Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Shane Courtrille, and this is an utterly fascinating story: The Real “No-Go Zone” of France: A Forbidden No Man’s Land Poisoned by War.

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating, multi-part article: The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture. Also, and this is terrific, it's HOW YOU'LL DIE ON MARS.

From Steven Davis, and this is fantastic: Wet Fold Origami Technique Gives Wavy Personality to Paper Animals by Artist Hoang Tien Quyet. Also, and I knew of none of this, it's The man who bought Stonehenge.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is very funny: “Real Life in Seattle” Amazon Parody Video. Also, and some of the details in this article are stunning, it's With rural Japan shrinking and aging, a small town seeks to stem the trend.

From my favorite music writer Chris Hornbostel, and this is just a masterpiece: Pretty Good: Larry Walters has a flying lawn chair and a BB gun. I remember when this happened, and it was spectacular.

From Craig Miller, and these are very funny: 19 Frustrations Every Programmer Can Relate To.

From Michael Gilbert, The Big Picture covered the flooding this week: Texas Flooding.

From Marc Klein, and this can't be easy: Pete Rose's brother: 'We could be closer'.

I ran across a slew of interesting things this week, starting with Why Does Food Taste Different on Planes? I unicycled this week (a mile and a half of pinwheeling embarrassment, since I hadn't ridden in a while), then I stumbled onto this: Best of Unicycling 2014 (because doing insane tricks on skateboards and bicycles just isn't hard enough). Today, I saw this: Anthropologists Have Discovered a Totally New Human Ancestor. This is very creepy, but fascinating as well: 7 Notorious Killers Who Actually Went Straight.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Entirely Serious Conversation

"Yeah, lots of water gets bottled under very cruel conditions," I said.

"What?" Gloria asked.

"Dad, seriously," Eli 13.9 said.

"I only drink free-range water," I said. Eli burst out laughing. "If that makes me an environmentalist, then I'm an environmentalist."

"Oh, my god," Gloria said.

Eli laughs so hard he can't even speak for a while. Then, he says, "That's Dad. Setting the bar high for setting the bar low."

A very fair description, I think.

Yaks and Gators: Just Another Normal Day

Post-flood, strange things are happening down here.

Like yaks. I didn't know we had yaks, but apparently we do, and two of them got loose after the flooding rains damaged a fence. Here you go: Yaks rounded up in Pflugerville neighborhood.

Then there's the alligator in Houston. In a parking garage.

Houston seems to be basically built on a swamp, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, but here you go: Receding floodwaters leave alligator in parking garage. There's a picture if you click on the link, and that is not a baby alligator--it was six feet long (and I swear it looks even bigger than that).

I'm not sure what's next, except some big storms are headed this way and will be here late tonight.

Desktop Dungeons (iOS)

I'm sure you've heard of Desktop Dungeons.

The iOS port came out last night (Android today), and it's outstanding. I am so impressed with the level of care they put into the port. Two hours in, and no crashes. No oddities. Just an outstanding game that now has touch control, which is an extremely natural way to play it.

It's $9.99 (iOS) and worth every penny.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Games, Arrests, and Advertising

I would like to bring three things to your attention today.

1. Desktop Dungeons is coming out for iOS tonight and Android tomorrow. If you've never played it, please remedy that as soon as possible.

2. The gangsters at FIFA have been indicted today by the U.S. Government: Justice Department Brings The Hammer Down On FIFA. Lots of arrests in Switzerland, and I bet these guys roll over like rotisserie chicken to avoid long prison terms.

Does this mean anything will actually change inside FIFA? It's clearly been a criminal organization for decades, with a patronage system that is so deeply-rooted it might be impossible to clean up. However, and I think this is very important, today at least proves that FIFA is no longer beyond legal scrutiny.

Any organization that believes it is beyond legal scrutiny will breed corruption at an astonishing rate. This is why "self policing" is an oxymoron.

3. Here's something that is going to be both important and invasive in the future: This Ad for Banned Food in Russia Can Hide Itself From the Cops. Basically, the billboard has a camera and facial recognition software, and the software was tweaked to identify the symbols and logos on police uniforms. When the police walk up within a certain distance, the ad changes.

Already, Internet ads get served up on the basis of our online behavior. Now we'll see ads as we walk down the street that are targeted by the way we dress. Or our race. Our sex.

As far as I can tell, every new piece of technology created has only three possible uses: war, marketing, or po*n. Discouraging.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


"I'm going to swim before it starts raining," I said yesterday about 10:30 a.m.

"TURN AROUND. DON'T DROWN," Eli 13.9 said. We've been hearing quite a lot about safety at low water crossings lately.

I've written about the drought for years, because we've been in it for years (almost a decade).

Not anymore, apparently.

It's rained twenty days in a row. We had years during the drought when it didn't rain twenty days in a year, and now we're getting it consecutively.

Yesterday, I swam my sad little half mile (stupid infraspinatus muscle) and was back home about an hour before it started raining.

Then it rained. And rained. And rained. About five inches worth.

This was our yard yesterday, and it wasn't the worst of it, not by a long shot:

If you look closely, that's a mini-river flowing from our backyard down to the street. The rain had actually slowed down at this point (although if you click on the image, you'll see that it was still raining very hard, and continued to for hours).

