Tuesday, December 31, 2013


"You will be assassinated by ninjas," Eli 12.4 said, reading the results of his cootie catcher as we all sat together in a restaurant in Shreveport.

Ten minutes later, I passed him a note scrawled on a napkin in crayon:
That assassination, did you mean now? Because I would totally take that.

That describes the trip as well as anything.

We had moments, like we always do. We played tennis for two hours each day at a lovely tennis center with the nicest people imaginable. That tennis center is our oasis, the only time each day when no one expects anything from either one of us.

The rest of the time, the overwhelming sensation in Shreveport is of letting people down.

I've taken 28 trips to Shreveport, and now I'm almost the same age as Gloria's mother the first time I met her. I see the numbers, but it's hard to understand.

These trips have always been hard, but when Eli was very young, he temporarily stemmed the tide.It was enough that his grandmother paid constant attention to him. They engaged. They were both happy to be with each other.

It's awkward now, though. His grandmother has led a very sheltered, isolated life. A small life, and I don't mean that in a judgmental way, just a factual one. What she talks about only rarely extends beyond her front yard, and never beyond the city she lives in.

Eli is the exact opposite. Even though he's only twelve, his life is big. He can talk about almost anything, and what he's done and what he hopes to do are always big. I love that about him.

When a person with a small life tries to talk to a person with a big life, there's not much to say in either direction. His grandmother desperately wants to feel connected to him, but he can't feel connected unless he's able to engage first, and there is no common ground for engagement.

It's hard.

Gloria's family is in an unhappy situation, and has been for a long time. We're a little burst of sunshine that can make it better, but somehow it always goes in the opposite direction: instead of making them feel better, we feel worse.

For a long time, I believed I could make it better. I encouraged. I took positive action. I thought I was the magic ingredient, because who doesn't want to be the magic ingredient?

Like everything else beyond the confines of the house, though, I was irrelevant.

I'm a positive person, but for those four days a year, there's nothing positive to be found. I plod through the days, the story already written, just a character in a book with an unhappy ending.

Space Cadets: Dice Duel

DQ Reader Geoff Engelstein designed a board game with his daughter, and it's blown up. Which is awesome.

The game is called Space Cadets: Dice Duel, and Kotaku mentioned it first in The Best Board Games of 2013. Here's a description from the Board Game Geek page:
Space Cadets: Dice Duel – the "Team vs. Team, Real-time, Dice-Rolling Game of Starship Combat!" – pits two spaceships against one another in quick-paced combat. The players are divided into two teams, each team playing the crew of a ship and winning or losing together based on how well they perform. The game ends when one side destroys their opponent by causing four points of damage through torpedoes or mines. Each ship has six Bridge Stations:
  • Engineering generates power for the other stations.
  • Helm maneuvers the ship on the map.
  • Weapons loads the torpedo tubes to attack the enemy.
  • Sensors locks onto the enemy so torpedoes can hit, and uses jammers to stop the enemy from locking on.
  • Shields helps protect the ship from enemy torpedoes.
  • Tractor Beams can grab the powerful crystals, move the enemy ship on the map, and launch Mines.
Each player is in charge of one or more of these stations, or has the overall role of Captain to coordinate everything. There are no game turns in Space Cadets: Dice Duel; instead the game continues with players acting as quickly as possible until one side wins.
Geoff e-mailed me for the first time in 2005, so we've been e-mailing back and forth for almost a decade. And there could not be a nicer, more pleasant person, in addition to being extremely perceptive.

Finding out that a game he designed is getting all kinds of attention is fantastic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #87: Submission This Week!

I played as many games as I could while in Shreveport (lots of time in the car coming and going), and this happened in a playoff game.

It's 24 all, late in the 4th quarter. I throw an interception with 2:30 left. Columbus goes in and scores to go up 31-24. I only have 1:10 to go 80 yards, but I throw a 60-yard pass on the last play of regulation to tie the score at 31.

I win the toss to start overtime, have a 4th and 4 at the Explorers 42, and go for it. I gain 4 yards, but on 4th down, that triggers a measurement. I'm an inch short, and the ball goes over to Columbus on downs. Incredibly, though, they only gain 8 yards on 3 plays (thanks to good playcalling on my part and an excellent run of cards), then punt. They punt down to my 8-yard line, and on the second play, I throw an interception at the 16.

I'm dead.

The Explorers immediately try to kick a field goal (which is correct, if they're inside a certain distance, because NFL kickers are 95%+ accurate from that range, and I could theoretically keep hitting the Big Play button defense until I ran out of presses, hoping to cause a turnover). So it's the right call, but--they miss it. Unbelievable!

I drive down to the 18 and try a 35-yard field goal. Right down the middle. Game over.

That's the kind of game I hope you have when you play Gridiron Solitaire. You'll also have blowouts, and every kind of game in-between.

Eli won the Gridiron Bowl last night in a game where he was shouting on every other play, then scored with 10 seconds left to win. I had the best time just listening to him.

I played roughly 20 games while I was gone, and I found one bug. In a tie with more than three teams for a playoff spot, I automatically have the human player make the playoffs. It would take a book to explain how four or five-way ties are resolved in the real NFL, and nobody wants to miss the playoffs because of obscure tiebreaker rules that almost no one understands. I thought it was more fair (and more fun) to have the human player advance in those situations.

However, I finished one season in a five-way tie for first, and I didn't make the playoffs. So I've got to fix that. There was also one bug with the crowd loop reported, and I just fixed that.

Once that's done, I'm going to build a release candidate, play it hard tomorrow, and then that's it. I'm sure there are some problems I haven't found, but man, I've tried.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Links!

Here's an extraordinary tale about virtual communities, gaming, and obsession, and it's a fascinating story: Master of His Virtual Domain.

From Sirius, and this is fantastic: Crowdfunded Full-Size Lego Hot Rod Runs On Air.

From Steven Davis, and this is incredible: The Cubli: A Gravity-Defying Cube that Can Jump, Balance, and Walk.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is quite the surprise: What if Bill Gates was your Secret Santa?

