Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and about one billion of you sent this in, an absolutely incredible 15-minute documentary on--wait for it--Action Park! Also known as "Class Action Park" and "Traction Park", this is must-see viewing: Inside the World's Most Dangerous Amusement Park (part one) and The Demise of the World's Most Dangerous Amusement Park (part two).

Next a wonderful tribute to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson (sent in by Chris Pencis): A Cartoonist's Advice.

From Paul, and this is an entirely fascinating read, it's How 500 Years Of Weird Condiment History Designed The Heinz Ketchup Bottle.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and if you're into food, you'll love this: Pasta perfect: This Italian family grows heirloom grains. Also, and WTF, it's Torpedo Shot from USS Iowa in 1899 Surfaces. NExt, and this is tremendous, it's One of the first fruit trees planted in America is still alive and well at age 383.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fascinating: Do our brains pay a price for GPS? How a useful technology interferes with our ‘mental mapping’ — and what to do about it.

David Byron sent in a link to some absolutely tremendous quotes: 20 Kick-ass programming quotes.

From Derek Krause, and this is a seriously inspirational short film: Dean Zimmer Overcomes Physical Disability in 'Drummer Wanted'.

From Hennie van Loggerenberg, and this is sad but no surprise: Startling Infographics Show NYC’s Massive Income Inequality. Also, and this is beautiful: 170 Years of the World’s Hurricane Tracks on One Dark and Stormy Map.

From C. Lee, and this is both funny and depressing: According to the dictionary, “literally” now also means “figuratively”.

From Emily Grost, and this is utterly cool: 40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World.

From Rob C, and man, these are just spectacular (some of the best fireworks images I've ever seen): Supernova.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The NFL just settled the concussion lawsuits filed by over 4,500 former players.

This is standard strategy for a large corporation. Deny, deny, deny, then settle before the discovery process begins, and if there was one thing the NFL wanted to avoid in this case, it was the discovery phase.

If you're not familiar with the discovery process, here's a brief Wikipedia explanation:
In U.S. law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. Discovery can be obtained from non-parties using subpoenas. When discovery requests are objected to, the requesting party may seek the assistance of the court by filing a motion to compel discovery.

The NFL is a closed book, and opening themselves up to this kind of inquiry would be a disaster for them in a business sense. So, like I said, deny, deny, deny, then settle.

Here are some details on the settlement, which isn't trivial:
The NFL and more than 4,500 former players want to resolve concussion-related lawsuits with a $765 million settlement that would fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research, a federal judge said Thursday.

Many former players with neurological conditions believe their problems stem from on-field concussions. The lawsuits accused the league of hiding known risks of concussions for decades to return players to games and protect its image.

Of the settlement, $675 million will go directly to the former players and their families, $75 million to medical exams, and the rest for research. The money will be paid in installments over 20 years, with half coming in the first three years. Because this is a consolidation and not a class action suit, not all players will receive the same amount of money—it will be distributed on a case-by-case basis.

How concerned was the NFL about a lawsuit that "accused the league of hiding known risks of concussion for decades"? Concerned enough that they paid out nearly a billion dollars. The NFL doesn't want anyone to see how the sausage is made.

If anything, this is probably worse than even the players believe. There are long term physical risks that are beyond mitigation, and they're never going anyway. So the NFL hasn't solved anything--they've just pushed it into the future. The best the NFL can hope for is that a combination of rule changes and technological advancements make this more of an acceptable risk instead of a potentially nightmarish one.

In terms of technological advancements, Leonardo Herrera sent me a link today about a possible advance in helmet technology. Interestingly, though, the inventor isn't making some grandiose, outsized claim about the benefits. Here's the article: UCLA Engineer and Bruin Football Fan Develops Polymer to Prevent Concussions. In brief, it's a special polymer that (in a 2 millimeter strip inside the helmet) that supposedly can reduce the G-forces experienced experienced by the brain by 25 percent.

That's going to be the most successful strategy in the future, to reduce risk incrementally. There's not going to be a magic bullet to solve this and make it all go away.

The Occult Chronicles: Now Available

Vic snuck up on everyone (appropriate, considering the nature of the game) and stealth-launched The Occult Chronicles last week.

Here's a description from the game's web page:
The Occult Chronicles is a computer turn based strategy game whose design is heavily influenced by both modern adventure board games and the classic rogue like formula. You take on the role of an Occult Defense Directorate (O.D.D.) agent who has been assigned a mission to investigate an ancient estate out in the country. You start your adventure in the Main Entry Foyer and then proceed to explore the creaky old mansion encountering all manner of strange and haunted things. Your mission will take you to the caverns and dungeons below the mansion where you must confront and defeat an unspeakable evil.

What that description doesn't mention is that you get, as always, the meticulous and thorough nature of Vic's game design, and this game, in particular, is filled with interesting little details that add a ton of flavor throughout. Very H.P. Lovecraft, and that's always a good thing.

A demo is available, so have a look: The Occult Chronicles.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Like I said last month, I'm going to stay more updated on books, so here's what I've been reading since then.

First off, and I can't recommend this highly enough, is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It's a wonderful book of fantasy, magic, and magicians in the early 19th century. It's beautifully written by Susanna Clark, and here's a brief description from the Amazon page:
It's 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars?

Shades of Jasper Maskelyne!

Yesterday, I finished one of the creepier books I've ever read: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier. Here's a brief description that's spoiler free:
This strong work of reportage starts in 2002, when Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and 14 kids buy a 420-acre mining claim embedded in Alaska’s Wrangell–St. Elias National Park.

