Monday, November 30, 2015

The Fact That's It's Not In A Bed Is Only A Slight Consolation

That's a horse's head between the salt and pepper shaker. An ominous omen.

Here's the rule about Thanksgiving weekend: the Sunday drive home from the Thanksgiving tournament is like Chuck Norris.

You don't defeat the Thanksgiving drive. The Thanksgiving drive defeats you.

It was a 3.3 hour drive, turned into a 5.8 hour drive, complete with some wacky Google Maps rerouting that saved us at least an hour.

"Best route just changed again," Eli 14.3 said. "Deploy the kayak."

That's a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

I'll write about the tournament this week. The boy certainly does have a flare for the dramatic.

Just Cause 3 Tuesday... coming tomorrow.

Here's the official launch trailer (which is quite funny): Just Cause 3: Official Launch Trailer.

The scope of the Grand Theft Auto games are huge, and the missions have more variety, but I far, far prefer Just Cause. Sure, you can do a hundred different things in story mode (like drive giant cranes, or play golf), but most of those things are boring to me when I'm actually doing them. I play the singe-player mode in GTA just to get to the cut scenes, which--in GTA V at least--are generally excellent.

I played GTA V for probably 20 hours, then was so bored at that point that I just watched a cut scene compilation to follow the story.

Just Cause, in contrast, has cut scenes that are high camp. They're not trying to be serious or gritty or anything but ridiculously fun. I can do the same thing in Just Cause for the thousandth time and I find it more fun than doing something in GTA once.

What do I want to do first? Hijack a plane. Fly up to unreasonably high altitude. Eject from the plane and engage the wingsuit. Fly down at face-melting speeds. See if I can land on another plane or hijack a helicopter in mid-air.

I'll try to have impressions up tomorrow, because I'll be playing the PC version from the second it unlocks.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Links!

A little light on Thanksgiving week, as always, but there are some long reads if you're stuck at work (but not doing any).

Leading off, and this is a tremendous read: Why Him? Why Me?

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating read: WarGames for real: How one 1983 exercise nearly triggered WWIII. Next, and this is entirely appalling: The Serial Swatter.

Not as dry as you'd think (okay, maybe it is): The Accounting Rules That Bankrupt Cities.

Saying goodbye to a real badass:
Farewell, Cynthia Robinson: Mother of All Hype Men and Heart of the Family Stone.

From Steven Davis, and this is a lengthy and interesting read: How Demographics Rule the Global Economy. Also, and this is entirely spectacular: Robert de Visée Prélude et Allemande, Jonas Nordberg, theorbo. Next, and this is an important read: Forensic Pseudoscience: The Unheralded Crisis of Criminal Justice. One more, and it's alarming: Teens can't tell the difference between Google ads and search results.

From Evil Timmy, and phew, this is gross: Sneezes spray 'sheets, bags and strings' of fluid.

From John, and these are amazing juggling videos:
The hypnotizing art of juggling has never looked so cool
These kids are so good at juggling they must be sorcerers

Back to normal next week!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions, part three)

This post brought to you courtesy of WhichWich, where I'm working until Eli 14.3 starts his hockey practice. Please excuse typos.

What makes games of this type work well is that there are a ton of decisions that are a tug of war between competing interests. As an example, let's consider the initial strategy setup in Thea.

You first choose a god to align with, which gives you a particular, special bonus. Of note: the more experience points you accrue using this god, the more bonuses you unlock.

Right now, I'm using a sun god that helps me gain experience points more rapidly. So, in theory, my people will level up more quickly.

I can choose a focus for my village (craftsmen/gatherers/warriors), and this time, I choose gatherers. More valuable materials require more skill to harvest, and it can stretch over multiple turns. Camping somewhere gathering resources is dead time otherwise (although at least you can heal), so I want advanced gatherers that can gather a resource in one turn.

Why am I trying to be so efficient? Because the game gets progressively harder after certain turn thresholds are passed. So time is of the essence, as they say.

"I must explore at pace!" says the man who no one else talks like anymore. Or ever.

Choosing gatherers as a focus means I have some solidly skilled gatherers in my starting village and expedition. The problem, though, is that my craftsmen are weak, as are my warriors. So I have to survive long enough with a weak battle expedition to be able to gather the resources that my craftsmen need, and it will take the craftsmen longer to make the items that will gain research points to help me progress along the tech tree.

Every decision pulls on something else, and that's good.

What my expedition needs to do is explore the map, gathering items and resources, but not getting destroyed in battle. Which can be tough when you're starting out, because your initial armor and weapons is generally crap.

If you do lose your party in a battle, they don't die right away. Many of them will survive their wounds if they camp for a few days and rest/heal.

Some will die, though, and that's brutal in this game, because units are absolutely not disposable. They have their individual skills and personalities, and while you might have a stray join your party occasionally, your village growth comes almost completely from children maturing into adults, which is a slow process.

Plus, the children might not even make it. A plague wiped out all the children in my village (and a few of the adults) in one playthrough, and it was devastating. That's also a reason to always have a competent medic in your village, because if you don't, look out.

While you're out on expedition, your home village can still be attacked, which can be quite nerve wracking. There's a real sense of a genuine struggle for survival in Thea, where individual lives matter very much, and mistakes are punitive.

Which is awesome.

There is so much to manage, and so much interesting complexity, that I find myself sitting down for 20 minutes and playing for several hours without even realizing it.

I'm always sorry when I have to stop. I can't give a game a higher recommendation than that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions, part two)

Well, crap. Didn't mean to post these images without text, but incompetence is always challenging.

