Friday, October 30, 2015

We Are Getting HAMMERED

Another 5-10 inches of rain with more coming down. Here are some photos:
Severe Weather, Flooding.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Frank Regan, and this is just a spectacular piece of writing: The Hateful Life And Spiteful Death Of The Man Who Was Vigo The Carpathian.

From Nate Carpenter, and this is just stunning: Man Carves Out Beautiful Caves.

From C. Lee, and if you enjoy Japanese television, this is huge: NHK WORLD On Demand. And for a specific program, try this: Pure Himeji: Beautiful Castle City, Craftsman Culture. Next, and Star Trek Alert: Trekonomics Panel at New York Comic Con.

From Les, and this is tragic: Crime Lab Scandals Just Keep Getting Worse.

From Craig Miller, and this is an important read: Greenland Is Melting Away.

From Wally, and these are outstanding: Auto Mechanics Hilariously Recreate Renaissance Paintings. Here's an excellent read from the always interesting Popehat: The Heckler's Veto: Alive And Well. One more, and we have a Super Star Wars Nerd Alert: Galactic History, or Galactic Folk Tale?

From Steven Davis, and this is an interesting read: The Secret History of American Surveillance. Next, and this is terrific, it's How an episode of The Simpsons is made. One more, and it's quite fascinating: Russian Ships Near Data Cables Are Too Close for U.S. Comfort.

Closing out the week, and man, this is funny: Ken M Is The Most Epic Troll On The Internet.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Costume Count!

Don't forget the annual Halloween Costume Count.

Standard stuff. When kids come to your door, please tally their costumes (as best you can--sometimes it's impossible to figure out what they're wearing). Send me your location and your list.

We've had 1,000 costumes sent in some years, and as low as 400 in other years. But it's always fun, and I hope you'll participate.

A Note From the Host of the Musiquarium

Chris Hornbostel sent me this e-mail last week, and I wanted to share it with you. This is pretty fantastic.

The Capitol Theater was a 3200-seat music venue in Passaic, New Jersey. It operated from the early 1970s through the mid 1980s. It was closed up then, and was demolished in 1991. It's a shopping center now.

In its time, though, it was a must-visit tour stop on the way to or from NYC and Boston for pretty much anyone touring the eastern seaboard. Everyone played the Capitol. Rock, pop, soul, blues, and jazz.

What's also cool is that in the mid 1970s, they had a closed circuit TV system there. While you were in the bathroom, hanging with friends in the lobby, buying beer, or finding weed in the stairwells, there were TV sets that showed the concert as it happened for you. The Capitol used multiple cameramen with full-professional rigs to film their shows. They used state of the art (then) sound mixing gear. For most shows, there was a producer in a booth somewhere making cuts from one camera angle to another, the way you'd see on a concert filmed for television. 

And here's the great thing: even though the Capitol Theater is no more, people have rescued an awful lot of the black and white and color footage of concerts shot there. And it's on Youtube.

If you go to Youtube, enter Capitol Theater Full Concert, and go nuts. Bruce, Fleetwood Mac, The Clash, Talking Heads, REM, The Dead, etc. etc. 

I've been listening to concerts all week, and they've been absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How Little We Know

This study came out recently: Benefits of Strict Rest After Acute Concussion: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

Here are the study methods:
Patients aged 11 to 22 years presenting to a pediatric ED within 24 hours of concussion
were recruited. Participants underwent neurocognitive, balance, and symptom assessment in
the ED and were randomized to strict rest for 5 days versus usual care (1–2 days rest, followed
by stepwise return to activity). Patients completed a diary used to record physical and mental
activity level, calculate energy exertion, and record daily postconcussive symptoms.
Neurocognitive and balance assessments were performed at 3 and 10 days postinjury. Sample
size calculations were powered to detect clinically meaningful differences in postconcussive
symptom, neurocognitive, and balance scores between treatment groups. 

Recommending strict rest for adolescents immediately after concussion offered no
added benefit over the usual care. Adolescents’ symptom reporting was influenced by
recommending strict rest.

This is the first time, as far as I know, that a study of this type has been performed. And it just emphasizes how little we still know about concussions and recovery.

Almost everyone agrees now that maximum rest and absolutely minimal cognitive stimulation in the first 48-72 hours following a concussion assist recovery. That means no phone, no video games, and no television unless it's base-level children's programming (like Noggin--something basically for preschool children) at half brightness and low volume levels.