Here's an excellent article on the "moneyball" approach to baseball: A Decade After Moneyball, Have the A's Found a New Market Inefficiency?

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific read: The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is outstanding, it's An Engineer's Guide to Cats 2.0 - The Sequel. Also, and this is amazing, it's Inscriptions Everywhere! Magical Medieval Crypt Holds 7 Male Mummies.

From Dave Hoekstra, and this is absolutely fantastic: Swearing, Scoring, And Fighting: Watch This Hockey Ref's Helmet Cam.

We're always light this week, so I'm adding a few links from one of my favorite daily sites: Boing Boing.
NY Times vocabulary quiz determines where you are from.
ATOMIC JOHN: A truck driver uncovers secrets about the first nuclear bombs
Forgotten history: When the squirrels came to town

Finally, and this is just insane, it's Trench-run in a wingsuit.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Disney Infinity

Eli 12.4 asked for Disney Infinity for Christmas.

I tend to want to avoid these kinds of games, because "Infinity" refers to how much money you'll spend collecting all the figures. At the same time, though, the original Skylanders was very clever and quite entertaining, and Disney seems a natural to make a game like this.

What Disney has done, though, is veer off from the Skylander's course, except for the "this game will cumulatively cost you one million monies" concept. Instead of a longer adventure that's entirely linear, Infinity gives you one dedicated level per character plus "common" levels that any character can play.

That doesn't sound like much, and it's not, really.

There's an extra mode, though, called "Toy Box", and it's a sandbox creation mode that is limitless. Eli has created an island and an enormous racetrack floating above it in space, and it's incredibly detailed. The variety of items available to use in the world is just amazing.

What's exceedingly clever is that each time you play, you earn extra tokens to spin what's basically a prize wheel, which gives you extra items that you can use in your created world. So there's a significant carrot to encourage you to keep playing the game.

It's not quite Disney Minecraft, but it's a fantastic sandbox, and Eli has been almost mesmerized by the creativity the game allows.

Eli, of course, is already talking about getting more characters, so well done, Disney! I will say, though, that at least it seems like a high-quality experience.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

We have a new Christmas tradition:

There's nothing better on Christmas night than watching extremely large men lifting 700+ pounds.

Eli 12.4 has been doing quite a bit of work on the Bongo Board. It's a balancing board that is very, very difficult to use. He can get in his goalie stance, though, and juggle. Plus, he did this, which is just showing off:

He's fond of his phone, and flexibility:

We have a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer display (including the classic headless reindeer that I've mentioned before), but some gigantic beast keeps wreaking havoc:

While we were shopping for Gloria, we came across a display of purses. We decided that this was the ugliest purse we'd ever seen:

That's neon yellow soft plastic, and it would not be out of place at The Dollar Store. How much does it cost? $420.

There is no possible explanation.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And There's This

Keith Ganey let me know that the Children's Online Privacy Act includes this provision:
"While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents' permission, many websites altogether disallow underage children from using their services due to the amount of work involved."

So it appears that Nike falls into the "many websites altogether disallow underage children", which is fine, but they need to mention the age restriction before you go through all the steps of creating an account. Or when you put in the birthdate, and it's not in the acceptable range, notify the user. Don't give us some crap error message that doesn't explain anything.

Dear Nike: You Still Suck, But It's Working

All right, after one of the worst initial customer experiences I've ever had, the Fuelband 2 is working. What a mangled, poorly designed installation experience.

Now that it's working, it all looks very cool. The process of getting it working, though, may make you want to stab yourself.

Dear Nike: You Suck (part two)

So we decided to use Gloria's Nike+ account instead, since Eli couldn't create one for himself. She apparently signed up for an account at some point, but hadn't taken the final step of supplying a screen name, etc.

No problem.

We get prompted for a screen name and a birthdate, but then can't put in the month, because the form is FUBAR. Instead, there are twelve "object not defined" errors instead of twelve months to select from. That means we can't finish Gloria's account sign-up, either.

Expensive Christmas gift. Still unusable.

Seriously, if you're thinking about buying this product, don't.

Dear Nike: You Suck. Merry Christmas.

Eli 12.4 wanted a Nike Fuel Band for Christmas.

I tried to talk him out of it. I told him the Fitbit Flex was a much better product, and he wouldn't have to deal with the corporate monolith that is Nike. Since some of his friends have a Fuel Band, though, I could understand why that's what he wanted.

So we try to install it tonight.

Download the firmware upgrade, the content upgrade, etc. Finally, all he has to do is set up a Nike+ account.

Here's where things go totally wrong.

Eli fills out all the information required for an account, including his birthdate. "I hope it lets me do this with my real birthdate," he said. Well, of course they would. Plenty of kids have this device, and this is a chance for Nike to hook them into a lifetime of product upgrades and other product lines. So of course they'll let a 12-year-old create a Nike+ account.

Except they won't.

Nowhere on the web form does it say you can't create an account unless you're X years old, but you can't. "No problem," Eli said, I'll just change the birthdate." So he does, by about ten years, and guess what? He gets a message that says something like "can't create this account because of a previously unsuccessful attempt."

That's awesome, Nike. Good job stopping a 12-year-old from even using the overpriced crap you just sold him. Well-played.

I'm sure we'll find a way around this, and it will all be fine, but what a horrible customer experience.


So I'm having an annoying problem with Steam.

Late last week, Steam popped up a little "verify e-mail address" prompt, which I answered. They send you an e-mail to the account's e-mail address, you click on the link, and you're done.

This time, though, I didn't get an e-mail. I've done this before, and never had a problem, so this was something new. Tried again. No e-mail. It doesn't look like my spam filter is blocking it, either, as far as I can tell.

I log into Steam automatically whenever I start the program. That means I haven't thought about my password in several years, and I don't remember it. Duh.

Now I'm in some kind of crappy Catch-22 loop. I can't reset my password if I'm not getting Steam e-mails, and I can't try too many different passwords in log-in attempts or I'll get locked out of the account.

