John's, and we have unintentionally overlapped this week.

Expedition member: me
Total playing time (through today): 17:00 (2:30 last week)

My wife, the first year that I really ploughed a ton of time into Guitar Hero II, bought me a guitar for Valentine's Day. It was an entirely fantastic-looking Ibanez Artcore, a phenomenal guitar to learn on, but I didn't want to learn guitar then--I wanted to play Guitar Hero.

So I put it into the closet, and there it sat for years. When the Squier was released, though, I pulled out the Ibanez, had it set up by a tech at Guitar Center, and I've played it several times through an amp.

If you leave the PRO MIDI adaptor connected to the 360, the adaptor box registeres as a Pro controller, even without the Squier attached. So I can go into Rock Band 3, choose songs, set it to no-fail mode, and play along with the Ibanez.

What I've discovered is that even without the feedback of where my fingers are on the fretboad, I actually play better on the Ibanez. It's much tougher to hold down strings when the Squier is in mute mode, because the plastic bar raises the strings. So the Ibanez is much easier to play, and it sounds so good through an amp that I'm having a great time.

I've also noticed that if I learn a song on the Ibanez (without feedback on finger placement), I can play it much better on the Squier than I can if I just keep playing it on the Squier. I have to look down at my hands more without onscreen feedback, which forces me to learn more of the notes by memory. So I highly recommend playing some without onscreen feedback, just to get used to paying more attention to your hands.

Plus, and this is also very important, you get practice in actually producing notes instead of just plucking strings. How you hold down the string makes a huge difference in the sound, but if you just play in game mode, you're not going to learn how and why it matters. Play with an amp, though, and you pick it up right away.

It's amazing, but Harmonix has managed to make it fun in Easy mode. I played "The Thrill Is Gone" and "In A Big Country", and they were both a complete blast--the notes they chose to have you play still give you the flavor of the song, and they even sound good through an amp.

Now, from trailbreaker John Harwood:
Is it over yet? Did I learn the guitar? No? &%@*.

Another week of not all that much play (Damn you, LOTRO!), but managed to get in 3.5 hours bringing me up to 41.25 to date. I'd have thought I'd be doing better by now with that much time under my belt, but owing to being in more of an instant gratification mode lately, I've largely been re-treading the same ground rather than pushing myself. Good news is that at least the re-treading is continuing to build up my fingers and wrist and even single-string bass play is getting me much better at picking an individual string than I ever used to be.

It's quite a bit of fun to go back and re-play some of the low-difficulty things that I only have like 3 stars on easy since I'm head and shoulders better than that these days, so at least some progress is being made. Found out this week that I need to do considerably more playing without the string mute on. Spent a couple of hours this week playing along with RB3 without the mute and at first it was pretty horrifying. It's a completely different matter to miss a note or a chord when it's muted and you just blow a multiplier. When I miss a chord without the mute and with my miniamp on, babies cry, and the cats leave the room, often at a dead run. But at least I've now played "The Hardest Button to Button" as it's truly meant to sound:
like complete crap. So the circle is complete. I need to make a recording of that and send it to you as motivational tool.

Bass without the mute isn't nearly as horrifying since I'm generally much more on the notes, and the only real annoyance is that I still have an intonation issue with the guitar and no matter how well I tune it, I can't get the entire neck in tune, so I'll be merrily strumming along and all of a sudden I think I've fat-fingered a fret, but no, I'm in the right place, it just sounds that off. Guess I should take this in to have someone do an actual setup on it, but I do kinda hate spending money on that, so pity we don't have an authorized Fender guitar repair center in Austin. Strange though that seems. We have a certified amp repair place and more guitar places than you can count, just not "authorized" so oh well.

The highlight of my un-muted play was my wife coming out of the office, and instead of asking me to "please for the love of God, stop playing"
as I expected, instead said "Oh, I recognized that one. Every Breath You Take" which is actually a bit of a feat considering that on hard I'm only playing half the notes and I was flubbing several of those. So that's about the high water mark at this point: Played without strings muted and a song was slightly intelligible. Check.

Seventeen Degrees

That's how much flexion my right knee is lacking compared to my left knee.

Given that I had surgery ten days ago, that's a highly appealing number.

I went to physical therapy today to get evaluated and get a program that I could do at home. My orthopedist said I needed one visit to show me the program, then I should be fine at home, because I was "highly motivated."

Yes. Turning 50 and not wanting to become some kind of decrepit sinkhole tends to do that for a person.

When I arrived at the physical therapy place and met the P.T., though, I told him about the one visit approach and he objected. He spent a good ten minutes giving me a dozen good reasons why that wouldn't work.

Then he started describing individual therapy exercises. After he'd said "You need to do at least this many reps" about three times, I stopped.

"Don't give me that number," I said. "That's not the number I need."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I don't want to know how many I have to do," I said. "I want to know the the number that's the most I can do."

This went on for about another ten minutes as we worked through the program, and when we got to a squat exercise that had 20 reps in a set and I asked him if it would be safe to do 50, he started laughing. "Okay," he said. "I was wrong. You only need one visit."