What's surprising, though, is that reducing stimulation from days 3 to 5 may not make any difference in terms of recovery. Or maybe it does, and the study sample was too small.

There are so many layers of knowledge that need to be accumulated to optimally treat concussions, and even now, after years of increasing focus on the problem, we still know so little.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A New Rule

There are a few existing rules.

There's Godwin's Law, which states that if an Internet discussion goes on long enough, someone will inevitably mention Hitler.

There's an American version of this law--I don't have a name for it yet--which states that within the first 20 posts on any subject (even little Billy falling and scraping his knee), someone will blame Obama.

Today, I was driving home and heard a song on the radio. I'd never heard this song before--"Scandinavian Skies"--and as I listened, I thought it was a decent Beatles imitation.

Then I found out it was Billy Joel, and I realized, in that moment, that a new law had been born: Every band has a song where they imitate the Beatles.

I'm going to call this "Lennon's Law", just because of the alliteration. And it's not true of all bands, really, but it happens so often that it feels universal.

There's a sub-law to Lennon's Law, now called "Sergeant's Lament", which states that All bands want to sound like the Beatles on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Here, have a listen: Scandinavian Skies.

Monday, October 26, 2015

One Sentence Short Stories, #5

She carried a cue ball in her purse in case she got into a fight.

Sacred Knowledge, Passed Down From Father to Son

We had a "weather event' last weekend.

Ten inches of rain here. Ten inches everywhere else within driving distance, basically. It was intense.

So, of course, we had to drive to Houston for league games.

We made it, and back, with Gloria doing all of the driving. So after we got home on Saturday (still raining), she went out to have dinner. Before she left, though, she ordered pizza for us.

When the pizza came, I put it on the kitchen counter and started distribution. I handed Eli 14.2 a small paper plate with a slice on it, and he said "Those plates are flimsy."

"Yes," I said, "but not when you use two. When you use two, they're sturdy."

He looked at his plate. It was actually two plates, and solid.

"I like your thinking," he said.

We ate our pizza. Since he was eating about five slices, I finished first. "Now," I said, "here's the best part of using two plates." I walked over to the counter, where we also had a pan of brownies (thanks, Papa John's). "All you do is reverse the plates. Now the clean plate is on top. Ready for dessert."

I reversed the plates and put fresh-baked brownie on the clean plate on top. And smiled.

"Oh my God," Eli said, laughing. "How are we not RUNNING the world?"

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Links!

This is just a beautifully written, deeply felt article: The Lonely Death of George Bell. It's quite a phenomenal piece of writing.

From C. Lee, and I'll let him describe this: a video of Paulo Henrique Machado, 48, who has lived in a hospital ICU since he was two years old, due to polio. Passionate about games, he had a chance to visit Brasil Game Show 2015, a game event in Sao Paulo, and he even did cosplay himself. Here's the video: Paulo Henrique Machado at Brasil Game Show. Next, and this is an utterly fascinating study: The remarkable thing that happens to poor kids when you give their parents a little money. Next, Tokyo University of the Arts has put its student animation work online, and it's pretty fantastic: GEIDAI ANIMATION. One more, and it's an interview with Terry Gilliam, which is always good news: Actor/Director/Author Terry Gilliam.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: The fat city that declared war on obesity. In a similar vein, Charleston, S.C. has changed how and when children move, and it's a fascinating read: Youth Movement: In these Charleston, S.C., schools, children are seen, and heard, and always active.

From Jim, and it seems like more sousaphone is a good thing: Tocadores Estilo Primitivos Ccb Brasil.

From Steven Kreuch, a Twitch for devs, and it's entirely mesmerizing watching people code, believe it or not:

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a great story: Don’t Be Nasty – Maxwell’s Soaps.

This is from Marc Klein, and it is a phenomenal read: Who killed Lorenzen Wright? Ex-NBA player's murder remains a mystery.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is quite amusing: The TIE Fighter Is The Worst Spacecraft In The Star Wars Universe.

From Wally Heaton, and this is a terrific read: Positively Medieval: Playing Jewish in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this confirms what we probably have all suspected: The power of thank you: UGA research links gratitude to positive marital outcomes.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Houdini and Lee

I read two books recently that were so excellent that I'm going to feature them here.

The first is The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, and it's a recounting of Houdini's fierce war against spiritualism. I'd read about this subject before, but never in this depth, and it's a remarkable story. Spiritualism had an extraordinary rise in popularity after WWI, and in the context of millions of bereaved families hoping to "speak" to their war dead, it makes sense.

