Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ironcast (10 hours)

"Sorry for the delay," I said to Gloria as I finally came out of my study. "I had to teach that scoundrel Rene Dupont a lesson. And I did, but in his defeat, he hinted at a wider conspiracy."

Man, this game is good. So, so good.

I like the match-three mechanic. I find it very relaxing to play games that use it. My problem, though, is that the games are invariably either 1) incredibly repetitive or 2) largely lacking in strategy.

Well, welcome to a game that addresses all that.

Here's a description of the game from the Kickstarter page:
Take control of a 7 metre walking vehicle from an alternate Victorian era in this turn-based strategy game.

That's a "Hell, yes!" description if I ever heard one. And amazingly, the game delivers on every one of those elements.

Victorian era? The writing is wonderfully stiff-upper-lip England, with period dress for the characters. It's positively droll. The atmosphere is positively lush compared to what I expected, and there's personality everywhere. Have a look at the character selection screen (all these screenshots are taken from the Steam page):

Here's how the game works. There are three basic areas in the game: the hangar (where your mech is stored and gets repaired/upgraded between missions), the strategic map (where you choose which mission to take on next), and the battle environment (where you battle other Ironcasts/steamtanks).

The strategic options are many and quite interesting.

In the hangar, after almost every mission, you can choose augmentations/abilities for your Ironcast. You also may have the opportunity to build a new bit of equipment (weapons/drives/shields) to replace an existing one. There are enough options here that it take s a bit of time to consider everything you might do. Do I need an improved weapon more than a better drive system or better shields? What's the energy consumption profile of that new weapon? Is the increased damage worth the increased energy it uses?

Meaty stuff, that. Here's a shot of the hangar:

On the strategic map, you will choose between multiple available missions, some with different difficulty levels. There's a nice bit of variety in these missions, too. Sometimes, you'll be collecting supplies in battle, or fighting multiple enemies in sequence, or trying to win a battle without targeting certain  extremely valuable parts of the enemy (so that you can then build that part and use it for yourself). You only have a certain number of days before you meet a boss, so you scramble to upgrade your machine as quickly as possible.

Strategic map:

In battle, the complexities are excellent.

You have several resources in battle: weapons, defense, energy, and repair. Matching what you need is an interesting exercise (sometimes maddening, too, depending on the shape of the board at the time).

In any single turn, you can have three matching sequences. However, those sequences just add resources to the area you matched. Using those resources in an action is entirely separate, and limited only by how many resources you have.

Here, have a look at the battle screen:

Matching resource tiles add to the various resource bars at the top of the screen. You can play an action (shoot/shields/walk) at any point during your turn, as long as you have the resources.

Let's say I have the following resource amounts after the matching phase:
7 Weapons
8 Shields
13 Energy
10 Repair

Using a weapon or a shield/drive mechanism consumes energy, so you often have to decide what is more important: offense or defense. On offense, you have two weapons, with different damage patterns and different effectiveness, depending on the opponent's shields and walking speed at the time. Defense is also broken down into shields and drive, so you can either raise the shields or have your Ironcast walk at a higher speed (which reduces the accuracy of your opponent's attack with certain weapons).

You can almost never do everything you want, which is good game design. In any single battle, you will make many, many choices, and it's very satisfying. For instance, subsystems can be targeted, attacking can be more complex than just dealing out general damage.

During a battle, you're also trying to match scrap tiles, which provide the raw resources necessary to build upgrades.

Even better, the game handles all this complexity in a very straightforward, intuitive fashion. This is an extraordinarily well-designed game in terms of being friendly to the user.

Also, it's not easy. You're always on Ironman mode, so if you lose a battle, it's game over. However, your experience during that playthrough contributes to a global unlock category, which gives you small stats bonus/abilities that will permanently improve your starting character.

Okay, that's enough. This is a hell of a game and you should play it immediately. And right now, it's only $10.49: Ironcast on Steam

Public Service Announcement

Come on, people. Don't eat all the damn salsa.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Praise (part two)

Here's another perspective, from another anonymous e-mailer, about the Praise post last week.

Your recent link and post on praising children for intelligence vs. effort have really gotten me thinking with my first child on the way. I felt compelled to write something, I guess just to share another anecdote in the blurry region between hard workers and failed child geniuses.

I am also "naturally brilliant", and was told this from a young age. I wasn't raised with a particular emphasis on effort, although I never developed that aversion to failure as a sign my intelligence was fraudulent. In looking back, I largely credit games for this. I always played chess and scrabble with my mother, and she handily beat me for years and years. I also owned an NES as a child, and lost life after life to platformers. I knew things came easy to me but that that wasn't all there was to success.

At each level of school I put in the limited effort required to excel: procrastinating but always spending the hours to finish a project in the end. I found shortcuts wherever I could, but didn't cheat. I grew up in a poor town, so there were no gifted programs to push me. But in return, I find I value everyday people more than most brilliant individuals I meet. I never thought I was better than my peers, just different. Since school came easy, I never felt like that made my school achievements something worth bragging about. Since it clearly came hard to others, I didn't view that as a poor reflection on them.

Reading the comments on the article you linked to, it sounds like a lot of us brilliant young things praised for our minds develop a deep aversion to trying, but I guess I avoided that. At the same time, I never found a love for it either. I picked up the boardgame Go recently, which has an incredibly steep slope. It takes dozens of games to not be an atrocious player. That hasn't scared me off and I've kept playing and improving. At the same time, I'm not rushing to expertise because I can't bring myself to devote the hours to studying and practicing.

The point I wanted to get to was that I love how I am. I don't doubt that if I had the drive I could write a great novel or build a robot army. I could have clawed my way towards the top of corporate America. But after 8 hours of work I want to go home and hang out with the wife. I want to play a computer game or read a book. I'm not afraid of trying to achieve things, I'm just happier living a middle class life than going for greatness. So in once sense I'm exactly what that research warns about, a ball of under-utilized talent. In another sense, though, the level of effort I want to put in is enough to achieve good things in the world. Not things they'll write about in history books, but some of those million little things that push progress forward. It's impossible to tease apart all the causes and effects in life, but I wanted to put out an anecdote of being a brilliant underachiever and not wanting it any other way.

