Saturday, November 29, 2014


Yeah, there was cable I hadn't connected. Since the last time I built a system, there are now two power cables going into the motherboard, not one.

Like I said, though, it's a sexy beast:

And...shoot me

Finished the build. Looks great. I figured the chances of booting up were about 20%.

I was too optimistic.

It's a weird problem, though, and weird problems are why I should never build my own systems, because you take a defined work period and expand it infinitely.

Here's what happening. I connected the power cord to the power supply and turned it on. The motherboard lights came on (good sign). The logo on the graphics card lit up (good sign). The graphics card fans started spinning (good sign). I'm feeling good!

No display on the monitor, though (bad sign).

I tried a different connection type and rebooted. Still nothing.

After a few minutes, I realized that the CPU fan wasn't spinning (very bad sign). It started to spin when I turned the system on, then shut off. Plus, when I turn the system off, it rotates, then stops.

The heatsink is the Noctua NH-D15, and Noctua fans are included with it. Also included with the fan is a low noise adapter (LNA) extension cable, which I used initially. I tried it without the LNA cable. No difference. Tried the second, optional fan that came with the heatsink (connecting it to the CPU fan header on the motherboard to see if the first fan was bad). No difference.

The Noctua fans have four-pin connectors, and the connection on the motherboard is also four pins.

So I'm dead in the water (I guess that means no one has to shoot me, technically). It's a classic Catch-22--I can adjust fan settings and presumably fix this if I can get into the BIOS, but unless it's fixed, I can't get into the BIOS.

Too bad, really. It's a great looking system.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Links!

Late and light, here are your links for a post-Thanksgiving Friday.

Here's a grim but fascinating look at ex-NFL player Priest Holmes and his life after football:
Real Life or Fantasy? Neither Pain Nor Memories are Fleeting for NFL Fantasy Legend Priest Holmes.

You know the answer to this question, but it's a terrific read: The Shazam Effect: Record companies are tracking download and search data to predict which new songs will be hits. This has been good for business—but is it bad for music?

From Jeff Fowler, and it's probably not why you think: Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps.

From Silemess, and if you're stuck at work doing nothing today, this is a five-part series: Pixel Pioneers: A Brief History of Graphics, Part One.

From Steve Davis, and this is a wonderful idea: Dinotopia Podcast. Also, and if you're a craftsman, this is phenomenal: The Extraordinary Thomas Chippendale - Carved With Love.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is fascinating: Selfish Inequality: The Long Wait For The Ladies' Room.

If you enjoy Ken Burns, you'll love this: Jimmy Kimmel's The First Black Friday Ken Burns Parody is Perfect.

Here's a seasonally appropriate disaster video: The five worst Thanksgiving turkey cooking disasters.

Closing out this week, if you're fascinated by Pripyat (I'm vigorously raising my hand), this is a haunting and stunning video: Chernobyl never looked more post-apocalypic than in this new drone film.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I meant to post about the build today, but I had some difficulties with the case (the Silverstone FT04, while it has fantastic airflow and plenty of room, doesn't have the build quality of the Antec case  I used previously), and after about five hours of work, I'm stopping for the night.

It's a very, very simple build, but building a computer is never easy for me, and this has been no exception. Screws missing, struggling to figure a few things out (haven't built a system in over 5 years, and man, does it show), wondering if the damn thing will even boot up when I'm done.

At this point, the motherboard, CPU, CPU heatsink, and SSD are installed. The motherboard is in the case. I still have a ton of little things to connect tomorrow (fan connectors, etc.), but the graphics card is the only big part that hasn't gone in yet (like I said, a very simple build).

I did take some pictures that I'll share with you tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have some good news.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I hit a nerve yesterday when I mentioned IBS, so I'm going to go into more detail today in hopes that it will help some of you guys.

First off, I've had IBS symptoms for about two decades. There's no specific test for IBS. It's more of an exclusionary diagnosis, after everything else is ruled out. I call it a "constellation" diagnosis, because almost every person has different issues and symptoms, and treatment is just as different.

For me, it's been incredibly confusing over the years. I've tried a ton of different diets, and none of them have made any difference whatsoever. It's never made any sense that I can eat some foods that should theoretically be hard on my stomach, but can't really eat others that would seem to be much more gentle. There's never been anything logical about it.

Also, the confounding thing is that it appears to be totally unrelated to stress. Last year, when we were traveling almost every week for hockey, I was exhausted and very stressed, but my stomach was better than it has been in years. Soon after we stopped for the season, though, my stomach ground to a halt, and it's been messed up pretty badly for about seven month, even though my stress level has gone way down.

A few weeks ago, I ran across something called the FODMAP diet. Here's a description from Wikipedia:
FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.

The term FODMAP is an acronym, deriving from "Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols." These carbohydrates are commonly found in the modern western diet. The restriction of these FODMAPs from the diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd. Since the development the diet has been studied for its efficacy for individuals with FGID and is now considered beneficial to be commonly recommended for individuals with FGID.

I have almost no idea what any of that means, but the clinical test results are very impressive. The rate of significant improvement was over 65% in the few studies that have been done. That convinced me to try it out.

I started with this: Stanford Health Care: The Low FODMAP Diet. Be warned, though, that this is an incredibly confusing diet, because there's no easily followed, general rule to know which foods are excluded. Nothing I know about food is of any use here, because (for example) some vegetables are okay, while others aren't. Same for fruits, etc. No lactose. No wheat. No a billion other things. You just have to consult the list.