If you're thinking that this is going to end badly, you're right, and it makes for riveting (and stomach-churning) reading. "Papa Pilgrim" is as repellent on the inside as he is charismatic on the outside, if that makes any sense.

Peter Biskind has written two fascinating books about Hollywood, and they're both worth reading. Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood chronicles Hollywood in the 1970s (although it includes the 1960s to contrast and compare), and there are enough insider stories (including Scorcese, Coppola, Bogdanovich and Lucas, to name just a few) to keep you endlessly entertained. His follow-up is titled Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, and while it's not quite as strong as strong as the first volume, it's still worthwhile.

Finally, there's Coronado High, a 30,000 word article about the Coronado Company, which was a $100 million pot-smuggling operation run by a former high school Spanish teacher and some of his ex-students in the 1970s. It's clearly going to be a movie someday.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I managed to snap a few pictures at critical moments the last few days.

First, Eli 12.0 has started to school, so I made sure to be appropriately sympathetic:

This almost makes up for the old man cards he gets me for my birthday.

Next, we saw this in Walgreen's Sunday night (you need to click on it to get the enlarged version for important details):

"So these cookies are made in Scotland," Gloria said.

"Yes, I see that cookie is wearing a kilt," I said.

"They're made in a village," she said. "But not just any village--a secluded village." Yes, it actually says that on the package.

"Secluded village? I am in so hard," I said. "They probably have to use the the same equipment they use to churn butter, because no one can bring proper shortbread making gear that far. Maybe the Scottish Amish make them."

Heavy item pickup is this week in our neighborhood, which is basically a chance to throw out all the crap that won't fit in the trash can. Two doors down, I saw this on the curb:

That's a photograph or a print of a photograph, not a painting, as far as I could tell. I seriously considered picking this up, bringing it into the house, and hanging it up somewhere. Gloria would have fainted and had a stroke at the same time.

We were in line at Thundercloud Subs for lunch today, and they have a big bulletin board that anyone can put flyers on. This one certainly got my attention:

Right next to Pagan Pride Day, there was a flyer for a salsa festival. Welcome to Austin.

The Voice

I received the OK today (thanks DB) to mention and thank the fellow who was kind enough to do the narration for the cut scene. His name is Scott K. Ratner, and as Eli 12.0 would say, he's a boss. In addition to doing amazing voice impersonations, he's also a writer, actor, and magician (something else Eli would love!). Here's a link to his Hollywood Fringe Festival page.

If any of you need voice work done and want to pay him wheelbarrows of cash, please do so. It was incredibly nice of him to help me out.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #69: Cut Scene

Here's the 99% complete cut scene. I recommend going full-screen to watch it:

Fredrik made that look exactly as I saw it in my head (better, even), and the voiceover is exactly what I heard in my head, too. Perhaps there should be concern over what I see and here in my head, but that's a subject for another day.

DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand watched it late last week, and he said, "Nice job. There are two dead spots."

Okay, I'd watched the cut scene at least fifty times in various incarnations, tweaking little details, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I watched it one more time and---son-of-a-bitch, he was right. At :25, there's a field image on the screen for five seconds without any overlays, and it's ponderous. There's also a stadium image at :36 on the screen for seven seconds, and it has the same problem.

Once seen, can't unsee. So Fredrik is adding a transitional element in both those sections. Other than that, though, it's done.

Of course, nothing is without problems, and not every beta tester can see the cut scene successfully. I've narrowed it down, potentially, to XP users. It may have something to do with codecs or the .NET framework or a million other things. So I'm still trying to track that down. Plus Fredrik made this nifty graphic as an overlay in the lower-left corner of the screen:
I revised the dynamic help that takes place in the exhibition game and it's essentially complete at this point. I don't know why I fought the exhibition game for so long, because it works, and showing help during an actual league game turned out to be much too stressful.

I also fought having difficulty levels for a long time, but it turns out that works as well. It's just a much friendlier introduction to the game.

One of the beta testers said they'd like to see a bigger celebration when they won a championship. I agreed with him, and it's nice to be at a point where I can address something like that. So instead of a static confetti overlay after the Gridiron Bowl ends, there's now a nice falling confetti animation, and instead of just a custom headline, the newspaper background graphic is heavily customized as well. Plus, after you've won the championship, there will be the league trophy by your team name in the Team Hub as a reminder of what you've accomplished.

For one season. Winning one championship is not a lifetime achievement award.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off, from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an excellent read, it's When Hollywood Needs Shiny Instruments of Death, This Blacksmith Delivers. Next, and this is simply a spectacular read, it's The Soviet Superplane Program That Rattled Area 51. Next, it's How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries - Adam Savage. Here's a fantastic idea: Urban Farming in Tokyo. One more, and it's excellent: What It's Like to Be a Window Cleaner in New York City. Wait, one more on top of one more, and it's spectacular: Falcon vs Raven in Slow Motion.

From Kez, and this might come in handy, it's 16 Ways To Make A Better PB&J. Also, and this is an incredible story, it's The Rock ’n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero. Also, and I had no idea, it's This is the totally bonkers story of the US/Canada border. This last article is a long read, but it's fascinating: Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown.

From Hennie van Loggerenberg, and this is a brilliant slice of history: Visit to the World's Fair of 2014 (written by Isaac Asimov, in 1964). Also, and this is a remarkable bit of data visualization, it's These Amazing Maps Show How Threatened Your Home Is by Fires, Floods, and Hurricanes.

