Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Link!

From Steven Davis, and this is a spectacular invention that could make people in dangerous areas much safer: Massoud Hassani's Mine Kafon/. Plus, it's an incredibly elegant invention as well. Also, and this is just insane: A 170-Foot Trampoline Installed in a Russian Forest.

From Jeremy Fischer, and I always wondered how they did this: High Speed Video of Flipping Cats.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is incredibly clever: 3D Printed LEGO Block Blended into a Chipped Step. Also, a spectacular, 15th century fort: Mehrangarh Fort.

From Sirius, and this is amazing: Implant Lets Blind Eyes “See” Braille. Also, and this is amazing as well: Growing food in the desert: a solution to the world’s food crisis?

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this time, it's The ABCs of AAA.

From C. Lee, and this is wonderfully cool: Al Jarnow's Cosmic Clock.

From Craig Miller, an utterly fascinating article on Albert Speer that fits well into our recent discussion of humanity: The Architecture of Evil.

From Jonathan Arnold,  and these are intricately beautiful: These Tiny Dioramas Have Seen Some Big Disasters. Also, and this, hands-down, the most interesting link this week, a story about online Munchausen Syndrome: The Lying Disease: Why Would Someone Want to Fake a Serious Illness on the Internet?.

From Darrel Raines, and this is tremendously interesting: The Untold Story Behind Kickstarter Stats.

From Lael, and this is apparently the new David Blaine of street magicians: Yif Magic.

From Matthew Anderson, and North Korea is just so damned entertaining sometimes: People’s Daily Quotes the Onion: Kim Jong Eun ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.

Badass alert. Donny plumley sent in this link: Grandma in Russia kills wolf with bare hands and axe.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is quite incredible: Niels Bohr had the best utilities company in the World… probably.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Surviving Shreveport: An Anthropological Analysis

The post title is far more academic sounding than this post, really.

I did think, however, that this year I might approach Shreveport as a cultural anthropologist, a 51-year-old male, broken-down verion of Margaret Mead, studying Shreveport instead of Samoa.

Please note that I don't mean Shreveport as it appears on a map. I mean the intricate, densely layered version of Shreveport that exists for us when we visit Gloria's family. It's a compressive, suffocating environment, full of internal logic that breaks down the moment anyone exits the diving bell.

What I discovered, using this approach, was quite surprising: having the least personally damaging time in Shreveport relies upon techniques and rules that are also used to survive assassination attempts.

Four, in particular:
1. Vary your routine.
2. Never stay in one place for very long.
3. Remain as inconspicuous as possible.
4. Check your car frequently

As unlikely as it might seem, it all checks out. One, doing the same thing every day (going to "the house" and sitting in the living room for hours) is a 50-kiloton nuclear payload delivered to your emotional well-being. That's why, at all costs, it must be avoided.

Doing anything for very long, in fact, must be avoided. And stationary activities must be avoided as well. Be moving at all times, if possible. Go, go, go!

Remaining inconspicuous? That goes without saying and needs no explanation.

#4, checking your car frequently, was added during this last trip after three dashboard lights flashed unexpectedly. It was at that moment I realized that if the car was broken, we couldn't get out. Our stay might be extended.

If you're avoiding an assassination attempt, you check your car frequently for bombs. An extended stay in Shreveport can cause roughly the same damage.

I'm writing about this today because, over the years, you've sent me some incredibly stories about your own families and holiday trips (and please, keep sending them). I'm only hoping that the set of guidelines I've developed might be of some use to you this desperate holiday season.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shirtless And Future You

Sometimes when it's cold outside, Eli 11.3 changes into his Under Armour in the warm car instead of the cold rink. We were in the parking lot of the rink yesterday, and Eli was changing. He still looks like a human Q-Tip, even though he can do 40+ pushups.

"There's a shirtless boy in the car," he said. "Look out, ladies, too much heat!"

I couldn't stop laughing.

"Dad, I was just kidding!" he said, laughing.

"I know," I said. "That's why it's so funny. That is A+ material, my friend."

That's the funniest thing he's ever said. If he's not a hockey player or a magician when he grows up, maybe he can be a comedian.

After practice, on the way home, he was talking about the teams in their upcoming tournament. In particular, two teams that played at the AA level in the last tournament, but were dropping down to play at A level. These are serious, serious teams, with high-level skaters and three full lines, plus solid goaltending. Eli's team has two lines--barely--and they don't skate nearly as well. Plus, they get less ice time as a team than anyone they're going to play.

"I can't believe those teams are playing in our division," he said. "We are going to get killed."

"That would be okay," I said.

"What?" he said. "What does that mean?"

"Well, if you have a 50-shot game, you'll have 45 saves."

"What if I only have 40?" he asked. "I might give up 10 goals."

"That would be okay, too," I said.

"WHAT?" he said.

"This is hard, but I think I can explain it," I said. "There is more than one you. There's Now You, and there's Future You. Everything you are now will be in Future You, but that won't be enough to get you to the special places you want to go. You have to grow, and I don't mean physically. So there will be games where you face 60 shots and your team is hopelessly outmatched, and those games will be a test. They will test whether you can keep your composure, whether you can continue to see every shot clearly, whether you can lead your team when everyone else--even the coaches--have given up. Those are the games that make you grow--no, that's not right. Those are the games where you grow because you believe in the beautiful battle. Those are some of the moments that will help turn you into Future You. You're already strong, but those moments will make you stronger."

We were quiet for a few seconds.

"Most kids could never handle that kind of game," I said. "They would get frustrated, and mad. They would start battling what had already happened, not what was right in front of them. It would make them weaker, not stronger. Some of them would just quit."

"I've seen that," he said.

"I know," I said. "but you're different. You've always been different. Most kids can't see ten minutes into the future. You see ten years into the future. I respect that very much."

"Thanks, Dad," he said.

"One of these days," I said, "you'll face 45 shots--or 50--and give up only 1 or 2 goals, and your team will win. And that will be one of the greatest feelings you will ever have."

He was quiet for a few seconds.

"Does that all make sense?" I asked.

