Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Boy Who Wasn't There

We were playing tennis on Tuesday, and something very odd happened.

I've written before that I sometimes get a little bit of "stained glass" in my vision, and that it's a pre-migraine symptom. I've never had a migraine, though, and boy, I feel lucky.

On Tuesday morning, we were playing tennis, and I hit a shot. I followed the ball with my eyes, and when it reached Eli 14.11, something strange happened.

His head disappeared.

It just wasn't there. He swung, I moved my field of vision, his head popped back into existence, and then the ball disappeared, reappeared, disappeared, reappeared, on its way to me.

Eli knew something was wrong right away, because I wasn't tracking the ball properly. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked.

"Having some strangeness over here," I said. "I think it will be okay."

This went on for a few more minutes, and then I decided to sit down. I explained to Eli what I was (wasn't) seeing, but we were having fun and I wanted to work through it.

It took about half an hour, but eventually (including a a few minutes of the stained glass slit in my vision), it went away.

Well, that's pretty freaky. I'd never heard of anything like that happening before. I would have been more concerned, but physically, I felt totally fine.

When we got back to the hotel, I started doing a little Google research, and found something called "negative scotoma", which appears to account for what was happening. It's another pre-migraine symptom, interestingly, but again, I didn't have a migraine.

Enduring Hotel Mysteries

When you stay at a hotel for two weeks, mysteries develop.

1. Why does it sometimes smell like fish in the hallway?
I don't mean a gentle fish smell, either. It's the fish smell that rode a motorcycle for five days in full leathers in 90 degree weather and didn't bathe. It's the durian of fish. Why would anyone want to eat that?

2. Why is the dishwasher running?
We haven't used one piece of non-plastic silverware or one non-plastic glass the entire time we've been here, so why did the maid turn on the dishwasher? What's in there?

Here's one mystery that was solved an hour later. Behold:

That's a small drinking glass and a fork.

Yesterday, it was turned on again and washing--you guessed it--those same two items.

3. Why is the right-hand dryer less effective than the left-hand dryer in the laundry room?
This is part of hotel lore, and anyone you see in the laundry room will tell you immediately. It's passed down from generation to generation, apparently.

An E-mail

C. Lee sent me a note about Danganronpa, He describes it as an "allegorical detective story", but what's most interesting is the brilliant bit of writing he added after that. Here it is (what's next is C. Lee, not me):
Something that struck me while playing this was the role of repetition. Certainly in a lot of the Japanese video games I’ve played, there’s a distinct sense of recurrence, of repetition, of the notion of a theme and variations. Take Persona 4, for example: You identify a missing person, go searching for them, find the dungeon they’re trapped in, and save the person. The game is essentially recapitulates this pattern, with various changes, through the end. Danganronpa is very similar: You learn someone has been murdered, and you go through a series of determined steps to figure out who the murderer is. The pattern plays out very rigidly, but within that pattern, there are surprisingly innovative variations that keep players on their toes.

My suspicion is there’s something about this repetition, this implication that the game world follows a distinct pattern, that’s meant to be comforting to the player. “Ah, so there are rules governing this world,” the player thinks. “It’s not just random events following one after another; there’s an overall purpose and direction to what I’m doing.” The implication that there are rules encourages the player to figure out those rules and bend them to his or her advantage, to seek freedom of action within constraints.

An open-world game, on the other hand, lacks this kind of overt structure. The implication is that you can go and do whatever you want, whenever you want. And yet, this freedom is often only the illusion of freedom. A truly open world defies attempts to balance difficulty spikes and create narrative flow, and so there is generally always some hidden constraint that channels the player down a certain path. The promise of the open world, in other words, is like that button placed at crosswalks for pedestrians to push so the light will change faster; it only provides the illusion of control to mask the reality that the pedestrian actually has no power to bend traffic to his or her will.

In other words, one style of game makes the rigid rules immediately apparent; the other hides them behind an illusion. An armchair sociologist might say these games reflect the societies that created them. Japan is a highly ordered society, with multiple rules, spoken and unspoken, that govern behavior. The U.S. looks like a society that offers comparative freedom, but the reality is that beneath the illusion of freedom, there are also multiple rules, spoken and unspoken, that determine what’s possible and what isn’t. Our crosswalk button is arguably freedom of speech, which acts as a kind of pressure valve and provides the illusion of control and self-determination.