I think one of the hardest things for an adult is to find out who they really are, and to be comfortable in their own skin. I know plenty of adults who still haven't figured that out. 

I didn't mention this last week, but I think that when kids are constantly praised for being smart, it makes it very difficult for them to appreciate multi-dimensional effort. If you want to be good at anything, a one-dimensional effort is likely to fail. 

As an example, Eli 13.7 has these levels in his approach to hockey:
--structural stability and functional strength (30-minute, low-intensity strength exercises with lots of stretching to help him avoid injury).
--dry land workouts to build explosiveness and strength (an hour, and they're hard)
--former college players shooting on him once a week
--tennis, to build quickness and stamina

Notice what I didn't list there? Actual games. Most kids his age just play the games and ignore everything else. That's the one-dimensional approach, and while those kids want to be good (and some of them are really good), they don't have the patience for a sustained, multi-dimensional effort. Eli does, and he understands why it's important.

"Smart" kids are more likely to look for the fastest path to success, even if it's not the most enduring success. They want the praise reward, instead of being in it for the long haul.

Please note that I might be completely wrong about that. Being around lots of kids, though, that's how they seem. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Lance Shankles, an entirely wonderful three-part series on the development of Moonbase Commander, which is one of the most criminally under-appreciated games ever made: Man In The Moonbase: The Death and Life of the Best Game You Never Played.

Next, from Steven Kreuch, and this is an incredible trip in the wayback machine: scanned 1982 JCPenney Christmas catalog.

From Garret Rempel, and this is one of the finest images I've ever seen: B.C. Mountie in 'most Canadian photo ever' had no idea it would explode online.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is terrific (Grace Hopper, a total badass): The story of Grace Hopper (aka Amazing Grace). Also, and this will blow your mind (in every direction): “I Might Have Some Sensitive Files”. Next, and this is a terrific comic: ZEN PENCILS: 172. ISAAC ASIMOV: A lifetime of learning.

From C. Lee, and this is fascinating: The myopia boom: Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. Some scientists think they have found a reason why.

Here are two well-written, fascinating reads. First, a notorious ex-college basketball player, and what's happened to him since: The Troubled, Tormented, Surprisingly Lucky Life of Michael Graham. Next, and this is riveting but incredibly sad reading: The Scene of the Crime: A reporter’s journey to My Lai and the secrets of the past.

From 3Suns, and this is thoughtful and provocative: HATRED, MILTON, AND THE PROBLEM OF PLEASURE.

From Guy Byars, and this is an epic John Oliver rant: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: The NCAA.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and there are no rocket scientists in this clip: Pot Quiz - South by Southwest Edition.

This is an article about an amazing professional athlete: Ravens Lineman John Urschel Loves Math More Than You Love Anything.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is a mandatory Sports Gaming History read: John Madden hockey: How a lousy football game birthed a bastard and led to the greatest hockey game of all-time. Also and this is fantastic: Watch this excellent, historically accurate Star Wars anime short.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


When Eli 13.7 was still very young, I started seeing research about praise.

There was a common thread to all this research: give praise for effort, not talent.

The short version always went something like this: when you praise children for effort, they will attempt more difficult tasks, and be more likely to grind through the work necessary to succeed, than children who are praised for being "smart" or "talented". Kids who are told they're "smart" will tend to chose less difficult tasks, because they're afraid that if they don't succeed right away, then they won't be considered smart anymore. Kids who are praised for effort, in contrast, aren't discouraged if they don't succeed right away, and they seek out more difficult tasks.

That struck a chord with me, mostly because it's damned hard to be good at anything, and much harder to be great. No matter how much "talent" someone has, there's an incredible amount of work involved. I think I have some kind of aptitude for programming (hey, now--no laughing), but I worked very hard for five years and I'm STILL not anything but vaguely competent.

So right from the beginning, I never praised Eli for being smart. I praised preparation and process. He gets good grades not because he's smart, but because he's prepared (and he is--man, he's so much better at being prepared than I ever was). He is confident in hockey not because he's talented, but because he's he's earned confidence through thousands of hours of effort.

When he starts doing something new, and decides he wants to be good at it, he just works. And he doesn't look for constant praise as he works, because he's not working for praise. He works for himself.

Eli 13.7: not a coaster.

Last Friday, I linked to this article: How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The inverse power of praise. It's a fascinating article, and I highly recommend that you read it instead of my shorthand summary. I say that because the examples they provide are genuinely striking, and it reinforces that how we talk to our kids has a huge, absolutely huge impact on how they see themselves and what they think is important.

What I didn't expect after posting this link was to get a poignant and piercing e-mail from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. I have always respected the clarity of his thinking, and even more so after reading this e-mail. Here's what he wrote:
I don’t want to spend too much time on this. I just wanted to say, I’m in the same IQ percentile as the kid in the article, and I had the same kind of childhood, though in a much less prestigious school. I just wanted to confirm: everything this article says is the absolute truth. I’m not a researcher, or a parent, I’m a product of this kind of reinforcement, and even today, at 32, I am still trying to unravel and understand all the damage it’s done to my life. I’ve been “gifted” or told I was gifted all my life. Everything came easily to me. School was a breeze. Most of college was boring and elementary. The only classes I could sink my teeth into were those that really engaged and challenged me.

In school we’re given lots of special treatment, constantly lauded for our intelligence. The effect of this on me was that I never made the mental connection between hard work and good results. I never needed it. I got good results with no effort at all. I never had to work hard at anything mentally. Now, as an adult, I flit from hobby to hobby, from interest to interest, interpreting a lack of immediate success as failure. I’m adequate at my job, but I don’t stand out. Aptitude was always what granted me success before, so it’s hard to understand that aptitude isn't the hammer to the nail of all life’s problems. That said, I can sit here, I can talk about this, I can see the problem. But that’s not the same as being able to solve it. It gets in your bones. It’s how you think. It’s part of who you are.