The mediums weren't authentic, of course, but they were incredibly convincing (and stunningly influential). Their techniques were lifted from magicians, primarily, but spiritualists used them (and the emotional desperation of the individuals present) to create "miraculous" communication with the "spirit world".

Houdini made it a personal crusade to unmask the mediums, and he did so with a savage relentlessness. The story of how he did so makes for fascinating reading.

The second book is The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee's Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History. I had no idea until I read this book about the deep bonds between Lee and Washington's family. He married the daughter of Washington's adopted son, and Lee's father delivered the eulogy for Washington.

What I particularly appreciated about this book was that it gave a nuanced portrait of Lee. He was a noble man, and very honorable, except when he was being ignoble and dishonorable. Lee has been made so mythic by history that he has never been allowed to be human, but he is very human in Jonathan Horn's hands.

If you're interested in the Civil War but are tired of polemics, this is a worthwhile departure and an excellent read.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Eli 14.2 does off-ice training with his team at a fitness facility near the rink. This is a different place than where he does the private workouts I've mentioned before.

Tonight, they did some fitness testing.

Yeah, you know where this is going, so I don't even need to tell you about the pushup/situp/pull-up numbers. They were all ridiculous, as expected.

They did test something new, though.

"Hey, they tested my grip strength tonight," Eli said.

"I bet that was funny," I said. I am no longer surprised by anything he does.

"The best on the team was 47," he said. "47" what, I don't know.

"What were you?" I asked.

"The coach was 65," he said.

"And what were you?" I asked.

"95," he said, grinning. "Both hands."

Toothpaste and Tubes

This is quite the epic rant, really: The Xbox One Is Garbage And The Future Is Bullshit.

It's entirely worth the read, but basically, the author lists everything that drives us crazy about this generation of consoles. Buying one and spending hours downloading update after update and logins and more updates. Buying a game and downloading a 5GB patch before you can even play the game, and oh yeah, that's after the game spends half an hour doing a mandatory install to the hard drive.

That's not all the article talks about, but it's a big piece, and what's true for the Xbox One is true for the PS4 and the Wii as well.

Man, I'm sick of the future.

I want Nintendo to announce a new console. This console will have no Internet connection. There will be no hard drive. There will be no operating system updates.

Games are bought in stores, either brick-and-mortar or online. When you bring a game home, you put the disc in and play. There is nothing to install. There is nothing to download. No notifications get pushed to you.

I don't know if the past ever becomes the future, but if it does, I'll be in line to buy it on day one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Cough (stuff I forgot)

A few things I forgot to include (sorry) for yesterday's post.

1. Eli was evaluated for acid reflux, which can (much to my surprise) trigger a cough. The doctor was on the fence about it, but recommended not eating within an hour of bedtime (tougher than it sounds when you're 5'10" and a "strapping" 125 lbs.).

2. There some fungal infections that can, in some cases, cause similar symptoms. The infections are histoplasmosis and coccidiomycosis. Unlikely, but possible.

3. There's also something called a "habit" cough, where coughing turns into a reflex. Just think Boris Becker and that cough he had during matches for five years.

Rebel Galaxy is Live

Rebel Galaxy on Steam

Here are a few notes to help get you started today.

1. Information is everywhere.
I mean everywhere. If you're on a screen, everything you can do from that screen is shown.

Also, when you're in space, two buttons (using the Xbox One controller) are particularly important for getting information. If you hit the "Y" button, you'll see a radial menu where you can see the star map, set waypoints, "pulse" to see what you can do within range, etc. If you hit the menu button, you'll see a menu across the top that you can scroll through to give you all kinds of information about your ship and current missions.

I hadn't thought about it this way before, but typing that last paragraph made me realize something. The "Y" button gives you external information about space, while the menu button gives you internal information about your ship and your missions.

Like I said, it's an extraordinarily well designed game. That's very clever.

2. Consider hiring a mercenary. 
Very, very early in the game, 15,000 credits is a huge sum. If you're doing merchant missions and accumulating some spare credits, though, a mercenary is a great addition. They're quite skilled, and the impact they have on missions is substantial. Plus, as far as I can tell, they hang around until you dismiss them or they get blown up. I've had one presently for multiple missions and she's still going strong.

3. There's nothing wrong with running away. 
Absolutely nothing wrong at all, and it will save your ass in the early game. If you engage enemies and feel overwhelmed, then get out of there. Your starting ship is faster than your enemies, so turning tail is a legitimate and effective option.