"It does," he said. "I know I can handle it, Dad."

I know he can, too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wii U

"Wii U is essentially sold out of retail and we are doing our best to continually replenish stock," Fils-Aime said. "Retailers are also doing their best to get the product to store shelves. But as soon as product hits retail, they're selling out immediately."

"Hi, Dad!" Eli 11.3 is calling me from ToysRUs, where he's gone with his mom to get a toy for his niece's birthday party.

"What's up, buddy?"

"Did you say you wanted a Wii U?"

"I did," I said. "I checked at Target yesterday, but they were sold out."

"They have them here," he said.

"Really?" I asked. "The black one?"

"Yes," he said. "They have big stacks of them. Want one?"

"Sure," I said. "Take it out of my allowance."

I didn't actually say that allowance line, but I should have.

And with that, my son became a bad influence on me, instead of the other way around.

I hooked up the Wii U the next morning. Every time I hit a button, it seemed, there was a 10 second delay before the next screen finished loading. It was annoying.

After I successfully set up the wireless connection, the system told me it needed to download a patch.

It took 40 minutes.

Well, at least that's done, I thought. Eli came home and we put in Ninendo Land, the pack-in game that comes with the 32GB unit.

Another patch.

This one took 12 minutes to download and install.


This is unfortunate, because the console has some unique ideas behind it, and once we were actually able to play a game, the experience improved significantly. Sure, the controller is pretty damn big, but it's also comfortable to hold, and having information displayed on its screen is far more interesting than it sounds when you're just reading about it. Actually, having different information on the controller screen than the t.v. screen is downright fascinating at times, because it's an entirely unique way to experience a game (Dreamcast controller experience notwithstanding, although it was very primitive compared to this).

Nintendo Land, while it in no way compares to Wii Sports, is a typical Nintendo experience (I mean that in a good way) in that it has many layers. Nintendo has a wonderful quality of making games like onions, where you can peel away layer after layer if you choose. Nintendo Land is like that, and it's a good demonstration of what makes the controller unique.

I now clearly understand now how interesting it would be to have all the status information of an RPG, for example, displayed on the controller screen, with the game world on the television. There's  a logical display separation for all kinds of games, when you think about it. More immersion. Less clutter. That's not revolutionary, but it's certainly an incremental improvement.

In a commercial sense, though, I don't think it's going to work.

When we played Wii Sports for the first time, it was exciting. We were moving all over the place, laughing, and it was just tremendously fun. Maybe it wasn't as much fun if you weren't playing with a kid, but 90% of the time I spent playing the Wii was with Eli, and it was great. We played Wii Sports every single day for at least three months.

It was appointment gaming.

Wii U? We played it two days in a row, then Eli didn't even mention it yesterday. It's pleasant, not exciting. Actually, it's very pleasant. Relaxing, even.

That's a very different feeling.

To me, this is a very quirky system that is very difficult to explain to consumers. The Wii was incredibly simple to explain--it only took two words, really. Move. Play.

Wii U? Um, I have no idea. Unique giant controller with its own display screen that can display different data than what's on your television? See the problem here?

I do think there will be a handful of spectacular, unique games on this system, and those games will be permanently treasured. I would be shocked, though, if this system goes big. It's not going to do Wii numbers. It will be closer to the GameCube sales numbers than the Wii.

I was happy to buy one, happy to support Nintendo, but it was a loyalty buy. That's not the kind of purchase decision that drives huge success.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #31: Changes

In spite of Shreveport last week (more later), I managed to get a bit done during the holiday.

Most notably, the league creation screen has been redesigned to be more intuitive (and hopefully less annoying). Here's what the new layout looks like:

Note the new pencil icon, which takes you to the edit screen. Plus the team ratings have returned (for this screen only), but they're letter grades instead of specific numerical rankings.

It's been very difficult for me to have the discipline to redo this screen. It's only rarely going to be seen, and it did work, even though it was a bit clunky. But I keep reminding myself that every screen of a game makes an impression--it's part of the brand, so to speak--and if I want the game to be well-received, I have to be willing to work on everything, even the smallest detail, so that it fits with everything else.

Even now, I'm questioning whether it would look better to have the pencils for the Eastern division teams on the on the right edge of the ratings because of the improvement in symmetry. But I also think it would be a little bit less intuitive, which makes it an unacceptable trade-off.

When you click on a team name now, you get a confirmation screen warning you that you can't edit teams after a league is started. If you confirm, then your league begins.

There's also been one addition to the Team Hub, which is a newspaper icon besides the user's games that take you to a game summary for that game. Here's what that looks like:

This isn't actually hooked up yet, in terms of code, which is why you see a newspaper icon beside the last game of the season (which hasn't even been played yet). Right now, only the layout is done, but I will be putting in the code today and tomorrow.

After thinking the first beta was going to kill me, my work list has finally become manageable again, to the point that I can start doing things like adding small features. In another 2-3 weeks, I think I'll have worked through almost all of the current list, so the next beta round will probably begin in late December/early January.

My biggest concern right now is adding vitality to the league itself. I originally thought that just having a team history screen was cool as hell, and there are neat looking banners for your team each year, but there's not much else, really. So now I have a concept of a "storybook" for each season, where you could flip through a page in the book for each game of the season. All the data for individual games is saved--or most of it, anyway, and it would be straightforward to add everything else--but again, is it worth taking the development time to add a feature that most people would never even use? So those are the kinds of time/reward questions I'm trying to answer now.


A reader who may or may not wish to be anonymous sent in this link:
"Avoid A Claim" Blog.

Very handy, since it posts all kinds of confirmed frauds. The e-mail I received is a simple variation of a confirmed scam. Into the deleted folder it goes.


Here's an e-mail I just received:

We have a breach of intellectual property agreement matter, please contact us if you are can.
Hiroaki Iwasaki
Iwasaki Publishing Co., Ltd. 1-9-2 Suido Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo Japan 112-0005
Telephone: [I removed this, althoughi t's probably easily available online]

Well, that's downright baffling, and I would immediately say it's spam, but this fellow does actually exist, and the details of his publishing company are correct. However, if you're going to e-mail someone as a representative of your company, would you use a Gmail address? Really?  And even a non-native speaker, would, I assume, be able to construct a better phrase than "please contact us if you are can".  