After the game ships, I'm going to need to be able to log into Steam on the web and answer forum questions, etc., from a laptop, because Eli 12.4 has plenty of hockey trips in January/February. So I was trying to take care of this in advance, not knowing that I was pulling on the world's biggest knot.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #86: Final Tweaks

Okay, here are the final tweaks, which I decided on after about 20 additional hours of playtesting.
1. I changed the message delay time on field goals to correspond to the length of the field goal attempt. Previously, the delay was the same, whether it was a 20-yard field goal or a 55-yard field goal. That didn't feel right.
2. There were also some field goal messages that didn't make sense in the context of the length of the field goal. I had 25-yard field goals "drifting", but kicks of that length don't have time to drift. So I punched up the messages for shorter field goals.
3. Hail Marys were so difficult to complete that they were basically impossible, so I removed one of the extra card slots for that play type.

I've found very, very little to correct in the last 20 hours of testing. I'm going to test the three changes I just mentioned, and play a few more seasons over the next day or two, but the game has everything I wanted it to have, and it's playing like I wanted it to play.

I feel some relief at this point. The additional testing I've done has made me more confident that the release version is going to be very, very solid, and I've had some games that were just terrific. In my last season, I needed to win to get into the playoffs, and the Surf took a 34-28 lead on me with 1:20 left. I marched down the field and reached the 6-yard line on the last play of the game, hit the Big Play button, and got stuffed.

6 yards short of a playoff berth. That hurt.

It was the kind of pain, though, that I want in this game. I don't want people winning every time, because winning has no drama when it's guaranteed. In this game, nothing is guaranteed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and this video absolutely must be viewed: This Is The Greatest Cycling Video Of All Time.

From DQ Visual Basic Advisor Garret Rempel, and this is amazing: World's Biggest Ant Hill.

From Scott Gould, and this is a spectacular moment: Trent Boult stunning catch against the West Indies, 2013.

From Jeff Gardiner, and this is terrific: This dude is about to change the way you hear drums.

From Meg McReynolds, some holiday cheer: I'm Your Lawyer, Mr. Grinch.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is quite fantastic: Irrefutable Proof that Santa is Odin.

From Gridiron Solitaire Artist and collaborator Fredrik Skarstedt, and this is one of my favorite holiday stories ever: Why Did NORAD Start Tracking Santa?

I've run across a few links this week, believe it or not, and they're all good:
25 Craziest Russian Dash Cam GIFS
Rudolph's Baseball Card
Cool Old Map: How Did Your State Get Its Liquor During Prohibition?

From Jake Spencer, and while I've linked to this before, it's so utterly spectacular that I'm doing it again: Theo Jansen's STRANDBEEST.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is spectacular: These Incredible Animated GIFs Are More Than 150 Years Old.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and these are both fascinating: Sniffing out Paul Revere with basic social network analysis and Pizza place geography. Wait, one more, and it's tremendous: The Most Amazing Science Images Of 2013.

Ending this week, a tremendous, riveting read submitted by Les Bowman: The Welfare Queen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Yes, the reading list, the last refuge of a coward at 11:25 after uncountable hours of testing. Total exhaustion ahoy, captain. However, maybe this will be useful as a last-minute holiday shopping assistant.

First off on this list is a biography of Johnny Carson, written by his longtime lawyer Henry Bushkin. Titled simply Johnny Carson, it's a dark and personal look at a man who was both entirely brilliant and entirely unhappy. It makes the 2D entertainment icon that was Johnny Carson entirely three dimensional, and it's an excellent read.

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Let me just say that this is a damn fine piece of writing by Tony Horwitz (who also wrote the fascinating Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War). John Brown has been diminished through the distance of time for over a century, but his influence was so much greater than is commonly acknowledged, and this book thoroughly explains how and why. This is an absolutely stellar read.

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA
This is the story of the Khost, Afghanistan, bombing, focusing on the triple agent responsible. That's right--triple agent. The Amazon description includes this phrase: "miscalculation, deception, and revenge." Yes, that above summarizes it, and this book lays out all the details.

The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement
This is a thorough and engaging look at both Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement, but told through the lens of the people who worked most closely with Chavez. The different perspectives and intertwining narratives make for excellent reading.

Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power
This is a breezier read than everything listed above, but man, it's interesting. After we visited the Motown Museum this summer, I wanted to find out more, and this book details the tremendous personal and professional struggles going on behind the scenes. Motown was a staggeringly brilliant enterprise on multiple levels, created by brilliant and ultimately flawed people.

The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust
He was a dick. If you want more details than that, though, this is an excellent place to start. It's almost Shakespearean, this story.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
I don't need to explain this book, because I can do something better. Go here and read "Menace". If you like the story (I think it's fantastic), then go buy the book immediately.

South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid
This is a great book if you want to get pissed off. It's not an exhilarating read, even a little dry, but it lays out in thorough detail the disgrace of apartheid. I'm pissed off just writing about it. Some of the details will stun you, and not in a good way.

Sorry for any typos. 100% out of gas and going to bed now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Sorry, but there's nothing else coming today. I am buried in final testing and trying very hard to finish by mid-day tomorrow. This last .01% is killing me.

Front Office Football 7

Jim Gindin (Solecismic Software) released Front Office Football 7 last week.

FOF is the Dwarf Fortress of football sims, and that is one of the highest compliments I could ever pay to a game. It's incredibly deep and the level of simulation accuracy is without peer. I've played every iteration of the series, and they were all terrific.

Here's the website: Front Office Football 7.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


We're very close to DEFCON 1 in terms of chaos around here.

Eli's playing hockey every day now, essentially. And he loves it, and he's playing great, but it's a logistical avalanche. Plus there are always extra practices where some coach wants him in goal for something or other, and those get added to the pile.

I'm trying to hang on until he actually gets a mini-break from hockey at the end of this week. In January, though, he's going to be very, very busy with league games and tournaments.