Okay, Let's look at the tech tree. You can research crafting materials, items, and buildings. Research points are how you gain the ability to research something new, and you gain them through battles--and, most interestingly, by crafting items.

As you can see, the tech tree is sizable, and it's interesting. There's always the tension between swords versus shields and what you feel is most important to research.

Plus, craftsman have their own skill. Having a village with high-level gathers and awful craftsman will fail, because it will take them too long to build anything.

Here's a look at the actual crafting interface:

It's very detailed and quite thorough. Multiple materials can be used at each step (and if you think the initial step involves one of four materials, it's better than that. It's one of four material types, with multiple materials inside each type. And different materials affect both quality and weight of the finished items, as well as other properties like poison or magic.

It's a deep, deep system, and I find myself obsessively trawling through my inventory, trying to figure out what to build. Plus, like I said, building items, particularly advanced items, helps you accrue research points very quickly.

Okay, here's an image of an event:

Your response options are limited, depending on the skills of your party. If you have a party that's skilled in different ways, you'll have more options.

These events are very pleasant, reasonably well-written (clunky in places, but the general flavor is good), and quite entertaining. They're a nice change of pace, and they can also be very important in terms of story progression.

Tomorrow I'll discuss how all these ingredients combine into a hugely entertaining package.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions 25+ hours)

On rare occasions, I play a game that presses all my buttons (in a good way).

Often, it's hard to explain why. I know it when I play it, though. It's a game that I want to be playing constantly. I'm thinking about strategies when I'm not playing. I want to stay up very late and play.

Space Rangers 2 was one of those games--vast, deep, and quite odd in its own way. It took a hold on me that I don't think has been duplicated since then (2006).

Until now.

I can't stop playing this game. It's vast, deep, and odd, just like Space Rangers 2, with crafting, a big tech tree, unique combat, a huge number of items, and even some text-based encounters.

Let's look at a few of the details, and I took all these screenshots from the game's Steam page, because I'm lazy.

First off, the world view, and as you can see, it's quite an attractive game.

At different day/night/season phases, heavy mist moves in, obscuring your view. Snow dapples the ground. It's very, very pleasing.

Here's the combat screen:

In one sense, it's conventional turn-based card combat. What makes it interesting, though, is that combat can take many forms: fighting, hunting, tactics, social, or sickness. And every character in your party has strengths and weaknesses in the various forms of combat. Putting all these variables together into a strong party is both fascinating and complex.

Different types of combat have serious advantages, too. If you attack another party, one of the possible combat forms (if your characters have enough skill) is hunting, and in hunting, your party members lose no health points whether they win or lose.

You might also try a social resolution, which is one of my favorites. If you fail, though, you'll have to defend yourself in a conventional battle.

All of these choices give you a ton of combat options, as long as you're the attacker. If you're attacked, though, you usually have to fight, which means that no matter your artful conversational skills, you better still be able to swing a sword.

If you get tired of combat, there's an auto-resolution button, too.

Tomorrow we'll look at the tech tree and the crafting options, with the weapons/armor/items and the text encounters on Thursday. I think.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Here's your Jack White--Haruki Murakami Connection

I hope you've been looking for one--for years--because your ship has finally come in.

His favorite guitar has long been a red 1964 Montgomery Ward Airline model Res-O-Glas guitar, an instrument made in Chicago by the Valco company and — prior to White’s use of this one — better known for carrying the National brand name. Yep, it’s essentially made out of plastic, and despite looking like humbuckers those pickups are actually rather noisy, microphonic single coils … but they rock with a righteously raw, textured tone, make no mistake. White has also often used a cheap Kay arcthop acoustic-electric for slide guitar, and on the first three White Stripes albums he mainly rammed these through a mid ’60s Silvertone 1485 tube head (another catalog beauty, this time courtesy of Sears & Roebuck) and a 6x10" Silvertone speaker cab. 
--7 Unlikely Rigs That Rocked the World

I think there's more creativity when there's less opportunity.
A lot of of the White Stripes is about constriction and keeping ourselves boxed in.
It's better to explore creativity with limited means. You get more out of it.
--The White Stripes - Charly Rose Interview pt. 1

I can't find the exact passage today, but I've seen a clip where Jack White talks about how long it takes to tune his lousy Montgomery Ward guitar. It's a laborious process--over an hour at times--but he says it forces the best out of him to play such a limited, unruly guitar.

Haruki Murakami (from Wind/Pinball: Two novels): an experiment, I decided to write the opening of my novel in ability in English composition didn't amount to much. My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. Which meant that, however complex and numerous the thoughts running around my head, I couldn't even attempt to set them down as they came to me. The language had to be simple, my ideas expressed in an easy-to-understand way, the descriptions stripped of all extraneous fat, the form made compact, everything arranged to fit a container of limited size. The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.

Since I was born and raised in Japan, the vocabulary and patterns of the Japanese language had filled the system that was me to the bursting, like a barn crammed with livestock. When I sought to put my thoughts and feelings into words, those animals began to mill about, and the system crashed. Writing in a foreign language, with all the limitations that entailed, removed this obstacle...

Then I sat down and "translated" the chapter or so that I had written in English into Japanese. Well, "transplanted" might be more accurate, since it wasn't a direct verbatim translation. In the process, inevitably, a new style of Japanese emerged. The style that would be mine. A style I myself had discovered. Now I get it, I thought. This is how I should be doing it. It was a moment of true clarity, when the scales fell from my eyes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Wallace (who makes more appearances later), and this is the must-read link of the week: It's Going To Be Okay.