Oh, and the character at the begining of the e-mail--that's probably an English representation of a Japanese character or something, so I have no idea about that, either.

So should I play along here? It's not like I'm clicking on a link or being asked to send money. Yet.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Links!

From Griffin Cheng, and this is fascinating: 'Rogue planet' spotted 100 light-years away. Also, and this is a must for film buffs, it's Terminator 2’s T-1000 Wasn’t All Computer Graphics .

If you like Louis C.K. (and even if you don't), this is one of the funniest bits he's ever done, and a great satire of his own show: Abe Lincoln.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is incredible: voxeljet builds Aston Martin models for James Bond film Skyfall. That's right--3D printing. This next story is bizarre (and I wonder if it can ever be confirmed): Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain'. One more, and it's stunning: The Belfast Peace Walls.

From Steven Davis, and this is fantastic: Robotic puppetry at its finest: the animatronic creations of Gustav Hoegen.

From Yacine Salmi, and this is a terrific idea: Teaching for Tomorrow: Flipped Learning.

From Francis Cermak, and there are a ton of new disclosures in this story: Revolution: The story of Wii.

From Robb, and this is quite amazing: Truly hairy mid-life crises: chimps and orangs get them too.

Ever wanted to see a human Rube Goldberg machine? Now's your chance: The Athlete Machine - Red Bull Kluge.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Here's what we did last night:

That's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle, all playing on the same line for the Oklahoma City Barons. With the NHL lockout continuing, Edmonton sent down their "kid line" (they're 19, 21, and 22, respectively) to get some work in the high minors.

They got some work in, all right. They had a collective 7 points on 8 shots during the game, and it was unbelievable to see them on the power play together.

The Barons won, 6-4, and it was easily the most exciting regular season Stars game we've ever attended. We also saw at least a dozen kids from the hockey program, which was a nice bonus.

One of Eli's friends has a dad who is just unbelievable at obtaining autographs. I always kid him that if he had been at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he would have a flag with the signatures of everyone who signed the document. He does it in an entirely genial way, though, because he is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He just knows all about the players and their history, because he's basically a hockey encyclopedia.

We were talking to them before the game and he told Eli to walk up to the top row and ask an older gentlemen (about my age, really) if he was Don Maloney. Maloney played for the Rangers, had an excellent career as a player, and had also been General Manager of the Islanders as well as the current GM of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Eli walked up and had a brief conversation, then came back down and confirmed that it was, indeed, Don Maloney, who was in town to scout. Eli asked me if he could go back up and ask him to sign his jersey. "Be very polite," I said.

He came back all smiles. "I said 'Mr. Maloney, I'm sorry to interrupt your reading again, but would you please sign my jersey?' and he said, 'Sure, kid'." Mr. Maloney then asked him if he went to many games, and when Eli told him that he didn't because he played hockey himself, Maloney asked him what position. When he said goalie, Mr. Maloney said, "I should scout you!" and started laughing.

"If you had remembered, you could have said 'I had a .917 save percentage in my last tournament'," I said.

"Dang it!" Why didn't I think to do that!" he said.

So Don Maloney, like almost all hockey people, was incredibly gracious with his time, and it's not something that Eli will ever forget.

That .917 save percentage reference was a sneaky way to segue to his tournament in Dallas two weeks ago.

I would have written about it sooner, but it was remarkable in the sense that it was almost entirely unremarkable. He played two games in goal and was very strong in both, although he lost both games. In the first, he had 22 saves on 24 shots, and in the second, he had 31 saves on 34 shots.

A .900 save percentage is a general goal standard for a goalie, no matter his or her age. Eli's save percentage for the tournament was .917. In the NHL or the AHL, that would put you in the top half of the league.

What's particularly difficult for a young goalie is consistency. That's what's changed about Eli this season. He's just very, very quick and very technically correct, and he's almost never in a weak position on the ice. So he followed up those two games in the tournament with a house game (Bantam/Pee Wee mixed) where he had 24 saves on 25 shots, and the lone goal was on a deflection.

I talked to him on the way home from the game last night.

"So you watched both of those goalies," I said. "What do they do in a technical sense that you don't do?"

"Well," he said, "they're stronger and faster."

"Sure, because they're older," I said. "But I mean technically."

He thought for a little while.

"I don't want to sound braggy," he said, "but I don't think they do anything that I don't do."

"That's right," I said. "Think about that for a minute. It sounds impossible, but it's true: professional goalies aren't doing anything technically that you're not already doing. That's how good your training has been. And you play higher and more aggressively than either one of them."

"It's crazy, isn't it?" he said, laughing.

"I know," I said. "It does sound crazy. But it's true."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


This kind of shit drives me crazy.

Last week, University of Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker quit the football team, and wrote a scathing public letter to accompany his exit. If you want to read the letter, it's here, but here are a few excerpts of what he was called by the coaches (allegedly) at various times:
--You don't know what "fucked up things happened to me to screw me up so much as a person"?
--Last spring before the spring game I was called a faggot for my spiritual views by Coach Reeves where other players on the team heard him say it.

Stay classy, coaches.

There is also the allegation that trainers withheld injury information from Barker, which resulted in him going outside the team to get another opinion on what turned out to be a high ankle sprain.

Is all of what he wrote in the letter true? I don't know. That's not what I'm going to talk about, though.

After the post on Deadspin, there were reader comments. Here's where I go thermonuclear:
All of this whinging about manipulation. Yes. You are being manipulated. The coach wants to break you down/pull you off of your high horse and build you back up in the mold of someone who knows how to be a team player.

That's a very comprehensive explanation of the Bobby Knight/Woody Hayes/Great Santini school of coaching. It's very "we had to destroy the village to save it" (yes, I know, that wasn't the orginal quote, but it illustrates the point very well). In the U.S., in particular, it's a very common attitutde in regards to coaching and "making men".

