Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Please note that the crutches, sling, and walking boot are just part of the costume, although the walking boot and crutches were acquired during previous injuries.

Ghosts of Mississippi

I watched a brilliant ESPN documentary titled "Ghosts of Mississippi" yesterday.

It's about 1962, the year that the University of Mississippi was integrated (by federal troops) and also the year that the football team went undefeated.

It's savage. Nothing better explains the civil rights era and why it was so necessary than actual footage from that time. Savage, reprehensible conduct. Stunning ignorance and hatred. I've seen footage from that era before, but it always hurts. It makes me embarrassed for the human race.

So I watch this documentary, and then I ask the question: do I want Eli 11.2 to watch it?

I've always strugged with the idea of how much responsibility he has to understand the past. We've talked at length about the civil rights era and about Martin Luther King. He understands what happened and why.

There is a difference, though, between understanding words and seeing history.

Is it enough for him to understand what happened through books and discussion? Or he does he need to see the visceral nature of hatred in motion to truly understand? Is it my responsibility as a father to show him something that disturbing, something that will educate him about hatred in a way that books never could?

I struggle with these same questions in regard to the Holocaust. It was a subject in his history class last year, and he started talking to me about it one day. He had a basic understanding of what happened, but it was a sterile understanding. I shook that sterility very quickly, because I needed to, but I've never show him any of the terrifying documentary footage that exists. Will it make him a better, more resolute person if I show it to him? And if I do decide to show it to him, what is the right age? When is he old enough to confront the darkest recesses of a human being?

Sometimes it's hard to sleep at night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Fool And His Money

On June 7, 2007, I pre-ordered A Fool And His Money, the sequel to Cliff Johnson's masterpiece The Fool's Errand.

If you never heard of A Fool's Errand, then you're too damn young. Wikipedia yourself up to speed: The Fool's Errand is a 1987 computer game by Cliff Johnson. It is a meta-puzzle game with storytelling, visual puzzles and a cryptic treasure map. It is the tale of a wandering Fool who seeks his fortune in the Land of Tarot and braves the enchantments of the High Priestess.

In an era where games of this type weren't even popular, it was a beloved and revered game. So when I saw in 2007 that Johnson had almost finished a sequel, I jumped on the pre-order train.

It was released last Friday.

That's right--five and a half years. That's a long pre-order. But Cliff sent out notes every few months or so, moving the latest release data, recounting his progress, and explaining the latest setback. And damned if he didn't finally finish.

I just booted up the game for the first time tonight, and I need a few hours of play before I can share any detailed impressions. I will say, though, that even after half an hour, it's highly atmospheric and has already sunk its hooks into me.

Rain and Precipices and Whatnot

If you havent played Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3, and you have an iThingie, then you can purchase the iTunes version here.

I played (and finished) the PC version, but the iThing reviews have been uniformly strong, and I spent more time with this game than any other this year, with only exception.

The exception is 10000000, which you should also buy immediately.

I said this when writing about the PC version, but I think Episode 3 captures more of what I see as the personality of Penny Arcade than previous versions. It's retro, in a tremendously enjoyable way, and Zeboyd Games deserves a ton of credit for the game that emerged. The mechanics are solid, the humor is (of course) terrific, and the entire enterprise is infused with a fine sense of whimsy.

Not nearly enough whimsy in the world these days.

Halloween Costume Count!

We're doing the X Annual Halloween Costume Count, as usual, so if you want to participate, please make a costume tally and send it to me. I think we had about 1,200 costumes in total last year from at least ten different states (and I think several countries as well), and it's always fun to see how the popular costumes vary by location.

I just tally people as they come to the door for candy, so it's not difficult.

Eli 11.2, in his trick-or-treating farewell tour, is going as a Crash Test Dummy this year, and his costume looks pretty fantastic. I'll put up a picture on Thursday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #27

On the Team Hub, you see league standings, last week's results, and the upcoming week's schedule.

When I first wrote the code (it was about nine months ago), I had no idea that there were automatic sorting commands in VB.Net. This is kind of typical for me, not knowing that an easier way exists to do something. So I just sat down and figured out how to sort fifteen items of data.

I loaded an array, compared each element, moved elements when necessary. What I wrote was, much to my surprise, called a "bubble sort". To sort fifteen elements (like wins, or rushing yards) took about 300 lines of code.

Okay, quite a few of you are breaking ribs from laughing right now. Hopefully you can stop gasping before you puncture a lung. It's funny to me, too, although (surprisingly) I've learned quite a bit from learning to do things "by hand", so to speak, when much better tools were available.

This code all works fine, so I left it alone. Then I decided a couple of weeks ago to change how ratings are displayed in the offseason screen. Before, I showed the explicit rating for each team in each category. It's a full reveal, so to speak.

Why would I want to do that, though?

Real football doesn't have a full reveal, ever. Rough ideas of a team's ability can be discerned from statistics, and in the offseason, from an analysis of the team's personal, but teams aren't really rated on a 1-10 basis. Usually, it's more a comparison versus another team, so Team A definitely has a more productive passing attack than Team B.

Ability is irrelevant without context in relation to other teams.

I was talking about this to John Harwood, if I remember correctly, and he said, "Why don't you show a team's ranking for a particular rating versus the rest of the league?" Well, that's a great idea. It makes perfect sense in the context of providing information, but not absolute information.

To do that, though, takes a lot of sorting. Five ratings sorted into rankings and displayed, then the ratings themselves change as part of the GM AI, then the new ratings have to be sorted into rankings and displayed. Plus I can add a tab to the Team Hub so that these relative rankings are available all season, because they're not a full reveal.

At first, I thought that I would just adapt the existing code I'd written, but when I realized it would be over 3,000 lines long, I decided that was crazy. I'm entirely OCD about writing efficient code--or trying, at least--so I sat down and tried to figure out a better way to structure what I was doing.

Two hours later, what would have been 3,000 lines of code was 26, thanks to a liberal use of For-Next loops. And while I'm pretty embarrassed that the original code was so incredibly wasteful, the new version is very useful, because I'll be able to use it with all the original sorts to compact the code significantly.

So now, in the offseason, you'll see a team's ranking in each rating versus the rest of the league. Then when you hit the "Run Franchise G.M." button, you'll see the broadcaster do a 15-20 second summary of the biggest offseason ratings changes, and then you'll see the revised team rankings after all the ratings changes were applied (almost every rating on a team will change every year, although the vast majority of those changes will be in 1-point increments).

I'd like to get this rewrite finished so that I can focus on adding a few more niceties based on beta comments, but this is very grindy, so it may take the rest of the week to complete.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Steven Kreuch, and this is just so cool and wonderful: The Newsstand. Just enter a month and year and you'll get to see every comic book cover from that month. And it goes all the way back to May 1934!

From The Edwin Garcia Links machine, and this will blow your mind: Travel INSIDE a Black Hole. Also, this is quite a find, it's Garden Planter Turns Out To Be Roman Antique. Next, and we're big fans of Mythbusters at my house, it's Get a Peek Inside Mythbuster Adam Savage’s Workshop and See His Cool Toys. Last one, and believe it or not, it's science-related: The story of the iconic cover art for Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures'.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is a story about Joe Kittinger's incredible 1960 jump: RedBull’s Stratos Stunt. Also, and I've always wanted to see something like this, it's behind the scenes at a bowling alley.

From Francis Cermak, and this is quite clever: What happens when someone who had never played video games is chosen as a judge for some gaming awards?

From Craig Miller, and this article is stunning on multiple levels: Seizure of Ship From Argentina Forces Shake-Up.

From Phil Honeywell, and you're going to love this: Mission 26 The Big Endeavour. It's a video of the Space Shuttle moving from LAX to the California Science Center.

From hippo, and this could turn out to be incredibly important someday: Pioneering scientists turn fresh air into petrol in massive boost in fight against energy crisis. Also, and this is amazing: fish can cloak, become invisible to predators.

From DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Rempel, and this is a story about a true Canadian badass: Lincoln Alexander: 'Just call me Linc'.

From Robb, and this has always fascinated me: Goodness, gracious, great balls of lightning.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is just incredible: The whale that talked like a human.

From Sirius, and this could upset quite a few apple carts: Dinosaur cold-blood theory in doubt.