My suspicion is that both types of games have pluses and minuses. The Japanese type is arguably going to mentally prepare a person to work within constraints, and yet not encourage that person to be self-motivated in exploring alternative possibilities. The American type is arguably going to encourage self-motivated exploration, but not necessarily to prepare someone to tolerate the frustrations of a world with boundaries and rules. In other words, I suspect that the Japanese type of game is likely to encourage a player to try to untie a Gordian knot, and the American type is likely to encourage a player to try to cut it. Given that both approaches can be useful in life, this is surely an argument in favor of being omnivorous when it comes to entertainment.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Idea

The Red Zone Channel for the NFL is incredibly popular. Basically, on Sundays, it continually takes you from game to game when there's a scoring opportunity (when a team is in the "red zone", or inside the opponent's 20-yard line).

Why in the world doesn't someone do that for all sports, and every night, on one channel? Every critical moment.

It's just Red Zone Sports, essentially, and I'd watch that every night.


Last Friday, we went to a pub with one of Eli 14.11s favorite goalie instructors.

Since Eli is a minor, they did this (notice how giant those freaking hands are):

"What's that?" Eli asked me. "Why did they write on my hands?"

"That's 'M' for 'minor'," I said. "That's so they don't serve you alcohol by mistake."

"Are you sure?" he asked. "Because I'm thinking that looks like 'W' for 'winner'."

From a Friend

Traveling with my daughter is much like I imagine being caged with a wild wolverine would be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It Really Is A Nice Shirt

We accidentally wore the same shirt today.

On the way back from a movie, we pulled into the hotel parking lot. "All right, I'm not walking in next to you because of these shirts," Eli 14.11 said. "I'm going to walk in WELL behind you."

"Okay," I said. I walked in and went right to the front desk, where a nice lady works during the day. "My son is embarrassed that we wore the same shirt today, so he's lagging behind," I said. "Please say 'nice shirt' when he walks in."

She started laughing. "Oh, you know I will," she said.

I went behind a fireplace and stood there for a moment. "Nice shirt!" I heard her say.

"Tha--oh, wait a a minute," Eli said. Then he found me behind the fireplace and started laughing. "I KNEW it!" he said.

It's All The Rage

We saw a custom license plate today that said "KWILTING".

What I like most about this is that the coveted "QUILTING" license plate must have already been taken, so--in their ardor to declare their quilting bona fides--someone went phonetic.

Well played, quilting playa. Well played.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Lasko Vortex Amplifier XE

Most of the e-mail you sent about the Lasko Vortex focused on a fundamental design flaw. James explained it best:
Just a few words on drying in case you need them...

There are two concepts you have to take into account when drying any liquid from any surface or material:

- Partial Pressure
- Vapour pressure

From Wikipedia (since my understanding of the concept is similar but more nuanced):
Vapor pressure is the pressure of a vapor in equilibrium with its non-vapor phases (i.e., liquid or solid). Most often the term is used to describe a liquid's tendency to evaporate. It is a measure of the tendency of molecules and atoms to escape from a liquid or a solid.

The partial pressure of a gas is a measure of thermodynamic activity of the gas's molecules. Gases dissolve, diffuse, and react according to their partial pressures, and not according to their concentrations in gas mixtures or liquids.

Essentially, what that's saying is that if there's no gas of that liquid in the surrounding atmosphere then the molecules of the liquid will evaporate to reach the equilibrium point.

Think of it this way - all liquids have an 'atmosphere' in the region directly above them (like the Earth). This blanketing layer is the barrier that stops constant evaporation so removing that layer will increase evaporation. There is slower diffusion into the larger area beyond that in a static volume, so this is the rate-limiting step.

There are three things you can do to ensure faster and complete drying:

1) Do not fold or have layers/surfaces in contact with each other as this will keep the liquid atmosphere in place
2) Provide turbulence and ventilate the area, removing (not recycling) the air to reduce the partial pressure of the liquid you're removing
3) Increase the ambient temperature of the area where the items to be dried are as this will push the equilibrium of the vapour-liquid towards the vapour side of the equation

So basically, I needed to separate the clothes and have openings for the humidity to vent or nothing was going to dry.

I did. I opened each end of the closet (standard hotel closet) about 12", put the fan inside, and let it run.

