Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eli 12.0!

This isn't from today--it's from clown day for Magic Camp last week--but he's officially 12.0:

Detroit! (part 2)

It was incredibly hot and humid in Detroit all week, with the heat index close or over 100 every day. That humidity caused this moment:

If you look all the way to the goal, you'll see Eli 11.11.

Also, if you're going to hockey camp, your hotel room is going to look like this:

We went to a buffet one day for lunch, and caught this episode of Humorous Grammatical Errors Vol. 7:

We talked about "Sorry Sharers" for the rest of the week.

On Saturday after camp, we went to the Detroit Art Museum, mostly to see the Diego Rivera murals. Both Eli and I liked taking pictures of small areas, and here are a few of those images:

Rivera didn't do this next painting, but I found it incredibly striking:

That's enough for today.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Front Office Football 7!

Jim Gindin announced FOF7 last week, and here's a chat transcript of a Q&A he did tonight about the game:
FOF7 Chat Transcript

Detroit! (non hockey)

I appreciated Detroit much more the second time.

The last year has been good for the city, too. It felt more energetic. More hopeful. Detroit declared bankruptcy on the Thursday we were there, but nothing felt bankrupt. It felt like a city trying desperately to turn around.

The best-kept secret about Detroit is that it's quite beautiful. Don't believe me? Look at this:

That was taken from our hotel (55th floor of the Renaissance Center, thanks to a very nice check-in lady). Look at the beautiful, dense green. Sure, it's depressed, and there are burned buildings, and everything said about Detroit is at least partially true, but just look at that beauty.

When we checked into the hotel, a wedding party rushed onto the elevator with us as we went to our room. Of course, I had to take a picture:

That was a harbinger of our entire week: people were happy.

I'm a lousy photographer, but even I took a few decent shots:

This tremendous spider lived outside our window (again, on the 55th floor). We named him Chuck Norris:

We had breakfast at the hotel buffet each morning (the best part of staying at the RenCen--it was wonderful), and this was our view: 

Please note: at home, before hockey, we go to a McDonald's. It does not have this view.

Here's one more picture that shows off Detroit's striking (and sometimes conflicting beauty:

More tomorrow.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #65: Stadium Architecture

Something's started to drive me crazy.

Take a look at this stadium (click on the image to enlarge):

There's plenty of life in this stadium. The fans are vibrant, the stadium details are full of color, and I like almost everything here.

The stadium itself, though, looks like a flat rectangle pasted onto the image.

I know. The fans are rectangles, too. They move, though, and they cheer, and they have personality. And since they're cards, that's the perfect shape.

The stadium itself, though, is limp. We tried a different background color (that's the background color in this image), but it doesn't reduce the flat effect.

I realized last night that the reason it looks flat is because there's no structure to the stadium. A real stadium has a metal framework.

That's the problem. Without the framework, without the essence of a real stadium around the crowd, it looks unreal. The rest of the stadium is such a lovely little world that it's KILLING me that the stadium background doesn't fit in like it's should.

The tentative idea, at this point, is to add some kind of framework around the stands (that would take up most of the gray border space you see in the image). It's just a vague idea at this point, though. I know how I want it to look, but I can't even specifically explain that look at this point.

Fredrik has this freaky ability to understand what I want, though, even when I can't explain it very well. He's working on it, and I have every reason to think he'll be successful (he always has been).

In other news, I was able to get a fair amount done last week after I shook off the Detroit fatigue hangover.

Previously, changing anything on the Team Customization scene required pressing a button to lock in the change. So changing team colors, name, nickname, and stadium meant five button presses per team. Now, though, there are only two buttons on the screen: "save" and "cancel." Make your changes, hit one button, and they're saved.

I also ran a few more 30-year franchises and realized that there's nothing wrong with the stats at all. Different franchises evolve differently over time, and there can be up to a 10% variance in stats. So each franchise has its own feel, which I like.

The new resolution code is in, and it's in the process of being tested. What a pain in the ass.

I added some very simple playcalling tracking as well. I know that I've said someone should be able to run every play if they want to, then have teams adjust in the offseason to respond, but in practice, it felt strange to not have the CPU AI respond. So now, if you're running or passing every play, the AI is going to notice.

It's very possible that I may add a third beta test. I'd like to take what I consider to be a final version of the game and have people experience it fresh. It wouldn't last long--probably only two or three weeks--but it might help me find a few last bugs before the game launches.

Of course, I have to complete a "final" version first.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Steven Davis, and this is fascinating, it's MAKE: Inventions | The Airbag. Also, and this is wonderful, it's Creative Person: Fred Rogers. Still going, and who knew this was even possible: The Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter Wins the AHS Sikorsky Prize. One more, and it's bizarre: Wood battery could be the future of large energy storage.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is the X Games version of farming, it's Watch one crazy farmer stop a huge fire with his tractor. Also, and this is fascinating (using that word a lot this week), it's Seeds shed light on eating habits of ancient Japanese. Next, and this is quite the historical wackiness, it's Virginia Woolf and Friends Dress Up as "Abyssinian Princes" and Fool the British Royal Navy (1910).

From Daniel Rowland, and this is terrific: One Man's Journey to Yo-Yo Mastery.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this (again) is fascinating: A Journey Into Our Food System's Refrigerated-Warehouse Archipelago.

A bundle of links from Griffin Cheng this week. First, and this is beautiful, it's Fibonacci's Spiral. Next, and this is amazing, it's How aerial photographs tracked down Hitler's flying bombs. Next, and this is stunning, it's Snow + Volcano = Magic. Next, and these are tremendous photographs, it's The "Old" Main Library. Finally, and this is one of the coolest ideas ever, it's Japanese island to become real-life Game of Life for the summer.