It's also difficult to follow this diet because it seems so random. I was so desperate, though, that I was willing. What you basically do is follow the diet for 4-6 weeks, and if you've improved, you then slowly add foods in the "no" list back into your diet to see which foods cause problems. You won't react to everything on the excluded list, so you need to find out what specifically causes problems.

In some ways, this is like an elimination diet, but you're able to eat more foods at first, and there's a more specific basis for the process.

Most importantly, I'm actually getting better. This is the first diet I've ever followed where I could actually feel a difference. As additional supporting evidence, we had Thanksgiving dinner on Monday (long story), I ate anything I wanted, and I've been in substantial discomfort for the last two days. So I'm back on track today and I'm going to do everything I can to stick to this for the prescribed period.

If you have IBS and have never been able to find anything that helped, this might be worth trying.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I'm on this entirely bizarre diet (that, surprisingly, has several scientific studies supporting it) temporarily in my ongoing effort to improve my IBS. Good grief.

Because of this, I had to go to Whole Foods today.

A trip to Whole Foods is always like entering another universe. This time, though, I got pictures. Like this:

"Rugged mature English cheddar"? I expect the wrapper to be flannel with a fully realized backstory about how this cheese works at a logging camp.

Do we need "handcrafted" potato chips? And are they making those chips around a campfire or something? Who's that rugged fellow with his khakis showing? Is he also English and mature?

Gems of War

The developers of the original Puzzle Quest have a new F2P game out called Gems of War.

I thought I would play this for 15 minutes and dismiss it, given that it's F2P, but dismissing it hasn't been that easy. I've played it for almost two hours and it's very, very solid. In the simplest terms, it's a slightly overcaffeinated variation of Puzzle Quest, but man, it's well done. It's packed with just one more-isms.

Play mechanics are rock solid and the art is quite striking. I can't tell you about sound, because I'm double-tasking by listening to albums as I play.

If you enjoyed Puzzle Quest, I'd recommend giving this a whirl. I haven't encountered any F2P d-baggery yet--I haven't encountered any artificially difficult levels, and the nagging to buy things has been at a minimum so far.

I do have one concern, and it's the same concern I have with all F2P games. They all seem a little hyperactive, like every moment has to the greatest f-ing moment ever, because if it isn't, you'll just quit. All these games yell quite expertly, but none of them ever breathe. Gems of War is constantly giving you rewards, but they feel very calculated, if that makes any sense. It's as if they're trying to foster an addiction instead of rewarding play.

Of course, that's what all these games are doing, Candy Crush in particular. Feed the beast, find the whale, then haul them in. I find all of that very, very creepy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rocksmith 2014 (Further Impressions)

I've been playing Rocksmith 2014 for about 3 weeks now. I'm trying not to overdo it and burn out, so I'm limiting my practice to about 30 minutes a day.

After 10 hours, I've found out something interesting: I don't think I'm going to burn out this time.

Previously, I hit a wall with chords. It felt impossible.

This time, there's much more help with chords in the game, and I'm slowly progressing. I can play a few different chords now, and I don't feel frustrated. There's a chord "book" where I can review the fingering for a particular chord, and there's a mini-game that's based on chords. So it doesn't feel hopeless.

To me, this isn't a game at all. It's a well-designed, high-feedback learning tool, and I'm going to keep plugging away, because it's fun. I just wish I knew how guitar players twist their hands into impossible chord shapes.

I also bought the White Stripes song pack, which was an easy decision, because I like them so much. As an added bonus, the guitar on most of the songs is very straightforward, with less complex chords (but still plenty of interesting hooks).

There's also a band I'd never heard of before, and they're good. Very good. They're called Gold Motel, and here's the song that's in the game: Brand New Kind of Blue.

Gaming 101

"Dad, are they any open-world games besides Crackdown that I can play?" Eli 13.3 asked a few days ago.

"Well, I can think of one other game," I said. "It's one of the best games I ever played, at least in the last ten years."

"What is it?" he asked.

"Just Cause 2," I said.

And so it begins.

"Dad, there's a grappling hook!"

"I can hijack planes!"

"I can base jump!"

"I just jumped off a blimp"!

"I can parasail!"

"I just found a rocket base!"

I still have so many fond memories of this game that I get a big smile on my face whenever I think about it. Now Eli gets to have those memories, too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and I dare you not to laugh at this: We are All This Golden Retriever Spectacularly Bombing an Agility Test.

From Steve Davis, and I'm going to try this later: How to Fold the World’s Best Paper Airplane. Also, and this is quite interesting, it's Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry. One more, and it's excellent: GET TO KNOW A PROJECTION: AZIMUTHAL ORTHOGRAPHIC.

From Brian Witte, and this is mind-blowing: Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy. Also, and this is fascinating, it's NASA Computer Model Provides a New Portrait of Carbon Dioxide.

This is from J.R. Parnell, and it's a short documentary about the making of one of my favorite songs ever: Here’s The Amazing Story Of How 10cc Recorded "I’m Not In Love".

From Meg McReynolds, and I have no words: The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation.

From Shane Courtrille, and this is both forward-thinking and comforting: The Dutch Village Where Everyone Has Dementia: The town of Hogeway, outside Amsterdam, is a Truman Show-style nursing home.

From Dan Wilhite, and this is amazing: One of world’s largest landslide deposits discovered in Utah: A landslide with a 90 kilometer-long debris field? That's pretty big.

From Jeremy Connell, in reference to the breathing post I made last week. This guy is just incredible: William Trubridge.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an incredible piece of craftsmanship: The Roentgens' Berlin Secretary Cabinet.