It worked pretty well, actually. Everything dried, and quicker than I expected. If you're having a drying emergency, this is a decent way to dry your clothes.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Links!

From Lide, and this is a fantastic read: A Brief History of Bog Butter.

From Mark H., and this is a fantastic, wonderful read: CHOP SUEY NATION.

From C. Lee, and this is downright terrifying: The baffling reason many millennials don’t eat cereal. Also, and this is an appalling story: Decades Later, Sickness Among Airmen After a Hydrogen Bomb Accident.

From Steve Davis, and this is just amazing: The Ad Campaign that Convinced Americans to Pay for Water. Also, and I'm not sure about this, Mongolia: Mongolia is changing all its addresses to three-word phrases.

From Brian, and this is excellent: 470 MILLION YEAR OLD METEORITE DISCOVERED IN SWEDISH QUARRY. This is fascinating: Gut bacteria found to reverse autism-related social behavior.

From David Yellope, and if you think the Cold War was precisely managed and under control, this will correct that, because this guy stopped WWIII--by himself: Vasili Arkhipov.

From Wally, and these are just amazing: The Hyperrealistic Sculptures of Ron Mueck.

From Jim, and this is a masterpiece: D and D Burger Alignment.

This is no surprise to anyone familiar with sports gambling, but it's still a great read and a nice piece of investigation: How America’s Favorite Sports Betting Expert Turned A Sucker’s Game Into An Industry.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Lasko Stack

If you go on a hockey trip, and you don't have room to bring a fan, the first thing you do when you get to your destination is buy a fan. Hockey gear gets incredibly wet, and the fan is all you have to dry it out before it's used again.

A few months ago, we bought a cheap box fan--a Lasko--and discovered that it's a powerhouse. It's incredible how much air this fan pushes. So it's always our go-to fan when it's available.

We've been in Grand Rapids for a week, and the clothes supply was exhausted, so I stumbled down to the in-hotel laundry facility to replenish our stock.

I was able to use two washers with no problem, but the dryers were still being used when the washers had finished. It was about 10 p.m. already, and I was beat. Eli was already in bed (and had been for half an hour) while staff toiled away.

Around 10:30, the woman who had clothes in the dryers came and took pity on me, combining her clothes into one dryer so that I could use the second one. She warned me, though, as a hotel laundry veteran, that the dryer I would be using didn't dry clothes very well.

She was right.

After half an hour, the clothes were still wet--not sopping wet, but not dry in any sense.

It was 11:15 now.

Come on man. Use that brain! Drying clothes is pretty basic. There has to be some kind of alternative way besides heat.

I thought for a few minutes, and then it hit me: The Lasko Stack.

Cotton wicks. I had to fold the clothes anyway. I could just fold them, layer them in one big stack, and put them right in front of that incredible Lasko fan at high speed.

Wake up in the morning, clothes dry.

Inspired by this razor-sharp insight, I folded the very wet clothes and made a stack at least a foot high, then carried it back to the room and placed it in front of the Lasko.

This morning, Eli 14.10 woke up and said "How late did you have to stay up doing the laundry last night?"

"After eleven," I said, "and the clothes were still wet in the dryer, but then I used the Lasko Stack."

I didn't say anything else. Just waited.

Seconds passed. More seconds. Finally, he couldn't stand it anymore. "What's that?"

"You have to say 'What is The Lasko Stack?' " I said. "It has a name."

"All right, all right," he said. "What is the Lasko Stack?"

I explained the basic principle.

"So if I walk into the living room and check the clothes, they should be dry, right?"

"I hope," I said. "The Lasko Stack was not tested before going into production."

"Why haven't you gone in there and checked already?" he asked.

"Building up the drama," I said. "Don't you feel it building?"

Eli walked into the living room. A few seconds later, he burst out laughing.

"Still wet, huh?"

"VERY wet," he said, laughing hard.

"I'm just failing to succeed," I said. "Part of the process."

"The process has some pretty wet clothes," he said. "Why is this called The Lasko Stack," anyway?"

"Because if I didn't have some kind of name for this, it was just some old guy who was too tired to wait for the dryer to finish," I said. "Branding. T-shirts. That name had it all."

I went on a quick inspection. There was a dry stripe on almost all the shirts, but it wasn't a big stripe. The Lasko Stack might work, but if it did, it worked at glacial speed.