From Todd Robinson, and this is both bizarre and amusing, it's Whimsical Scenes Created with Real Fish Heads.

From Steven Davis, and these are both quite silly and quite entertaining, it's Unlikely: The Impossible and Improbable Objects of Giuseppe Colarusso. Also, and this is very cool, it's Torafu’s Haunted Art Gallery for Kids at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art. This next story is a total bus conversion into a living space (and still usable bus): A Tour Of The Bus.

From DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray, and this is quite incredible: 3D Printed Robotic Arm: Colorado Teen Designs $500 Prosthetic Controlled By Bluetooth Headband.

This is obscure and fascinating: The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy: The pallet..

From Jarod, and this is quite an article, it's F’d: How the U.S. and Its Allies Got Stuck with the World’s Worst New Warplane.

From Frank Regan, and this might be the fastest guy to ever play rugby, it's Carlin Isles.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Helmets (follow-up)

I don't quite myself very often, and particularly not one day later, but here's what I wrote at the end of yesterday's post:
What will be interesting to watch is how the business interests of football try to protect themselves... It will be fascinating to see if they are willing, at any point, to be straightforward and honest about the ongoing (and damning) research.

Today, ESPN announced that they were pulling out of a collaboration with PBS on a Frontline documentary about the NFL and concussions titled "League of Denial."

Sixteen days ago, ESPN producer Dwayne Bray (who was working with Frontline on the project) was asked this:
How is ESPN going to go up against the NFL when they are a major rights holder and they basically have profited immensely from the culture of violence that is in the NFL?

Here's his answer:
Well, we don’t see this as ESPN going up against the NFL. People can in their soundbites, they are allowed their opinion. We just see this as reporting the story. Again, we’ve been reporting the story for a very long time, and we’re going to continue to report the story.

...our journalism has been very strong on this issue and so strong that we partner with FRONTLINE. FRONTLINE is about as it’s the gold standard, I’ve said before, of long form investigative documentaries. ESPN is the gold standard for sports journalism from covering the games to investigative journalism. Nobody does it as comprehensively as we do it. 

 ...we respect FRONTLINE greatly. They respect us. And the NFL is going to have to understand that.

Um, yeah. Not anymore, apparently. You can read about it here.

You guys also sent in some interesting links in addition to the story. Scott Hillis sent in a Grantland piece titled What Would the End of Football Look Like?. And Loyd Case sent in a fascinating article about bicycling and concussions in relation to a new helmet design: Senseless. I'm going to replace my unicycling helmet based on the article--it's a great read.

Dogs (and Cats)

I saw a dog taking a walk with its owner today.

This dog (some kind of terrier) was in a harness, plus a soft leash was wrapped around the harness a couple of times. Restraint level = high.

The terrier couldn't have cared less. Man, he was loving life, prancing and showing off his swag as he walked down the sidewalk. He was John Travolta strutting in "Saturday Night Fever".

That's when it hit me: dogs love being domesticated. They can't get enough of that shit. Owners are like trophy wives to dogs. Dogs look at another dog with its owner and think "Dude's a baller."

If we hadn't domesticated dogs, they would have domesticated themselves.

Cats, on the other hand, were domesticated 10,000 years ago and still can't make up there mind whether it was a good deal.

What dogs are thinking when they look at you: "I LOVE that guy!"
What cats are thinking: "Too big to eat."

So we have cats, of course, because adulation in any form makes me very nervous. Having a dog around all the time would give me a nervous breakdown.

What I like about cats is that they are, quite often, sincerely indifferent, and I'm totally comfortable with that. They have their thing, I have mine, and sometimes we intersect and enjoy each other's company.

Good enough.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Deadspin has an excellent column today titled The Helmet Con: How To Make A Buck Off The Concussion Crisis.

Basically, and this is in agreement with all the research I've done after Eli 12.0 had a concussion back in his 10.5 revision, the article's saying that anyone who thinks helmets will stop concussions doesn't understand the basic physics involved, and that there are plenty of companies taking advantage of people's lack of understanding.

That's true. From the research I've done, what helmets really do is prevent skull fractures. They do little to prevent concussions, because the only way a helmet could do that would be to reduce the velocity of the brain inside the skull after a collision. The classic analogy is an egg yolk inside the shell. A harder shell isn't going to protect the yolk from moving inside the shell in response to impact.

What is very interesting in a larger sense, though, is how this could affect football.

Football is so popular here that an NFL pre-season football game (the games don't even count in the standings!) had double the ratings of a Yankees-Red Sox game on ESPN Sunday night. It's staggeringly popular.

The information coming out about concussions, though, makes me wonder. Quite a few of the parents I know are leaning their kids away from playing tackle football, and this is the #1 reason why. Is it conceivable to see a point where the talent pool is so much more shallow, because of reduced participation, that it begins to affect the popularity of the game?

It's hard to imagine that ever happening, given football's current popularity. But baseball was, by far, the most popular spectator sport in the 1970s. Forty years later, Eli 12.0 has never watched a single baseball game all the way through. He'll watch a few innings of a playoff game, but that's as much as he can stand.

I used to love baseball, and I can't stand it, either. Today's game (to me) is like watching paint dry. So tastes can and do change.

Football's problem is that it's going to be almost impossible to modify the rules in an effective manner to reduce concussions beyond banning hits to the head, and that will have only a very limited effect.

What will be interesting to watch is how the business interests of football try to protect themselves. The NFL is an unbelievably huge cash cow, and so are many major college programs. It will be fascinating to see if they are willing, at any point, to be straightforward and honest about the ongoing (and damning) research.