The problem, of course, is that's it's complete bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

Coaches don't destroy players to "make them into men". There are many ways to turn boys into men, ways that involve respect of the individual and basic human dignity. No one would even dispute that.

So here's the question: when there are so many ways available, why would a coach go the destruction route? What does it get the coach that other approaches won't?

It's an easy answer, once you think about it: dependence.

Coaches destroy players to take away their self-esteem, which makes them dependent on the coach. This breeds dependence, not strength, but it furthers the goals of the coach.

Humilating players just makes them believe that it's acceptable to be humiliated by someone in a position of authority. Does that sound healthy? Does that sound like a recipe for a mature, well-adjusted adult?

Fortunately, there are plenty of coaches out there who aren't assholes, far more than when I was a kid. Eli 11.3, in particular, has had some terrific hockey coaches. And no one ever had to yell at him or humiliate him to make him a team player. Nobody had to "break him down". His best coach played minor league hockey at a very high level, was as tough as anyone on the planet, and treated all his players with respect. Eli would have skated through a brick wall for him.

Funny how well that works.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ghosts Of Mississippi (the last part)

Here's the last of the follow-up posts from Ghosts of Mississippi.

First, from Logan:
I remember learning about the Holocaust in Jr. High. At the time I understood what I was learning, about WW2, Nazis, and the Holocaust. It wasn't until I was 18 and my parents gave me enough money to go to Germany to see my brother that it became real for me . During my stay I took a day trip and was out exploring Munich. I was having a great time driving around the city and visiting some of the Museums and the BMW HQ. After a period of deliberation, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and looked up the nearest museum. I thought I was going to a Museum. :

When I arrived at the address I'd looked up, I was parked at the gates of Dachau concentration camp. When you go inside the camp, you go through the intake buildings. The tour is self guided, but you go through the camp as if you are a new arrival. It wasn't anymore graphic than anything I'd seen, but being there, knowing that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of doomed souls walked through that building to their deaths really hit me. I learned Jews weren't the only people there: homosexuals, gypsies, even German nationals who were dissidents were there. Eventually you are inside the camp yard and lots of the buildings are still standing. Guard towers, barracks, storage buildings etc. Then you reach the gas chambers. :

At this point, there are a few guides and you go into the chambers. You pass the crematoriums, and walk into the actual chambers. Then they lock the doors on you. I was pale faced by this point, when they slammed the door behind me and I heard the locks engage I started to tear up. Then the nice guide who was speaking to us gets to the end of his speech, and rolls up his sleeve. I was trying not to choke up and cry but tears were streaming down my face as I saw his tattoo. He spoke about how he wasn't angry and had forgiven everyone who had imprisoned him there. He just wanted everyone in the world to know that everything he said was true and he'd seen it with his own eyes.:

When I left that day, I saw the sculpture that had been placed in front for the second time that day, it was just a piece of abstract art when I walked by it going in. When I left it was truly something different, it was an embodiment of the pain and evil of what had happened there. I suggest you look it up, it's the most powerful piece of art I've ever seen.:

If I had been any younger, I don't know if I would have appreciated what that meant to me. If I hadn't learned about it earlier, I wouldn't have been able to comprehend it. I don't think telling Eli about the depths of evil is in any way bad for him, but I think only with age can you truly appreciate the magnitude and weight of these ideas. I trust your judgment on Eli, and showing him images of the civil rights moments seems age appropriate. Savage struggle, unimpeded hate, and prejudiced beliefs. These are a part of life and he should know, but I think the Holocaust as a concept is o.k. for now. I just think you should give him a few more years to mature and grow and see more of life before you let him really see what people are capable of. The only decision you could make that I would disagree with is never letting him know that the brightest parts of our world and culture contrast with the depths of the darkness that is and was.

Thanks to Logan for the powerful and deeply moving story. It's so powerful that my words seem wholly inadequate.

This last e-mail is from Eduardo Gabrieloff, who has e-mailed for years and who I deeply respect as a concise and intelligent thinker. His viewpoint differs from mine, but that doesn't matter a bit. What matters is that his writing is fierce and deeply passionate:
I felt like I needed to write in with, perhaps, a new perspective. I feel like this is a topic lots of people will say similar things about, so I was holding off. But, evil.

It's such an easy thing to say, to use to label others. It's great for fiction, great even for explaining parts of history that are abyssal. How better to explain the Nazis and the Holocaust than evil?

Well, I think it's too easy. People in Germany, Hitler and the Nazis included, were not acting out of a sense of being evil. They were acting in, what they thought, was their own self-interest. For the Nazis, antisemitism was a way to mobilize a base of people to support a political party and philosophy, but it was not a way to enact a program of evil. Hitler did not wring his hands and cackle at the idea of exterminating Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals and communists and the mentally disabled. He was going to perfect the world, wipe out what he considered evil and let humanity have a clean slate to rebuild from after the devastation of WWI and the depression.

And he didn't enlist a cadre of evil henchmen, necessarily, to enact his programs: he enlisted regular people. Good people. People who worked hard to provide for their families, to shelter and protect them. And those regular people committed some of the worst atrocities imaginable. The scope of these atrocities are unfathomable. We cannot understand what it would be like to do what Nazis at the prison did, nor can we imagine what it would be like to be a victim of these atrocities.

Anne Frank is an interesting example. She represents a rarity in terms of Holocaust victims: she survived for just over six months after being sent to camp. For most, estimated at 3/4 of arrivals at Auschwitz, life at the camp lasted maybe an hour before the gas chamber killed them. The average Holocaust experience consisted of a brutal life for months, maybe years, in a ghetto, a horrible ride in the cattle cars, and then death almost immediately upon arriving at the camp. The Nazis were incredibly efficient at killing and processing bodies. If you can stomach it (I hardly can), you can call it rendering bodies. Auschwitz was killing about 12,000 people a day at its height.

And the guards at these camps... who were they? As Germany was conscripting soldiers, it was random, you could say. It wasn't the most evil Germans. It was the Germans who were assigned to work the camps. Even though the Nuremberg trials scoffed at the idea, these were people who were following orders.