From Wallace, and this is crazy: What It’s Like To Be On Reality TV.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Doesn't This Exist?

Gloria was taking Eli to Magic Camp this morning and was stuck in traffic for almost an hour.

I thought about that for a while. Then I realized that there was a solution, if this app actually exists.

How it would work is that the user would highlight a route on Google Maps, then set times and dates when the route was "active".

During those specified time periods, if traffic reached "red" on the route in Google Maps, the app would text your phone with a traffic warning. Plus you could set a special sound effect for the text source, so you wouldn't even need to read the text--you'd know from the sound effect while driving that you needed to go on an alternate route.

Detroit (addendum)

I forgot to mention a few things.

There were three instructors/shooters at Bandits that are projected to be first round NHL draft picks next year.

On Thursday, I was driving to lunch with Gloria through downtown Detroit, talking about what might happen in the next few years, and I looked at her and said, "I just thought you were hot and asked you out. How did THIS happen?"

I was having breakfast with Eli 11.11 on Wednesday, and the television in the restaurant had a story about the Royal Family. Eli looked at me and said, "They don't make any real decisions, do they?"

"Not a one," I said. "They're just symbolic."

"They're just colorful local characters," he said.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Detroit 2013 (part two)

Many times, stories follow predictable, familiar arcs.

Sometimes, though, they don't.

Tuesday morning, after off ice training, I asked Eli 11.11 how he was feeling. "Great," he said smiling. "Just watch me."

After six hours at the rink yesterday, plus an hour of off ice training already, I thought he'd be tired. It was hockey tired, though, and to him, that's a great feeling.

As soon as he started skating in drills, I could see a difference from Monday. He was working every bit as hard as Nick, and he was crisp. He was the second fastest kid on the ice, even though at least a dozen kids were older than he was, and his technique was tight. It's one thing to be sloppy fast, but he was precise fast.

I have this rush of emotion when I watch him in moments like this. Man, he's worked so hard. The idea that a kid from Austin could be a high-level goaltender is ludicrous, really, but even though he knows that, he's never let it bother him. He doesn't take impossible things personally--he just sets his mind to do them anyway.

What sets him apart from other people, even grown-ups, is that sometimes he does.

At various points during the morning, both camp directors stopped and talked to him on the ice. It's another thing I appreciate about this camp--the directors are so involved, and they care about everyone, from the best goalie to the worst. They respect that everyone, no matter their skill, is trying to improve.

At the end of morning skate, I was at the top of the stairs, watching from a landing. One of the camp directors (the goalie coach for an OHL team) walked up the stairs, and I went over to say hello. "It's nice to see you again," he said. "You're Eli's dad, right?"

"Yes," I said.

"We need to change his camp next year," he said. "He needs to be in the Elite camp."

I'm surprised my jaw didn't break when it hit the floor. I had hopes that by the end of the week, he would at least be in the conversation to get invited, but I didn't really see a clear path from point A to point B. I just had faith in Eli to find a path when I wasn't sure one even existed.

When I told him, I'm sure that no kid ever had a bigger grin on his face in the history of the world.

The next morning, he said he was a little sore. After twelve hours in two days, it was understandable. I didn't know how he'd respond to the Elite camp invitation, either. We talked during breakfast.

"Now that you're in the Elite camp, do you know how you got there?" I asked.

"Hard work," he said.

"That's right," I said. "You have an elite attitude. And if that ever changes, I'll be the first one to let you know."

He laughed. "I know you will," he said. "But don't worry. This is just going to make me work harder."

I watched all of his ice time, but during off ice, we went to get various supplies at a Walgreen's next to the rink. When he walked in from off ice that morning, his face was red, and so was everyone else's.

"How was it?" I asked. "Did they take it easy on you?"

He laughed. "We walked across the street to the track and ran a mile." Holy crap. It was so hot and humid that morning.

"A mile? Really?"

"Not straight though," he said. "We ran a lap, then did twenty push-ups and sit-ups, then ran another lap, did more push-ups and sit-ups, and kept going like that."

That sounded very tough, and I knew he was tired and a bit sore. "Well, so how'd you do?"

"I won," he said.

"You beat the other three kids in your group?" I asked. "Great job!"

"No," he said. "I won. I beat everybody. I beat Nick."

He doesn't surprise me often, not anymore, but I didn't even know what to say. That wasn't even something I considered possible. "That's incredible! How did you beat him?" I asked.

"I went out with the fastest group on the first lap," he said (who were all at least fifteen except for him). "After three laps, only Nick and me were together. Halfway through the last lap, I kicked, and he didn't come with me."

"How much did you beat him by?" I asked.

"About ten yards," he said.

I don't know if Nick saw Eli, with his big heart, running beside him on the last lap and decided to let him have a moment of glory. It wouldn't surprise me, because like I said yesterday, Nick was a terrifically nice kid.

It wasn't the most important thing, though. What really mattered to me, what was most important, was that Eli's tone of voice told me that while he was proud, he didn't think he'd done anything impossible. It was his attitude that made it possible in the first place, his refusal to lag behind with the younger kids. And at some point in that race, he didn't hope to win--he expected to win.

That's the kind of attitude that takes a person to special places.

Later that week in off ice, one of the kids called him "a frickin' Kenyan," and Eli had a big smile on his face when he told me that.

On Friday, I stopped Eli's favorite instructor as he came off the ice. He plays Division I hockey in New York, and while Eli liked everyone, this person was special. I thanked him for the time he'd spent with Eli and said how much Eli enjoyed working with him. He shook my hand and said, "I was going to come and find you today. Eli is a great goalie, but he's a better person."