4. Don't forget the humble mining laser. 
The mining laser is a surprisingly effective weapon, and you don't have to control it (if you don't want to), so you can fly in, get close, and bam.

5. The combination of lasers and broadside attacks is devastating.
Lasers are fantastic, but some of them don't penetrate shields that effectively (depending on the shield). It's a little tricky to manage at first, but getting behind a ship and turning broadside to attack (with your lasers still working on their own) is incredibly powerful, because the broadsides attack is terrific for penetrating shields. So you're attacking with two autonomous lasers, for example, while manually firing a third attack. This can take almost any ship down with surprising speed.

This approach can also subject you to more damage, so manage that carefully.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Cough (Update)

Sorry that it's been a few weeks, but I wanted to make sure all tests were in before updating.

Last time we discussed this, Eli 14.2 was--once again--enduring the cough from hell. This time, though, instead of just seeking short-term treatment, we decided to go longer term and try to figure out why this kept happening.

Gloria made two appointments--one with a high-level specialist, and one with a more general level allergist. The specialist appointment isn't until next month, but we saw the allergist fairly quickly.

One thing he told us right off: don't expect an "ah ha" moment (I was certainly hoping for one). He said that what was happening was, most likely, a combination of things. He did say, though, that it certainly wasn't normal for Eli to develop this cough most of the times he had a respiratory infection, and it was especially unusual for someone who was so healthy otherwise.

Broadly, he wanted to answer three questions:
1. Does Eli have asthma?
2. Does he have any immune-related diseases?
3. Does he have allergies?

They conducted multiple breathing tests during the first office visit--while Eli was still sick--and he still passed all of them easily. So while the doctor said that exercise induced asthma was still a possibility, he didn't think Eli had any significant asthma issues.

The next day, he went for a blood draw, for the immune system testing, and that all came back negative as well.

I was almost certain that he had significant allergies, and he went for testing about a week later, but the results were a big surprise: no cat allergy, not even any allergies significant enough to need allergy shots.

That was a big surprise. I have lots and lots of allergies--if it's in the air, I'm basically allergic.

So Eli's treatment, up to this point (as recommended by his G.P.) had been:
--Albuterol inhaler (when he was sick)
--Flovent inhaler (also when he was sick)

With those results, the doctor recommended the following modifications:
--discontinue the Albuterol inhaler
--change the Flovent inhaler to Dulera and use daily
--take 5mg of Singulair daily
--continue with Flonase

The inhaler takes less than 20 seconds, twice a day, so it's basically zero inconvenience.

We're still going to see the specialist next month, but we've learned quite a bit from this first specialist. Most importantly, he helped us understand that finding out what's causing something like this is a process, and not a dramatic one. Also, that your general practitioner is probably not the best person to be diagnosing a long-term issue like this. Specialists see variations of this problem all the time, and are more likely to be successful in figuring out the cause (or managing the condition).

Eli, of course, is strong enough to run through a wall again, but that doesn't mean anything. When he gets some kind of respiratory infection, we'll see if this new regimen helps stop the cough from developing.

If not, that's still a clue, at least.

I'd like to specifically thank three people (among quite a few of you guys--thanks very, very much) for their submission: Brian Witte, Megan H., and Dan F.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Julian Bell, and this is a powerful and moving story: The white man in that photo.

From Steven Davis, and this video raised my blood pressure at least 30 points: China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare. Next, and this is an interesting read, it's College Calculus: What’s the real value of higher education? This is a fantastic video: violin making. This is an absolutely tremendous article about Margaret Hamilton, bad-ass: Her Code Got Humans on the Moon—And Invented Software Itself.

From C. Lee, and this is eye-opening: What’s in a Boarding Pass Barcode? A Lot. Next, and this is a nostalgic blast, it's THE DOOMED EFFORT TO MAKE VIDEOS GO VINYL. This is fascinating: From $250 Million to $6.5 Billion: The Bay Bridge Cost Overrun. Another Bay Area link, and it's quite a read: Behind the Failure of Leap Transit’s Gentrified Buses in San Francisco.

From Brian Witte, and this is both brilliant and pointed: Playing at Violence: Having grown up amid the horrors of Burundi’s civil war, a young man is bewildered by the American lust for warlike video games.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and oh my: Women who sniff this Hawaiian mushroom have spontaneous orgasms (already somewhat debunked, but there's no denying the brilliance of that article title).

From Christopher, and these are amazing images: Never-Before-Seen Images Reveal How The Fukushima Exclusion Zone Was Swallowed By Nature.

