Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Links!

Sorry, we're a little light this week heading into the Labor Day weekend, but the link quality is strong.

Leading off this week, from Steven Kreuch, and this is such a moving and inspirational story: My Name is Ken. Ken is a tetra-quadriplegic (all four limbs are paralyzed), and he's a gamer.

Here's another absolutely tremendous story, this one sent in by Guy Byars: The Most Amazing Lie in History: How a chicken farmer, a pair of princesses, and 27 imaginary spies helped the Allies win World War II.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is going to suck up at least thirty minutes of your morning, guaranteed: Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State.

From Sirius, and I had no idea this was possible: Biting The Hand That Cooks You: Severed Cobra Head Bites, Kills Chef.

From C. Lee, and this is pretty fantastic: These Are the Brave and Fluffy Cats Who Served in World War I.

From Phil Honeywell, and while this is in German, here's a translation of the opening:
Two years is the little robotic Mars Curiosity on its way to the surface of the Red Planet. He fights his way over rocks and dunes and is often exposed to sandstorms. He regularly photographed themselves at work. The before and after pictures of NASA showing how the mission has changed him.

Here's the story: Ganz schön mitgenommen.

From Tim Lesnick, two links about video games and art. The first, and it includes what might be my single favorite game ever, it's Dwarf Fortress is changing how the MOMA preserves art. The second, and it's a terrific read: New MOMA exhibit embraces the art of video games as it explores their design.

These are wonderful images: pre-revolution American cars in Cuba.

From Marc Klein, and this is fantastic: The Rise of Beefcake Yoga.

From Todd J., and yes, I live in this state, sadly: From Texas, where everything is bigger, the 99-pack of beer.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is both interesting and discouraging: Is America Dreaming?: Understanding Social Mobility.

Finally, here's a fascinating story to end the week with: The Making And Unmaking Of Preston Zimmerman, American Soccer Player.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


We spent quite a bit of time the last two weeks watching the Little League World Series, which I've never done before.

If you turned 13 before May 1 of this year, you were too old to play. So, at most, the oldest kids in the LLWS were three months older than Eli.

The kids were huge.

Not all of them, but it was incredible how many of them were 5'8", 150 or bigger. One kid was 6'2".

Eli is 5' 6 1/2", and weighs 105 pounds. He's in the 95th percentile for height.  There were dozens of kids who absolutely dwarfed him--at least five or six on each team. And tons of kids weighed over 150 pounds.

It was men against boys, in many cases.

That made me think about youth sports, then sports in general, and how size-dependent it's become. To have a chance at becoming great in a sport, in most cases you must fit inside a certain size profile.

In Eli's case, to fit the size profile of an NHL goalie (I know--preposterous--but I'm never betting against him in anything), he needs to be at least 6'1" and 190 pounds. The average NHL goalie today is 6'2", 198 lbs. It's fine to be taller than that--good, even--but being more than an inch or two shorter is a huge liability, and it will significantly affect a scout's interest, no matter the skill of the goalie.

Fortunately for Eli, if his doctor is right, he'll be about 6'3". With his feet already size 12s, and his hands already as big as mine, his size is going to be part of his potential. But I think about those other kids who have worked so hard and are going to be 5'8" as adults, or even 5'10".

That's why trying to understand who has the most potential is so difficult in the adolescent years. Some kids grow early, then stop. Then there are kids who are just too small, but have huge growth spurts later.

For a kid, it's not easy.


This may not be interesting to anyone besides me (always a risk), but it blows my mind.

When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do on the weekends was watch football. I still remember the schedule, too. There was always a Saturday afternoon college game at 2:30. If I was lucky, there was also a game at 11:00 in the morning, but that wasn't very often.

On Sunday, either NBC or CBS had a doubleheader, and the other network had a single game (they alternated doubleheaders).

In 1969, when I was eight, that was 100% of the football games available on television.

About 20 games of college football. 42 games of pro football (14 game season, no bye weeks).

62 games in total, not including bowl games and the NFL playoffs.

ESPN is showing 52 college football games this weekend (from Wednesday-Monday).

In one week, ESPN is almost showing more football than I watched all season when I was a kid.

I know that forty-five years is a long time, but not to me. I still remember the anticipation on Saturdays, looking forward to the games. That early Saturday game was a huge bonus! And I can still remember details of many of those games, even today.


Please go play this right away: Gridland. Also, say goodbye to your afternoon, because this game is as compulsive as a slot machine.

Thanks to RPS for finding it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Wayback Machine

Michael Gilbert will see your Amiga 500 and raise you a Commodore 64--in its original box!

See that little white sticker placed vertically on the box? Mike's comment:
The white sticker on the front is where my mom wrote my name & dorm room number when I went to college (1986).

That is a good slice of just about everything: computers, moms, and college.

Here's another image (a little blurry, but no matter):

"Welcome to the World of Friendly Computing." I think that was a very fair description of the C-64 and all the wonderful experiences it provided.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


So this seems like a big deal as a proof of concept:
Without a doubt, the Oculus Rift will be the be-all and end-all of our most cherished nerd fantasies (until the holodeck comes.) Example: This game to train like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars—a remote floats around you firing stun blasts that you have to deflect with your lightsaber.