Gridiron Solitaire (Addendum)

Holy crap, what a day.

Fredrik finished the cut scene. I was very, very pleased.

It was rendered in 1080P.

Playing the file by itself on my system, it looked tremendous. So I put the file into the game (I had a dummy file in there so that I could put in all the code in advance, so all I had to do was swap files out and I was good to go).

I start the game, see the cut scene for the first time...and the audio is 5 seconds behind the video.

#*$*#*#*! Shoot me.

After about three hours of testing, I discovered several things:
1. 1080P just can't render quickly enough in a WPF application to keep up with the audio stream.
2. Performance in WPF is significantly faster with an .mp4 file than a .wav file.
3. 720P works fine, as far as I can tell, although I'm guessing that crappy netbooks will choke.

So instead of a simple drop-in and drive away, I'm going to need multiple versions of the cut scene, rendered at different resolutions, and select the one to load.

That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's a thirty-second operation that basically took five hours to fix, and it's not completely solved yet.

Oh, well, at least the Exhibition game code works.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Lots of moving pieces today, so instead of five separate posts, I'm bundling.

First, and I forgot to mention this in the "Glasses, The Past, And The Future" post last week, but I think for creative people, Penny Arcade was a Chicago Pile Moment. It made everyone realize that not only was the Internet a tremendous creative outlet, it was also quite possibly a commercial one.

Next, and this is a shocker, the Origin distribution platform now has a refund policy for EA published games. You can hit the link for the details, but you basically have a 24-hour window from the time you launch the game to ask for a refund.

This is great for consumers, even with its limitations, but it's great for EA in a business sense, too, because it gives them an incentive to comply with the first rule of making the consumer happy: don't release broken shit. 

Plus, how long has it been since we've seen a gaming company compete by offering more to consumers, instead of less? Finally!

I found out yesterday that there's a radio station in Portland, Oregon (KINK-FM), that has a series of 20-25 minute in-house concerts from hundreds of musicians. It's called Bing Lounge After Hours, and it's a terrific resource for just wandering around and listening to new groups. It's well worth checking out if you're a music fan.

There was a post over at Deadspin today about Hank Aaron, and what I always loved about Hank Aaron is that he was an honorable man. Baseball today seems filled with d-bags (Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and about a hundred more) whose only objective is to cheat the game as much as they can. Aaron was old school, and he was a bad-ass, but he did it without shouting for attention.

I think there are very few men who could have handled the racist anger that surrounded him as he neared Babe Ruth's record, because it was horrible. He did, though, and he broke Ruth's record, and he did it with grace.

There's a multiple exposure image of Aaron hitting his 715th, and it's quite beautiful, plus a link to an interview with Aaron over at LIFE, and all of it is here.

Lastly, Elmore Leonard passed away this morning at the age of 87. If you've never heard of him, you need to come correct and read some of his work, because he was a fantastic writer. Here's an article about his rules for writing, and it's both insightful and very funny at the same time. Leonard was one of the last writers of lean, taut prose, and his writing creates a kind of focused stillness as you read it that's very special indeed.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #68: Almost!

Fredrik synced the audio and video of the cut scene, and it was pretty thrilling to see it for the first time today.

That's the good news. The bad news is that you won't see it until next week. We're adding the sound of a projector running in the background, and it's not integrated into the audio yet (although I've done it manually, and it's just what I wanted). Plus Fredrik is making a few minor changes in individual images. So it's probably not going to be totally finished until the Wednesday-Thursday timeframe.

That's one piece of big news for this week. The other big news is that after resisting doing this for over a year, I'm adding an exhibition game for first-time players.

I finally decided to do this because the first fifteen minutes of user experience is killing me. People have a very negative reaction to playing a league game--and losing, almost certainly--while they're trying to learn game mechanics.


At first, I thought the Rookie difficulty setting would compensate for this, but really, it doesn't. The game is deceptively simple--and the mechanics are simple--but the strategic details are much more layered, and learning them is a process, not a one-time event. So you can easily learn how to play the game in ten minutes, but learning how to play well is going to take longer.

That's fine, but getting your ass kicked for the 10 minutes you're going through the tutorial, and having the game count on your league record, feels cheap and unfair.

The exhibition game will be one half long, and almost all the dynamic help will show in the course of the half. Anything that doesn't get shown (onside kicks, for example) will get shown the first time the situation occurs in regular gameplay.

The exhibition half should take about 10 minutes play.

That's not going to make everyone happy, but I've learned over time that nothing will make everyone happy. So you make as many people happy as possible, and inconvenience the people who aren't happy as little as possible, and that's probably a happy medium in terms of accessibility, as long as it doesn't change your fundamental vision of the game.

I started working on the exhibition game code today, and much to my surprise, it's going fairly quickly. I think it will be finished in the Wednesday-Thursday timeframe, about the same time the cut scene is done.

At that point, and I find this hard to believe, the game will be approximately done. Feature complete, content complete, and almost completely down to bug fixes.

I want to refactor the code, but at the same time, that scares me a bit, because changing code to make it more efficient has at least some degree of risk. The upside is that if I could reduce the total number of lines of code by 10-15% (right now I think there are about 45,000 lines of code, plus the XAML, which is probably another 5,000 lines), it will be easier to maintain and easier to find bugs.

Taking so long to develop something means that a bunch of different versions of You worked on it. There's Really Dumb You, which was early on, and the recent version is Considerably Smarter But Not Adept You. So every time you see code by Dumb You (that's a lot of code), the latest You thinks it could be written in half as many lines.