We got to the end of the session and I told him I wanted to try an exercise bike (I hadn't ridden one yet since the surgery). He took me over to a bike and said, "Just ride with no resistance and see if you can pedal," he said. "I'm going to go get your folder together with instructions for all the exercises."

He came back five minutes later and I was cruising along at 90 RPM and felt fine. He started laughing again.

Damn. I'm 50, people, not 90.

So, in theory, I can skate in 4-5 weeks. And I am highly motivated to make that "4" instead of "5."

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Storm

This popped into my inbox on Friday afternoon. I've known this source for years, and he is 100% solid gold, one of the most reputable people I know. His comments begin after the **.
There's an industry storm brewing that I suspect you may not be aware of yet: The two biggest videogame publishers have been unofficially-but-officially sabotaging traditional game industry press.

We heard a lot of coincidental stories from a lot of people all pointing to the same thing. So we started asking around with industry sources and what we learned was shocking. After speaking with numerous contacts at various levels in the games industry and games press, we discovered that practically everyone is being affected. And it isn't coincidental. It's a strategy on the part of the publishers to deny access to games press outlets. A third-party ad agency we work with actually went so far as to tell us that at least one publisher is intentionally excluding games press from marketing and advertising plans.

What this means is that publishers are denying or delaying review copies of games and asking for strict, timed-to-the-minute embargo agreements from game outlets. In some cases the embargoes are staggered for after the game's release. You may have heard that some publishers are granting permission to break embargo to reviewers offering higher review scores, and that is happening, but this goes beyond that. This is strategic, logistical control of all assets and access.

They are also refusing to spend ad dollars with traditional game industry publications. Any ad dollars. Their ad funds are all going to - and this is a direct quote - mainstream publications and "the top two game outlets." We can only assume this is motivated by a cynical belief that since they have control over when and how the games media outlets are covering the games, they think they don't need to buy advertising from those sites, and unfortunately they're right. They know the games press will cover the major games and they know when those stories will appear. In some cases they even know what will be in the stories, since embargoes frequently list levels and characters that are "off limits," or because instead of offering to mail review copies, they've invited reviewers to "preview events" where only certain portions of the game are shown.

The traditional games press is in the process of being starved out of business by the megalith game publishers and one can only conclude that it is in an effort on the part of the major publishers to continue to "control the message" as much and as often as possible. As the games press has become more objective and independent over the past several years, the publishers have become more iron-fisted with assets and access. I can envision a future in which games reporting is conducted by mainstream outlets like NYT and CNN, who are too big to influence, and by amateur enthusiast blogs who are too inexperienced to know when they are being manipulated. The outlets in the middle, where most of the gaming audience currently gets their news and reviews, will be gone.

I'll have more later this week about what this might mean, and who the two companies I believe are most likely to be involved. I had noticed that there were far fewer day of release reviews for products from one particular publisher, certainly, but hadn't noticed the second, and I had no idea it was as concerted as this.

Like I said, this source is unimpeachable.


Here's what I saw when I was coming out of Fry's today: a woman who must have been well into her 70s, with the prototypical stooped shoulders, wearing a straw hat with a cartoon-sized bill, wraparound sunglasses, and a thickly-striped shirt, along with khaki shorts.

Her grandson (or great-grandson) was standing beside her. He was as tall as she was, but looked to be no older than twelve. They were standing beside their car, with a shopping cart between them, and in the shopping cart was--a pug. The dog, that is, and nothing else.

As I was watching them, their car alarm went off. "Oh, SHIT," said the old woman, "Davey, hit the remote." She said it like they were involved in a bank job, and her grandson fumbled in his pockets for an interminable length of time before pulling out the keys and turning off the alarm.

Then, with fantastic persistence, the old lady lifted the pug out of the shopping basket, his rear legs dangling free, and put him in the car.

At that moment, I would have definitely paid for a painting.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Links!

Here's a very special link to start off with: Anniversary of Gagarins Historic Space Flight . It's the audio of Yuri Gagarin's flight dubbed over orbital footage from the ISS. It's totally ingenious and quite wonderful.

This is at least one hundred kinds of genius: Rebecca Black's "Friday", as performed by Bob Dylan . How can anyone hate that song when it's launched a thousand parodies?

From Brian Dupuis, a man cleaning out a cobra pit. It's nothing short of incredible.

From Steven Kreuch, a spectacular place to live: former Cement Factory is now workspace and residence.

From Patrick O'Brien, and this is one of the coolest music improvisation dealios I've ever seen: Nothing Is True.

From Don Barree, and you just need to see the pictures, it's extreme dog grooming contests.

From C. Lee, a sobering link (but also fascinating viewing): How the 2011 Japan tsunami happened.

From Sirius, a spectacular development in technology: New engine sends shock waves through auto industry.

From Jeremy Fischer, it's Bach Cantata #147 presented in a way that is mind-blowingly cool.

Joseph Holley sent in a video link that's a guided tour of arthroscopic shouler surgery.

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, the discovery of one of the most amazing waves in the world.