If you're too lazy to watch the video (don't be like me), here's a quick summary: it's a lightsaber training app where you use the DK2 headset along with "a new wireless motion system" called STEM System. The STEM system can either put a controller (with a handle) into your hand, or it can track motion via a wearable bracelet.

Combined, it's stunning. It's a JEDI training simulator, essentially, but it looks incredibly immersive and accurate.

Seeing that made me realize the unbelievable potential that Oculus Rift, in combination with something like the STEM system, has for sports training.

Can't get to the batting cage? Just dial up any pitch speed/type of pitch you want and take batting practice in your living room. Plus, you could practice against higher speed pitches than usual without risk of getting hit, or fouling a ball off your foot. The lightsaber video seemed realistic enough that I believe it would work quite well for becoming familiar with higher speed activities in sports.

Oh, and goalie training simulator? This looks like it could be incredible, if the motion tracking is extremely accurate. One of the critical aspects of being a goalie is reaction time. Actually, it's a critical aspect of almost every sport. Anything that could improve your reaction time would be invaluable to an athlete.

Here's the STEM System website, in case you're curious. They're still in the prototype stage, but man, what potential!

A Very Clever Suggestion

From Steve West, in reference to the "early access is driving me crazy" post I made a few weeks ago (yes, I should have mentioned it then):
Is there a way to flag a game that’s in early access so you get emailed when it launches as ‘complete’? Or even that you get an email when it updates?  

Boy, I would love to have that feature.

Also, an extension idea for that feature. Why can't I tag development companies or even individual developers and get notified when they have a new game released? I can do that with music and new album releases. Why can't I do it with games?

Monday, August 25, 2014

It Lives!

In isolated instances, anyway.

I've written before about my love affair with the Amiga 500. It was a remarkable computer, ahead of its time to a degree that has never been matched.

Much to my surprise, DQ Visual Basic Advisor Garret Rempel had an Amiga 500 as a kid. Even more surprising, he still has it, along with almost 100 games, and he's putting it up for sale.

He even has the original box the 500 came in, which blows me away. I'm not sure I could find the box 30 minutes after I brought mine home.

If you've never experienced the Amiga 500, and you want to see it in all its glory, here's your chance: Amiga 500 For Sale.

Gridiron Solitaire #119: It's Jumping Around Here

First off, I think the window backgrounds in the team museum are going to be very popular. These aren't final, but have a look at a few prototypes.

I particularly like the background for the big city stadium. You see those lights from a different perspective in-game, and Frederick was very clever  in terms of how he changed the perspective while still evoking the stadium.

Like I said, not quite done, but substantial progress. And the coding for this is essentially done, which lets me work on other parts of the game.

For instance, Visionary Annoyance John Harwood said that matching the penalty card with a wildcard should not result in any yards gained. That's not how I was doing it, but he's totally correct. So I reduced the frequency of penalty cards (easier) while removing any yardage benefit when matching a penalty card (harder). Hopefully, that balances out in the middle in terms of difficulty. Plus, it presents some interesting strategic decisions in terms of using the wildcard to remove a penalty card (for zero yards gained, but opening up the board) or using the wildcard to make a yardage-positive match instead (but ending your chances of removing the penalty card on that play).

That's a much better match for decisions that coaches have to make about penalties in real football.

I'm also, um, rewriting the sound code.

I'd written some very situation-specific code, with an unbelievable number of different sound levels, but the problem was that those sound levels were not really distinguishable by the human ear. So if I had several hundred situations where the difference in volume might be 5%, that was just wasted code, because no one could actually hear that small of a difference.

I made a little soundboard that let me tinker with relative sound levels at different effects, and I think it's helped me understand the size of the difference necessary to actually sound different. So using that as a basic principle, I'm trying to simplify the sound code while also making it more effective.

I was hoping to release this version by Wednesday of this week, but it's not going to happen for testing reasons. However, I'm very hopeful that Labor Day will work out. That's still almost a week before the NFL season starts.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Links!

This is a phenomenal week for links.

Leading off this week, from Jonathan Arnold, and what a story: The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. He also sent in a second link, and it's excellent reading as well: The amateur geneticist who surprised science.

Joshua Buergel sent in a link to an absolutely wonderful article about early golf games: Leader Board. I'm sure I played hundreds of rounds of Leaderboard (Amiga) and Mean 18 (Apple IIGS).

From Steven Kreuch,  and in a week where everything in this country seems to be going wrong, this is such a nice moment: Little League coach gives great post-game speech to kids after loss. I can't begin to tell you how much respect I have for that coach. Also, and of course this is fantastic: Watch as we stride into war atop a cave dragon in Dwarf Fortress.

From Matt Kreuch, (that's no coincidence), and this is fascinating: Jellyfish Sting Under The Microscope In Slow Motion.

From Stephen Davis, and this is also fascinating: Art and Craft: A Documentary about Mark Landis, One of the Most Prolific Art Forgers in U.S. History.

From Ryan Brandt, and this is some hard-core Cold War business: The Cheshire ATT facility.

From Michael M., and this is an excellent read: Fukushima's legacy: Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals.

From C. Lee, and this is quite amusing: Slippery Squirrel.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and if you like college football, you're going to love this : 25 maps that explain college football.

From Wallace, and this is entirely droll: Response to Government Moving to Ban the Word "Government."  One more, and the Golden girls as comic book heroes is the best idea ever: Team Gold Force.