To me, that is the main thing I want to teach my son, whenever the time comes. Normal people can commit amazing acts of kindness AND malignancy. When we think of the Holocaust and say "never again," it should be a personal call to action, a decision that one will always question what is happening around you and be willing to speak out against it, even if it means being ostracized. But it won't mean, really, that a thing like that WILL never happen again because, while there has never been anything to the scale of efficiency of the Holocaust before or since, there has been genocide. There IS genocide. And we, in ways, let it happen because we don't have the power to stop it. All we can do is try to stop it. And if we're organized and loud enough, we can.

But bad things happen and will continue to happen.

Yeah, I'm repeating myself. But all I want to see from my son is that he will try as hard as he can to not be part of killing or violence unless it's in self-defense. But even now, you and I and everyone who pays taxes is aiding in the killing of women, children and other innocent people in Pakistan. What can we do to stop the drone strikes that are, basically, atrocities? I have no idea, and I have no idea what I'll teach my son.

And while people were celebrating Tuesday night, perhaps rightly, as Obama and his family walked on stage, I saw Obama as a parent, something I hadn't thought about since 2008. He and Michelle, with help, are raising two girls. And at some point, I wonder if either of his girls ask him why it is ok to kill people. I know he has an answer, or else he wouldn't be able to handle being president, but I would love to hear what that would be.

I believe what Eduardo is describing--borrowing from Hannah Arendt--is the banality of evil. And if you're wondering why I didn't edit the last paragraph (because I try so hard to stay out of political comment), it's because it's a philosophical question as well as a political one--the question of the acceptability of violence in any context and what it means about us.

I can't thank you guys enough for the wonderful, thoughtful e-mail you sent in on this topic. It's probably the best e-mail I've ever received in all the years I've been writing the blog (which started in the 1950s, seemingly).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #30

DQ is live today from the snack bar at the Sci-Port children's science museum in Shreveport.

Oh, the humanity.

So after the redesign of the league creation screen, my most prolific beta tester in wave one had an interesting observation: seeing the rankings for each rating, when you first start up the game, is a bit overwhelming. I had done it this way so that I was consistent across all screens that showed team strength, but he was right. The whole point of that screen--and what I thought I had done with the redesign--was to enable the player to pick out a team with the appropriate strength and style for how they wanted to play. And to do that, rankings weren't absolutely necessary.

Some indication of strength, though, was necessary. Something inexact. The same beta tester suggested letter grades, and that makes sense. It's information, but A-D letter grades are less exact than a 1-10 point scale. It only took about an hour to put in, and it's just easier to grasp.

Everywhere else, rankings are used, but the letter grades make it easier to find the team that you want.

Also, I was struggling with the league creation screen because it has a counter-inutitive layout for editing (sorry, no screenshot because I'm in hell, but I think there was one in last week's post). Basically, the team names are buttons, and when you click on a team name, it takes you to the edit screen.

That's fine, but most people seem to expect the button to function as a team selector, not as a "go to edit" function.

I've been screwing around with this for months, trying to get it just right, because I'm only willing to lay it out one more time. I polled for ideas, and DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Rempel made the perfect suggestion: a little button with a pencil icon, next to each team's name.

I'd been thinking of putting in edit buttons, but the pencil icon ties everything together so neatly. No explanation is necessary, because the pencil is a universal icon for edit. That's just what I wanted. Fredrik has created the image, and it will be in by the end of the week.

Also, while we were driving out here, I worked on a second headline feature, this one following the offseason mini-game. With a second broadcast now in the game, I wanted a second headline as well, one that would evaluate how the player did in the offseason mini-game. So now, once the card outcomes are revealed, a sub runs that evaluates how the team changed and puts up a headline evaluating the player as GM. It's not a big deal, but it's just another way to add flavor.

Eli 11.3 and his friend Jacob played through a full game last night, and just like last year, it was incredibly fun to watch them play. They went ahead 17 in the fourth quarter, gave up a late touchdown, then recovered the onside kick with about 2 minutes left and started celebrating. Now Jacob has a USB key with the game on it, and hopefully he'll keep playing.

There are other things I'm working on this week, but I'm too tired to remember them right now, and I don't have my design notebook with me, so that's it for today.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this video will blow your mind, it's A Levitating Barbecue. Next, some spectacular papercut art: Peter Callesen. One more, and it's a photoblog: of a bench. Next, an incredibly entertaining compilation video: Best of Web 3 - HD - Zapatou. This next link is a beautiful, evocative series of photographs: Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song.

From hippo, and this is fascinating: Why does coffee never taste as good as it smells? Also, and start saving those pennies now, it's Economists calculate the cost of building a Death Star.

Michael O'Reilly, and if this fanciful video actually depicted an Olympic sport, I think Eli 11.3 would be a lock: unicycle hockey.

From Steven Davis, and these are the most amazing parade floats I've ever seen: Towering Sculptures Made of Flowers on Display at Bloemencorso, A Flower Parade in Zundert, Netherlands. Also, a poignant story about the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, written by one of running's great ambassadors, Kenny Moore: OLYMPIC TRAGEDY: MUNICH 1972.

From Dave Tyrrell, and this is a compelling new theory: What destroyed the Maya? We have a new clue, in the form of an ancient stalagmite.

This link provided more "OOOOH!" moments for Eli 11.3 and I than you would even believe: The Definitive “Russians Are Terrible Drivers” Lowlight Reel.

From Robb, and this is fascinating: The Science of Knots Unraveled.

From Wallace, and the phrase "ancient marshmallow yams of sorrow" is an instant classic: Pondering What to Bring for Thanksgiving? Use This Chart.

From DQ Quite A Few Things Advisor John Harwood, and t-shirts are definitely needed: Describing Saturn 5 in Simple English Is Difficult But Hilarious.

From Donny Plumley, and this video is a must-see: Parkour 1930.

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is fascinating: How Many Photos Have Been Taken?.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


This has been a long time in coming:
Hong Kong, November 09, 2012 -- Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the issuer and long-term senior unsecured bond ratings of Sony Corporation to Baa3 from Baa2.