I've thought a lot about how my present difficulties might have been prevented, and the only thing I can think of, as unfair as it sounds, is that we should be held to a higher standard. If I’d had to work as hard as others to succeed earlier in life, it would've been doing me an immense favor. But it seems manifestly unfair. Even advocating it, I can see how unfair it seems. Still, I wish above almost anything else that it had been handled that way.

I haven’t read the entire article yet, so perhaps it touches on this, but if you’re interested as a parent, my advice to you is this: praise your child for their accomplishments, not their intelligence or other natural aptitudes. I am living proof that intellect is meaningless without drive and discipline. Not just intellect, any natural ability. They are all worthless. Yet our society exalts them, to the detriment of our children. Please believe me when I say, it is poison.

As I said in the beginning, it’s something I struggle with daily. It is the single, central conflict of my life. It makes me very happy that that article was written. I just wish more people understood the problem.

On a personal note, though, I never give up. Bit by bit, I try to gain the understanding I should've gained in childhood, applying myself to new problems, ignoring failure, trying to figure out how to turn effort into results. But sometimes it feels impossible to unlearn the things we learn as children. You have to change the way your mind works, change the way you think. Other people have goals in life like “earn this degree,” “get that job,” “write that book.” My goal is to get to a state where I’m able to achieve goals. If I ever do, my potential might be as limitless as I was always told it was. 

One of the things that I most appreciate about writing this blog, even after so many years, is that while I often reveal myself, many of you have revealed yourselves as well, and often at the most unexpected times.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baldur's Gate (your correction of my mistake)

Embarrassingly, I'm apparently forgetting early gaming history.

Garth Pricer sent in this tremendously well-written correction of yesterday's post:
Obsidian did not make Baldur’s Gate. Obsidian did not exist at that time. Baldur’s Gate was the sophomore effort of a fledgling medical software company named Bioware, who had experienced modest success with their first gaming foray in the form of Shattered Steel. Bioware’s three doctor founders were RPG fans and planned to make an RPG named Infinity, but when offered the D&D license, they leapt at the chance. Baldur’s Gate was the result, and Infinity became the name of the engine instead. 

Both games were published by Interplay, the latter game under a newly formed division called Black Isle Studios, named after the Scottish island.  Feargus Urquhart, the director of Black Isle Studios (and the source of the name, because if it’s not Scottish it’s cr…), later went on to direct Black isle to make several more games using Bioware’s Infinity Engine, among them the Icewind Dale trilogy. An assistant designer on the 1st Icewind Dale game, then lead designer on the second, JE Sawyer made his name in the industry on those games. 

Drawing from elements of FFVII, Black Isle also released yet another Infinity Engine game with the D&D license, this time leveraging the rather unique Planescape setting. This game, Planescape Torment, remains a cult classic for its memorable writing and its vivid world-building. Chris Avellone was the lead designer.

Black Isle Studios is also known for another isometric RPG. While originally created with the GURPS license, this project had to shed the system when Steve Jackson objected to the violent content. Somehow it survived, and GURPS was replaced with a homebrew system called SPECIAL. Released as Fallout, this game was produced by Tim Cain and Brian Fargo (Interplay’s founder and the director of Wasteland). Tim Cain was also the lead programmer and one of the key designers. 

The Black Isle eventually sank, but Obsidian rose in its stead. The Pillars of Eternity team is assembled from many of the past Black Isle luminaries above, but aside from publisher Feargus, none of the Bioware crew are among them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

End of Quarter Goodness

This is usually a big week for gaming, the first big week of the new year, and it's not letting us down this year.

If you want mainstream with an impeccable pedigree, you can go with Bloodborne (please note, as the Wikipedia page clearly spells out, that Bloodborne is "Not to be confused with blood-borne disease.").

Glad we cleared that up.

This is new game from the From Software geniuses responsible for Dark Souls and Demon's Souls--beautifully designed, fluid action games with a high degree of very satisfying difficulty. The game was released today, and already has a 93 rating on Metacritic (41 reviews). That makes it (easily) the highest rated Playstation 4 game ever released.

My only hesitation about picking this up is that I have lots of loose ends right now, and these games tend to be long and very consuming. Not sure I can do that right now.

There are three other games this week, though, that I want to mention.

First, the big one: Pillars of Eternity. It releases on Thursday, it's from Obsidian, and it looks very much like what I remember of Baldur's Gate (no surprise, since Obsidian made it, too). There aren't many old-school RPG's being made these days, so this is a welcome departure. Advance buzz is very, very positive.

Everyone knows about Pillars of Eternity, though. Here are two more games releasing this week that I backed on Kickstarter, and they both look excellent.

The first is Dyscourse, and it releases tomorrow. Here's a description from the game's website:
Dyscourse is an interactive choose-your-own adventure where you journey through a stylized world of choice and consequence. You play as Rita, an unfortunate art school grad turned barista, who is now stuck on a desert island with a crew of oddball travelers after a plane crash. That last choice you just made? It may end up being integral to your group’s survival, or it may lead you down a path to murder and cannibalism!

I find nothing off-putting in that description. At all. And the visual style of the game is beautiful. Take a look:

That is very, very striking. Steam link: Dyscourse.

The last game is Ironcast. RPS describes it as a "turn-based match-3 roguelite steampunk resource-management RPG". I've been waiting to have that done properly for a long time.

Seriously, I've been waiting.

There's a level of strategy in Ironcast far beyond the standard match-3 mechanic, and it also features permadeath. The RPS article describes it in more detail than I can, so hit that link and read all about it.

Ironcast comes out on Thursday.

I will definitely have impressions of Dyscourse and Ironcast, because they'll be exponentially more lightly covered than Bloodborne and Pillars of Eternity.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Important to Note: This Restaurant Does Not Serve Hamburgers

I was at a barbecue restaurant with Eli 13. 7 last week, and there was a little boy there with his family.

From what we could surmise, he was about four, his brother was roughly seven, and his little sister was in-between.

The boy's older brother got up from the table and went over to the condiments/drinks area. "Get a burger!" the boy yelled. "Get a burger!"