From Johan Lindh, and if you want to see somebody kick ass on the guitar, go watch this. I'm completely blown away by how "quiet" his hands are.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is completely fantastic, the story of a WOW player who reached level 80-- without killing anything. Also, and I think the title says it all: 52 Things You’ll Only See In America.

Here's a fantastic link for you sports fans: How a Danish tech company is revolutionizing pitching data. These guys can measure (in RPM) the spin of a curveball.

From DQ reader My Wife, a video that might kill you with its cute: Cat and Dolphins playing together.

From Gerry Palmer, an amazing discovery: British Museum Wants To Lift A Rare World War Two Era German Dornier 17 Bomber.

From George Paci, and this is remarkably bizarre, it's meat-eating furniture.

Luke Stephens sent in a link to his blog, Every Girl I've Ever Kissed.

I'm ending with another incredibly gripping but incredibly sad link from Michael M., and while this video is spellbinding, it's also very, very difficult to watch: tsunami video.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


The Escapist is up for several (well-deserved, too) Webbys, and if I had my way, they'd win all of them. So if you have a spare few seconds, head here, read Russ's letter, and vote.


Nintendo is apparently on the verge of announcing a successor to the Wii, with multiple sources reporting today that the console will be fully revealed at E3.

We can only hope. The 360 and PS3 are both long in the tooth, technologically, and the Wii is much worse than that. I've almost completely lost my enhusiasm for console gaming, at least in the short term, because everything coming out has a "5" or "7" in its title. Seriously, why the hell would anyone want to play the fifth iteration of a game in seven years--or five? Who is buying these games?

I think the last console release I purchased was Rock Band 3. Everything else, I take a look via Gamefly first, and in the last two months, I've returned at least three games unopened.

This cow's been milked.

The PC scene is a million times more interesting right now. There are more interesting small games that come out for PC in one day than on the consoles in a month--or a quarter.

I hate to say this, because I love high-end graphics, but we certainly seem to have reached the era of diminishing returns when it comes to project size. When twelve people are needed to animate a footstep (I'm joking, but you know what I mean), something essential is lost.

Chris Kohler has a very nice analysis of the Wii situation here, and in short, the release schedule blows and Nintendo needs to cut the price immediately. So if the successor to the Wii is coming, it's just in time, because it's desperately needed.


I was writing a Console Post of the Week that was miserably uninspired, so thank goodness Nathan B. sent me  links to the emering story of Rob Granito, a comic "artist" who is apparently nothing of the kind. In fact, it's being alleged (quite strongly, and with plenty of evidentiary backup) that he's nothing more than a "tracer" who copies the works of others, changes them in minute ways, and sells them as his own.

It's a fascinating story, and there are a load of links to go with it (all interesting, and best read in order):
The Ballad of Comic Con Grifter Rob Granito
Who On Earth Is Rob Granito?
More Fun With Rob Granito Before MegaCon
When Ethan Van Sciver Met Rob Granito
Rob Granito’s MegaCon Adventure With Mark Waid
Rob Granito Called a Fraud, Banned From Conventions
Art Thief Rob Granito Wants $150 To Do an Interview, Is Completely Out Of His Mind

It's all quite mesmerizing, and what amazes me is that he wasn't found out until now.

A Kick In The Pants

Football games were a gigantic wasteland last year: Madden (crap), NCAA (crap), and Backbreaker (very promising, but not quite finished).

Given that EA is basically the only company who still makes graphics-based football games--with the occasional rogue exception--it's not surprising. Also, given that Tiburon makes both games, it's even less surprising. Can anyone name a sports series that has consistently improved under Tiburon's direction?

Crickets chirping.

That's that makes this story so interesting (thanks Pasta Padre):
Multiple sources have informed me there are some major changes taking place at EA Tiburon specifically relating to the Madden NFL franchise. Several high level members of the development team are apparently on their way out and may be joining a new studio that is being founded by a former Tiburon executive. When made public some of the names exiting the studio will be immediately recognizable to those who closely follow the series.

That's nothing but good news, because it can't get any worse--"unplayable" extends to the horizon, so "more unplayable" would be no different, and "playable" might even become a possibility.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Surgery completed last Friday at 3:00 p.m.

Today at 11:00 a.m.: stitches removed.

Insane. And my knee looks great, with only a modest amount of swelling. Off crutches, on an exercise bike/elliptical trainer early next week.

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #6

This week begins with trailbreaker John Harwood:
Another week of not all that much play time. Managed to fit in 4 hours between two play sessions (37.75 hrs total now), all in Rock Band on bass.

Mostly played Queen on Bass Hard and also a little bit of Werewolves of London and Every Breath You Take. I find those two songs and I Want It All to be very very satisfying to play and really enjoy the rhythms on those.

Attempted to work on I Want it All and Every Breath You Take on Expert Bass, but even at 60% speed in practice, they were pretty frustrating. Still not quite comfortable on the frets to pull those off. Even on easy-ish songs like that, when you get to expert, you start seeing quite a few little flourishes, runs and occasional jumping from fret 2 to 10 and such.

That's no longer a complete deal breaker for me, but it's not all that easy.