That may be true, but like I said, I may not be willing to dismantle anything to put it together more efficiently. The darn thing works.

There's one person left who I want to show the game. He's the single person I respect most in the gaming world, someone who created some of the best games I ever played, and he's been gracious enough to say that he would look at the game when I thought it was ready.

Well, it's almost ready.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Links!

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine rolls on for another week, and starting off, it's Carving and Chipping Away at Paint by Karin Waskiewicz. Next, and this is stunning, it's Unseen World War I photos: German Trenches. Another war-related link, but this one is considerably more eccentric: Vuurwapen On Ice. Paris in China? Indeed, and it's incredible: Tianducheng. Last one, and it's very moving (but a very tough read): I love my wife. My wife is dead.. Wait, one more, and we've all wanted one of these at some point: China Mountain Villa On Tower Block 'Must Go'.

From Nathan Carpenter, and this is one of many reasons that MIT is damned cool: MIT Has Had a Secret Pirate Program This Whole Time.

From Steven Davis, and this is tremendously cool: Make: Inventions – Building Morse’s First Telegraph. Also, and this is very slick, it's Stop-Motion History of Typography. One more, and it's remarkable: Recycled Energy: Ambient Backscatter Allows Wireless Communication With No Batteries.

From C. Lee, and this is fascinating: Homeless running group helps men reach their goals.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is a fantastic resource: NASA's Massive Free E-Book Collection. Also, and this is very cool, it's Shine And The Moonbeams: R&B For The Kids.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and the video included with this article is entirely amazing: Why I'm letting the gorillas I love go free: Son of legendary gambler John Aspinall reveals he's releasing the animals from his family zoo back to the wild. Also, and this is classic, it's Teacher Wears Same Outfit in 40 Consecutive Yearbook Photos.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is quite incredible: Japan's Mysterious Underwater Circles Are Lovely.

From Jonathan Arnold, and the level of detail reminds me of Dwarf Fortress: You Won’t Believe How Insanely Detailed This Guy’s Fictional Maps Are.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stuff You Might Like

Things are moving so quickly now that sometimes I intend to mention something and just forget.

Such is the case with Constellation Games.

The first time I saw the book mentioned, it was in a post at Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow: Constellation Games: debut sf novel floored me with its brilliance. As you can tell by the title, Doctorow raved about the book, and his review made me exceedingly curious. So I read it,  and it was everything Doctorow said it would be and more.

I would normally give you the basic set-up of the book, but the story is so far out there, so wildly original (and gaming related), that I don't want to spoil anything. I will say, though, that the book works on multiple levels: as straight comedy, as a contemplation on what it means to be human (I've said 1,000 times that all great science fiction must be about this), and even as political commentary.

It's a wonderfully funny, deeply resonant piece of work, and you should go buy it immediately. Go now.

Second bit of stuff, and sadly, there's no comedy here at all. Blackfish is a documentary about the treatment of killer whales in captivity by SeaWorld, and it's one of the saddest movies I've ever seen. This is one of those movies that's important to see, but it's very painful. SeaWorld is very clearly and carefully exposed. They've tried to hit back, but I can't imagine that anyone who sees this film will ever go to SeaWorld again. I won't, and I only wish I could take back the money I've spent there over the years.

Twenty years from now, or sooner, I seriously doubt that killer whales will be kept in captivity, and this documentary will be one of the reasons why.

Third bit of stuff, and this is even't a product, it's just a preview of a product. Farming Simulator has quite a niche following, and I have to admit, peacefully managing a virtual farm sounds appealing some days. What I'd like to mention, though, is the trailer for the upcoming console version, which is, quite simply, one of the best gaming trailers I've ever seen. It makes Farming Simulator seem so hip that Grand Theft Auto cowers in its hipness shadow. It's just a minute long, but what a piece of work: Farming Simulator trailer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Glasses, The Past, And The Future

I realized today that I would have been entirely worthless before the fourteenth century.

Glasses weren't invented until 1286, you see, and weren't available for years after that. My vision is comically bad. I'm so nearsighted that I have to be closer than six inches away to clearly read letters that are an inch high. Without glasses, I don't know who I would have been.

What the hell would I have done in the the thirteenth century, exactly, besides die young?

Thinking about that made me wonder about how some of us fit into slots in history. There's the occasional multi-dimensional genius like Da Vinci, who we can safely assume would have kicked ass in almost any century, but for almost everyone else, their talents and personalities are more suited to a particular age.

Besides being damn near blind, I would have never survived an earlier time, because I'm just not a collaborative person. I do things on my own, mostly, and I've been like that since I was just a kid. I want to get so totally absorbed in something that--for a little while--nothing else exists. I always preferred individual sports over team sports. Dinner parties creep me out. Hell, any kind of party that doesn't have children running around creeps me out.

This would never have done in the fifteen century, for example, because it was almost impossible for people to learn things on their own. Knowledge was hierarchical. The printing press (1450) was going to change all that, eventually, but it would take a long, long time for knowledge to become democratized.

So, in summary: nearly blind. Not physically strong. Doesn't work well with others. An oddball. Chances of not starving to death: very low.

In this century, though, miraculously, my numerous liabilities are masked.

Can't see? I've got a phenomenal pair of glasses. Not physically strong? Lots of other people aren't, either, and at least I can Ginsburg. Doesn't work well with others? Don't have to anymore. Knowledge is totally democratized, and everyone learns in the way that's best for them.