"I thought the wicking process would handle this," I said, "but I neglected exposed surface area. There needed to be more for this to work."

Eli went to breakfast, while I sat down and tried to figure out how to dry at least a few things to make it through the day.

When he came back, about fifteen minutes later, I had a plan.

"So if we hang all the shirts in the closet," I said, "and all the socks and underwear on the rack above, then put the Lasko INSIDE the closet and close the door..."

"What are you calling this?" he asked.

"The Lasko Vortex," I said, and he burst out laughing again. "No, wait--the Lasko Vortex Amplifier."

We'll find out tonight when we get back to the room, but I think the Lasko Vortex Amplifier is going to be big.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Great Escape

Eli 14.10 and I were having breakfast in the lobby of our little suite hotel, with the obligatory breakfast buffet.

Eli had blueberries and strawberries on his waffle.

"Oops, there goes one," he said, as a blueberry rolled off his waffle and stopped a few inches left of my plate.

"Escape," I said. "He's been planning that for weeks."

I moved my fruit bowl over to provide the blueberry some cover, peering around it to check on him occasionally.

I put my hand up to my ear. "Order received. Terminate with extreme prejudice." I picked up my fork and Eli laughed.

In one blindingly swift motion, I moved the bowl, then stabbed downward with my fork.

And missed.

I only grazed the ambitious blueberry, and it began rolling toward the edge of the table.

"We've got a runner!" I said, and we both started laughing so hard that we couldn't stop.

"Oh my god, we are such idiots," Eli finally said when he could breathe again.

Three Places We Did Not Stop and Visit in Oklahoma

"Kum & Go" convenience store
Coco Bongo Gentlemen's Club
Amish Cheese Shop

Incredibly, there are 400+ Kum & Go convenience stores in the Midwest.

Also, the phrase "gentlemen's club" has always cracked me up. It's as much an oxymoron as The Public Swearing Library (which, let me make clear, I would visit if it existed).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Fourth day in Michigan. Little ants in the car. Never had ants in the car in my entire life.

Little Michigan ants have game, apparently.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Awkward Oklahoma Juxtaposition Theatre

The Defeated

"Oh man, that was the nerdiest kid EVER," Eli 14.10 said as we talked to the car from a convenience store. "Did you see that shirt?"

"Are you kidding me?" I asked. "Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

"Well, you know that's..." he went on for a while.

"Not even a decent comeback, huh?" I asked.

"I've got absolutely nothing," he said.

Pick the State

No answers to this quiz will be given.

These are real tweets as we passed through states on the way to Michigan.

The contenders (in order of driving): Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana,  and Illinois.

The only two viable industries in this state appear to be casinos and prisons.

Where are the teeth? Who took all the teeth?

A lot of damn corn. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Links!

From Bill and Eli Productions Lifetime Artist Fredrik Skarstedt, and this is an entirely wonderful story: The Forgotten Kaleidoscope Craze in Victorian England.

From Zack, and oh my: InfoChammel. Here's some background: The story behind InfoChammel, the worst TV channel you've never seen.

From Chris Meadowcraft, and this is terrific: Motion capture dance madness.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is outstanding: 2016 NYC Drone Film Festival.

From Steven Davis, and this is an excellent article about curling, believe it or not: Here's the Physics Behind the 'Broomgate' Controversy Rocking the Sport of Curling.

This is absolutely the greatest Twitter account in history:  This Hilarious, Imaginative Icelandic Twitter Account Is The One To Follow For The Euros.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's a Hot Mess Around Here

Eli 14.10 and I leave in the morning, and will take two days driving to reach Grand Rapids. If I manage to take a few pictures, there might be a post on Thursday, but more likely that I'll be quiet for the day.

Don't forget to use the Gmail address from now on if you'd like to email me (if you've forgotten, just click on the "email me" link on the panel to the right and it will use the correct email address.

There's an abbreviated Friday Links post already written, and things should be somewhat back to normal on Monday.

Thanks for having us, Michigan. We'll clean up after ourselves, I promise.

A Story

I was having a goodbye lunch with a friend of mine yesterday, and she told me a story about her grandfather that she'd pieced together over the last year of looking through all of his papers.