From Paul Drager, and this is something I never thought I'd see: tightrope walking robot.

From Dirk Knemeyer, and this is an effective and clever conjunction: Viral ad campaign hits #FirstWorldProblems.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Else Should I Be? Font Apologies

Sorry about the font being funky in that last post. Blogger has a new version that is functionally annoying compared to the old version, so the post looks fine in preview mode but different when it actually publishes.

Rodriguez And More

DQ Music Advisor Chris Hornbostel sent in this note about Rodriguez:
I just love how...different...Cold Fact sounds.  By that I mean that it seems like a hybrid that is so stupidly obvious when you hear it executed, but sounds like there's no way it could work:  combining folk music with the urban sensibilities of Motown.

For instance, take a song like "Inner City Blues".  It opens with this simple acoustic rhythm guitar and a tambourine/snare slap on the two-four, and just Rodriguez singing.  It's all very Dylan.

Then the second verse comes in, and immediately on the "Met a girl from Dearborn" line, a bass comes in, very spare...and then at the end of every line a string section answers him almost like a call-and-response vocal.

And you know, you hear the lyrics to that song, and before I'd seen "Searching For Sugar Man" I thought of them as very specific to Detroit, 1970 and the unrest there at that point in history.  I found myself wondering how a song like that fits into anti-apartheid rebellion.  You get to the line at the end of the second verse, though (and here a horn section pops in with some punctuation, along with a second guitar playing a lead figure) and you hear it clear as day if you're listening for it:  "'Cause papa don't allow no new ideas here."  It was like a bolt of lightning the way it hit me then.  Of course if you were a South African chafing at your political system, that line would resonate.  "And now he sees the news but the picture's not too clear."  Brilliant line, that.  And then there's this bridge thing--maybe a chorus--that comes up with the snare hitting on every beat, 1-2-3-4, and that's so Motown, it's as if they lifted it right out of a Stevie Wonder song.  I have no idea where the idea came from to marry those Motown sounds--the strings and horns and drum rhythms--to standard folk music idioms, but not only does it work, it sounds incredibly out of its own time.  It's as if someone picked up a record from 2012 and plopped it into 1970 as a joke.

What I really enjoy about Chris's writing is that he can be both concise and lush at the same time. Here's one more note from him about a huge day in both world history and music history:
Earlier this month you posted a link to a fascinating story about how there were secretly nukes on the island during the whole Cuban Missile staredown in 1962.  Today is October 24th, and exactly 50 years ago today was probably the scariest and closest we've ever come as a planet to wiping one another out.

I was wondering if you knew what else happened on October 24, 1962, though.  Seems that on the evening that JFK authorized the Pentagon to take us to DEFCON 2 for the only time in history, a struggling soul singer named James Brown performed a sold-out show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Brown was well known among R&B fans already, but was considered to mostly have appeal only to black audiences at that time.  Brown blamed his record company for failing to market him well to a mass audience.  He also felt like the record company--King Records--had tried to stifle the spontaneity and wildness of his performance by having him held to very "safe" and sterile choices in the studio that failed to capture the excitement that Brown was capable of bringing.  Brown desperately wanted to release a live album, and begged King to record his show at the Apollo.  The label was reluctant to do so.  King Records President Syd Nathan told Brown that no one would by an album full of live versions of songs that King had already released as studio singles.  Brown ended up having to pay for the recording of his midnight show on October 24, 1962 out of his own pocket.  With little risk, King went ahead and released the record, expecting it to stiff.

James Brown's "Live At The Apollo" of course went to #2 on the pop charts, launched James Brown to a worldwide audience, stayed in the Hot 100 for 14 months, and is obviously still considered one of those must-have records in any collection (Rolling Stone lists it at #24 in their Top 500 Albums Of All Time list).

I'd like to think the reason the world didn't blow itself up on October 24, 1962 is that people wanted to hear that live recording.  Maybe not, though.


This is great news:
Tilted Mill Entertainment -- independent developers of strategy, simulation and role-playing games – today announced Medieval Mayor, a real time strategy city-building game set to release next year. The game represents a return to the team's roots on such city-building classics as Pharaoh™, Caesar™ and Zeus™.

The game begins in the dark ages where you must establish, build and govern a city by planning and laying out road networks, building housing, attracting immigrants and advancing education, culture, commerce, science and the arts, while also providing for the health and prosperity of your citizens. As your city continues to grow, so do the challenges of managing it - will your city become a beacon of hope and light to the known world, or will it fall back into darkness?

I thought Tilted Mill was no more, so it's great to hear that they're back. And this new game will be a day-one purchase for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cold Fact

Here is the cold fact about Rodriguez's Cold Fact album: it is, unquestionably, one of the greatest albums of an era that was the greatest in the history of music.

It is, on every level, simply astonishing. Its incredible range, the absolutely stunning lyrics, the brilliant production, the overwhelming personality of Rodriguez--in every way, it's a masterpiece. And Crucify Your Mind (which you can listen to if you hit the link), to me, is one of the single greatest songs of all-time.

I've already written at length about Rodriguez and the documentary Searching For Sugar Man (which will probably win the Academy Award for best documentary), so I won't retrace that ground here. What this post is about is Rodriguez in concert. He's 70 now, and it never even crossed my mind that he would tour in North America, but incredibly, he has been touring, and he was in Austin Sunday night.

"Searching For Sugar Man" overwhelmed me so completely that I very nearly broke down both times I saw it. Actually, I did break down. I wasn't sobbing, at least externally, but something inside me just completely melted down.

So the prospect of seeing Rodriguez in person was just as overwhelming. I told Gloria before he came on, "If I start sobbing uncontrollably, just abandon me and save yourself the humiliation," which she thought was very amusing.

Then he came out, holding onto someone's arm for support, looking exactly like he did on the cover of "Cold Fact", which was released forty-two years ago.

His voice was not as strong, but it was still his voice.

There was no band, just Rodriguez and his guitar, onstage for ninety minutes. And it will absolutely go down as one of the favorite nights of my life.

This picture is not well-taken, but its subject rises above the quality of the camera:

Here's one more:

And here's a short video from "Crucify Your Mind":

Now, here's a very special bonus. Reader Dave Couto was kind enough to contribute an essay about growing up in South Africa and the influence of Rodriguez. From here on out, you're reading Dave's words, and I want to think him for contributing something truly special.

Remembering the Sugar Man
Rodriguez’s album Cold Fact came out in 1970, ten years before I was born, so his music was always a part of my life. My parents had somewhat underground music tastes, exposing me to Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer and, naturally, Rodriguez.

1970s and 80s South Africa was a dark place for most people. Apartheid was in full swing and the Black majority were nothing more than helots on their own land. It was easier for the White minority, but it wasn’t all light and joy.

The government was an arm of the strictly Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church. Television was kept out until 1976 and the Board of Censors controlled every scrap of media that we were exposed to. The Beatles were banned for John Lennon’s Jesus comment, Jesus Christ Superstar was banned and anything that spoke of political freedom, drugs or sex was cut off at the border.

Yet somehow a few cassettes from a little know American folk singer named Rodriguez made it in, probably stashed in someone’s overseas bought porn. Oh yeah, that was banned too, of course.

For a repressed and curious youth, this bootleg cassette tape called Cold Fact was a sensation.

For kids being told that there was no sex before marriage “I Wonder” coming right out and asking ‘I wonder how many times you’ve had sex, and I wonder do you care who’ll be next?’ was deliciously decadent and thrilling.

For those who were lectured about the evils of drugs and reefer madness “Sugar man,” nearly a love song to a drug dealer, with its very open discussion of ‘Silver magic ships’ carrying ‘Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane’ was equally titillating, and the imagery  was just enough to hide the meaning away from the authority figures; government, parents and church alike.

Those two songs in particular were a fresh liberating breeze for a youth that hadn’t been exposed to the concepts of freedom and choice. Many of his other songs were more subtle, and just as challenging to the strictly controlled mindset of those who heard them.

By the 90s, when I was a teenager, our society was more free. The 80s had seen an explosion of protest music, from musicians like Johannes Kerkorrel, Koos Kombuis and James Phillips, some of it inspired by Cold Fact. Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and the ANC was unbanned.