This is just so outstanding: The Doomsday Scam: For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.

From Marc Klein, and the section about sleep and reaction times is going to be shown to Eli 14.3 shortly: Lights Out Football.

From Simon Jones, and I can't even look at this without getting nauseated: Hydraulic Rig Turns GTA V Into a Wild Theme Park Ride.

From Steven Davis, and this is an amazing story: MOVE OVER RIN TIN TIN, MAKE ROOM FOR SERGEANT STUBBY, A REAL ROOTIN TOOTIN HERO. Also, and this is quite interesting, it's The Doomsday Invention: Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction? It's pretty remarkable that skiers have airbags now: Skier Miraculously Survives 1,600 Foot Fall.

This is a fascinating article: The Samoan Pipeline: How does a tiny island, 5,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, produce so many professional football players?

From Wallace, and this is delightful: A Frenchman writes on English Food, in 1698. Also, and this is getting increasingly grim, it's How much you’d need to earn in wages to work your way through college in each state, mapped. This is a good time-waster for this week in particular, when we all could use something to lighten the mood: Puppy with balloon.

From C. Lee, and I had no idea: Wine Corks: Saving Endangered Birds.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and I heartily concur: Uranus might be full of surprises. Also, and this is equally highbrow, it's Cats VS Cucumbers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not a Popular Size

Eli 14.3 went shopping for jeans because he doesn't have any. He's a shorts/warm-up pants kid.

"Hey, did you buy any jeans?" I asked as he walked into my study.

"Nope," he said.

Gloria came in, laughing. "It seems there's not much demand for 28x34 jeans," she said.

I wear 33" (waist) x 34" (length). I'm 3" taller than Eli. His legs are already as long as mine. Oh, and he's a strapping 128 lbs. now.


This is entirely fascinating: Virtual Planes, Virtual Airports And Absolutely No Rogering: Inside The Fascinating World Of VATSIM.

What is this, you ask, your eyes wide open with interest? Here's a description from the RPS article:
VATSIM is short for Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network. It’s a system which populates a flight sim by connecting enthusiasts who each take on piloting or air traffic controller roles.

That's incredibly ambitious, and even more incredible, it's tremendously successful. So, for instance, you might fly from Chicago to New York, but instead of silence, you'd be hearing air traffic chatter for the duration of your flight.

It's all quite remarkable, and I'd never  even heard of it today. Hit the article link and enjoy.

The Dirtbag (part two)

I hadn't even noticed that Fredrik's game Card Dungeon is on the "sale" list as well. Arghh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Dirtbag

A few months ago, I received this e-mail:
jose manuel carmona campello
Aug 29

hello,my name is Jose, I have a YouTube channel and I would like to promote your game gridiron solitaire ,  help increase their purchases, I have 64,000 followers , my channel is

could have  key steam to play it ?

Well, that's nice. I checked his YouTube page and he did indeed have 64,000+ followers. So I sent him three Steam keys, thanked him for his interest in the game, and told him I'd be happy to answer any questions he had.

Radio silence.

Last week, I received another e-mail. This time, it was from someone explaining that The KamikazeYT was collecting Steam keys from developers to resell them, and he sent me to this page as proof:

Over 350 games for sale, and almost every one developed by a small, independent developer.

Man, that's sad.

Gridiron Solitaire was there, offered for $5. I sent him an e-mail and said he was a sorry individual, and he removed GS from his list this week, but there are still hundreds of other indie developers getting screwed.

These guys are like cockroaches. As soon as the lights go off, they'll scurry out again. So even though he might have to change his selling page or do other things that will at least be minor inconveniences, there's no real way to stop him.

My reaction to this was much different than it would have been when I was in my twenties. My outrage button is reserved for other, more important things. This is not consequential except for the fact that there are hundreds of unwitting developers involved.

Quite a few of you guys are developers, too, so just remember, if you hear from this guy, drop a 40-kiloton e-mail blast on him for both us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fallout 4 and the Richochet to Thea: The Awakening

I was hoping to have Fallout 4 impressions by now. I started playing the game on launch day last week.

I haven't played it much, though. Instead, I bounced off it like a brick wall.

I'm not sure why. Maybe reading about how much combat is needed leaves me cold, because I was hoping that ammunition would be more precious after the apocalypse. It also might be the interface, which seems to be a bit of a mess. More likely, the play mechanics work against me, because I feel like I need to compulsively collect every piece of scrap I see.

Instead of moving the plot forward, I've become the world's biggest junk collector.

Increasingly in games of this sort, I want to role-play with some degree of seriousness. I want to be able to be a distinct character. But I can't seem to be the character I want this time.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, really. The mod scene for Fallout 4 will be active for years, and within six months, most of the annoyances will be patched or modded. So I have time.

Even better, bouncing off Fallout 4 led me to another game which has been strangely intriguing.

The game is called Thea: The Awakening.

It's an odd duck, certainly.

It's turn-based, and in some ways, it's a bog-standard game--gather resources, craft and build things, etc.

That's not why I'm playing it, though.

The oddities are what's interesting.

The game is based on Slavic folklore. Your population is very low, so individual characters are very important. There are events in the game that remind me of a less sophisticated version of King of Dragon Pass. The combat is card-based, and even better, it's not always weapon-based (there are social encounters as well, along with a few others).

Here's the game blurb from the Steam page:
Thea: The Awakening is a turned-based strategic survival game inspired by the Slavic mythology and set in a procedural dark fantasy world infused with non-linear story and unique combat system.

