Monday, September 30, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #74: Slogging Forward

Boy, it's getting ugly.

The bug list is so small and esoteric (to me) now that it's hard to make progress.. Things like "after power button suspend on laptops, sound doesn't return immediately upon resumption."

Seriously, what the hell? That's something grown-ups take care, not some questionably competent individual like me. Just reading the description of the problem is terrifying.

I don't even want to fix this. It seems minor. But Garret reported it, and since Garret has helped me through the entire project, it seems like an affront if I don't resolve it.

So I ask him, hoping he'll tell me it's not worth spending time on. Instead, he says (as he often does) that I should look into it because it probably won't kill me. I had sent him some code I Googled that seemed like a possible approach, and he said it was indeed.

That's pretty darned encouraging, and I'm making great progress until I realize that the sample code is for a WinForms program, not WPF. WPF does all kinds of cool things that can't be done in WinForms, but there are a few things that WinForms can do that aren't supported in WPF (like a color picker, which caused me long bouts of profanity).

Wait a minute, though. DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray has done a ton of WPF programs, and he must have had this problem. So I e-mail him and he says "look at SystemEvents.PowerModeChanged."

So I do, and once I get the necessary imports and event handlers sorted, I realize that I understand what's going on (holy crap). So I write the event handler code and--son of a gun--it works. I still have more to do, but I'm going to get that item off the list.

What's left? A bug where when a user launches the game in a multi-monitor setup, they can't move the game off the launch screen. That's another one that's terrifying.

Much bigger than that, though, is the continuing issue on some Win 8 machines. A few users are having crashes--not inside the game, but in Windows. So the game crashes to the desktop with some kind of Windows violation, but no crashdump.txt gets written because the game itself didn't crash (if that makes any sense).

I really depend on that crashdump file, because it gives me a window and a line number, and I can fix most things pretty quickly with that information. Without it, though, I'm crippled. And it's been a very resistant problem.

I'm hoping, entirely without substance, that creating a real install package (with InstallShield) will resolve the security permissions issue, because that's what appears to be the problem--security permissions.

I've successfully created a single-file installer (hooray), that actually installs the program (double hooray), but when I try to run the game, it just hangs (oh, hell). That's progress, though, to even get to the point where I have an actual setup program.

Yeah, I know it doesn't actually run yet. Baby steps.

One other thing was finished last week, and that's the crowd. I went back through every stadium and every crowd panel and made sure that they're lined up exactly. It was a whole lot of one pixel left, two pixels right, and it was 10+ hours of tedium, but the crowd looks excellent and nothing looks off.

Fredrik sent me a more human looking crowd, but there were issues I couldn't get sorted out, and I missed the crowd looking like individual cards. Then I tried 2X as many fans in a section, and I missed the size of the old fans. So the fans are done. I like them and there won't be any more changes.

I also think I'm backing away from night stadiums. It was a nice idea, but getting the lighting to look just right is hell, and I can always add them in a free expansion (which already has a few other items I'll be working on). In general, though, I need to stop using adding something as an excuse to delay finishing the game.

It's comfortable to be working on the game. It's not nearly as comfortable to ship it, which might not make sense, but it's a strong feeling. So I have to force myself to go forward, not sideways.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Aaron Ward, and it's a terrific article: How Atari Box Art Turned 8-Bit Games Into Virtual Wonderlands.

From C. Lee, and this is both incredible and terrifying: Report: Nuke that fell on N.C. in 1961 almost exploded. I can't image how different the world would be today if the bomb had actually detonated. Also, and this is fascinating, it's Catharsis (venting anger doesn't actually help).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is extraordinary: Artifact sold in Michigan, recovered by Detroit agents returned to South Korea. Next, and this is quite an article, it's Revealed: the violent, thuggish world of the young JS Bach.

From Steven Davis, and this is entirely hilarious: Terminator 2 reenacted entirely with lines from Shakespeare. Next, and attention punctuation nerds, it's 13 Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using. Next, and this is fantastic, it's 42 Amazing Maps. One more, and it's nuts: Box: A Groundbreaking Demonstration at the Intersection of Robotics, Projection-Mapping, and Software.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fascinating, it's Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? No, it's much, much weirder than that. Also, and this is just awesome (and very funny), it's How to Recognize the Artists of Paintings.

From Sebastian Morgan-Lynch, and this is a thoughtful bit of forensics work: What's really wrong with BlackBerry (and what to do about it).

Because of the fascinating nature of that first link, here's another story about it, from The Atlantic (thanks Francis Cermak): The Single Switch That Saved the East Coast From Nuclear Disaster.

A slew of interesting links from Michael M. this week. First, and this is quite a cultural lesson, it's Lessons on ballpark seating etiquette for Japanese baseball. Next, and holy crap, it's Chernobyl at Sea? Russia Building Floating Nuclear Power Plants. Next, and this is unbelievably awesome, it's Farm Animal Drawing Generator. Next, this may seem trivial, but it's very cool: That’s Not How You Use That: Coiling a Cable. You'll absolutely want to see this: National Geographic Tumblr.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

NCAA: It's Over

This happened today:
Electronic Arts has canceled its college football game, originally set to publish in 2014. EA Sports GM of American Football Cam Weber wrote in an EA blog that the publisher is "evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise." 

The news follows the NCAA's decision to not renew its licensing partnership with EA Sports in July, leading the publisher to move forward in a three-year deal with the Collegiate Licensing Company to create college football games without the NCAA names and marks. EA Sports' last published game in the series was NCAA Football 14.

Well, let's look at what happened here.

1. A shitty football game isn't getting released next year. 
There's no argument here: NCAA is a poor product. It's been a poor product for years. Tiburon is where quality goes to die. Even when the series had a great new feature (Campus Legend mode), it would get introduced one year, then ignored for the next five. Campus Legend was a way to elevate the game in so many ways, but once it was in as a feature, it was never improved.

It's not sexy to say "Our new feature this year is fixing all the crap that's been broken for a decade." That's what they'd have to do to fix this game, because I guarantee you that EA has a list of literally hundreds of bugs in a database somewhere that aren't considered important enough to fix.

Madden? Same deal.

EA has two series that have been outstanding for a long time: NHL and FIFA. They're both developed by EA Canada. Madden and NCAA are both developed by Tiburon. EA Canada has demonstrated that they're capable of making a first-class sports game. Tiburon has not.

Why no one at EA ever seems to notice this is beyond me.

2. EA is starting to prune franchises.
Licensing costs are eating EA alive. They're going to do everything they can to cut licensing costs, and there may be some franchises that are discontinued--or continued without licensing--in order to address spiraling costs. This was a convenient opportunity for EA to jettison a huge pain in the ass.

Tiger Woods is also vulnerable, and as much as I hate to say it, NHL (our favorite sports franchise) may be vulnerable, too. There are two huge moneymakers here, and they're Madden and FIFA. Those are the only franchises that are safe.

3. EA settled the player likeness lawsuit.
This was inevitable, because EAs attempts at a defense in this case were knee-slapping hilarious. It is inconceivable that they could have won this lawsuit. So they settled, the terms were confidential, and we'll probably never find out what happened here. Well, except that EA was in an untenable position and was wise to settle.

4. EA Sports is wheezing.
There really seem to be some cracks in the facade. NCAA Basketball is dead. NCAA Football is dead. No baseball game. Other franchises look vulnerable.

They have the UFC bloodsport simulator, and that may prove to be very successful. The days of riding high on a wave of team sports, though, may be over.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Here you go, from earlier this week:
As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself. SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines.

And today:
Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.

My initial inclination is to dismiss this, but that would be a mistake, because Valve has demonstrated in the past that they are both shrewd and highly adaptive. Anything they do has to be taken seriously.

Steambox? Get it down to $400 and allow HD access to a huge catalog of games, most of which will be deeper and more involving than a console game, and the Steambox starts to look pretty damned interesting.