I know Eli wants to be a professional hockey player, and I would be so happy for him if he somehow (against all odds) makes it, but that's not what matters, really. He is a kind and generous boy, and if I can somehow help him stay that way as he gets older, then he will have a special influence on people, just like the people at Bandits have on him. He will carry that kindness with him, no matter what he decides to do or be, and he will help other people be kind, too.

Well, This Is Just Outstanding

Detroit (part two) will be up later, but TEGLM sent me something today that is so wonderful I'm not going to wait until Friday. An artist named Luca Agnani took a series of Van Gogh paintings and added animated elements (in some cases, elements in the paintings themselves). It's an incredibly striking effect, as if Van Gogh's paintings became moving dioramas. It's called Van Gogh Shadow, and it's beautiful and quite moving.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Detroit 2013 (part one)

I need to start the story of Detroit with a story from the previous week, when Eli 11.11 played tennis with his sitter, a woman who is playing pro qualifying tournaments this summer. She graduated a few years ago, but could still play for almost any major college tennis program in the country.

She goes out and hits with us every few months.

The first time--about a year ago--Eli was totally overwhelmed. She hits a heavy, heavy ball, and the spin and depth were too much for him to handle.

Now, he can hit with her. Not every time, and he still gets overwhelmed by the topspin at times, but he's gaining ground. Quickly.

We hit a few days before we left for Detroit, and while I was taking a break, they were hitting together and started a rally. She was hitting the ball hard, and he was hitting it back just as hard. After eight shots, she hit a short ball, and he hit an approach shot and moved to the net. He hit a forehand volley deep, then hit a backhand volley down the line for a clean winner.

He has transcendent moments like that. I've stopped being surprised by them. Mostly.

"Dad, can you find out about the Junior Elite camp?" he asked me on the way to Detroit. This is the Bandits camp that is the highest-level camp they offer, and it's invitation only. The top 24 kids in the 11-14 age group have their own camp, and it's a big deal, since most of the kids in the regular Bandits camps already play AA or AAA travel. To get invited out of that group is a huge honor.

And for a kid out of nowhere, an unlikely one.

"I'll ask on Friday," I said. "I'll ask them if you have that skill level, and if you don't, I'll ask them where the gaps are, and what we can do to close them. But you have to promise me not to get discouraged if you aren't invited. You're doing all the right things, and if you're not ready yet, it doesn't mean you won't be ready later."

"I promise," he said.

Like I said, even the regular Bandits camps are stacked. The three other kids in his group were younger, but two of them played AAA travel, and the third played AA. The group above (one and two years older than him) had two AAA kids as well.

Then there was the alpha dog, a 16-year-old who played AAA and is planning on going to Michigan or Michigan St. to play. The best thing about him was that he was also the hardest working kid on the ice.

His name was Nick.

Eli worked hard on Monday, but Nick outworked him. All the kids do skating drills together, and they're intense. They usually start from the goal line, and a group of three kids skate to the blue line, the center line, or the opposite blue line, then they do one of the many lateral movements that goalies do. Pushes, slides, etc.

Nick worked harder, by far, than anyone. Eli looked good, but he wasn't working like Nick.

At the end of the day, which included two hours off-ice and four hours on ice, Eli was happy. The Enthusiasm Engine is almost always happy, and particularly so when he's playing hockey all day.

"So who is the best player out there?" I asked him after he came out of the dressing room.

"Oh, it's Nick, by FAR," he said. "He's a BEAST."

"That's right," I said. "And who's the hardest working kid on the ice?"

"Nick?" he asked.

'Right again," I said. "He's killing himself to win those skating drills by another six inches, even when he's ten feet ahead. Can you work that hard?"

"Yes," he said. "I can, and I will."

"I'm looking forward to that," I said, smiling.

By the way, Nick was also an extremely nice kid, like almost all of the kids at Bandits. The instructors, too, as well as the camp directors. It's a terrific, positive, challenging atmosphere, and it's always a privilege to see so many motivated, hard-working, happy kids.

More tomorrow.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #64: Back in Gear

We were in Detroit all last week for goalie camp (Eli 11.11 had a big week in his young life, which I'll tell you about tomorrow), and it's hard to get much work done when you're at an ice rink for eight hours a day. However, I did mange to plough through a few things.

First, I was able to sim through an entire 30-year franchise, which I haven't done for months. And I managed to crash the offseason mini-game twice, much to my surprise (fixed now).

I noticed several things about the team stats immediately. First, passing stats, on average, were about 20 yards too high for each team compared to NFL averages. I know, it's a card game, but there's no reason not to have realistic stats. So I ran tests and figured out that if I just increased the initial pass defense rating of each team by one point, the stats would correspond to NFL averages very well.

The second thing I noticed, which will take longer to fix, is that over time, offensive stats tend to inflate (by about 10% over the course of a 30-year franchise). I had created a system where ratings auto-corrected over time if the league total of ratings got too high. It's not enough to just measure ratings, though--I need to measure against stats as well, so that if offensive stats get too far out of line, I influence the chances of defensive ratings improving versus offense ratings. That's on the list, now, although it's not at the top yet.

On top is resolution.

Since the beginning, I've loved that WPF applications let you dynamically resize windows so that all controls scale to the correct size automatically. The problem, though, is that if you change the aspect ratio when you resize the window, controls may wind up being too close/too far apart, or text may no longer be centered in a scoreboard field, etc.