I find it all extremely compelling, and very, very enjoyable to play.

The game is in Early Access right now, but they're testing advanced release candidates, so it's very close to release status. Even now, it's more polished than quite a few released games I've played in the last year.

I've played for 5+ hours, and that number is going to rise as soon as I publish this post.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Magical Holiday Combination

We decided to turn our favorite Halloween decoration into a Christmas decoration. I strongly approve of this initiative.

There Must Be A Key To The Strawberries

It's driving me crazy.

I have desktop speakers that are just amazing: Audioengine A5+ Powered Book Shelf Speakers.

Overkill for the desktop? Yes, but I love listening to music when I write, plus games sound utterly ridiculous. Couldn't be happier.

Until a few months ago, anyway. That's when I started getting interference from a CB radio or HAM radio operator.

The first time it happened, the speakers weren't playing anything at the time. Suddenly, I heard a good ol' boy talking through the speakers. Slightly distorted, but I could make out some of what he was saying.

Easy fix, right? Not so fast. Long web searches revealed only one technical fix--adding ferrite cores in the right places. They don't always work, though, and they didn't work for me, unfortunately.

This is apparently not an entirely uncommon problem. And I tried to drive around the neighborhood and find a giant antenna or something, but no luck.

This fellow doesn't talk all the time. When it starts, though, it's so jarring, and so frustrating, and he can go on for a good while. Being hijacked does not feel good.

Today he was talking to one of his buddies and thanked him for the strawberries.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, an absolutely fascinating story about the greatest swimmer in history--Michael Phelps: After rehabilitation, the best of Michael Phelps may lie ahead.

From Paul Adams, and this is an incredible story: Lost at sea: the man who vanished for 14 months.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is just outstanding: This Kid Should Work For Hallmark Because His Thank You Letters Are Spot On. Also, and this is my favorite link of the week, it's 7 Year Old Girl Karate Master (if you see her in the street, just run).

From C. Lee, and man, this is an incredible story: Rumour: Leading Japanese Game Company Kidnapped Dev's Sister To Stop Them From Working With Nintendo. Next, and this is a great idea, it's Is the world ready for a Raspberry Pi-powered Lego Babbage Engine?

From Wally, and this is quite interesting: Britons Perturbed by a Troubling Shortage of Curry Chefs. Also, and this is absolutely tremendous, it's Star Wars Imperial Forces Invade Thomas Kinkade’s Precious Paintings.

From Mike Gilbert, and this is much, much better than my responses: In Re: Writ of Pony.

From Tim Scott, and this is provocative: How Video Games Can Teach Your Brain to Fight Depression.

From Steven Davis, and this is quite amazing: The Real-Life Diet of a Vegan NFL Defensive Lineman.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is stunning: A Long, Last Look at New York’s Abandoned TWA Terminal.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Difficulty of Parsing

The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Here's a story about how the world today is very, very different from any other time. It's both impressive and very chilling. A Rorschach test, in many ways.

One of my best friends had his car stolen Saturday night.

Here's what happened.

He went to a a small (tiny) restaurant with his wife. While a table was cleaned for them, they sat at the bar.

After they finished dinner and paid the bill, my friend got up and instinctively reached into his pocket for his keys. They weren't there. He looked around the table, didn't see anything, then checked at the bar.

No keys.

He wondered if he might have left the keys in the car.

He walked out to the parking lot, and his car was gone.

The manager was informed, and the police were called. The bartender said there was a sketchy fellow at the bar for about ten minutes (amusingly, he looked like Shawn White).

This tiny restaurant had an incredible bank of surveillance cameras--except the parking lot, where they hadn't been installed yet--and a quick review of the footage showed sketchy guy taking my friend's keys off the bar, going to the bathroom, then leaving the restaurant.

The parking lot for the restaurant--like the restaurant--was very small, and it was quickly determined by the police that sketchy guy had parked his beater in the handicapped parking spot. Every other car was accounted for, and this car couldn't be associated with anyone in the restaurant.

Not the sharpest of blades, this fellow.

They ran the plates. The vehicle was registered to a woman.

The police then used a social media tool (I'm not sure if it was public or specifically created for law enforcement) to go to the woman's Facebook page, where it was easy to see that sketchy guy was her boyfriend. In only a few minutes, they had his name, and with a few more searches, they knew almost everything about him.

Name and description broadcast to local police.

Shortly thereafter, he was picked up by local police, walking along the side of the road a mile or two from the restaurant.

He had driven the stolen car to a strip mall parking lot about two miles from the restaurant, parked it, then was walking back to the restaurant to get his girlfriend's car.

Car returned to my friend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Make Better Decisions #17

Synthetic urine? That doesn't sound sketchy at all.

Oh, and if you're moving, here's an excellent example of how not to do it. Sorry, it's very small, but look in the center and you'll see a massive lawn and leaf bag (full of stuff) on top of a car.

I'm going to assume that this is a good warning in terms of career choices. Yes, that door says what you think it says:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


For years, I've gotten these odd e-mails from people that all sound something like this:
I read your it has some interesting content. I noticed that in this post--[some link here]--you refer to gray seal hemorrhoid cream with an outdated link. You can use this link instead. Would you please make that change?

It's all bog-standard format, and almost always, the links these e-mails refer to are ancient history--as far back as 2005.

For several years now, I've been answering with something like this:
How about this? I'll be happy to change the link if you'll answer a question. Occasionally, I have people e-mailing me about old, old links (like the one you cited from 2008). The only people who ever e-mail about these links all use kind of the same format, so clearly, there’s some kind of economic incentive for them to e-mail and get links changed. I assume there is for you, too. Here’s my question: how on earth can someone make enough money from doing something like this to make it worthwhile?