From Sirius, and this is quite amazing: Scientists find traces of sea plankton on ISS surface.

This is from me, and it's a stunning article: The bizarre history of X-ray records and early music piracy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Mystery of the Lobby Phone has been Solved

From Matthew S.:
The lobby/house phone is there in case the front desk clerk is away from the desk. At the hotel I worked at the house phone was not even 10 feet away from where I would stand behind the desk, but the phone system is designed so that I can direct all incoming calls (including the house phone) to a cordless handset instead of the main console so I could take the handset with me wherever I was in the hotel and still be in contact with guests/incoming calls. It works really well for smaller hotels that might just have one person at the desk who might be called upon to deliver towels or do other things besides just being at the desk. 

Detroit! (part 3)

Remember cherries? I got a picture from a menu. Thanks to some oddity in Blogger, this picture is showing up with the wrong rotation, but just turn your head and be amazed:

A burger--with cherries! And like I said, I love cherries, but philosophical objection raised.

We have friends in Trenton because of goalie camp, and they are some of the nicest people I've ever met. They also have a wonderful seven-year-old boy, and I believe this is his whiteboard:

I believe that is a list of imaginary opponents defeated in some kind of sporting endeavor. How many of us did that? I know I did.

On Sunday, we went to the Tigers game. We always go to the Tigers game on Sunday, and it's always hot. It was only 80 and sunny, but it was still hot.

One of the problems with baseball is that so few people at a baseball game actually watch the baseball game. I went out after the third inning, and here's what I saw:

Did they rush back to their seats when the fourth inning started? No. There were about 40,000 at the game, and at any single moment, I swear that at least 15,000 weren't in their seats.

Don't even get me started about watching pro baseball in person. It's not good. It makes drying paint look like speedboat racing.

The stadiums, though, are wonderful, and in Detroit, the baseball and football stadiums are very close. How close? This close:

Eli has a friend that he spent the night with a few weeks ago. His friend needs glasses, and just got a pair, but he doesn't wear them. At least, he doesn't wear them until it's time for bed--and then he puts them on. "What are you doing?" Eli asked.

"I need glasses to see," his friend said.

"What do you need to see when you're sleeping?" Eli asked.

We were walking along the waterfront after the game and I saw one of the finest low rider bicycles ever. All chrome, handlebars up so high that the rider could barely reach them, and a gigantic boom box on the back, blasting out music. The walkways were crowded, but the sea parted when he rode through. It was fantastic.

Eli said something about my "immense mass" at one point. "Thank you for adding the 'm'," I said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Detroit! (part two)

Sorry, it's been a while since part one of this story, which you can read here.

After getting read the riot act by the hotel upon check-in, the first thing we see in the elevator the next morning is a man in a kilt and a cowboy hat. I have no explanation.

In every hotel room, one of the following will not drain properly: sink, bathtub, toilet. This rule presumably extends into alien worlds.

This glove has caught a ton of pucks (and dropped a few). It was as white as the blocker last year when we bought it:

We were looking at a website that had elaborate architectural renderings of each letter of the alphabet done by an Italian artist in the 18th century.

When we got to "J", it was missing.

"Where's the 'J'?" Eli 13.0 asked.

"There was no 'J' in the alphabet until the late 19th century," I said.

"Oh, okay," he said, continuing to look through the letters.

"Actually, its addition was quite controversial," I said.

A few more seconds passed.

"WAIT A MINUTE," he said.

We went to Ann Arbor on Saturday--it's only a 30 minute drive from where we were staying, and we all thought it would be cool to see the university and the enormous football stadium (which seats 110,000).

There was a "tournament" match (an exhibition, really) between Manchester United and Real Madrid, but I figured attendance for that would be 35,000 tops. No big deal.

There was quite a bit of traffic going into Ann Arbor, but Google Maps neatly rerouted us around almost all of it, so no worries. The city was crowded, though, so we parked in the first garage we saw downtown.

Gloria wanted to try a southwestern restaurant downtown that had excellent Yelp reviews. Southwestern food in Michigan is conceptually a high risk, obviously, but I went along.

I ordered a tostada with buffalo brisket. In theory, that's pretty safe. In practice, it was buffalo meat between corn cakes--with cherries.


The salad had cherries. I get that. I like cherries. Just not on a tostada.

"How was your food?" Gloria asked.

"The buffalo brisket is fantastic," I said. "But there are cherries in this!"

"Cherries?" she said, laughing.

"F-ing cherries," I said.

It became a running joke that everything we ordered--omelets, pizza, pasta--would have cherries. Some of it did.

So we finished lunch, and started walking toward the stadium--and 108,000 people joined us. It was, in a word, crowded.

When we finally reached the stadium, we couldn't get in, of course, so Eli and I took a few comedy photos of what we could see.

"NO BAGS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STADIUM," boomed a voice over the outside loudspeaker.

"What about purses?" Gloria asked.

"No purses," I said.

"Oh, I'm sure they allow purses," she said.

"THIS INCLUDES PURSES," the voice said.

"I can't believe that!" she said. "Maybe they have lockers for purses."

Eli started laughing. "No, mom," he said.

"They do not have 40,000 purse lockers," I said. "I say that with one hundred percent confidence."

The worst part of walking along with 108,000 people? Turning around and walking AGAINST 108,000 people.

