Wednesday, February 29, 2012


We're going to Dallas for the Penguins game tonight. We're also staying at a ridiculously expensive hotel because it's walking distance from the arena, and it improves the WAF (wife acceptance factor) for the trip. This hotel also has a restaurant.

"Eli said that he wants to eat at the arena," I said to Gloria. "I told him that was fine, as long as he could go to the restaurant with us and be polite while we ate."

"We're not eating at the restaurant," Gloria said. "You would both hate it."

"What? Isn't there an Uncomfortable Man Fallback Item© on the menu?"

"None," she said.

"No roasted chicken? No hamburger?"

"It's so exclusive it's almost impossible to even find the menu," she said.

"We can't even afford the menu," I said. "Maybe it's password-protected."

"The trend among these ultra high-end restaurants now is to have vaguely disgusting food on the menu," she said.

"Like what?"

"Root vegetables and questionable meats," she said.

"I'll put you down for an arena pizza," I said.

We were watching NHL Tonight, just looking at a few highlights.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually kind of enjoy watching hockey," she said.

"Oh my god," I said. She started laughing. "I feel like those drug smugglers who dug that 400-yard-long tunnel under the border--it took ten years, but it was totally worth it."

Age Of Fear: The Undead King (1.4)

Les Sliwko let me know that version 1.4 of Age Of Fear: The Undead King is available for download, and you can get it here.

- online version check - game will connect to our site and notify user if there is newer version available (optional - can be switched off).
- optimizations for graphic display - should work ca. 20% faster
- optimizations for AI processing - should work ca. 35% faster (and smarter!)
- segmented health bar - displays HP directly
- various bug-fixes

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alarming Tuesday

Les Bowman sent me a link to a newly-published study titled Hypnotics' association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. Please note: it's "hypnotics", not "hypnotists", although that might be quite interesting.

Why do I care? Because "hypnotics" are basically sleeping pills (Ambien) or sedative antihistamines (Benadryl). And I take both of them (though not together). Gloria is a heavy sleeper, I'm a light sleeper, and my sleep is fitful and highly erratic, at best, without at least a Benadryl tablet.

It's greatly improved my sleep, which has improved my productivity, because I'm usually not walking around exhausted, which I did for years before I started doing this.


Here are some takeaways from the study:
--Patients receiving prescriptions for zolpidem, temazepam and other hypnotics suffered over four times the mortality as the matched hypnotic-free control patients.

---Even patients prescribed fewer than 18 hypnotic doses per year experienced increased mortality, with greater mortality associated with greater dosage prescribed.

--Among patients prescribed hypnotics, cancer incidence was increased for several specific types of cancer, with an overall cancer increase of 35% among those prescribed high doses.


This was a study that analyzed correlation, not causation, and a 4X mortality rate is 4X-ing a very small number, but still, it's certainly cause for concern. So if you take these drugs, or are considering taking them, it's worth your time to read the study and have the information.

Opening The Door

Destin Bales, Director of Product Development at Paragon Studios, sent me an e-mail last week titled "How Do I Get Into The Games Industry?":
As a veteran game developer I have been asked this question repeatedly over the years, and I've thoroughly enjoyed helping others learn ways to get there. The request would come randomly - a friend of the family, a buddy from high school, a student at the local college, even the dental assistant at my dentist office. Each time I would craft lengthy emails sharing advice and offering to help them in any way I can. For some unknown reason though I rarely saved that information and had to re-write it each time.

After receiving this request last week from a twelve year old player of one of our games I was inspired by his passion to learn (and frankly his intelligence) and decided to finally do more. Hence this site has been born:
I Need To Make Games

My hope is that over time this site can provide an interactive experience where students and professionals passionate about pursuing a job in the industry can come and get valuable feedback and guidance from existing and former developers via the comments and discussion section.

I think that's an absolutely great idea, and I only hope the site gets enough traction to become a useful community resource.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Psychic

This conversation happened about three weeks ago.

When Eli 10.6 started covering up shooters on breakaways, I was baffled. It's the one thing he's always struggled with (it's the one thing all goalies struggle with). Suddenly, though, he was glued to the shooter's dekes.

What was going on?

"So I've been meaning to ask you," I said as we drove toward practice. "On breakaways now, you look like you know where the shooter's going to go before he even knows." Eli laughed. "What changed?"

"I've gotten better at reading stick angles," he said. "But there's one other thing."

"What?" I asked.

"Skate angle," he said. "When I'm looking at the stick, I can see the skate blades, too. They have to change their blade angle before they can change direction. They can't deke with their skates."

"Where did you learn that?" I asked. Really, I was dumbfounded.

"Just watching," he said. "I study when I'm out there."

"That is AWESOME!" I said. He started laughing.

I have no idea how a 10-year-old can process that information and respond, but somehow Eli does. And it blew me away that he learned this on his own. I've kind of broken down goaltending in a geometric sense for him, but this is the first time he's shown me his own analysis.

He skated in league on Saturday night, playing as a position player for the first time since his concussion. In the first game, he played at center and had two goals. In the second, he was a defenseman and had two assists.


The Bellamy Salute

I ran across something interesting last week that I thought I would share with you guys.

I've always wondered why we put our hands over our hearts during the playing of the national anthem. I just assumed that this was a tradition from the first days of our country.

That, however, is incorrect.

Francis Bellamy was the author of the Pledge of Allegiance, which he created in 1892. Along with the pledge, he created a gesture known as the Bellamy salute to accompany the saying of the pledge. According to Wikipedia, it was known as "the flag salute." It was widely adopted and used during both the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.

There was only one little problem (that didn't crop up until the 1930s). Here's what it looked like (again, thanks Wikipedia):

This was unfortunately quite similar to the Roman salute, which the Nazis basically ripped off when they created the Nazi salute. Awkwardness ensued.

To clear all this "gesturization" up, Congress passed a law making the now-standard hand-over-heart gesture as the "official" gesture to be used during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Links!

This is one of my favorite links collections ever, so let's get started.

Leading off this week, from Marc P., a salute to a real badass: John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74.

Here's a bittersweet article about the long rehab journey for Philadelphia fullback Leonard Weaver after a devastating injury.

From Steven Kreuch, and this outstanding, it's good advice for Mrs. Clark.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is spectacular:
The 600 years.

From Brian Witte, and this is a fascinating read: This is the worst reproductive strategy in the animal kingdom.

From Scott Z., and this is amazing: Russians revive Ice Age flower from frozen burrow. Also, and my brain explode just reading this, it's Canadian Digs Out Basement Using Only Radio Controlled Scale Tractors and Trucks.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is remarkable: Damaged Baby Brains—and a Video-Game Fix. Also, and this is both ingenious and very fun, it's Sideways-Shooting Photographer Turns Worlds on End.

From Adam Schenker, and the comparisons to noodling are inevitable (really, this article is a bizarre must-read): Octopus Wrestling.

From Sirius, and the title says it all: an illustrated visualization of what can happen in a single second. Also, and I had absolutely no idea, it's How an airport can affect local weather.

From Frank Regan, and I'm running out of superlatives to describe how interesting all these links are: What has happened to Nasa's missing Moon rocks?.

From Michael O'Reilly, and who knew that monkeys could be taught the value of money: Monkey Business.

From Ben, and this is both amazing and incredibly alarming: How Companies Learn Your Secrets. And here's another article on the same subject from Michael O'Reilly (just mentioned above): How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did.

From Steven Davis, and this is a spectacular video: The Process of Yuzen in The Creation of a Kimono. Also, and this is fascinating, it's The machines that made the Jet Age.

From Connell Smith, and this is both impressive and absurd, it's An Incredible Display of Fingerboarding Tricks.

From Kevin W, and I may have linked to this before, but it's still staggeringly beautiful: Temporal Distortion.