It will cost way too much, at first, and there will be huge teething pains, but since Valve isn't making the hardware, their financial exposure is seemingly limited. And how many people would be willing to install SteamOS or buy a Steambox to play Half-Life 3?

This doesn't seem half-ass or careless. And if anyone can pull this off, it's Valve.

Trends (Follow-up)

I had some follow-up thoughts after the post on Thursday.

First, EA Sports has some huge opportunities in the "toy" space. What about making some high-quality "legends" figures for Madden, and when you buy them and put them in the "stadium" portal, you can use them in the game?

Yeah, that's evil. It's a natural, though, and you could do it with FIFA as well. And if the figures are worth collecting on their own, it's an additional sources of sales momentum. Plus there could be promotional tie-ins with fast food franchises. The marketing opportunities are disturbingly endless.

Eli 12.1 treasures an NHL bobblehead he got from a friend (who got it from a Happy Meal at a Canadian McDonald's). Make the figures bobbleheads, and it's even better.

Really, what we're talking about here are a physical form of IAP (in-app purchases), except the base game isn't free. So buy the game, buy the figures, and they grant you additional content/powers in the game. That's just IAP in another form.

Okay, so what other series are naturals for this toy trend? You guys sent me a list:
--Star Wars
--Pokemon (already available in Pokemon Rumble U)
--Angry Birds (already available in Angry Birds Telepods)

Plus the new Skylanders this fall (Swap Force) will have a twist, literally: upper and lower bodies of figures are interchangeable.

There's no end to this until the genre crashes, and it will. Until then, it's going to pervasive and invasive and every other "vasive". Every game that can possibly cram some kind of tie-in around physical toys with an in-game use is going to have them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

If You're a Pittsburgh Pirates Fan

I know there aren't a ton of people out there who are Pittsburgh Pirates fans, but if you are, immediately go view one of the best sports photographs I've ever seen: The Moment The Pirates Reached The Playoffs.


WARNING: if you haven't seen the last episode, stop reading now. The discussion includes spoilers about the last episode.

I know quite a few of you (like us) watched Dexter for years. It wasn't science fiction, but the central question of the show was the theme of all great science fiction: what does it mean to be human?

The show's quality certainly suffered in the last two seasons, once Deb discovered the truth about Dexter. The last few episodes this season, though, were very strong and some of my favorites.

We watched the final episode Sunday night, and Gloria really hated it. There was nothing about the episode that she liked, really, and she had very reasonable objections.

I loved it, though.

To me, Dexter is a modern day retelling of Frankenstein (and I'm going to refer to the monster from here forward as "Frankenstein", whether that's technically correct or not). While the show's writers may not have intended it that way, there are associations throughout the series that became even stronger in the last season.

For one, Dexter was created by Vogel, primarily. She was Dr. Frankenstein. Dexter always saw himself as something other than human, as incapable of feeling real emotion (although he does seem to transform during the last half of the last season).

Dexter's relationship with Vogel is conflicted, but when he she dies, he mourns over her body, just as Frankenstein does when he discovers Victor's body in the ship's cabin.

Most importantly, like Dexter, Frankenstein is incredibly self-aware, fully aware that he is living a cursed existence, and one that he cannot escape. There is no hope of redemption.

I know that the writers probably didn't intend to make this connection, because there are plenty of pieces that don't fit, but the archetype does fit. That's how I've always seen Dexter's character, so I never expected him to die in the last episode. Frankenstein didn't die--he exiled himself to the Arctic. And while Frankenstein says he's going to kill himself (by fire), it's hard to think that he's going to be successful. He seems to be destined to roam the Arctic forever, not alive and yet not dead.

Dexter exiling himself to an area that seems almost as remote (symbolically) makes sense. The order is reversed--Dexter tries to kill himself, seemingly, but somehow fails--but his eternal misery is very familiar.

I like ambition in final episodes more than closure. And while you can argue that this episode wasn't entirely successful, it was certainly hugely ambitious.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #73: Performance!

Please note that I added an exclamation point this week.

If you'll remember, last week I was discussing how the crowd animation pushed CPU usage up in the 120% range (30% per core with a four-core CPU). I upgraded to Visual Studio 2012 (which has some build in performance profilers that are quite useful), and when I ran the profiler, it confirmed that the CPU load was basically 30% (per core) during the crowd animation.

Otherwise, it was steady between 15-20%.

It looked fine on my desktop, but on the crappy netbook, the crowd moved one time in five seconds. Zombie fans.

My performance issue could be easily traced to the individual rectangles that make up the crowd:

Each one of those little rectangles has its own geometry. They're each separate objects. Combined, they make up one crowd "panel", and there are 20+ crowd panels visible in each stadium.

In other words, that's a ton of animation of individual objects.

DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel mentioned this in an e-mail:
What I would recommend trying is instead of using an export from Expression design, replace the brush with a single textured element, an image. The texture will be a single image that has all the crowd rectangles.

You're probably thinking "Damn! Why didn't you do it that way to start with?" The answer is that I didn't know how. I could do the XAML export and make it work (and was quite proud of it, too). I had no idea what Garret was suggesting was even possible.

Two years later, though, I could at least vaguely understand: instead of a 3D image (a vector), use a 2D image (a .png file), then analyze the image and change the colors as needed.

Realizing that was possible was very exciting, because I suspected that 2D images would cut the processing load significantly, and maybe then the crowd would animate on the crappy netbook, which would mean it would animate on everything.

Thus began five days of work, trying to understand how the hell this might work. After I did understand, finally, and put the code together, it took only 23 lines.

Which took me about 23 hours to write and debug.

If you don't already know about this stuff, here's an explanation. When the single game window loads, it loads the image I've specified as the crowd "blank." Then, the color information for each pixel in the image is retrieved (alpha, blue, green, red). If the color in the pixel is red, then that pixel is changed to the home team's primary color. If the color in the pixel is blue, then that pixel is changed to the home team's secondary color.

After the image is processed, it's copied to a bitmap, when is then used as the background for a brush, and the brush is used as the background for all the crowd rectangles.


After I got this working, I tested the performance. Instead of the CPU load shooting up from 20% to 30% per core, it did nothing. The entire crowd was wiggling like crazy, and the CPU load was unchanged. Then I put it on the crappy netbook, and for the first time ever, the crowd was wiggling like it should.

I can't believe it, but there you go. Zero CPU load, essentially, for adding the crowd animation.

Plus, since I'm using a 2D image for the crowd now, we can experiment with different crowd shapes and sizes (Fredrik is already working on this). All I need are two "key" colors that I can use to signal when the primary/secondary colors of the home team should be inserted.

We might even be able to do things like 4X the number of fans in an individual rectangle.

So progress, in short. Better performance and much more flexibility. And a bit less hair on my head.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Links!

From Chris, and this is spectacular: Anthony Cerniello's Aging Simulation Video Will Mesmerize You.

A slew of links from Kez this week. First, and this is less tasty than I'd hoped: Fast Food Ads Vs. The Real Thing. Next, and this is both wonderfully spoken and entirely true: George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates. This next article is incredibly chilling: Murder by Craigslist. Last one, and it's haunting (and striking as well): The Time Capsule Ghost Town waiting to be brought Back to Life.

From Steven Davis, and one of my best friends when I was a kid knew all about Otis elevators: MAKE: Inventions |The Safety Elevator. Also, and this is a stunning video, it's O.K., So Craftsmanship Isn’t Dead Yet. One more, and it's fascinating: Artist Chris Fitch gives an in-depth explanation of the mechanics of his incredible swimming fish kinetic sculpture.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is a fascinating article, it's We Aren’t the World: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics—and hoping to change the way social scientists think about human behavior and culture.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and I have no words: Beaver butt secretion good for baking: agency. Next, and while the article title is misleading, it's still a nice story: Humpback whale speaks, says “Thank you”. This next link is so kickass I need a new word to describe it: Flying eagle point of view.