We live up on a "ridge", so everything flows down from our house, essentially. The rest of the city? Not always so fortunate. Here's what it looked like downtown:

See that water next to his right hand? That's a football stadium under eight feet of water. See the water outside the stadium? That's from a creek (Shoal Creek) that massively overflowed its banks yesterday. Oh, and that water outside the stadium? That's covering a road. The normal path of the creek is well away from that point

We've had 17 inches of rain this month, which obliterates all the monthly records previous. That's more than half the rainfall of an average year in 26 days.

Incredibly, we didn't even have it as bad as Houston. I woke up this morning and saw that certain areas in Houston had 10 inches of rain overnight. Houston is a big lake right now.

Here's a google image search on "photos of flooding in Texas 2015". It's stunning.

Flood Photos.

It's hard to understand (especially for me, because this is incredibly rare down here) but rivers can rise at incredible rates. The Blanco river (southwest of Austin) rose seventeen feet in thirty minutes Saturday night. When the flood stage is thirteen feet, that's a disaster (it crested at over 41 feet). So even if you think you're taking the proper precautions, when you're near a river, events can quickly become overwhelming.

Monday, May 25, 2015


We had a strange and entirely bizarre day in Austin, with unbelievable amounts of rain and serious flooding. We live on relatively high ground, so we were fortunate, but other parts of the city were hit very hard.

I'll have more details for you tomorrow.

Memorial Day

I'm always conflicted on Memorial Day, because I want to honor the noble intention of people who serve without honoring the political and industrial war machine that sends them into mortal danger.

Matt Teets sent me an e-mail today, and he told a beautiful and poignant story.

I wanted to tell a story this Memorial Day. I have told it a few times, and I think it is worth telling here as it involves a deceased veteran.

When I was in the military, for a time, I served on a funeral detail. In addition to actually doing funerals, we would also go out the day before to get all the details and make sure we were set up for the next day. I was stationed in Ft. Eustis, Virginia, a busy place for such duty as there are many military and VA facilities around there and the area has a history of people serving their country. 

We didn't know much about the gentleman other than he had served in the Korean War, was badly injured and spent the next 30+ years being taken care of in a VA facility. He had died with no known relatives, but there was a family plot. 

I started the day driving with our sergeant out to the funeral home to find out details, but because it was a small funeral home and apparently a busy day, we couldn't find anyone to tell us where the burial site was located. The cemetery did have a name and it was attached to a church, but there were 3 churches by that name in the area. 

What started as a routine assignment that should have taken 2 hours turned into an all day drive as we visited each of the cemeteries in turn trying to find the plot and came up empty handed. Finally we decided we would just have to "wing" it the next day and started to head back. 

By this time it was probably 6pm. 

I stopped to get a soda at a service station in a nearby town and the clerk said he was surprised to see someone dressed in fatigues in town, since we were well away from any nearby bases. He asked what I was doing and I told him about our search. He asked who was being buried and since I couldn't see what it could hurt, I told him the name. 

He told me that he thought he knew the family and that he was probably related to the school janitor. 

I told him I doubted that the janitor would be in school this late at night and he told me that it was prom night at the school and he would certainly be there, plus the school was right across the street. 

Not believing my "luck", I walked into the school and sure enough, prom was going on. Someone directed me to the janitor and he said that yes, it was his cousin. He hadn't known he had died. All his family members had passed away, but he said that a woman would be by soon to show us where he was being buried. 

A well dressed woman drove up and said to follow her and we followed her well out of town, then turned down a dusty side road before we pulled up to a burnt out husk of a building and an overgrown field. Wandering into the field we discovered there were headstones in the overgrown grass. 

As it turned out, the Klan had burnt down the original church in the mid-60s and rather than rebuild it there, they had split into three churches all somewhat equidistant. We also found where a hole had been dug and found what we assumed were his parents headstones right next to it. There were also a few pigs grazing in the field. I didn't get home until late that night, past dusk.

The next day was pouring rain, the field was a slick of mud and the wind would occasionally lash at us. The family had gathered as many relatives as they could on short notice, a strong group of men in their suits and ladies in their hats and dresses under umbrellas. The farmer had apparently rounded up his pigs and the veteran was laid to rest next to his parents.

There are a lot of stories from being on a funeral detail, many sad, some funny, but a lot of times it's job that you do. But that funeral always stays with me, because had it not been for a "lucky" set of circumstances, it could have played out differently, with just the 9 of us, laying a fellow soldier to rest in a muddy field without anyone else knowing.

There are veterans who came home to being spit on, and those who have been welcomed as heroes. But I would like all of us on Memorial Day to take a moment to remember those who are forgotten. Those who never truly made it "home", whether because they end up wasting away in a VA facility or on the streets. They can't all be so lucky, some of them will only have 9 (or less) of their fellows standing there to remember them. Take a moment and remember them as well.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Links!

From John Willcocks, and this has to be seen to be believed: World's Most Amazing Archer in Slow Motion. Note how he aims.