"Mom, he's making fun," said the sister.

"GET A BURGER!" the boy yelled.

"He just wants him to get a hamburger," the mom said.

"No!" the little boy said. "Get-a-burger." He put his finger in his nose. "I mean RIGHT HERE."

We laughed. We appreciate highbrow humor.

Make Better Decisions (parking lot edition)

I deeply regret not getting a picture of this, because it was both colorful and memorable.

I was driving through a Target parking last week after taking my mom to lunch for her birthday (85 and still kicking ass). In front of us was a short and fairly squat woman with curly dark hair, tights, and a light blue tennis skirt.

She was holding a giant medicine ball.

This ball was three times as big as a basketball. It was so big she could barely wrap her arms around it. It looked like a giant hacky-sack ball.

The woman suddenly threw (two-hand push) this ball as far in front of her as she could, and it was clearly a huge effort, because the ball's weight looked to be substantial.

Then she walked forward, picked the ball up, and did it again.

This was in a crowded section of parking lot, but she was completely oblivious to the cars. Squat. Lift. Throw. Chase. Repeat.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is outstanding: Howard Blackburn: Hero Adventurer. Also, and this is unbelievable: PNWR Yoyo Contest 2015.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is excellent: Sticking to His Roots to Save a Culture from Extinction.

From Jim, and this is a nice way to spend a few minutes: Zombie-town USA.

From C. Lee, and this is tremendous: The Lutheran Insulter (Luther was quite good at it, as it turns out).

From Jonathan Arnold, and please keep this list in mind if necessary: 15 HIDEOUTS FOR THE WORLD’S NEXT GREAT SUPERVILLAIN.

From 3Suns, and this is extraordinarily useful for parents: How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The inverse power of praise. Next, and I've linked to it before, but it deserves another mention as an incredible learning resource: Khan Academy.

From Nate Carpenter, and this is fascinating: Hungry Slime Molds Reconstruct Ancient Road Networks.

From Frank Regan, and this is absolutely stunning: Carbon3D Unveils Breakthrough CLIP 3D Printing Technology, 25-100X Faster.

Here are two excellent reads from the New Yorker. First, a mesmerizing read about Gerry Adams and The Troubles: Where the Bodies Are Buried. Second, another Harper Lee story, this time about a book she worked on for decades: Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Poets

I'm going to be out of pocket almost all day today, but I read Tarn's development blog for Dwarf Fortress this morning and thought you would enjoy it.

Dwarf Fortress is so detailed now that it truly belongs in a class by itself. Tarn and Zach will take minute aspects and drill until they reach a level of harmony with everything else in the world. In this case, it's the creative arts:
While toying around with the art book code and poem/etc. composition, I thought I'd see what happens to an entire form created by an artist mid-world-generation when the only way the form can be passed around is between teachers, students and troupe members. Most of these non-civ forms tend to stay within a single troupe, but sometimes they break out. For instance, in a 200 year small world, we had a human from a hamlet named Usmen decide to run away from home and study goblin poetry. I guess he was troubled by their society, because it wasn't too many years before he introduced a new form of poetry in the year 106: a poetic narrative intended to teach a moral lesson. He and his master Zom Frothhate joined up with a few more goblins and founded the Tan Flies, and Usmen taught the whole group the new poetic form. A hundred years later, forty years after Usmen died of old age, the eight current members of the Tan Flies are still teaching moral lessons to their goblin buddies. 

They aren't the only ones though -- back in 113, not long after moral poetry was introduced, one of the founding Tan Flies named Stasost Tongsdemons left the group to go study elven poetry under Narena Packedman, a renowned poet who had over twenty-five students and several major works over a century of activity. After a brief apprenticeship, Stasost went on to have five students of her own before becoming a noble ruling over some goblin pits in 131. Two of these students, Aslot Hatedtangle and Stasost Profaneace, were taught the moral lesson poetic form around the year 120. Stasost Profaneace is still alive, now traveling with the venerable Blockaded Horns troupe (founded in 35), though she has not yet successfully passed on the moral lesson form (her only apprentice to date was murdered). 

The other student of Tongsdemons, Aslot, was a one-armed murderous goblin farmer in the pits before becoming a poet at age one hundred eleven, studying under the future Lady for twelve years until she assumed rulership. Aslot was murdered in 162, but he had many students of his own and one of them, a human named Atek Housetactics was deemed worthy of the moral lesson form. Atek was born in 130, 24 years after the invention of moral lesson poetry, and learned the form in the year 150. After losing several apprentices to the perils of goblin living, Atek managed to keep the goblin Osta Wererock alive long enough to pass along the knowledge. They founded a troupe together called the Holy Points and are still performing. Several new members have joined up, so there's hope that moral lesson poetry will continue to spread.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Boy, the NFL is really in full-blown spin mode: NFL doctor says CTE is being “over-exaggerated”.

Here, this is great:
“I think the problem of CTE although real is it’s being over-exaggerated and it’s being extrapolated to youth football and to high school football,” Dr. Joseph Maroon said on Tuesday’s NFL Total Access.

He then shared some statistics that were a bit confusing, to say the least.  I interpreted it to mean that 63 cases of CTE were found in youth football players over a 59-year period from 1954 through 2013, when 30-to-40 million kids played football.  It wasn’t clear what Dr. Maroon was actually saying about CTE in youth football, and if the NFL plans to try to sell that all is well with doctors on the NFL payroll, anything any NFL doctor says needs to always be clear.

“It’s a rare phenomenon,” Dr. Maroon then explained.  “We have no idea the incidence.  There are more injuries to kids from falling off of bikes, scooters, falling in playgrounds, than there are in youth football.  Again, it’s never been safer.  Can we improve?  Yes.  We have to do better all the time to make it safer.  But I think if a kid is physically able to do it and wants to do it, I think our job is to continue to make it safer.  But it’s much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football.”

There's so much good stuff in here that it's hard to even sort through it all.