We stopped at a convenience store on the way back to our car, and in front of us at the counter was a guy who was so drunk he could barely walk. What did he buy? A giant box of Magic: The Gathering cards. Why would someone that drunk buy Magic cards? Why did a convenience store SELL Magic cards? I have no idea.

He walked out in front of us, staggering along the drunken tightrope.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wasteland 2 Release Date: September 19


Crazy Trip Dispatch #4 From Doug Walsh - EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

He's still at it, and he's far, far afield at this point. If you want to see some tremendous photos, hit the link at the bottom of the post. It's all Doug from this point forward.

August 15th, 2014
Have you ever wondered what happens to a hurricane after it spins its way off the eastern seaboard? Perhaps, like me, you assumed it fizzled out over the cold waters of the northern Atlantic, caught a gyre, and died a frigid death somewhere over Greenland. I can confirm that this is not what happens.

After a month spent visiting our family and friends in New Jersey, culminating in a second teary-eyed farewell party (the hazards of living a bi-coastal life), we were finally launched into the European leg of our trip. Our desire to complete our circumnavigation without the use of air travel meant 8 nights aboard the luxurious Queen Mary 2. With wardrobe by Goodwill, we managed to doll ourselves up for even the most formal evenings on board the liner. Our rags-to-riches interlude had us chatting with Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) and George Takei (the Facebook) during the crossing, the latter of which was overheard telling others about our cycle trip. Oh my, indeed!

We pulled into the port city of Southampton, England and, twelve hours, three trains, and two minor heart attacks later, we alighted in Inverness, Scotland at a decidedly cold 57-degrees North latitude. Pedaling southeast out of Inverness, we rode past the historic Culloden Moor, Cawdor Castle, and up into the Highlands. We struggled on twenty-percent grades, rode through boundless fields of heather, past thousands of sheep, were driven mad by swarming midges, and drank our fair share of Speyside whisky en route to the North Sea coast.

In need of a shower, we decided to camp at the caravan park in Stonehaven. And that’s where we learned the husk of Hurricane Bertha was due to strike in two hours time. This is a good time to mention, for those unfamiliar with the term, that caravan park is, I surmise, Gaelic for “large grassy field without windbreaks.” Four other tents were set up nearby, but most of the campers were staying in small RVs.

The storm arrived on time, forcing a tent-bound evening spent playing cards, reading, and wondering about the integrity of our tent—and those around us. The winds gusted to 50mph, skewing the arch-shaped poles of our tent into italics while the rain beat down with deafening intensity. The alarm watch my wife strings to the ceiling danced up a storm as even the inner tent shuddered and swayed in the ex-hurricane. And so it went all night long. Sleep was impossible. Outside our tent, beyond the roar of the wind and thundering rain, we heard the sounds of people in turmoil. Tent poles were being snapped, gear was becoming projectiles, and rain-soaked campers were fleeing in panic to the safety of the bathhouse. We didn’t get much sleep, but we were dry. And safe. When we woke, there were only two tents left standing: ours and another Hilleberg belonging to two German cyclists. The other tents were smashed, as were the elaborate vinyl front-porch canopies attached to many of the RVs.

Days later, in Edinburgh, we saw this article about the storm. I used to think we overpaid for our Hilleberg, but not anymore. In fact, I think it’s kind of priceless.

Riding On the Left,
Doug Walsh
Two Far Gone

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #118: A Big Week

Here's the layout of the new difficulty options:

This screenshot was taken from the development environment, which is why that funky little icon is in the top left. 

The layout isn't hooked up to any code yet, but that will happen over the next few days. How it basically works is that when you're on a non-custom difficulty, you'll see yardage boxes checked to show you what that setting actually means. If you select "custom difficulty," you can then change any of those yardage settings to your preference.

I'm very hopeful that for people having problems with offense or defense but not both, custom settings will help them enjoy the game more.

One of my favorite testers had an interesting comment about the new Team Museum last week. He said it felt like a storage space, not a museum. Bland.

Have a look:

Well, I'll be damned: he's right.

Even though the museum adds a new season book each year, and Gridiron Bowl trophies will be displayed proudly, it does feel like a storage closet. I spent so much time thinking about functionality that I dropped the ball in terms of design.

I thought about it for a few days, and the tester's comments mixed with my own meandering, and I think I have a much better idea. This is a very, very crude representation, and it's very much incomplete, but have a look:

That window opens up the space, and Fredrik originally included one, but it was taken out because we needed the wall space. As it turns out, though, the expansive feeling is much more important than the wall space. In the background will be a small portion of the team's stadium as viewed from the outside (giving the museum the feeling of being part of a much larger team facility). The stadium's suggestion was tosh's idea (the tester), and it's terrific.

I was trying to think of something whimsical that would suit Fredrik's playful art style, and I realized that we could use placeable objects  much like they're currently used in the lake and coastal stadiums ( where boats and surfers are dynamically placed). Plus, these objects could be trailing team banners or something.

So, for example, a small plane could be flying by, trailing a team banner. Or a big plane. Or a parachutist. Or a guy in a squirrel suit. Or a balloon.

There are plenty of possibilities, and it will make the world around the museum feel dynamic instead of static. This will be lots of fun, and the amount of coding I will have to do to accommodate it is minimal.