From Katy Mulvey, and this is a terrific article: How Chris McCandless Died.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fantastic: Putting Time In Perspective. Also, and this is something you could pore over for hours, it's Is It Possible To Fit the Civil War Into a Single Chart? Here's One Beautiful Attempt.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Remember when there was a little plastic guitar music game being released every fifteen minutes?

Now, there's this:
Disney Infinity put the revenue from 294,000 sales in its toy box in its first two weeks on the market, a Disney spokesperson told Games Industry. Disney Infinity launched on August 18 and it hit No. 3 on the NPD's monthly sales report, behind Saints Row 4 and Madden 25. The Accessories section of the NPD's totals hit $136.7 million for August. "Combined with sales of Skylanders accessories, one in every three accessory sold this month was an Interactive Gaming Toy," NPD reported.

The original Skylanders was a very good game that existed for the sole purpose of selling "interactive gaming toy." It's been very successful, and it looks like Disney Infinity is going to do even better. It's brilliant merchandising, really. Pay $75 for the game and 3 figures, then continue paying money (hundreds of dollars, if you collect them all) for figures that do nothing more than sit on a plastic base, which signals the game that the character is now playable.

Before Skylanders came out, I would have laughed at the idea that a product like this could be successful, because it was such a transparent money grab. I thought Skylanders would totally fail--not because it wasn't good (it was very good, actually), but because it was so overpriced.

Boy, I whiffed on that one. And now, with Disney Infinity tearing it up, this is officially the new little plastic guitar craze.

So let's get evil.

What kinds of complementary products could you put out that could also use these figures? That way, anyone who doesn't have a console isn't left out, and if they ever do get a console, they already have figures purchased. It's also an additional incentive for consoles users to buy more figures, along with the non-console based playset.

I'm trying to wrap my head around this, but I can't really get past the idea of an electronic game board. I don't know how to make that game interesting, but I do know that if you could level up your character by either playing the video game or the board game, it would be a powerful incentive to purchase.

Also, if Disney is smart, they'll make that Infinity base a playable accessory in every game they put out. People with the figures are more likely to buy the game, and people who buy the game are more likely to buy the figures.

Seriously, the marketing opportunities are endless, which is scary.

Who's next? Well, there's one hugely obvious candidate, and that's Nintendo. Who has a more bankable set of recognizable and revered characters? And who's more likely to make it interesting than Nintendo?

Two years from now, there will be six of these games, not two. Everyone will have one out or will be in active development. And two years after that, the market will be glutted and destroyed for this kind of product.

Strip mining takes a predictable course.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writer Boom!

Last weekend, I received an e-mail from longtime DQ reader Garrett Alley.

He said that he'd written a series of three books for his daughter, and he'd finally published the first one. He asked me to read it, but gave me every possible out if I didn't want to.

With that kind of politeness, I dove right in. I didn't expect much, not because Garrett isn't smart (he is), but because writing a novel is damned hard. I've written a couple, started at least four more, but I never had the patience to be successful (and I regret that). I'd get part of the way through an interesting story, run of out of ideas, and find hurried way to finish up.

It doesn't work that way.

In many ways, though, that's the hallmark of someone who isn't quite a real writer. They are a real writer, but not all the time. They're real in bursts. And even writing at that level is hard.

So when I started Garrett's book, I was just hoping for bursts of real writing. I thought that would be a real achievement.

What I didn't expect, at all, was a kickass book.

Jute's Charmed Life: Chameleon's Cloak is written for young adults (4th-8th grade). It has strong characters (and almost exclusively female, for his daughter), a cracking good story, and a terrific ending. It built momentum like a little steam train, becoming more and more engrossing the further I read.

About that story. It's phenomenal. I can't imagine a girl who wouldn't absolutely love to read this, and plenty of boys would love to read it, too.

I've read quite a few books for young adults--as Eli 12.1 became interested in a series, I'd often read along--but this is unquestionably one of my favorites. It has such a strong sense of place, and an equally strong sense of character.

Even better, there are two more books to go.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Football Chairman (iOS)

Like many of you, I have a long-term affection for the Championship Manager series (now Football Manager), particularly Championship Manager 97/98, which I remember purchasing at Fry's from a bargain bin for the ridiculous price of $9.99.

I then proceeded to play for several hundred hours.

Also, like many of you, I have very little time to game right now. My gaming time is basically in the bathroom or in the car (do not cross the streams). So the iPad is getting quite a bit of use as a gaming device, because I don't have a choice.

Owen Faraday mentioned a game last week called "Football Chairman", and since then, all my gaming time has been spent with this fantastic little throwback. It reminds me very, very much of the Championship Manager series, although at a significantly less complex level.

As an example, in Football Chairman you don't manually search through huge lists of available players. Instead, one player each week (during open transfer periods) is brought to your attention as a possible transfer candidate. So the decision making process is highly streamlined.

In some cases, that could be a negative, but this game is so beautifully and consistently designed that it becomes a positive. Instead of endlessly trying to game the system, I spend my time role-playing instead. I spend more time thinking about each decision because there are fewer to make.

It's hypnotic. It's incredibly compulsive to find out the result of next week's game before stopping, or one more offseason. It's a pleasure to find a game that compels me to keep playing.

Football Chairman also does a remarkable job of conveying the financial realities of a sports team. When I was in the lower divisions, it was relatively simple to manage the club's finances. At the highest level, though, salaries are absolutely enormous, and attendance varies substantially based on a team's place in the league table. Financial success winds up depending heavily on the season-end bonus you get for your final placing in the league.

I understand very well now how a club can go bankrupt.

Managing a small club is like farming: plant a crop, take care of it as it grows, then harvest at the end of the season. Managing a big club is like gambling: push all your chips into the center of the table by buying players you can't reasonably afford, hoping to improve your league standing enough to wind up with a profit.

Graphically, Football Chairman is incredibly clean. Everything is beautifully laid out and very crisp. Controls are where you expect them to be, and everything is easily accessible. It's a clinic in layout and design, and it also just works. I think I've played almost 30 full seasons at this point, and I haven't had one crash or hit a single bug. That's damned impressive.

Also impressive is that this game is free. At the beginning of each season, there's a very low-key message box (stylistically consistent with the rest of the game's communication to you) that says you can get more money for your team.

What it doesn't do, though, is throw prices at you. Instead, it tells you to click on an icon for more information. Unobtrusive and non-invasive.

I wound up buying five million pounds for my team budget, just to be able to give the developers some money for their terrific game, but then I just ignored the infusion. So my real budget was my current money total minus five million, and that's worked out just fine.

 This is, quite possibly, the best sports game I've ever played on a mobile device. And there's an Android version coming fairly soon, apparently, so even if you don't have an iOS device, you'll eventually be able to experience the game.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #72: Performance

Sorry--very late start today because I came home from Eli 12.1s hockey practice and Gloria wasn't feeling well.

Last week I was in total meltdown mode, basically, but I somehow regained my sanity and things are moving forward. After repeated requests from the testers, there's a new difficulty mode: "Champ", which is 15/35 on defense. That will be a very, very challenging level, even for the best players.

Also, Fredrik is investigating night games. I thought it would be too much work, but they may make it in after all. So playoff games would all be night games, which would nicely distinguish them from regular games. The playoffs originally involved special field logos, a custom pregame broadcast, and a static confetti layer. Now there will be night games, custom broadcasts, national anthems, field logos, falling confetti, a team picture, and a special newspaper edition. It's a real reward for winning the league championship.

I've reached the point where I'm working on a few remaining big items instead of lots of smaller ones. File permissions, for one. Performance, for another.

This is not a big program. It doesn't do big things. Generally, performance, even on low-end machines, is very good. The one place where it's a real resource hog is with the crowd animations, where CPU usage (according to ANTS, a performance profiler) will spike to 125%. I've been able to reduce that to 110% with a few tweaks, but that's not nearly enough.