Also worth noting that slides are no longer an issue at all. The ending of I Want it All has a very fun slide from fret 3 to 15 on the 6th string that was just fine. Finger got a little warm, but it wasn't painful at all and was very satisfying and fun to do. The couple of times that I actually nailed it gave me a really nice rush.

Need to get back to working on my chords again so those aren't quite so much of a brick wall, but at the moment it's a matter of being torn between what I should be doing (chords) and what I want to be doing (bass) and lately I'm more wanting to play for fun now that I've found something I can hang with pretty well.

Next, from Expedition Leader David Gloier, in reference to last week's column:
I don't know if you and John have discovered this yet, but the best thing you can do is just LISTEN to music. Start identifying the guitar parts during a song and learning it's interplay with the rest of the instruments. It really helps. I told you about just playing the chord shapes without messing with the right hand, but it works just as well the other way. Mute the strings with your fret hand (just deadened them with the hand, don't press hard enough to fret), and just strum the rhythm of a song you're listening to with the right. Nothing matters but being in rhythm with the song you're listening to. At some point the hands will figure out how to work in unison. I've gotten to the point where I can see in my mind exactly what the guitarist's hands are going on the guitar. I can't always play it, but I can see it in my head. It really helps.

Also, your problem finding the interior strings will solve itself with more practice. Don't worry about the misses. The best piece of advice I got early on really helped the right hand, it was "Play the guitar like you're mad at it." Essentially, stop pussyfooting around it and just play. You won't break it and you learn that sloppy can sound just as good sometimes.

David didn't provide an update this week, for entirely positive reasons that will go undisclosed, but he should be back next week.

Total playing time (through today): 14:30 (1:30 last week)
I didn't think knee surgery was going to slow me down, but it did (although David noted that I should have been playing plenty of guitar while I was on codeine-based pain pills, because Keith Richards and others seemed to do just fine in that state).

In spite of myself, though, I'm getting better. My accuracy has gone into the 90% range on several songs by The Clash that I particularly enjoy playing (note: just buy all the Pro guitar upgrades for The Clash immediately). And my left hand is getting somewhat not-embarrassing in terms of how well is moves. My right hand, though, is still fumbling around with the wrong string on far too many occasions. And in spite of David's reassurances, it's driving me crazy.

Now that I've gotten into the second major set of tutorials, I'm now needing to "walk" my fingers in regular patterns between strings, and I immediately recognize the notes as ones being used in a jillion popular songs (I think the lessons is "thirds", if I remember correctly). It's encouraging to hear something and connect it with a song that you enjoy (it was a Camera Obscura song, even).

Slow going, but I'm hoping to play more this week, now that I'm off crutches.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Official Judgment Has Been Rendered

I recently had an e-mail conversation with the esteemed Esther Potter, writer of the tremendously funny blog La La How The Life Goes On. I've met Esther in person, and she looks nothing like Lucille Ball, but some of her posts have so much energy, and so much wackiness, that they remind me of an I Love Lucy episode--one of the classics, like working in the candy factory or hanging wallpaper.

One of the things I love about Esther's writing is that she'll wade into anything. And she did so last week, when she mentioned that Bill Maher had called a certain dim-witted political figure a “twat.” She said, in no uncertain terms, that both twat and “the c word” (my diplomatic nomenclature—she just let it rip)--are no longer acceptable.

I agree. There's funny and there's misogynist, and unfortunately, twat and “the c word” and “the p word” all fall into the latter category.

There is, however, one great insult remaining. I'm speaking, of course, of “douchebag.”

Let me get my prejudice on the table: as a phrase, I'm pro-douchebag. In recent years, it's become my favorite insult, my go-to phrase when I need to drop an imaginary sack of hammers on someone. My reasoning? It's not a reference to genitalia. No, it's even worse than that, because it's a reference to something used to clean genitalia.

I couldn't care less that it's used to clean female genitalia. That's not why it's an insult. Gender specificity in regards to genitalia cleaning is entirely unnecessary. It's enough that any genitalia is being cleaned, regardless of sex. If there was some equivalently disgusting device used to clean male genitalia, I would be happy to use the word (and dear god, if some device does exist, thank you in advance for not e-mailing me with pictures).

I trust Esther as a feminist with a sense of humor, and a reasonable person, so after reading her considered philosophical position on “twat”, I e-mailed to ask her about “douchebag”. Even though it's become quite a favorite, I was willing to give it up if Esther deemed it unacceptable. This was her reply:
I deem any douche-related word to be fair.

Douchebag: it remains standing.

Someone Please Sweep Up My Brains

So this Rebecca Black song "Friday" is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

If you haven't heard it, please watch the video. Yes, it's awful. Really, really awful.

Something about the lyrics, though, stuck in my mind. They sounded familiar, somehow.

These lyrics:
7:45, we’re drivin’ on the highway
Cruisin’ so fast, I want time to fly...

Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?

That sure reminds me of this:
Rollin' down the street, smokin' endo
Sippin' on gin and juice, laid back
With my mind on my money
And my money on my mind

I'm not sure Snoop Dogg would take kindly to the comparison, but "Friday" and "Gin And Juice" are songs from the same genre.