Most importantly, in addition to knowledge, distribution has been democratized, too. Anyone who writes a book or makes an album or develops a computer game can get that product distributed. Sure, maybe it sells ten copies (in my case, maybe less), but at least it can get out there.

Like Penny Arcade.

Penny Arcade is the most successful creative brand of the Internet era, in my mind. Its success is no accident, either, because it's always entertaining and often brilliant.

What would have happened, though, if Mike and Jerry were part of a previous generation? What if they were born when I was (1961), and decided they wanted to start a comic in, say, 1985? They could have made something entirely brilliant, but depending on their abilities to impress a handful of decision-makers, it might never have even been distributed.

Maybe the lifetime that became Penny Arcade wouldn't have even existed in a different era.

It's hard to wrap my brain around that.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I went to ride this morning.

I've had a very odd fitness routine this summer. In a typical week, here are the workouts: swimming, tennis, unicycle, swimming, tennis, elliptical, unicycle.

Plus Ginsburging, of course.

The basic premise was that since I tend to have major injury problems when I do anything too often, I wouldn't do the same exercise on consecutive days. And I didn't, except for tennis, because I was doing that with Eli 12.0, and we were fitting that into his schedule.

We played so much tennis (at such a high level of effort) that my knees started giving me problems, but everything else worked. It's the end of summer and I'm exhausted, but I'm not injured.

Eli's at Camp Half-Blood this week (an all-day camp based on the Percy Jackson books), so I decided to go ride. I found a park about fifteen minutes away that had some excellent looking riding trails (on Google Maps) and went there. I parked a few blocks away from the park and thought I'd just ride there on the trails, then ride around.

As soon as I started, though, I realized that I had ridden on this section of trail before. It's uphill, then it's uphill, and it's uphill for a while.

Oh, yeah--it's uphill.

Once you're on the damn unicycle, though, you don't want to step off, so I just rode. Uphill, into a strong headwind. For a mile. In billion degree weather.

Once I finally made it to the park, I was gassed. So I turned around, rode a mile back to the car, then decided to drive to the park and scout possible rides.

This is a new park, and it's in Texas, so it's basically miles of grass and lots of soccer fields, with a concrete riding trail. And, much to my surprise, a skate park.

The skate park was, by far, the nicest thing in the park. It was big and well-designed, and while I would have loved to have ridden in it, I would have killed myself. I thought I might stay and check out the skaters, though.

The only problem was that I didn't see any skaters.

I did, however, see a few Big Wheels. And bikes with training wheels. So instead of watching highly-skilled skaters do crazy tricks, I watched very small children ride their Big Wheels up little inclines and be totally happy.

It was great.

That's a crappy picture, I know, but I didn't want any moms to punch me.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #67: Stadiums, Cut Scenes

Last night, for about an hour, it was the holiday season.

Fredrik sent me four updated stadiums. Now, all stadiums have been "architecturally updated", and once again, he outdid himself. Plus a very astute reader suggested a separate layer for lighting (thanks, TB). That was a great suggestion, and now everything on the field has a light source (I think I'm saying that right, but I'm not sure. That pretty much describes everything I say, all day long).

Then, I received audio for the cut scene.

Here's the story. A long-time reader (I'm not using any names here, because I'm not sure if they want them used) said that one of his friends did professional voice impersonations. He linked me to a YouTube clip, and his friend was amazing.

I very much wanted a newsreel-type announcer for the cut scene. You'll understand when I show it to you (probably next week), but it had to be that kind of voice to match the visuals. I tried doing the voice, and I did decently in terms of pitch and cadence, but I just didn't have the right voice.

So last night, I get this e-mail that basically says here's the audio, even though the voice guy was disappointed in it and didn't think it was done very well.

I was a bit crushed after reading that.

I double-clicked on the audio file, expecting very little, and realized after about five seconds that the audio was absolutely perfect. Nailed. I couldn't believe how it was exactly what I wanted, exactly what I had been hearing in my head.

Fredrik is re-cutting the scene to match the audio (slight length discrepancy), but I should be able to show it to you next Monday.

I'm kind of on to something, I think, but I'm not quite there yet. I still have the fundamental problem of new players who get crushed for the first game or two of their initial season. It's discouraging, and it can be overwhelming.

On the other hand, though, the percentage of testers who get very involved in the game, the ones who "get" it, has gone up with every beta. More people are playing the game long enough to see some of the special details that (I hope) make the game stand out as a special experience.

So I still have to get the players at Point A to Point B, but at least I'm sure that Point B exists.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Chris Pencis, and it's absolutely the cleverest comic idea I've ever seen: Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic. Really, you absolutely must read this article. Seriously. Go do it now.

Also in comics, from Brad Gehrig, and this is a terrific idea, it's The Infinite Corpse, a chain web comic (now at 327 different artists).

Leading off this week, from Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is entirely amazing, it's 3D-Printed Rocket Parts Excel in NASA Tests.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is tremendous, it's Greatest Game of HORSE Ever. Also, and this is terrific (and interactive), it's The Serengeti Lion: Life on the Plains With the Vumbi Pride. Also, and any article about this place is a must read, it's Action Park.

From Steven Davis, and is is elaborate (to say the least), it's Actor Steven Fry and magician Derren Brown marvel at wine opening machine. Also, and this is tremendous, it's Correcting some common misrepresentations of evolution

From Wallace, and this is a terrific read, it's What is the payoff structure of gold?