I'm sure I've sent out that e-mail at least 50 times, and no one has ever written me back.

Until yesterday, that is, when I received a response from someone who said I had a link referring to a product in an "unnatural" way". Here's the response:
Thank you so much for removing the link. I really appreciate it.

And you are correct, there is an economic incentive.

Google is a free money making machine for companies like mine. Some links are considered higher quality than others and ratios of low quality links to high quality links have a large influence on how highly a webpage ranks for a certain keyword query. Companies like mine pay people like me to help them rank is highly as possible in search results in order to drive increasing amounts of revenue. Higher rank, higher traffic, more eyes, more buys.

And please don't take offense, what I consider a poor website or poor link has nothing to do with it - only Google's opinion matters for my objectives. I'm just doing what a tool told me to do. My assumption is that the link is unnatural due to the fact that the anchor text says jumpsuit and the page it points to features a vacuum cleaner which is a little bit different and misleading to users.

I am also baffled that I have a job and that human beings waste their time on silly endeavors like these. Its a billion dollar industry. But thankful ....incredibly thankful have a job that allows me personal freedom, a roof over my head, and food in my belly. It pays better than you think.

So there's the explanation, and it was masterful. What a remarkably polite person.

Cargo Cruising the Indian Ocean

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh has been cycling around the world with his wife for a while now, and he has sent in dispatches from all kinds of crazy places.

Last week, though, he sent in a long dispatch about something else: being a passenger on a 334-meter cargo ship. They had quite an adventure, and you can read it all here: Cargo Cruising the Indian Ocean.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Costume Count 2015!

It was a big year for costume counting.

Total costumes counted: 1286. That's one of our biggest years ever.

First, a geographical review. Reports came from the following cities:
Kansas City, Missouri
McKinney, Texas
Austin, Texas
Canton, Michigan
Huntsville, Alabama
Baltimore, Maryland
Anchorage, Alaska
Redwood City, California
Marysville, Washington
Bismarck, North Dakota
New York City (Manhattan), New York
Ashburn, Virginia
Columbia, South Carolina
Chicago, Illinois
Watertown, Massachusetts
Halifax, Novia Scotia (2)
Castlegear, British Columbia
Hamilton, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario
Cumbernauld, Scotland

Here's every costume that was reported more than 10 times:
Princess      75
Cat              37
Batman      32
Zombie      31
Ninja      30
Vampire      28
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle     25
Witch      23
Elsa (Frozen) 21
Capt America 20
Pirate      20
Storm Trooper 19
Clown      15
Darth Vader 15
Spiderman 15
Iron man      13
Minion      13
Football Player 10
Jedi    10

As always, some of the most intriguing reports come from the descriptions that leave some room for the imagination. My favorites this year:
Traffic engineer
Teletubby, Scary
Princess with Pony
Ninja mask with camouflage cowboy hat and pants
It is okay to be Muslim in this country
Gladiator fried egg
American Dream

"Gladiator fried egg"? That is the leading edge of costume design, my friends. 

All right, here's the full costume data dump. You'll note that I had to make a few judgment calls--for example, should "Zombie Policeman" be under Zombies, or in its own category? I went with separate categories for themed zombies--if I hadn't, zombies would have jumped from 4th to 2nd place. 

Thanks to all of you who sent in data. This has been seriously fun over the years. 