From Sirius, and who knew we'd ever find something like this: Scientists discover first warm-bodied fish. Also, and it's about time, it's Newly discovered frog species looks a lot like Kermit the Frog. One more, and it's bizarre: An island in the Maldives is made of parrotfish poop.

From C. Lee, and man, these are cool: A whimsical Ghibli-like world captured in beautiful GIFs you can stare at all day. Also, and this is just incredible, it's Brain-controlled Bionic Legs are Finally Here.

These links are from Scott Gould, and his description is so specific that I'm including it here:
YES this is a documentary about making an album and YES it's in seven parts and YES you won't have heard of Neil Hannon and YES I'm asking you to take 40 minutes or so of your life to watch. All 7 parts, wondering what this odd fellow is doing bossing all these musicians around and trying to work out what on earth kind of music he makes, and then at 1:40 of the seventh part it will all become clear.
Part the first

And after all that, an acoustic performance of one of the album highlights.

From a gassy source who wishes to remain anonymous, and this is just brilliant: Loz's magnificent 7-tone fart symphony. Note: this is much more clever than you would expect from the title. Music nerds in particular will enjoy this (it cracked Eli 13.9 up).

From Jeff Fowler, and this is fantastic: Hot lava flows in a parking lot—in upstate NY.

From Hennie van Loggerenberg, and this is amazing: These Online Maps Can Tell You Where Your Wine Came From.


From Steven Davis, and I had no idea this even existed: The Octobass – What does this huge instrument sound like?

From Nate Carpenter, and this is an incredible story: Ingeborg Rapoport to Become Oldest Recipient of Doctorate After Nazi Injustice is Righted: 102-year-old retired neonatologist submitted her doctoral thesis in 1938.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


National Tap Dance Day? Who knew?

Also, there's this mascot from a local ice cream shop:

How'd you like to see a shelf of these staring at you in the middle of the night? Chilling.

NHL 16

NHL 15 was a huge disappointment last year. Big chunks of content were missing, and the content that was included had baffling and seemingly random omissions. It was a sad year for one of the truly great sports franchises.

However, the series has built up so much goodwill with me over the years that I'm still looking forward to this year's release. The feature set was released this week, and almost all of the content seems to have been restored this year. If you'd like to see the full list, here it is: Complete List of Features for NHL 16.

What I've always appreciated about this era of NHL is that, unlike Madden, the development team has never chased stupid innovation. Madden has had dozens of dubious features that have been introduced, then almost immediately abandoned, and the only reason they existed in the first place was to have something new to market. NHL has been sensibly forward-thinking, and I only hope that continues this year.

By the way, this is Eli 13.9s favorite game, bar none. No big surprise there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

PhD Tree

After the tree post last week, Brian Witte was kind enough to send me a fascinating e-mail, and I'm using it here. What follows is all Brian.

I saw your post on making computer models of trees and I wanted to share a story or two.  Brace yourself.

My friend did a PhD in Forestry in the late 90's at University of Washington.  The initial observation used to form hypotheses for the dissertation was this image:

The image you're looking at is farmland in eastern Washington State, near the Columbia River.  The circles are center-pivot irrigation used to grow vegetables.  The square blocks, however, are a tree plantation.  The trees are hybrids of different species of cottonwood, and they're being grown as a source of fiber for a paper mill.  Cottonwoods are notable both for their fast growth and the ease of cloning them.  Any twig can be dipped in rooting hormone, half-buried in the ground, and it will sprout into a new tree.  Using that approach, a single big tree can be chopped up and used to plant several contiguous acres of genetically identical trees.  Each of those rectangular blocks in slightly different shades of green are, genetically, one single tree that was chosen for its rapid growth and high quality fiber.  Here's a photo of a cottonwood plantation, with trees grown like corn:

Grown on this spacing, with plentiful drip irrigation, and cloudless summer weather of eastern Washington, the trees take only 7 years to reach 100' tall, with a trunk diameter of 2 feet. 

Cool story, right?  So where does modeling come in?  You'll notice that among those blocks of trees, some appear to be different shades of green.  When you broaden the range from visible light to full-spectrum imaging (the AVIRIS technology mentioned in the caption), the difference is even more pronounced.  Remember that each block is comprised of genetically identical trees. Looking at ONE tree is hard.  Looking at a giant block of trees allows you to eliminate individual variation over a tree's surface and measure averages.  Each block represents the average interaction of several thousand trees.  The blocks of trees were all planted at the same time, they all get the same water and fertilizer, and they all are rooted in the same soil.  So what accounts for the different appearance?

My friend, Kim Brown (now Dr. Brown), went out to those blocks of trees and measured every conceivable variable: chlorophyll content, leaf size, leaf shape, tree height, rate of photosynthesis, rate of respiration.  She even took the data she collected on the trees to France where she collaborated with a computer modeler to figure out what happened to incident rays of sunlight as they impacted the trees.  How much light was absorbed, how much reflected and at what angle, how much re-radiated in a different wavelength...even what happened to a ray of light as it entered a leaf and bounced around inside.  Here's an image from a related paper by the modeler :

It turns out that the different appearance of the blocks of trees came down to the angle at which the leaves hang, relative to the trunk.  Some cottonwood species have leaves with short, stout petioles (the little stem that connects a leaf to a branch), while others have long, limber petioles.