One more screenshot. This is now populating with real data:

Individual players now have unique portraits, and those portraits follow them throughout their careers. Plus, and this was a big deal, career totals are now calculating, not just single-season totals. There's still at least one bit of temporary art (the close book icon), but the vast majority of work is complete.

Amusingly, the most difficult element of this screen, by far, was the portraits. You would not believe how much time it took to get them working properly!

Alright, that's enough for this week. Eli is in a day-long camp all week, so I have a big opportunity in terms of time. By next Monday, this essentially needs to be completed and tested. Well, not the art, unless Fredrik is Superman, although that's a distinct possibility.

I have my suspicions.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Links! (supplemental)

This is a searing and brilliant read: The Front Lines of Ferguson.

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Brian Witte, this is a long and utterly fascinating read about another facet of Alan Turing's genius that has long gone unrecognized: The Powerful Equations That Explain the Patterns We See in Nature.

Also from Brian, and this is really something, it's Oldest College Football Footage (1903). One more, and it's terrific: Derinkuyu & The Underground Cities of Cappadocia

This is a fascinating and wonderful article: Everything You Need to Escape from Alcatraz.

From Wallace, and this is quite the PR stunt: I Drank a Cup of Hot Coffee That Was Overnighted Across the Country. Also, and this is utterly fascinating, it's Inventories of war: soldiers' kit from 1066 to 2014.

From The Edwin Garcia Links machine, and this is tremendously poignant: Homeless Fonts.

From C. Lee, and prepare to feel ancient: Kids React To Typewriters. Also, and this is terrific, it's The never-ending conundrums of classical physics. Yeah, this one is interesting, but depressing: German gun designer’s quest for a smarter weapon infuriates U.S. gun rights advocates.  One more, and it's about one of my very favorite authors: Chasing Haruki Murakami.

From Matthew Teets, and this is hilarious: How is this an issue? Just ask ten f-ing interview questions.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is both a good explanation and an extreme bit of annoyance: Can Atoms Ever Touch?

From Marc Klein, and this is fascinating: Why Great Ideas Always Come In the Shower (and How to Harness Them).

From Aaron Ward, and this is just incredible: Watch this robot build itself using origami.

From Connell Smith, and this is incredible: Scientists reconstruct speech through soundproof glass by watching a bag of potato chips.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Rules! is currently available at the App Store (iOS) for $1.99.

It is absolutely, insanely good.

The premise is simple, seemingly. There's a grid of numbers (and a picture with each number), and you must clear these grids using rules that are given to you by the game. As the game progresses, you must remember more and more rules.

How many games, though, have rules involving mustaches and whales?

It's totally entertaining and addictive. I have an audio recording of Eli 13.0 giving amusing play-by-play commentary (in the normal course of playing the game) that I'll put up next week. In the meantime, buy this.

You will not be sorry.

Detroit (your e-mail)

Specifically, in response to the goalie stick strangeness at the hotel, I received this from a very nice fellow who wishes to remain anonymous:
Back when I used to live in Wisconsin, I spent time as a clerk for a local Holiday Inn Express.  We used to dread hockey season as those were some of our most stressful guests.  I don’t know what a typical hockey weekend out for you is like, and truthfully, I can’t see you ever setting this example for Eli, but a typical hockey weekend for us looked like this.  Enter the kids, usually loud and fairly unsupervised.  Running, hollering, etc.  Equipment didn’t need to be stored at the desk at the time, so that was usually carried up to the room to be played with later.  The coaches and parents would stroll in after the kids, beer or drink usually in hand, a cooler on wheels following them.  This procession would go on for the next half hour or so while everyone got their rooms squared away and then there would be hours of meet ups afterwards.  These meet ups usually involved the hockey players going from floor to floor to talk, racing up and down the stairs, down the halls and ending up in the snack area or pool room.  Adults would convene down in the common area and drink, usually.  Things would taper off around midnight, one o’clock, for the most part.  Guest complaints were many, supervision was minimal, and the one or two staff on duty at night were usually constantly addressing the fallout.  From a hotel perspective, almost not worth it.  One year we didn’t take hockey teams.

I don’t know how much of my experience mirrors other hotels in the region, or across hockey in general, but out of all the travelling sports teams, hockey was easily the worst. 

He also followed up with this:
The hotel always expects a certain amount of noise from groups of kids, it’s only natural.  What surprised me was how normal the coaches and parents treated the combination of lack of supervision of the children combined with their own partying.  At first I thought that was a fluke, but it didn’t take me long to learn differently.

If that's the kind of behavior they were seeing at our hotel in Michigan, I can much better understand that "no sticks in rooms" policy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Detroit (part one)

Well, Plymouth and Livonia, actually.

Before we even left, though, here's an alarming image:

That jacket fit six months ago. SIX MONTHS.

We were in the airport and they announced our flight was leaving. "Well, time to go plunging to our deaths," I said. "Hey, at least if there's an afterlife, we get there together."

"Hashtag TABS," Eli 13.0 said.

"What's that?"

"Total Afterlife Ballers," he said, laughing.

While we were on the plane, Eli began speculating. "This is too small to be a 747, or even a 737," he said. "Is there a 727?"

"It doesn't matter what model it is as long as it's not the Boeing 911," I said.

He laughed. "That was a very bad model."

If there is a farting old lady who blows her nose for an hour, she will be sitting within one row of you.

At check-in, the hotel was bizarre. "You can't have hockey sticks in the rooms," said the desk clerk.