Costume data dump:
Princess 75
Cat 37
Batman 32
Zombie 31
Ninja 30
No Costume 28
Vampire 28
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle 25
Witch 23
Elsa (Frozen) 21
Capt America 20
Pirate 20
Storm Trooper 19
clown 15
Darth Vader 15
Spiderman 15
Iron man 13
Minion 13
Football Player 10
Jedi 10
Fairy 9
Marvel Hero 8
Power ranger 8
Scary clown 8
Scream 8
Thing 1 and Thing 2 8
Baseball Player 7
Cowboy 7
Death 7
Dinosaur 7
Dorothy 7
Ghoul 7
Goth 7
Hunter 7
Knight 7
Mario 7
Minnie Mouse 7
Red Riding Hood 7
Soccer Player 7
Ambiguous older kid 6
Anna (Frozen) 6
Kylo Ren 6
Lazy Teenager 6
Supergirl 6
Zombies 6
Clone trooper 5
Fireman 5
Jason (Friday the 13th) 5
Jr High boys no costume 5
Lady Bug 5
Police 5
Superman 5
Unicorn 5
Wolf 5
Zebra 5
 Witches 4
Athlete - Football 4
Bee 4
Boba Fett 4
Butterfly 4
Demon 4
Devil 4
Doll 4
Ella 4
Goalie/Hockey players 4
Joker 4
Mal (Disney Descendants) 4
Mickey Mouse 4
Princess Leia 4
Sith 4
soldier 4
walking dead (4 folks acting 4
Wonder woman 4
"Dragon Power Ranger" 3
Anime Avatars 3
Anna 3
Bear 3
Bums 3
Cleopatra 3
Cow 3
Cow Girl 3
Doctor 3
Dragon 3
Ghost 3
Guy Fawkes 3
Harry Potter Cast 3
Hot Dog 3
Hulk 3
Internet fairies 3
Luigi 3
Monster 3
Morph 3
new Star Wars (troopers) 3
Ninja warriors 3 3
Penguin 3
Pretty Pony 3
Prisoner 3
Scarecrow 3
Skunk 3
Star trek 3
Superhero 3
Tiger 3
Transformer 3
Turtle 3
unknown 3
Yoda 3
"Orange Jumpsuit Space Uniform" 2
50s Housewife 2
American Indian 2
Ariel 2
Banana 2
Belle (from beauty and the beast) 2
Burglar/Robber 2
businessman 2
Buzz Light Year 2
Cardboard box robot 2
Care Bear 2
cheerleader 2
Cheshire Cat 2
Chucky 2
Cinderella 2
Construction Worker 2
Crayola 2
Day of the Dead 2
Dracula 2
Dragonball Z 2
Geek 2
Grandma Wolf 2
Granny 2
Grim Reaper 2
Gypsy 2
Hermione Granger 2
Indiana Jones 2
Jester 2
Leopard 2
Little Bo Peep 2
Little Bo Peep's Sheep 2
Lobster 2
Luigi 2
Mad Hatter!! 2
Mad Scientist 2
Magician 2
Masquerade 2
Mickey Mouse 2
Mouse 2
Mummy 2
Olaf 2
Owl 2
Pumpkin 2
Pyro 2
Rainbow Brite 2
Reaper 2
Robin Hood 2
Robot 2
Satan 2
SHIELD Agent 2
Sith 2 2
Slasher 2
Snake Eyes (G.I. Joe) 2
Snow White 2
Soccer Hooligans 2
Spider girl 2
Un-costumed kid 2
Unknown 2
werewolf 2
Wolverine 2
Workmen  2 2
"Anime Scifi Naval" 1
"I don't know" 1
"Quarter" Back:  she had a large photograph of a quarter taped to her back 1
`Kitty Cheshire` 1
101 Dalmatian 1
1930s Prisoner 1
5 Nights at Freddy's 1
50's Girl 1
80's Girl (Early Madonna) 1
Half Pepsi and Coke can 1
Subway car 1
Hippie 1
Air force pilot 1
Alice in Wonderland 1
American Dream 1
Anakin Skywalker 1
Angel 1
Annoying un-costumed teen 1
Army man 1
Athlete 1
Audrey Hepburn 1
Baby 1
Baby Darth Vader 1
Baby Monster 1
Baltimore Raven 1
Basketball Player 1
Bat 1
Bat Girl 1
Batwoman 1
Beermaid 1
Beetlejuice 1
Ben Kenobi 1
Big Bird 1
Black bow tie and a pink shirt 1
Blob 1
Bloody skull mask 1
Bowser 1
Boxer 1
Bunch of balloons 1
Bunny 1
Business Man, Scary 1
Candy Corn 1
Caveman 1
Chicago Bulls player 1
Christmas Elf 1
Clown, Scary 1
Convict 1
Creeper 1
Creepy evil skull mask guy? 1
Curious George (with father as Man in the Yellow Hat) 1
Cute little boy 1
Cute little lion 1
dalmatian 1
Dancer 1
Dark Princess 1
Demon Pumpkin 1
Doc McStuffins 1
Dog (giant) 1
Dr. Who (not sure which one) 1
Draculaura 1
Eagle 1
Egyptian princess 1
Einstein 1
Elephant 1
Elevator 1
Elf from Hobbit 1
Elmo 1
emoji smiley 1
Emporer 1
Evie 1
Evie (Disney Descendants) 1
Evil clown 1
Evil queen 1
Ewok 1
Executioner 1
Fairy Godmother 1
Farmer 1
Female joker 1
Fighter pilot 1
Flamenco Dancer 1
Fluffy Monster 1
Football coach 1
Freddy Krueger 1
Generic super hero? 1
GI Joe 1
Gillie suit 1
Ginger fox 1
Girl 1
Gladiator 1
gladiator fried egg 1
'good' witch 1
Gorilla 1
grandpa from the Munsters 1
Green cape man 1
Green dinosaur from Barney 1
Green Lantern 1
Hard rocker 1
Harlequin (Male) 1
Harry Potter 1
Headless Horseman 1
Hell boy 1
Hiker wearing all University of Washingon clothes 1
Hippie 1
Hockey Dude, Scary 1
Hockey Goalie 1
Hot Pepper 1
Hunter of Souls 1
Huntsman from Snow White 1
It is okay to be Muslim in this country 1
Jabberwoky 1
Jailbird 1
Japanese Style ghost 1
Jawa 1
Jem 1
Jessie (Toy Story) 1
Junie B Jones 1
Justin Beiber 1
Karate Champ 1
Killer clown 1
Killer from Scream 1
Killer Red Tomato 1
King 1
Kung Fu (Raiden-esque) 1
Kung fu master 1
Lifesavers 1
Link (from Zelda) 1
Lion 1
Little lamb 1
Little Mermaid 1
Little Red Riding Hood 1
Lone Ranger 1
Luke Skywalker 1
Lumberjack 1
Malificent 1
Mara Jade (Star Wars) 1
Marionette 1
Masa Hai? 1
Maskless wolf (i.e. a boy in a plaid shirt) 1
Masquerade ball girl 1
Master Chief 1
Medusa 1
Mermaid 1
Mickey Mouse 1
Mickey/Minnie Mouse 1
Mike (Monsters Inc) 1
Miles from Tomorrowland 1
Military 1
Milk Carton 1
Minecraft 1
Mobster 1
Mulan 1
Murder victim 1
murderer 1
NASA Astronaut 1
Nascar Driver 1
Nemo 1
Nerd 1
Ninja mask with camouflage cowboy hat and pants 1
ninja slayer 1
Nun 1
Nurse 1
Old Man 1
Optimus Prime 1
Panda 1
Peach 1
Phantom 1
Pig 1
Piglet 1
Pikachu 1
Pink (as in the color) 1
Pink Lady (Grease), 1
Pink Ranger 1
Pink Stormtrooper 1
Pippi Longstockings 1
Planet 1
Plants Vs. Zombies Pea Shooter 1
Poodle Skirt girl 1
Princess with Pony 1
Pro Wrestler 1
Pumpkin queen 1
Purple mask guy 1
Rabbit 1
Rainbow 1
Red devil 1
Red Transformer 1
Reindeer 1
Robber 1
Rock and Roll Zombie 1
Rocker 1
Rocket ship 1
Roman Goddess 1
Rosie the Riveter 1
Sadness 1
Sailor 1
Satele Shan (Star Wars) 1
Scary man 1
Scooby Doo 1
Scorpion 1
Serial killer/Horror costume/who knows 1
Shark 1
Shepherd 1
Sherlock 1
Shrek 1
silver death 1
Skeleton 1
Skeleton Nurse 1
Skeleton Pirate 1
Skeleton Prom Queen 1
Skeleton Warrior 1
Snake 1
Snow queen (Not Elsa!) 1
Softball Player 1
Solar System 1
Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey 1
Space Ranger 1
Spaceman 1
Spider 1
Spider Fair Princess 1
Spiderwoman 1
Spooky Spirit 1
Staypuf marshmallow man 1
Steam Robot 1
Sub Zero 1
Sully (Monsters Inc) 1
Sully from Monsters Inc 1
supercow 1
Superhero/villain with all black suit of muscles 1
Swamp Thing 1
Swat 1
Tavern Wench 1
Teacher 1
Teen cat 1
Teletubby, Scary 1
The Grinch 1
The Purge 1
The Scavenger 1
The Scream 1
Tie Die Hippie girl 1
Tiger Rainbow Girl Princess 1
Tigger 1
Tin Man 1
Tom Brady 1
Tonto 1
Tony Romo 1
Toothless (from How To Train Your Dragon) 1
Taffic cone 1
Train Engineer 1
Tuxedo 1
Twister 1
Two-Face 1
Ultron 1
Undead Berzerker Horse? 1
Valley Girl 1
Vampire (without the teeth because they hurt) 1
Villain 1
Voodoo Doll 1
Waldo 1
Wario 1
Wednesday Addams 1
Wee Willy Winky 1
Where's Waldo 1
Wicked Witch from Oz 1
Winnie the Pooh 1
Winter soldier 1
Wizard 1
Woodstock 1
Woody from Toy Story 1
Wrestler 1
Zeus 1
Zombie Bride 1
zombie football player 1
Zombie hotdog 1
zombie hunter 1
Zombie Hunter 1
Zombie Pittsburgh Penguin 1
zombie soldier 1
Zombie surgeon 1
Zombie Vampire 1