From Craig Miller, here's a much larger set of those Fukushima pictures if you have time: Fukushima.

This is so, so good: How the Lego Color Palette Has Changed Over the Last 40 Years.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is a long overdue explanation: Why Gandhi Is Such An Arsehole In Civilisation.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rebel Galaxy (part four)

One more screenshot (thought I took it without the UI, but apparently not):

I've done an awful job describing this game, because it's so vast that I'm barely seeing a toe of the body. So let me try to add some general information that might be useful to you.

First off, and this might be the most important thing I'll mention: Rebel Galaxy is a masterful piece of design.

Information is readily available, and in logical places, but it is not always complete information. So don't reveal absolutely everything to the player, but make it easy to access what you do reveal. The interface becomes very familiar very quickly.

That might not sound like much, but the interface is how the player interacts with a vast, sprawling universe. Any janky element in the interface would inhibit that interaction, but as far as I can tell (after 10+ hours), the interface is a round, smooth, stone.

No sharp edges.

I think there are plenty of developers who can get an interface to 80%. There are very, very few, though, who are willing to spend the time to get it absolutely, entirely right.

This interface is right.

Like I said earlier this week, Rebel Galaxy was designed from the ground up for use with a gamepad. In that sense, the interface complexity has a natural limitation, and that's a good thing. Creating a highly complex, dynamic world, then enabling the player to interact with that world via an interface of reduced complexity enables the player to more readily experience the world. The interface in Rebel Galaxy quickly becomes relatively transparent, so instead of thinking about what button to press, the player directly experiences the game world.

Complexity can also be customized, to a degree.

As an example, consider combat. For every piece of mounted hardware on the ship, it's possible to customize its behavior. Want to go entirely manual in combat? Have at it. Want to manually control a few turrets in combat, but not the mining laser? Okay. Want to basically have every weapon set to fire when in range, with the player focusing on flying the ship? That's okay, too.

All right, let's veer wildly from interface and user-friendliness to---the soundtrack.

I believe that, in almost every case, the phrase "more slide guitar" is true. And there is some fantastic slide guitar in the Rebel Galaxy soundtrack. Very "Outlaws" inspired at times, and very rakish in general. Plus, and this is very cool (PC version only), you can play a custom soundtrack of your own music.

That's still a very incomplete picture of the game, but I will say, with no qualifications, that this is a dynamic, wonderful game. It launches on Tuesday, and here's the Steam page: Rebel Galaxy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Rebel Galaxy (part three)

Three screenshots right off the bat today:

The title screen is live, so you can just sit there and watch for a while. Man, it's beautiful.

I was trying to play this as a rogue-like, but I got blown up today because I was being stupid and had to revert to a save. Ran into a big mess of hostiles and wasn't monitoring my condition closely enough to know when to get the hell out. Discretion is the better part of not getting your ass blown up, as it were.

I reloaded the save, and the next time I was in that situation, I looked for friendly militia vessels nearby, flew over toward them--the bad guys racing behind me--and our combined firepower took every enemy down quickly.

Also today, I monitored a supply convoy coming into Rust City, and after it arrived, took advantage of the temporary flush supply of goods to buy some stuff on the cheap.

Here's a useful note for when you start playing the game next week. The mining laser, in addition to enabling you to mine asteroids, is a phenomenal short range weapon. Get close, the laser locks on, and it will obliterate some of the less dangerous ships. It doesn't work on everything, but it's devastating when it does.

Here Are Two Interesting Things About Austin

One: it may burn to the ground today.

It's supposed to be 97 today, which is off-the-charts hot for mid-October, even down here. It hasn't rained in months, at least not in any measurable way. So we're basically living in a gigantic firewood stand right now, just waiting for a spark.

There's a 375-acre fire in Bastrop now, which is about half an hour away.

So if you see an article about a bajillion acre fire today, it's us.

Two: there's no one left to hire.

I talked to someone who hires new employees for a local burger establishment. He said they can't find anyone left to hire, even at $10/hour to start.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rebel Galaxy (part two)

Here's a screenshot of me heading toward a scientific station while in warp. This is probably the least exciting screenshot I could have taken all day (sorry about that), but just look at those colors:

It's a beautiful, beautiful game, and there are a few touches that are just masterful. For example, around space stations there's a decent amount of space junk floating around (and I'll get a screenshot of that tomorrow).