The path was laid for the end of Apartheid, yet Cold Fact was still with us. The macabre tales of Rodriguez’s death appealed to our angsty teen selves and when my friends and I learned to play guitar “Sugar Man,” “I Wonder” and “Rich Folks Hoax” were part of our standard repertoire, the appealing anti-establishment lyrics and simple folk shuffle strumming made them easy and satisfying to learn.

I won’t go into too much detail about the discovery that Rodriquez was still alive. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure Searching for Sugar Man tells the story better than I could.

I will say though that the news of his being alive, and appearing on stage with local band Just Jinger, caused a shiver of joy through those of us who grew up listening to his music. I’m happy that this lyrical poet with his words of rebellion and freedom is being heard by more people in a global age where these messages are needed, and hope that his new success continues.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Tripleheader

That's what Eli 11.2 looked like when I picked him up from school last week. Art class will never be the same.

Eli had two flag football games last Friday, plus he was in goal at 7:15 Saturday morning for his first league game of the season. We called it "the tripleheader."

As you know, he's been frustrated that he hasn't been getting any touches in flag football, so when they did actually throw him a pass in the first game, I was just hoping he wouldn't drop it. He didn't, and he got to the sideline and took off (they were on their own 10). Three guys thought they had an angle on him.

They were wrong.

He cruised into the end zone, and boy, did he look happy. He was targeted for one more pass in that game (another touchdown). The other team went 0-5 when passing into his zone.

In the second game, he defensed five more passes, had one pass thrown his way (caught it for an extra point), and had the time of his life. The game was on an actual high school field that they had marked down (in his league, the field is 80 yards long), and when it got dark, they turned the lights on. "Friday Night Flag Football Lights," I said to the other parents. Plus there was another high school right next to where they were playing, and that school was having their homecoming game, so there was a full band playing, too.

"Two wins in the tripleheader," Eli said as he walked off the field after the second game. It was almost 8:00.

"One more for the sweep," I said.

In his house hockey league this year, the Peewees (11-12) and Bantams (13-14) combined to form four teams. The Bantams can't check, but they're faster and stronger, which is great for the Peewees, because it makes them work harder.

None of the Bantams had ever seen Eli play, at least not in a game, and I think the other team thought he was an easy mark, because he's so small compared to the other goalies.

Once again, they were wrong.

Eli's team was outshot 13-3 in the first period, but they were only behind 2-1, and both of those goals were on rebounds where there was no defensive help. Eli was playing strong, very strong, and as the game went on, his team got better and better. They still got outshot 25-13 for the game, but with three minutes left, they were ahead 3-2.

That's when there was another breakaway, this time with one of the best scores in the Peewee group. He skated toward Eli, stick handled left, then right, then left--and Eli was sitting there waiting for him. No chance.

His team wound up winning 3-2, and in the locker room, when the Coach mentioned how well Eli had played, all his teammates applauded.

On the way out to the car, he had a big grin on his face. "Three for three," I said.

"The tripleheader!" he said. "And practice tomorrow at 6 a.m."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #26: Oops

I learned something about myself last week.

Several beta testers (who were all using 1440x900) had reported a substantial amount of text clipping in certain areas. In particular, the offseason human GM mini-game screen was causing lots of trouble.

I decided that the only way to fix this was to use a different layout and focus on using one particular type of control (TextBlock), because it scales text automatically when the layout is initially rendered as the window loads.  The other controls I was using scale text just fine--after they were initially rendered--but it was the initial rendering pass that was causing the problem.

This doesn't sound complicated,  really, but it was labor-intensive. 15 hours of labor, roughly, because that particular screen has a very large number of controls.

I finished on Saturday. I had done some intermediate testing along the way, but not with window scaling after the initial render. The TextBlocks did scale the text on initial render, just as I needed, but the position of the control wasn't scaling properly in relation to the position of the background graphic.

In other words, after 15 hours of work, I had successfully created more problems than I solved. The new layout was worse than the old one.

I had this initial, gut-wrenching moment when I realized how much time I had wasted. It was brutal, really. Then I realized that there was nothing I could do except look at my original layout more carefully  and think more clearly about how I could solve the problem.

When I did, I realized that much of the text clipping was occuring because I had tried to minimize control size by barely making them larger than the text they contained.  That seems fine, conceptually, but at lower resolutions, an identical font size takes up more space. So I made the controls wider and centered them, which should eliminate much of the clipping.

I also wrote a subroutine to manually adjust font size depending on text length in certain situations. That's a giant pain in the ass, but it's less difficult  than trying to manage all the problems the new layout had introduced.

Here's what I learned: sometimes the degree to which a side problem is interesting overwhelms the bigger picture. I was so fascinated by the layout design that I stopped testing to see if it would solve the clipping problem, because I became more interested in solving layout problems in general. That's dumb. It's always about the big picture, or should be, at least.

One other thing I've learned, although I already kind of knew this, is that I like having a list and working through it one item at a time. I was trying to work on three things simultaneously last week--text clipping, new headline code, and new off-season A.I. for ratings changes--and I didn't like it at all. I'm far more comfortable being linear. This isn't good, because being able to handle multiple avenues is faster, but I find it very unsatisfying and stressful to work this way.

It's ironic, because I multi-task to an insane degree with things I'm very familiar with, but I'm still a real novice when it comes to code, and when I'm not familiar with something, linearity is very comforting and usually much more successful.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and if you thought you knew everything about the Cuban Missile crisis, you were incorrect: Secret nukes: the untold story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, and this is just fantastic, it's How Much Does a Shadow Weigh?

From Sirius, and these are wonderful: 19th Century French Artists Predicted The World Of The Future In This Series Of Postcards.

From Steven Davis, and this is a fascinating article about the evolution of football: The Total Package: How modern offenses are rethinking the most fundamental elements of football "plays".

So when I mentioned that no one had envisioned 3-D printing in science fiction (in a manner similar to how it is emerging), I was incorrect. Loyd Case was the first of several people to send me a link to Rule 34, which apparently envisions it quite well.

From Yacine Salmi, and this is amazing: LEGO Bat Cave.

From Dave Tyrrell (Dave, I spelled it right!), and this is a mind-warping possibility: Cosmic rays offer clue our universe could be a computer simulation.

Matt Sake's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this month, it's World of Wonkcraft.

From Meg McReynolds, and these images are nothing short of fantastic! Take a look: This Picture is Worth 1,000 Pictures.

From Aaron Ward, and this is a remarkable eighth grader: This 14-Year-Old Kid Is a Lego Genius.
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an incredible story about a life-or-death moment in the first World War: When The Drip Gun Saved The Day.

From David Gloier, and this is quite fantastic: Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos Jump Recreated Using LEGO.

This is mind-blowing: Cardboard bicycle 'close to mass production': tough, green and just $20.

Here's something you need to hear (and there's a fascinating story about how elephants communicate as a bonus): Eavesdropping on Elephants.

Jonathan Arnold sent in a link to an absolutely amazing interactive documentary about the Cuban missile crisis (a nice companion to the previous link in today's list): Clouds Over Cuba.

From Frank Regan, and this is quite a find: Planet with four suns discovered by volunteers.

From Chuck B, and this is an intriguing piece of design: The Bicymple Disrupts The Traditional Bike Design And I Like It.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Doing Your Best (part two)

A few hours after our conversation, we were on our way to the rink.

"Okay, let's try something," I said. "You haven't played in over a week, and it's going to be a tough scrimmage, so let's do something that all the pro goalies do."

"I'm in," Eli 11.2 said. He had his iPod and headphones beside him, as he likes to listen to music on the way to a game.

"This is how it works," I said. "For the first half of the drive, think back to a game where you played really, really well. Try to feel the shots you stopped. Think about the cold air, and the feel of your stick on the ice, and every specific detail you can think of to make it more real. Then, for the last half of the drive, project that feeling into tonight's game. Imagine tonight's kids taking those same shots, and you stopping them all. Focus on the rink and all the details you can think of to make it seem like it's already happened."

"So I'm taking the past into the future," he said.

"That's it," I said. "You take the successful past and project it into the successful future. So just enjoy the drive and I'll tell you when to flip."

I looked in the rearview mirror a few minutes later. His headphones were on, his eyes, closed, and he was slowly moving his head back and forth, listening to the music.