I'm sure I didn't originally write the code with maximum efficiency, but it was a damned miracle at the time that I actually got it to work (and could assign team colors to individual "fans" in the crowd). And it works just fine--it's just too much of a resource hog.

DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray sent me a suggestion:
In order to be able to control them all from a single object, I create a bunch of clsCrowd objects and load them into an ObservableCollection. I bind that collection to an ItemsControl that actually uses a canvas as its ItemsPanel. This allows me to GREATLY simplify things by using a DataTemplate and DataTriggers to handle my animations and such.

My challenge for the next few days is to figure out what the hell he's talking about. I'm highly motivated, though, because if I can just get this crowd animation CPU resource load down to 50%, then this will run well on almost any machine.

Figure this out, get the CPU load down, and then I can move on to file permissions. When that's done, I'll be in the final polishing stage, and that's not going to last more than a couple of weeks (it's already about as polished as I can make it).

There's probably a meteor on the way.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jarod Werbick, and this might be the single most incredible sports story I've ever read: The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham.

From Bill Hughes, and this is just beautiful: Orbits of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

From David Gloier, a link to a fantastic podcast on Action Park (at least the first half hour, and it's tremendous): JRJR Show #46 - Action Park, World's Most Dangerous Waterpark.

From DQ NASA Advisor John Harwood, and this is dense but excellent reading: Tales From The Lunar Module Guidance Computer.

From Keith Ganey, and hearing Richard Garriott talking about space is very, very interesting: The Moth and the World Science Festival Present Richard Garriott: The Overview Effect.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: Albert Einstein Called Racism “A Disease of White People” in His Little-Known Fight for Civil Rights. Next, and this is utterly fantastic: HydraDeck Humans: Infinite Reality demo for Oculus Rift. Also, and is is tremendous: Spirits of Ásgarðr. Next, and this is going to blow your mind: 3-Sweep: Extracting Editable Objects from a Single Photo.

From Steven Davis, and this is terrific: Globemakers. Also, and is is incredible: Cross it off the list: This Robot will beat you at Air Hockey.

From C. Lee, and if you're interested in Final Fantasy, this is a must-see: All Your Complaints - History of Squaresoft pt. 2 "Final Fantasy".

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and this is one hell of a skateboarding video (with a helicopter!): Bob Burnquist's "Dreamland" - A Backyard Progression.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Musiquarium #2 (part two)

Chris continues with one of the most interesting stories in music history, picking up where he left off yesterday.
The first critical piece of this puzzle was the songs. There were a few songs that hadn't yet been in a finished state when S. F. Sorrow was recorded that were suitable. There were also a few songs that May and Waller had written but scrapped for the next Pretty Things album they wanted to record once they finished DeBarge's vanity project. Finally, they wrote a few songs specifically for DeBarge while setting up the studio.

The second, and perhaps just as critical piece was Monsieur DeBarge himself. In St. Tropez, May had asked him “Ever sung in school before?”


“Maybe in church, like a choir?”


When DeBarge arrived in London for the recording session, May was understandably nervous. What if their client couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, realized it, and called everything off?

Whatever they were expecting of DeBarge, it's fair to say he turned those preconceived notions upside down. He was absolutely dead serious about this endeavor, and quickly set May and Waller at ease. Their millionaire client could carry a tune fairly well. For DeBarge, his biggest frustration was his thick, Gallic accent. He worked ceaselessly learning to sing and pronounce the words phonetically (and those phonetics included May and Waller's own thick London accents). While the band was laying down instrumental tracks in at Nova, DeBarge would hole up at a nearby hotel room and work out the vocals a syllable at a time.

May came up with a brilliant solution to the situation. He recorded his own lead vocals for each song, sung quietly to a scratch track. They'd play May's vocals through the headphones so only Philippe could hear, and then he'd sing along to them on the recording proper. As a singer, DeBarge eventually got proficient enough to be included in the recording of harmony vocals with May, Waller, and Povey.

The Pretty Things and Philippe DeBarge finished their album and created a few acetate masters, all of which were presented to their client. The Pretties took the check they were cut for their services—and new-found studio skills--to record the 1970 album Parachute, a pretty good record that earned the distinction of being named Rolling Stone's #1 album of that year (that ranking was a bit of a reach, but it is a fine album.)

For his part, Philippe DeBarge took the acetate masters back to France to play for friends and family. Said friends and family were baffled by the finished record and appalled by how much the heir had paid to have it made. It was, he was told, a colossal waste of time. DeBarge tried to shop it around to some French record labels, only to find them uninterested in English-language rock and roll. Disappointed, he gave a few copies away to sympathetic pals. Over time, the DeBarge fortunes turned. Money ran out. Family members fell on hard times. Philippe himself died under mysterious circumstance in the early 1990's. The album he'd recorded in 1969 was an unknown curiosity piece.

Or was it?

In the 1970's, the Pretty Things were one of the first bands signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. This caused their early career to be reassessed, and people began to rediscover their 1960's output. By the late 1980's, S. F. Sorrow was earning recognition as a lost classic of the psychedelic era. One thing that was interesting, though, if you looked at the Pretty Things discography: you could trace a pretty straight line from 1967's Emotions into 1968's S. F. Sorrow...but then Parachute in 1970 seemed to be a bit of a departure. Was there something missing in-between? To put a finer point on it, it's impossible to listen to Sorrow and not think “I wish there was more of this.”

At some point in the 1980's, someone feeling exactly that way stumbled onto a third- or fourth-hand, cheaply made recording of the acetate master of the album Philippe DeBarge had recorded with the Pretty Things. It was widely bootlegged, and the sound was utterly awful. There were scratches and skips abounding on this bootleg, even problems with the pitch of the recording shifting at times. It sounded terrible. By the mid-1990's, with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control wearing their Pretty Things influence proudly on their sleeves, enterprising and curious folks associated with the Pretty Things set out in search  for an original master of the acetate. Eventually one was found in Finland, in a private collection. It was mostly unmarked and fairly clean.

The underground fanzine/record label Ugly Things (name not coincidental) undertook to have this master cleaned and dressed up. The DeBarge estate gave their blessings. The Pretty Things—who'd reunited in the '90s (and still perform today, even in their 70's) also signed off on the project. In 2008, the cumbersomely named The Pretty Things Philippe Debarge was finally given proper release 39 years after being recorded.

So the obvious million-dollar question is—is it as horrible as a vanity-project album contracted for a fee from an underground psychedelic band for a millionaire playboy sounds like it should be? The answer, short and long is no. Hell no. Astonishingly, the record is good. In fact, it's really, really good.

The opening track is a number that sounds as if it was lifted straight off the latest Tame Impala record, a looping percussion/acoustic number that builds as it goes called “Hello How Do You Do” that's likely to end up in an AT&T commercial before too long. Despite having only one line, “Hello. How do you do?”, there's a goofy, winning infectiousness to the track that sets the tone for what follows.

The next track, “You Might Even Say”, happily wears the influence of Love's classic Forever Changes album on its sleeve. Not only is there an almost flamenco guitar figure going on here, but somehow DeBarge manages a finess on the vocals that sounds like a ringer for Love's Arthur Lee himself. The following track, “Alexander” had been a favorite at Pretty Things live gigs for a few years, and was nearly a lead-in single for S. F. Sorrow, before someone suggested that a rock song about Alexander The Great conquering Asia Minor might not rocket straight up the charts. DeBarge had no such qualms and sings it enthusiastically, if a bit stuck to one note.

From here though the record really hits stride. “Send You With Loving” is a gleeful, swinging singalong that gives Philippe Debarge a chance to do a pretty nice Donovan imitation. “You're Running You And Me” is a fierce rocker that might be the Frenchman's best vocal on the whole record—squint hard and it might be the Guess Who's Burton Cummings snarling that chorus.