"What? Seriously?" I asked.

"You can check them and leave them behind the desk," he said.

"Not doing that," Eli said to me. "I'd rather leave them in the car. They might get stolen, but they won't get lost."

"We have the Red Wings account," said the clerk. "They leave their sticks behind the desk. We have some coaches staying here this weekend." I wanted to say 'show me their sticks and we have a deal', but I didn't.

Then we had to sign this incredibly strict code of conduct sheet. I was afraid we'd get thrown out if someone sneezed.

As it turned out (we found out from a friendly waitress), they've had all kinds of trouble at the hotel in the last year. Drunken, rampaging wedding parties, drunken fights, a guy with a gun (that was kind of funny--in Texas, some hotels hardly want you to check in WITHOUT a gun, which is why I wouldn't mind moving to Michigan)--all kinds of trouble. Good grief.

However, one huge benefit of this hotel is that it's attached to a mall, which has a California Pizza Kitchen, which is Eli's second favorite restaurant. With camp ending at 6:30 at night, getting dinner efficiently and getting back to the room is important, and this setup is a huge benefit.

We were walking through the mall on Saturday night before camp, and it was just all tremendous. A walkway from the hotel to the mall. Fresh cookies. An ice cream place. A Godiva chocolate stand. Five restaurants. "I guess I can scratch 'stay in a hotel attached to a mall' off my bucket list," I said.

When Eli eats at CPK, I've eaten there so many times that I'm sick of everything. Then they added a flatbread with chicken item, and I've been eating that every time we go (at least once a week). We looked at one of the other restaurants in the mall, and while I was looking at the menu, I said, "Thank god they have chicken flatbread."

"What a relief!" Eli said, laughing.

Later that night, we found a half-off sale on jerseys, and Eli scored big:

It's a Jimmy Howard Winter Classic jersey, and it fits perfectly over his goalie gear.

We saw an old-school, ornate phone in the hotel lobby, along with a nicely lettered sign that said "LOBBY PHONE. RINGS AT FRONT DESK." The front desk was, at most, twenty feet from this phone, which made me burst out laughing. Here's the phone:

And here's a view of the front desk from the phone:

Yeah, I don't get it, either. I know I'm just not understanding what they're doing, but I guess it wouldn't be funny if  I did.

We had a Japanese station on our channel guide, so of course we turned to that immediately, and in a huge stroke of luck, a game show was on. Japanese game shows are weirdly wonderful, and so wacky that they make Loony Tunes look sedate in comparison.

In the game show we were watching, there were two teams answering questions, and then they played a game. One team featured people of no determinate theme, while the second team featured some kind of boy band. Sort of One Direction kun, perhaps?

The way the game worked: there was a giant faux-pachinko machine on top of the playing field, and at the bottom was a treadmill where the "catcher" ran. The catcher had a giant basket on top of their head, and they had to catch the balls as they came rolling off the giant pachinko machine. But the catcher couldn't see what was above them, so the teammates had to call out which slot they should be under.

The treadmill started at a walk, but quickly increased speed, and kept increasing. In short order, the catcher was running at a full sprint, trying to catch a few more balls before they face-planted on the treadmill.

Like this:

It was entirely delightful, really. American television isn't nearly silly enough, at least in a fun way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


In a decision that surprised absolutely no one, not even the NCAA's lawyers, the NCAA lost the O'Bannon case.

Why did they lose? Because they had a terrible case. The NCAA has been a self-justifying echo chamber for decades, and it was inevitable that at some point, they would have to go before actual grown-ups who would listen to their b.s. and find against them.

There is absolutely no justification for capping compensation of student athletes. None. There never has been. Here's a slice of Judge Wilkens' ruling (not her actual words, but a summary):
[The NCAA] member schools explicitly collude to cap compensation in the competition for athletic talent, while they squelch altogether the market for student-athlete licenses. That’s illegal unless the NCAA can come up with a “pro-competitive” justification for its conduct. Wilken knocked down each of the NCAA’s purported justifications.

Explicit collusion. That's a perfect description, and that's indefensible. And there is zero chance of it being "pro-competitive".

The NCAA twisted itself into absolute contortions in this case. They even tried to claim that television networks were paying for stadium access rights, not the rights to televise the athletes.

Like I said, what a terrible case.

As college athletics change, the evolving compensation model is going to be used to justify all kinds of awful things that universities are going to do. Every time they cut a program, they'll blame "uppity athletes", in so many words, just like they conveniently blame Title IX for everything else.

Ironically, the people who are being paid the most money here are the ones who are absolutely the most irrelevant: head coaches. They could fire every college head football coach in the five power conferences overnight, replace them with good high school coaches, and no one would care. Attendance wouldn't drop 1%. Yet coaches salaries have risen five times as quickly as university president salaries since the 1980s.

But wait, you might say. Don't head football coaches generate a huge amount of revenue for their universities, and thus deserve higher compensation? If that's true, though, why doesn't that same reasoning apply to the athletes?


Here's another excerpt:
The association claims that consumer demand for its product–football and basketball games–rests on fan preference for amateur competition. Wilken noted, though, that the very concept of amateurism is an NCAA confection and one that universities have defined inconsistently over the decades.

This is another important point. The NCAA has redefined amateurism over and over through the decades. The only consistency has been that the word "amateurism" hasn't changed. What it means, though, changes constantly.