She never knew what he'd done in WWII. "What's in the past stays in the past," he would say, with more than a hint of sadness. She knew that he had been depressed for many, many years, and other relatives said that it had begun after the war.

She began doing some detective work, looking at all of his old letters and documents, and started making connections.

As it turns out, he worked on The Manhattan Project as a chemical engineer at the Los Alamos facility. He believed--as many other scientists apparently did--that making an atomic weapon would ensure that it would never need to be used, because it was such a powerful deterrent.

The first time the bomb was tested, he and some of his co-workers rented out two full blocks and had a big party. They thought it was the day that war ended.

When Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, and then Fat Man on Nagasaki, he realized that his work was partially responsible, and that a door had opened that would never be closed.

It haunted him for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Wayback Machine

I wrote a post a while back about a girl I dated in high school, and how much it affected me when I found out that she had passed away.

I'm going through everything I ever saved to make sure I want to haul it to Michigan. Every once in a while, I find something special, like this:

That's right: prom as a junior in high school, rocking the leisure suit. Rocking it hard.

Oxygen Not Included

E3 is E3 again this year, with not that much of interest (or interesting things coming way, way later), but this is noteworthy: Don't Starve developers Klei are putting out a space colony sim titled "Oxygen Not Included".

Take my money, please.

Here's more info and a trailer: Oxygen Not Included: Colony Sim From Don’t Starve Devs.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Just Didn't Have Much To Begin With

When I was in my late 20s, I ran an open 800 at an all-comers track meet.

I've told this story before (I've told them all before, I bet), but here's a quick summary: went out in 68, got out halfway through the second lap and I felt like I was carrying a bear who was carrying a refrigerator. Staggered home in 73 for a 2:21 overall.

For a regular person, that's reasonably fast--it translates to about a 5:15 mile, and I ran a 5:17 once--but for a runner, that's not a high level at all. Almost pedestrian, really.

I always thought that I lost quite a bit of my original speed because I ran long distances. I've always wondered how fast I could have been.

So I'm going through a bin of stuff from long, long ago yesterday as I sort through my study for packing. In a laundry bag was a faded purple ribbon, very faded.

I wish I'd taken a picture, but I didn't, and it's already thrown away.

What matters, though, is that it's a ribbon from an 800 I ran at an all-comers track meet in Buccaneer Stadium in Corpus Christi--in 1978, when I was 17.

The time? 2:21.


Yup. Just a normal day.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Eric, one of the craziest music stories I've ever heard: The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History.

From Brian Witte, and this is a tremendous story (although it may take quite a while to load, unfortunately): Body on the Moor: Why did this man travel 200 miles to die here?

Here a couple of excellent links on Muhammad Ali, who mattered because he was a dangerous motherfu----: The Hidden History of Muhammad Ali (thanks Evan). Also: What Happened To The Muhammad Ali I Idolized, Blackistone Asks (thanks Meg).

From C. Lee, and this is disturbing: Your mobile phone account could be hijacked by an identity thief. Also, and this is totally ingenious, it's Spring Cleaning Your PC. Next, and this is just a tiny, tiny bit of the future: I defeated a long-broken fridge and became a household hero through 3D printing.

From Craig Miller, and Soren Johnson makes this worth reading: Postmortem: Offworld Trading Company's Early Access campaign.

From Steven Davis, and this is an interesting read: Novak Djokovic’s Chase Of Tennis Records Is Speeding Up. Also, and this is utterly fantastic: Violent Rabbit Illustrations Found in the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts. This is quite a story: The Rebel Librarians Who Saved Timbuktu.

From Wally, and this is a lovely story: This couple bond over tiny furniture but relish time apart, too. Next, and this is excellent (also with amazing images): The 'normal train' that crosses the Sahara. One more, and no intro is necessary: Do Dungeon Masters Roll Magic Dice? Willful Self-Deception on the Campaign Trail.

From Geoff Engelstein, and what a badass: Jane Fawcett, British Decoder Who Helped Doom the Bismarck, Dies at 95.

From jdv, and this is quite remarkable: Dr Heimlich saves choking woman with manoeuvre he invented.

From Les Bowman, and it's a terrific read: Narco-Football Is Dead: Celebrating a Colombia Reborn.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Just a Normal Day Around Here (with Eli 14.10)

So crazy question I got invited to go trapeezing tonight and I really want to.