At the same time, Moody's has downgraded the short-term ratings of Sony and its supported subsidiary, Sony Global Treasury Services Plc., to Prime-3 from Prime-2.

The ratings outlook is negative...

Operating losses in its TV business -- which accounted for 11% of non-financial services revenue in 1H2012 -- are likely to continue pressuring overall earnings. The company expects an operating loss of JPY80 billion in FYE03/2013 and then break-even in FYE03/2014. The level of operating losses dropped in 1H2012 on a year-over-year basis, due largely to cost reductions. Sony has mentioned that such reductions have exceeded its target.

However, expected weak sales in 2H2012 and 2013, as well as continued fierce competition, are likely to make it challenging for Sony to reduce -- according to targets -- the operating loss in TVs. In particular, we expect large losses in TVs to continue in FYE03/2014, although the level of these losses will decline to some extent from that in FYE03/2013 due to cost cutting measures.

At the same time, operating profit from Sony's digital imaging products and games businesses declined about 60% in 1H2012 on a year-over-year basis. The earnings from these products are now expected to decline more rapidly than expected as the growing use of smartphones increasingly cannibalizes the market for compact digital cameras and portable game consoles.

These segments accounted for 16% of non-financial services revenue in 1H2012 and have helped to a large extent offset the large operating losses in TVs.

Baa3 is the lowest investment grade level for a bond rating. Below that, it's considered a junk bond. Junk bonds can't be purchased by banks, generally, because they're considered far more speculative than investment grade. As a bond issuer, the lower your bond rating, the higher the interest rate you must offer to attract investors.

That gets expensive.

Sony's in big trouble. They're not alone--so is Sharp and Panasonic--but Sony is the most suprising, given their place in the history of consumer electronics, and their position as apex predator only a decade ago.

Jake Adelstein, who you may remember as the author of Tokyo Vice, a fascinating look at the Yakuza in Japan, recently published an article about Sony's decline titled The Ghosts of Sony, co-authored by Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky. This aticle appears to have originally been written in Japanese, then translated to English, so you may notice an occasional bit of awkwardness, but it's an excellent read.

Three main themes emerge from the article. One is this comment from the owners of a "mom and pop" electronics store in Tokyo:
There are Sony emblazoned product stands, in capital letters saying Sony, and placards in the store—but they are now for hanging up cords or other products that don’t include the Sony brand. “We do not have Sony products in our shop anymore,” say the owner apologetically.

“Many electronics shops in town do not sell Sony nowadays because Sony itself has pretty much stopped placing products in tiny retail shops like ours.”

The second theme is identification of the villain: Nobuyuki Idei, who was CEO from 1999-2005. Why is he considered the villain? Details (from a Sony mid-level manager):
“Idei decided to streamline the company and do massive restructuring. When we say, ‘restructure’ in Japanese—we really mean get rid of people. He put together an early retirement plan and strongly encouraged people to use it. Well, that didn’t generate a lot of good feelings. When a company starts promoting early retirement, most people take that as a sign to get out while they still can. And many did. Maybe the idea was that by getting rid of the middle aged and older employees they’d encourage innovation and bring in some young blood. The effect was more like shooting yourself in the foot.”

Instead of fostering innovation, this wound up (ironically) crippling it, because the younger workers had never been innovators to begin with--it was the layer Sony excised that had developed new products and driven the company forward.

The third theme, and this is, to me, the most interesting by far: the employees Sony "restructured" out of the company, the creative forces behind the company's heyday, kept working.

They were just working for other companies now--particularly in Korea:
“What was even worse is that during this period, Korea and Taiwan immediately welcome the exiting Sony techies with open arms. It was better than industrial espionage—Samsung could openly ‘buy’ the technology that Sony had developed simply by rehiring their best and brightest.”

If you're wondering about Samsung's meteoric ascent in the last decade, that seems like a reasonable place to start. And now Samsung is eating Sony alive, particularly in the television market.

Korean companies (fairly or unfairly) have a reputation for being high-level, ruthless practitioners of industrial espionage. In this case, though, all they did was hire people Sony no longer wanted. The degree of irony is positively Shakespearean.

I've said this more than once in the last five years, but I don't see a way out of this collapsing orbit for Sony. They've restructured (again), but nothing can hide the fact that Sony is a highly profitable Financial Services division with seven other divisions that are rarely profitable.

PS4? Why? The PS3 (and now Vita) are massive money losers. Sony found a way to lose money on the PS3 when the console market still seemed to have limitless potential. Now we know better, and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are killing the dedicated gaming market.

In sum: it's grim.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Halloween Costume Count 2012!

Participation was down this year compared to 2011 due to Sandy terminating Halloween in a fair number of Eastern areas. Still, we had the always-strong reporting from the Pacific Northwest (Washington, specifically), as well as a report from Alaska. Canada was also represented.

This year's top ten reported costumes:
Captain America

How does this compare to last year? They're quite similar, really--Spiderman made it onto the list this year, and the killer from Scream dropped off. That seems like a good trade to me. Even that, though, could be an accounting issue, because "Superhero" made the top ten last year, and Captain America, Spiderman, and Batman all qualify. So lump them together, and the Scream dropout is the only actual change.

I'm quite sorry to note that the little girl who said she was "the city of Paris, France" did not make an appearance this year at my door, although possibly she came as Luxembourg and I just missed her.

The tabulation of submissions is always fascinating, because there are strange little notes that always make me wonder. Here are a few of the most interesting costumes this year:
Goth Baby Dolls
Prostitot (a typo, perhaps, or a tiny child dressed as a prostitute?)
Cleopatra (that completely kicks ass)
Katniss Everdeen (nice to see "The Hunger Games" get some love)
Playing Card
Rainbow Unicorn (an animated musical coming to a theater near you)
Tracksuits with rainbow bug antennas
Commanda (a female commando, naturally)
Dude With Knife
Jerry Garcia
The Old Man From UP
Roman Caesar (I assume this is distinct from the Polish Caesar)
The Girl From Orphan (this one is mine, the kid told me who she was, except I have no idea what "Orphan" is)

This year's unquestioned winner, though, must go to Thomas Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald and an English naval officer and colonial governor. Give that kid triple candy, please.