Does anyone seriously think that people won't go to see college football--or basketball--because the players are receiving additional compensation? Seriously?

Here's a question: historically, how many times have large, extraordinarily powerful organizations or companies claimed that some kind of new regulation was going to be the apocalypse for them?

Almost every time it looks like something might change.

Now, the second question: how many times has it actually been the apocalypse?

The answer is "almost never", and it won't be in this case. It will be incredibly messy, and lots of people will be upset, but college athletics will be just fine.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams committed suicide yesterday. I'm sure you've already heard that.

I didn't have any particular affection for him, at least not in the last two decades, but he was a charismatic energy explosion, and when he was good, he was brilliant. And he seemed like a good person, which I care more and more about as the years pass.

His sad passing made me think about comedians and the unique weight that they carry. Truly brilliant comedy makes us squirm. Uncomfortable laughter is often at the very core of truly great comedy, and while it just makes us discomfited, I can only imagine what it does to the person who creates such a moment. Comedians have a unique ability to see deeply into very dark places, and this vision seems to carry with it a heavy, heavy burden.


We were in Detroit last week for goalie camp (as I'm sure most of you knew already, given the auto-pilot week and the time of year).

What I would ideally like to do each year is post from Detroit. That would be a giant advertisement, though, for some unknown, nefarious person to come steal our cats (and maybe some of our stuff), So vague, unspecified paranoia stops me from doing that.

I did do a better job this year of writing things down as they happened, along with pictures and videos. I expected to start a series of posts about that today, but larger events have overtaken my planned narrative, so I will write about them today and hopefully start on Detroit tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #117: Redux

A zen koan (thanks):
A master who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk,
"What is the Way?"

"What a fine mountain this is," the master said in reply.

"I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way."

"So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot
reach the Way," replied the master.

When it comes to difficulty, I've been ignoring the mountain.

Finally, though, I think I've solved the problem. How? By not solving the problem.

Instead, I will let the user solve the problem.

In the next release, there will be pre-set difficulty levels, but there will also be a custom difficulty level. With those settings, any user can fine-tune the game to provide them with maximum enjoyment at their current skill level.

I've been trying far too hard to "route" users through an experience I want them to have, instead of letting them have the experience they decide to have. Now, if they play on Veteran difficulty, they will have the experience I envisioned, one that I think is very challenging and satisfying.

However, they will also be able to roll their own experience, should they prefer. I just want people to have a good time, and if they have a good time, they will be more likely to dip their toe into the Veteran experience at some point.

We were in Detroit last week for goalie camp, so no code got written, but I'm back in full steam ahead mode, and I've made significant progress on the new Team History Museum. A build will be going out to testers later today, and it has most of the new functionality in place.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Friday Links! (auto-pilot edition)

This is a riveting, wonderful piece of writing, and what a story: Where are they Now: Catching up with Dan Gable and Larry Owings.

Next, and this is quite a read, it's Smelling Death: On the Job With New York's Crime-Scene Cleaners.

This has to be one of my favorite stories ever: The Man Who Planted a Forest Bigger Than Central Park.

Eli 13.0 would love to go to this: Explore a Water Park Built Inside a Huge German Airship Hangar.

Here's an entirely fantastic article about the world generation feature in Dwarf Fortress: Dwarf Fortress will crush your CPU because creating history is hard.

All I can say is that I would like to have one of these trees: The tree that bears 40 DIFFERENT fruit .

I have a big soft spot for The Flintstones (the "Barney as a Counterfeiter" episode--classic), and if you do as well, then have a look at this: 12 Rare Flintstones Production Shots From the Golden Age of Animation.

There's quite an amusing explanation behind this story: The most abused Social Security number of all time is 078-05-1120.

Last one this week (sorry, we're light, but next week should be huge), and it's hard to even grasp: Scientists Made This Entire Mouse Transparent Using Detergent.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

No, Sir! (we won't take your money edition)

This is the kind of spunk I really like:
A Native American tribe on the Arizona-California border trying to raise $250,000 for a skate park has refused funding from the Original Americans Foundation, a group started earlier this year by owner Daniel Snyder in response to ongoing opposition to a name regarded by many as a slur.

“No, we’re not going to accept any kind of monetary offer to side with allowing them to utilize the inappropriate name for this NFL team,” Quechan tribal president Keeny Escalanti Sr. told the AP.

“The sacrifice we took to say no wasn’t an easy one,” Escalanti added.  “We wish we could help the kids today by taking the partnership. We’re trying to teach our community and the youth that we can do things the right way.  We don’t have to accept this type of money from these people.”

...Thus, the tribe rejected an offer from the Original Americans Foundation to pay for the entire park, issuing the following statement to the Republic:  “We will not align ourselves with an organization to ­simply become a statistic in their fight for name acceptance in ­Native communities
...We know bribe money when we see it.”

Oh, snap.

There are more details if you hit the link, and man, they're embarrassing for Dan Snyder, not that he seems to care. His ignorance and the degree to which he is tone deaf about what he says is quite spectacular, even by "rich white guy" standards.

I went to the website for the skate park and made a donation. What they're trying to do is a good thing for kids, and I respect that they refused to compromise their principles. If you feel the same way, or just want to read about the skate park, here's the link: Quechan Memorial Skatepark.

No, Sir!