DeBarge had wanted to go artistic on his album, and the next section of it does just that. “Peace”, “Eagle's Son”, “Graves Of Grey” and “New Day” are thematically linked to one another (on some of the bootlegs these four songs are presented as a single medley). “Eagle's Son” is a stunning rocker, carried by Unitt's exceptionally heavy dual-tracked guitar work and a masterful production job by May.

As good as “Eagle's Son” is, it doesn't prepare you for “New Day”. It's hard to believe that May and Waller donated a song this good to this project, but there it is. DeBarge sings it with a wide-eyed sincerity over gorgeous backing vocals and a brilliant bit of playing and production. I sincerely believe that had “New Day” been released back in the day, it would have ended up as a massive FM radio staple.

The album closes out in fine fettle with the Floyd-ian “It'll Never Be Me” and then the defiant “I'm Checking Out”, although neither approaches the earlier heights of “New Day”, “Eagle's Son” or “You Might Even Say”.  (There's one final song, “All Gone Now” that almost feels like an afterthought here.)

What's truly amazing to me is how well this record stands up alongside two proper Pretty Things albums that sandwich it. It's almost like discovering there's a lost Beatles album between The White Album and Abbey Road. The songs, the playing, and production are all outstanding, and Pretty Things Philippe DeBarge now is a worthy addition to anyone interested in the best British psych-pop albums of the late 1960s.  Even better bet—if modern critical darlings like the aforementioned Tame Impala or White Fence or Ty Segall are your thing, this will scratch that itch perfectly. It's a pity Philippe didn't live to see this given the release (and critical raves) it deserved, but even so this is a gem worth discovering.

(The Pretty Things Philippe DeBarge is available for purchase through Amazon or CDBaby. S. F. Sorrow and Parachute, the albums directly before and after it, are widely available for digital or CD purchase,as well as streamed through services like Spotify.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Musiquarium #2 (part one)

Chris sent me another installment of the Musiquarium, and this time he tells one of the most interesting stories in music history. It's all Chris from here on out.

It's 1969. You're Phil May, front man of an English rock band called The Pretty Things (the name's ironic;  only the 1984 Boston Celtics will rival you for being a homelier collection of humans gathered together in one place for united purpose). Your band's had better years, though you've certainly got bona fides. One of your founding members, Dick Taylor, was also a founding member of The Rolling Stones (An apocryphal story says he was given the heave for being too un-telegenic in a band that also included Keith Richards and Charlie Watts.) You had some hits in Britain, playing blues more raw than the aforementioned Stones, with a clunky, punky style that Ray and Dave Davies borrowed in full for their early singles like “You Really Got Me.”

Times changed, and British Invasion bands either grew or folded.  Thus, when the Beatles went far out with Rubber Soul, you and the Pretties went farther out on the 1967 album Emotions...only to see that upstaged immediately by Revolver and Pet Sounds. Figuring the gauntlet to have been thrown, you and your band go all-in on the new psychedelic sounds and sail right off the map with a string of ambitious, critically lauded singles (“Defecting Grey”, “Walking Through My Dreams”) that clearly splashed their acidic influence on the band recording in the next studio over with the same producer, a group of kids calling themselves Pink Floyd.

The good buzz from those singles (which didn't sell, sadly) led to the late 1968 release of what you were sure was your magnum opus, a sprawling concept album of linked songs (call it a rock...cantata?), S. F Sorrow. Sadly, that record bewildered critics and the buying public alike. To be sure, it gave a certain Mr. Pete Townshend ideas about doing an album of linked songs himself (rock...opera! That's it!), but not only didn't Sorrow sell, the record company, EMI, decided not to even put it out in the States. Founding member/guitarist Taylor told you and the the band he'd had enough and departed for other projects.

And so here you are. You're Phil May, and you and the other half of the creative core of the Pretties, bassist Wally Waller, have taken up in a rented, sprawling studio flat in London. The two of you share living space with artists, sculptors, and otherwise homeless poets. You're not sure if you have a record contract anymore. In fact, you're not sure if you even have a band. To make ends meet, you and Waller have begun working for the DeWolf Music Archive, about as far down the creative totem pole as serious musicians can get.

(With movies having recently been liberated by the ratings system to venture into all sorts of trash and sleaze, British films of that ilk and era turned to DeWolf. The folks at DeWolf--who really did also curate an important recorded music archive--would supply British filmmakers and TV producers with cheap, original music. In many cases, that would be the two Pretty Things who'd write and record forgettable, throwaway nonsense fake rock songs for DeWolf film clients over the course of single afternoons.)

You know as sure as anything that you and Waller are an ace songwriting team but you're frustrated.  It isn't just the living conditions.  It isn't writing junkshop music for DeWolf. It's your aspirations. You yearn. You've got an idea for an even more ambitious project than S. F. Sorrow. The problem is, this new project will require access to the expensive new studio tech just then coming into use (Sorrow had been recorded onto a four-track recorder; now studios like Abbey Road could do eight tracks and more). Your existence is rather hand-to-mouth. Your record company won't pay for studio time. EMI is happy to put out whatever new record you record...they're just not paying for the recording of it. Thus and so, you sulk through your days, finding spare time to work on more serious songs for a hopefully-still-existent band when not doing music for DeWolf, and wondering if you'll ever get a chance to make that next album.
It's 1969, and you're Philippe DeBarge, and it's hard to imagine how life could be much better. You still look youthful and handsome, even though you're now over 30. Beautiful women love to spend time with you. Did we mention yet that you're the scion and heir of a gigantic French pharmaceuticals fortune? Because there's that, too. You've got more money than you know what to do with. When you spend time at your beach house in St. Tropez, your 1908 Rolls Royce sits parked next to vintage Ferraris and Benzes. Your most impactful decisions are usually whether to drink the 100-year Bordeaux with lunch or dinner, or whether to use the saltwater or freshwater swimming pool. Life, as they say, is good.

Or is it? There's no hiding it, you're the restless sort. You're literally the man who has it all, yet feels as if he's missing something. You pine, and you know exactly what you pine for. Since you were a younger lad in your twenties and saw The Beatles on television, you've been a diehard rock and roll fan. You collect rare LPs and 45s from across the world to play on a state-of-the-art stereo. You've become completely absorbed in rock and roll music. For you, it is an obsession, and there's the rub.

You want to be a rock and roll star.

No, really! Not a pop star, either. You want to make art. You want to be recognized. You've done nothing your whole life. You're well-aware that your family and their social circle think of you as something of a louche, spoiled, millionaire playboy. You've never made anything of your life, and no one expects you to. What they don't know is that you burn, and you burn white hot inside. You want to be a professional musician. You want to be the first French internationally-known rock artiste. Your family and friends think you're going through a phase with this rock and roll nonsense. You're flighty. You'll move on to some other obsession the next week.

They don't know you. You're Philippe DeBarge, and you've got your heart set on making rock history.

Imagine once again that you're Phil May. One afternoon in 1969 the phone rings. The guy on the other end of the line speaks halting, heavily accented English. He wants to know if you're the guy from the Pretty Things. He says his name is also Phil—Philippe DeBarge, to be precise. He wants to know if he can arrange a meeting with you. He has, he says, a business proposal for you and Wally Waller. He'd like to fly both of you to his beach-side home in St. Tropez, if you're interested.

There are very few sure things in life, but one good rule to follow is that if someone is willing to fly you to their beach house on the French Riviera to listen to a business offer, your response should be to start packing a suitcase.

For his part, Monsieur DeBarge has decided that the folks to make his rock dream come true are the guys who wrote his favorite album. No one else in his circle of friends seems to understand the weird, ambitious, psychedelic swirl of the record, but DeBarge connects with S. F. Sorrow fully. To him it is a masterpiece, and he wants to make something similar and wants to talk to the fellows behind that album to find out if they'd be willing to help him out.