From Lael Jones, and this is an amazing site: Story Corps. Lael describes it as "a site that collects stories from people as an oral history project", and it's tremendous.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Droid Turbo (Verizon)

I'm one of those old codgers who still has unlimited data with Verizon. To keep it, though, I have to buy my phones outright, not get the subsidized upgrade every two years.

Because of that, I kept my Samsung S3 for a long time, through drops and repairs and etcetera. The battery was starting to go, though, and I decided it was time for an upgrade--subsidized by me--but I couldn't find a phone that I wanted for almost a year.

When the Droid Turbo was released recently, it looked like the phone for me, so I went to a Verizon store to have a look. Verizon stores have this quaint service model from the 1950s, because it takes 20 minutes, at least, to get any help.

I told the representative that I would be willing to give up unlimited data in exchange for a reasonable level of data and a lower monthly bill. Then she started explaining the options and the charges and I felt like I was at a carnival staffed entirely by grifters. I'm surprised she didn't go to the back and bring out the sacred texts, then spend an hour consulting them with Verizon elders. She said it would be more expensive to go from unlimited data to 6GB of data.

Well, that makes sense.

It was absolutely miserable in a customer service sense, so I thanked her and left.

I wound up buying the phone through another vendor, and I'm very glad I did, because this phone is a killer. It is ultra-fast, the display is gorgeous, the camera shoots great pictures and video, and the battery is utterly ridiculous. I can use it for two days, at least, before I need to recharge it, and then there's a "turbo" charger that will charge it roughly 1% a minute.

If you're looking for a phone, I highly, highly recommend this one. I think the Droid Turbo is exclusive to Verizon, but there will be slight variants popping up with everyone shortly, I assume.

I'm in the middle of an upgrade cycle, I guess, because I'm building a new PC next week as well. My current PC is about five years old, and I need more power for Visual Studio as well as critically important things like Oculus Rift support in Elite: Dangerous. And stuff.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna): Impressions

This is simply wonderful.

Never Alone is a cultural document of the Iñupiat, framed by a simple platforming game. Here's a description:
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is the first game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of the game. Play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard which threatens the survival of everything they have ever known.

As you progress through the game, you uncover cultural highlights in the form of short videos that you can view whenever you'd like. As an example, one is about Scrimshaw, and do I even need to say anything after that?

It's absolutely beautiful, and while the game is relatively simple, it's also quite satisfying. As I mentioned, the visuals are terrific, and the sound design, in particular, is outstanding. The cultural videos are fascinating, and all the different elements are interwoven in a coherent and entertaining way.

As an added bonus, the narrator speaks in his native language, with English subtitles. That adds even more atmosphere to what is already a deeply atmospheric experience.

Here is the website: Never Alone. As a cultural document, this is a magnificent piece of work, and it is deeply entertaining as well.

This is What Happens When You Fast Forward Through Commercials

I saw an image of Santa, then immediately saw a sign that said "I NEED A KIDNEY."

A Brief Letter

Dear Buffalo,
I am very sorry.
Every Other Place On Earth

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Surprise (or two)

This has been quite a week for releases from small studio.

As I mentioned yesterday, This War of Mine is terrific. Very, very dark, but terrific.

Today, two additional games I've been looking forward to were released: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), which is based on folklore of the Alaska Native community, and Rollers of the Realm, a medieval pinball experience with role-playing elements and quite a few neat little twists.

I'm playing Never Alone tomorrow, but here are some brief impressions of Rollers of the Realm. There are a ton of neat ideas represented here, and they come together in a very light, satisfying experience. As an example, you have different characters, and each character is represented by a different pinball, each with their own physical characteristics. The Knight, for example, is heavier and does more damage. The healer is much faster and collects mana much more quickly (which can be used to revive a character if drained). There's loot to collect, and foes to fight, and each level is designed as some form of pinball table.

Like I said, Rollers of the Realm seems to be very much on the light side of gaming, but it's undoubtedly fun, and it's nicely designed. The visuals are crisp and clean, the voice-acting is decent, and the world is very cohesive.

I've played about an hour, I'm guessing, and it's been quite enjoyable. It's not Visual Pinball, but it's not trying to be--it's a game that combines elements from multiple genres, and it does so well.

This Couldn't Be Any Better

This is easily one of the best things I've ever seen. I mean, just have a look at the headline: "Town Tricks Neo-Nazis Into Raising Money For Anti-Neo-Nazi Charity."

Here are some details:
Each year, residents of Wunsiedel in Bavaria have to deal with a gathering of neo-Nazis who trek to their town to commemorate Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler's deputies, in a perverse recognition of National Heroes' Remembrance Day on Nov. 15, according to the Independent.

But this year, the townspeople teamed up with Rechts gegen Rechts (Right Against Right), an anti-extremist organization with a plan to turn the tables on the would-be brownshirts, as a video released by the group showed.

Their trick was simple enough: As the neo-Nazis prepared their annual march through the town, residents of Wunsiedel agreed to pledge €10 for every mile the unsuspecting fascists walked.

According to the video, the money would go to EXIT Germany, a charity dedicated to providing a way out for disillusioned rightwingers trying to escape the neo-Fascist scene.

Yes, that is undiluted genius.

Do yourself a favor and enjoy the video, because it will absolutely make your day a little better: Town Tricks Neo-Nazis Into Raising Money For Anti-Neo-Nazi Charity (VIDEO).

Monday, November 17, 2014

This War of Mine

This is a powerful, emotionally corrosive game.

I started playing earlier today, and find myself entirely unable to stop. My group of fellow survivors, living in an abandoned and decrepit building, are losing their emotional resiliency as our problems mount up. Self-sufficiency is a cruel fairy tale from other, more prosperous times.