And with that, my brain has exploded.

In Memorium

Jerry Lawson, a giant of videogame history, passed away Saturday morning at age 70.

Chris Kohler wrote a story that explains Lawson's place in history as the creator of the first cartridge-based videogame console, the Fairchild Channel F. Also in the story is a link to an interview Lawson did with Vintage Computing And Gaming in 2009, and it's a fascinating read.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What The Hell Is That?

Things inside my knee, hopefully for the last time. The top is lots of shredded looking stuff--my meniscus pre-repair, I'm guessing. I think the bottom set includes my ACL (undamaged) and my meniscus (newly-repaired).

The Long-Winded Surgery Recap

This was the sequence of events, just in case you missed the last week.

On April 1, walking back to the car carrying Eli's player hockey bag, I took a step, planted my right foot, and my knee blew up. I can't think of any other way to describe it.

My birthday was on April 4. My knee was killing me. The Best Sports Massage Therapist In The World ™ checked out my knee and told me that she thought I had a torn meniscus and quite possibly a torn MCL. Great birthday otherwise, though.

On April 6 (Wednesday), I went to see an orthopedist she recommended (who was named Austin-area something or other of the year by some organization of some kind—a ringing endorsement).

My appointment was at 9 a.m. By 9:30, x-rays had been taken, he'd done a functional exam, and he said he was certain that my meniscus was torn. He asked if I had time to go to another office and have an MRI done.

Well, my meniscus was torn. It's not like I had anything better to do.

I drove over to the other office, which was about 30 minutes away, and I barely had time to sit down in the waiting room before they came to get me.

The last time I had an MRI, it was for the broken bone in my wrist, and I was very uncomfortable. I've had MRIs before, but this one was far worse, for some reason. It was incredibly loud, which somehow amplified the inherent claustrophobia of the whole process, and I had to focus on my breathing for the last twenty-five minutes just to make it through.

This time, though, was different. For one, my upper body wasn't enclosed. More importantly, though, is that this MRI machine, incredibly, was almost quiet.

You know what MRI machines sound like: jackhammers. It's a ferocious kind of noise. With this machine, though, there was no sound that could be described as “pounding.” No, it wasn't the gentle sound of waves washing over the beach, but it was quiet enough that they didn't even offer me headphones, and I didn't need them. It was relatively awesome, overall, and it only took a little over half an hour.

So by 11:30, I was out of the office. The MRI was done, and oh-by-the-way, surgery was scheduled for two days later—Friday at 2.

This was the surgical equivalent of going through the drive-through at Wendy's.

I would have been a bit nervous about the hyperspeed treatment, but this doctor was impeccably organized and totally detailed in his approach.

When I had my left knee done (torn meniscus, not surprisingly) in 2001, my surgeon was highly recommended, but he was a slob. Seriously, if he had emptied his pockets, I wouldn't have been surprised if bits of food tumbled out. I should have run out of that office, except I couldn't, because my meniscus was torn. In retrospect, though, I should have kept looking around for another surgeon.

This doctor, though, was a good match for me. Exceptionally organized, probably borderline compulsive, and he was mildly funny. Win.

Knee surgery has advanced to an incomprehensible degree in the last two decades. It's getting to the point, though, where it's so efficient that's almost comical. I reported to the day-surgery place (which was literally a thirty-second walk from Eli's school, which somehow made me feel much more comfortable) at 12:00 p.m. After paperwork, funny socks and gown being put on, I.V.s and such, they wheeled me into the operating room at 1:30. Administering anesthetic AND surgery took less than 90 minutes.

I spent about an hour in post-op recovery. Eli had gone to the after-school program, but by 4:30, we were in the parking lot of his school.

The most difficult part of having surgery is that I have to have “the conversation” with Gloria each time. Even though I would probably have been the first person in history to die from meniscus surgery, I still needed to tell her a few things, just in case.

In this case, I told her:
--the financial advisor I wanted her to use
--that I really wanted her to go through all my Gone Gold and DQ columns and pull out the Eli stories into a single document that she could give to him someday, when he was about to become a father himself. I've been meaning to do that for years (and when I do, I'll make it available to you guys as a download), but just hadn't gotten around to it yet.
--that she should find a nice man to settle down with who enjoys festivals and going out to “events” more than I do (not "more", really--"at all" would be an improvement).

I can't explain the feeling I get when I think of not being around for him because something happened to me. Adults can find another spouse—hell, it's an upgrade opportunity—and they're far better equipped to deal with grief. Not having had a father myself, though, it's overwhelming to think of Eli without me walking beside him. It's a kind of grief that I can't even explain, because I've never anything else even remotely like it. It's funny, but I think Eli knows who I really am more than any other person I've ever known. Or maybe he just knows who I really want to be, because I'm always my best self around him.

There's your grief-related tangent for the year—or decade, hopefully.

The first few hours after surgery—actually the first twenty-four hours—were almost entirely delightful. The anesthesia hadn't completely worn off, additional pain medication was pleasantly working, and I somehow felt mentally sharp while being physically hazy. I slept better on Friday night than I do normally, which was another nice surprise.