Friday, November 06, 2015

Friday Links!

A little light this week, but totally worth it for all the Halloween submissions!

From Tim Steffes, and this was part of our crazy weekend: Man Stuck In Tree After Car Floods Gives Best Weather TV Interview Of All Time.

From Michael M., and this seems reasonable: The force awakens (in Ukraine): Darth Vader statue replaces Lenin monument.

From Wally, and this is a big mess o' fun: On Testing.

From Frank Regan, and this is beautiful: Be Mesmerized by the Shifting Complexity of our Sun.

From J.R. Parnell, and these are outstanding: These Are The Costumes That Won Halloween This Year.

From Craig Miller, and man, I love these: Real Life First Person Shooter: Level 2 (Chatroulette Version).

These are absolutely incredible images: NASA Releases Harrowing New Photos of Last Year’s Antares Rocket Explosion.

From Scott Gould, and man, what a great story: All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams gives World Cup medal to young boy after security guard wrestled him to the ground.

From Steven Davis, and hey, consumer protection: Companies Are Attacking Consumers For Bad Reviews — Now Congress Wants To Step In. Next, and this is quite a story, it's How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants. This next link is fascinating: Newly Digitized ‘Phenakistoscope’ Animations That Pre-Date GIFs by Over 150 Years.

This next link (also from Steve) is totally goofy and entirely wonderful (it's the must-see link of the week): Biisuke Ball's Big Adventure.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Halloween 2015 (part one)

I thought I would have the costume count completed today, along with the post, but there were so many submissions this year that I just finished the count. Eli 14.4 has High School hockey tonight (playing against one of his best hockey friends, who is also a goalie), so we're leaving soon.

However, here is some info to tide you over until Monday.

Total costumes tallied: 1240. This may be a record, and if it's not, it's certainly one of the best years we've had doing this.

You'll need to click on the map to enlarge it, but the red dots represent people reporting. All dots are in the right province/state, but not necessarily the exact city location.

Oh, and one more:

Cumbernauld, Scotland, to be precise.

So we had a slew of people reporting this year, which is very fun. Plus our first count from a Manhattan high-rise.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Big Three

Since Eli 14.4 is in high school now, the tests are more difficult now.

[Important but non-sequential fact: he had a paid juggling gig a few weeks ago at a Halloween festival. He juggled clubs, balls, etc. with a partner for three hours, and at times, they juggled in front of 200+ people. And his card magic skills have reached the point where he could make money doing magic shows as well.]

He studied for 15+ hours for a Biology test, which the teacher said was the hardest test imaginable. No one had scored over an 80 last year on the test, and everybody was depending on the curve. Eli said if he scored an 80 (before the curve), he'd be thrilled.