So yes, modeling trees is hard.  I still haven't seen a tree reproduced in a game that I would call convincing (plants have their own uncanny valley when a botanist like me is watching.  And don't get me started on the ents in Lord of the Rings with their totally unrealistic leaf physics).

As for the impact of long vs short petioles?  That would be for another time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happy Victoria Day

DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel sent me this picture today from Winnipeg:

I find it encouraging that there's unfrozen water in the streets, at least.

You Must Build a Boat

I know--The Witcher 3 went live today--but believe it or not, I think I'm looking forward to this game more. Here's the press release from Luca:
I’m Luca Redwood, I made the critically acclaimed "10000000" which Rock Paper Shotgun recently listed as one of the "Top 25 Puzzle Games Ever Made" .

After 3(!) years in the making, the sequel - "You Must Build A Boat"  is coming out on June 4th. It’s very exciting, here is a trailer: You Must Build a Boat trailer.

I’m pretty chuffed with how its turned out, It’s got loads of cool new features, capturing monsters, building up your boat and adding new and exciting rooms, random and nonrandom dungeon modifiers that change how each run has to be be played 

It’ll be out at the same time on PC,Mac/Linux,iOS and Android. 

Thanks for reading! 


At one point in the trailer video, you see the boat you're building, and here's what's inside the boat:
--HD television
--a camel
--a green dude next to a fireplace
--a weight bench
--guy with sword
--a giant snake
--a dog
--a bed
--a caveman with club, apparently embracing a woman
--a library
--a spit (or a high jump pit--not sure)
--a Pharaoh?
--a pool table (or torture rack--not sure)
--the cosmos?

Oh yes, I am so, so in.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We had a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday: Waco Biker Brawl: Scores Arrested After Shootout at Twin Peaks Bar.

"Scores" is 165, in case you're counting. 9 Fatalities and counting.

Here's an excerpt from another article worth reading:
Police helicopters hovered over the Waco, Texas, sports bar and above a scattering of knives, guns, and dead bodies in the parking lot. Surrounding streets were closed off as authorities prepared for more outlaws to converge on the city.

...Earlier that day, about 200 bikers from at least five motorcycle gangs gathered at Twin Peaks, a restaurant known for its bikini-topped waitresses and, apparently, for its crew of motorcycle-riding regulars.

But the scene turned into a gruesome turf war around 12:15 p.m., after a brawl inside the restroom spilled out into the bar and ended in the parking lot. On Monday morning, Waco police said 170 people were arrested and will face charges related to organized crime.

We've driven past that place more times than I can even count, because it's right off the interstate, easily visible as you're driving past. We always joke about the name, because it's basically a Hooter's clone.

It's ninety minutes from our house, roughly.

This was an incredible incident. The bar is in a standard strip mall (Panera Bread, Best Buy, Ross, Kohl's, etc.), and a fight inside the restaurant spilled outside and turned into a huge shootout.

[Editorial note: by the way, if any of you read an outraged opinion piece from one of the usual places about how this incident is indicative of the collapse of white culture and how white fathers have failed, please let me know.]

I met a guy years ago who was so memorable that I wrote down details of our conversation, then saved the file for future use. Incredibly, that day has arrived.

This fellow I met was a tow truck driver. He was huge and incredibly intimidating physically. Covered in tattoos.

Here are my notes, with only minor editing to protect his identity:
Moved here from another state. 20+ years with same company. Driving the whole time. Started straight out of the Army.

Moved to Austin when wife got job. Same company needed drivers. Not a recovery [repo] driver, but has friends who are. Did do private prop recovery in his previous state. People angry, wanting to bargain. 131.50. You're going to charge me the fifty cents? [a guy almost attacked him over fifty cents once.] Tries to reason with them. Knows how anger feels because he's an angry guy. Took classes to learn how to handle it.

Seen some terrible wrecks. Makes you think about safe driving all the time for your kids. Wife gets on him all the time for driving too slow. Seen too many things.

Says his girls don't know anything about his past because he's changed. Says they don't know he was a biker and beat up people for a living. Says that since he quit drinking and using he's a different person. Plus his Christianity makes him better able to deal with his anger.

He's on call 24 hours a day. Goes out when he gets a call. Said the owner of his company said he was building him a new tow truck to thank him for all his years of service.

Recovery is crazy. Said even people in wrecks are sometimes angry when he shows up. Still have adrenaline pumping. Says some think he wants to rip them off. Says no, I'm here to help you, not steal your money.

Gentle. Soft-spoken.

When he was talking about his girls, he said, "Being a father makes you want to be a better person for your kids," and man, if there was ever a universal truth, that's it.

I remember this as a truly poignant conversation, because this fellow--who was downright scary-looking--was as soft-spoken and non-aggressive as almost anyone I've ever met.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Links!

We're a little light this week, but there's still some good stuff in here.

Leading off this week, From Sirius, and these are spectacular: These Are Easily The Most Gorgeous Maps Of The Moon Ever.

From The Edwin Garcia Links machine, and this is truly magnificent: 100,000 Stars.