I don't need to have knee surgery. The orthopedist yesterday said that the excruciating pain I felt when I stood up two Sundays ago was bone on bone, probably caused by the patellar tendon pulling on something or other, and I just happened to stand up at the exact wrong angle. I told him the pain was worse than when I tore my meniscus (both of them), and he said there's nothing like bone hitting bone. Indeed.

It still hurts, but he said I could work out and it wouldn't make anything worse--it will just take time to totally heal. So it's nice to be able to work out again and ignore the pain (because it's just pain, not injury). As a bonus, he said the x-ray showed that I still had some cartilage left in my knee. "I've seen worse," he said, and I'll take that as a win.

I've been doing all  my holiday shopping on Amazon--literally, I haven't bought one thing in a brick and mortar--and man, it's great. It still takes an incredibly long time to find what I want to give someone, but it's great to hit that "buy with 1-click" button and have it ship to someone out of town without me having to stand in an apocalyptic line at the post office. I'm not done yet, but at least I'm halfway there.

I like the holidays, mostly, but we're going to Shreveport after Christmas (oh god oh god oh god), so it's more stressful than usual. Abandon hope, all ye who drive here and whatnot. Plus the holidays are just disruptive, whether I like them or not, and I could do without disruption right now.

Oh yeah, and I'm trying to launch a game. That's not stressful in the least, because I'm not a perfectionist or anything (although I'm also the laziest person on earth in an almost Platonic form kind of way, depending on the situation). So I'm taking one more pass at the sound engine issue, because damn, I want to fix that, and I got one piece of the information I need to submit to Steam (an Employer Identification Number, woo), and there's still one piece missing (I think).

That doesn't even sound that busy. Good grief, I'm turning soft.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #85: Very, Very Nearly Done

Very, very nearly.

All the grown-up paperwork stuff has been filed with the state/U.S. I should have information back on Wednesday that gives me the necessary company numbers, etc., so that I can then submit the game to Steam.

There's one more thing I'd like to fix. It's not a gamebreaker, but invoking the suspend state while in the middle of the game can result in some sound effects vanishing upon resume. I'm still trying to find a way to gather more information when this happens, but I'm not confident I'll figure out it out in the next two days. Still trying, though.

As far as everything else, the game is what I hoped it would be when I started. Actually, that's not true--it's way, way more. Mostly because you guys kept suggesting things that I didn't want to do at first, but after I learned more about programming, I was able to add lots and lots of detail into the world.

Plus, and I never expected this when I started, the randomness of the cards matches the randomness of sports in an uncanny manner. The game feels like football (to me, at least), because the cards do a terrific job of simulating momentum. I'm very lucky that it worked out that way.

It's a very strange feeling, being at this point. All of my time has been structured for so long that it feels weird to have even a few moments where it's not like that. I'm still playtesting with almost all of my free time, but that's going to stop soon, too.

I'l let you guys know as soon as I have an estimate from Steam on when the game goes live. I can't believe I'm typing that, either.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and boy, this sounds like it's going to be very, very bad, it's There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’.

From Donny Plumley, and this is nothing short of tremendous: Parkour Fail Compilation.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fascinating: Anyone for Tennis? Also, and this is fascinating as well, it's What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario. One more, and it's frightening: Tobacco Body

From Meg McReynolds, and this is brilliantly funny: Director's Program Notes For A Dramatic Reimagining of Guys And Dolls. Also, and this is the funniest job application ever, it's Christopher McComas needs to get hired.

From Sirius, and this is amazing: "Cross sea" and "cross swell".

From Michael Gilbert, and this is fantastic: Little Big Universe: Tilt-Shifted Astro Images Make Space Look Tiny.

From Les Bowman, and this is very cool: Star Trek Enterprise Model with Ion Propulsion added.

Here's the explanation of something I've always wondered about: Why Cold Weather Makes Your Water Pipes Burst.

From Dave Schroeder, and this is surprisingly beautiful, it's  What You Get When You Pour Molten Aluminum Into An Ant Hill.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


The University of Texas is trying to hire University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

On many levels, I don't care. UT fans are often (not always) arrogant and annoying, and they're all around me in Austin. They have so much money that they're the New York Yankees of football, with every conceivable advantage against other schools. And college athletics, at least in the big revenue sports, is a complete cesspool.

On one level, though, this is very, very interesting.

Here's how compensation basically works for college coaches. They get a salary, there's a bonus structure for bowl games/conference championships/national championships etc. Plus coaches do endorsements, summer camps, etc.

With this framework for compensation, competing for coaches is a fairly straightforward combination of salary/bonus and contract length. And since college football programs are pretty easily broken into tiers, there's a top tier of jobs that compensate the most.

In this environment, a coach never leaves a tier one job for a tier job. If they get fired, they might wind up at a tier two school, but they're never going to move to a lower tier while they're successful.

In the near future, though, I think this is going to get all shook up, so to speak.

In the next few years, some university is going to offer a college football (or basketball) coach both salary/bonus and a percentage of revenue. It's inevitable.

Let's look at an example.

Coach Satan is tempted by an offer from University X. His current university, though, says that they'll match any offer he receives from University X, so why change? Then University X says "Our current attendance average is 75,000. We'll give you 10% of the incremental stadium revenue (ticket sales, parking, concessions) if the average attendance exceeds 75,000."

The actual percentage and the details, though, are relatively unimportant. What matters is that the concept of a coach getting a percentage is accepted. It's not unlike when ESPN started charging cable providers per sub. At first, it was just pennies per sub. What mattered, though, is that it was the first time a channel was compensated in an additional way beyond advertising revenue. It was revolutionary, and in the last twenty five years, that fee per subscriber has gone from a penny to roughly five dollars.

If you think head coach compensation is out of control now, just wait.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I've had some knee injuries that, while they weren't necessarily memorable, were certainly distinct.

Once, I ran a marathon and finished with no problem. The following Friday, I was bowling at a team business event when I felt something give in my left knee.

That turned out to be a torn meniscus.