I'm continuing with my merchant career, running trade missions, but I've upgraded ships and have a bit more firepower, so I'm answering a few distress beacons. I've slapped a few fools down and been rewarded quite fairly by the mining ships I've rescued.

This is a highly dynamic universe, and things are happening whether you're involved or not, which makes it a huge amount of fun to intervene. Distress beacons, transponders, enemy ships, asteroid fields--all kinds of things can happen when you're going from point A to point B, and you can stop to investigate any or all of them.

An example: I was looking at the map today and noticed a cross by one of the stations. I didn't know what that meant, so I zoomed in and found out the station was experiencing a famine.

That sounded interesting, so I loaded up with Yikyak meat and headed that way. I figured I'd either donate the meat (if possible) as a humanitarian gesture or (dark side emerging) I'd try to sell it at what would presumably be a ridiculously high price.

An aid ship got there before I did, but I e-mailed Travis about what would have happened if I'd gotten there first, and he replied: if you'd gotten there first, you would have made a killing :) Also, you could have intercepted and destroyed the relief vessels, stolen all the food, and then the famine would have gone on much longer while you profited.

Evil me says "Oh, yes."

The Jumping Giraffe

A few of you guys asked me for a video of Eli 14.2 jumping, so here you go (during his workout today):

He took three jumps today: 8'9", 8'9", and 8'9". He'd only jumped 8'9" once before today, so three jumps at that distance was really something. And he said none of them felt good. So I'm guessing that he'll be jumping 9'0" when he gets to a day when he feels like his legs have some pop.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rebel Galaxy

I'm playing (five hours so far) the review copy of Rebel Galaxy, the newest game by Travis Baldree.

I'm not sure anyone has a better pedigree. Fate, which was one of my favorite gaming surprises ever. Torchlight and Torchlight II.

Here's something. I've finished every game Travis has released. I can't say that about any other developer in gaming.

Rebel Galaxy is certainly a departure. Fate, Torchlight and TII were all similar games (unfairly simplifying, say "Diablo with a wicked sense of humor"), but Rebel Galaxy is not like them in the least.

Rebel Galaxy is much more like a streamlined Elite mashed together with Star Control II. Maybe a little Sundog in there, too?

Regardless, it works.

I'm going to take an unusual path through the game, because it seems like all the Streamers are emphasizing combat-heavy paths. Instead, I joined the local Merchant's Guild for 10,000 credits and am currently running trade missions, trying to build up a little cash while trying not to get blown up.

I'm going to write about this for most of the week, but let me just say initially that in an era where the most visible space sims (Elite and Star Citizen) are huge and complex, Rebel Galaxy comes off as a breath of fresh air. It's still huge, but the learning curve is much, much smaller.

It's not intimidating in the least, and everything you need to do fits on a standard gamepad.

This is going to be one of the must-have games of the fall: beautiful, rich and accessible.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Friday Links

From Geoff Engelstein, and this is interesting data: NHL Coaches Are Pulling Goalies Earlier Than Ever.

From Craig Miller, and this is amazing: This is what it looks like to land on Mars. Also, and this is incredible (John Harwood Space Alert): NASA Releases Trove of Over 8,000 HD Photos from the Apollo Moon Missions.

From Mark Lahren, and this is just awesome: Tribe performing 'Supercollider' on Conan O'Brien Show 1994.

From David Foster, and this is hilarious: Jaws 19 - Trailer.

From Steven Davis, and this is some sobering data: The Reign of Recycling. Next, and this guy is a crazy songwriting wizard, it's Blank Space: What Kind of Genius Is Max Martin? Next, and this is fascinating: Fold & Cut Theorem – Cut any shape from only one cut. This is remarkable: From 1975-1980 Activist Adam Purple Built a Circular Urban Garden in New York that ‘Knocked Down’ the Surrounding Buildings. Next, and if you're interested in space, you need to read this: The sky's gone dark. Last one, and it's an excellent read: Every flood Has a Silver Lining? The Florence Flood of 1966.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and DQ Reader My Wife will be happy to hear about this: Playing Scrabble Changes the Way You Use Your Brain.

From C. Lee, and this looks pretty fantastic: Sony’s DIY kit MESH.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Move, Countermove

I have this habit (I prefer to call it a "technique") of walking into Gloria's study, delivering information, and quickly exiting.

I did that today.

As I was reaching the edge of her study, she said "Eh eh eh eh eh." I'm not sure I spelled that correctly in a phonetic sense, but it was the universal sound that means "don't do that."

"Yes?" I asked, actually meaning "no."