Closing out this week, from Ralph T., a fabulous headline: World Scrabble Championship gets controversial after competitor requests strip search.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Playstation Vita

I received the Vita yesterday, and Eli 10.6 and I took it for a spin last night, in addition to me spending an hour or so with it today.

In short: phenomenal hardware, poor user experience. Please note, however, that I would rather have it this way than the reverse, if forced to choose.

Let's start with the hardware, which is absolutely beastly. The OLED screen is nothing short of stunning, and it's huge. Huge! The colors are stunning, the black levels are inky, and the screen is nothing short of an A+. Actually, it's an A++.

Sound? Same thing--excellent (and spectacular with headphones). A+.

Yes, some games (like Hot Shots) have shimmering textures and anti-aliasing. This, however, in no way indicates a limitation in the hardware, because Rayman Origins is simply jaw-dropping. Rayman is like watching an animated cartoon, and there is zero-aliasing--the image is downright creamy.

Certainly, Rayman Origins represents the single best display of graphics I've ever seen on any gaming system, and that covers a lot of gaming systems and a lot of years. Lumines also looks phenomenal, although that game is certainly much less taxing on the GPU.

I can't even imagine what watching a movie in HD would be like. Incredible, certainly, and I hope to find out at some point.

Those are the positives.

On the negative side, once again, Sony has butchered the user experience.

Let's start with the downright bizarre combination of touchscreen controls and button presses needed to navigate through menus. Look, either totally support touchscreen, or totally support navigation via the physical controls, or even do both-- but don't do it halfway for each. It's ridiculous to have to touch the screen, then press the button, then touch the screen--seriously, who do you guys have designing this shit? Sadists?

This OLED screen is so beautiful and I don't even want to touch it. I don't want fingerprints on it. But I have to touch it, because Sony makes me. I have two analog sticks, a four-way D-pad, four buttons, a start button, and a select button, but they FORCE me to touch the screen.


Then there's the standard Catch-22 element. We have a wireless router that, when you access the Internet for the first time, requires a password. No big deal. So I try to set up the wireless connection and it won't let me enter a password. Fine, I'll read the user manual. Hmm, it's online, and I can't access it until I do a system update. And I can do a system update--wait for it-- until I connect to the Internet.

So I connect the Vita to my PC via a USB cable. But the Vita tells me it's not connected unless I download and install a program to the PC, and I don't know about that unless I go to a troubleshooting menu and go through the options.

Why not just tell me the first time I try to connect, at the top, instead of burying the information? Nobody knows.

I did eventually take care of the technical issues, and once you've solved them, them don't look complicated in retrospect. But there are plenty of casual users without much computer knowledge who will be completely stymied by this, and it's totally unnecessary--just poor documentation and interface design on Sony's part. Plus, and this is even more stupid, any problems with the wireless connection and Sony's poor user help in fixing same prevent people from buying stuff that Sony is trying to sell them. Insane.

After connecting to PSN, I purchased ($8) and downloaded "Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack", and it's also excellent. A bit of Katamari, a bit of 50s monster-movie, clever animation--it's very fun.

Would I recommend buying the Vita? Yes. Sure, there's the standard flagon of Sony shit attached, but there's no denying that it's a staggering piece of hardware, and its potential is undeniable.

I'll have updates on the user experience in a few weeks after we spend more time with the system.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Farewell, My Lovely

I did something three weeks ago that I never thought I would ever do.

I deleted ESPN from my browser bookmarks.

I still remember the entirely giddy thrill the first time I saw ESPN. A 24- hour SPORTS NETWORK. Are you kidding me? It was wonderful. It was wonderful for a long time, too.

At some point, though, it started a long, slow decline. ESPN stopped covering sports and started covering itself. It became endlessly self-referential. I saw a Deadspin story a few months ago that said something like "everything at ESPN masturbates everything else at ESPN," and that's a perfect description. ESPN has become the broadcast equivalent of the athlete that constantly glosses himself in the third person.

It's also entirely curious that as ESPN has gained channels, they've actually covered fewer stories. There will be two or three stories, and ESPN will absolutely pounded those stories to death.

Sometimes, it's even worse than that.

I listen to Dan Patrick's show (A+) in the morning on the radio, but when he goes to commercial, I'll switch over to ESPN radio for a few minutes and listen to Colin Cowherd.

I know, Cowherd is a blowhard and a C+ at best, but he's better than listening to commercials.

In the last five weekdays, I've turned over to Cowherd's show nine times. Every time, he's mentioned Jeremy Lin within the first 60 seconds, and usually within the first 15 seconds.

It's not just him, either. Eli likes to watch SportsCenter before school, and it was all about Lin as well. Constantly.

Now don't get me wrong. I love Jeremy Lin, and I think he is an absolutely great story, because the kid can flat-out play basketball. But it's not the only interesting story in the sports world right now.

The other problem with ESPN only covering a few stories is that their coverage in no way makes a meaningful extension to the story. There's no journalism whatsoever. It's just endless repetition with only minor variation.

Deadspin does an amusing analysis of weekly content in the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. Here's an excerpt from their most recent "Bristolmetrics":
It's a Linfestation!: Lin's 350 mentions destroyed the record of 154 mentions set by Tim Tebow in the first edition of Bristolmetrics. That shakes out to 0.93 Jeremy Lin mentions per minute. Jeremy Lin's name was uttered more times than "if" (132) or "but" (241); his last name alone was mentioned 291 times, more than "are" (229), "be" (216), or "what" (207). Lin was discussed so much that Carmelo Anthony moved into the ranks of the most-mentioned athletes despite not playing a game since Feb. 6—all 37 mentions of Anthony came in the context of discussing whether or not his return would ruin the Lin magic.

Let's express this another way: The NHL needed six weeks to log more than 50 minutes total of SportsCenter airtime; in a single week, the Knicks got 58.5 minutes all by themselves. The saddest thing I witnessed this week, amid the joy of Linsanity, was NHL analyst Barry Melrose giving over his meager share of airtime to talk about Jeremy Lin with Linda Cohn. Poor Barry.

The other problem I have with ESPN is that they seem to have only two types of on-air personalities these days: ones that are wholly indistinguishable from each other, and a second type that basically does nothing but yell. They've taken a ton of interesting sportswriters and turned them into nothing more than shouting buffoons. So I will still watch SportsCenter with Eli, but otherwise, I can find better product elsewhere.

If you're wondering if I've missed pulling up the ESPN website half a dozen times a day, the answer is "no." Yahoo Sports is far more informative in terms of actual journalism, and they've stolen some of ESPNs best writers (Pat Forde and Bruce Feldman for college football coverage, in particular). And I read Pro Football Talk, College Football Talk, and Pro Hockey Talk (all NBC-affiliated sites) every day, which are both informative as well is interesting. Filling in any gaps with old favorites like Sports Illustrated, I don't feel like I'm missing anything at all.

There's not really anything left to miss.

Tribes Ascend

Of note (thanks RPS):
Tribes: Ascend developers Hi-Rez Studios have crumbled to the pressure I exerted with my catchy protest chant and will be opening the beta of their online shooter on Friday Feb 24th, at exactly 5pm.

Here's the game website: Tribes Ascend.

I'm putting this up because two people I highly respect have told me, in no uncertain terms, that Tribes: Ascend is entirely badass (and they both played Tribes 2 for 200+ hours). So if you were a fan of the Tribes series, this looks to be an entirely worthy successor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Console Post: Correction

The five million unit sales is for Japan only, not worldwide.

It's New

Two interesting new features have launched, and I like to bring them to your attention.

One of my favorite writers, Russ Pitts, is doing a new podcast. It's called Asleep at the Keyboard, and in addition to Russ, Gamers With Jobs co-founder Shawn Andrich is on board. That's a gaming parade in one package, and the podcast is available at False Gravity.