When Eli 13.0 is playing hockey with his friends, he'll sometimes say "No, sir!" after making a nice save, which always makes the shooter laugh. So he designed a t-shirt, and I think the quote he chose for the back is pretty terrific.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


While we were in San Diego, we took a tour of PETCO Park, and it was fantastic.

There are twelve full-time groundskeepers (the fewest in the majors). 70% percent of their time is spent working on the infield. And, much to my surprise, the warning track is not dirt--it's crushed lava.

Dugout level:

Players actually sit on top of the bench, hence the spike marks:

Here a few "inside baseball" things we saw that you might be interested in:

That pace of game stuff isn't working too well.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Meet the Beetles

"Oh, that's gross," Eli 12.11 said. Beetles have invaded Central Texas this year, and they're everywhere. This particular beetle was lying upside down on the floor, kicking its legs frantically.

"Mom, come get this," he said.

"I thought you liked bugs," I said.

"I do," he said. "But I don't like dying bugs. That freaks me out."

Gloria arrived with a paper towel, and used it to gently pick up the beetle. Then she walked outside.

A few minutes later, she returned.

"Is it dead?" Eli asked.

"No," she said, "I just turned it over. I thought it might be thirsty, so I poured some water on the deck."

Eli and I burst out laughing. "You do realize that you just tried to hydrate a beetle?" I said.

"Well, maybe he was thirsty," she said.

Later, I made this to put on the deck:

My Favorite Character Name

When I start a game and get asked for the name of my character, it's an easy choice:

Monday, August 04, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #116: Difficulty

A user in the Steam forums was very frustrated last week. He said that he had put 60 hours into the game (very good), but the gameplay patches had made things progressively more difficult, and he wasn't having fun anymore (bad).

I've always been concerned about difficulty, particularly on the Rookie setting. People need a somewhat gentle introduction to the game before they reach Veteran level, which is quite hardcore (and exponentially so compared to other card games).

I've put so much time into rewarding players who spend the most time with the game. The problem, though, is that the game needs to be the proper mix of enjoyable and challenging. To me, and to some other players, highly challenging IS enjoyable. There's another category of player that I need to capture, though, and they are quite a bit more casual. Having a ton of reward content isn't much of a reward if no one reaches it.

Rookie level is the right place to tweak this balance, and I'm experimenting with a few changes.

It would seem straightforward, to change the difficulty, but it's not. I don't want players to develop a playing style on Rookie that will get them killed on Veteran. That means that changing event frequency to be more forgiving is not a good option, because that would be a transparent change to the player. They would become totally dependent on the Big Play button, and when they progressed to Veteran level, that same style would fail miserably.

I also considered giving a Rookie team a +2 ratings boost in every category. That would get them more Big Play presses on defense, but it would also reduce event frequency on offense. Oops. I just caused the same problem.

Okay, so the change can't be transparent to the user. What kind of change can I make that is clearly spelled out? I realize that the easiest thing to do was just change yards per match. Currently, yardage gained is 3 yards per running match and 8 yards per passing match (after the pass is "completed").

Now, on Rookie difficulty, that may change to 4 yards and 10 yards, respectively. It's currently being tested.

Will that allow people to run the ball too often? Probably, but at least that is an explicit variable, And I can explain in the options screen when the user changes difficulty to Veteran that the yardage gained per match is changing, and what that implies.

It's possible that the gap in difficulty between Rookie and Veteran will be too large, but that is a better problem than Rookie being so difficult that people become discouraged and no longer want to play. That's just not acceptable.

Plus, this is just a different kind of game. Yes, it's a card game, but it has deep simulation and strategic aspects. In terms of complexity, it's much closer to a deck builder than a simple solitaire game.

Hmm. That gives me an idea that I don't need to have right now.

I made a change last week to the test build that is being well received. Now, when the user is playing defense, the max gain for the CPU can't extend past the end of the end zone. Previously, playing down the gain with card matches was almost impossible when you were backed up against your goal line.
Now, the change has resulted in several goal line stands, which almost never happened previously (and was a substantial flaw in the gameplay, in my mind).

I can feel this all coming together, even though sometimes it feels like I'm trying to pick up 100 marbles at the same time.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Friday Links!

From Robin Clarke, and this is entirely remarkable: Getting Up: The Tempt One Story.

From Sirius, and this continues to be a remarkable course of discovery:Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered.

From Wallace, and Valve certainly knows how to take the piss out of themselves: Valve Time.

From John Willcocks, or rather, his wife: The Unexpected Joy Of A Copenhagen Metro Commute.

From Craig Miller, and this is a fantastic read: THE HARGRAVE FOUR: THEY WERE ALL DESTINED FOR NFL STARDOM, UNTIL EVERYTHING FELL APART. Sorry about the caps. This is a magnificent piece of writing.

From Marc Klein, and this is very poignant: The Tattered, Haunting Remains of Abandoned Airports. Another aviation-related story: An Ingenious Plane Design That Makes Room for Your Carry-Ons.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: What is this machine inside a secret underground room under NYC? Also, and this is quite interesting, it's Measuring cultural evolution by tracking where notable people were born, died.

From Michael M., and this is just an amazing story: Octopus mom's incredible record: 53 months with eggs in Monterey Bay.

From Brian Witte, and this is stunning: Nasa validates 'impossible' space drive.

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