Monday, October 31, 2016

Tech Puzzler!

Eli 15.2 has a Dell laptop from his old school, running Windows 8.1

This morning, when he booted it up, he got a "Preparing Automatic Repair" message with the Windows logo above it.

He let it run, but it never completed.

Whenever he boots up, he sees the same screen and the same endless loop that never completes.

I'm able to get into the BIOS and run hardware diagnostics, which show that the hardware is fine.

Difficulty: there's no CD drive in this system, and I don't have an external CD drive. He didn't get a Windows CD with the system, anyway. So I can't just boot to the CD/USB drive and reinstall Windows. No floppy drive, either.

There are Google guides on fixing these, but they all talk about getting into an advanced boot option menu. I can't get to that, no matter what combination of keys (all function keys tried) or procedures.

Any ideas are appreciated.

Fall Colors in Michigan

In Michigan right by our house, actually:

And here's the view through our storm door:

Leaves are falling at the rate of 15-20 a minute from those two trees (combined).

Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 Halloween Costume Count!

You guys know the drill: send me a spreadsheet with a list of costumes (and quantities) from trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I'll compile all the results, along with a map of where all the respondents live.

I always enjoy this and hope you do, too.

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is just fantastic: Peludópolis: A Lost Animated Film. Next, and this is an excellent video, it's Hiding in Plane Sight: Craftsmanship and Design: Fluxible 2013.

From Wally, and this is very clever: Proofreader's Marks. Next, and this guy is brilliant, because it's a guaranteed way to advance his skill level quickly: This artist watched a movie a day for a year and drew them all. Just wait for it: Toot toot. These guys should have just been named "The Tall Guard": Old Guard. Free issues, and if this is an area of interest, this is a happy day for you: Wargame Design Magazine (free downloads). If you've never read anything about WWII (and post-war) rationing, prepare to be stunned: Rationing in the United Kingdom. These pictures are just incredible: Eryri yn yr hydref // Snowdonia in autumn.

From C. Lee, and I wondered about this: The Impossibly Complex Art of Designing Eyes. Clearly, this is genius: The goose is loose! Video shows off swan smartphone-holder, the ultimate hands-free device.

From Griffin Cheng, and these are utterly beautiful: Japan Hakone Marquetry.

This is quite a story about someone who seems like a genuine guy: Ex-Seahawk Marshawn Lynch is never far from teammates’ memories.

From Roger Robar, and this is both hilarious and very NSFW: State of Georgia Vs. Denver Fenton Allen | Rick and Morty | Adult Swim.

From DF Prosser, and this is amazing: Engineers design ultralow power transistors that could function for years without a battery.

Ending the week with two links. First, a sad but magnificent piece of writing:  The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live. Second, and it's probably not how you remember it:  The Reason For Your Halloween Candy Paranoia.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Ongoing Very Non-Epic Ankle Saga

I've gone through 50-60 hours of intensive rehab (both with therapists and self-directed) on my ankle.

Strength and flexibility are both very good--the equal of my left ankle again--so the therapy has been very effective.

However, I'm still feeling a degree of pain that shouldn't be there if there wasn't any structural damage.

That's what my orthopedist said on Tuesday, anyway, so I'm having an MRI soon to see what's going on in there. At first, I resisted, saying I wanted another month to rehab, but after a 90 minute session at the gym yesterday (that went well), I was just standing by the water fountain and felt kind of a searing pain in my ankle.

Yeah, that's not normal.

Maybe a little arthroscopic procedure can clean some things up. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.


I was talking to a hockey parent yesterday.

His son (Joe) is 11, and Eli 15.2 was in a goalie camp with him this summer.

The dad was discussing how his daughter knew exactly what she wanted to be, but another, older son had no idea.

"What about Joe?" I asked.

"He wants to go into conservation," his Dad said.

"Wow," I said.

"Conservation or veterinary medicine," he said.

"That is very impressive for an eleven-year-old," I said.

"Of course, before that, he wanted to be a ninja," he said.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Eli 15.2 in Motown

One of our good friends from Pittsburgh came to watch Eli 15.2 play in the tournament last weekend, and he's a near-professional photographer. Here are a few pictures;

The Frame, Fatally

This is still one of my favorite games ever: Fatal Frame II Is Still One Of The Scariest Games You Can Play.

There's this emotion I feel when something is genuinely frightening. I can't describe it other than to say it's a kind of internal shudder.

I only feel that very, very rarely. There are years where I don't feel it at all.