Next, Penny Arcade has launched The Penny Arcade Report, headed by Ben Kuchera, one of the most highly-respected writers in gaming today. What makes this site interesting is that it's not focused on putting up a story every ten minutes (looking at you, Kotaku and Joystiq). Here's an excerpt from the mission statement:
Our focus will be on longer form journalism with in-depth research, interviews and data, highlighting aspects of the gaming lifestyle that many would miss at first glance.


Console Post of the Week, in Which I Talk About Handhelds, Not Consoles

Nintendo put out an interesting graph yesterday:

The point? Why, that the 3DS reached 5 million in unit sales faster than any other system in Nintendo history.

The stink? Well, for one, the Wii was severely supply-constrained. Two, it's basic knowledge that the DS didn't take off until after the first year. Three, the number of people who play games has never been larger.

Usually, if numbers are being arranged in unnecessary or somewhat misleading ways, there's a far more interesting reason behind it. And in this case, I think the reasons are two-fold: one, they wanted to fire a broadside before the Vita launched in the U.S., and two, they want to keep developers from abandoning ship.

To me, this will be the most interesting handheld generation in videogame history. Two competing systems with radically different feature sets and capabilities, and a third competitor that isn't a system but an entirely different platform--the mobile space.

So Nintendo, which has historically been a tremendously successful company, is fighting a war on two fronts. They have a unique weapon--3D--but it's going to be very, very difficult.

Sony has some of the same problems with the Vita, which is far more powerful than the 3DS, but lacks a "wow" feature (beyond sheer power). I'm buying one (it should be here tomorrow), and I hope to have some impressions for you on Thursday.

The problem for both of these systems, though, is the mobile market. I think handheld gaming has evolved to the point where so many consumers expect a 5-10 minute experience for under three dollars.

Ironically, I think Nintendo might have been the first company to give us this kind of experience, but didn't understand the implications. Remember WarioWare? It was a collection of "mini-mini-games" that never seemed to last more than 30 seconds each, with an emphasis on humor. They were tremendously clever, entirely wacky, and a ton of fun to play. It distilled gaming into a series of micro-games that fit perfectly into the mobile platform experience.

Nintendo understands that at some point, big developers are going to abandon big-budget games for handhelds and instead churn out a slew of low-budget games for mobile platforms instead. And there will be plenty more who decide to develop for only one handheld platform. Nintendo wants to plant its flag in the ground and make sure that they're the chosen platform, not the Vita. It's war, and it's going to get very ugly very quickly.

Let's see what that graph looks like a year from now.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It Can Happen To You

"I want you to enjoy this moment," I said.

"I don't know if I will," he said. "I'm nervous."

"I don't mean the game, although I want you to enjoy it, too," I said. "I mean now. Before the game. You get to feel the same things that Wayne Gretzky felt before game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Or Marc Andre-Fleury."

"That's cool," he said.

"It totally is," I said. "And can you believe that in another few weeks, it will be two years since you learned how to skate?"

Eli 10.6 laughed. "How can that be?"

We were outside the Dr. Pepper StarCenter rink in Euless, walking slowly through the network of playing fields outside the center. In another 30 minutes, Eli needed to be back in the locker room, preparing to play in goal.

In the championship game of the President's Day tournament.

As it turns out, playing up against travel teams and enduring defeat made our likable band of misfits work harder. So much harder, in fact, that when they returned to their level in the upper house division, they played like angry bees, dominating every team they faced on the way to the championship game.

The fields were a nice place to take a walk--peaceful and empty, a nice place to have good thoughts.

"Coach wanted you to play in this game," I said. Eli alternated with another (very good) goalie.

"I don't know about that," he said.

"He did," I said. "Jared is an excellent goalie, but this is your team. Those guys love you. So do the coaches. You're every mom's son. They all have total confidence in you, and so do I."

"I'm a little nervous," he said.

"I know," I said, "but this time, it's good nervous. It's excited nervous. You know how I always talk about 'being clear'?" You're as clear as I've ever seen you. I see it in your eyes. I can feel it."

"I feel good today," he said.

"I think you'll face adversity in this game," I said. "There will be moments. I think some of your guys will be scared. But they're going to look back at you, and you're going to pick them up, and as long as you're okay, everyone else will be, too."

We kept walking, slowly weaving between the fields, all beautiful, all green. We walked past a soccer field. "I can't believe that your soccer season starts in two days," I said, laughing.

"I can't wait!" he said.

"There's nothing like a 48-hour break between seasons," I said.

"Well, it's not a break," he said. "I'm still playing hockey."

"And tennis," I said.

He laughed. We kept walking, not saying much, just being together. We stopped at a tiny jewel of a baseball field.

"I'm going to give you your three keys early," I said.

"Okay," he said. "What are they?"

"One, be clear. And like I said, I've never seen you this clear. Two, be aggressive. That's who you are. Three, be happy."

"Be happy?" he asked.

"That's right," I said. "I don't know anyone who's worked harder for this moment than you have. You always have a great attitude, you always work the hardest, and you always lead. Being in a game like this is a special moment, so be happy in the moment."

"I will," he said, hugging me. "I'm ready for the beautiful battle," he said.

I told Eli that I knew how the game was going to go. He would face between 20 and 25 shots, and his team would be ahead 4-3 late in the game, when he would make a great save on a breakaway. Add an empty netter and the final score would be 5-3.

I didn't know that the team Eli was facing had a player who had scored 13 goals in three tournament games. Neither did he.

Just before the game started, one of Eli's teammates skated back and hugged him.

The puck dropped. A kid with a silver helmet won the faceoff, and he started weaving through our players. He skated through every player on our team, slowing down about fifteen feet away from the net. Eli was in perfect position.

The kid fired a cannon shot that hit six inches below the crossbar and six inches below the far post.

Twelve seconds. Goal.

The stands were bedlam. It was crushing.

Two of Eli's teammates skated up to him and patted him on the helmet. He patted them back. Then he skated a small circle around his net, looked at me, nodded, and slapped his stick into his catching glove. He got back into his stance.

Game on.

I think I had blood in my urine by this point (symbolically, anyway). I'm very attached to the kids on his team, all of them, and I didn't want wanted to go down like this. I didn't want them to come this far to have one final, devastating defeat. In athletics, though, like many other things in life, you have to make your own luck.

There would be no luck today.

It was immediately clear that silver helmet was going to be on the ice most of the time, and he was going to be hell to stop. We didn't have a great player like him, but we had a bunch of good ones, and whenever he got the puck, they desperately tried to stop him.

He got a second shot, but he didn't have enough time to wind up for the top corner. Eli made a beautiful kick save, flicking the puck away with his pad.

Silver helmet got another shot. Eli made another save. Then another. Of the first seven shots in the game, they had six, but it was still 1-0.

Our kids were digging in, fighting with everything they had, but silver helmet was still getting good shots. Eli was having to make one crazy save after another, but when silver was off the ice, we were definitely the better team.

Near the end of the first period, we were still behind 6-2 in shots, but then we scored. Two minutes later, we scored again. And again. Suddenly, at the end of the first period, we were ahead 3-1.

Eli had faced 8 quality shots in the first period and stopped 7. I'd never seen him so fundamentally sound, and never so quick.

In the middle of the second period, with the score still 3-1, Silver got loose on a breakway. Eli skated out, then back as he drew closer. Silver deked, then deked again, and when he shot, Eli was in perfect position, the puck bouncing harmlessly off his pads. No rebound.

I saw Silver slump slightly as he saw Eli make the save, and as he skated along the back boards, he whacked his stick on the ice.

It was a battle of wills. Silver's will was huge. But he was facing a will for which there are no words.