I'm to the point where it's driving me crazy, so what's going to happen is that when the user first starts the game, it will display at the optimal resolution (fullscreen for 16x9 monitors, windowed for everyone else). The window can't be resized, and if it's a 4x3 monitor, it can't go fullscreen, either. If the user goes into the options menu, they can select from five different resolutions (which will be different from user to user and depends on the current desktop resolution). All that information gets written to the option file so that the next time the game is started, that resolution is used (unless the desktop resolution makes that resolution unusable). It's going to take a few days to put in, but that will end my graphics sizing issues permanently.

There will be a small celebration.

The cut scene (for the first time a user starts the game) is finished now, too--at least, the video part is finished. Fredrik did a wonderful job of creating images and transitioning between them, and visually, it looks very neat.

I also have a somewhat amusing script. And I know exactly how I want it to sound (like a newsreel announcer's voice from the 1940s). I can even read the script with just the right emphasis.

What I can't do, though, is sound like a newsreel announcer, damn it. So the audio right now sounds like ass.

I can't do it this week, because I'm drowning while I try to catch up from being gone for nine days, but next Monday, I'm going to put out a casting call to you guys for a "newsreel announcer" voice.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Links On Tape!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fantastic, it's Best of Web 5 - HD. Next, and give it five years, it's It's one delicious drone -- the Burrito Bomber. These are beautiful woodblock prints: Ukiyo-e Search. One more, and it's amazing: Civil war veterans at Gettysburg anniversary in 1913 – in pictures.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is an amazing story: CIA Releases Analyst’s Fascinating Tale of Cracking the Kryptos Sculpture. Also, and this is beautiful, it's Song of Fire and Ice: Watch What Happens When Lava Meets Ice. One more, and it's totally fascinating: Seeing History: The rise of spectacles in early modern Britain.

From Sirius, and this is utterly incredible: The vovelle - a medieval computer.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fascinating: The Unpredictable Life of Werner Heisenberg.. Also, and this is just plain crazy, it's 2013 Lyttelton Urban Downhill on board with Nick Jordan.

From DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand, and this is excellent: Watch: ‘The Changing Shape of Cinema’ to Learn the History of Aspect Ratios.

From Phil Honeywell, and this is incredible, it's The effects of DBS on the motor symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.

From Steven Davis, and this is DIY brilliance: How to create a DIY Matrix bullet time/time slice rig using a ceiling fan and a GoPro. Also, and this is fascinating, it's Ford Takes 3D Prototyping in a new Direction with Computer-Controlled Sheetmetal Former.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Musiquarium: David Werner, part 2

Hi again, and welcome to part II of me guest posting about a music artist who not only didn’t become famous...but also who created music that remains unavailable in any sort of digital format.

When we left off, David Werner had released his first album to much label hype, yet saw it go fairly quickly to the cutout bins. Having said that, it should be noted that Whizz Kid, that debut record, did enjoy some successes. Influential Cleveland DJ Kid Leo played songs from the record in regular rotation on WMMS. In Werner’s native Pittsburgh it was also a radio hit. It got airplay in other markets around the country. It didn’t make anyone a star, but there was some recognition--if fleeting--of its quality.

For Werner and his musical cohorts, he at least had a contract that required RCA to allow him to make a second record. At this juncture, Werner and his chief creative foil, guitarist Mark Doyle, seemed relatively clear-eyed on the idea that their attempt to grab the brass ring had fallen well short. If there were thoughts that Whizz Kid had been made with commercial success in mind, the follow-up was going to be made under no such illusions. Instead that second record--called Imagination Quota--seemed to be Werner making a record that was far more personal to him and much more of an airplay-and-sales-be-damned artistic statement. He and Doyle were making the record they wanted to make.

As such, there are a parts of Imagination Quota that feel too trapped in their 1970’s era to work quite as well for my personal tastes. For instance, the fake reggae of “In And Around You” is a real miss, and the sax on a song like “Talk” has too much of a smooth jazz feel for my personal tastes. (Although having said that, it slots perfectly into the kind of post-glam soulful musics that Bowie and Lou Reed were making concurrently.)

As with those contemporaries, Imagination Quota leaves behind a lot of the glammy trappings of 1974.  Its a record that seems well aware of the kind of music that a fellow like Bruce Springsteen was making. The title track that kicks things off is absolutely terrific...although it does rather obviously nick the chorus melody of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. The album’s two closing tracks, “Aggravation Non Stop” and “Body And Soul” are also fantastic.

For me, the centerpiece of Imagination Quota is a monster of a song called “Cold Shivers”, a track I’d like to build a case on being one of the great lost rock and roll songs of the 1970’s.  The lyrics to “Cold Shivers” make it clear that this is a very personal song; it clearly sounds like a fan letter to someone influential on Werner’s life and artistic inspiration (if you’re thinking he wrote it as a paean to Bowie, you’re on the right track, but wrong on the object of affection--it’s actually about Mick Jagger.)

To me the magic of “Cold Shivers” is the way it captures and encapsulates a key moment of artistic inspiration in any musician’s life. I’d hazard to say that at some point every creative, out-of-the-mainstream music artist (or even fan of music fitting that “underground” description)  has felt--sitting in their bedroom or car listening to music--alien to their peers.  That realization of feeling alone  in a crowd...and then yet discovering and being inspired to action by a kindred spirit heard in some vinyl grooves (or on computer headphones I guess, nowadays) seems like a universal thing.  I think it’s an experience incredibly integral to interesting, cutting-edge rock and roll, under-represented in the rock and roll canon. Perhaps Paul Westerberg of the Replacements built a lot of his early career writing about that moment and those feelings (“Sixteen Blue” and “Left Of The Dial” for instance), but few others have really ever tried to capture that experience, or done it well.