My favorite is that 63 cases of CTE have been found in youth football players out of "30-to-40 million" players. Awesome. Hey, does anyone want to mention that--currently--CTE can only be diagnosed after death, and then only by analyzing brain tissue? That might be relevant. And that it was essentially never looked for until very recently, and then only in very specific situations?

Rule #1: If the facts are not on your side, then frame the facts in a deceptive way. Not outright dishonest, but deceptive.

Also, and this is fantastic, "it's much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football." Again, this is brilliant, because he's talking about all injuries, not specifically to head trauma.

I wonder how much money Mr. Maroon (who is at least a neurosurgeon, and highly regarded) receives from the NFL each year.

Refer back to Rule #1, please.

Also, Mike Florio goes further away from reality:
We’ve known about the condition known as “Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy” for several years now.  From time to time, CTE takes center stage.  And then it fades into the background again.

That’s partially because the condition remains largely shrouded in mystery, especially as it relates to the symptoms and consequences of microscopic changes to brain tissue resulting in the accumulation of tau protein.  In an October 2013 item published at Deadspin, Dr. Matt McCarthy explained that there’s still no clear link between football and CTE, and more importantly between CTE and various cognitive problems that occur as football players age.

Again, more awesome. "the condition remains largely shrouded in mystery" sounds like it was taken directly from the playbook of tobacco companies, doesn't it? Remember how they claimed, for decades, that smoking didn't cause lung cancer because science couldn't specifically identify the mechanism by which it happened, even though there was an unimpeachable data-based link?

And again, Rule #1 gets used. CTE, based on the best available evidence, is caused by an accumulation of effects from both concussions and sub-concussive impacts. Does football have a gigantic number of these kinds of impacts? Yes. Is there an alarming number of ex-players whose brains have been shown to have CTE? Yes.

So how do you use Rule #1 in this situation? Raise the evidentiary threshold until it's above whatever current evidence exists, then say the evidence isn't clear. Genius!

And I have to say it's particularly well-done on Florio's part to quote something from a year and a half ago in a field where research is advancing incredibly rapidly, as well as using as an "authority" a doctor whose specialty is infectious diseases.

Isn't the stink coming off this incredible? That's why I think the NFL is panicking here. They seem to think that Borland's retirement is a far more substantial issue than I originally did.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


One of the best young linebackers in the NFL, Chris Borland, retired today at the age of 24.

He retired because he was concerned about the long term effects of repetitive head trauma. This was a step he undertook proactively, unlike other plays who have essentially been forced to retire early on the recommendation of doctors.

I thought this was a courageous and difficult move.

In a larger sense, though, I didn't think this meant much, until I heard journalists closely associated with the NFL reacting with unnecessary intensity. Here are a few excerpts from Mike Florio:
Americans routinely assume far greater physical risks for far less money and fame than the risk/reward of playing in the NFL. Riding motorcycles without helmet, jumping out of airplanes, climbing rock walls, working as police officers, firefighters.

Well, that's completely nonsensical. All of those activities/professions involve physical risk, but they're not the focus. In football, for many positions, hitting and getting hit IS the job.

Florio wound up driving completely off the cliff (including a reference to a decapitated uncle--read the whole exchange here), but most interesting is why he went thermonuclear. It indicates to me that the NFL is deeply concerned about how Borland's retirement is perceived by people outside the league.

The real problem here, though, is not perception. It's that the problems around concussions can, at best, be slightly mitigated. None of them can be "fixed".

Why not? Well, here's why:
1. No real-time evaluation of concussions.
Until there's a real-time, conclusive test that correctly identifies 95% (at least) or more of concussed players, it's going to be impossible to manage on the sideline during games, no matter how many neurologists the league uses. The King-Devick test certainly shows promise, but it's not a panacea, even if the NFL were using it (they're not).
2. Improving helmet safety is extremely difficult.
There's head-on trauma, and there's rotational trauma. Adding padding to the helmet to improve absorption of head-on trauma makes the helmet heavier, which makes rotational trauma even worse. All kinds of things have been proposed (including magnets) to make helmets safer, but almost all of it is just speculation.

The bottom line is that it's incredibly difficult to protect someone's head when they collide with someone else at a high rate of speed and/or acceleration. It's such a complex issue that researchers can't even seem to agree on the testing protocol that would determine whether a helmet is safer.

I think the NFL can see, though, that they have to manage this effectively in a PR sense. The worst-case scenario for the NFL is that high schools start dropping football because they can't afford the insurance costs (which will rise steadily as more and more information information on repetitive head trauma becomes available). And the drumbeat to pay college football players is going to get much louder as people begin to better understand the kinds of long-term risks the players are taking.

There are a series of ripple effects that the NFL doesn't want, and they have to control perception of this issue.

They can't, though. This issue has escaped containment.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Clever Angles

I'm still playing Offworld Trading Company in Early Access, and mostly, it's because Soren Johnson has added a new mode.

The mode is the "Daily Challenge", and it's a single map, one round. I can play through the map in 20-30 minutes (sometimes less), and it's a perfect mode for jumping in, having fun, and going on about my day.

This is absolutely a terrific and fascinating game. What I mentioned previously about the end game being abrupt is still a sticky issue, but but I don't think it will be intractable. On the plus side, it's remarkably intense in a very positive way, and I'm still having loads of fun playing.

The second game I want to mention is Cities: Skylines.

Mod support has waned substantially in the last few years, because if a developer supports mods, they can't sell that same content to you via DLC. But this is a short-sighted view, and here's why. In the case of Cities: Skylines, the game shipped with full mod support.

Because of that support, there are already a ton of interesting mods available for the game.

Here's an example:

That's a superb rendition of, um, "Down-N-Out" burger. I've seen one of those buildings in real life, and it's a tremendous duplication. 

It's incredibly easy to put it into the game--again, full and convenient mod support--and it's just another little bit of reality that looks great in my city. 

The problem with releasing a game is that you can, in almost all cases, never duplicate the rush of publicity you get during the launch window. EA, as an example, had to consciously prime the publicity pump for Sim City after its release, because without them doing it, it wasn't going to happen. 

With mod support, though, Paradox gets free publicity and interesting content. Eurogamer and Kotaku have both mentioned the Down-N-Out mod today.