About ten years later, I was carrying Eli's hockey bag (maybe Eli 9.5) across the parking lot at the Cedar Park Center. Walking. Took a step, felt something give. That was my right meniscus, and it was also torn.

In both cases, the meniscus was so close to being torn that anything could have done it, anything meaning "almost nothing". Surgical repair, and almost new.

On Sunday, after working out for about five days in a row, I decided to take the day off. I spent two hours at the rink because, well, a normal day, and when Eli went to Mom's to visit, I came back home and started testing the game on the couch, courtesy of Eli's Ultrabook. Turned on the Red Zone Channel, switched to the blizzard game in Philadelphia, and had a very nice hour or so.

Then I decided to get up.

When I did, I felt something bad in my right knee. Severe pain, hard to locate, and it was almost impossible for me to walk for the first few minutes.

Three days later, it still hurts like hell.

My physical therapist worked on me yesterday, and all she can figure out is that something appears to have happened under the kneecap. So it's not an ACL, which is good, but the pain level tells me something not good is going on.

I was able to swim about half a mile today, but barely kicked at all. Funny thing was it felt at least slightly better when I was done.

I'm going to the orthopedist on Monday.

I'm just hoping I can get a shot or something and no surgery this time. Too much going on to toss surgery into the salad.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eli 12.4: Adversity (part three)

I was hoping that Eli 11.4 would have some easier games in the Thanksgiving tournament, even though that's very much against my basic instinct for him to be continually challenged. I was concerned that he was so demoralized after the San Antonio game that it would be hard for him to recover.

Or maybe, in truth, I was the one that was demoralized. Sometimes it's hard to separate that out, to remember that he loves this and can process it in different ways than I can. It's hard for me to expect a twelve-year-old to be resilient, to shake off a bad game, even though I know he's made out of 100% specialtonium.

Plus, and this is most important, the process is more important than the outcome. No matter where he ends up in hockey, it's going to be at a higher level than anyone could have ever expected a kid from Austin to reach. He will have learned how to translate caring into effort, which is something many adults don't even understand.

The road itself is the destination.

His first game was against a team from Houston, the same team he played so many times last year. They'd added a few high-level players, but they played in a travel league one league lower than Eli's team, so I thought he might have an easier time of it, for once.

I was so, so wrong.

From the opening puck drop, they dominated. We were on our heels the entire game, just trying to hang on. We were getting outshot 2-1, and our shots were of lower quality as well as quantity.

I wanted Eli to be able to get his confidence back, but I realized after the first ten minutes that he had never lost his confidence. One game after the worst game he'd played in over a year, he was putting on a goalie clinic.

This team put every conceivable shot on goal. Slap shots from the point. Wrist shots from the slot. Passes across the crease to the far post for one-timers. Wraparounds.

He was dialed in like I'd never seen him before. No wasted motion. Electric reflexes. Flawless technique. He demonstrated almost every move a goalie has to make, and they were all explosive and precise.

On one shot from close range, the puck deflected off a player only a few feet in front of Eli and redirected toward the corner of the net at high speed. That's an automatic goal, and I was already writing it off as one of those things that just happens when Eli just happened instead--his glove flashed out and swallowed the puck.

There was no way to make that save, no way at all, but he made it look easy. And he made everything else look easy. Sometimes the sign of a goalie playing really, really well is that he makes every save look routine.

In the end, he faced 35 shots and stopped 33 of them. His team only had 19 shots, and most of them were weak, but they escaped with a 2-2 tie.

In terms of technique and control, it was his best game ever.

He skated off the ice. I tend to hang back a bit after he plays well, so he can soak in all the affection from his teammates and the parents. I want him to enjoy the moment with everyone, and he knows I'm there. When he came out of the locker room, I put my arm around him as we walked down the hallway.

"Did you collect any money for that, or was it a free clinic?" I asked. He laughed.

"You were definitely diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean," I said. He laughed again. We both love that song. Who doesn't love Curtis Mayfield? [As it turns out, everyone loves Curtis Mayfield--but it's not his song. It's William DeVaughn.]

He played again the next day, against an "A" team from Kansas. I knew it was going to be tough for him to play as well as he had the day before. It would be tough for anyone.

It was not, however, tough for him.

He faced 23 shots this time, many of them from in close. His athleticism and reflexes dominated the game. In one sequence late in the game, there was a quick shot off a rebound, and his glove was waiting for the shot. For this save, though, his glove was just off the ice, much lower than it would normally have been.

He was so dialed in that he saw where the shot was going before it even left the shooter's stick. It was so freaky that the crowd for the other team actually groaned when the puck disappeared into his glove.

The shooter just stared.

In the end, it was a 23 save shutout. A jewel.

"That was some crazy Kung Fu action you pulled out there," I said. He obliged with some fancy moves and sound effects. "Yes, like that," I said. We laughed.

The best part of all this? He wasn't surprised that he played so well. He expected to play well. He believed that he would play well.


I don't know whether he'll make it to where he wants to go in hockey. I do know that for the entire weekend, though, he looked like a kid who was going to play at the highest level someday. There is a long distance between possible and feasible, but he walked down that road like he belonged there.

Dog Sled Saga

How can you not like the people who are making this game?
We've been working on dog sled saga for one year to the day.

I'm very much looking forward to this game, not just for the subject matter, but as the creative expression of these extremely likable people.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #84: Details

Reaction in Austin to the news that Gridiron Solitaire had been Greenlit:

I think I'm 2-3 days away from finishing testing. I've made some minor tweaks in the last week, but that's all I've found.

The state of the game is ahead of the state of everything else.

Trademark. Domain name transfer. Creating an LLC. What the? What's with all this grown-up stuff?

Steam wants routing information for my bank account. Are you telling me this game might actually generate "some monies", as Eli 4.0 would say? Is that somehow possible?

So I'm suddenly drowning in stuff that isn't making a game. But I need to get through it all, because I want to submit the release version to Steam this week. It's so easy to lose momentum at this point, which is something I didn't realize until now (when I feel myself losing momentum).