“Cold Shivers” does hit that target of teenage angst perfectly. The lyrics are so vivid, you can almost put yourself in Werner’s shoes, realizing that he can’t really fit in with any of his peers...but this Mick Jagger fellow--that guy he connects with and understands and realizes “He’s saying what I feel, and he’s doing what I want to do.”  Even the way Werner sings the song is like a tribute to the Stones frontman. Eschewing his normally airy vocals, Werner instead spits them out in a sort of loutish Jagger impression that comes off almost like a young Tom Petty.

The excellence of “Cold Shivers” notwithstanding, Imagination Quota was essentially DOA in the marketplace. RCA chose not to promote it heavily, and it followed its predecessor to the cutout bins (although in much fewer numbers, as there weren’t nearly as many copies pressed.) Werner was quietly cut loose from the label.

He and Doyle would get one more stab at success. After hearing some new songs on a demo, Epic signed Werner a few years later. Clearly influenced by the punk and power pop new wave going on, Werner made a self-titled record for Epic in 1979 that is much louder and more direct than any of his earlier stuff.  Produced by Bob Clearmountain at the Power Station studio, it was given a heavy promotional push by CBS, and even resulted in some decent radio airplay for a few songs like “What’s Right”, “Every New Romance”, and “Melanie Cries”...but in general the album was too rock-ish for the new wave crowd, and too pop for the FM-radio rock crowd.  

For Werner, that was it, at least as a recording artist. He ended up as a key in-house songwriter and producer at EMI, getting co-writing credits on enough songs in in the next two decades to carve out a tidy living. His collaborator, Mark Doyle, would end up as a touring guitarist with Hall & Oates and Meat Loaf (among others) through the 1980’s (hey, I’m betting it paid well) as well as the go-to string arrangements guy for Maurice Starr’s stable of bands which included (yikes) New Kids On The Block, among others. That final David Werner album went out of print at some point in 1982, just months before CBS began the initial releasing new music in digital format on compact disc.

For whatever reason--I suspect it has to do with no one knowing where or having access to the original masters--none of David Werner’s three studio albums were ever reissued on CD. They’ve never been put out digitally.  A Russian download site will happily sell you fan-created vinyl rips to mp3, but anyone with the remotest of Google skills will be able to find those same mp3’s available free hosted around the internet on various blogs (for his part, Werner seems tolerant, if not openly supportive of such “bootleg” copies of his music).  The music is well worth seeking out, a slab of 1970’s rock history that should’ve been huge and never should’ve become lost in the first place.

Washing out underwear in the sink of a hotel room. As Karl Welzin would say,  livin'' the dream, you guys.

Also, apologies if anything in Chris's Musiquarium post is formatted strangely. Struggling to be productive with limited tools.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Musiquarium:David Werner, Part I

I've been fortunate to have some excellent conversations about music with Chris Hornbostel over the last few years, and when I say "conversations", I mean he taught and I listened. It's not just that he knows so much about music, it's that he knows all the interesting things, too. So I pitched him on the idea of writing a guest feature called "The Musiquarium", focusing on obscure musicians.

Much to our good luck, he agreed.

From this point on, it's all Chris.

As an introduction, I want you to consider the ubiquitousness of digitized music in our day and age. It’s everywhere:  if music isn’t on CD now, it likely was at some point before going out of print, or it’s likely at least available in some downloadable and portable digital format.  Consider also that any three yokels with a crappy laptop have access to recording tools more sophisticated than anything George Martin or Geoff Emrick had in the 1960’s and early 70’s and can in the span of an afternoon create downloadable digital tunes.

With that in mind, here’s the artist I want to talk about: David Werner.  Werner enjoys a distinction that--if not totally unique, is at least incredibly rare:  he was a high-profile signing by a major label who recorded three albums and has never had any of them available in any digital format. No CD reissues ever, no career retrospective, no nothing--including digital reissue via download services. Werner’s three-album career in the 1970’s was a vinyl-only affair, and so it remains as of this writing.

David Werner was a teenage music prodigy from Pittsburgh who was a bit early and a bit young to be anything more than on the cusp of that city’s rich 1970’s music scene.  Instead, sometime in 1974 he relocated to Los Angeles and recruited a solid band to back himself which included ace guitarist/string arranger Mark Doyle.  Meanwhile in the music world, David Bowie was all the rage. Every label was interested in signing their own version of Ziggy Stardust, and after something of a bidding war, David Werner ended up signing with RCA.

This was sort of a problem, because RCA already had their version of a David Bowie, and he actually was David Bowie. Werner certainly fit the mold, though: on his debut album he’s wearing more foundation, mascara, rouge, and lipstick than Joan Rivers ever has. His publishing company was called “Sassy Brat Music”.  Even the debut album was called Whizz Kid, the name lifted from a song by then-glam rock heavies, Mott The Hoople. Werner’s similarities to his more famous glam rock seniors went deeper than the surface. In Mark Doyle, Werner had himself a talented guitarist and wingman who was almost a match for and every bit the foil that Micks Ronson and Ralphs were for Bowie and Mott respectively.  

Werner recorded Whizz Kid at no small expense to the label.  RCA dutifully swung its hype machine into full gear, attempting to give the record a breakthrough marketing push and as such apparently a huge number of copies were pressed.  Thing was, times were changing for glam-rock in late 1974.  Bowie’s latest album, Diamond Dogs, had underperformed expectations badly. T. Rex couldn’t break loose in the States. The buzz around the label was that glam was dying.  That notion was likely reinforced when the A&R folks at RCA heard early mixes of Bowie’s next record, Young Americans, which dispensed with glam entirely for a blue-eyed soul sound.