"Okay, go forward to the future," I said, and he nodded without opening his eyes.

I have a hard time keeping track of all this stuff, but it's important to develop good habits early. So we're going to do visualization before every game, and he has a specific warm-up (juggling, plus me tossing balls off a wall from behind him so that he tracks the motion and makes the catch), and he's doing neck strenghtening exercises every day. Little things that will add up over time, because almost everything exceptional is built that way.

When we got to the rink, every kid in the locker room started talking to him as soon as we walked in, what is what always happens. The rink is such a happy place. Eli always brings a deck of cards, and before he gets dressed, he'll do one or two card tricks, which never cease to amaze the other kids (and the grown-ups as well).

I could tell from his body language that he felt good, and he was very sharp in the ball tossing warmup. Their opponent was the Squirt travel team, which was basically full of kids one year younger than him, and most of them were on the development team with him last year. They've already played in one tournament and have been practicing together for six weeks. Eli's team had never even practiced together as a group, so it was definitely going to be trial by fire.

When the game starts, his team is in trouble right away. Kids aren't always where they should be, even though they're skating hard, and the travel team has the puck 2/3 of the time, at least. And they're getting shots, but they're not scoring, because Eli won't let them.

Eli stops the first eight shots of the game, and he's dominant. His team gets outshot 9-2 in the first period, but they're ahead 1-0, and they're confident. They skate back to Eli on every line change in the defensize zone and tap him on the pads, or cuff him on the helmet.

That's what he does. He takes games that are out of control and controls them, and everyone around him feeds on his energy. 

His defense plays very well, allowing only one breakaway the entire game (which he stops). He also stops a penalty shot, and winds up with 15 saves on 16 shots. His team gets outshot 16-8, but they win 3-1.

"I'm glad you didn't tell them you were rusty," I said as he came off the ice.

"Shhhh," he said. His helmet was on top of his head, and he had a big smile on his face.

The next day, he had another flag football game. His quarterback threw to him twice--ten yards underthrown on the first pass, ten yards overthrown on the other. What mattered, though, is that he ran every pattern hard, he locked down on defense (no completed passes in his zone, plus an interception), and had a successful onside kick (his second in the last two games). His team won 20-0, and as we walked away from the field, he was smiling.

"So was that more fun?" I asked.

Oh, God," he said. "Totally different. And it felt great to get that interception."

"That wasn't even your best play," I said.

"It wasn't?"

"No," I said. "Your best play was when their quarterback committed to throw long into your zone, but you were on the receiver so tight that he tried to overthrow to get over you. That was the wounded duck that Sam intercepted. You caused that."

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

"They targeted your zone five times," I said. "You had an interception, Sam had an interception, you dropped an interception, and there were two other incompletions. Zero for five. That's known as a 'shutdown corner'."

He laughed.

"That's the difference in giving your best," I said. "Even when it's hard."

"And hey, I got two passes thrown to me!" he said, laughing.

"His two worst passes of the game," I said, laughing. "If those had been grenades, even the shrapnel wouldn't have touched you."

"I know!" he said. "Were those awful or what?"

"Let's eat and get home," I said. "Hockey, 7:15 a.m."

"I can't wait!" he said. The Enthusiasm Engine, fully engaged.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Doing Your Best (part one)

Eli 11.2 has had a tough flag football season.

His coach has the players swap positions on every drive, so everyone plays on the offensive. On those drives, Eli is the center. He's also a wide receiver, but he's rarely targeted, even when he's wide open, to the point that even the quarterback's father is saying "Throw it to ELI!" at points during the game.

The team is successful--right now, they're undefeated--but they're leaky. The quarterback has thrown 5 interceptions in the last two games because he either locks on a to a receiver before the play or just heaves it downfield whenever he feels pressure. Plus, Eli is the fastest kid on the field, and in four games, he hasn't touched the ball once where he was in a position to run.

I've watched practice, and Eli is always the hardest working kid there. He has no idea why he isn't getting targeted on offense. Neither do I--the coach has always said that Eli is one of his favorite kids in his entire teaching career, and doesn't say it casually, because he talks about all of Eli's positive qualities, and he knows all of them.

There's also a kind of funky social dyamic on the team, and I think that bothers Eli more than anything else. Some of the kids, even in the sixth grade, have a huge desire to be the alpha male, so they do everything they can to align kids on "their" side.

Eli doesn't want to do any of that crap. He's the fastest kid out there, he works hard, and he wants to see the ball. He's happy that they're winning, but it's bittersweet, because sometimes he feels left out during games.

We've talked about this before, a few weeks ago, and I told him that football was an asymmetrical game in terms of roles--unlike hockey, where everyone is touching the puck and everyone is contributing. Plus, in hockey, he's the unquestioned leader. The other kids rely on his strength during games, no matter if he's in goal or playing as a defenseman, and he loves that. His effort is always rewarded.

In a larger context, this could be a good thing. The one sport I don't want Eli playing is tackle football, what with the incredibly disturbing data on sub-concussive impact accumulation. I didn't tell him he couldn't play, but I did have him read some of the articles about what researchers are finding, and they were very persuasive. Plus, he doesn't want to hurt other people by hitting them, and he's not too keen on getting hurt, either. That's why goalie will eventually be his one hockey position--he doesn't have to hurt anyone.

So this is his last season of football, because flag football ends after sixth grade, but it's turned into survival instead of enjoyment.

Last Wednesday, his team played a game, and he hit rock bottom. He'd been sick for a few days with some kind of respiratory virus, and that day was his first day back at school. He was jogging his routes, never running, barely even trying, and while he played well on defense, he looked so unhappy.

I can't remember the last time I saw him this unhappy.

I had planned to talk to him after the game, but since we he wanted to go to CPK for dinner (and Gloria had come in a separate car, because she comes later), he went with her and I went home to get some work done.

That night, about 8:00, I decided it was time to talk.

"I thought you played pretty well on defense," I said. "And your kickoffs were strong."

"Thanks, Dad," he said.

"Now I'm going to say one more thing, and you need to think about what I'm saying, becasue I'm trying to help you." He nodded. "Your routes sucked."

"No, they didn't," he said.

"You were jogging them," I said. "I wouldn't have thrown to you, either, because you were never open."

"I WAS open," he said.

"No," I said. "No, you weren't. You can't get open unless you run hard, and you weren't running."

"None of those plays were called for me!" he said. "I might as well jog. John's never going to throw to the second or third receiver. He'll never even look at me. It's just a big waste of time!"

"Look, I know you're getting screwed in targets, but all you can do is make yourself a better target," I said. "When he looks at you, you have to be looking at him, and you have to have your hands up like you're waiting for the ball."

"I do that. It doesn't do anything," he said, sullenly.

"It doesn't matter," I said. "You have to keep doing it. You have to run so hard, and be so open, that everyone there knows he's screwing up by not throwing you the ball. And you keep doing it, and keep doing it, until it starts to change."

"Dad, I was," he said, looking like he was about to cry.

"Little man, I"m sorry," I said, " but you weren't giving your best. You know you weren't."

"What does it even MATTER?" he said. "I almost never even touch the stupid ball!"

"I know," I said. "And I know it's not fair. But but not trying isn't going to make you feel better."

"NOTHING is going to make me feel better," he said, and a tear spilled down his cheek.

We never have a conversation like that. I don't even know how it got to that point, but I totally failed my son at that moment. Everything he was disappointed and upset about went in the wrong direction. I wasn't finding the right way to say what I wanted to say, and I wasn't saying it at the right time.

The next day, he was fine before he left for school, but I still felt terrible. His hockey development team had a big scrimmage that night (against the Squirt travel team), and he hadn't played in goal for over a week because he'd been sick.

I didn't need to fix him, or change him. I just needed to help restore him to be who he was.

When school let out, we walked back to the car and started driving. "Let's talk for a few minutes," I said.

"Okay," he said.

"Listen, I'm sorry about last night," I said. "I was telling you the truth"--

"I know you were," he said.

"--but I shouldn't have talked to you so late. You were exhausted. It was the wrong time."

"I was just too tired to listen," he said.

"I know," I said. "I think I was, too. So yesterday we were weak when we tried to talk, but today is different. Today, we're strong."

"Yes," he said. "I feel good today."