My life is quite simple, on the face of it. During the day, I make what I can in the workshop. Tools, furniture, even weapons, but only if I have the right raw materials. I might also trade, if I trust the person enough to open the front door. If someone else is taking care of those responsibilities, I might grab some sleep. We only have one bed right now, so we use it in shifts.

At night, one of us goes to scavenge for supplies. This is critical, because it's not like we're going to be growing our own food anytime soon, and the last time I looked, this abandoned building was lacking a pharmacy.

There are relatively safe places to scavenge, but they will rarely have food and medicine. Sure, try the local superstore, except everyone else within 20 miles is thinking the same thing. Unless you want to resort to violence, you become a human rat, searching through every trash pile, through everything, for supplies. And the longer you're a rat, the more the potential rewards of violence begin to drift into your head.

The slow grind of despair is a remarkable achievement for any developer. Individual moments in this game weigh heavily on me, and I find myself agonizing over minor decisions. As my fragile band begins to weaken, both physically and spiritually, I find that a virtual despair settles over me as well.

Like I said in the open, powerful and emotionally corrosive. Brilliantly.

I'm not going to explain the mechanics or go anywhere that could remotely be considered a spoiler. The game's website is here, and I encourage you to go have a look. This War of Mine is exceptional, and exceptionally gripping.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is a powerful, mesmerizing article: Into nothingness In the 1940s, Japan’s search for a national philosophy became a battle for existence. Did Zen ideas create the kamikaze?

I've linked several times to stories about Soylent, the liquid food replacement that had a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign a while back. Here's a terrific article about Soylent and possible cultural consequences: Freedom from food: It takes time to plan a meal, to say nothing of cooking and eating it. What if we could opt out of food altogether?

Breaking Madden is one of my favorite videogame series ever. This week, Jon Bois tries to get Mark Sanchez to the Super Bowl--for over 90 years: Breaking Madden: The Mark Sanchez Century.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fascinating, an article about the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447: The Human Factor. Next, and this is depressingly predictable, it's The Cliff and the Slope: The proof is in: Detailed report shows how U.S. Internet access monopolies punish rivals and catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire—legally.

From Steven Davis, and this is a mesmerizing short film from the 1930s: Kiri-Clogs - A Tale Of Japan (1932). Also, and this is amazing, it's How Lobster Eyes Inspired a Radiant Heater. One more: Sesame Street: James Earl Jones: Alphabet.

I have no words for this, but what a picture: World's Smallest Man Meets World's Tallest.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is quite beautiful: Dad Filmed His Daughter For 15 Seconds Each Week From Birth To Age 14, The Result Will Leave You Breathless.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is both illuminating and amusing: Graphic Shows The Size Of Rosetta's Comet.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a fascinating video: Testing WWII Exploding Ammunition. That's right: exploding on purpose.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Head Exploding in 5,4,3...

Churchill Downs just bought Big Fish Games.

Stop laughing. Well, keep laughing, but it's real: Churchill Downs to Buy Big Fish Games for Up to $885 Million.

I hope John Cutter gets a piece of that $885 million.


I had to go to the dentist for a crown today.

I've been developing some anxiety about the dentist. I don't freak out in the chair or anything, but I definitely feel strongly uncomfortable. I've mentioned that before, I think.

I may have also mentioned that I very hard to focus on my breathing when I'm in situations like this (the dentist, MRI, etc.). What I didn't realize until today was the extent to which I can control my breathing.

I've always had a low pulse rate and low respiration rate. But I realized during the procedure today that I was breathing so slowly that it was worth measuring. So when I got out of the chair and into my car, I stopped for five minutes and timed how many breaths I took when I was focusing on controlling it.


That's total, not per minute.

When I swim, I do several things to increase my heart rate without otherwise increasing the physical stress. So when I do breaststroke, I'll try to swim half the lap underwater. Or when I swim freestyle, I'll try to swim every fourth or fifth stroke instead of second or third. Plus I can still swim an entire length underwater (which is not hugely unusual, but it's quite a while to go without breathing).

That all must be having some kind of effect, I guess.

Oh, and it's not Bradypnea, which is an "abnormally low breathing rate" along with all kinds of undesirable symptoms. I don't have any of those symptoms at all, and I feel fine. And I don't breathe that slowly when I'm not specifically focusing on it, although I think my respiration rate is probably in the low normal range.

Anyway, there's a physical oddity for you.

The Fraud of Frosted Flakes

Of course everyone's life would be much better if they had a super enthusiastic animated tiger in their kitchen. That has nothing to do with breakfast cereal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sorry, I can't remember if I've posted this


Fry's and the Death of the Brick and Mortar Store

We have a Fry's in Austin that's a real showplace for the brand. It's huge, it's beautiful, and it has an incredible selection of electronics/appliances/televisions/computers/etc. 

This store is so large it has over 70 checkout lanes, and during the holidays, there are times when they're all open.

So while it doesn't look good--at all--for brick and mortar stores, Fry's is an exception. 

Or it was until about a year ago, at least.

That's when I started noticing the product mix changing. Certain categories of legitimate, consistent merchandise (like video games) were shrinking and getting replaced by, well, crap. "Advertised on tv" items. Five dollar bottles of perfume. Row after row of junk.

That's when I realized Fry's wasn't different at all. They have a huge space to fill with inventory, and they can't sell enough in certain merchandise categories to justify the floor space anymore. So they're putting in the cheapest possible stuff they can that will enable the store to still look full. In a retail sense, the store is no longer coherent.

Fry's still does a huge amount of business. But their product mix is starting to sound like a death rattle, and I wonder how much worse it will get.