Press Release

Please note that the "Email Me" link in the right-hand panel has been updated with a new e-mail address. Dubious Quality, Inc., a multi-national corporation with umbrella offices in over twenty-three countries, is moving its headquarters to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Please use this new e-mail address for all communications in the future. 
Stephanie Assham-Dubious
Director of Corporate Communications
Dubious Quality, Inc.

Have You, Sir? Have You, Really?

I get all kinds of e-mails about posting links to various kinds of thinly-disguised commercial endeavors--affiliates, links to "useful" guides, etc.

All garbage.

However, this got my attention:
I've just written a guide titled ...

Although a lot of articles deal with this topic, not many discuss the effects of alcohol on man boobs. I hope my guide helps fill this void.

I wonder why that is? The void, I mean. Much to my regret, I Googled "man boobs" and there were over 10 MILLION search results returned.

Googling "alcohol and man boobs", though, returned only 2.8 million results. It's a positively stunning dearth of information, isn't it?

After much reflection, though, I have decided not to link to this guide on alcohol and man boobs. I hope you can understand.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Conversations: #1

I've basically ceased to exist as a human being at this point, now just a huge entity of moving.

Almost everything I do is related to moving, including the people I speak to as I cancel various services. Most of them have interesting stories, too, and I'm going to tell a few of them, starting with today's gym cancellation.

I'd seen this lady at the counter before--older, red hair, a little less than average height. I'd always thought she was a bit unfriendly.

I told her we were moving and that I needed to cancel my membership. "Where are you moving?" she asked.

"Michigan," I said.

"Oh, I moved here three years ago from a little town in Ohio," she said.

I told her that I found people in the Midwest genuinely friendly, while Texas people were friendly but had a kind of swagger to many of them that I had never been comfortable with.

"I don't find this city very friendly," she said softly, and there was such melancholy in her voice, a kind of quiet resignation. She said that neighborhoods didn't really exist in Austin, just a collection of people with cars who never spent any time out of them.

I'm used to that, but she clearly wasn't, and it deeply bothered her.

She grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, then moved to Ohio when she got married. It was an enormous cultural shift ("You wouldn't even believe it," she said), but she enjoyed Ohio and how close-knit people were in the small town where she lived.

She hadn't enjoyed it this time. It was too different here. She was rootless.

I wish I had asked her sooner.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Sorry. Very sorry.

In the post with more information about Ali, Justice "Thomas" is referred to, and for some reason I just figured that was a Supreme Court Justice from the early 1970s that I'd never heard of, instead of a mistaken reference.

Here's a clarification from Keith Ganey:
(1) It was Thurgood Marshall who recused himself, not Thomas.

(2) The case ended up 8-0 in favor of Clay, but the initial vote was 5-3 against. From Wikipedia:

"Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong provide an account of the development of the decision in their book The Brethren. According to that account, Justice Marshall had recused himself because he had been U.S. Solicitor General when the case began, and the remaining eight justices initially voted 5 to 3 to uphold Ali's conviction. However, Justice Harlan, assigned to write the majority opinion, became convinced that Ali's claim to be a conscientious objector was sincere after reading background material on Black Muslim doctrine provided by one of his law clerks. To the contrary, Justice Harlan concluded that the claim by the Justice Department had been a misrepresentation. Harlan changed his vote, tying the vote at 4 to 4. A deadlock would have resulted in Ali being jailed for draft evasion and, since no opinions are published for deadlocked decisions, he would have never known why he had lost. A compromise proposed by Justice Stewart, in which Ali's conviction would be reversed citing a technical error by the Justice Department, gradually won unanimous assent from the eight voting justices.[22]"

I genuinely like a lot of the Harlan decisions I've read, but this is a rare contribution from Stewart. Makes me think his real value may have been behind the scenes.

(3) I think their decision to unanimously reverse Clay's conviction rather than uphold it is due entirely to Clay's political stature. Politically, they did not look forward to silently convicting him. Their view of Clay determined their action and made them a better court in response.

Thurgood Marshall was a brilliant lawyer. Many people only remember his declining years as a Supreme Court Justice, but that doesn't diminish his contributions as a lawyer. He argued Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, one of the most important court cases of the last century, and won.

He argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court and won 29 of them, which is a stunning record.