I was on crutches (still am), because my doctor (quite surprisingly) wants me on crutches until I see him Wednesday morning. He described the tear as “significant”, and said that the number one priority was controlling inflammation.

No problem.

I went to Eli's soccer game on Saturday (he had 2 goals and 1 assist in a 6-2 win), hung out, and felt fine.

So on Saturday around 6 p.m., when I started to feel pain, it was all good. It was time to take a lower-grade pain pill, my usual two Benadryl (sleep magic), and I'd be fine.

The pain got worse, though. For the first time, I was feeling it, which was about when the anesthesiologist told me everything from the surgery would be out of my system. I managed to sleep decently well, but the pain was increasing pretty quickly.

Sunday morning, I drove for the first time, which was a bit challenging. It was actually harder getting in and out of the car than it was to drive, because I still can't bend my leg very far (post surgical-dressings were on for 48 hours, so bending my knee beyond a small degree was impossible).

It was all beginning to get a bit discouraging, and I was glad when I got back home so that I could take something for the pain. I put the pills in my pocket so that I could take them when I sat down (I had a drink on a table by the couch). When I reached into my pocket, though, I found all the medication I was supposed to have taken last night.


That's where the pain was coming from. I was “going naked” a day after surgery because I forgot to take anything.

Well done.

Much better now, thanks.

The doctor gave me a sheet of pictures (to clarify, of my knee) and I'll scan them and put them up later.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Age Of Fear: Released!

Les Sliwko, who seems like an entirely decent fellow, e-mailed a few weeks ago asking for beta test volunteers for his new game Age Of Fear: The Undead King. The game has now been released, and you can try out the demo or purchase the game by hitting the link. Also, if you order before April 17, the game is 50% off (making the price a quite sweet $12.49).

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Links!

Lots of links (maybe the most ever) to keep you busy while I go under the knife. Please read to the end to see the links from Michael M. concerning the situation in Japan.

This is potentially quite exciting for the future of all kinds of things: Graphene Transistors Self-Cool.

From Sirius, an amusing set of images: Gallery: Microscopic Art Hides Inside Computer Chips. Also, and this is very cool, it's Underwater Sculptures Give Sea Creatures a Haunting New Habitat. Next, it's T-Rex's cousin found in China.

From Jim, and this is absolutely amazing: a robotic bird.

From Steve Nygard, and you obviously have to watch this: The Atomic Trucker: How a Truck Driver "Rebuilt" the Atomic Bomb. And it's not fiction, in case you're wondering.

From Jeremy Fischer, a very clever bit of fun: petite lap giraffes.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, an incredible BMX move (landed for the first time) called, simply, the Special Flip.

From Robb (via Game|Life), a video that's, well, insane: How to Beat Every Mario Game — Simultaneously.

From Cody Sharp, and this is both both terribly sad and disturbing, so please be forewarned: Chernobyl Legacy.

From Glen Haag (sorry about the labrum, man), a link to an excellent documentary on one of my favorite software companies: The Secret History of Volition.

Here's an interesting and strange article (and I swear, our cat Gracie has "Jumping Frenchman of Maine" syndrome: 5 real-life conditions that sound like hoaxes.

From Sebastian Mankowski, and this is every bit as funny as 3eanuts: Garfield Minus Garfield.

From Mark Bryant, and this is awesome (although often overloaded, because so many other people think it's awesome as well): the Decorah Eagles from atop their tree at the fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. Babies hatching shortly.

These commercials are ridiculously funny (and I don't even know why, but they are): panda cheese.

This is strange and interesting: Craniofacial Features Have Become Less Distinct Since 16th Century.

From Francis Cermak, and this is completely amazing: One-of-a-kind Tron light cycle board game.

Lastly, and the only reason this is only last is because of the number of links, a tremendous amount of information from our Japanese correspondent Michael M. on the situation in Japan following the quake.
--a BBC documentary on the Japanese nuclear industry: Nuclear Ginza: Japan’s secret at-risk labor force and the Fukushima disaster.
--very poignant e-mail exchanges: Letters From Fukushima: Tepco Worker Emails.
--issues with government bureacracy: Bureaucratic Hurdles Hinder Distribution of Vital Aid Supplies.
--interview with Takashi Uesugi, a journalist who TEPCO "loves to hate".
--warning: these images are painful to view. images from Sendai.

Now, a few organizations that are helping:
-- Global Giving
-- Foreign Volunteers Japan
-- Peace Boat

Finally, and if you only read one link this week, it should be this one: the story of a Japanese man who has completely redefined the meaning of the word "badass". His name is Hideaki Akaiwa, and you'll agree with me after you read this story.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


It's a light writing day today, as I fill out about a million online forms for surgery tomorrow (2 CST--no webcast available), but I do have a few notes, and tomorrow's Friday Links post is huge.

First, I saw that back in the day, the Pope called Elizabeth Taylor's film roles "erotic vagrancy." I don't think there's ever been a better name for a band. Actually, maybe that's not true, because when we had a band contest name back in 2007, Brent Pedersen won with "Improper Pontiff." That was genius.