Then, after he took the test, he said he studied for all the wrong things and none of them were on the test. Not looking good.

I was in the school parking lot yesterday and he threw his stuff in and sat down.

"Good seeing you, buddy," I said. "How was your day?"

"Good," he said. I started driving out of the parking lot. "Oh," he said, "remember that Biology test?"

"I do," I said. "Did you get your test back?"

"I did," he said.

"What did you make?"

"A ninety-nine," he said, laughing.

"What?" I said. "That's ridiculous!"

"I know," he said. "I missed ONE question."

"Man, you are really over-achieving in your Big Three," I said.

"What are those?" he asked.

"Hockey, Academics, and Magic," I said.

He laughed. "I don't know if anyone else on Earth has those as their Big Three," he said.

"Well," I said, "not likely, maybe, but if anyone---"

"If anyone does, I hope it's a girl!" he said, laughing.

Toothpaste and Tubes (Update)

When I linked to that rant about the miserable Xbox One install experience, I received e-mails from two camps.

Camp #1: the Xbox One isn't really like that. Maybe not, but I installed Eli's and that's exactly how it was for me.

Camp #2: the PS4 isn't like that at all. Maybe not, but I installed mine and that's exactly how it was for me.

Last week, I wanted to watch Netflix on the PS4. Here's what happened.

First, I had the PS4 in "Sleep mode" to install updates, etc., for obvious reasons. Well, except for one thing--if there's a one-second glitch in the power, Sleep mode blows up. So I can't start the system, finally get it to turn on, and I get the "checking system state and save file" or whatever it's called. That takes about five minutes to check it and rebuild it and whatever the hell it's doing.

Second, I get the message that there's a software update ready to install, and I have to install it. That takes another five minutes or so.

Third, something else gets checked. I don't even know what it is at this point because I'm bored and have lost hope.

I do finally get to Netflix, 10+ minutes later. Where I get told that there's a Netflix update ready to install.

This is a horrible customer experience. I spent over 10 minutes installing crap to be able to watch a 22-minute show.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Halloween Costume Count Reminder

Don't forget to send in your tallies, if you haven't already. I'm happy to report that it looks like there will be more than 1,000 costumes counted this year. And I'm also making a little map that will show where people reported from.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

So I've been poking around the concerts available on YouTube from the Capitol Theatre, and there's a full concert from Stevie Ray Vaughan that is absolutely tremendous. Here's the link:
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Full Concert - 09/21/85 - Capitol Theatre (OFFICIAL).

Scorching guitar. Seriously scorching.

There was a guy who worked for me in the early 1990s, a warehouse guy, and he lived down the road from Stevie Ray Vaughan. This was in the country, so "down the road" was only a couple of houses down, but a bit of a walk. He said that Stevie Ray was a totally regular guy, and they used to sit on his porch and drink beer and talk.

You're Kidding Me, Right?

NASA confirms that the ‘impossible’ EmDrive thruster really works, after new tests

What the article says is not exactly what the headline implies--"really works" is quite imprecise. What NASA says is this:
Though no official peer-reviewed lab paper has been published yet, and NASA institutes strict press release restrictions on the Eagleworks lab these days, engineer Paul March took to the NASA Spaceflight forum to explain the group’s findings. In essence, by utilizing an improved experimental procedure, the team managed to mitigate some of the errors from prior tests — yet still found signals of unexplained thrust.

If you're wondering what the hell the EMDRive thruster actually is, here's a description:
Flying in the face of traditional laws of physics, the EmDrive makes use of a magnetron and microwaves to create a propellant-less propulsion system. By pushing microwaves into a closed, truncated cone and back towards the small end of said cone, the drive creates the momentum and force necessary to propel a craft forward. Because the system is a reaction-less drive, it goes against humankind’s fundamental comprehension of physics, hence its controversial nature.

I assumed from the beginning that this was just a dirty measurement issue, and that as soon as it was cleaned up, there would be a perfectly logical explanation for this.

I can't even pretend to understand how huge this will be if it's real.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Extra Life

Longtime reader Jason Ballew sent this to me last week:
Extra Life is a celebration of the social impact of gamers that benefits Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

On November 7 and 8, 2015, I will take part in an International Day of Play, including a gaming marathon. I will be streaming PS4 and PC games from around noon to midnight both days. If you donate (well, the first 12 people), you get to choose a game for me to stream. It's up to you, and I'll play it for two hours.

I'm personally matching 5% of donations, and all donations are going directly to Dell Children's Medical Center here in Austin. 

You can make a gift of any amount, and you can even make a small gift that repeats monthly for an even greater impact. 

Here's the link where you can donate, and I sincerely appreciate your support:Jason's Extra Life donations page

He also sent me the game list:
Divinity:  Original Sin Enhanced Edition
Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition (Modded)
Agarest: Generations of War
Child of Light
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die
Darkest Dungeon
Deus Ex: Revision
Drakensang: The River of Time
Dying Light
Fallen Enchantress
Far Cry
Grand Theft Auto III
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1
L.A. Noire
Legend of Dungeon
Metro 2033
Mount & Blade: Warband
Pillars of Eternity
Prince of Persia: The sands of Time
The SEcret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter
State of Decay
Sunless Sea
System Shock 2
Thief Gold
Trackmania (Various titles)
Valkyria Chronicles
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
The Witcher
Dragon's Age II
Descent: Freespace
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the FAther
Planescape Torment
Mass Effect 3
Dead Space
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
The Crew
This War of Mine
Bioshock 2

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