"I needed to say something to you last night, but I couldn't quite think of the clearest way to say it," I said. "I thought about it, though, and I can now. Why does it matter that you give your best effort?"

He thought for a moment. "Because I'll make people unhappy if I don't?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Because you make yourself unhappy when you don't." I paused. "Do you know why you were so unhappy yesterday? Because you knew you weren't really trying. Isn't that a miserable feeling?"

"Yeah," he said. "It really was."

"Do you know how many unhappy people give their best effort at everything?" I asked.

"Not very many," he said.

"None," I said. "In my whole life, I've never known anyone who was unhappy when they gave their best effort at everyting. I haven't known many people like that--it's pretty rare--but all of those people were happy and fulfilled, even if they weren't rich or famous or even noticed."

"Why is it rare? he asked.

"Because it's not easy," I said. "It's not easy to give your best day after day. It's a craft that you have to learn. But almost every unhappy person I know isn't giving their best at anything. Not their true best."

"Why do they do that?"

"It's not on purpose," I said. "Maybe their job isn't challenging them, so they can get by with doing less. Or they don't feel like their best is going to be rewarded, or even noticed. Or maybe they feel like there's nothing in their life that even needs their best. But not giving your best, not caring, is like a disease--it starts with one thing in your life, but then it infects something else, and before you know it, you're miserable."

"I never thought about it that way," he said.

"You're not giving your best effort for other people," I said. "You're giving it for yourself. And when you do that again and again, it's like a big wave that you've learned how to  ride, and you will do things that other people don't believe can be done. It will change other people's lives, and that's special, but mostly, it will change yours."

"So it doesn't really matter if I'm not getting the ball," I said.

"It does matter," I said. "It hurts, I know. But it doesn't mean you give less than your best. You run every route like your pants are on fire. You get open on every single play. You pull every flag you can on defense. And when the game is over, because you did that, you'll be happy when you walk off that field. You're happy because you did your very best, and that's something that no one can take from you.

"That's what I'm going to do," he said.

"It's not about the game," I said quietly. "It's about you."

We went in silence for a few seconds. Then I remembered one more thing.

"By the way, do you know how I learned all that?"

"How?" he asked.

"You taught me," I said.

[tomorrow: the hockey scrimmage, and another flag football game the next day]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Torchlight II (Completed)

I finished Torchlight II last week, and it was a pleasure from start to finish.

After playing so many games in the last few years that are shoddy and poorly formed, Torchlight II gleams in comparison. The gameplay is so coherent, so polished--it's tight.

If you haven't played yet (you should), here are a few elements that are particularly noteworthy:
1. The pacing is flawless. I was never bored or hoping the game would end, and as a cranky old bastard, that's rare for me.
2. The level generation is spectacular. Intricate, beautiful, interesting--these levels have it all. They look hand-crafted.
3. The gameworld is absolutely bursting with personality. It's both dynamic and vibrant.
4. It's just fun. That's hard to define, but there is so much fun in this game.

1. The outdoor levels are so beautiful that I wish there were more of them.
2. A few bosses late in the game need to be defeated more than once. I've seen that in so many games in recent years, and there are better and more creative ways to make encounters last longer.
3. The story is well-written, but I never felt like I was influencing it in any way, really. It was pre-cut, which is no different than almost every game in this genre, but I would much rather have much less text and a greater feeling that my actions actually influence the story. Even if I can't influence the plot, having something about my play style or how I played the level modifying the text in some way would be so much more immersive.

Besides being a terrific game, the unlimited mod support means Torchlight II should be a viable and interesting game for years. So you're not just buying a game, you're buying a gaming ecosystem, and the quality of this engine means that mods have unlimited potential.

What No One Is Asking

Through sheer luck, we saw Felix Baumgartner's skydrive "from the edge of space" on Sunday. 128,100 feet above Earth, breaking the sound barrier--it was quite a moment.

It was strange, though, to see Red Bull as the primary financial driver of the mission. Surreal, really, as we've abandoned the space program and private enterprise is now flowing into the gaps.

I read quite a few articles about the jump, but I didn't see anyone ask the obvious question, which is this: how will the 5-Hour Energy Space Program respond?

Of Bats And Gloves

After 7:15 a.m. hockey practice on Saturday morning, we went to a sporting goods store to buy a new baseball bat.

We have a wood baseball bat, but it's for an adult, and Eli 11.2 wanted something that was more his size. He found a bat that was the perfect weight for him, and we bought it.

(parenthetical distraction)
Why am I buying a bat when he doesn't play baseball? Well, he does play it, just not on a team. He plays everything. The list: hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, flag football, baseball, basketball, track, unicycling, the death of me.

Wait, that last entry is not a sport.

He hits the ball a mile, at least when I'm throwing BP, and it's a fun thing to do in the cul-de-sac with a tennis ball (he's hitting other roofs on the fly).
(end parenthetical distraction)

In the parking lot, he's looking at the bat and a pair of batting gloves that he scammed me into getting as well. I'm working on unpackaging the gloves as he looks at his bat. "I am so glad to get a new bat," he said. "Do you know who signed the other bat? Derek Jeter. YANKEE."

That's my boy. I try very hard not to pass any prejudices I have along to Eli, but I have purposely made an exception for the Yankees.

"Did you see that Orioles home run last night that the umpires blew? Has any call ever gone AGAINST the Yankees? EVER?"

"No, and one never will," I said.

"I can't wait to have a bat signed by a different player," he said, looking up just as I threw one of the batting gloves at him. It hit him in the face. "HEY! A little warning would be nice!" he said.

He looked back down at the bat. I threw the second glove and it hit him in the face. "Incoming," I said.

"Well played," he said. "Very well played." He looked at the bat for a few seconds. "Dad, can you tell me who signed this bat? I'm having a hard time reading...OH NO."


"DEREK JETER!" he said, laughing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

GS: Addendum

So I had worked out what I thought was a solution to the text file issue, and I e-mailed DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Rempel.

When I first started, I would ask Garret to explain things (many things). Now I try to have a solution in mind before I e-mail him, and he lets me know if I'm crazy (sometimes).

So I sent him my fix, and he e-mailed me back this: What you need to do is pass the InvariantCulture to your ToString method call.

I would never have have figured that out, not in a hundred years. Until now, I thought "invariant culture" had something to do with yogurt.

Gridiron Solitaire #25

For the first time last week, I think I understood what happens in a beta test.

I worked for a long time to make the game end-to-end playable. It was a big moment the first time I could play a season, go through the off-season, and keep playing.

Let's call that the "trying to make it work" phase.

Now, though, people are playing the game with a goal not of getting it to work, but to break it.  So this is the "trying to break it" phase. People (thank goodness) are trying all kinds of things it never would have crossed my mind to try, and some of these things break the game.

Plus, there's the downright strange stuff.

One of the very best testers is from Germany, and he has consistently reported a problem with the options file, which is a comma delimited .txt file that saves different values, including sound effect and music volume. None of his changes to the volume controls saved properly, though, and sometimes making changes would cause the game to crash the next time he loaded.

He sent me his options.txt file, and I immediately noticed that there was one field too many. And there was absolutely no code that would write a value to the file in that manner.

I finally remembered that European versions of Windows  handle decimal points differently. So in the "American" Windows, "0.2175", for example, is a single value in a comma-delimited file. However, in some other versions of Windows, that value would be written "0,2175" because decimal points are replaced with commas.

Well, that kind of entry will blow up a comma delimited file, so I have to convert the decimal value to an integer (basically, just converting the number to a string, removing the "0." in the front, then converting the remaining string to an integer), then "rebuild" the decimal value when the file loads (reversing the process). That should work fine, but it's a good example of something I would never have found on my own.

Now that testers are getting to the offseason mini-game, it's become apparent that the AI just isn't robust enough. I specifically avoided writing playcalling AI that would adapt to the user during a season game, because if someone wants to run on every play, I'm fine with that. The playcalling AI is robust enough that it will still have a solid percentage of correct playcalls.

However, I want the offseason to be different.

Here's what I'm in the process of doing. If the user wins more than 10 games in the regular-season, the offseason AI will look at their season stats, determine the most dominant aspect of their team, and adjust the chances of the CPU improving the rating that will counter that style.