I still remember when Best Buy, Circuit City, and CompUSA were all within ten minutes of my house. Now, Best Buy is the only holdout, and they're not going to last much longer. 

It's not a bad thing, necessarily--Amazon is spectacular when it comes to prices and customer service--but it does feel strange. Ten years from now, it may not be possible to walk into a store and look at much of anything, unless its groceries.

On a positive note, Fry's does have the funniest impulse racks I've ever seen.

That's right. In the same rack, you can get Gumby, Wonder Woman, cheese danish, banana bread, gift cards, fruit chews, and Five-Hour Energy. And if you can get that cheese danish cheaper over the Internet, they'll match the price.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Trumpeter

Eli 13.3, as you may remember, plays the trumpet.

He enjoys playing, but he's not driven to play. He's not the first chair in his school band, which isn't even very good. Despite this, though, his acuity is high, and he definitely has moments. He's developed a quality when he plays.

Last year, he missed the Region Band competition because of hockey, but this year, there was no conflict. And even with his thumb still in a splint, he was able to play with only slight impairment.

In the weeks leading up to the competition, he would occasionally practice at home. When he was first learning how to play, he was very mechanical, playing the notes correctly, but without feeling.

For the Region competition, there was a piece he had to learn, and one night when he was practicing, in a slow section, I felt this burst of emotion as I listened. The trumpet can be a very emotional instrument when played well, and somehow, he had tapped into that emotion.

So yes, his playing was uneven and not polished at times, but like I said, he's developed this quality, this ability to wring emotion out of the music. He feels something as he plays.

He went on the bus Saturday to the competition. He was competing against quite a few kids, and he needed to be in the top 15 to make it into a special band that would play in December.

These contests are endless. He waited around for six hours to play, actually played for about three minutes, then called Gloria to pick him up (hockey game later, and even though he couldn't play yet with his thumb, he wanted to be on the bench).

When they got home, we headed for the rink.

"How'd you play?" I asked.

"Pretty well," he said. "I started off a little rough with the slower piece, but played the fast piece better than I ever have."

"Well, what do you think your chances are?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "There were 81 trumpets, and the proctor said it was the best year for trumpets that she could ever remember." He paused. "If I do make it, I'll probably be in the thirteenth to fifteenth chair. I heard some really good kids in our group."

"It's okay," I said. "I'm glad you got to go compete, and playing as well as you can is the most important thing." Yeah, I know. I was trying to set up a soft landing when he didn't make it. I really wanted something good to happen for him, because of that stupid thumb injury in hockey, but he was facing long odds. "So when do you find out the results?"

"It should be soon," he said. "Mary and Ellie will text me." Those are the other two kids who play trumpet, and Eli hung out with them all day. Good friends and very nice kids.

When we got to the rink, Gloria let me off at a Whataburger nearby so that I could quickly grab some food before the game. I ate, then walked back to the rink, and on the way, I saw there was a text on my phone:
Did Eli text you? He got first chair!

I started laughing. He's ridiculous.

I saw Eli at the rink and gave him a hug. "First chair? Seriously?" I said.

He started laughing. "I have no idea," he said. "My phone blew up with texts. It was crazy."

I keep saying I'm going to stop being surprised, but I hope I never get there.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Dream

From DQ Reader Glen Haag (of The Blog For The Sports Gamer):
Two nights ago I had a dream where I was involved in the faking of your death so that you could move your family to Mexico. 

In the last few moments before I woke up you showed me the rink you had constructed for Eli in Mexico.  I have to say that I was impressed by all of your planning in escaping the country and your engineering capabilities of building such a rink in Mexico.  

Kudos, sir.  

Rocksmith: 2014 Edition

Okay, I'm back in.

The original Rocksmith was an ambitious, forward-thinking program. I was full of enthusiasm when I started, and within three weeks, I got stuck on chords, fell into a lesson chasm where I couldn't get to the next step, and wound up quitting.

It wasn't just that--I had to spend more time on Gridiron Solitaire if I wanted it to ever ship, and even 30 minutes a day saved was important--but reaching a dead end was a killer.

So far, I think the 2014 version is different.

The additional number of levels inside lessons is a huge improvement. So for a lesson on sustains, for example, when I initially play the practice track, I get an evaluation. It's not a binary pass/fail, though. I might only see ten notes the first time through, and if I play eight of them correctly, my total score isn't 80%. Instead, it's the percentage of the total track I played correctly.

The full track probably has about 50 notes. So instead of seeing 80%, I see 16%. The next time I play the practice track, I'll see a few more notes. When I nail those, the program adds a few more. So it might take me five playthroughs--or more--to see the full track, and I'll only get 100% when I play the full track with full accuracy.

For someone who is a completionist (me), this is the perfect way to get me to practice something until it's mastered. And it's broken down into such small increments that I'm much less likely to hit the wall.

Also, if you're working on a practice track and it's just too tough, there are all kinds of tools so that you can slow a track down or get a section of it to repeat. Some of this was in the game last year, but it just feels more thorough and polished this time around.

My plan is to spend thirty minutes a day practicing, although the practice is fun and feels like play. And I'll try to file regular reports on how I'm progressing.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a long and fascinating read: Why would someone steal the world’s rarest water lily?

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these images are amazing: Vintage Photos of Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, Taken Circa 1858. Next, and I think Eli 13.3 needs to watch this series, it's Remembering Blackadder Goes Forth: How a TV comedy made the most powerful point about the First World War. This is quite a stunning use of space: Tiny apartment in Paris (8sqm only).