Free publicity. Free content. 

Mod support extends the launch window publicity honeymoon. Companies like Bethesda have mod support that has kept games like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in the news for over a decade. Sure, it's intermittent news, but the larger mods have also kept people buying the game long beyond the point where a non-modded game would have any interest.

You know what else? The mod makers become personally invested in the game. Support them, and they will act as evangelists for your game. That's very, very smart.

Okay, last note. The artist who made the Down-N-Out mod is a former Maxis employee (Bryan Shannon) who worked on Sim City and was laid off. So now he's making buildings for Cities: Skylines, and he launched a Patreon  to hopefully establish some level of financial support for his work. 

That's great. Shannon estimates that it takes 15-30 hours to create a building with this level of fidelity, and if a market exists to fund his work, it's another example of how mod support can create positive outcomes. 

This game is a happy story, and it's happy because Paradox didn't get greedy, and they weren't obsessed with control. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a piece of writing that Jimmy Breslin said was the finest magazine story ever written: The Stacks: The Brownsville Bum or The Story Of A Palooka Who Couldn't Stop Punching.

From Michael, and this is a stunning story of incredible courage: The Plunge: The incredible story of Shavarsh Karapetyan, a Soviet swimming champion who dove into Armenia’s Lake Yerevan and saved dozens of lives from a sinking trolleybus nearly 40 years ago. Also, and this is a a "docu-comic" (and excellent), it's Rat Park Drug Experiment.

From Simon Jones, and this is funny and very clever: 'Fairy control' to halt tiny doors in Somerset woods.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is quite incredible: Quadriplegic woman flies F-35 with nothing but her thoughts. Next, and if is actually happens, it will be incredible: Lockheed Martin Claims Sustainable Fusion Is Within Its Grasp.

From 3Suns, and these are stunning photographs: Lori Nix: The City.

Here's one of the most interesting articles about a sports figure I've ever read (thanks, Marc Klein): The Man In The Van: Top Blue Jays Prospect Daniel Norris Lives By His Own Code.

Matt Kreuch has you covered if you want to hear one song from 100 South by Southwest bands: The Austin 100: A SXSW 2015 Mix.

C. Lee sent in some fascinating links this week. First, it's Men and Women Really Do See Things Differently. Next, and this has spectacular possibilities, it's A Scientist Accidentally Developed Sunglasses That Could Correct Color Blindness. One more, and it's remarkable: These Dragonflies Helped an Astronomer Find Ghostly New Galaxies. Wait, I forgot this, and it's genuinely terrifying: Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit.

From Scott, and this is an incredible story: The man who posted himself to Australia.

It's spring, and you know what means: Action Park reopens. Michael Gilbert is on the case with this link: It's back: looping water slide returns to New Jersey. And one more, with video of the old Action Park: Action Park to revive infamous loop-the-loop waterslide.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is both a beautiful and tragic story: The Boy They Couldn't Kill: How Rae Carruth's son survived and thrives.

Okay, this is fascinating: If You Want Healthy Cows, Feed Them Magnets.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Every Shoe Tells A Story (part two)

Wayne S. went to the Weather Underground Wayback Machine and actually found the weather for the day I played the match:

In short, it was hot. Really hot.

This was actually the second match I'd played that day--the first one was at 8 a.m. in another division. This match started at 9:30 a.m. and went to after 1 p.m. Brownsville is right next to the Gulf Coast (roughly ten miles inland), so it's both very hot and extremely muggy.

Every Shoe Tells A Story

I'd told Eli 13.7 this story before, and as I was cleaning out the closet in my study a few days ago, I stumbled on a box that had something very special I'd saved all these years.


Why do I still have a Stan Smith leather tennis shoe from 1978? Because of this:

That was a three hour and forty-five minute opening round match. In Brownsville. In August. It's still one of my favorite memories.

Yes, that's a hole in the shoe. I had to patch it with duct tape for the rest of the tournament.

Jury Duty, By The Numbers

I had jury duty yesterday.

It was in a non-criminal case, so all the cases either involved fines or civil disputes for less than $10,000.

There were 17 people in my jury pool, with 6 being seated for the jury. I was #15 (oh, yes), so I wound up not being seated.

What I learned yesterday: choosing a seat in the waiting area outside the courtroom follows the same rules as the urinal game.

The jury pool, as told by the shoes people wore:
Cowboy boots--2
Casual work shoes--2
Office dress shoes--1
Running shoes--3
Casual laced shoes (crepe soles)--1
Women's boots--3

That's only 16 pairs of shoes. The  last person was late and I didn't see her shoes.

Assorted numbers:
Sport coats--1
Non-matching shoes--1 (this was clearly a stylistic decision, not an accident)
People wearing glasses--7
Jury pool by sex: 8 women, 9 men
Jury pool by race: 13 "white", 4 Hispanic

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Releasing Tonight [UPDATED]

I don't spend much time talking about mobile game releases, but there are two huge ones tonight.

First is Sid Meier's Starships. Owen Faraday of Pocket Tactics had an excellent hands-on preview here, and boy, this game sounds excellent. It's coming out for iOS either tonight or tomorrow.

Here's another big one, and it's coming out tonight for both iOS and Android: Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager. I don't need to know anything more than the combination of words in that title. I'm in.

[UPDATE: I don't know how I missed this, but Starships is also coming out for the PC tomorrow as well.]

By the way, I've heard good things about BA: SPM since the original release on PC (I played it, but it was still a bit rough at launch, so I didn't go far). This seems like the kind of game that would translate very well to a tablet, though, so I'm buying it again for iOS and we'll see how it goes.

Cities: Skylines: Impressions (2 hours)

Well, this is ironic.

Last week, Electronic Arts closed Maxis, beloved developer of the Sim City series (and others, but Sim City was always their signature). Presumably, a large part of the "consolidation" of the studio was due to the reception given the last Sim City game.

Sim City's problem was pretty simple: instead of making the city-builder that people wanted, EA wanted the game to be a Trojan horse for all kinds of things that annoyed the hell out of a large segment of their customer base.