That's supposed to model the NFL. If a team in the NFL has a unique style, no one cares unless they're good. So if some crazy offense is going 2-14, no one cares. But if that same team went 14-2, other teams would start drafting guys to counter, and they would adjust their schemes as well.

Let's go back to the guy who runs on every play. He went 13-2 in the regular season. 95% of his yards on offense are from running plays. Because of that, the chances of teams trying to improve their running defense is significantly higher than it would be otherwise.

So if you come up with an unbalanced scheme that works, that's great, but in the offseason, teams are going to adjust, and it's going to be a struggle to continue that way.

For those of you who are in the second wave of beta testers, it's going to be delayed for 2-3 weeks. There's no point in getting you guys involved when I have so many items outstanding from the first group, because you're going to notice the same things, and overlap is a waste of your time. I'm going to fix everything from this group of testers first, and you'll both have a better experience and be finding different issues than they did.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from John, the longest unicycle journey I've ever seen: over 2,900 miles.

From Sirius, and this is quite a discovery: Researchers find tiny dinosaur that had quills, a beak and fangs.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are quite striking: Cutting Corners: Paper Silhouette Cinematic Scenes. One more, and this is both insane and spectacular (the audio is smile-inducing as well): Watch a 4-Year-Old Tear Up a Mountain Bike Trail with a GoPro on His Head. Last one, and this one makes for fascinating viewing: Everything Is A Remix.

Also, and this is a fascinating bit of history, it's First Pictures of the Surface of Venus.

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating interview with the creator of the "Mother/Earthbound" series: Shigesato Itoi shares lots of 'delicious life'.

From Clayton, and this is the coolest halftime show ever: The Ohio State University Marching Band: Videogame Salute.

From Donny Plumley, and this is stunning: Professor Walter Tschinkel makes a Molten cast of an Ant Colony.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these are amazing: Hexaflexagons and Hexaflexagons 2.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is a all-hands-on-deck Star Wars nerd alert: The Star Wars Saga: Introducing Machete Order.

From Matt Watson and this is a remarkable story: The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue.

From David Byron, and nothing like having your most embarrassing (and last) moment preserved forever: 100 Million-Year-Old Spider Attack Preserved In Unique Fossil.

Remember Manute Bol, one of my favorite players ever? Manute Bol’s Son Is 6′5” And In Seventh Grade.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and this is simply impossible: Red Bull Rampage 2012 - Contour Footage: Zink Canyon Crash. One more that's bicycle related, and this time, it's trials riding with a sub-18 pound carbon fiber racing bike.

From Yacine Salmi,  and this is one of the coolest uses of Legos I've ever seen: LEGO Great Ball Contraption.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eli 11.2 has been sick for almost a week, but he went back to school yesterday, and tonight, his hockey development team had a scrimmage against the Squirt travel team, which is one division younger.

He hadn't been in goal for a week and a half, and his development teammates had never even played with each other as a team. So I was expecting a bumpy ride.

That's a teaser, because I'm so exhausted tonight that I can't stay awake to write the story. But it's been an interesting two days, and I'll tell you about it next week, along with a post I'm going to call "The Snot Rocket", in which snot and the phrase "Beamonesque" become permanently linked.

Work, Eli being sick, writing, being injured, writing, and trying to run a beta has really taken a toll on me, although I know I'll survive. And Eli's hockey schedule this year includes practices on Saturday (7:15 a.m.) and Sunday (6:00 a.m.--holy crap). Every week. Brutal!

Beano Cook

Beano Cook died today. He was 81, a grouchy old bastard who appeared on ESPN for years.

I always thought Beano was a real ass (ESPN does that to people), until I heard him do a radio interview. He was unbelievably quick-witted, very sarcastic, and incredibly entertaining in general.

Plus, he could rip the one liners. The funniest thing he ever said? I think it was this (thanks Deadspin):
While he was at CBS in 1981, he uttered his most celebrated bit of wisdom. Bowie Kuhn had just given the Iranian hostages lifetime passes to MLB games. Cook: "Haven't they suffered enough?"

October 21

It's fair to say that I'm excited.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I've been unicycling quite a bit lately--seven to ten miles a week--and I was getting back into decent shape. I've always struggled with my achilles tendons, though, and about three weeks ago, I had another flare-up.

The chain of decay:
--running (only a couple of layers of cartilage left on my knee, so had to stop)
--swimming (screwed up my shoulder, had to stop)
--unicycling (achilles tendonitis, had to stop)

I could put about five other sports/workouts in there. I hit a certain age, and my body just stopped healing, really. Stuff that would resolve itself in a week took a month, and injuries that used to take a month to heal just stopped healing at all.

Unicyling is a terrific exercise, and I was up to 15+ miles a week three years ago, and then wound up with achilles problems. I've always had achilles problems, to a degree, but this time, they never really went away.

So when I had a problem three weeks ago, I thought it was achilles tendinitis again. The pain was more intense, though, and seemed to go up to far toward the knee.

I dropped down to kicking laps in the pool. Got worse. Tried walking on the treadmill. Got worse. Tried yoga. Got worse.

Off to the orthopedist.

"I think you partially tore your plantaris," she asid.

That's when I got pissed off.

The plantaris muscle is a vestigial piece of crud that does nothing useful. It's sort of the muscle version of me. So I have been in terrific pain for several weeks and feel completely deconditioned because of a muscle that serves no purpose.

Good grief.

Side note: one of the things she prescribed was a prepared DMSO cream. This was a blast from the past, as DMSO (originally used by vets to treat inflammation in horses, altthough it's classically an industrial solvent) had its first big heyday around 1981, and I tried it then.

DMSO, particularly when mixed with an anti-inflammatory, has relatively amazing healing properties. Using it for inflammation back then was definitely an "off label" use--actually, there was no label, because it was mostly used by vets--but hey, Alberto Salazar was using it!

DMSO had two unique qualities. One, anything on your skin, or anything touching your skin, would immediately get absorbed into your skin via the DMSO. So if you put it on your  lower leg, for example, then put on jeans, the dye from the jeans could get absorbed in to your skin. That's how powerful it was.

The second property was that within seconds of rubbing it in, you could taste it in your mouth. It was a combination of garlic and oysters (yes, pretty nasty), and it was so strange to rub some cream on your leg and taste it almost immediately.

I'm skeptical that this (and a cortisone dose pack she put me on) will work, but hell, I'm desperate at this point. Last week I actually ordered Lurong, which is deer velvet anter.

Yeah. That's desperate.

I ordered it because Adam Greenberg (faced one pitch in the major leagues, it hit him in the head, and he had years of problems because of it) said it helped him, and now he set up a site to sell it, and I thought that if I was buying a bottle of placebo--but he made some money from it--then I was okay with that.

"How do they get that?" Gloria asked. "Do they kill the deer?"

"No," I said. "No deer are being killed. I have a neutral deer footprint." We sat there for a few seconds. "Now if they did kill the deer, but it really helped my achilles, I'd face a difficult decision. Maybe I could plant enough deer to make me deer neutral again."


So now my boss's system is working as he wants it to, more or less.

Jonathan Arnold e-mailed me yesterday and said, "Have you switched the video input?" Basic. That would be the first thing to do, all right, except there are no obvious controls on the monitor for anything except the power button. Because of that, I assumed there was some kind of auto-switching feature. I was wrong.

There are times when design is so clever that it actually obfuscates, and that's what happened here.  In the bottom-right corner of the monitor, where you would expect control buttons to be, there seems to be nothing there. However, if you run your finger along the edge, three little lights appear, and if you press them, you get a few basic monitor controls, including input switching.

I could have looked at that monitor for six months and never realized where those controls were, because when they're not lit up, they're invisible. And the documentation was so crappy that it was no help, either.

When design hides itself, it's confusing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


I know that there have been science-fiction visionaries (Jules Verne, Philip K. Dick) who have anticipated the future. Sometimes, though, instead of us seeing the future, the future sees us.

Take a look:
A number of people have already made gun parts using 3-D printers. And yes, the guns with these parts have successfully fired bullets. Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, is in the process of building a completely functional printed gun. “We hope to have this fully tested and put the files online in the next couple of months,” said Mr. Wilson, who runs a Web site called Defense Distributed.