With four minutes left in the second period, the score was still 3-1, and shots were even at 15. We could easily have been behind 5-3 or worse--almost every shot they'd taken was a quality shot--but Eli was resolute.

So was the rest of his team. Yes, Silver had at least ten shots by this point, but it wasn't because we weren't trying. Every time he got the puck, two or three of our kids would get in his way, leaning on him, forcing him away from the middle. It takes a village, so to speak, and while they weren't stopping him, they were making it much, much harder.

They were each playing great, and they were playing great together.

Silver got loose again, but two of our kids rode him to the side as he neared the goal, so he skated around and tried to stuff in a perfect wraparound, only a fraction of an inch from the post. That's where the puck met Eli's skate, flush against the post, and even as the parents of Silver's team celebrated, the referee was clearly signalling no goal.

As all this was happening, something else was happening, and it happened so suddenly: the other team was exhausted. Our angry bees had worn them down, and their defensive discipline collapsed. Goal. Goal. Goal. Three goals in four minutes, and at the end of the second period, it was 6-1.

I still wasn't breathing. Silver could score five goals in period with no problem, and even though no one else on their team was nearly as good as he was, they had several other kids (including one girl) who could shoot.

When the third period started, though, it was clear that certain truths about this moment had been set in stone. Silver was great, but he wasn't great enough. They had a player, but we had a team. And Eli, the boy I love so much, was standing very, very tall.

The goals started coming in waves. 8-1. 10-1. Finally, it was 12-1, and only one minute remained. With 30 seconds left, the other team had one last breakway--this time, it wasn't Silver--and the player bore down on Eli, the only one in his path, playing up high as always. The shot.


I was tearing up a little as the clock counted down, trying very hard not to cry. Gloria, too. The horn sounded and Eli raised his arms, stick up high, and for a few seconds, he was alone. Then his teammates reached him and he was mobbed, a giant hug from all his friends.

A game with no good luck, none at all, because none was needed.

At the awards presentation, when they announced Eli's name, there was a warm, happy roar.

Coming off the ice:

When he got into the locker room, I walked up to him and he reached out to hug me.

No more words were needed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Link Fixed

Sorry, that Scale of the Universe link wasn't working, so I found another source.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, a mind-blowing, interactive graphic: The Scale Of The Universe.

Next, from Jeremy Fischer, and this is the most interesting video you'll watch all week, it's Where Do Numbers Come From? Seriously, you really need to watch this--it's very short, but completely amazing.

From Brad Gehrig, a link to a fascinating interview: To Salvage A Ship.

From Steven Kreuch, and Eli 10.6 is very fond of this site, it's T-Rex Trying...

From Caleb Forney, and while this has a political message, it's very clever entertainment before then: Collapsing Cooling Towers.

From Connell Smith, and these are all quite staggering, it's The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores In The World.

From Steven Davis, a fascinating mini-documentary: Banknote and Coin Engraving. Also, and this is very clever, it's Reading Kills. One more, and boy, and this is certainly a window into the past: Why is it more interesting to spend an evening with this book than a beautiful woman?

From Dirk, two additional links analyzing the Challenger disaster from an information presentation standpoint:
The Challenger: An Information Disaster
Representation and Misrepresentation: Tufte and the Morton Thiokol Engineers on the Challenger

From Sirius, a link to a stunning computer program called Eureka. What can it do?
A new computer program called Eureqa comes up with fundamental mathematical laws, the great equations of textbooks and history, from scratch. Feed Eureqa a mess of raw data, and it will find the underlying rules describing the observations.

Amazing. Also from Sirius, and this is quite surprising, it's The real Mona Lisa? Prado museum finds Leonardo da Vinci pupil's take. One more, and this is really quite spectacular, it's Crazy Sky Diving Wing Suit man.

From Sebmojo, and this is a tremendous read, it's The Mystery of the Millionaire Metaphysician.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these are stunning images, it's Dazzling Droplets: Photos Reveal Mini Worlds. Also, and these are very cool, it's Rare photos of the old and the dead.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

One Last Note About Sound

Here's a fascinating follow-up to earlier this week (source wishes to remain anonymous):
Having spent 7 years and 7 months at sea on both aircraft carriers and "amphibs" - essentially an aircraft carrier for helicopters, I thought I would share a description of all the various noises one hears when at sea after reading today's update. So, here goes.

1) Flourescent light hum - 24-7. Even at night, when the white lights are turned off, the "red lights" are turned on. Red lights are nothing more than the white flourescent lights with a dark red tube placed over them.
2) 6 am - 10 pm - Announcements over the ship's speaker system at minimum of every 15 minutes. Special announcements don't count and happen whenever. One can tell time by the regularly scheduled 15 minute announcements in addition to the "Ship's Bell" which is rung every half hour during that same time frame.
3) Air pockets popping against the side of the ship. When a ship moves in the water, waves move in and out. Occasionally, air pockets form between the ship and the waves. What happens when a wave collapses that air pocket against the side of the ship - a very loud bang. Almost as loud as a gun shot being fired a few feet away. Completely random when those happen.
4) Aircraft Carrier specific - Catapults firing. There is a giant metal rod which has to stop somehow when it is used to sling an aircraft into the air. Guess what it hits? Yep - a giant metal stop. Result - very loud bangs which happen to be right next to some folks sleeping areas. (Yes, we learn to sleep through it).
5) 400 Hz hum. In certain parts of the ship are 400 Hz generators which are necessary to power test equipment, so things can get fixed. Those generators and their respective breaker panels actually emit a constant hum. The end result of this sometimes is hearing loss of 400 Hz tones. It does self-correct by being away from the hum for about a week.
6) Ship's alarms. Every morning around 8am, they test the audio component of the ship's alarms. These are very loud. If you happen to be working nights, you had better learn to be able to sleep through them, but also be capable of waking up when they are real. Nice contradiction, eh? Not to mention the GQ alarms where it depends on if you are ship's company or attached to a squadron to determine how you have to respond. Let's just say squadron life is a bit easier other than having to work on the flight deck.
7) This isn't sound, but when the ships are moving, their is a constant subtle vibration. The faster the ship moves, the more pronounced it becomes.
8) None of this includes - people talking, hatches opening and closing, folks walking up and down the metal ladders with their steel toes boots (which everyone has to wear), televisions when they are allowed to be on (after 6 am/before 10 pm), the sound of showers running when they are near berthings, flushing toilets, random noises from folks getting stuff in and out of their racks.

This could go on for quite awhile and it is truly surprising how much noise is generated and how one can struggle sleeping when it is not present immediately after leaving the ship.

The biggest thing, though, as the other person mentioned, when the power goes out, the silence is so sudden and so out of place, you immediately notice something isn't right. With no power, the ship stops moving. No more popping air pockets. No more vibration. The combination of missing sounds and vibrations is what wakes folks up so quickly.

What this has created in me, which can be positive and negative, is an intense focus on whatever I happen to be doing at the time. If I am writing a post or reading, someone could be sitting right next to me and trying to talk to me, but I won't notice a) if the reading has grabbed my attention or b) whatever I am writing has my mind centered upon it. It's like I can eliminate outside noise or visual cues when focused on whatever task and can sleep with music going, a tv blaring, someone vacuuming the house, mowing the lawn outside the bedroom window, whatever. Prior to the time on those ships, any kind of visual or audio stimuli would prevent me from sleeping. When studying, it had to be in a quiet environment. Now... completely different. The negative aspect of that kind of focus is pretty obvious. So... working on trying to become more normal again, but kind of glad to know I can tune out the noise or vision things when it is time to tune them out. Just have to learn to be more aware of friends and loved ones around me when they are trying to engage in a conversation if I happen to be doing something else at the time.