Several of you guys asked me if I'm going to keep writing about the game on Monday after it ships, and the answer to that is "yes". Since I wrote about the last year and a half of development, I want to write about what the post-shipment process is like. Maybe it will help a few people who are developing their own games, because I've certainly gotten a ton of help from other people.

All right, I've got to go create an LLC now. What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Friday Links!

In a twist, instead of being light on links for Thanksgiving week, we're light the week after.

Leading off, and man, this is a sad story, it's Former Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker battling effects of concussions. This is an important article to read if you have any interest in sports or in the medical research into concussions, but it's brutal.

Next, from Katy Mulvey, and this is an absolutely fascinating article that you absolutely must read: Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)

From Les Bowman, and this is lighter fare, fortunately, it's How a determined photographer's quest to capture the NFL led to a groundbreaking photo shoot.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is going to get very interesting: Google Glass Makes Its Way Into Operating Rooms.

Next, from Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is amazing: Glaciers Visit Izatys Resort - Mille Lacs Lake, MN.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fantastic: Richard Feynman on the Beauty of a Flower. Also, and this is incredible: Tauba Auerbach’s RGB Colorspace Atlas Depicts Every Color Imaginable. This, though, is even cooler: Rashad Alakbarov Paints with Shadows and Light.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and these are very clever: 50 States Of LEGO: Illustrated Miniature Stereotypes Of America. One more, and it's stunning: 'Memories' pass between generations.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is bizarre (I know, that's in the headline, but there's no other way to describe it): The CIA's Bizarre Art Collection Memorializes Its Greatest Hits.

Last one of this week, and it's hilarious: Dogs Terrified Of Walking Past Cats, A Dramatic Compilation.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela passed away today.

I don't have words to do his life justice. He was a giant among men.

Eli 12.4: Adversity (part two)

I spent quite a bit of time the next few days after the game thinking about how Eli 12.4 practices.

It's hard for a coach with 15 skaters to focus on 2 goalies during a practice. The drills have to focus on the skaters, and whatever work a goalie gets is a bonus. That can make it very tough for a goalie to get the kind of work he needs. So Eli was getting shots--even though probably not as many as he wanted--but just getting shots is not always helpful.

"I've noticed something about practice," I said.


"So many of the shots you get are from guys skating in from the blue line after finishing part of a drill. It's just one shot, and it's always from the same spot. And you always start from the same spot, in an ideal position."

"Okay," he said. "And?"

"And that's not even close to what happens during a game. You almost never make a single-movement save from an ideal position. It's either a screened shot from the point, moving off the post to get in position for a shot from the slot, or a pass across the top of the crease to the far post. None of those saves are single movements. So what you're practicing isn't help prepare you for what's happening in games. Does that make sense?"

"It does," he said. "I see what you mean."

"Your technique is crazy good, in general," I said. "But you still need specific work to prepare for the kind of shots you're getting in games. This is a long process, and you can't cheat the process. So let's get you some specific practice." There's a terrific coach at The Pond who has a hard and accurate shot, and I talked to him about shooting on Eli for an hour at a time. He agreed.

Eli and I talked about the drills that would help the most. The one I pushed for was coming off the post to the top of the crease (or higher), where the coach would unleash a shot. He'd have to make the save, and if there was a rebound, square up to the puck. Eli also wanted to work on a stuff drill, where the coach would shoot from very close range, then just start hacking at the rebound, and Eli would have to square up and, when possible, get so close that the shooter had nowhere to shoot the puck.

Eli skated out and started driving me crazy, because he warmed up with exactly the kind of shots he was getting in practice, starting from an ideal position. After he took a short water break, though, he started coming off the post.

That sounds easy, but it's hell. It's a very explosive movement to get from the post to the top of the crease (or higher) in time to defend a shot from the slot. It's hell, but it's required to defend one of the basic plays that every team in his league runs over and over again--get the puck on the wing, pull the defense over, then pass to a player in the slot.

What makes it so hard is that no one gets as high as they want before the shot is taken. Even getting to the top of the crease and square to the shooter is pretty good. Getting four inches higher makes the goalie so much bigger to the shooter that he's almost impossible to beat, but almost no one is that explosive.

As soon as Eli started coming off the post, it was easy to see that he couldn't get as high as he wanted, and he was having to make saves from all kinds of positions.

Which was perfect, because that's what happens in games. He was having to chain moves together. Instead of starting from an ideal position of strength, he had to get himself to a position of strength first.

"Okay, I totally get it," he said when he skated off.

"That was really, really good," I said. "Multi-movement saves, less than ideal positions, and your technique was still excellent. Well done."

He went back on and they worked on the stuff drill for almost half an hour. It's amazing how many little nuances there are to a goalie's technique when the puck is loose and inside the crease. Things most people wouldn't even notice, like having very aggressive hands (while still keeping your body square to the shooter). These are things that most goalies Eli's age would never be able to incorporate, but he can work on them one time and suddenly they're part of his game.

"That was great," he said when he skated off at the end of the hour. "I felt really sharp by the end."

He went through that same practice a few days later, and then it was time to go to Fort Worth for the big Thanksgiving tournament.

Tuesday: The tournament, of course (sorry--this ran longer than I thought it would)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Frozen Endzone!

DQ Reader Ian Hardingham's new game, Frozen Endzone, gets a big write-up over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun today. And a trailer, so here you go: Synapse Judgment: Frozen Endzone Trailer Touches Down.

The game looks terrific and I will be a day one purchaser.

Eli 12.4: Adversity (part one)

Eli 12.4 has big dreams. He wants to play in the NHL.

He's not just dreaming, though. He works hard. He holds himself to higher standards. He has the attitude of a kid who's going somewhere big.

This fall, though, I've had a feeling gnawing at me.

Strength is built through adversity. I don't know of any other way. And Eli's played so well for so long that he hasn't faced much, or rather, he's handled everything he faced.

In the last month or so, I started seeing some cracks. Little technical mistakes, which are hugely important, because goalie is an incredibly technical position. Yes, reflexes and athleticism are critical, too, but if your technique isn't sound, reflexes and athleticism aren't going to save you.