Next, and this is quite ironic, a very good friend of mine gave me Tiger Woods 12 for the 360 for my birthday. And, believe it or not, before even opening up the game (doing it shortly), I have this overwhelming urge to buy all the DLC courses. There's Completionist Disease in its finest form, isn't it? And I have this urge even though I know it's incredibly unlikely that I'll put any serious time into the game, because I'll see a dealbreaker in the first two hours (99% guaranteed).

Lastly, a book recommendation. If you're into rock music, then you will enjoy Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Queen. It's a highly readable and highly detailed history of the band, both in personal and technical terms. It was particularly fascinating to read about the hisory of Brian May's guitar, which was built by himself and his father when May was a teenager. He still plays it today, and the details are fascinating.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


What I didn't mention in the Drunk Bunnies post yesterday is that there was a reason I only played two hours last week, and it happened on Friday.

I'd skated during the day on Friday and felt very, very good. My arms were actually moving with my legs now (a trivial thing, on the surface, but I hadn't relaxed enough to do it properly), and my speed had increased (almost alarmingly, given my low stopping skills). Crossovers felt very natural at a higher speed.

So, it was all good.

Eli skated at intermission of the Stars' game game on Friday night, so after he skated, I carried his bag out to the parking lot. On the way to the car, on a perfectly level, well-paved parking lot, I took a step, planted my right foot, and it felt like my knee exploded. Boom goes the dynamite, as it were.

I have a fairly high pain threshold, allegedly, but on a scale of 1-10, this was a 9, and that's only because I can't imagine a 10.

I managed to make it to the car, put up the bag, and limped back into the arena.

All weekend, it got worse. I was wearing one of those elastic sleeves on my knee, and icing it regularly, but it didn't matter. And after I sat for a while, it was really difficult to straighten my leg out fully when I did get up.

On Monday, I went to see my sports massage therapist, who is awesome beyond all description. She worked on my knee for about five minutes and said, "I think you need to brace yourself. There's way too much swelling for this to be muscular, and I don't like what I'm feeling." Her best guess: torn meniscus and torn MCL. And she said it was possible that the ACL was involved as well, due to the degree of swelling.

Ah, hell.

She recommended an orthopedist and I went to see him this morning. He did a few functional tests, made me almost jump off the table with one of them, and said, "I think it's the meniscus. I think your MCL is okay."

He sent me for an MRI, which I completed a few hours ago, and I'm already scheduled for surgery on Friday unless the MRI shows something he didn't expect.

Bad news? Not hardly. If it's just arthroscopic meniscus repair, I can be on an exercise bike by Monday. Four weeks of hard rehab, then back to skating. I'll lose very little of my fitness level, I can improve my leg strength in the meantime, and it should all be fine.

If it had been the MCL/ACL as well, that would have been 9+ months of really, really tough rehab, and I don't think I would have felt the same for over a year.

Dodged a bullet there.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #5

Okay, mixing it up a little this week, let's start out with trail breaker John Harwood:
Unfortunately not a lot of play again this week (I am diligently working to turn your guitar updates into the most boring things ever) what with that 3DS that I was always planning on getting. Managed to get another 3 hours of guitar practice (while apparently logging 10.5 hours into Pilotwings 3DS alone) bringing me up to 33.75 hours to date. Have been focusing on bass and while that's mostly just ducking learning chords, it's really helping to get my hand position down, particularly with the magical fingering hints that RB3 gives in game. That's crucial on bass and really helps me to figure out where to position my hand and has led to some very fun moments where I have moved from one hand position to the other very naturally while mostly focusing on my fingers.

Incidentally, that's the one place where Plastitar skillz carry over to a real guitar: Finger dexterity. While I'm still convinced that the guitar was designed by alien beings with 132 digits on at least one of their appendages, once you start to navigate the Bermuda Fretboard with any degree of success, the finger movements you learned from the past start to pay off. Moving around = bad. Alternating which fingers are down once you have your hand on a given chord/shape = no sweat. Several times that has really clicked and it's very satisfying to see the old skills merging with the new.

This week's discovery is my new man-crush, John Deacon of Queen fame. I first became aware that bass is what I've been really liking in songs all these years while playing The Beatles: Rock Band. Had no idea some of that was bass, and Paul McCartney does such a wonderful job of using the bass as a melody instrument (not that I don't enjoy strumming away to "Runaway" and such), and something in that really speaks to me. Anyway, John Deacon strikes me as being very much McCartney-like in his runs, timing, and melody. For whatever reason, I'd apparently either never played any of the Queen songs as bass or doing so with a real guitar is night and day differnt, but I had one of my top 10 all-time Rock Band/Guitar Hero play moments this week when I spent 90 minutes playing through all of the Rock Band Queen songs on Bass/Hard. Was only hitting 80-90% on them, so playing a little over my head, but they were just fantastic! Like ear-to-ear-grin fantastic. Unlike Billy Joel's bass player, who does similar stuff, but is for whatever reason a brick wall of difficulty for me, John Deacon's bass lines just "make sense" if you will and several times I found myself moving to the right note (or near enough) before I'd realized that's what the chart was showing. So I think my new short-term goal is going to be to find the few songs I can do really well (I Want It All, possibly Under Pressure) and go after them on expert and slow it down and practice practice practice it until I can do one.