"I think I've figured something out," she said. "When you look at me when you're talking, I'm more likely to remember what you say. I seem to remember poorly when you're not looking at me."

Just unpack that statement for a minute. Let it roll around in your brain for a little while. It is absolutely a compressed piece of genius.

"So I have to weigh an increased chance of you remembering what I said versus a reduced chance of me being able to get out of the study after I say it," I said.

"Hmph," she said, not approvingly.

"This is a complex situation," I said. "It requires further study."

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


We still have one functioning viewing portal to the outside world. It's in my study.

I was half listening to a movie today while I worked, and a character said that he grew up near the beach, and that being there always calmed him. 

I hadn't really thought about it in a while, but I feel the same way. 

It's not the beach for me, exactly--more the atmosphere of the sea. I grew up next to Corpus Christi, which is on the southern Gulf Coast. 

This coast is not like the fabulous West Coast, where every step seems to multiply your energy. The West Cost, to me, is both wonderful and overwhelming, extraordinarily sweeping and dramatic. 

The Gulf Coast isn't nearly as nice, but it has a calming effect on me.

There's nothing dramatic about the Gulf Coast. It's the low-rent version of a coastline. In many places, it's not even beautiful. 

A coastline that isn't beautiful. Imagine that. 

I grew up only a few miles from the bay--in crow flying terms, two miles, maybe three. I can't remember if I could smell the water from our house, but that slight tinge of salt is unmistakable--it smells like nothing else, and you can't forget it. 

At the edge of our very small town, the road sloped steeply downward about thirty feet, and then the road ran right alongside the water. There was no beach there, just a small bit of sand that led into scrubby bushes. The water wasn't a stunning shade of blue, either. It was green, and it got murky and muddy as soon as the wind began to blow. 

The mosquitoes were incredible, too.

Still, though, there were days, days when the wind was light and I could smell the water and hear the waves slowly washing into shore. 

It gets inside you somehow, the sea.

If You're Having A Bad Day...

This will certainly help, and immediately:
Little Football Players Abandon Game To Dance Like Champions.

Tragic Television News

The repair guy called this morning and said the repair would cost about $250. That's both great and terrible news.

At least it's not in the gray area where a decision would have been tough to make. I guess OLED is going to have to wait for a few more years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Future (Follow Up)

I forgot to mention that Microsoft is not the first company to do this. Motorola actually introduced the Atrix 4G in 2011 with optional docks that could turn it into a desktop, but the OS was Android. For this to work, I think desktop users need to be able to run the apps they normally run on their desktop PCs (be it Windows OS or Apple OS X).

The Future Moving Into The Present Faster Than I Can Imagine

I was talking to Eli 14.2 last week and said to him that one day, people's phones would also be their computers.

"No way," he said. "How would that work?"

"Phones are getting much more powerful every year," I said. "Even now, most people have plenty of processing power in their phones to do whatever they need. The phone needs an HDMI port for a display, and a couple of USB ports for a keyboard and mouse."

"I just don't see it," he said.

"Plus there needs to be a storage port so that users can add capacity as needed," I said.

"When will that happen?" he asked.

"Soon," I said. "Five years. Ten, at most."

More like five days, actually. Microsoft announced it today: Microsoft's Display Dock turns your Windows phone into a mini PC.

I really like what they're doing here.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Dilemma (of the TV sort)

We have a venerable 55" Panasonic VT50, which is beautifully calibrated and has an unbelievable picture.

Well, venerable in an electronics sense. It's about three and a half years old.

Panasonic doesn't make plasma televisions anymore. Neither does anyone else.

It's currently at a local repair shop, and repairing it isn't going to be cheap--at the low end, probably $600, and at the high end, over $1200.

What I really want, though, is to not get it repaired.

LG recently dropped the price on the 55" 4K Flatscreen OLED from $4,999 to $2,999. That's too much to pay for a television, but the picture is drop-dead gorgeous. And my local retailer is willing to waive sales tax AND throw in a three-year service warranty.

That's about $800 in free stuff, roughly, even though the television is still too expensive. That doesn't mean I don't want it, though.

I was managing this okay until I actually took the Panasonic to the repair shop today. There's this curious effect when there's no television on the stand in the living room. When the Panasonic was still there, even when it was broken, it seemed like a gigantic hassle to replace it with another screen instead of getting it repaired. Now that it's off for repair, though, there's just this big gaping hole in the living room that would be so easily to fill with an OLED.