He won a game 5-4 against a strong team, and they had 35 shots against him, but two of the goals were caused by mistakes in technique. His next game was against a Fort Worth team, and he game up four goals again, with two caused by technical errors.

Then he went to San Antonio.

They have the best team in the league, they'd beaten us 5-0 the day before (Eli wasn't in goal for that one), and I was worried. I knew he had the capacity to play a great game, but some of the technique hiccups were a concern.

Plus, and this is a very subjective thing, he just seemed so satisfied. The travel team has a bunch of great kids on it, and he was so happy to be part of the team. He was enjoying himself. Sometimes he didn't have that little extra edge in practice.

It's hard to manage this, because to some degree, I can't. There's this kind of Zen thing going on where I have to teach him how to drive instead of driving for him. I have to let him drive off the road instead of pulling him back from the shoulder. If I do that well, he learns how to drive.

He must learn how to drive.

This is all about the inner game, too, because even though he makes technical mistakes at times, his technique is ridiculously good. He has a goalie coach for technique, and he goes to a great goalie camp each summer. It's not about the technique. It's about having the discipline to always rely on the technique, even if the game isn't going well.

The first shot San Antonio took against him was a two on nothing, and they passed across the crease, he couldn't get to the post, and they scored. Not his fault. Then they scored again a few seconds later, on another shot where he had no defense at all.

Then they came down on a breakaway, and I saw the shot heading for his glove, and somehow he missed it.

Within another ten minutes, they'd scored twice more--and he would have normally stopped both. Then his coach signaled to him and he skated off the ice.


He'd never been pulled from a game before, never even close, in over three years. I was gutted, and I could only imagine how he felt.

Being a goalie is the best and worst thing in the world.

When the game ended, he skated off, and I could tell he'd been crying. Hell, I felt like crying, too. I patted him on top of his helmet and he went off to the dressing room. When he came out, his eyes were red and he looked like he was ready to burst into tears at any moment. And he had to wipe his eyes a few times, especially when some of the team moms said nice things to him, but he made it outside the building.

"Let's going to go for a walk before we leave," I said.

"What? No!" he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Whatever," he said.

There was a long sidewalk path around the rink, and it went past a miniature golf course and an apartment complex. When we started, I said, "Go ahead and cry, if you want to. There's nothing wrong with that. When you're done crying, though, we're going to put it behind us and move forward. Okay?" He nodded, and we walked in silence for a few minutes.

"So tell me what you saw during the game," I said. What did you feel?"

"I was fine on the first two goals, because there was nothing I could have done," he said. "I just missed the third one, though, and when I did, I got rattled."

"When you feel like that, you sink a little bit deeper than normal," I said. "It's not much--maybe six inches, maybe a little more--but it makes you smaller, geometrically." He nodded.

We walked for a little while longer.

"This is a hard path you've chosen," I said. "It hurts, and it's going to hurt again.  Are you sure you want to go down this path? Are you strong enough?"

"Yes," he said. "I do. And I am."

"Then you have to understand that everyone has these moments. Everyone gets pulled. Some people use the hurt as fuel, to get stronger, but other people feel the hurt like a fire, and it burns them up. If you're going to be great, then you'll use this to get stronger. I can't do it for you."

"I know," he said.

"I've been thinking for a while that you seemed too satisfied in practice, but I didn't want to say anything, because I wanted you to manage that. I've seen every practice you've ever had, though, and that edge you had last year isn't quite there. Do you know what I mean?"

"I do," he said. "And I can get it back."

"I know," I said. "I know you can." I hugged him when we got back to the car, then we got in for the long ride home.

When we got back, I stopped him as he was walking in to the house. "Will you do something before you start watching t.v.?"

"What?" he asked.

"I want you to sit down and write a contract with yourself," I said. "Not for me, and not for your coach. This is an agreement with yourself about what hockey means to you and what you're willing to do to reach your goals. Write that down, sign it, and I want you to save it."

"I like that," he said. "I'll go do that right now." A few minutes later, he came down with a small piece of paper in his hand. I blotted out the last name, but here's what he wrote:

I've never said the phrase "a never changing passion," in case you're wondering. I like it, though.

Tomorrow: The Response

Well, This Is Entirely Shocking

Gridiron Solitaire has been Greenlit for Steam.

I clearly had an excellent handle on this whole process, as I thought the game had roughly 10-15% of the votes it needed.

Thanks many times to all of you who voted.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Console Post of the Week (your e-mail from last week)

Based on the e-mail I received after last week's console post, there appear to be two types of user response to the Xbox One:
1) The user for whom the forward-thinking features are so impressive that it's easy to overlook the rough edges in the experience.
2) The user for whom the rough edges ARE the experience.

Microsoft's problem is that category #2 was completely unnecessary. Even the users who are very high on the Xbox One acknowledge that it's a frequently ragged experience right now. Why has the "completion bar" for releasing $500 consumer electronics devices sunk so low?

Also, before we proceed, let me clarify what I meant when I said "convergence device". In my mind, that means some kind of living room set-top box that is used to control everything. I didn't mean a phone or a tablet or something like that.