You can imagine May and Waller wondering exactly what they were getting themselves in for. DeBarge quickly impresses upon them that he has money. The house in St. Tropez, the cars, the must've been quite the contrast to the squatter's flat back in London. Even with such profligate wealth on casual display, however, the two Pretty Things are likely stunned by the proposal the young French millionaire makes them.

For DeBarge, it's a simple business partnership for a creative endeavor. He tells May and Waller that he wants them to write a rock and roll record, and then help record it with DeBarge singing lead and fronting whatever band the two Englishmen could put together. For their trouble, May and Waller will be very well compensated. Additionally, DeBarge agrees to pay any musicians needed for the recording session, and best yet, will happily pay for all the studio time himself.

Scarcely believing their luck, May and Waller headed back to London. May immediately decided he'd be the producer so as to learn the ropes of recording in a higher-tech studio situation. For his part, Waller rang up the remaining Pretty Things—keyboardist John Povey, new guitarist Vic Unitt, and  drummer John Adler (a/k/a “Twink”, soon to be the deranged drummer for folks like Syd Barrett and The Pink Fairies)--to let them know they were going into studio and there was money on the table. May booked the studio time at Nova Studios, then probably second only to Abbey Road as a state-of-the-art facility in London.

Tomorrow: the album.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Every team that wants to play travel hockey in the DSTHL (Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League, which is the only travel league in Texas) goes to Dallas for a huge tournament over the Labor Day weekend. Every team plays four games, and there were roughly 30 Peewee teams in the various divisions (Gold, Silver, Bronze).

The tournament results have a huge influence on what division a team winds up in for the season. There's AA, A, B+, and B. I'm not sure that's what they're called, but that's the skill level.

Teams that wanted to play AA entered the Gold Division. Then there were about 16 teams in Silver, and those were the teams that wanted to play in A league. The top half of that division would wind up in A, with the bottom half in B+. Roughly.

Last year, the travel team (Eli was on the development team, not the travel team) played in A and got pounded. They were something like 4-20 in league, and the one team behind them in the league table beat them in the first round of the playoffs.

Knowing that, I was just hoping the kids didn't get pounded. 2-2 would be fantastic, a strong start to the season. I just didn't want them going 0-4.

What I like about this team is that they have 15 kids who can skate. There are no slowpokes or unskilled kids, no one you have to hide. There's no superstar, either, but I'd rather have 15 kids who can skate.

Even better, the other goalie on the team is terrific. There is no doubt in my mind that he'll play D-I hockey if he keeps playing. He's huge, he's fundamentally sound, and he's quick. Not as quick as Eli, but his size is a tremendous advantage. Big goalies make kids miss the net entirely. Plus, his dad is the goalie coach, so he's getting constant reinforcement when it comes to technique.

As an aside, that same goalie coach has meant everything to Eli. Coach has worked so hard with him, constantly praises his effort, and often mentions how proud he is of him. He's a good, good guy, and he's a terrific teacher.

I was a little worried about Eli. I didn't think he was practicing that well, and when he doesn't practice well, he doesn't play well. He was being an excellent teammate and leader--I think he has a good chance of being an assistant captain, which is very unusual for a goalie--but I didn't think he was sharp.

I thought that Eli would probably get the easier games out of the four-game set, since he was the new goalie, and I was right. What I didn't expect was that the easier games would be routs. Much to everyone's surprise, Eli's team is very, very good. Eli gave up 4 goals in 2 games, with one deflected off his own defenseman and one shoved in by a kid with his glove (referees didn't see it, and the game was out of hand, so it didn't matter). The final scores were 9-1 and 7-3.

Really, though, he didn't look that good. At least, he didn't look like he does when he's playing well.

In the fourth game, his team beat a AA team 5-2, which was truly shocking. And incredibly, that put them in the semi-finals with a 4-0 record in pool play.

I thought the coach might give the playoff game to his teammate, since he'd been on the team for several seasons. But instead, he stuck to the rotation, and it was Eli's game.

He came in from stretching with his team on Monday morning. "We're playing a AAA Squirt team," he said, and his voice had an edge. Sometimes the highest-level teams in an age group will play up one level, and this was a Dallas team that didn't even play in the travel leagues last year--they're strictly an "invitational" team, which means they go play tournament showcases all over the country.

What that means is much, much more ice time than our team, and much more specialized instruction. Plus, that team had probably been playing together for years, since the highest-level teams tend to stick together. Half of Eli's team was new.

There was one advantage, though. They weren't going to shoot as hard as a Peewee team.

What I expected to happen was that we'd skate fairly well with them in the first period, but their discipline would mean they'd have to skate less (because they'd rarely be out of position), and by the third period, puck possession would have turned totally against us, because the kids would be so tired they couldn't skate well anymore.

That was pretty close, but I forgot about one thing: the kid between the pipes. You know, your adopted son. With ten minutes left in the game, his team had been outshot 29-13, but they were ahead 1-0, because he was pitching a shutout. And it was a beautiful shutout, too, a remarkable combination of rock-solid technique and unbelievable athleticism. He was doing it all.

Sadly, the last ten minutes were a disaster. Our kids just totally lost control of the space around the net, and the refs called the tightest game I've ever seen (total penalty minutes in first 4 games: 14. Penalty minutes in last game: 20). So the other team was on the power play (including two five on threes) for most of the last period. They scored five times in the last ten minutes (Eli could have stopped at least two of those, so he didn't play any better than the rest of his team in that stretch), and the final was 5-2.

They were outshot 40-17.

He walked off, nearly crying. "Don't have your head down," I said. "That was a phenomenal effort by everyone, including you."

"I have to finish games like this," he said. "I've never won this kind of game."

"You're going to," I said. "You'll get in better shape, you'll get tougher, and you'll pull it off. And you're never going to forget it when it does happen. Now go in there and don't let anybody be down--you guys had a great tournament." He gave me a sad smile, I patted him on the helmet, and he walked to the locker room.

It's tough, being a goalie. If a wing plays two great periods, then has ten bad minutes, he's not going to remember those ten minutes. For a goalie, though, those ten minutes are everything. They're hard to escape. So part of growing up as a goalie is learning how to frame a game fairly, thinking about what went right and went wrong, and moving on.

It's a lot like life, really.


I highly recommend keeping a close eye on this: Incognita: turn-based tactical espionage.

Who's making this game? The same people who made Don't Starve, which is entirely brilliant.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #71: Meltdown

Wednesday and Thursday last week were the two roughest days I've had on the game since I started.

I put out a new build on Tuesday night, and suddenly, for some people, the cut scene wasn't playing. Worse, when it didn't play, the users didn't have access to any of the buttons on the Title Screen, so they couldn't play the game.

Later that day, someone reported a crash while simming, and it happened every time. So that tester couldn't sim at all. They sent me their league files and option file, and I could sim on my machine just fine.

One of the things that has always kept me going on the game is that it's always been highly stable. Sure, there have been crashes I had to fix, but overall, the number of crashes have been low.

In the last two weeks, though, after the introduction of one specific 8.1 machine, I've had more crashes reported from that one tester than I had from the other fifty testers combined.

Combine all that and I basically had a freakout day on Thursday. I was just completely overwhelmed.

Combing through the wreckage on Friday, I started to find little things. I thought I hadn't changed anything with the cut scene, but actually, I had. Up until last week, while the cut screen was playing, the buttons behind it were still selectable. They were mostly covered, but not completely.

That's bad, so I inactivated those buttons until after the cut scene ended. Basically, an event fired when the cut scene ended, and I just hooked onto that event and reactivated the buttons then.

Seems reasonable, right?

Well, except when things were happening that I didn't understand. In this case, what I didn't understand was that if the cut scene failed to play on some systems, to the user it just appeared that the cut scene never started. They wouldn't even know there was a cut scene, and they'd just proceed with the game. So the cut scene had always been failing for a small percentage of testers.