Zeroes Into Ones (your e-mail)

More interesting e-mail this week about the "Zeroes to Ones" post, so let's take a look.

First off, from Matt Solomon, an intriguing idea:
Allow Gamers to trade in digitally bound games for a partial store credit. That keeps everything running through the companies that produce the games - there aren't used copies getting moved around the marketplace offsetting new sales - but you still get the boost to new purchases from the extra cash that gets freed up.

If used sales are as dominant as publishers claim, it seems like it would also be cheaper for publishers to accept physical copies of games as trade-ins toward new games (from the same publisher, obviously). It would take copies out of circulation and increase customer loyalty toward a publisher.

Here's another e-mail, this time anonymous:
My history with piracy is almost exactly the same as yours. As my income increased I saw a definite decline in what I pirated, but the ability to try out different video games when I was younger helped fuel my life long game hobby. Without that my interests would have gone to other mediums and the game industry would have lost a 30 year-supporter.

I find now that pricing, content, and DRM are the big drivers in what I buy. In the past 12 months I probably only bought two full priced games, Skyrim and SW: The Old Republic, for a total of $120 spent. The reasoning is that with the new $50-$60 price point of most games, I need to know that I am going to get my money's worth which means that a) the game needs to be a home run, and b) I need to know up front that I will spend a lot of time with the game. Since I know that over the next 3 years I will probably spend a few hundred hours on each game, a $60 price point is reasonable. Now DRM also factors into the purchase, because if it has a persistent connection like Ubisoft is using now, then I no longer have control over when I get to play my game. It also means that I might not get 3 years out of my game, they might shut off the server (or go bankrupt) in 12 months, so my $60 has a lot more risk. Games with that type of protection are ones I generally won't play now, or will still go the pirate route until the DRM is removed.

...The problem is the game industry has the same mentality as the rest of the entertainment industry. They feel that they will tell us exactly how, where, and why we will use their content instead of stepping back and listening to their customers. Your customers will tell you how they want to obtain and use your goods and they will give you a lot of money to provide it in the requested forms.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Odd Pairing

Two games with almost nothing in common except a very high level of fun have new releases.

First off, a new version of Dwarf Fortress is available. This is a big one, almost eleven months after the last release, and the changlog is here. A few tidbits:
--protect your community from secret vampire dwarves or hunt them as an adventurer
--defend your fort during the full moon or risk a werewolf infestion -- hunt/be hunted as an adventurer
--face armies of the dead in dwarf mode or visit their necromancers' towers and learn their secrets as an adventurer.

Also, adventurer mode has received a huge number of enhancements, and that's probably where I'll start a new game this time. If you'd like to use the Lazy Newb Pack, which hasn't been updated for this new version yet, you can keep track of the forum thread here.

The other half of the fun equation is Fairway Solitaire, which has new been released for iOS. Playing a card game on a tablet, in particular, should be even easier than using a mouse, and this game (both the original and the sequel) are entirely entertaining. It's $0.99 for the iPod and iPod Touch and an HD version for the iPad is $2.99.

WTF Wednesday

I was in traffic today, driving, and I saw this fellow above the fray, at least ten feet off the ground, pedaling along. I couldn't see what he was pedaling, exactly, because I was blocked by traffic, but he was pedaling something.

Of course, because he didn't have any handlebars, I immediately thought of what's called a "giraffe" unicycle, which are quite popular with crazy people. When the traffic parted a bit, though, I could see that he was pedaling a giraffe bicycle, one that had a sky-blue frame.

Two wheels, but no handlebars.

This was in heavy traffic, mind you, and he was just blithely sailing along, riding against an endless stream of cars going by. It appeared that he was headed for some sort of mutiny, because he was wearing a puffy white pirate shirt with some sort of pantaloon, and his hair and moustache suggested that he might have just left a photography sesssion for a romance novel cover.

I couldn't get my camera out in time, but I'm now officially on watch for this guy. After living in Austin for twenty-five years, I thought I'd seen everything, but clearly, I was wrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Follow-ups (from you)

Lots of interesting e-mail from you guys, so let's take a look.

First off, and this is my favorite, Lance Shankles sent in an alternate explanation for my audio "sensitivity":
I would like to offer a slightly different take on this whole thing...

I was recently reading this:
Is your behavior controlled by a parasite?

Here's the article in The Atlantic: How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy.

"Compared with uninfected men, males [humans] who had the [toxo] parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women."

So I would like to submit.. that you in fact heavily infected with parasites. Based on my layman's and conspiratorial opinion most likely a huge number of parasites.

Sure, that's the easy answer.

Dave Yeager sent in some interesting information as well:
Don't know if you've seen this before, but there does appear to be a real physical difference in the way men and women perceive color: Do Women Perceive Color Differently From Men?

Some of the same info in a trendy infographic type of thing: Beyond Pink and Blue: A Look at Gender Colors

I wasn't able to find anything similar when it comes to sound.

Here are some collected observations from you guys, randomly attributed to anonymous:
For what it's worth, I struggle with both, but am more slightly more sensitive to visual sensory overload; I have a really hard time tuning out multiple conversations, but can cope with most other sounds without too much problem most of the time. If, on the other hand, I'm presented with a lot of visual noise that I have to cut through, my head goes completely swimmy. I'm also really sensitive to smell, maybe moreso than the other two.

In response to sound and visuals, my wife and I don't have quite the same thing going. She's had me paint a living room orange, kitchen red, and dining room blue (among other colors for many other rooms). She has, for most of her adult life, needed to have the TV on to go to sleep (though we've lately moved to the occasional session with the iPod and some headband headphones, that are very comfortable, evidently). I, on the hand, need it to be fairly quiet (nothing that I can discern as speech), though I've spent over three years of my life at sea on an aircraft carrier, with all of the attendant noise you might think of (a cacophony of white noise, jets landing on the roof, etc.) with no problem. I went from deep slumber to fully awake once when we lost all power, though. That sudden silence was as jarring as the time my roommate chambered a round as he walked past my room at 3am (another story).

So, we're both visually OK, with different audible oddities.

I generally get mildly irritated by repeated noises. Nothing like you, from the sound of it, but a dog barking for 5 minutes would annoy me, and probably most people. Someone tapping a pencil repeatedly? I'm going to break it for them. My grandmother took the cake when it came to anything repeated - jingle keys or marbles or tap a pencil or anything like that for more than 10 seconds and it was silenced by her :) My wife likes a TV or radio on to make the house feel lived in, and likes to fall asleep with a TV on but I can't stand that, at most a book to relax but that can backfire if I get caught up and read till 2am. She's pretty normal other than that, though.

Visually I'm less aware of what's up. People always complain that I don't wave when driving by (small town living, right?) but I just don't see them. I see vehicle with the potential to kill me, or a pedestrian that I'm a potential threat too, and that's about it; I'm usually churning over a work problem or planning next steps in whatever excursion I'm doing (get bread, etc).

I can block out visual stimuli that is six inches in front of me as if it didn't even exist. The smallest, faintest noise drives me bat-shit crazy to the point I can sympathize with people who completely snap for no apparent reason. (As I type this, I can here someone's cell phone vibrating outside my door and it's putting me on edge.)

In our household the sound and 'clutter' (the appearance of things in disarray) quirks are accounted for by my wife, all on her lonesome. Any repetitive, loud or just at the edge of hearing or 'harsh' sounds will drive her insane. Sometimes she won't even realize what is happening, she will just get on-edge and start snapping at me or the dogs...eventually one of us will figure out what noise has triggered it. She also does not like things out of place, off kilter or just too much stuff visible.