Now, the traditional data dump (by costume type, not volume):
“Bad bat” (batman as he should have been, he explained)
50s girl
American Indian
Army Man/Soldier
Army Ranger 
baby dinosaurs
ballet dancer 
Baltimore Ravens
Baseball player
Blue Teletubby
Candy Corn
Captain America
commanda (female commando, she explained)
construction worker
Cookie Monster       
Cool 70's Guy
Crash Test Dummy
dark fairy
Darth Vader
Dorothy (Wizard of Oz)
Dude with knife
ER Patient
Evil Harlequin
Fairy Princess 
Football player
Garden Ghome
Girls in PJ's 
Goth Baby Dolls
Greek goddess 
grim reapers
Guy Fawkes
harlequin-type joker (a deck-of-cards-type joker)
Horror Victim
Hotdog vendor
Hunger Games Girl
Its It
Jason Vorhees
Jason's Victims
Jerry Garcia
John Deere Tractor
Katniss Everdeen
Lady Bug
Lady Vampire
Little red riding hood
Marilyn Monroe 
Master Chief
Mexican wrestler 
Ninja Turtle
Old man from UP
out-of-work NHL player
Playing Card 
Pop singer
Power Ranger
Princess Darth Vader
Punk zombie
Rainbow Unicorn
Roman Caesar
Sack of Flour  
SF Giants Player
Silver skeleton 
slumber party (5 girls, and very funny)
Smarty Pants
Snow White
Sock Monkey
Sonic the Hedgehog
Super Hero
The Count (Sesame St) 
The girl from Orphan
Thomas Cochrane
Thomas the Train
Tiger (orange)  
Tiger (white)  
tinier football (too cute)
tiny football player w/
Tracksuits with rainbow bug antennas
Twister (the board game)
U.S. army soldiers
Wednesday Adams
Wimpy Kid
Winter/Frost Witch

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Ether Tweet

Here's a tweet I received while we were at the hockey tournament last week:
Mickey just arrive d so i think eerily see about to sail. see u next wk

Good luck with that, sir.


Gloria and I went out to dinner on Sunday night.

"Did I tell you what happened to me at Target today?" I asked.

"I don't think you did," she said.

"I'm at the counter," I said, "and the checkout lady goes, 'Are you a doctor'?" [and from here on, I'm going to quote this like the conversation with the checkout lady is happening live, which is against all known grammatical conventions, but a hell of a lot easier to read.]

"No," I say.

Fifteen seconds later, the checkout lady says, "Lawyer?"

Again, I said 'no'.

Twenty seconds later: "Congressman?"


Just before she handed me my change: "Judge?"

"No," I said, "and I only regret that I never fulfilled any of the high hopes you had for me."

Gloria laughed, then she said, "That lady was flirting with you."

"She was six-foot-three, fifty, and had buck teeth," I said. "That's what I'm pulling these days."

"I forgot to tell you that a man in his sixties was hitting on me in the grocery story the other day," she said.

"No worries," I said. "You still absolutely qualify as a MILF."

"Thank you, I think," she said. "He really was a very sweet old man."

"They all are," I said, "until they get you into their dirty little dungeon."


"Just imagine him wearing leather underwear," I said. "That's ALL he's wearing. And his potbelly is is hanging over."

"Oh my god," she said, laughing.

"And the age spots on his scalp," I said. "Don't forget those. Hey, I think I see Cuba!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #29

Except for testing and one small logic change, the new offseason mini-game is complete.

Like I said last week, I've moved away from showing explicit team ratings to showing rankings in relation to other teams instead. Here's the new sort in effect on the offseason GM screen:

Now a rating only has meaning in relation to other teams--like I said last week, that's how it works in real football.

There's also a new layout for the human mini-game. Here, take a look:

Because of the changes I made with the team sort, it no longer made sense to have cards with a potential upgrade/downgrade of +1, +2, -1, etc. The new indicator uses "+" and "-" signs (with a nice little football touch that Fredrik added). So again, you get information as a player, but it's incomplete. How much would a "+++" card increase my rating? Well, you're not going to know, except as a reflection of the comparison to other teams. Which is good, because giving exact information has always bothered me, and exact ratings information is basically gone now.

Right now, the potential of each card is symmetric--that is, the potential upside equals the potential downside. At some point, though, some of these cards may become asymmetric in terms of opportunity.

Here's the outcome screen with a slightly modified layout:

That screen needs a header, doesn't it? I need to add "CARD OUTCOME" at the top or something like that. Below the card outcome is your old/new ranking for that rating.

Once you get to the Team Hub, you can also view league rankings at any time. Previously, I hadn't wanted to make the ratings information available during the season, because it was exact information. Showing rankings instead of ratings, though, just gives incomplete information, and that's fine.

I'm not sure this is the final layout, because to me, this seems more like an interim change. For now, though, I'm pleased with how this is looking. Now the beta testers can break it and we'll go from there.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Friday Links!

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine dominates the links this week, but up front, here is a fascinating intersection of board game design, political philosophy, and history: Monopoly was stolen from socialist land-reformers and perverted. It's written by Christopher Ketcham, and it is an absolutely great read.

This is one of the oddest and most interesting articles I've read in a long time:
What It’s Like To Play A Round Of Golf At A Maximum Security Prison.

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine is dominant this week. First, and this is utterly fascinating (and tremendously poignant), it's abandoned suitcases reveal private lives of insane asylum patients. Next, and this is as incredible as you'd expect, it's This Is the First Picture Ever Taken From Space—and It Was Taken From a Nazi Rocket. The links tour continues with a terrific documentary: a six-part video about Czech-French artist Alphonse Mucha . You might recognize Mucha from his poster art, and you can read more about him here: Mucha Foundation. Next: WWII carrier pigeon message discovered in Surrey chimney.

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, a remarkable discovery: 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' woman's cave believed found.

From Kai, and Eli 11.3 thought this was the best article ever, it's NHL lockout: Part-time goalies helping idled NHLers.