When I played Fatal Frame II, though, I felt it constantly. It was incredibly unnerving, and totally thrilling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Quick Hitters

Eli 15.2 had something different on his plate last night. He commented after dinner when he put his plate up.

"What was that weird orange concoction you tried to force on me?"

"Butternut squash," Gloria said.

"Not on my watch, buddy," he said.

Eli was on the way to the rink, wearing his dress clothes (as they do whenever they go to a rink for a game). "My half-Windsor is ON POINT!" he said.

I still have to do all my ankle rehab when we're on the road, like we were Thursday-Sunday last week. There's one exercise where I put an elastic loop around both forefeet, then walk sideways (to strengthen my hips).

It hurts. It's also very, very slow.

The only place I could do it in the hotel room was in the little corridor between the beds and the wall. Ever so slowly, I moved sideways, crossing right in front of Eli, who was relaxing on a bed.

I made a sound.

Eli said "What was that?"

"Doppler effect."


We were at Panera Bread for dinner on Saturday night, and I got a bowl of soup.

Eli sat across from me, eating.

"Look," I said, and bumped the table. Ripples extended from the soup's center. I waited a few seconds, then did it again. "Jurassic Park!"

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fighting Eleven #8: A Complete Design

I finally came up with something last Thursday about the design that resolves my biggest remaining problem.

I mentioned this last week, but briefly, it was an issue with trying to create a meaningful upgrade system for the player cards.

I was focusing on player-level upgrades, with speed/strength/skill as the three categories, but progressing from one level to the next was very mathematical (+5% speed, for example, which corresponds to an X% reduction in yardage).

Dead end.

For some reason, though, something finally chipped loose.

Here's what I'm doing now. At the end of each season for a card, if they have upgrade points (gained from being actually used in a game), the user can choose either a player-level upgrade or a play-level strategy upgrade.

The player-level upgrade is what I discussed last week. For the play-level strategy upgrade, let's walk through an example.

I have a linebacker with upgrade points, and I choose the strategy upgrade. One of those upgrades--for a linebacker--will be "Blitz", so let's work with that.

When I play that linebacker, if I choose to do so, I can activate the "Blitz" ability. That will reduce the yards gained by a much greater amount than the player-level upgrade can (because it's at the team level, so it's more powerful).

However, every defensive strategic upgrade has a counter. So if the offensive card played by the user has the correct counter (in this case, it would be "Screen Pass"), then the offense gets a much bigger yardage bonus.

So there are two layers of upgrades: a fairly straight mathematical bonus, or a rock-paper-scissors attack which has a counter.

How does this all work in the game? When you're about to play a card (remember, user and AI cards are played simultaneously), you can activate either one of the bonuses (if you have both a player level bonus and a play level bonus available).

This adds some additional layers of strategy to card play, and I think they're interesting layers, too. If you want to build a team that plays in a particular style (blitz heavy, air attack offense, etc.), you can get specific play upgrades that support that style. So different teams with different upgrades will play differently , as they should.

There are some other possibilities, too, and here's a brief look.

I'm also thinking about adding "team" experience points as a pool that the user can use on any player. So if your team outperforms during the season, or in specific situations, that can earn universal experience points in addition to player-specific points.

In the offseason, you can supplement individual player experience points by dipping into the universal pool.

How can that be meaningful? Well, it is very meaningful if you can add an additional bonus by position if all players at that position have certain upgrades.

Here's an example. You have two linebacker cards, and let's say that if you get the "Blitz" upgrade for both of them, you activate the "Sack Attack" bonus, which gives the card additional power. So you might spend your universal experience points to chase these "chained" bonus.

Or something like that. It lives you lots of decisions and lots to chew on.

I very much like how this could play out in the game. Depending on field position, score, and cards remaining, there will be situations where you don't want to use the play bonuses, because they're more risky. In other situations, you'll absolutely use the play upgrade because you're desperate to stop a drive, etc.

That's pretty much it, for now. I think that gets me to a point where I can essentially lock down the game design and call it complete.

The Blur

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the creative process and how it works, mostly because I've been stuck on parts of the Fighting Eleven design.

Life is chopped into a thousand pieces up here. Not in a bad way, because Eli 15.2 is doing great, so all the workouts and driving and arrangements are part of the scaffolding he needs to climb up, but it's chewed up my work schedule so thoroughly that it's unrecognizable.

Oh, and also in the "worth it" category: Eli's team got beat 5-0 by the #4 team in the country at a tournament last weekend, but they beat the #8 team in the country 3-2 to get there.