Then we get to me. I love having music on in the background, even if I am doing other things (watching TV, playing games, reading or going to sleep) one exception is watching a movie or a good TV show (Justified and Archer are two examples) which case I don't even want to hear the dogs breathing :) And I don't even see clutter. I am somewhat organized and a clean peson, but I get distracted or my 'lazy' kicks in and I just put the things I use often in one place. Eventually this will drive my wife to a cleaning frenzy or she will just start organizing things. Many times when I cannot find something I say 'it's been organized somewhere'. If I try very hard I can see the clutter and try fixing it, but my version of that usually doesn't meet the minimum specs.

I think it would be interesting to see if couples were mainly split or similar on these (a couple we know are both in the 'neat and no noise' category... my wife gets along with them swimmingly).

Generally I'm the one who gets bothered by visual things. Messy piles, crooked picture frames, etc. It's especially noticeable when we're playing a game with lots of piles of cards, but I've been known to go so far as making little geometric patterns out of my pieces. My wife couldn't care less if objects are neat or straight, and she tends to select relatively bright stimulating colors when we paint (which don't bother me per se, but I tend to go for subtler colors).

With sound, I tend to be more tolerant, especially about tapping or repetitive sounds. It drives her up the walls when I tap my fingers. Other people's tapping triggers it for her too, so I know it's not just a spouse peeve. Also, she'll get distracted by television noise from the other room. On the other hand she'll leave a TV on in the same room "just to have some noise." I also like having some sort of background noise. I pretty much always have some music running. I confine it to a headset when it makes sense, but if I'm doing housework or sitting down to dinner I'll put it on speakers. Subjectively, it seems that it allows my brain to pay some attention to it without much risk that it'll bubble up to the front of my mind. It means that I can concentrate on my task without getting distracted by tangential thoughts.

I totally understand what you mean about your brain abstracting down what you're seeing. I notice things visually when I'm focusing on them, but if I'm preoccupied or paying attention to something else I'll miss really obvious stuff. For instance, when I'm talking to a coworker I'll notice they got a haircut or new glasses, but I'll completely miss a bright red warning sign on the way to the bathroom.

I have to say that sound interferes with concentration for me. I generally prefer a quiet house. This is one reason I like to stay single, actually. If anyone ever moved in, I'd have to put up w/ the TV or radio being left on as background noise. *shakes head incredulously* It just doesn't make sense to me how that's a good thing.

While driving, if I want to look at the scene of an accident, I've noticed that I'll turn the radio down (or off). I often wondered if there was a direct link to the amount of data that one's brain can process given how much the other senses are in use.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eli 10.6 Update

So the singer (Adele) I only started listening to because Eli 10.6 told me won six Grammys last night.

On Thursday, I went to Eli's school in the morning because he was receiving a community service award. His school offers all kinds of community service opportunities, and even though his schedule is busier than an astronaut, he still manages to volunteer for almost every one. The lady who gave out the awards mentioned three specific actions by volunteers in the fall that she thought were particularly notable, and things Eli had been involved with were two of them.

Eli practiced with his tournament team Sunday morning and looked as sharp as I've ever seen him in goal. At the end of practice, they ran a mock shootout. Eli faced 17 shots and stopped 16 of them. He looked like he was in the Matrix or something.

He has a tournament this weekend, and I'm going to get some footage that I can share with you. He's not skating as a player, even though he's been cleared by the neurologist, because I'm concerned about mid-ice collisions at speed, but he will be playing in goal.

This tournament will be a little different. Instead of playing against travel teams, they're in an upper-level house division, which is more appropriate for their skill level. So I'm hoping they have some success-- they've worked very, very hard.

It's funny, but I realize now that even three weeks ago, his personality wasn't quite back to normal. We played tennis on Friday, then went to dinner and shopped for Gloria for Valentine's Day, and it was a fun, relaxing time. I've been very tired lately--exhausted, really--so it was great to feel energy flowing in instead of rushing out.

I didn't even realize this until yesterday, but Eli has had eight practices/games in 14 days. I have absolutely no idea how parents handle this kind of schedule on a long-term basis. Just the driving and the equipment management alone are totally wearying.

Of course, I say that, then something happens that reminds me why it's worth doing. Eli had a late game Saturday night (starting at 8, and he didn't get to bed until 10), then had practice Sunday morning at 9:45. That's a brutal turnaround for both of us, but he went out and had his best practice in months, and when the youth hockey director (who is the warmest, sunniest person I've ever met) asked him to stay and work with the mite goalies (7-8 years old), he was thrilled, because he loves working with younger kids. So he stayed, and he was so happy out there, and so was the kid he was working with. Eli has this magnetic personality, and other kids are just drawn to him.

So my feet were freezing, and I was freezing, but I still had a smile on my face. Feet can't smile.

Back when he first had his concussion, and he was watching "low-stimulus" t.v. (preschool level), I decided to write him a low-stimulus story. Eli thought it was very funny (well, he's 10.6), and here it is:
Sammy Marshmallow jumped on his red licorice pony Strawberry and road toward Cotton Candy town. He was to see a man there about a job.

As Sammy entered the outskirts of Cotton Candy town, he saw a disturbing site: a giant mug of hot chocolate. Fearing the worst, he climbed up the handle and peered over the edge, where he saw an awful sight: a mass of melted marshmallows.

Sammy had never seen this before, but he knew what it was called. It was called murder.

I was going to write a series of these little stories, with the "he was to see a man there" as the common thread, but that idea was derailed because there was so much else to do.

Is There Anybody Out There?

If you're a DQ reader living in Finland, and would like to do Eli 10.6 a favor, please e-mail me. Thanks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from David Gloier, a link to a fascinating BBC documentary on the story of the VOX amplifier.

From Taylor Materna, and this is a fascinating read: Gangs and Politicians in Chicago: An Unholy Alliance.

A stunning link from Jim Moss: These Are the Earliest Human Paintings Ever.

From Griffin Cheng, an interesting article on how the 3DS chat program SwapNote was turned into an old-school RPG.

Much to my surprise, Jack White is putting out a solo album, and Frank Regan sent in a link to Love Interruption, which is the first song released.

From Sirius, and this is quite amazing: Over 23% of All Goods Created Since 1AD Were Made Between 2001 and 2010. Also, a link to story on the passing of Roger Boisjoly: Engineer tried to halt Challenger launch. One more, and you've never seen this before: No Explanation for Pennsylvania's Purple Squirrel.

From Andrew Martin, and this is the goriest Lego film I've ever seen (and very well-done to boot): Captain America slaughters Nazis in this bloody Lego flick.

From Greg V, and this is entirely mind-blowing: ArcAttack performs a Tesla Coil version of Iron Man by Black Sabbath with a Faraday Guitar.

From our friend Emily, and this is absolutely insane: Extreme Paragliding Skiing.

From David Byron, and this is nothing short of astonishing: Entire genome of extinct human decoded from fossil.

From DQ Reader My Wife, a challenging unicycle ride.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Kickstarter And Double Fine

The big story this week--maybe this year--is the Kickstarter project started this week by Tim Schafer and Double Fine.

It's highly unlikely that you don't know Tim Schafer, but just in case, Schafer was a large part of the brilliance behind the Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island series, as well as Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. Those games all represent what is surely the finest lineage in adventure gaming history.

Schafer wanted to make another game in this vein--a traditional point-and-click adventure--but he decided to take an entirely unconventional path: a Kickstarter campaign. And given the unwillingness of publishers to take any risks whatsoever these days, it's just as well. Believe it or not, a point-and-click adventure from the finest practitioner of the craft would be considered risky by publishers these days.

Schafer hoped to get $400,000 to fund the game, which seemed an entirely ludicrous number, given that there are very few Kickstarter projects asking for $50,000, let alone $400,000.

That was about 24 hours and $1,096,236 ago. The game was funded more than 2.5X beyond the original (quite silly) goal in about a day.