This is an absolutely tremendous story: What The Most Infamous NBA Heckler Learned From His Friend Muhammad Ali. And here's one more: The Secrets Behind Harry Houdini’s Ten Greatest Illusions. And a third: VANGUARD AFTER THE REVOLUTION: Bill James sparked a baseball insurrection, but he has regrets about the world he wrought. I guess it's a four-pack this week, because I just read this: The Empire of Edge: How a doctor, a trader, and the billionaire Steven A. Cohen got entangled in a vast financial scandal.

From Aaron Ward, and this looks fantastic: The Internet Arcade puts 900 classic games right in your web browser.

From Brian Witte, and this is quite a headline: Utah Paperboy Headbutted, Tackled and Trapped in Tree by Goat Named Voldemort. What I find even more interesting is that "goats" appears to be a news category.

From Nate Carpenter, and this was an immediate purchase: Fantastically Wrong: The Inventor of the Airliner Also Invented This Hilariously Absurd ‘Science’.

From Frank Regan, your badass of the week: Lions vs Porcupine.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Costume Count 2014!

First off, the video I promised you:

That was Eli 13.3s Halloween costume, and he was allowed to wear it to school this year. Just another day in Crazytown.

Here's where data came in from this year (with one city not identified yet):
Austin, TX
San Jose, CA
Seattle, WA
Columbia, SC
Halifax, Novia Scotia
Redmond, EA
Canton, MI
Kansas City, MO
Redwood City, CA
Leesburg, VA
Kutztown, PA

No costume info from Scotland this year, sadly.

Before we get into the data, here are the best comments:
Outfits of the evening were the Star Wars-themed family of Emperor Dad, Big Princess Leia (Hoth outfit), Little Princess Leia (ep 4 diplomat gown outfit) and tiny but polite Darth Vader; and another family group of a Dad Clark Kent halfway through changing to Superman, Mom shark attack victim (shark beany hat, white face paint, white coat, bikini top on over coat), little Wonder Woman and tiny Knight. 

Also stand out pair of friends were "Maleficient and the Fairy from Maleficient" whose outfits were very high quality and they had their own soundtrack as well.
So my two favorite Halloween Costumes this year were..
a woman dressed up like a Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Starbucks.  Straw in hat included.

A little girl dressed up in a bathrobe, slippers, and curlers in her hair.  I asked her who she was (thinking some TV or movie star) and she whispered to me, "I'm my mom, just not fat like her."
The most popular costume was a surprise. There were four super heroes who weren't based on existing comic book characters. More surprisingly still, the super heroes came in two separate pairs; not as one group. The first two each had two letters sewed to their shirts. I looked at them for a moment, then finally gave up and asked what their costumes were. "I'm Super Rachel!" said SR. Of course!

The Nerds were together. Their torsos were each half of a Nerds candy box, and they wore nerdy glasses. I looked it up; this seems to be a pretty common costume.
Gypsy without a hat (Dad: "Where's your hat?" 3yo Girl:"How should I know? Can I have some candy please?" "Is it in your bag?" "DAD, PLEASE, THE CANDY sorry about my dad.")
I asked him what he was (7 or 8 years old) and he said "Murderer?"
"I don't know what I am" (a gorilla mask with a Chiefs hat)
"I'm a Box of eggs" (outfit was a box with a picture of an egg on it, this was the only explanation we got)
"Warmly Dressed" (when we asked what her costume was, she said she was trick or treating warmly dressed)

I've never heard anyone say "murderer" with a question mark attached. That has to be my favorite. Plus the gypsy with the embarrassing dad.

Okay, here are the top 10:
36 Princess
27 Zombie and variations
16 Ninja
14 Witch
11 Batman
10 Ninja Turtle
9 Clown
9 Darth Vader
9 Dracula
9 Princess (Frozen)

Princesses always dominate, but zombies have had quite a rise in recent years. Much to my surprise, Elsa from Frozen barely made the top ten.

My favorite trend (in Austin, at least): kids with Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) costumes.

Beef jerky. Why hasn't anyone ever gone as a strip of beef jerky?

Here's the raw data, and at the bottom, there's one submitter who sent in costumes by category, which is also interesting. Oh, and my two favorites? Rosie the Riveter and Vote for Pedro. Outstanding!