Here's the irony: if Maxis had made Cities: Skylines instead, it would have been hugely successful, and Maxis would still be here.

Cities: Skylines is the game that people wanted.

Here's what I want in a city builder. It's simple.
1. I want to understand how to do things.
2. I want to see things happen based on what I've done.
3. I want to be able to easily access specific information.

Cities: Skylines fulfills all those requirements for me, and it does one more thing that I didn't even know I wanted: it looks magical. The tilt-shift graphics style is unbelievably charming, and everything is vibrantly colored and bursting with life.

Watching my city feels like looking at a tiny, real word.

It's all quite fantastic, and it's going to be very, very successful. If you have any interest in city builders, you need to play this immediately.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Card Dungeon on Greenlight!

Fredrik's terrific Card Dungeon game is making the leap to a PC version, and it's now on Steam Greenlight.

Please take a minute out of your day to help the game get on Steam. It is absolutely deserving, and I'm hoping that Steam will help it find a wider audience.

Thank you, and here's the link: Greenlight: Card Dungeon.

Improbable Insights

Loyd Case and Eric Klein have started a podcast called "Improbable Insights".

I'm sure that almost all of you have read Loyd's articles on gaming hardware (among many other things) at some point. He's a terrific, highly respected writer, and the podcast is just as enjoyable.

Here's a link: Improbable Insights Podcast.


Yesterday I was thinking about Chris Hornbostel and his unique ability.

The stories he writes about regional/ignored/forgotten bands and/or musicians are tremendous. Getting a new story from him in my in-box is an appointment moment. He's changed how I listen to music.

Chris, in many ways, is a musical archaeologist, looking at ancient ruins and extracting meaning.

What's amazing about music, though, is that the past is still brand new.

Even today, if you want, you can listen to Please Please Me, the first album of The Beatles, originally released over fifty years ago. It's readily available in many formats, and if you have enough money, you could even buy the album and listen to it on a record player, which would reproduce the original sound almost exactly.

What if you could go to the Egyptian pyramids to study them, but instead of crumbling, they were still as new as the day they were completed? You could walk through them alone, seeing the majesty all around you, seeing them in their pristine form.

Three thousand years from now, people will still be able to listen to The Beatles, and the albums will sound just as good and as clear as they ever did. Almost nothing else--buildings, governments, languages--will still exist from this era, but music will.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Cities: Skylines

With the debacle that was the most recent SimCity, and the sad closing of Maxis last week, it somehow seems appropriate that a new city builder, one that is both beautiful and seemingly has great potential, will be released tomorrow.

It's Cities: Skylines, and if you hit the link, you will see that this is a stunning, beautiful game. And if it works, it's going to be spectacular.

Unfortunately, city builders are often a colossal mess at launch. Sometimes that mess gets straightened in time, sometimes it doesn't. I supposed I've made my choice on this one, though, since I pre-ordered through Steam.

I'll try to put up some impressions tomorrow. It's a bit dicey, because I'm putting in a major graphics revamp for Gridiron Solitaire (which involves repositioning roughly one billion controls), but I'll try to get enough time in to at least give you my initial thoughts.

Star Trek and I Love Lucy

Believe it or not, there's a connection.

When the original Star Trek series was being shopped around Hollywood, everyone turned it down. Everyone. The last hope was Desilu Productions, which was the production company formed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. At one time, it was the most successful production company in Hollywood. Here's just a partial list of their shows (thanks, Wikipedia):

The Untouchables (ABC; 1959-1963) The Andy Griffith Show (CBS; 1960-1968) My Three Sons (ABC; 1960-1965/CBS; 1965-1972) The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS; 1961-1966) My Favorite Martian (CBS; 1963-1965) Gomer Pyle, USMC (CBS; 1964-1969) I Spy (NBC; 1965-1968) Hogan's Heroes (CBS; 1965-1971) Family Affair (CBS; 1966-1971) That Girl (ABC; 1966-1971) Mission Impossible (CBS; 1966-1973) Mannix (CBS; 1967-1975)

That's a remarkable list of shows--many of the most iconic programs of that era.

So everyone had passed on Star Trek, and finally, it was pitched at Desilu. Everyone agreed that it was interesting, but no one that it would be commercially viable. Lucille Ball was the one person who thought the show would be successful, and she was the reason that it eventually went into production.

I stumbled onto a biography of Lucille Ball, and if you're interested, it was an excellent read (this Star Trek anecdote among many, many others). Ball, like so many comedians, was hilarious onscreen and somewhat tormented off screen. Here's the Amazon link:
Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Friday Links!

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is quite amazing: An Astounding Amount Of Saharan Dust Fuels The Amazon Basin.

From Jaby Jacob, and this is a fantastic parody: Star Wars Disney - Let it Flow - Let it Go Frozen Parody.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Ro-Bow - a robot that plays a real violin.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this imaginary world feels more real than some real ones: Elgin Park. Next, and this is a wonderful short film: Le Gouffre. Next is a letter--an unusual one--written to a transgender child: A Letter to My Son Jacob on His 5th Birthday. Here's a story that you must read involving a compound bow, fishing, and, um, "equipment": Life’s Rich Pageant: Meet a Florida Man. One more, and it's a great read: Monopoly: How the Original Version Was Made to Condemn Monopolies.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: Astroquizzical: What happens when Betelgeuse explodes? Also, and this is quite remarkable, it's 17th century wearable technology.

Shaun Usman submitted an excellent article that explains the history behind ISIS (in response to the link I posted last week): From Muhammad to ISIS: Iraq’s Full Story.

From Nate Carpenter, and this is a riveting article written by Pascal Dupuis (an NHL player who is struggling with pulmonary embolisms): In My Blood.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is incredible: Nearly Frozen Waves Captured On Camera By Nantucket Photographer. Also, and you will absolutely not believe this: Meet the man who could own Aviva France. This is certainly the stupidest thing an insurance company has ever done.

This is a terrific piece of writing and a bizarre story: How Bees Revealed a Pot Farm Beneath the Maraschino Cherries.