From Michael H., and I'm a week late on this, but it's still tremendous: Adam Savage builds Patton Oswalt's Halloween Costume.

From Donny Plumley, and I may have linked to this before, but it's so cool that I'll do it again: Meghalayas Living Bridge.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is stunning: Quantum Mystery of Light Revealed by New Experiment. Apparently, light can behave as both a particle and a wave simultaneously. Also, and I had absolutely no idea this ever happened, it's The Forgotten Battle: The Japanese Invasion of Alaska.

From Steven Davis, and this is a remarkable video, it's Totally Bizarre Experimental Video Explores Slit Scanning.

Gary Gorski is doing something interesting and different for Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 3. He's keeping a dynasty blog. It's a very clever idea, and you can read it here: Draft Day Sports : Dynasty Blog .

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I fully intended to tally the Halloween Costume Count and publish it today, but I'm still sick and I'm not going to get anything more done today. The Friday Links Post will go up as scheduled, though, and I should be fine by Monday.

Peter Moore

Chris Kohler, who is on of my favorite interviewers, sat down with Peter Moore recently, and the result is here: Q&A: Electronic Arts COO Fights to Lead the New Game Industry.

Moore is always interesting, and Kohler leads him interesting directions--free to play, for example, which he discusses at length. 

This is my favorite part, though:
As a company, we made the decision many many years ago to do less is more. When I arrived we had 67 games in development for console and PC, that we were either about to deliver or had just been greenlit or were in alpha or beta. We’re now down to 14 this fiscal year. We’ve added 41 games this fiscal year which are social, mobile, and free to play.

Who EA is in the five years that I’ve been here has changed radically. We were a big game developer and creator, and you threw it against the wall and you put the marketing behind it and it was a good quality game and you just hoped it landed. And I don’t want to say it was a scattershot approach, but it was by sheer force of just throwing so much against the consumer we know we’re going to [get a hit]. It was Hollywood. We’re no longer Hollywood. We’re more precise than that.

If you look at what we needed to do, we put up big bets and now we have more marketing money to put behind our top-quality games. And we just don’t work in that middle tier anymore because we moved our resources to the Facebook platform, the mobile phone platform and pushing people back to PC. That’s where those people have gone.

We’re accused of being too safe, but then I’ll point to Mirror’s Edge — not a commercial success in the broad terms that we look at it, but certainly as an innovation, was brilliant. The art style, the character herself, the idea of taking this kind of parkour thing but a backstory of authoritarianism in cities, it was brilliant. Again, and you take risks — we don’t get credit a lot for the risks we take.

That's awesome. Mirror's Edge was released in November 2008--four years ago. That's how far Moore needs to go back to be able to mention a game that took "risks".

It can be argued that EA was going to collapse if they didn't change the way that they did business, but for any consumer who enjoys games instead of spreadsheets, it's been a painful transition.

It Continues

Art class is apparently extremely moustache-friendly this year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ghosts of Mississippi (more of your e-mail)

Here are a few more of your e-mail in regards to the Ghosts of Mississippi post last week. First, from Peter Sarrett:
Images make things real. They make the abstract concrete.

We talk about Good and Evil a lot. That duality forms the basis of much of our popular culture. But it's a Disneyfied, romanticized version. Popular culture doesn't often touch on true EVIL, because true evil is ugly, and difficult, and visceral, and disturbing.

With the Holocaust, we have an unimaginable evil captured on film. We have photographs of people dehumanized, made to wear Jewish stars on their clothing to distinguish them as Lesser. We have photographs of hundreds of people crammed into cattle cars, being taken away from their homes, family, and very lives. We have photographs of people stripped naked, standing forelornly in line for showers that aren't at all what they think they are, billowing smokestacks behind them spewing human ash. We have photographs of soldiers standing hip-deep in bodies, pulling gold fillings out of lifeless mouths. Not illustrations, not imaginings. Real photographs of real people. The abstract made concrete.

It's one thing to read The Diary of Anne Frank and muse about the bright power of her optimism amidst a life of horror and fear. It's something else again to see what ultimately happened to her, her family, her friends, her community, her people.

These photographs must be seen. They must be burned into every generation's memory, because as a human race we must never allow anything like this to happen again. Anywhere. Not in Bosnia. Not in the Congo. Anywhere.

Only by knowing evil can we truly stop it. And from what you've written about Eli, he can handle it. Especially with you alongside him.

This next e-mail is from DQ Guitar Advisor David Gloier:
I don't think he's too young to let him watch the documentary. I'll share a story:

Mid to late '70's, we had a ranch out in Cedar Creek, Texas. Ran about 300 head of Red Brangus cattle on it. I guess I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were really only out there on the weekends and had a caretaker out there during the week. His name was Ernest and he seemed like he was at least 100 years-old. He was black. I loved Ernest. When it came to people, my father judged them solely on who they were, not what they were. You were good people, or you were bad people, and that judgement was passed on integrity alone.

Anyway, I was a little kid and Ernest always called me "Sir" or "Master David". It made me uncomfortable, but I was too young to know why, and one day I asked my father about it. He sat me down and explained in detail why a little boy would be called "Sir" by a man older than anyone he knew. It basically boiled down to the difference between our skin color and the history behind it all. He didn't leave out one detail. I was stunned. I was 9. My world was so small. It opened up that day. I have no regrets about it. If we had had videotapes, DVD's, or TiVo, and a program like that for me to watch, my dad would have sat me down and made me watch it. I have no doubt.

I cherish that lesson. I think about it to this day. I still think about Ernest. We were friends. Nothing else mattered. We would sit under the shade of a tree on a hot day and he'd just talk with me. I learned acceptance during those days long ago. Good memories from what's starting to feel like long, long ago.

What's stunning to me about David's story is that it's not from the 1950s, but two decades later. I was in high school then. I had no idea about the world and what it was like.

What I decided to do, after all of your thoughtful and thought-provoking e-mail, is to  have Eli watch the documentary with me, explaining first that he is going to see some very graphic images of hatred, and that it will help him understand the Civil Rights era far better than any book ever could.

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