36 Princess
27 Zombie and variations
16 Ninja
14 Witch
11 Batman
10 Ninja Turtle
9 Clown
9 Darth Vader
9 Dracula
9 Princess (Frozen)
7 Pirate
7 Spiderman
6 Captain America
6 Iron Man
5 Dia De Los Muertes
5 Dinosaur
5 Scream
5 Superhero
5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
5 Vampire
4 Ambiguous older kid
4 Black Cat
4 Bumble bee
4 Butterfly
4 Grim reaper
4 Jedi
4 Knight
4 Minion
4 monster
4 Native American
4 Nerd
4 Phantom
4 Power Ranger
4 Soldier
4 Wolverine (Xmen)
4 Wonder Woman
3 Cat
3 Clark Kent
3 Cleopatra
3 Fireman
3 Ghost
3 Little Red riding hood
3 Luigi
3 Mardi Gras dancers
3 Mario
3 Mermaid
3 Minnie Mouse
3 Monster High
3 Peacock
3 Skylander
3 Snow White
3 The Flash
3 Unidentifiable under heavy raincoat 
2 Ana
2 AngryBird
2 Anime Character
2 Athlete - Baseball
2 Ballerina
2 Cat Woman
2 Cat/Kitty
2 Cheerleader
2 Devil/Demon
2 Dog
2 Fairies
2 Falcon (Comics?)
2 Geisha Girl
2 Hippie
2 Incredible Hulk
2 Kansas City Royal
2 Lazy Teenager
2 Maleficent
2 Minecraft
2 Nothing
2 Purger (from The Purge)
2 Queen
2 Red Riding Hood
2 Siamese Twin Siamese Cats
2 Skeleton
2 Soccer Player
2 Star Lord
2 Supergirl
2 Superman
2 television
2 Thief
2 Thomas the Tank Engine 
2 Unknown
2 Vampire princess
2 Werewolf
2 Winter coat 
1 "I don't know what I am" (a gorilla mask with a Chiefs hat)
1 "I'm a Box of eggs" (outfit was a box with a picture of an egg on it, this was the only explanation we got)
1 "Warmly Dressed" (when we asked what her costume was, she said she was trick or treating warmly dressed)
1 50's housewife
1 80s Girl
1 80's pop singer
1 Amelia Earhart complete with biplane
1 Angel
1 Archimedes
1 Ariel
1 Astronaut
1 Athena
1 Athlete - Soccer
1 Banana
1 BarnacleBoy(fromSpongeBob)
1 Basketball Player
1 Bat 
1 Bat Woman
1 Batgirl
1 Bathrobe, slippers, curlers
1 Big Princess Leia
1 Black Widow Spider
1 Bloody stormtrooper
1 Box Troll
1 Broncos player (Tebow)
1 Cat in the Hat
1 Cheetah
1 Chef
1 Chick (like baby chicken)
1 Chick Fil-A cow
1 chicken
1 Clark Kent mid change
1 Cow
1 Cow Girl
1 Cowboy
1 Crabby Patty
1 Creeper(fromMinecraft)
1 Crusader Knight
1 Dancer
1 Death
1 Doctor
1 Dorothy
1 Dr. Who Companion (The Small Tardis's mom)
1 Dracula
1 Duck Dynasty Idiot
1 Error 404
1 Evil Queen
1 Fairy from Maleficient
1 Fairy Tale Princess
1 Fat baby
1 Female Soldier
1 Flounder
1 Football Player
1 Frankenstein
1 Frankenstein
1 Ghost
1 Ghost
1 Gypsy
1 Gypsy Pirate princess
1 Gypsy without a hat
1 Harlequin
1 Harry Potter
1 Hermione Grainger
1 Hershey Kiss
1 Hunter
1 Incredibles (Dash)
1 Incredibles (Violet)
1 Inuit
1 Jester
1 Joker (Batman)
1 Katniss Evergreen
1 Kitty Cat
1 lady bug
1 Large Lime Green Puffy Jacket (it was cold here)
1 Leopard girl
1 Lion
1 Mad Hatter
1 Magician
1 Mary Poppins
1 Medieval Times Girl
1 MermaidMan(from SpongeBob)
1 MickeyMouse
1 Motocross racer
1 Mouse Rat (he even had a guitar, so I guess it was Parks and Recs Andy)
1 Mr. Peanut
1 Murderer
1 Navy Pilot - 1 [best costume I saw all night, looked awesome]
1 Nerdy Cat
2 No costume
1 NOT Darth Vader (Anakin in Darth Vader clothes)
1 One of The Incredibles
1 Optimus Prime
1 Pageant contestant
1 Panda
1 Pebbles (from the Flintstones)
1 Penguin
1 Person from the 80s (SO MUCH NEON!)
1 Physician
1 Picachu
1 Pickle
1 Pink Batgirl
1 Pink Batman
1 Pink Cat
1 Pirate Princess
1 Pocahontas
1 Police woman
1 Princess Leia
1 Prisoner
1 Prom Queen
1 Pumpkin
1 Pumpkin Spiced Latte
1 Purple Fairy
1 Raggedy Ann
1 Rainbow Brite
1 Rainbow Unicorn
1 Raven Queen
1 Reaper
1 Red Fairy
1 Red Suit
1 Roaring 20's girl
1 Rock star
1 Rocket Raccoon
1 Rosie the Riveter
1 Scary Bear
1 Scary Cat
1 Scary Pumpkin
1 Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)
1 Scuba Diver
1 SF 49er
1 Shark attack victim
1 Sheriff
1 Skeleton ballerina
1 Skull mask w/ crossbow
1 Skullmaster
1 Small Tardis
1 Snake-eyes (GIJoe)
1 Softball Player
1 Sophia First (1st?)
1 Sorceror
1 Space Knight
1 Spider Man
1 Spider Queen
1 Squid
1 Steve(fromMinecraft)
1 Sully (Monsters Inc.)
1 Surly teenager / Kurt Cobain
1 Taylor Swift
1 The Emperor (Star Wars)
1 The Tardus
1 Thing 1
1 Thing 2
1 Tiny Horse
1 Tiny Superman
1 Tiny tabby cat
1 Transformer
1 Unicorn
1 V for Vendetta (or just a big fan of Guy Fawkes)
1 Valley Girl
1 Vampire Nurse
1 Voodoo Doll
1 Vote for Pedro
1 Waldo
1 Winter coat w/ army pants
1 Winter coat w/ cat ear hat 
1 Winter coat w/ Jason style hockey mask
1 Winter coat w/ sequined pink hat 
1 Wolf Grandma (Little Red Riding Hood)
1 Yard Gnome
1 Yoda
1 Zebra

Category data (submitted by one reader):
Category Frequency
Job 33
Movie 17
Animal 16
Sports 12
Superhero 12
Standard 9
Zombie 9
Different 7
Monster 6
TV 6
Game 5
Object 5
Pirate 5
Costume 4
Dead 3
Subcultures 3
Vampire 2
Music 1

Thanks to everyone who sent in data and I hope we can do it again next year!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Due For Some Good Luck

Eli 13.3 is referring to this as the auto-thumbs up:

First off, it's not broken.