From Meg McReynolds, and this is totally fascinating, it's The Internet map.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is entirely kickass, it's Grandma Drummer. Next, and this is fascinating and very much worth seeing, it's An alternate universe where Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents.. This next story is amazing (and profitable): Shipwreck Yields Most Silver Ever. This next story is just bizarre: Grandma's House: German Boy Finds Mummy in Attic. One more, and it's a fascinating idea: The Passage of Time Captured in Layered Landscape Collages by Fong Qi Wei.

From Neil Sorens, and this is utterly mad, it's The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

From Frank Regan, and this is very correctly titled: Badass of the Week: Juliane Koepcke.

From Craig Miller, and this is a great read: The milk revolution: When a single genetic mutation first let ancient Europeans drink milk, it set the stage for a continental upheaval. Also, if you out find what your "authentic" Chinese character tattoo actually means, you might be surprised: Hanzi Smatter: dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture.

Finally, from Sebastian Morgan-Lynch, and this explains sports better than I ever could: A Cartoon About Sports.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


Let's talk about Phil Fish.

Phil Fish is a highly talented game designer who created Fez, a very successful (200,000+ copies sold) XBLA game that was later ported to the PC (and was successful there as well).

That's one Phil Fish.

The other Phil Fish is, well, kind of a troll. He insults people just to get a response, and he does. There have been multiple controversies surrounding Fish in the past, and it's just part of his personality.

Recently, though, it went up to a whole new level.

A journalist asked Fish for a comment about Microsoft's decision to allow indie developers to self-publish on Xbox One. Fish chose not to reply (he later said he was waiting for more information, which seems reasonable).

The journalist, Marcus Beer, then trolled Fish by insulting him for not commenting ("wanker", "tosspot", and "f-cking hipster", among others). That's completely ridiculous, and let me call Mr. Beer by his actual title: "hack," because an actual journalist would never be such an irresponsible dick.

So far, this is all very clear and easy to understand.

Then, Phil Fish goes thermonuclear on his Twitter feed. Here are excerpts from a series of mind-blowing posts in the space of an hour:
"compare your life to mine and kill yourself"
"Today's beeve is brought to you by some inconsequential limey f-ck"
"...who got so BUTT HURT that me and jon wouldn't give out quotes."
"it must be frustrating being such a small commentator, only being able to ejaculate vomit out of your mouth from the sidelines."

Then, in response to someone who grossly insulted him:
"hey, invisible balls, i'm talking to you! i'm right here! SAY THAT SHIT TO ME FACE."

Then, the walkoff shot:
"i'm done. FEZ II is cancelled. goodbye."

Um, okay?

A troll trolled a troll and they got into a troll war. Then Phil Fish says his feelings are hurt and he rage quits.

Of course, it's not that simple. The gaming press is this amorphous blob comprised of a relatively small tier of actual journalists, another tier of writers who may not be journalists but handle themselves responsibly, and then a swamp of people who aren't writers or journalists and have absolutely no professional ethics.

That swamp causes all kinds of problems. At times, they incite their readers to be idiots. Certainly, because of the swamp, the tone of discourse around gaming has been heavily coarsened. Creative types are savaged on a regular basis on social media.

It's bad. Very bad.

Having said all that, though, someone has to be the grown-up. Everything on the Internet gets amplified exponentially. Come on, that's Rule #1. Phil Fish took out the flamethrower, but the only person he burned up was himself.

Responding in kind to an asshole has never, EVER worked. Put up one clever, non-profane response (if you must), and get out. Walk away.

Just walk away.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Papers, Please Releasing Thursday

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be looking forward to a game where I'd role-play an immigration inspector.

I was wrong, though. Papers, Please releases tomorrow, and I can't wait.

In case you missed it, here's the game description:
The communist state of Arstotzka has ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission's primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Most games today, particularly the big budget extravaganzas, create tension through overload. Papers, Please, in contrast, is remarkable because it creates an incredible sense of tension through deprivation. You're looking at one document at a time. That's basically all you see. It's incredibly effective, and I felt more tension playing the demo than I've ever felt in a first person shooter.

I know, that sounds crazy. But the essential stillness of the game builds tension like a well constructed suspense film.

This game deserves to be very, very successful.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Console Post: Wii U

This was a shocking announcement last week:
Just 160,000 Wii U consoles were sold worldwide between April and June, along with 1.03 million software units. The figure is a 51.3 percent decrease on last quarter; the console has now sold 3.61 million units around the world despite Nintendo's initial prediction of 5.5 million systems moved by the end of March.

Context? The Wii launched in November of 2006. From that point until December 2012--over five years--the Wii never sold less than 172,000 units.

In one month. In the U.S.

It took the Gamecube four and a half years before it sold less than 160,000 units in a quarter, and that's just for U.S. numbers, not worldwide.

This is certainly a historic shitkicking for Nintendo. It's almost impossibly bad.

So what do they do here?

For one, they have to recognize that they have an extremely limited timeframe to turn this around. Anyone who greenlights starting development on a Wii U game now must be out of their mind. There will be nothing in the pipeline 1-2 years from now unless something dramatic happens.

How dramatic? Dropping the price to $199.

Nintendo can't afford to do that? Well, they can kiss this generation goodbye, then. They can sell ass all the way through the holidays, and then this console will officially be called the Nintendo DOA.

I don't want that to happen, because Nintendo occupies a unique space in the gaming market compared to Microsoft and Sony. For lack of a better word, they're more gentle. They're more child-like. That makes them incredibly appealing to me, and to many other people as well.

Unfortunately, though, they're running out of time. Even nine months after launch, developers must be running away from the system, based on the sales numbers. They need to make a splash. So drop the price to $199, market the hell out of it during the holidays, and hope the sales numbers show a significant surge.