As such, the label found little purchase for Whizz Kid with the record buying public. Despite continuing to flog the album, it just didn’t move and eventually all those those vinyl copies  ended up as returns. See, back in the day, if a record didn’t sell,  stores simply sent them back to the wholesale warehouses or the labels themselves. In the case of Werner’s debut album, RCA ended up writing the album off as sunk costs, and it headed for its biggest claim to fame as the undisputed king of the 1970’s cutout bin.

If you’re under the age of 40, there’s a good chance you’ve no idea what a cutout bin is, and I feel terribly sorry for you. Every record store had cutout bins. In them were housed--usually for $1 or less per album, “cutouts”. In those days, when retailers wanted to return un-sellable records to a major label, the label usually didn’t actually want them.  They’d reimburse the retailers for the wholesale prices by check and tell them to keep the product. Retailers could then dump the un-sellable records into a dumpster...or put a notch--the “cutout”--in the jacket (which was a contractual signal that the label had no claim on sales of that record) and sell them off and pocket the money themselves.

The cutout bins of the 1970’s and ‘80’s were a joy for music nerds. You’d go diving into those bins of cheap, $1 records and wade through hundreds and hundreds of Gino Vanelli and Tony Orlando records if only in the hope of finding gems like Sensational Alex Harvey Band or the first Scorpions album or late period Badfinger. In the realm of the cutout bin, David Werner’s Whizz Kid album was legendary and king. It was ubiquitous.

The reason for that is simple: Whizz Kid is one hell of an album, a great lost 1970’s glam-rock treasure. From the fuzzy, fizzy opener, “One More Wild Guitar” (which offered Mark Doyle a chance to show off his ample skills right from the start) and right into the title track, listening now it’s hard to understand why radio never gave this a chance. The  album detours easily from that straightforward Ziggy-ness into a gorgeous ballad called “Lady In Waiting” before hitting its magnum opus, a sprawling, ridiculous, campy, and utterly amazing song called  “The Ballad Of Trixie Silver”,  a song that sounds like what you’d get if an 18-year-old kid was trying to reinterpret the sexuality of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” period with a touch of Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”...which was likely exactly the case.

It’s hard for me to put a finger on why this record didn’t find an audience when it came out. Everything’s here:  great songwriting, superb arrangements, and Werner has a pleasingly fey, Bowie-ish voice. Perhaps--beyond the institutional problems with the record business that were outside his control--the problem lies in the melodies themselves. These are songs that twist and turn to get from point a to point b. Often--as on “Wild Guitar, “Whizz Kid”, and “Love Is Tragic”--it feels like you’ve joined a song in the middle of the melody.

That’s a feel I get from another David Werner contemporary, and that’s 1970’s alternative rock progenitors Big Star. I’d love to know whether Werner was aware of Big Star creative icons Alex Chilton and Chris Bell and the first two albums of that band when he was writing Whizz Kid.  On a great Big Star song like “Back Of A Car”, as it begins there’s a weird sensation that you’ve walked into the chorus of a song that’s been playing for a couple of minutes already. A lot of Big Star songs are like that, and honestly, so are a lot of Werner’s. I’d go as far to say this, and I’ll defend this comparison to the death:  if the 1972 lineup of Big Star decided to make a glam rock album in the mold of Ziggy Stardust, it’d sound an awful lot like Whizz Kid. (The bridge halfway through “One More Wild Guitar” absolutely brings to mind at least conceptually of what happens on the bridge of “O My Soul”, as an example).

Next up: the desultory follow-up with the best 1970’s rock song you’ve never heard, plus answers for the “where are they now?” questions...and how you can actually find ripped versions of the albums online, apparently with the blessings of those involved.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pacific Rim

At 9:50 last Friday morning, we were at the movies, waiting for Pacific Rim to start.

I'm not going to pretend that it's art or anything. It's so dumb, and so loud, and it uses every cliche in the history of movies.

Having said all that, it's really, really fun. It's Mechs vs. Godzilla, basically, and what's not to like about that? Plus, this is one of the few movies I've seen in the last two years where 3-D actually enhanced the experience instead of just adding on to the ticket price.

Also, if you have an 11.11 boy, he will be highly entertained.

The Pixar Theory

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine sent me an article that was so extraordinary it's getting it's own post.

The article is The Pixar Theory, and here's the author's description:
Every Pixar movie is connected. I explain how, and possibly why. 

Several months ago, I watched a fun-filled video on that introduced the idea (at least to me) that all of the Pixar movies actually exist within the same universe. 

Since then, I’ve obsessed over this concept, working to complete what I call “The Pixar Theory,” a working narrative that ties all of the Pixar movies into one cohesive timeline with a main theme. 

This theory covers every Pixar production since Toy Story.

Is he right? It doesn't matter. This is a magnificent, careening piece of work. It's incredibly detailed, incredibly long, and undeniably inspired. And worth reading.

Bundle of Holding

General whiz Allen Varney (formerly of Austin, now of Everywhere) let me know that he's started a tabletop RPG bundle similar to the Humble Indie Bundle, and here's a description:
Our collection brings you science fiction action thrills (Psi*Run), historical witchery (Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne), and Native American myth (How We Came to Live Here). And if you give more than the current average, you also receive these acclaimed bonus games: the high-flying slapstick fantasy Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and the Apocalypse Engine creature-slaying serial, Monster of the Week.

That's quite a deal, and you can get more information here: Bundle of Holding.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #63: A Quality

I know I have two problems:
1. People are used to strategy when playing cards in a card game. They're not used to making strategic decisions "outside" the cards. Gridiron Solitaire has cards, but the card play is simple. It's the strategic decisions that give the game its shape.
2. GS is a deep game, but it's not immediately apparent that it's deep. There are so many little touches that only get seen over time. So for people who only want gratification in the first 15 minutes, I'm in trouble.