Okay, let's look at your always excellent e-mail. First off, an e-mail from DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray:
We've had our system since Day One and took it on the road over the holiday, below are some quick thoughts.
-To my daughter, the thing is truly magical.  She thinks of it as her friend now because it (usually) greets her with a big pink "Hello, ******" when she walks into the game room.  She waves and returns the greeting.  She's already shouting "Xbox, Record that" at things that don't record.  While she really liked some aspects of the Wii, its features never really led her to expect them with other things she used or did (however, she was much younger then too).
-I am amazed at the things that are completely missing (or wrong) from the OS/UI.  Things like showing how much charge is left on the controller, a setting for look stick inversion that is tied to your profile (like it was on the 360), tucking things like "Settings" away under the "Games & Apps" menu, turning things that should be baked into the OS into what appears to be just another application (Settings, Friends, Achievements, etc).
-The TV stuff is very cool, but I don't use it that much.  It is something that will be great for my daughter, as she can walk into the game room and say "Xbox, on" and (assuming it hears/understands her) it will fire up the TV, AV Receiver and then she can just tell the Xbox what she wants to do/see is a HUGE improvement over trying to show her how the AVR works or worry about leaving it in a state where she can easily get a game or something going - that is a HUGE, HUGE benefit.
-I seriously doubt that I will buy a disc based game for the system.  I'm not a trade in/resell guy on the 360 and I'm already ruined by the X1 so seamlessly switching between games and apps.  The downside for the discless approach is that if you have a shitty ISP, you will literally spend DAYS downloading a single game.  For example, I took the X1 to my mom's this weekend.  My brother and I were sitting around checking out games and he wanted to see what NBA2k14 looked like.  I told him I'd just buy it so we could spend most of Friday playing it (this was Thurs. night).  I bought it in the online store and it began the download/install process.  It didn't make it very far before we decided to go to bed.  When I got up around 8 hours later, it was at 20%!  We had the X1 on most of Friday and it was still chugging away at 35% when we checked up on it Friday night.  By the time I was packing it up to head out on Saturday morning, it was sitting at 65%.  Now, I have no idea what kind of internet service Mom has other than it is "DSL", but there's no way folks can have any reasonable level of experience on a connection like that.
-The cloud stuff for games like Forza is really, really cool.  Seeing people from your friends list racing you in an offline mode makes it much more interesting.

Scott's a good example of someone who has an even-handed evaluation--impressed, but wondering why so much of the experience is so sloppy. What he says about his daughter (who is entirely adorable--we've met her), though, is extremely interesting. For kids, using voice and the Kinect interface is something that's not nearly as alien to them as it might be for someone older. As long as it works, they'll incorporate it without question.

Now here's an example of extreme rough edges, from Andrew Rawnsley:
MS have devised a device with convergence as its key feature, but which can only ever work sensibly for a small portion of (primarily US-based) customers.

Let me explain.  Here in the UK, we have something called the Licence Fee - it’s government funding
for the BBC (and by extension, TV infrastructure).  It means we get approximately 100 channels of
TV for free, including high definition (1080i) channels.  All you need is a standard aerial socket on
your TV, provided it has a digital tuner.  Every TV sold since about 2000 has had a digital tuner, and
flat-panel TV uptake was massively faster here than in the US (you haven’t been able to buy a non-
LCD/plasma tv since 2000ish - funnily enough when digital tuners came in).

So, basically, most TV viewers here have a digital tuner in the TV which they use to watch TV.  This
can never work with Xbro, because it is an aerial feed directly into the TV.  To use Xbro, you’d need
a HDMI-equipped set top box.  Except that the only people who use set top boxes are people with
CRTs which don’t have HDMI ports by definition…  so neither to do the set top boxes.  Indeed, about
the only Freeview boxes with HDMI are PVR devices, but those are by no means “how people watch
TV” (typically people just look at recorded shows there, and watch live via aerial).

The caveat is that Sky satellite TV does use a set top box, and could be used with XBro, but neither
Sky nor Freeview are supported for TV services right now anyway….

But does that matter… we can feed in the set top boxes that we don’t have regardless, right?  Well,
someone at MS seems to have forgotten that Europe, Austalia and (I believe) Africa were PAL areas,
which means broadcast TV, even in HD is based on 50hz.  Xbro is a 60hz gaming device…. no, wait,
a 60hz convergence device….  What do Bro’s watch?  Sports, especially Football (soccer).  50hz to
60hz conversion results in judder on any kind of fast moving pans, for which football coverage is
the poster child.  In other words, Xbro makes your favourite TV look *worse* and more unpleasant.
That's before we even mention the slight softening of the image.

There’s no attempt to switch to 50hz when feeding in 50hz content (which PS3 did for old games).

Now, this isn’t just the way things work in the UK, but to a large degree across the whole of
Europe.  Cable services never made anything like the impact over here that they did in the US,
and many TVs even have built-in HD satellite receivers as well as DVB-T aerial feeds.  Indeed, my
last two Panasonic TVs both had this, so even satellite users don’t need a 3rd party device.

This stuff isn’t exactly complex to figure out.  A conversation between Redmond and any of its
international subsidiaries should have red-flagged this when the idea first came up.  

Like I said last week, ambitious devices are often cursed by their ambition. If Microsoft had taken the time to polish the interface and work all this crap out, I think most people would be wowed. Right now, though, they've created (unnecessarily) a divisive experience.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #83: Staggering to the Finish

Eli 12.4 had a Thanksgiving hockey tournament last weekend. We were gone for all or part of four days.

Trying to combine Eli's hockey schedule with getting Gridiron Solitaire released has been very, very tough. Plus, and this is just as tough, marketing and distribution suck.

This is one of the many things I didn't realize.

Nothing about marketing or distribution is improving the game in any way, or providing a better user experience. So I bridle at some of this stuff, although I would very much like to actually sell the game.

Plus, it's time.

This game is what I wanted it to be when I first started. I'm still baffled that I survived, but somehow I did. It needs to ship.

Okay, hive mind decision time. With Steam a 25th century dream (that's how long it will take to get enough votes to get through the Greenlight process!), I'm looking at Desura and GOG. Do any of you have any developers experience with either portal? I've had a small amount of feedback, but only a few bits of information about each at this point.

I like Desura because they seem very friendly to small developers and small games. I like GOG because I'd like to release GS with no DRM. But I'd also like to only release through one portal at first, possibly expanding to others later.

Feedback appreciated.

One more thing. Here's the credits screen:

If you participated in testing, please click on that image (to enlarge it) and make sure your name is on there. Basically, if you were a beta tester and sent me at least one e-mail with feedback, then your name should be on there. If you should be there, but aren't, please let me know.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Welcome to the 30th Century

Amazon Prime Air

I now live in an episode of The Jetsons.

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