This is sort of my first breakthrough like I did in Guitar Hero when I could finally play well on hard. The richness and enjoyment of hard and expert play just can't compare to easy and medium. While those are great fun, I always find myself craving "more" out of the experience and finding the sweet spot between difficulty and complexity in a song is just an awesome experience. Except this time around, the thought that if I learn a song well enough to play on expert, that I could actually do so without the game using my amp...Wow!

Next this week, Expedition Guide David Gloier. I asked David to write a bit about what he did when he first started playing guitar (in the Dark Ages, before Pro mode and everything):
I'm guessing everyone who picked up the Squier controller and has been playing on Pro mode had a much more productive first month of playing than I did.

When I finally got a real guitar in my hands, I had no idea where to begin. I got the guitar home, sat down with it, and decided I should start by tuning it. Even though I was confident I could screw it up, I got it tuned and realized I knew absolutely nothing about playing a guitar. With that understanding, I put the guitar in its case and went about my business.

The next day I got on the internet and google "online guitar lessons". That only resulted in 8 million hits. Most of my "practice" time for day 2 was consumed by searching the internet for lessons that seemed useful. I found a few and fiddled around with some chords and some right-hand exercises.

Soon, I got the idea that the strings that came on my guitar were probably old from sitting in a warehouse somewhere, likely resulting in the hideous noises that the guitar makes whenever I pick it up. (Apparently, this is common among guitarists. Every forum is full of guys that think their tone is a result of something, anything, other than their playing.) Now at this point, I knew exactly one chord, but I had to constantly look it up because I forgot it if I wasn't actively playing it. In spite of my limited knowledge, I decided to run to THE big box guitar store for new strings. I got to the store and never felt so lost and out of place in my life. After staring at a wall of guitar strings, confused, for 15 minutes, I grabbed some, paid, and left. I obviously had no idea what I was looking for and the employees can be a bit condescending, because, as we all should know, every successful musician isn't truly a success until he works behind the string counter. I made it a point of learning as much as I could about my guitar before ever going back into a music store.

I soon got in touch with a buddy of mine who had been playing for forty years after realizing I had no idea how to string a guitar and that it would be nice to watch someone do it before diving in. I dragged my guitar and amp around to his place. He showed me how to restring the guitar and then the rest of the evening was spent drinking beer, discussing technical details of the guitar and amp, and listening to him play. I was keenly aware at this point that it took him forty years to get to his level of ability and I started wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Before the evening was over, he taught me a sequence of chords, plugged my guitar into a 100-watt Marshall head, attached a 4x12 speaker cabinet and had me play that sequence. HOLY S***!

"You just played your first song."

Yes, I did. And badly, at that. But it sure brought a smile to my face and I went home excited.

That was about as good as it got the first month.

Learning on my own, with no real instructor or set routine, I was floating pretty aimlessly. I had lots of information at my fingertips, but had no way of organizing it all into any sort of useful structure. I really wasn't learning to play in any real sense of the word. I could figure out a few little licks that I liked from songs, but that was about it. I wanted to learn to play, but I couldn't get out of the gates properly. I needed structure. I think this is the advantage Pro Mode gives to someone just starting out. It can help keep you focused with its system of goals and being able to learn some semblance of songs early on will help keep people interested. I didn't have that and practicing chords, chord changes, scales and picking exercises without some sort of payoff in the form of songs isn't very rewarding.

I found more reward in the first month learning what made my guitar and amp work and how to take care of them. I spent many hours researching and reading through forums, learning everything but how to play. I quickly became able to converse with people who played without sounding like an idiot and that made me much more comfortable with everything and built a nice foundation for me to move forward.

I wish the Squier controller had been around when I started. I would have advanced much more quickly in my ability to play if it had been, but I'm glad I didn't wait around for four years for it to be released. I'd be four years behind.

Lastly, it's my turn:
Total playing time (through Tuesday): 13:00 (2:00 last week)

I had a tough week, with unwanted life events jacking with my schedule, and I figured out one other thing: if I wait to play until after 8:00 p.m., I'm probably not going to play. I have to do it earlier.

I finished the basic tutorials, but I'm still not able to automatically select a string/fret row without making mistakes in the interior strings. I tend to be one string low. I'm not sure how to correct that, although I'm suspecting continuing to practice will do it eventually.

It's interesting to play songs on Pro Bass, because even on Easy, it tends to be more a more repetitive note chart. I'm not saying that's a bad thing--it's actually quite good, because it drives home some specific patterns that are good to know, but it's definitely a different feel.

I'm going through a period now where I'm a little discouraged with my lack of faster progress, but I'm just not playing enough. I need to be doing 3 hours a week minimum, not 2 like I did this week.

I also decided this week to avoid the Justin guitar lessons. It's not that they're not good--they're fantastic, really--but I'd like to be a test case for someone who tries to learn how to play guitar almost entirely through the game. I may change my mind, but for right now, I'm sticking with Rock Band as my teacher.

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