The Greatest (your e-mail)

From Jason, and this is quite informative:
While I'm sure you'll get plenty of mail about him, I figured I'd throw in my two cents worth of knowledge as well.

Probably the first important thing to note about Ali and the draft is that in 1964, he was disqualified entirely from military service. The reason behind this was failure to meet academic qualifications. As Vietnam dragged on, standards were lowered to meet troop requirements, and in 1966, he was flagged as eligible, classified 1-A. Here's a pair of news articles about it from back then:,849886

The other thing to note is that he never refused to report. He did in fact report, and claimed the status of being a conscientious objector. Ordinarily, anyone making that claim is barred from service entirely, and such was the recommendation of the local draft officer. However, that claim was overturned by the DOJ, and as near as I can tell, the reasoning was never revealed. He did ultimately report in 1967 following a rejection by the draft board to grant him ministration status(which was granted to Mitt Romney in order for him to serve as a missionary in France, so there's definitely precedent). However, when he reported, he refused to step forward, and was subsequently indicted and convicted.

From there, we go to the SCOTUS decision in 1971, where the lower courts decisions were overturned due to the fact that the draft board failed to state the grounds on which Ali's status as a conscientious objector, as well as a minister were deemed inapplicable, and they ultimately issued a unanimous decision from 8 judges, as Justice Marshall recused himself due to his previous status as Solicitor General.

For a Few Weeks

Muhammad Ali one day, 17-year-old M&M's the next. That's kind of what things are going to be like for the next few weeks until we get to Michigan and things settle down a bit.

This Just In

I'm packing up my study, and I found a bag of peanut flavored M&M's in a box I'd never unpacked from our previous move in 1999.

17 years old.

What? Of course! Do you think I'd just let them sit there in the package?

Conclusion: useful shelf life of peanut flavored M&M's is at least 17 years. They tasted fine.

Monday, June 06, 2016

We All Know How This Feels

From some program on Radio Classics:
I can't buy a tie or suspenders or even five cents of freedom.

The Greatest

All these Muhammad Ali tributes are disappointing.

So many of them portray as a comic book hero, essentially. That's not who Ali was, though--he was great and terrible and everything in between, often in the same five-minute period. He was magnanimous and gracious and incredibly cruel.

He was a complex man, in other words, and trying to simplify his life and character to fit into some predetermined superhero arc cheats who he was.

In many ways, how someone responded to Ali was as much a reflection of who they were as who Ali was.

To explain that, I need to explain my father.

My father was a highly infrequent influence in my life. For a few years, he would kite in during summer and take me fishing for a few days.

It never really went well, for all the obvious reasons.

One summer (when I was nine, in 1970), I actually went to Monroe, Louisiana, to stay with him. My sister came along as well.

There are two important things to understand about my father at this time: his life disappointed him, and he was a racist.

He had divorced my mom and remarried, but he was not happy. He was downright mean to his new wife, who by then wasn't new anymore.

The first thing he did when he got home--literally, before he even sat down--was to go to the fridge and pop open a beer. By the end of the night, he'd have had at least half a dozen. As he drank, he would get meaner and meaner.

This happened every night I was there.

One night, when he was a few beers in, Muhammad Ali came into the discussion.

Oh man, how he hated Ali.

This was after the point where Ali had refused to report to the military, but before the Supreme Court overturned his conviction (which happened in 1971).

The vitriol my father had apparently reserved just for Ali was staggering. He was a coward. He was a traitor. He didn't appreciate anything the United States had done for him.

Through the diatribe, though, there was something else, something behind his words. He was a white man raised in the Deep South, proud of it, and Muhammad Ali was a black man the white man couldn't control.

Not only could he not be controlled, but he was loud about it, too.

Muhammad Ali was dangerous.

So when you read all these cuddly retrospectives, don't be fooled. Don't let them sanitize a dangerous man.

If he had been safe, he wouldn't have mattered nearly so much.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Jitterbug 5

Do any of you guys have any experience with the "senior" phone Jitterbug 5? Mom wants to get rid of her landline (and end obnoxious sales calls), but wants something extremely simple and easy to use. This seems like a good option, and I figured some of you may have helped your parents get/use one of these phones.

Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Friday Links!

From Makonnen, and Eli 14.10 is ready to go on this: Combat juggling exists, and it is damn entertaining.