Why is it so important to do this now, even though it's less than a year from launch? Well, let me ask another question: has there ever been a financially successful console that had a first year like this?

I can't find one.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #66: Revised Stadium Architecture

Fredrik, of course, knew what to do about stadium architecture. Have a look:

You'll need to click on the image to see all the detail at full resolution, but it's a huge improvement. A stadium framework around the stands, flags that add a sense of depth, individual rows of stairs, press boxes--it's cohesive now. And when the fans are in the stands, it looks even better.

That's the good news. The bad news is that there are seven more stadiums to revise. It's going to work, though.

At this point in the second beta, most of the participants have either dropped off or only rarely e-mail, but I have three testers (Tosh, Darrel, and Nate) who are basically superstars. They find all kinds of obscure things that I would never have caught in a hundred years. Just yesterday, for example, Darrel sent me a ton of screenshots to show where long team names/nicknames weren't displaying properly.

I had set an arbitrary character limit for the team and nickname fields, but it had never crossed my mind that someone might choose a very long team name AND a very long team nickname. If they did, though, it was going to cause big problems. 

This made me think in more detail about how long those team name fields really needed to be, and because of that, both fields now have far more realistic length limitations, and those limitations ensure that even with a long/long combination, text will display properly.

It's the same thing with resolutions. Man, supporting various resolutions and doing all the checks necessary are just a huge pain in the ass. I've done it, but these guys found some holes in what I'd done, so I get to fix it now instead of getting hammered when the game ships (well, if someone actually buys the game--it may be the sound of crickets chirping instead).

So I'm doing a lot of this grindy stuff now, and after I finish this I'm going to play a game on my ultra-crappy low-resolution netbook (which I bought specifically because it IS ultra-crappy and provides a worst-case scenario for performance). 

Oh, there is at least one fun thing: a ten-second sample from the cut scene is in the game now. It only displays once--the first time you start the game--but it's great fun to see it actually in place, even if it's only an excerpt. No audio yet--well, only my voice, which is lousy--but it's getting there. 

When I have the full cut scene in there with finished audio, it will be the first time that the entire game--absolutely everything--will be stitched together. I still find it impossible to believe that this is actually going to happen. Sometimes it pays off being so stupid that you don't know when to quit.

Oh, and if you want to be in the last beta test, just shoot me an e-mail. I'd be happy to add another ten people or so, if anyone is interested.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday Links!

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine is more like the Edwin Garcia Links Avalanche this week. First, and you obviously need to see this, it's The best opening paragraph on Wikipedia. Next, and this is a spectacular image, it's Big Ship in a Tiny Canal. Next, and this is fascinating, it's The Making of a Steinway - A Steinway & Sons Factory Tour Narrated by John Steinway. Continuing, and this is quite fantastic, it's UCLA's 1948 Mechanical Computer Was Simply Gorgeous To Watch in Action. Next, and if you're into cycling, this is mandatory viewing: Experiments in Speed. Another, and it's quite odd: MYSTERY of 19th-century DEAD WALRUS found in London graveyard.

From Steven Davis, and this is fascinating: North Sentinel Island: One of the inspirations for the fantasy island of Dinotopia. Also, and be sure to wait for the bizarre stuff, it's What Happens When you Mix Ammonium Chromate & Mercury(II) and Set it on Fire.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is a remarkable read: Hart Island: Burying New York City's Indigent Dead. And video: A Visit to Hart Island.

From John DiMinno, and this is just hilarious: Steve, Don't Eat It!

From Michael M., and this is a fantastic puzzler: This YouTube channel has become a dark mystery we have only 67 days to solve.

From Julian Bell, and this story has extremely high WTF content: Driver charged over car with no steering wheel. Also, and this is an inspiring story, it's 'Female Schindler' Irene Sendler, who saved thousands of Jewish children, dies.

From Scott Gould, and this is an excellent read: Hauling New Treasure Along the Silk Road.

From Marc Klein, and this is also an excellent read: Can Diamond Dallas Page Save Wrestling's Walking Dead?

From C. Lee, and this is an even MORE excellent read: Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History.

This is a terrific and haunting article: On Henry Ford's 150th Birthday, a Look Inside His Failed Utopia.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Detroit! (part 3)

Here are two amazing suits of armor that we saw at the art museum:

Detroit also has an excellent Children's Museum, and I think you can tell what's important to local culture by the content of their children's museum. The Austin Children's Museum is all about technology, but the Detroit museum is all about manufacturing and engineering.

Example: an exhibit about a tunnel boring machine.

And this (there's some very, very cool stuff in this picture, so click on it for a larger look):

On early, early Saturday morning, we headed for the airport. Walking in from the parking lot, we crammed ourselves and a billion bags related to hockey into an elevator. Just as the doors were closing, a middle-aged man pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair jammed in with us.

The younger man had a fireman's mustache, and his skin was pock-marked and weathered. He had on a short-sleeve dress shirt, opened at at least one button too far, and wore a gold chain around his neck. As soon as the doors closed, I could smell the cigarette smoke.

The fellow in the wheelchair looked to be in his 70s, and carried a small suitcase on his lap. I could hear the soft click and whoosh of an oxygen machine, even though I couldn't see it, and I realized he had emphysema.

After a few seconds, Gloria said, "So, where are you gentlemen headed?"

I thought there were two possible answers: the hospital or Florida.

Instead, the old man croaked, "Vegas."

He didn't say another word.

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