He calls the gun the Wiki Weapon. In a video explaining the project’s goals, he describes the Wiki Weapon as the world’s first “3-D printable personal defense system.”

Aside: America has some great qualities, but we also have some staggering flaws. In particular, any time a new technology is invented, our number one priority seems to be finding ways to kill people with it.

Did anyone anticipate this? Could even Philip K. Dick, in the depths of his brilliant madness, foresee this? Could he have anticipated that 3-D printers might one day print houses? Could anyone?

This is one of the first times in my life that the future has totally outstripped my ability to imagine the future. Printing houses?

Back to printing guns. Our gun laws are pathetic, really, when it comes to being able to purchase guns, but there are some very strict laws regarding the manufacture of guns, enabling law enforcement to effectively trace and identify weapons.

Imagine this, though. Imagine a criminal printing a fully functioning gun made out of plastic. He uses it to commit a crime--let's say he murders someone--and as he's driving off, he turns on a microwave oven that he has in his Scooby Doo van and melts the gun. Then he pours out the melted plastic as he drives down the road.

No possible identification through ballistics. No way to trace the weapon, because the weapon isn't a weapon, it's just a molded form, then melted as if it never existed.

I love the idea of 3-D printers--they absolutely fascinate me--but this is a future I'm having a hard time embracing.


This is one of those wormhole stories, where you start at point "A" and wind up in Orion's belt.

My boss has a DISH satellite feed in his office, connected to a crappy old television via the DISH set-top box. He also has a crappy old standalone system that's about 10 years old.

For a couple of related reasons, he needed to save some space. I suggested he get an all-in-one system. No computer base, no need for the television, and he could get a great system for not much money.

I mean, that sounds simple, right? The DISH box has an HDMI-out, the all-in-one has an HDMI-in-- what could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, just about everything.

The all-in-one was supposed to come with a TV tuner, but it didn't. That really shouldn't matter, though, because all it was going to do was receive local HDTV broadcasts. For the variety of devices that could be connected via the HDMI-in port, it would do nothing, and all it's doing with the DISH signal is a straight passthrough.

The all-in-one isn't detecting a signal from the DISH box, though. Or it is, maybe, and it's just not displaying anything.

In the old days, the way you solved a problem was paging through the substantial owner's manual. Incredibly, today, there is no owner's manual. There was this tiny "quick start" guide (four pages), and while there are additional help documents, none of them are actually related to using the system. The "owner's manual" is 165 pages of describing how to remove and replace various components!

There's also a "Me and My Dell" link, which was created to cover a bunch of different systems and has zero useful information. So, for instance, if I'm trying to figure out what's going on with the HDMI-in port, I look up HDMI in this searchable guide and get this:
High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) transmit audio and video signals in a single digital interface. HDMI connects audio and video sources such as set-top boxes, DVD players, Blu-ray Disc players, computers, and video game consoles to compatible digital audio devices, such as computers, monitors, video projectors, and digital televisions. A HDMI cable is similar to a USB cable that slides into the connector of the source device.
That sounds easy, right?
That certainly answers none of my questions.

What's truly crazy is that this isn't a difficult support question, but Dell's documentation and support website are so poorly organized that they guarantee  I'll have to make a phone call and talk to someone, which is far more expensive  than having proper documentation available.

I've always been a big fan of Dell, because I worked there in the last 90s, and it was a great company, one of the best companies in the country at that time. Now, I don't even recognize them. It's like seeing an ex-wife who put on 200 pounds and married a meth dealer after you split up.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #24: In Which I Run Out Of Post Titles

I have to admit, it gets a little discouraging to see these post title numbers rise into the 20s.

Having said that, though, I got quite a bit done last week. For quite a while now, there have been two outstanding bugs, and I finally fixed them both.

The first bug involved visibility of the new drive stopper canvas on the first drive of the second half. If the CPU started the half with the ball, there were times when the drive stopper wouldn't show up on the first play. Rarely, it would be missing for the entire drive.

This didn't crash the game, and it always fixed itself, but it was still annoying. It wasn't working right, and anything not working right drives me crazy.

I've thought about this for at least two months, but in the middle of a highly stressful day last weekend, as I was driving somewhere, the answer came to me. There are two ways in a WPF application to set the visibility of a control ("control" includes any onscreen element, among other things): with the IsVisible property, and via Opacity.

Primarily, IsVisible is what gets used, because it turns visibility on and off. Opacity is more of an analog in terms of visibility, as the control gets more/less visible. However, at 0, the control is transparent.

There are a few cases where I needed a visual transition instead of an on/off switch, and in those special cases I used an animation involving the opacity property to "fade out" the drive stopper canvas. This animation has to be "reversed" at the end of a play; otherwise, the canvas would remain transparent going forward (the property would retain the setting at the end of the original animation). I have a clean-up sub at the end of every play that includes reversing that animation, but on the last play of the half, it wasn't running if there was a text event that ended the play (because a special halftime sub ran in its place).

So when the second half started, the drive stopper canvas was visible in terms of the IsVisible property, but it was transparent, making it not visible to the user (and again, this was inconsistent, because if there wasn't a text event on the last play, there was no problem).

Once I knew what was causing the problem, it was easy to fix.

The second bug involved an early reveal of the outcome of the coin flip that takes place at the start of Overtime. In certain cases, the user would see the play selection buttons (tipping the outcome of the coin toss) before the text event announcing the outcome was completed.

Again, this doesn't crash the game, but it's the kind of amateurish crap that drives me crazy because, well, I AM an amateur. I drive me crazy.

Once the drive stopper canvas bug was fixed, I realized that a text event occurring on the last play of regulation might be causing the overtime bug as well. Sure enough, it was, and once again, it was an easy fix once I knew what was causing the problem.

The beta feedback has consistently been both thorough and helpful.  It's identified problems I didn't even know existed (at certain resolutions with with multi-monitors, for example), identified certain areas that need better/more dynamic help, and there have been some excellent feature suggestions, some of which I'm implementing (not big features, but nice touches).  

This week I'm focusing on two things: adding more dynamic help, and taking a detailed look at the offseason mini-game. Both need improvements, and now that quite a few of the testers have either reached or are nearing the offseason, it's a good use of time to improve that area. Previously, I'd been almost completely focusing on in-game issues, but now there are very few of those remaining, and they're all minor (for now, anyway).

One nice thing about the beta is that it's clear that most of the testers are enjoying and appreciating the personality of the game. After working on it in virtual isolation for such a long time, that's a good feeling.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off, a fascinating article about the history of Gorilla Glass: Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is an astonishing image: eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Also, and while I never asked this question, it's still quite fascinating: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?. One more, and it's fantastic: Astronomy Photographer Of The Year Winners.

From Robb, and this has to be one of my favorite article titles ever: Kraft Pitches Newest Gum With Wig-Wearing Bald Eagles and Half-Naked Martial Arts. This is also one of my favorite quotes ever: "It's about teen entertainment and not just a simple piece of gum." Marketing is magnificent.

From Steve Davis, and this is an intriguing possibility: Did Deep Blue Beat Garry Kasparov By Accident?.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a blast from the past: Space Shuttle concept art. Also, and this is in the running for headline of the year, it's Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space. One more, and this is stunning: Hyper-matrix. Wait, so is this: Water Light Graffiti.

From Ted Coldwell, and this is some of the best card manipulation I've ever seen: Insane skill with a deck of cards.

From hippo, and this is remarkable: The Invisible Bicycle Helmet.

Jeff Pinard sent in a link to a magician who does amazing card magic in spite of not having any hands.

This is my favorite story of the week: Crow adopts Family.

Here's a fascinating story about a father who found a unique treatment for his daughter's medical condition: Gaming her brain: Mike Schiller's young daughter has a problem, and video games may be her best hope for recovery..

Thursday, October 04, 2012


From Game|Life:
The soccer game FIFA is one of Electronic Arts’ biggest franchises, especially outside the U.S. The latest iteration, FIFA 13, sold 4.5 million copies in its first 5 days; EA called it the biggest launch in the history of sports games.

It’s one of the last games that Electronic Arts is still releasing on Nintendo’s aging Wii hardware. But buyers of this year’s footy sim got a nasty surprise: EA didn’t bother developing a new version. On Wii, FIFA 13 is identical to last year’s FIFA 12.