From Scott Gould, and this archer is just ridiculous: World's Most Amazing Archer in Slow Motion.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is terrific: The Many Faces of the Greatest War.

From multiple sources, and he's quite the badass: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man.

From C. Lee, and while I'm very skeptical, this could be huge: Cuba has a Lung Cancer Vaccine -- and America Wants It.

From Z. Jason Kerr, and if there's one thing you can say about North Korea, they're certainly forward-thinking in their execution methods: North Korea executes defence chief with an anti-aircraft gun - South Korea agency. That anti-aircraft gun has a range of 5 miles by the way.

From Marc Klein, and I think it's fair to ask if the NFL is actually making the game safer or if they're just conducting a giant marketing campaign: IS THE NFL'S BIG BET ON MAKING FOOTBALL SAFER WORKING?

From Joshua Buergel, and this is fascinating: Card money in New France.

From Steven Davis, and let's get started: A Backyard Roller Coaster the Whole Family Can Build.

This is a long, tremendous read: Denver’s Heroin Pizza Delivery System. Also, and I hope she makes it, it's Today, This Woman Will Row the Atlantic Alone.

Winding up, this is the "scorpion save" (hockey): Kiprusoff and the Scorpion Save.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Leaves and Planets

I went to a middle school band concert tonight. Quality was variable.

In the background, though, was a giant tree. The wind was strong, and the leaves were so thick on the tree that it made the tree ripple like it was wearing a huge green coat.

I watched that tree for quite a while, and then I remembered that developers have mathematical equations to describe the movement of trees. Which blew my mind, that something so staggeringly complex could be simulated so realistically.

Then I started wondering how they'd develop the equations.

This is probably wrong, but here's my best guess: after "building" a tree, you start with the part of the tree that has the largest cumulative surface area, which would be the leaves. So you do a check to see if the wind is strong enough to make an individual leaf move, then you sum the forces of the leaves on an individual branch to see if the movement of the leaves is strong enough to make the branch move. If the branch does move, you do a movement check on the branch it attaches to, then keep summing cumulative forces and check branch movement until you get to the trunk.

Or something.

One of the bands (not Eli's) played an excerpt from The Planets, which is one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Unlike most people, the first version I ever heard of this piece was played not by an orchestra, but by Tomita, who created an arrangement for this huge wall of synthesizers he played.

I've listened to conventional versions of The Planets since then--many times--and while they sound beautiful, I still prefer Tomita's version. There's a special kind of intensity, but it's also whimsical in places.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Wright Brothers

So as it turns out, Eli 13.9 and the Wright Brothers have something in common.

I'm reading an entirely fascinating book called The Wright Brothers (it's by David McCullough, who is money), and I've reached the point where Wilbur and Orville go to France to demonstrate the airplane. Check out this passage:
Greatest by far was the spectacle of seeing so many -- children, men, and women of all ages -- playing with "diabolo," a simple, age-old toy that had lately become the rage. It consisted of a wooden spool the shape of an hourglass and two bamboo sticks about two feet in length, joined by a string four to five feet in length, and it cost about 50 cents. The player would slip the string around the spool, then, a stick in each hand, lift the spool from the ground and start it spinning and by spinning it faster, keep it balanced in the air. It was because the spool would so often fall to the ground, until the beginner got the knack, that it was called "the devil's game." It had originated in China a hundred years or more earlier, and to the brothers it was irresistible. Apparently the brothers caught on quickly to the diabolo art and become quite good at it. 

Finding out that the diabolo was all the rage in France in the first decade of the twentieth century is entirely fantastic.

On the actual subject of flying, let me recommend this book absolutely and completely. It is tremendously well-written and entirely entertaining.


Well, this certainly explains why we've been losing the satellite signal. Note to self: trees grow faster than you think they do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Dream

I had a dream last night.

I was with Eli 13.9 and Gloria, and we all were talking. Eli is almost 5'9" now, and even though he's skinny (110 lbs.), he's ripped, so he towered over Gloria and made her seem very small in comparison.

I was saying something about how much he had changed, and I think I told a story about when he was just a small boy. They walked off together, into another room, and when they came back, Eli 13.9 had become Eli 3.5 again, wearing little overalls and a red shirt.

He was just beaming, with Gloria holding his hand, and I was so happy to see him. In a few seconds, though, I was so overcome that I started quietly weeping.

I woke up shortly after.

The dream made me think about how lucky we are that Eli really hasn't changed. That ball of energy that I nicknamed The Enthusiasm Engine is still inside him, and he's still as sweet and loving as he's ever been.

Yesterday, after I picked him up from school, we drove home and started playing our careers. He's playing as Connor McDavid in NHL, and I'm Enormous Bottoms in MLB. He went upstairs to play his career, and I stayed in the living room to play mine, and it was all so relaxing and peaceful. He left his door open, and we shouted updates back and forth. "Grand Salami!" I yelled as I hit a grand slam. "Oh, that did not just happen!" Eli shouted a few minutes. "Dad, you need to come see this!"

I did.

Otto and Nora

For some reason, talking to Mike today reminded me of a story from the wayback machine.

My mom grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas (she doesn't recommend it). She left, but we went back to visit in summer. Her father's sister Nora lived in Fort Smith, too, and she married a German man named Otto.