From Marty Devine, and this is an utterly fascinating article: No one could see the color blue until modern times.

This is absolutely stunning: Found: A Legendary Lost Civilization Buried In the Honduran Rainforest.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Our Big Snow Day

Oops. 40F, bright sun, zero snow. Eli 13.7 has a snow day, though.

Make Better Decisions (career edition)

The Diabolo

Eli 13.7 has been spending quite a bit of time with a diabolo, which is a giant yoyo controlled with two sticks and a string running between the sticks.

Basically, you whip the yoyo back and forth to build its rate of spin, and then you do all kinds of crazy things with it.

For a few months, Eli used a basic model with a metal, fixed axle, and the metal would get so hot after a few minutes that it could burn your skin, believe it or not. He just got one a few days ago that has ball bearings instead of a fixed axle, which both greatly increases the RPM of the yoyo and reduces the heat it generates.

Here's him doing some ridiculous tricks with the old diabolo:

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Deep Freeze

At 3:30 today, it was 70.

Four hours later, it's 37. The low tonight is supposed to be 28. Here's the weather advisory:
... Winter Storm Warning remains in effect from midnight tonight
to noon CST Thursday... 

* timing... Arctic air will pour into the area after 6 PM...  
  freezing rain and sleet should begin around midnight and 
  continue through noon Thursday. Temperatures should rise above 
  freezing after noon Thursday. 

* Main impact... freezing rain and sleet causing icing of 1/10 inch
  and possibly higher. This will make for icy roads and hazardous
  driving conditions. Iced tree branches may break in the strong
  gusty winds accompanying the storm system.

You'll be pleased to know that school has already been cancelled on Thursday. For the entire day.

It's not exactly Winnipeg, is it?

Make Better Decisions (Verbal Version)

I was eating lunch and there were two guys sitting in the booth behind me (twenty-ish, hardscrabble):
"How much does brain surgery cost?"

The response was muttered and unintelligible.

"Well, what about heart surgery? Does that cost as much?"

He Drew As If He Knew Me

This is the most accurate cartoon ever made, at least in regards to me (and some of you, I'm guessing):

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


We went to see Paddington on Friday, and after the movie ended, Eli 13.6 and I needed to go to the bathroom.

There were two urinals: one tall, one short. I walked in first and immediately took the tall one.

"Seriously?" Eli said, laughing.

"In bathrooms, there are no families," I said, "only strategies."

"You are the worst," he said, standing at the short urinal.

"Basic urinal strategy," I said. "Game of Urinals."

"Now that could be an HBO series,"Eli said, laughing. "Episode One: Out For Yourself."

As for the movie, it was entertaining. It was an extremely liberal interpretation of the Paddington canon, but they did do a good job of capturing the warmth of the Brown family and Paddington's irrepressible spirit.

I have very, very fond memories of Paddington. The books were charming and innocent, places where nothing really bad ever happened, and they were full of a gentle humor that barely even exists anymore.

Eli has this in his room:

That Paddington lamp is 30+ years old, and it's mine, handed down to him. And I hope he hands it down to his children, someday.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Sloan (your stories)

You guys sent in several stories about Sloan, but two were absolutely outstanding.

First, from Riley:
When I was in university there was a group of us that were pretty huge fans of the band.  We made a point of going to their shows any time they were within a 600 km radius of Saskatoon, so automatic road trip if they were in Edmonton or Calgary.  It was always worth the trip.

It must have been about 1998 because Money City Maniacs was the big song. They played an all ages show at the Memorial Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus.  Horrible venue, just an open hall with no facilities to speak of, didn't even really have a place for the band to hang out before the show, had to leave the building to find a washroom, etc.

We got there early and a friend of mine was a Sloan super fan...and also a bit of a sarcastic ass.  So we're hanging out before the show and my friend spots Chris Murphy talking to someone.  Without a word, he walks away from us and goes up to Mr. Murphy.  We can't hear what he says, but Chris's face goes from surprised, to confused, to a bit peeved, maybe even angry.  After a bit, my buddy laughs and Chris laughs, shakes his hand and walks away.

We asked our friend what he said.  

He just walked up without saying hello, rudely interrupted and said, "Bands don't usually play here, so I'm finding my way around...are you the coat check guy?"

Which, in itself was pretty funny.

The kicker was about a year later and they played Louis' pub, which is the campus bar and scene of many a great show before they converted it to something that looks like an airport lounge...but I digress. Anyway, just before the show, we're all lined up along the side railing along the stage, and my buddy gets a tap on the shoulder.

It's Chris Murphy, and he says "Hold this." and gives him his jacket before walking on stage.

Then here's a story from Ian Jalbert:
Back in the 90’s I played guitar in a local hard rock band.  We were called Open Face Sandwich and were around from 1991-1995.  We played in a town about 4 hours north of Toronto called Sudbury.  

It was about 1994 and we had the chance to show a local promoter what we were about.  If it went well, we would have a chance to play a headlining gig at that bar later on.  I had the choice between 2 different bands for us to open for, and I picked Sloan.

I had made some incorrect choices based on what I had heard about this band.  They weren’t that well known at the time (in my music circle at least).  I had heard they were a grunge band, so I built a setlist consisting of our heavier songs.  I still remember the looks of confusion that a girl in the front row gave us, and did not know why at the time, but it was NOT the right setlist for the crowd!  When Sloan came up later and played a MUCH more relaxed and non-aggressive guitar rock, we all laughed and realized our mistake.  That is the first and only time I saw confusion from an audience when playing.  I’ve been booed off the stage, I’ve been given standing ovations, but that was a first.  We didn’t have any interaction with the band at all, but enjoyed the show.

The great news is, the promoter liked us and gave us a headlining spot at the club a few weeks later and we actually outdrew Sloan.  But true to any local band, the promoter broke their verbal agreement with us and barely paid us anything.  That was what we went through every week with the band, it was all full of ups and downs, definitely not a linear path, but we loved playing and writing music so it was all worth it.

Just wanted to share my Sloan story with you, it was neat to hear about them again after all these years!

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