Yes, the uniforms and players have been updated to match this year’s rosters, the website Nintendo Gamer reported. But otherwise, it’s a re-release of the same game with a new number on the box: The same gameplay modes, character models, graphics, menu screens, dialogue. And the same $50 price tag.

It doesn’t stop there: Other fans of the sport say that FIFA 13 on PlayStation Vita is essentially identical to FIFA Football, the game that Electronic Arts released six months prior, at the launch of the new Sony gaming handheld.

Yeah, that's heinous. But wait, there's a new soundtrack!

I've said this before, but when publishers do shit like this, is it any wonder that we don't feel guilty buying and selling used games? Why do they expect a good faith relationship to be a one-way street?

Wait, this might be even better (thanks to Eric B., who brought this to my attention). From PC Gamer:
Future Ubisoft games could offer in-game purchases after taking an initial $60 chomp of your wallet. GamesBeat says during an investor call, Ubisoft CFO Alain Martinez and Worldwide Online Director Stéphanie Perotti acknowledged the “flexibility” of free-to-play business models and the “opportunity” for full-priced games offering microtransactional items.

“Free-to-play is a very flexible business model,” Perotti said. “The player has the capability to spend more than in a traditional model. We can control everything from the pricing to marketing as if we were an online store.”

“With games like Watch Dogs, we could see more opportunity for $60 games to learn from the free-to-play model,” Martinez added. “The next generation will offer more and more item-based content. This will benefit our games’ profitability.”

Isn't that amazing? Hey, good luck on those $60 games with microtransactions, Ubisoft. It's going to go as well for you as that PC always-on DRM strategy. Titanic, Ho!

This is why I've stopped caring whether any of these companies survive. Their incompetence and greed has destroyed the traditional retail ecosystem. Not piracy. Not used games. This is not dinosaurs getting destroyed by an exogenous event. It's strip farming, followed by starvation when the soil is depleted.

Total Pro Golf 3 Released

Gary Gorski let me know that Total Pro Golf 3 has been released, and there's more information below:
Starting right now you can head to and get ready to tee off. Get over to our webstore and reserve your tee time right now! New Features of Total Pro Golf 3 Include : •Season Disk Add-ons (2012 season disk now available)
•New in game daily news module to keep you up to date of the latest happenings across all six in game tours
•New RPG style elements to the game give you extra items to purchase for your golfer
•Rebuilt UI to make the game more user friendly and easier to navigate
•Improved golfer AI making your opponents even more challenging
•In game achievements allow you to track your score over time to see if you can become the ultimate Total Pro Golfer
•All courses from TPG2 will be compatible with TPG3!

Total Pro Golf Challenge!
Starting right now the TPG Challenge is now open - TPG3 contains an in game achievement system. If you want to take part in the TPG Challenge all you need to do is start a new game of TPG3 and choose the "challenge mode" option when starting the career. If you can achieve 500 points or higher on the career achievement board then you will be able to send in your saved game and upon verification you will be able to win a FREE game of your choosing from Wolverine Studios. But you better get started today - the TPG Challenge will end on December 31, 2013.

Gary also sent this note:
We put out a newsletter this week with updates on everything and it has a 50% off coupon good on just about everything (even TPG3) that expires tomorrow...and I launched the beta of a new strategy game called Park Wars.

That newsletter is here, and Park Wars is a management sim:
As CEO you are tasked with overseeing everything for your company including the building of new theme parks, water parks, hotels and entertainment districts, managing those properties for profit, ordering research and development for attractions and of course keeping a close eye on the competition.

That's all happening over at Wolverine Studios

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


I've always been fascinated by self-glossers.

You probably work with one of these guys. At almost every moment of a typical day, he's glossing himself. He glosses himself for what he used to do. He glosses himself for what he's allegedly doing. He even glosses himself for what he's about to do.

That's right-- the glosser even self-glosses a plan.  He seeks congratulations for that which he has not yet done.

Over the years, I've met a few people of this species.  They live in an entirely different world than the rest of us do, and because of that, I find them interesting.

A variation: people who use their cars to self-gloss.  You know, the vanity plates that read "BAD AZZ" or "2KOOL". Seriously,  who in their right mind is so dependent on self-gloss that they have to have it on their license plate?

Sitting at a traffic light today, I saw something that I had to photograph:

You may have a tough time reading that, but I'll help you. It says "Vice President: Self-Made All Stars." There's also a giant Mortal Kombat sticker by the gas tank that puts everything completely over the top.
The best part about this is that this guy is only the vice-president. This means that there must be another guy driving around town who is the President of the Self-Made All Stars.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Yes, that product caption at the bottom is indeed "Protect yourself against embarrassing photos."

Eli 11.2 is now 4'11 3/4" tall. 75 lbs. 20/10 vision. Reaction time of a superhero.

Three stories. 

After 7:15 AM hockey on Saturday, plus Saturday night hockey, I was worn out from schlepping gear and tying skates and leg pads and whatever. Eli went up for his shower and I stayed downstairs, trying to remain perfectly still in the recliner. Usually, Gloria or I go up with him, just to do pre-bed preparation ourselves, but not this night.

"Go, Diego, Do" was on television. If  you don't know anything about the show, the rest of this story will make no sense.

Eli came back downstairs.

"I was going to come up," I said, " but this little boy can talk to animals end he apparently needs my help on some kind of project. I have to say things occasionally to help him along."

Eli starts laughing. "Dad, seriously," he said. "That's Diego."

"There's also a girl he's friends with named Dora, and I think she needs help, too. So I may be here a while."

Eli was mostly asleep on the way to hockey Saturday morning. We leave at 6:20 for McDonald's, which is insane, and while he normally is ready to go, this morning he was out of gas.

Action required.

I turned up the radio and found the most annoying station I could. "Hey," I said to the sleeping figure in the backseat. "Listen to this." He opened his eyes. Barely.

"It's called 'Funky Town'. It was a big hit, back in the day." I started singing along.

I never sing.

Then I started dancing in the driver's seat. See my previous comment about singing, which also applies to dancing.

Eli started laughing. "Do I need to call 911?" he asked. "Are you having some kind of seizure?"

He woke up. Mission accomplished.

Before Tuesday hockey, we eat at a Freddy's near the rink.  We have about an hour, so we eat and then play paper football (if his homework is already done).

Last Tuesday, I was behind 33 to 7.

"Thus begins the greatest comeback in paper football history," I said. "People will speak of this day for many years."

"Because I'm going to beat you by 70 points," Eli said, laughing.

Slowly, the tide began to turn.  I got closer and closer, finally went ahead,and hung on to win 73-67.

Four days later, we were back at Freddy's before a Saturday night scrimmage. "Hey, did you know that this place has a landmark flag on Google Maps?" I asked.

"What's that?" he ased.

"Historically significant locations have that flag," I said.

"Why is this place historically significant?" he asked.

"Because it was the site of the GREATEST COMEBACK in paper football history," I said.

"Oh, no," he said, laughing. "Help me."

We were going back to the Cedar Park Center on Saturday night for an 8:45-10:15 scrimmage that was a friend's birthday party.  What made it interesting, though, was that every kid who was playing was either on a travel team or development team. High-level.

As I was helping him get dressed out, we talked.

"I know this is just a birthday party," I said, " but when you're in the NHL someday, and these kids all come to see you play, they're going to say 'I knew he was different from the rest of us the night we had that birthday party.' "

Eli started laughing. "That's what they're going to say?"

"Pretty sure," I said. "I mean, it's the future and everything, but I'm pretty sure."

"I better go out there and play lights out, then," he said, putting on his glove and blocker.

"That's right," I said. "Don't screw with the future."

He gave up 6 goals in 90 minutes, 2 on penalty shots that were given instead of making kids sit in the box for a 2-minute minor. He had 50 saves, at least, and stopped 80% of the clean breakways. There were more highlight reel saves than I could even count.

It sounds crazy, but he is different. He looks like a grown-up in a child's body playing goalie.

On Sunday, he was the demonstration goalie for a regional coach's clinic. They had a few short scrimmages at the of the training session, and he made some quality saves against the coaches. He came off the ice with a big smile on his face.

"What's really funny is that they could have shot harder, and you still would have stoned them," I said.

He grinned. "I know that, but they don't," he said.

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