Otto, in particular, was an amazing gardener. We would visit in summer, and his garden was always full of the most delicious food you could possibly imagine. He was so meticulous about his garden, and such a craftsman, and it made an impression on me.

Aunt Nora and Uncle Otto were both very old by the time I was twelve, both in their seventies (at least), and on one visit, Aunt Nora started trying to give us stuff.

In particular, and this memory is very vivid, she wanted us to have a lazy Susan that she had on a table in her living room. Insistent, really.

Why was she demanding that we take her things? She said she wouldn't be around much longer, and wanted to give her stuff away.

If you want to absolutely creep someone out, just say that to them. I thought it was the strangest thing I'd ever heard, but somehow, as I get older, I'm starting to understand what she meant.

We didn't take the Lazy Susan, but I'm sure we left with some small item. Yikes.

Mike and his Mom

My friend Mike lost his mom last weekend.

I only saw her a few times, but once he took me back to his hometown for a football game and we stayed at her house. She was in her early sixties then, and in every way, she was a real spitfire. She also had the kind of warmth that drew people to her.

She was in a bowling league well into her seventies (she was an excellent bowler), and was very, very active until the last few years of her. It had been particularly hard for her in the last year, when her health declined. Mike said it was hard to see such a vibrant person lose her vitality.

She was a huge sports fan, and whenever Mike visited her, there was always a game on. He drove up last weekend, because she was slipping away, and when he got there, he turned on a basketball game, just like they always did together. He was exhausted after a long drive and feel asleep for a few minutes. When he woke up, she had passed. It was a peaceful way to go, and fitting.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Line at Whataburger

Dear Sir,
Please conclude your folksy, Chautauqua-style meanderings with the cashier as soon as possible and keep the line moving. Thank you.

Unlikely Careers and the Lowdown on House Hunters

A friend of ours moved to Illinois recently.

They looked at a house in particular--let's call it "House X" for no good reason whatsoever--but wound up not buying House X.

A friend of his who is also moving to Illinois (same company) saw House X and thought it was perfect. The only question was that there was a recent $12,000 insurance claim against it, and he wanted to find out why.

The lawyer didn't want to tell, but assured him it wasn't foundation, mold or water damage.

My friend was actually telling me this story at lunch the week before he left, and at this point I said "Oh my god--it's a dead body!"

Yes, it was indeed a dead body, and that insurance claim represented the "clean-up" costs.

The best part? The company that did the cleaning was called "Aftermath".

House X was purchased and is no longer on the market.

Also, my friend almost wound up on House Hunters, and he gave me the lowdown on how it actually works. The show's producers were interested in his family, and they told him to contact them when he had signed a contract on a house.

That's right. There's no showing of three houses in real life. Instead, the house a family already has a signed contract for is the one they "choose", and two other houses are found to maximize the differences between the couple.

So it's not real in any sense, even though Eli still enjoys watching it (so do I).

Friday, May 08, 2015

Friday Links!

This is quite the amazing story: Seafaring "Salty Goat" Sinks Navy Cruiser Captain's Career. Also, this is excellent: Digital Music Couldn't Exist Without the Fourier Transform.

From Sirius, and these photos are amazing: When Predators Collide South African: seals are feasting on blue sharks. Also, and boy, this is eye-opening: This Study About Early Human Cannibalism Is So Awesomely Gross. One more, and it's fascinating: 'Bizarre' Jurassic dinosaur discovered in remarkable new find. Wait, even more, and this is a fantastic article: Hacking the Nazis: The secret story of the women who broke Hitler's codes.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is incredible: Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos.

This is who Chuck Norris calls when he needs to toughen up: The man who cut out his own appendix.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: How Wyatt Earp Murdered Curly Bill Brocious? Also, and this is even better: Hōshi: A Short Film on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Family for 46 Generations.

From Marc Klein, and what a read: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived On.

From Shane Courtrille, and this is a terrific read: The Town That Creep Built.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Beamon

To understand this post, do me a favor: go get a tape measure. It needs to reach at least one hundred inches.

While we're waiting, let's look at some long-lost art from Eli (roughly 10.0):

I'd personally like to see one of our cats on a leash, particularly if they're wearing a bow tie.

Okay, you should have the tape measure by now. Measure off eight feet, four inches.

Therein hangs a tale.

"If you can jump 8'4", I'll give you a hundred dollars," I said.

"What? A HUNDRED DOLLARS?" Eli 13. 9 said, nearly leaping out of his shoes. For his dryland workouts (I posted it last week), I usually bring a tape measure, and we measure his standing long jump. It's an NHL Combine event, and it's fun for him to compare his distance with guys who were actually drafted.

I mentioned last week that he had jumped eight feet, and that's a long, long ways. It was the median result for goalies at the 2012 Combine (I can't find info on anything more recent), to give you an idea.

"Yes, a hundred dollars," I said.

"Oh, come on!" he said. "That's impossible."

"Indeed it is," I said. "That's why I offered you a hundred. If it was possible, I'd only have offered twenty."

"Challenge accepted," he said, laughing.

He rode the exercise bike and skipped rope to warm up, and then I brought out the metal tape measure and stretched it to 8'4".