However, when I made the buttons not selectable until the cut scene finished, I wasn't accounting for situations where it didn't complete successfully. There were cases where the media_ended event didn't fire because the cut scene didn't end.

In other words, I had no error handling to handle unexpected problems with the cut scene playing. That's manageable. I can fix that.

This was very simple and logical, in retrospect, but it was very, very painful to work through. When I did, though, I realized the sky wasn't falling.

Simming crash? When the tester put the latest build into its own directory instead of overwriting an existing directory (which usually causes no problems), simming worked fine.

Now that I'm off the ledge, I was able to do some good things on Saturday forward. I fixed lots of little things that were "non-working atmosphere", for lack of a better term. They didn't crash the game, but they were nice little touches that weren't working correctly.

Working atmosphere is good.

There were also some small functional touches added. Now you can hit the ESC key from anywhere and the options menu will pop up. The offseason broadcast now has blah blah blahs (thanks John). The backup file system (in case one of your league files gets corrupted) is now fully functional. There's special text if one of your punts goes out inside the opponent's 10 yard line.

The last touch of the championship celebration is almost finished, too. Now, after the confetti, there's a team picture that gets taken in the middle of the field.

There's a camera flash visual and sound effect when the picture gets taken, too. It's just a little bit of extra cheer.

So I'm off the ledge and moving forward. Hopefully that ledge will remain unoccupied from here on out.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday Links!

From C. Lee, and this is very cool: National Flags Created From the Foods Each Country Is Commonly Associated With.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are downright grisly: These aerial shots of factory farming look like bloody zombie wounds.  Also, and this is a stunning photograph: Fire on Earth. This is fascinating: Strange but Genius Caterpillar Speed Trick. Next, and this is outstanding: How Third-Century China Saw Rome, a Land Ruled by “Minor Kings”.

From C. Lee Part II (attention, DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand), and this is a tremendous interview: The Writer Speaks: William Goldman. Also, Harlan Ellison has his own YouTube channel now, and it's excellent: Ellison Wonderland. Frederik Pohl passed away recently, and here's a nice farewell: Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction Master Who Vaporized Utopias, Dies at 93.

From Steven Davis, and these are simply incredible: Secret Fore-Edge Paintings Revealed in Early 19th Century Books at the University of Iowa. Also, and these are so amazing: Giant Sculptural Floats Covered in Flowers from Corso Zundert 2013.

From Meg McReynolds, and this will absolutely make your head spin: The Middle East, explained in one (sort of terrifying) chart.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is remarkable: The Time Capsule Ghost Town waiting to be brought Back to Life.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Eli 12.1

We were watching Chopped last week, and one of the contestants decided to make crepes in the final round.

It's kind of a running joke that anyone who makes crepes isn't going to win, with only rare exceptions. "Oh, no, he's lost," I said.

"When great crepes are made, though, they're a game changer," Eli said.

Last night, we were watching an episode where a guy couldn't get an oyster shell to stay on an appetizer plate, so he threw some lettuce or weeds or something on there to hold it in place. It was a frisse, actually.

They got to the judging, and I said, "Man, I love that guy's plate. Look at that presentation!"

Without Eli missing a beat, he said, "That frisse is a problem."

I burst out laughing. Twenty seconds later, the first thing one of the judges said to the chef was "I don't like that frisse."


He came home from school this week and plopped down on the couch. "We had to pick any three people in history to come to a dinner," he said.

"Who'd you pick?" I asked.

"Jim Carrey, Albert Einstein, and Flo," he said.

"Strong," I said. "At least Einstein was second."

I think I would pick Lincoln, Gandhi, and Louis C.K., but you have to respect Flo. And he's seen Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, which makes his first choice completely understandable.

Today was an absolute nightmare of a day. Just one catastrophic failure after another (more on Monday). My day was utterly, absolutely ruined, and then we went to play tennis.

"New balls," he said, opening up a new can. He knew I'd had a bad day because Gloria had mentioned it to him on the way home. Just that whooshing sound as the can opened made me feel better.

We didn't do much, really, just hitting and talking a little smack back and forth. I realized, though, that while I pick him up when he's down, he's old enough now where he's picking me up as well.

That's a good feeling.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Child Of The Space Program

A little background here.

I posted a link about NASA archives being released a few weeks ago, and my very good friend John Harwood found mention of things his father had done in the archives. His dad found a bug that, if it hadn't been fixed, could well have resulted in us crashing into the moon instead of walking on it. You can read that story here, and it's utterly fantastic.

I asked John to write about what it was like growing up as a kid in that kind of environment, and he was kind enough to oblige. So it's John from here on out.

I am a child of the space program. The real space program mind you, not that current thing where we ride 40 year-old Soviet hardware to/from the Space Office. I was born a month after we landed on the moon, lived in Clear Lake Forest, and grew up with astronauts, NASA, and all things space as part of my daily life. I never considered it particularly remarkable how many kids of astronauts I went to school with or played with around the neighborhood. I watched the Saturn V come in off the barges at Clear Lake. When I broke my nose when I was 9, I did it while smashing into my dad's Saturn V model.

My sister and I used to go to NASA all the time as kids, often just randomly playing outside in the grass after eating in the cafeteria instead of yet another trip to the visitor's center. It wasn't boring in the least, it was just a very familiar place. I toured the grounds with my mother or father countless times, sat in the mission control gallery so often I could draw it from memory, and amassed a tremendous number of those little Saturn V plastic-floaty-thing pens. My mom was quite the space groupie and used to love when my dad would come home and talk about meetings they'd had with Buzz & Neil that day and kept tabs on which astronauts lived where and how many were near us. I was aware that we had a shuttle astronaut in the house behind ours, my sister regularly played with the daughter of one, and I thought it was funny when one of my friend's dads would borrow his music to use as wake up music for shuttle crews when he was running capcom on a mission. That sort of thing isn't unusual, right?

Dad first came to NASA as a young master's degree mechanical engineer fresh out of Purdue. I've been told that a big consideration for his choice was that TRW had good luck getting their young employees exempted from the draft due to the critical nature of their work on the Apollo program. I prefer to think it was the lure of adventure and the fulfillment of Kennedy's pledge that brought him to the godforsaken barren wasteland of Clear Lake City, TX. Given his love of all things science and space, that seems likely enough, but I'm sure having an out from the draft was an attractive perk. He worked for TRW from 1968-1971 as a subcontractor to NASA. TRW was responsible for the design and testing of the Lunar Module's Abort Guidance System. Although they were "across the street" from NASA, he frequently went to meetings on-site and regularly ran into the primary and backup astronaut crews of the Apollo missions. He never sat in mission control, but he was on call during missions (in the support room of the support room of the LM GUIDO station) and even later in life you could tell it had been much, much more than just another job. They were part of history. They made things happen. They. Landed. On. The. Moon.

I recently took my kids to Space Center Houston for the first time to go see the memorial stone we had placed there for my father. I'll not go into that whole story again, but suffice to say that I still have a strong emotional attachment to NASA, the Johnson Space Center, and the US Space Program as a whole. My earliest memories are after my father had already stopped working for TRW, but visits to NASA were a pretty regular occurrence. My toys that weren't Star Wars, Hot Wheels, or LEGO, were largely from the JSC gift shop. 12 years after release, I'm still playing Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space nearly weekly. I have an itch I can no longer sufficiently scratch.

It is one of the bitter ironies of life that by the time we are old enough to take a proper interest in the lives of our parents, they all too often are no longer around to ask questions of. Such is unfortunately the case with my father and was illustrated all too well by our recent trip. We went on both of the red & blue tram tours and my sister, mom, and I found we were seriously confused about which buildings we used to visit back when the visitor's center was just building 2 and not the Disney-fied version you go to today. My sister and I were trying to figure out which buildings we used to play outside of when we went past building 11 (the "astronaut" cafeteria) on the way to the Historic Mission Control site and it just clicked. That's it! That's where we used to hang out! It was fun trying to piece together the past, but how nice would it have been to have my father along on that trip to fill us in on all the details we've forgotten or never knew.