I do have hope, though, because the game has a flow to it that is very unique for a card game.

An example: I played a game with the Lobsters against Cleveland. In the 3rd period, down 24-17, I was stopped on fourth down on Cleveland's two-yard line. In the fourth period, with time winding down, I scored to tie the game at 24. Cleveland took the ball and started driving, and they reached midfield.

It was 4th down and twelve.

There was enough time on the clock for two CPU pass plays, but only one running play. So Cleveland had a decision to make. If they passed, they could possibly get into field goal position, but if they didn't make a first down, I'd have the ball near midfield with time to run one play.

They could punt, but a kicking play wouldn't run all the time off the clock, and I'd still get one play.

So the CPU did what an NFL team would do in that situation (normally): they called a kneel down (a running play where the quarterback just takes the snap and kneels), which took all the time off the clock and didn't allow me to run a play.


In overtime, I made it to the forty-five yard line of Cleveland, and faced fourth down and eight. I decided to go for it, because a first down would put me in field goal position.

I gained exactly eight yards.

On fourth down, that triggers a first down measurement, and I watched as the chain extended. When it finally stopped, I was two inches short of a first down. Turnover on downs.

Cleveland drove down the field, although I managed to force a fourth down at my own thirty-five. They attempted a field goal, and the text message said it hit the crossbar--and bounced over.

Game over.

That's the kind of drama I was hoping for when I started 3+ years ago. It took a long time to get to this point, but I feel good about the experience the game gives a user. It doesn't reveal itself immediately, necessarily, but it's there, and it's lasting.

So like I said, I have problems, but I also have hope.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Please Note

DQ will be live on tape next week, and I'll basically have no access to e-mail. Content to hopefully entertain you is already written, though.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Matthew Anderson, and these are oh so clever: How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? A fish: The most highbrow jokes in the world.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is terrific: AmputeeOT: My Legoleg - amputee prosthetic leg made with Lego bricks. Next, and some of these are excellent, it's Mickey shorts. This is stunning: Watch Franz Kafka, the Wonderful Animated Film by Piotr Dumala. One more, and it's funny: Measuring Your Dumbness With A Ruler in SLOW MOTION!

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Super Capacitor Pyrotechnics. Also, and these are beautiful, it's Beautiful 3D Printed Objects Made of Sugar by the Sugar Lab. One more, and these are absolutely stunning:  Rare 3D Camera Found Containing Photos from WWI.

C. Lee sent in a ton of terrific art-related links. First, it's Artist Shintaro Ohata Seamlessly Blends Sculpture and Canvas to Create 3D Paintings. Next, and this is so striking, it's Subtractive Street Art by Pejac on the Streets of Spain. One more, and it's quite wonderful: Manually Cranked Wood Toy Performs Sleight-of-hand Magic.

Two science-related links from Steven Kreuch: first, and this is fascinating, it's Free falling in outer space. Also, and this a book, not an article, it's Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Matt Kreuch (brother of Steven and vice versa) sent this in, and it's amazing: 1940s Chevy Dealer re-opens to Auction off 500 Time Capsule Cars.

Speechless: The “My Little Pony Convention 2013 Highlights” Video Is Amazing.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is entirely bizarre: Venezuelan Poodle Moth — Facts, Hoax, And Video.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is quite spectacular: Strange Blue World: Alien Planet's True Color Revealed, a First.

Derek Silvers, who has done some seriously cool things in his life, has started a new company called Wood Egg and is creating guides to starting businesses in 16 different Asian countries. And he'd like some help, so if you're interested, go here and apply.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shopping Notes

We're preparing for Detroit (DQ is live on tape next week), so here are some notes that you might find useful as I run around like a crazy person.

One, the Steam Summer Sale has started, and in particular, Don't Starve is on sale for $8.99. It's one of the best designed games I've ever played, and the world is brilliantly cohesive. Do not miss your chance to buy what is one of the best games of the year (for me, the decade) at a substantial discount.

Oh, and Skyrim with all three expansion is on sale for $35.99. That's also pretty sensational for a game that has hundreds of hours of content.

I don't say this enough, but Bethesda has kicked major ass for a long time. Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, consecutively? With full mod support? Who else could do that?

When Gridiron Solitaire ships and after the post-release period calms down, I'm going to build a new PC, and my performance benchmark will be to run Skyrim at maximum detail at 100 fps in 2500x1600 resolution. If that's even possible.

Next shopping note. Lide Winburn let me know that the Humble eBook Bundle 2 includes an absolutely gigantic number of excellent books, including Spin, which I mentioned yesterday. So that's worth a look if you want to load up your backlog (mine has tripled now that I bought this).

Believe it or not, a third shopping note (I can't believe it myself). The new issue of Consumer Reports has an article about inkjet printers using absolutely insane amounts of ink, even when the user wasn't printing many pages. As it turns out, some printers use an incredible amount of ink for maintenance chores.

It's not chump change, either. Here's how they tested: they printed 30 pages (20 of text and 10 of graphics) intermittently over 3 weeks, and compared the ink consumed with how much was used when they printed the 30 pages continuously. The printers were turned off when they weren't being used.

The difference? It's not chump change. They defined "excess ink" as the extra amount used if you only printed intermittently compared to continuous printing, and calculated the cost over a year.

If your printer cost you less than $20 extra, consider yourself fortunate. The Brother DCP-J140W was the only printer that cost $0 extra. The next-best was the Epson XP-800, at $14. Brother, in general, did extremely well.