"Okay, that is ridiculously long," he said.

"I think you can do it," I said. And seriously, I did think he could do it. I thought the money--just maybe--might short-circuit any doubt he had. So I didn't necessarily think he could do it on command, but I thought he physically had the potential.

It's so long, though. Just look at your tape measure.

On his first jump, he went 7'10". That's a huge jump. "Just warming up," he said.

On the second, he launched like a rocket. And he landed in the 8'3" range, but he couldn't stick the landing--one of his feet stumbled backwards a bit, and he had to put his hand down.

"Seriously, man, that was huge," I said. "Even not landing it, that was still huge."

"I want one more try," he said. He went back to the jumping line. He started swinging his arms back and forth, bending his knees, and then he jumped.

I'm not able to even convey how high he jumped. But I knew--somehow I just knew--where he was going to land.

He stuck the landing and started to raise his arms before I could even say anything.

8'4". Exactly.

There was much celebrating. By both of us.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Jade Helm 15

So apparently the federal government is going to take over Texas, using a military training exercise as a Trojan Horse.

I know you think I'm kidding, but this has actually become a thing, with the usual collection of idiots (Alex Jones, Chuck Norris, Louis Gohmert, Ted Cruz, etc.) running full bore.

How is someone stupid enough to believe this?

Here's a sad piece of information about the U.S., in case you don't already live here: for decades, politicians have cultivated fear and paranoia to improve their chances of being elected. Then, they cultivated fear and paranoia to improve their chances of being re-elected.

Eventually, people started believing them.

Now, lots of these people live in gigantic echo chambers, and all they hear is misinformation to fan their fear and paranoia. In that kind of environment, is it any wonder that they're now inventing their own conspiracies?

As for me, I welcome our new federal government overlords. We've clearly demonstrated that we're too stupid to be an independent state.

Jeopardy, Ken Jennings, and Winning Streaks

There's a Jeopardy-nerd-doctorate level post over at 538 about Jeopardy, and it's quite the read if you have any interest in the show: Why Ken Jennings’s ‘Jeopardy!’ Streak Is Nearly Impossible To Break.

Isiah Thomas is an Ass

The guy who was very good at one thing--playing basketball--and absolutely, incredibly bad at everything else, has a new job. He's president of the WNBA New York Liberty, which is ironic, considering that while he was an executive for the New York Knicks (same building), he cost the parent company $11.6 million in a civil lawsuit brought because he was sexually harassing female employees.

My irony meter just melted. Red hot irony is burning my arm as I type this.

What makes this even more incredible, though, is that Thomas gave two interviews today in which he just denied that the jury in the civil suit found him responsible for anything.

That's an outright lie. It's not even borderline. It's an outright lie.

Here's one interview: Listen To Sexual Harasser Isiah Thomas Lie About His Sexual Harassment.

The second is with Dan Patrick, and it is absolutely worth listening to because Thomas goes to incredible lengths to avoid the elephant in the room: Isiah Thomas on the Dan Patrick Show (Full Interview) 5/6/15.

Thomas has failed at everything he's done since he left the NBA, and it's a long list. It boggles the mind that anyone will hire him for anything.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Incident

You may think this picture tells no story. You would be incorrect.

I pick up Eli 13.9 from school at 2:40 on Mondays. I'll generally pull to the curb about 2:20 (early enough to get a spot in the shade), then relax for a few minutes until he comes out of school.

About 2:30 on Monday, the car you see in the picture pulled in ahead of me. At that moment, I was actually about ten feet further forward than shown in the picture.

The driver of this car spent at least a minute jerking forward and back, often in bafflingly small increments, at no point closer than six feet from the curb.

My alarm level raised slightly.

Then, much to my horror, I realized what was happening: this was an attempt to parallel park. 

Holy mother of god.

What followed were at least eight separate attempts to turn into the sizable space. At one point, the car was entirely perpendicular to the curb. I deeply regret that I did not photograph that moment.

At no point did this appear to be a successful parallel parking process. Given the basketball-sized dent in the right bumper, this car may well have never been parallel parked successfully.

Parallel parking is very much a mathematical exercise. If you know the math, it's very, very easy. I always forget the math, so I actually have a printed paper in my wallet to remind me, and it works perfectly every single time.

However, the driver of the car had another plan. He started backing up, at an angle, infinitely slowly, until the car tapped my front bumper.

Did he acknowledge the collision in any way? Absolutely not. The car just slowly moved forward and began angling back toward me again.

At this point, I decided that moving my car back ten feet was in everyone's best interest. So I did.

It took another four attempts, but incredibly, with close to thirty full feet available, the car wound up in a decent parking position.

Then the driver of the car opened the door. He stood up. He coughed and dust came out of his mouth. Okay, I made that up, but he was really, really old. Maybe even ninety.

He then proceeded, with very tiny steps, down the sidewalk toward the middle school. It was quite charming, really.

When Eli came, he hopped into the car and we drove off.

At first, I regretted not seeing the old man return, not seeing the end of the story. With time, though (five minutes, tops), I realized that I could write any ending I wanted, and so could you. Maybe it's better that way.