In hockey, players are flying on and off the bench constantly. There's a door at each end of the bench, and usually someone is assigned to open and close the door, which makes it easier for players to get on and off the ice quickly. Players aren't supposed to touch the door.

In games where Eli isn't in goal, he charts shots and runs the door for the defensemen.

Saturday, he was running the door and one of the defensemen--in a moment of insanity--grabbed the door and closed it. On his thumb.

In the locker room, I was almost certain it was broken. It looked very, very bad. A trip to the emergency room, though, confirmed that there was no break. They said 1-2 weeks, entirely based on how much pain he can stand.

His thumb is black and blue, and he's still wearing the splint (taking it off intermittently to move his thumb as much as he can), but it could have been worse.

This has been a tough season so far. He's played lights out in almost every game, but his team is getting outshot, on average, about 40-15. That means the puck is in his zone for 75% of the game.

I always tell him that great goalies have to have two qualities: confidence and resilience. Having one without the other isn't enough. This is clearly a resilience season, and he knows that, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Final Call For Costume Counts

The Halloween Costume Count post is going up tomorrow--with an added bonus video--so if you have some data you haven't compiled yet, please be sure to send it by end of day today.

Here's the subject of the bonus video:

Also, Gloria's quote in reference to the below picture: "Next year, I'm cutting back":

Please note that this was just the stuff put up inside the house.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Oculus Rift DK2 (part three)

I saw this today: ‘NewRetroArcade’ is a Brilliantly Detailed 80′s Arcade That Will Take You on a VR Nostalgia Trip. Here's a description:
Developer Digital Cybercherries has just released NewRetroArcade, a brilliantly detailed 80′s arcade that’s built in Unreal Engine 4. Inside, players are taken on a nostalgia trip, able to play any one of many working arcade machines representing classic titles. The game supports the Oculus Rift as well as standard monitors.

Yes, it's very slick, with Direct mode support and solid performance.

Experiencing this made me realize that one of the greatest uses of VR could be things like virtual museums. Can't go to the Smithsonian? Maybe you can still experience it in virtual format. Or tourism simulators. If you can't decide where to go visit, you can virtually experience a host of different destinations and see which one suits you the best.

Walking simulators, essentially, modeled on the real world.

Spending Time Together, as a Family

The Steelers-Ravens game was on in the living room.

"Why does Ben Roethlisberger look like Will Ferrell?" Gloria asked.

"Wall Ferrell? Who is Wall Ferrell?" Eli 13.3 asked, laughing.

"Hey, I didn't say that!" Gloria said. "I know who Will Ferrell is."

"You just said Wool Ferrell," I said.

"I did not!" Gloria said.

"Wait," Eli said, laughing, "what are we talking about?"

"Your mother's a mumbler," I said.

"Hey!" Gloria said.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Oculus Rift DK2 (part two)

I've learned a fair bit about Oculus Rift in the last few days, so let me share it with you.

First off, I discovered on Friday that my glasses actually fit inside the headset. It was snug, but it worked. So for the first time, I got to see the image from the Rift with 20/20 clarity.

Well, that's quite a difference.

There's definitely a noticeable screen door effect with the DK2 prototype. The recently displayed Crescent Bay prototype, though, runs at higher resolution, and from the reports I've seen, the screen door effect is essentially gone.

From what I've read, the Crescent Bay prototype is not going to be freely available, though, which is unfortunate.

Back to DK2. When seeing the image with its intended sharpness, the effect is stunning. I am not exaggerating when I say it's transformative. This is a big, big deal. we briefly tried out a game called World of Diving, and it was mind-blowing. Eli 13.3 said it was like being in Key Largo, where he went on a biology study trip last year.

Several of you have e-mailed me and asked about nausea. I sometimes get nauseated in first-person shooters, much to my embarrassment, so I'm trying to be very careful with oculus risk. I'm using it for only brief intervals, and trying to move my head in a very measured way. So far, I've had no problems. At times, though, there are noticeable framerate issues, and lag is one of the things that will definitely produce nausea in some people.

Dealing with that, though, is problem, at least with DK2.

Here's a technical note that explains the rock and a hard place situation developers find themselves in right now. There are two supported modes with the Oculus Rift: direct and extended.

Direct mode is very plug and play. You start an application, the application senses that the headset is active, and it gets used. This is the mode that the commercial version will primarily use, because it's extremely consumer-friendly.

Unfortunately, right now the performance in direct mode is somewhat poor, at least in the demos and games that I've tried.

Extended mode performs much better. If I understand it correctly, extended mode uses the Rift as your desktop, essentially (with all kinds of caveats/combinations, depending on how you configure it for that particular app). I can't comment on this myself, because I haven't used it yet, due to all the machinations necessary to get it to work. Almost every game has a different set of instructions, and it's a bit time-consuming to get it working.

I don't have that time--for now--so I haven't fiddled with it yet.

This is an awkward situation for developers. They will get much better performance if they support extended mode, but in the final commercial version of the product, extended mode will be supported as a last resort only. So it makes more sense to support direct mode, but the performance is not good enough to make that feasible for most programs. The commercial version of the product will have to solve this issue for the headset to have any chance of success.

Do I think it can be solved? Yes. If you look at where the headset is right now, and how much it improves with each hardware iteration, I absolutely believe that it will be solved.

In goofy news, I did order a very basic set of prescription glasses with much smaller lenses, specifically to use with the Rift. I've certainly done crazier things than that when it comes to gaming.

I'm not even sure that would make the top 10.

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