Even though I wasn't old enough to know my dad during the time he actually worked at NASA, his interest in all things space was such that it felt like he still worked there. I'm pretty sure we did more than the standard tour of NASA at least a few times, and I was supplied with a wealth of reading material, both fictional and historical, that fueled my young imagination. I apparently saw Apollo 17 lift off, according to the super 8 film evidence. Being only 3 at the time, I was just baggage and can only imagine how stunning the sound and sight of a night launch of a Saturn V must have been. I do have a great many memories... Cold nights out back with the Celestron telescope seeing the amazing sights (and colors!) to be found out there. Sitting on the shores of a lake watching hundreds of Perseid meteors per hour. Watching the Apollo 13 movie and then afterward getting to hear what it was really like from the other side of the screen.

He never managed to properly share his love and knowledge of auto repair, electronics, and circuit design. There's another whole story of he and a friend creating their own mass-market automotive trip computer before such things were commonplace. That all seemed like work and I didn't learn till too late in life the inherent beauty in each of those. He did bless me with the gift of wonder at what man can achieve when we stop hurting each other for a few moments and dare to dream really big. I have this innate sense of awe of the universe that's hard to put into words. Much of that comes from NASA, but an equal amount of it comes from books like Ringworld and Contact or the wonderful experience of watching Cosmos first-run with dad. He had been a Carl Sagan fan long before Carl became "cool" and knew of Cosmos before it came out and made sure I watched it. That's one of the more powerful memories of my youth, and the wonder they imparted beyond words.

I've tried to keep my interest level up throughout the years and even though NASA tried their best to make spaceflight boring with the Space Shuttle and the ISS, I still tuned in to every launch and landing I could and would often keep NASA TV on in the background when a mission was up. Folks of my mom's generation say they can remember where they were and every detail when they heard Kennedy was shot. That's the Challenger explosion for me. High school lunch in the band hall. It still makes me uncomfortable to think about it and I tense and tear up every time I watch it recounted in a documentary. There are good memories as well. The first time I saw the shuttle on a pre-dawn re-entry track near Austin is burned into my memory for all time. I heard the sonic boom. In Austin. Of a shuttle that was barely north of Houston. Given how many times I watched a re-entry, it's a blessing that for some reason I wasn't watching in February of 2003 and I don't have to carry around the memory of anxiously awaiting that glorious coppery-bright trail only to find multiple debris trails streaking overhead.

I'm cautiously optimistic that we may someday make grand voyages again and I'm certainly excited by the possibilities of the Orion system. I do hope we manage to keep plugging away at that and get back to the moon, or an NEO asteroid, or even Mars in my lifetime. I get NASA's notifications whenever a good ISS sighting opportunity is coming up and I set my alarm and go outside each time to watch it streak overhead. I do so hope I get to do the same with Orion. I took my kids to see the Orion drop-test article when it stopped in Austin on the way to Huntsville and found it was nearly impossible to properly explain the magic potential in that squat little cone. To them space travel is both mysterious and ordinary. They know there are people up there right now, and we've watched them fly over, but it's just a dot moving across the sky. It's just not the same as a man standing on the moon or the violent majesty of twin solid rocket boosters blasting skyward.

We need to explore new vistas again. Children need to grow up with dreams of the adventures space travel has to offer. They need wonder in their lives. In this era of ready-at-hand technology, they need to see that technology do something other than hurl cartoon birds at cartoon pigs. My kids stood in the shadow of the beached whale of the Saturn V with me and I have all these visions of what humans can do when they try and the sense of the spirits of those who strove to accomplish the impossible. The kids just see a giant, intangible thing and all the explanation in the world won't bring it to life for them.

Well, This Was Certainly Something

We got back late afternoon on Monday, and I had a ton of e-mails. So I answered them all that night.

Today, I realized that no one had responded to my e-mails, even when I asked questions (Garret, you know that probably meant you, since I ask you questions constantly!). So I tried to send a test message to myself.


So I'd been sending e-mails for two days, not receiving any error messages, but nothing was getting sent. I didn't realize it, though, because I was receiving incoming mail as usual.

I had to get on live type chat with a dreaded Time Warner support person named "Tom Morton", even though his command of the written word and grammar was, I have to say, highly questionable. He was very nice, though, and walked me through all the server settings, etc. Then, when all of that seemed correct, he advised me to delete my e-mail account and set up a new one.

Yeah, that'll fix it. Google Fiber can't get here soon enough.

Okay, so after disposing of Mr. Morton, I realized that there were a couple of other links in the chain. One, I have ESET as an anti-virus program, and I also have a Netgear router. ESET wasn't the problem, so I took the router out of the equation and bingo.

Now, I don't know a damn thing about routers, but I know it was f-ing everything up, so no router for now and e-mail works fine again.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #70:

Eli 12.1 had a nice suggestion last week. He said that I should add a team picture after winning the Gridiron Bowl. I think he might have gotten the idea from NHL 13, where there's a team picture after you win the Stanley Cup, but it would actually be a nice bookend to the team picture (from the very early days of card football) from the cut scene. Fredrik is making the image and it should be in the game in a day or so.

So with that, the enhanced championship celebration is finished. Falling confetti, team picture, special newspaper edition, and a trophy reminder on the Team Hub during the following season. It's a definite upgrade from static confetti and a special newspaper headline.

The beta testers have made some excellent suggestions in the last few weeks (including the suggestion to enhance the championship celebration, which came from them), and one of the most interesting was that if the shaking animation for an incorrect playcall means losing a card slot, then the correct playcall should use a different animation. Then, and this is very clever, it was suggested that if shaking back and forth could be interpreted as "no", then a nodding animation could be seen as "yes". So now, when you make a correct playcall, the card slot that you keep will nod up and down.

Other than that, I'm just trying to do a bit of nipping and tucking. I added 45 more offseason cards (now a total of 245), and I am officially out of goofy names. I'm going through the project and removing old images from previous versions (boy, the art has really evolved in this game over time, thanks to Fredrik).

Here's a good example of the kind of clean-up I'm going through now. I added the bugle fanfare while simulating the Gridiron Bowl (which takes place, instantly, but the fanfare lasts about five seconds to build up some drama before the champion is revealed). That's fine, but I noticed that if your team is in the GI Bowl, and you sim the game (blasphemy, but available), then the final score shows up on your user schedule before it shows up on the playoff canvas. So you're listening to this dramatic bugle fanfare, and in the corner of your eye you can see--oops, the game score. That's fixed now, and there's a little list of things like that I have to take care of (hopefully all done by the end of this week).

There are really no features to add at this point. Once the team picture is in, that's it in terms of adding content. After that, it will just be bug fixing, and if I can solve a couple of nagging issues (the cut scene on XP systems, for one, and an odd crash bug on a Win 8 system that I haven't been able to duplicate yet), then I'll be essentially done.

Well, except for one thing. I have a new beta tester who is a very, very smart guy, but the dynamic help totally flummoxed him. I don't know if he was distracted or what, but he totally lost the thread of the basic instruction and didn't wind up knowing how to play the game. I have to figure that out, because even if he's an edge case, he won't be the only one, and I want people to have a good experience.

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Monday Freaking Exhausted Post

Eli 12.1 had his leveling tournament this weekend in Dallas.

In Texas, if you want to play in the Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League (DSTHL), which is basically the only travel league in the state, you go play in one huge leveling tournament. Every team in the state is there, and it's massive.

I was hoping that Eli's team would go 2-2 and wind up in the "Silver" league (basically the league between "A" and "B").

Instead, they went 4-0, in the prelims, including beating a AA team, then almost beat a AAA team in the semifinals this morning before losing.

I'll tell you more about that later this week, but we just got home after three days and I am completely exhausted, so no Gridiron post until tomorrow. I can't even think straight right now.

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