From Wally, and this is quite interesting: Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast. This is long but almost mesmerizing (check out the guy at the 5:00 mark): Best Fast Workers In The World Compilation. This is an amazing presentation of data: Star Wars Episode IV in One Picture.

From Dan, and this article (and website) are both excellent: Cumberland Pencil Museum.

From Craig Miller, and this is fantastic: Hyper-Reality. Also, and this is very cool: Drone Star Wars.

Marc P sent me a link to an absolutely incredible website: NASA System Case Failure Studies. Here's a description: "These stories are written as summaries of system failures from which we can learn. While many of these cases are not NASA related, each has certain aspects that are applicable to NASA." The individual cases are just fascinating, and Marc recommends this one in particular: Kiloton Killer: The Collision of the SS Mont-Blanc and the Halifax Explosion. I'm a fan of Halifax, even though I've never been there, and it's because of this song: Channel Halifax.

From Isiah, and this is entirely ridiculous and also entirely remarkable: Rock Band Juggler Practice - Poker Face.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Fighting Eleven #2: Gameplay Comparison, and It's Not Flattering

I decided that since I was playing Pocket Card Jockey so much that I needed to analyze the gameplay and figure out what made it so compelling.

Duh, right? So much stuff is happening around here right now that I didn't even think about that until today.

What I was looking for was an understanding of why the individual races always make me want to run just one more race before I quit. Then one more.

Pocket Card Jockey, when it simulates an individual race, has the following structure:
1. Purchase single race upgrades at the Shop (when available).
2. Play the start mini-game (which gets your horse out of the starting gate).
3. This next sequence can loop up to four times:
--play a mini-solitaire game, with the number of cards based on how close your horse is to the rail.
--with the "points" you've gained from the mini-game, trace where you want the horse to run. Any points not used for directional movement are usually converted to speed.
--watch the horses run, with the actions of your horse generally determined by your instructions (but not exactly).
4. In the stretch, there's a different mini-game where you can direct the movements of your horse in real time, as well as using your supply of various race-gathered tokens to increase speed.

That's way more sophisticated than it looks. There are real-time sequences, "delayed time" sequences, and viewing sequences. Your success in each sequence determines your resources in the next sequence, basically. It's quite brilliant in terms of integration.

An individual race can take three to five minutes.

In comparison, the original gameplay "sketch" for Fighting Eleven consisted of choosing three cards at the beginning of the quarter (one for each drive), then watching the entire quarter play out.

Yeah, that's not nearly good enough.

Yes, it could play out in ninety seconds, but if it's not enough fun, who cares?

Not enough strategy. Not enough interaction. Not enough variety.

I have some new wrinkles, based on this comparison, and I'll share them with you next week.

Wishful Thinking

We have a contract for someone to buy the house, which is good.

The inspection, though, found that we needed to replace the roof first, which is bad.

Today, Gloria found two friendly dogs running around loose in the neighborhood. They were clearly pets, so she walked them home and put them in the backyard, then posted on the neighborhood newsgroup.

They were at our house for several hours and succeeded in knocking a board loose from the fence.

I went to pick up Eli 14.10 and Gloria stayed at home. A while later, I texted her.

I think those dogs ruined our roof.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Horses For Courses

All thoroughbreds can be traced back to three original stallions: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian.

I did not know this.

How was I informed of this fascinating fact? In a loading screen of Pocket Card Jockey, believe it or not.

That sent me on a Wikidig, where I found a bit more:
Each of the three major foundation sires was, coincidentally, the ancestor of a grandson or great-great-grandson who was the only male descendant to perpetuate each respective horse's male line: Matchem was the only descendant of his grandsire, the Godolphin Arabian, to maintain a male line to the present; the Byerley Turk's male line was preserved by Herod (or King Herod), a great-great-grandson; and the male line of the Darley Arabian owes its existence to great-great-grandson Eclipse, who was the dominant racehorse of his day and never defeated. 

King Herod? That's two thousand years of horse history, right there.

Here's something from LiveScience:
The research finds that a genetic variant associated with speed likely originated with a single mare in the mid-17th century. The gene variant became widespread in modern thoroughbreds, thanks to a single stallion named Nearctic, the father of the most-bred stallion of modern times.

That "most-bred stallion of modern times", by the way, was Northern Dancer.

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