If it was under $2,000, I don't think I'd be hesitating. Instead, though, I'll probably get the Panasonic repaired and hope it hangs on for another year or two.

I can still hope for the repair shop to give me a ridiculous estimate. Then I'd have no choice, right?

Hockey Update

Eli 14.2 lost his first game of the season on Saturday.

In his defense, he made 30 saves on 31 shots and lost in a 15-round shootout. And he saved 12 of the first 14 shots in the shootout.

I've never heard of a longer shootout. 15 rounds takes a long, long time.

It was quite a game, probably the best game he's ever played. In 31 shots, there was exactly 1 shot that he didn't catch, cover, or direct into the corner. And, of course, they scored on that one rebound.


He played not nearly as well on Sunday, but won 5-2.

He's played 8 games this season, with 7 wins and 1 loss in a shootout. Goals against average of 1.72.
Save percentage of .931.

In terms of quality of play, it's the best stretch he's ever had. And he's earned it, inch by inch, with the hard work he's put in.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jason Woolf, and this is a riveting and heartbreaking story: The Reckoning: Football, Love, and Remembering Paul Oliver.

From Shane Courtrille, and man, this is a fantastic read: How to explain the KGB’s amazing success identifying CIA agents in the field?

From Steven Davis, and this is an excellent read: How the NFL—not the NSA—is impacting data gathering well beyond the gridiron. Next, and this is terrific: Daniel Thompson, Whose Bagel Machine Altered the American Diet, Dies at 94. Next, and this is one of the best reads of the week, it's The Avenger: After three decades, has the brother of a victim of the Lockerbie bombing solved the case? One more, and it's fascinating: Hit Charade: Meet the bald Norwegians and other unknowns who actually create the songs that top the charts.

Steven sent in so many links that he gets a second paragraph, and this is an excellent analysis: A mucky business: Systematic fraud by the world’s biggest carmaker threatens to engulf the entire industry and possibly reshape it. This is also fantastic: How Much of Your Audience is Fake? Marketers thought the Web would allow perfectly targeted ads. Hasn’t worked out that way.

From C. Lee, and this is entirely wonderful: Shirley Curry plays Skyrim. Next, and there are a limitless number of interesting stories from WWII: Hacking When It Counts: GI Ingenuity.

From Geoffrey Engelstein, and here's the actual academic paper on urinal selection optimization: The Urinal Problem.

This link was sent in to me as "outside solicitation", for lack of a better description, and I always reject those. However, it happens that it's also an outstanding resource, so I"m going to link to it anyway: Artsy: Discover, Research, and Collect the World's Best Art Online.

From Michael Gilbert, and any Action Park link is a good link: After spate of injuries, Action Park told to close water slide.

From John Willcocks, and this video is just stunning: This totally crazy wingsuit video made me stop breathing.

From Brian Witte, and this could be quite a breakthrough: Plastic-Eating Worms May Offer Solution to Mounting Waste.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Ghost In My Brain

This book is mesmerizing: The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back,

I mentioned it a few weeks ago, as part of the post about Pete Thistle's Dad (Fix Dale's Brain).

A few days ago, I started reading it myself, and it's incredible.

Clark Elliott was a DePaul professor doing cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence. Then his car was rear-ended, he suffered a severe concussion, and for the next eight years his life was catastrophically difficult.

As a scientist, though, he took reams of notes about what was happening to him, so it turned into a rare opportunity to document, from a personal perspective, the function and dysfunction of the brain.

The way that he explains how the brain struggles to function after a TBI (traumatic brain injury) is one of the most fascinating things I've ever read.

Here's the short version, and believe me, the book is 1000X better than this. First, he explains that if we wrote down everything our brain knows in a 12 point font on regular paper, the paper would stack all the way to the moon (238,000 miles).

And back.

That's nearly half a million miles of stacked paper, full of everything that a single person knows.

Then he explains that how much someone knows isn't the amazing part. What's amazing is that we can access that information and pull information from that massive repository in less than a second.

After the concussion, Elliott's ability to access that information was overwhelmingly impaired. There were times when he could no longer understand the concept of "left" versus "right". He could be standing outside his car, with the key in his hand, knowing that the key had to go in the lock, but unable to understand how he could do that.

In one incident, it took him six hours to get home after giving a lecture--with a car, and only ten miles from his home.

You probably know someone who has struggled with post-concussion syndrome, or maybe your kids have sustained concussions while playing sports. This book will help you understand what's happening to them and why it's so difficult for them to explain it to you.

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