When you're trying to make a game, how often does someone give you MORE money than you asked for? 2.5X more? Sure, it won't work for everyone--or hardly anyone, to be more accurate--but what a great story, and what a great example of discovering your real customer base. And with digital distribution, Kickstarter certainly becomes a potential avenue to bypass the conventional game industry entirely.

If you want to see the Kickstarter project yourself, it's here. They raised another $4,000 while I was typing this post.

The Sound And The Fury (yours)

Here is a tremendously elegant explanation of my sensitivity to sounds, courtesy of Tateru Nino:
Those are symptoms common to introversion and parts of the autism spectrum, often characterised by increased dopamine sensitivity and a heightened blood flow to Broca's region, and longer, more active neural pathways and raised levels of cortical activity.

...So yes, sounds (particularly patterned ones) can be irritating, painful, maddening at the wrong times and in the wrong ways - they extend up into the higher brain functions in the cortex and keep your consciousness going when you're trying to shove it aside for sleep. That ticking clock or dripping tap is almost like a pacemaker for cognition - one that you wish you could turn off.

By contrast, vision and smell can be interestingly modified. Less relevant parts of the visual field are often simply discarded, but that's often okay, because your brain is too busy with other stuff to track all of the fluff anyway.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Turning Zeroes Into Ones, And Vice Versa

It's always a bit alarming to hear the video game industry describe piracy, used games, and game rentals.

For one, there are people in the industry who want to lump them together, which is ridiculous. Also, the industry itself seems to have a very rigid, digital mindset when it comes to this subject.

You're either with us or against us. You're part of the solution or part of the problem. Add another dozen mindless clichés [HERE].

Like most things in life, though, it's not that simple.

Let's look at piracy first. Actually, let's look at me first. In the late 1980s, and I'm certainly not proud of this, I used to copy Amiga games.

Back then, it was easy. There were software programs you could buy that allowed you to "make a personal back up" of your games. There was a local Amiga store where the owner was incredibly nice, and he used to let me check new games out (I know--talk about a different era), then return them a few days later. I'm sure he knew what I was doing, but he didn't seem to mind.

So, 30 years ago, I was a pirate. And I'm sure, over the course of a couple of years, that I "stole" about $2,000 in games.

That's simple, right?

Not exactly. I played hardly any of those games for more than an hour, because most of them were terrible. I kept the copied discs, though, because I had a strange compulsion to acquire them, even though I didn't want to play them.

How many of these games but I have actually bought? No more than half a dozen, or about $300 worth. At most.

So in the eyes of the software industry, I was a zero. A thief.

I was also, however, quite young.

I started making more money. I became a salaried employee instead of an hourly employee. I got promoted.

And I started buying games.

Lots of games. Lots and lots of games. For at least a decade, I bought 40-50 games a year, at least.

Here's the twist: being able to play all those games I copied fed my interest in gaming. I started talking about games, started forming opinions, started getting interested in how games were made.

As I got older, I also rented lots of games. Being able to rent instead of always by increased my exposure to gaming in general. It increased my immersion. It made me more likely to spend my entertainment dollars on games than anything else.

It was less complicated back then, obviously. Piracy wasn't online, and it wasn't collective. I don't know, maybe a few friends would trade games and copy them, but it didn't seem organized, at least not in the U.S.

So sure, it's different now. The Internet has made it possible for piracy to go big-time.

Still, though, the gaming industry has the same problem it had back when I was young. How you take a non-paying gamer, a 0, and turn them into a 1?

That's a complicated question, and maybe I can't answer it fully, but I can tell you that I damn sure know what the answer ISN'T: treating people who play rentals and trade in used games as enemies.

It's an analog problem, not a digital one. It's not a flip. It's a slide. The gaming industry should want to slide people along the continuum toward the "always buying customer" that they cherish so highly.

Answer me this, though: who's more valuable to the gaming industry? Is it the guy who never trades games and never rents them, but only buys three games a year, or is it the guy who plays games constantly, buys used games and rents frequently, but only buys one game a year?

That's an easy answer. The guy who plays games all the time will be talking about games all the time. He'll be telling other people what games they should play, and some of those people will be buyers, because the 0 and 1 tribes commingle at every level.

In short, the dude that the gaming industry hates is an advocate for the same industry that despises him.

See what I mean about this not being a digital issue?

Here's another complication, and you'll recognize this, because I've written about it before. How many times have publishers told us that games would be much cheaper if people didn't steal them so often? I mean, it's a reasonable argument.

And yet, Gamestop is now selling PS Vita titles, and they're generally $39.99. On PSN, you can purchase a few of those same games as downloadable-only titles. What's the discount for the version that can't be pirated?

Ten percent.

Wow. Clearly, based on actions and not words, piracy can't be nearby the problem that the industry (in this case, Sony) is claiming. If it was, then downloadable titles (that can't be pirated) would be deeply discounted, right?

It's Denmark. It's rotten. Etc.

Ubisoft took a different approach. They require a persistent online connection for most of their PC titles now. But these "unpirateable" games aren't deeply discounted. Hmm, what's up with that?

Oh, and if Ubisoft's servers go down, so does your ability to play the game in any mode, like this week.

First word "cluster".

Like I said, I don't have the single best answer for this question. Wait, yes I do. Provide more value to your customers. They will then become more loyal. And for people who aren't your customers--the zeroes--do everything you can to slide them along the continuum. Entice. Provide opportunities.

It's supposed to be a partnership, not a war.

The Sound Etc. (a bit more)

I remembered a few more sounds that drive me crazy:
leaf blowers
loud motorcycles

I'll be Roderick Usher by the time I'm 60.

Based on my e-mail, there's no pattern to audio/visual sensitivity based on sex. Actually, it appears that women are more sensitive to sounds that men. Well, based on about 10 e-mails, anyway.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Sound And The (Visual) Fury

I found out something interesting about Gloria last week.

While we were at the neurologist's office, waiting for Eli's appointment (seriously--was that only six days ago?), I was having a difficult time. The waiting room was very crowded, and there was a baby that needed some kind testing that required her mother keeping her up for 24 hours straight (or more). This poor kid, of course, was screaming her head off.

There was a second kid, older, who had some sort of mental disability. Physically, he looked entirely normal, but he shouted and shrieked in a high-pitched voice that was incredibly unsettling.

"What's wrong with that kid?" Eli asked.

"I'm not sure," I said, "but this is a good example of why kids with mental disabilities get treated differently or get picked on. Sometimes they act in ways that make people uncomfortable, but it's not their fault--they can't control what they're doing. So think about that when you see someone with a disability that makes you want to avoid them. It's hard to live in a world where everyone avoids you."

Eli sat and thought about that for a little while, then they called him in for his ImPACT testing, which takes about 30 minutes. Gloria and I sat outside in the waiting room.

"I'll have a nervous breakdown by the time we get out of here," I said. "The noise is driving me crazy."

"Noises don't bother me," she said. "Visual things are what I can't stand."

"Oh, I know," I said. I put my phone down on the table next to us, then adjusted it a fraction until its edge was parallel with the table edge.

She laughed. She does this around the house, adjusting the angle or placement of objects with surgical precision.

I'm the complete opposite. I could walk into the living room with a bank of strobe lights going off, and I would never even notice. When it comes to visual things, I am generally detail-blind. My brain gives me just enough information (usually) to avoid running into things. Past that, I'm usually thinking about several things at once, and noticing my surroundings would just be a distraction.

We painted the living room a while back, and both Eli and I wanted yellow walls. And they look great--to us. To Gloria, though, it's a visual apocalypse, so much so that I've agreed to have those walls repainted. I know that I will rarely, if ever, notice the new color.

The one thing I do notice visually, which drives her crazy, is when she puts new things on the walls. I'm always half-kidding her that when she puts something new up, she has to take something else down.