Possibly very useful: The Right Way to Parallel Park, Step-by-Step.

Dwarf Fortress Patreon

Tarn set up a Patreon for Dwarf Fortress, which is a great idea. Sometimes I forget to contribute as often as I intend to, so being able to do it monthly (and automatically) means I won't forget.

Dwarf Fortress, in my mind, is the most complex simulation ever created, and it's even more astonishing that Tarn and his brother Zach are the only two people involved.

They've been working on it since the beginning of time, and they will continue working on it until the end of time. I find that very comforting, somehow.

Here's the page: Bay 12 Games Patreon.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire #151 (approximately): New Card Decks!

Fredrik has been hard at work on the new deck.

The new deck is the "action" concept. The number of the card is showing clearly on the jersey of the player.

This is an action deck because there are no other numbers on the cards. There's a separate deck called the "big number" deck that will incorporate large numbers on the outside of the cards (and a much smaller player pose in the middle), but I'm most looking forward to the action deck. To me, it will be much more fun to play this way.

Fredrik has mostly finished the red 1-13 poses. There are a few scale issues, and a small amount of clean-up, but here's a look at all the poses (click on the image to enlarge):

The idea is to have the players correspond to the real roles on the field. So there are offensive lineman, running backs, receivers, and a quarterback. With thirteen poses and just eleven players on offense, I added a kicker and another player running with the ball.

Fredrik's working on defensive players now. I'm trying not to drive him crazy. Hopefully I'll have a defensive set to show you soon.

The Golf Club (Season mode follow-up)

Upon further examination, there is definitely at least one hole in season mode that needs to be fixed.

I moved through two tours and made it to the pro-am tour, and that's when the scores started getting screwy. In some tournaments, the leading score was -13 (and at least half a dozen players had that score). 59 just isn't a credible score. That should be a blue moon event.

I've seen this in two event so far (I think the other one had a ton of guys at -10, and again, you're just not going to have ten guys shoot 62 in a tour event).

One other feature it would be nice to add, although this would involve a ton of development time. Back in the PGA Championship 2000 days (what a game that was!), when you were playing tour events, you actually played with other CPU players in the final round (I can't remember if it happened in other rounds, or if it was optional). It was tremendously dramatic, being in the final group on "Sunday" and playing out the round.

I've noticed a few other things as well, but in the plus category. Putting is much improved, which used to be the weakest part of the game. Sidehill lies affect the shot much more accurately than they used to. However, shooting to an uphill or downhill target still seems to have a smaller effect than it should.

All in all, though, this is a terrific game. And it fills a gaping hole in sports games right now.

Michael Berlyn

One of Infocom's original writers, Michael Berlyn, was recently diagnosed with cancer, and a GoFundMe has been set up to help defray the unbelievable expenses associated with his treatment.

In case you're wondering, Michael was either the writer or designer on these Infocom titles:
-Zork - The Undiscovered Underground

That's only the beginning, really. His full credits list is here, and if you started playing games when I did, back in the glory days of Infocom, you have memories that were created by Michael Berlyn.

Here's the GoFundMe page: Michael Berlyn -- Difficult Times.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is remarkable craftsmanship: Martin Wenham: "Silent Voices" short film about letter carver. Also, and this is beautifully written, it's Why Anzac's heroics and horrors have a hold on history. One more, and it's an incredible story: Ever heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain? Federal troops were called against 13,000 miners.

This is a fascinating story: The Man Who Broke the Music Business.

From C. Lee, and this is fascinating: Scientists trick subjects into feeling invisible. Also, and I'm glad I don't have this job, it's Too rude for the road: DMV cleans up vanity plates. One more, and it's fantastic: What’s so special about Japanese swords? We interview master katana maker Norihiro Miyairi!

From Chris, and there are three projects at this link, and each one is utterly amazing and worth exploring: RAUL OAIDA: Maker of Things. In particular, I got a little choked up watching the Space Launch video, and I can't even explain why.

From Craig Miller, and these are striking photographs: Instead Of Photographing Hollywood Stars With DSLR, Artist Uses Vintage Tintype Camera. One more, and this is amazing: Lake Michigan is So Clear Right Now its Shipwrecks Are Visible From the Air.

From Sirius, and this is both brilliant and wacky: How a Giant Ball Will Help This Man Survive a Year on an Iceberg. Also, and this is a wonderful gift from the wayback machine, it's Powers of Ten™ (1977).

From Marc Klein, and this is one of the most impressive career transitions I've ever seen: Stallworth's career rewrite:Ex-First Round Pick Donte Stallworth Has Embarked On The Most Unlikely Post-NFL Route As An Intrepid Political Reporter.

From Hennie van Loggerenberg (that is a wonderful name), and this is a terrific article: 170-year-old champagne provides clues to past winemaking.

From Chris Pencis, and man, this is fantastic: I’ve Seen Things You People Wouldn’t Believe: Ridley Scott’s vision of tomorrow lives on on Instagram with Blade Runner Reality.

From Michael M., and this is excellent: You Won't Be Able To Ride This Bike.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is nothing short of incredible: Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive.

From John, and this is outstanding: Taco-flavored soda -- and 443,000 other drink combos.

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