The shitty high end? The Canon Pixma MX 922, at $150, and that's not a typo. Then there's the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600, at $126. Canon and HP were generally the worst, depending on model (The HP OfficeJets are reasonable, while the Photosmart models are heinous). That's excess annual cost. Every year.

I'm really thrilled that I have a Pixma. Believe me. And "intermittent printer" perfectly describes my usage pattern. So there may be an Epson XP-800 in my immediate future.

You have to be a subscriber to get the list of individual printers and how they rate, but if you're shopping for one, it's well worth the money.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Crushing Weight

Tablets have made it so incredibly easy to pile up books. Since they don't take up physical space anymore, my reading list is exponentially larger now.

For about a month (not exaggerating), I've been reading this: When The War Was Over: Cambodia And The Khmer Rouge Revolution. It's a brilliant piece of scholarship by Elizabeth Becker, somehow being both incredibly meticulous and entirely fascinating.

It's dense, though. And it's long--609 pages. It's aging me.

One of the things that Becker does tremendously well is clearly explain just how unmanageable and f-ed up international relations are most of the time (probably all of the time). Every country is like an onion, and inside that onion, every layer is different. And many of those layers contradict each other.

In the meantime, though, as I plow toward the finish, it's starting to drive me nuts that I have all these other books I want to start:
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Power Moves: Livin' the American Dream, USA Style (that's DadBoner, in case you're wondering), Welcome to Hard Times: A Novel
Teenage Hipster in the Modern World: From the Birth of Punk to the Land of Bush: Thirty Years of Apocalyptic Journalism
Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel

That's what I want to read, and you know what I'm currently reading, so here are some books I've read (that I recommend):
Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not About Marriage. Pete Dexter is a quality, quality writer, and this is a collection of his newspaper columns (most written while he was in Philadelphia).

Another brilliant columnist is Charlie Leduff, and both of these books are gritty and brilliant:
Detroit: An American Autopsy
Work and Other Sins: Life in New York City and Thereabouts

This next book was written by DQ reader David Hoffman, and it's pretty damned good:
The Seven Markets (Volume 1)

This is a wonderful piece of science fiction:
The Windup Girl

More wonderful science fiction:

I've always been fascinated by Hemingway's writing, so this was a natural:
Hemingway: The 1930s through the Final Years

I've done a thoroughly lousy job of keeping up with recommending books to you guys, but I'm going to start staying more current.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Good Grief

The All-Star break doesn't begin until NEXT week. That's even worse!

The Decline and Fall of Western Sports Civilization

Eli 11.11 and I played tennis early this morning, before the heat became unbearable.
We've started going to this park about 15 minutes from our house. The park has two tennis courts in beautiful condition, and both are almost completely shaded until 9 a.m. It's entirely bucolic, and we were the only tennis players there.

When we finished, we decided to eat breakfast at a local franchise that's only a few blocks from the park. Eli loves to sit in the padded seats at the bar, so we had breakfast there, and while we waited for our food, we watched ESPN.

I don't watch SportsCenter much anymore. It's so overproduced and self-referential that--for me, at least--it's almost unwatchable. It was the only thing on at the restaurant, though, and I looked forward to seeing a few highlights, at least.

We watched for half an hour. Here's what we saw.

The first segment was about Bo Jackson. I love me some Bo Jackson, but the only reason he was on SportsCenter was because he's being featured this year in the NCAA 14 videogame (there were constant references to the game during the segment). ESPN and EA have a partnership going, and this was basically a 15-minute advertisement for the game.

The next segment was about how Colin Kaepernick (QB of the San Francisco 49ers) might have created a distraction for his team because he wore a Miami Dolphins cap to a 4th of July party.

Seriously. I'm not making this up.

Then, to top off this half hour of unmitigated sports journalism brilliance, there was a segment on New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan running with the bulls in Pamplona.

There's your half hour.

I know it's the All-Star break for Major League Baseball, but it was still an utterly pathetic effort.

ESPN, though, totally controls the sports world. And, to a substantial degree, they've ruined coverage of sports.

I always assumed, though, that they were forever unstoppable. Then I saw this article. Excerpts:
ESPN's total-day ratings—that is, its average viewership over a 24-hour period—plunged 20 percent in the quarter over last year's numbers. That's the network's worst result in six years and the the biggest drop for any of the cable sports channels, on a percentage basis.
ESPN2's primetime ratings dropped 12 percent, and its total-day ratings fell to an average of 244,000 viewers a day, down from 268,000 in the same quarter last year, 266,000 the year before, and 306,000 in 2010.
In the first quarter of 2013? Ratings losses all around, again, for both ESPN and ESPN2.
...last year wasn't a banner year on that front, either: In 2012, ESPN and ESPN2 were down 2 and 8 percent for the year in ratings for total-day viewers, respectively. ESPN was flat in primetime ratings, and ESPN2 was down 12 percent.
There's a potentially interesting squeeze developing here. ESPN bought the rights to quite a few sporting events and leagues by grossly overpaying. That helped build their brand.

Now, though, to some degree that IS their brand. They have to retain the vast majority of these broadcasting rights, or their brand will take a hit. But they've raised the value of broadcasting rights so high that every sport can point to rights fees ESPN paid for other sports and demand far more than they could have otherwise.

In effect, they're bidding against themselves.

If this sounds like EA, you're right. The same thing has happened to them with licensed sports games.

So ESPN is spending massive amounts of money on rights fees, but their ratings are dropping. They're going to be getting less advertising money, and they won't be able to gouge cable/satellite providers for as steep an increase in subscription fees as they did previously.

That will hopefully end very, very badly.

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