This often does not go over well.

When it comes to sounds, though, I'm even more sensitive than she is visually. That's why the barking dog behind our back fence drives me insane. INSANE. It's why I wear noise-cancellation headphones at night to go to sleep. It's why I absolutely, positively cannot sleep in a room with a ticking clock.

Gloria likes to leave radios playing in different rooms of the house. There's something welcoming about it, to her. To me, though, it's noise.

I thought about this yesterday, and I wonder if these differences are determined by sex. Are men more sensitive to audio disruption, with women more sensitive to visual disruption? Or does it just vary by person?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Picture Monday

This can't be a good idea:

While Eli was still in heavy recovery mode, Gloria tried to get him to do more arts and crafts projects, as something relaxing and not too stimulating. One Sunday morning, he'd watched t.v. for a while, and I mentioned that he should probably turn off the t.v. and do a craft project. He said, "I think I'll build a stadium," and for the next three hours, that's what he did:

Stadium, field, end zones, goal posts, and stands (along with the crowd). And see those little connected rectangles at the top of the stadium wall? Luxury boxes.

Also during heavy recovery mode, when he was still away from school, I took him out one day to an outlet mall just to walk around and have some fun, because there wasn't much he could do. He saw a children's ride that he used to love, and I'm sure I probably posted a picture of him in it five years ago, but now he looks like a giant:

We took "holiday pictures" at the mall this year, which is something Eli and I both absolutely can't stand. It's just tedious and dreary, smiling on cue, and it feels so phony. They did have some funny props, though, including two giant gumdrops that I was required by law to put on my chest for instant giant candy boobies. I did this while Eli was posing, and I only wish the photographer had gotten a picture of him at the moment he saw me.

While we were waiting for the pictures to be printed, we saw what absolutely has to be the oddest promotional picture ever:

Your eyes do not deceive you. That's an expectant mother with an ammunition belt of ultrasound pictures over her shoulder. Meanwhile, her son looks on with what--bemusement? Horror?

I pointed it out to Eli, but didn't explain it to him. He looked, then looked again. "What the--OH MY GOD," he said. "AWKWARD."

Friday, February 03, 2012

Friday Links!

From Stephen Tessier, and this is all kinds of awesome: World's longest lab experiment still going 85 years later.

From Jonathan Arnold, an utterly fascinating interactive timeline.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is utterly amazing: Russian leather.

From Sean Redlitz, a relatively mesmerizing color-matching test.

From David Gloier, and this is quite a stunner: Former President John Tyler’s (1790-1862) grandchildren still alive.

From Kadunta, and these are highly entertaining (NSFW warning because I didn't watch all of them, although everything I saw was totally okay): the 15 most delightful internet films of 2011. Also, and this is entirely wonderful, it's Game Deaths ("A compilation of classic arcade deaths, arranged to an 8-bit cover of "Mad World" "). Also, and this is a terrific read, it's things "in the common knowledge" about history that historians almost universally consider untrue.

From Jarod Werbick, a cover of Somebody I Used To Know (Walk Off the Earth) performed by six people on one guitar.

From Andrew Martin, and this is fantastic, it's Teens send toy above the clouds.

From Rich White, and this is a terrific (and demonstrates an attitude that more developers should emulate): Developer Makes Disabled Gamer’s Wish Come True With an Arrow Click.

From Sirius, one of the most amazing pictures ever taken of an iceberg. Also, and this is remarkable, it's A new life form discovered in Canada. Next, and if you know any spiders, this might come in handy: How to Build a Hardy Web. One more, and if you think this is a sabertooth tiger, think again: Sabertooth .

From Steven Davis, and this is substantially appalling: Drone Pilot Discovers River of Meat Blood.

Here's a very cool site: Letters of Note.

From Meg McReynolds, and if you bought a new iPhone, I hope you're not Scottish: Siri doesn't seem so smart in Scotland.

Closing out this week, from Fredrik Skarstedt, and this is one of the most beautifully written "F- you's" in history: To My Old Master.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Sony Earnings

You guys are flooding me today with the link to Sony's earnings, so let's take a look.

In short: ewww.

A $2 BILLION loss for the quarter. A revised forecast with a 2.5X multiplier to the initial projected loss for the fiscal year (now estimated to be in the $280M range).

What happened? Here's Sony's explanation:
-Consolidated sales decreased significantly year-on-year primarily due to the impact of the floods in Thailand, deterioration in market conditions in developed countries, and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

-Consolidated operating loss was recorded compared to income in the same quarter of the previous fiscal year, primarily due to a significant deterioration in equity in net income (loss) of affiliated companies, in addition to the above-mentioned factors.

-The deterioration in equity in net income (loss) of affiliated companies was primarily due to an impairment loss on the shares of S-LCD, which were sold in January, 2012, and the recording of a valuation allowance on deferred tax assets at Sony Ericsson.

What they've cleverly done, though, is bury the lead, because what's particularly stunning is the decline in sales. Look at the comparison from Q3 of the last fiscal year (and remember, Q3 for Sony is the holiday quarter):
LCD TVs -24%
Video Cameras -25%
Compact Digital Camera -18%
PCs -3.7%
PS3 +3%
PSP -30%

Yes, a 3% gain in sales from last year makes the PS3 the "star" of this sorry lot. Even there, though, the forecast for the full fiscal year was dropped from 15 million units to 14.

Oh, and while PC sales barely dropped, their annual forecast dropped by 1 million units as well. Basically, the only part of Sony worth owning right now is the financial services division (they sell insurance), which made $428M in Q3.

Now, it's not like Sony is alone in the boat. Toshiba, Sharp, Nintendo (now forecasting a $580M loss for the fiscal year) all had lousy earnings--and tomorrow, Panasonic will follow suit. The appreciation of the yen and declining sales are a double whammy.

I'm not sure what Sony's play is here. The LCD market has blown up in their faces, the camera market is in decline, everyone is eating their lunch in cellphones, and the PS3 is solidly third in consoles. Oh, and the Vita launch in Japan has been very ugly.

To borrow from Blazing Saddles, somebody's gonna have to sell a shitload of insurance.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Neurology and Ghostbusters

I was sitting with Gloria at the neurologist's office today, waiting for Eli 10.6 to finish his ImPACT testing assessment.

"I think I found Linda a job lead," she said. Linda is a friend of hers from college who lives out of town.

"You did? With who?" I asked.

"I talked to Laurie, and she gave me the name of an attorney," she said. Laurie is the mother of one of Eli's best friends.

"Uh-oh," I said.


"I believe you've just violated one of the principle rules of friendship management," I said. "In Ghostbuster's terms, you've just crossed the streams."

She laughed.

"Instead of being at risk for a total protonic reversal, you're at risk for a total friendship reversal. If this initially works out but then ends badly, you've alienated people in different friend groups."

"I'm sure it will work out," she said.

"That's what they said when they were testing DDT," I said. Well, I didn't say that, but I should have.

I hadn't really thought about it until today, but I don't really have friends in groups. I have friends on islands, forming a friendship archipelago. This probably says much more about me than it does about them, because as a certified loner, I tend to consider groups of three people as mobs.

Eli did very, very well on his ImPACT test, all within normal range, so now we have a baseline for cognitive performance in the future if he should ever have another concussion. And the prospect of that ever happening makes me shudder.

He also passed all other tests as well, and he's been doing full schoolwork for a week, so they cleared him for hockey. As with everything else, it's in steps, so his first practice will be with a goalie coach only, progressing through full practices, light scrimmage, and full scrimmage.

For now, he's going to concentrate on goalie instead of also skating out as a player, but after a few weeks in goal, he should be able to resume both.

This news was greeted with a resounding "YES!" from the young man.

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