Anyway, what I've noticed is that my expectations for what I can reasonably create have had to change to reflect the current situation. So I think about the design of the game as much as I can, even if it's only for a few seconds, hoping to shake something loose.

I've never done it like that before, but I think it's possible for it to work (and it has, as I'll explain in the next post).

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Links!

From Wally, and this is some serious nostalgia: Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum. Next, and this is beautiful, it's The Moroccan town drenched in blue. Well, this is something, all right: Bdellovibrio, the cannibalistic drug coming to humanity’s rescue. Anyone who has cats will not be surprised by this: How much do cats actually kill?  If you ever wanted to make a human skull prop, it's your luckiest day ever: Corpsing A Skull Fast & Cheap! Dr. Deadsoil. Next, and you can spend a long, long time fiddling with this, it's myNoise™.net Custom-shaped Online Noise Machines.

From Craig Miller, and this is absolutely fantastic: Borrowed Time.

From Brian Witte, and these images are amazing: 2016 Nikon Small World Finalists. Also amazing: The Swedish Pompeii Project.

From Griffin Cheng, and this a very interesting read: How to Ship a Panda.

From C. Lee, and this is entirely lovely: La Maison en Petits Cubes short film. Here's an excellent interview with a Nobel Prize winner: Direct Talk: Science for Survival Venki Ramakrishnan. Next, and this is an absolutely fascinating read on multiple levels: How an Ad Campaign Made Lesbians Fall in Love with Subaru.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask a Developer (Garret Rempel, Part Two)

Today, part two of the Q&A with Garret Rempel. Here we go.

How has the game changed during playtesting? How long did the playtest last?
The details of the game have changed significantly during playtesting, but not dramatically, and the final product is very much in line with my original vision, though greatly polished and refined in its implementation.

The original design was much less flexible than the final product. First, you could only take a single action, and then you could take several actions but only in a specific order. But those limitations prevented achieving the objective of complexity within a simple framework. In the end most of the changes made were removing restrictions and simplifying rules.

The playtest period started in July of 2016, and ended late-September – nearly 3 full months of introducing the game to new players, listening to feedback, and making revisions. And this is after spending the better part of 2 months doing initial design and experimentation work before introducing other players to the game.

How did you handle the process of getting your game to market?
The plan for getting Flipped Off! to market is a series of stages. Because I was primarily doing this for my own entertainment, I didn’t need to have a distribution deal in place or a publisher to whom I would sell it. Also, not having the dedicated following like the Oatmeal or Cyanide & Happiness, I was quite aware that there was no way to have a fraction of the success that Exploding Kittens had on Kickstarter.

So the plan was to start small, develop interest, and grow if the demand was there. As a result, Flipped Off! is being offered as a low-cost print & play product. Anyone can purchase the print package online for a token contribution which will give them access to production-quality PDF files that they can print or manufacture themselves according to their budget. The print package also comes with additional PDF files and instructions for submitting to Print & Play Games to produce a one-off manufactured prototype. This option is much more expensive than self-printing on cardstock or mass production, but the result is a fully manufactured copy of the game.

If the game develops a following, and there is interest from the print & play market for doing an actual mass-produced print run then the plan will be to fund it through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The advantage of doing it this way, is that they game has already been completed, tested, and is market-ready. There is no risk to running a crowd-funding campaign and ended up with an incomplete or failed product. Crowd funding would only be used to cover the print cost, with a target level that would ensure enough copies are printed to take advantage of mass production discounts.

How do you handle marketing? How much time have you devoted to marketing versus design/development time (in hours, if you know)?
Marketing is a tricky thing, especially since this is a self-funded project with a budget of zero. So I decided to take a three-channel approach to marketing: social media, established online entities, and local outreach.

Social media is primarily conducted through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. By reaching out, making connections to other social media entities, that provides one channel for people to discover my company (Tricorn Games) and Flipped Off! Social media excels at making connections, and by focusing on establishing relationships (as opposed to pushing product), there is a better chance for information to spread.

The second channel is approaching and engaging with online entities including places like Board Game Geek, Reddit, Kotaku, Table Top Gaming News, etc. This can happen by submitting news stories for publication, but more importantly by engaging with the built-in communities of followers that these type of sites cultivate. By engaging on a personal level, communicating, asking for feedback, providing constructive input, and being a member of these communities, you are more likely to engage successfully than shouting into the darkness.

The last channel is local outreach. As a general rule, local game shops are (shockingly!) interested in games! They are wonderful places to go, hang out, try new things, meet new people, and spread interest. Game shops often also have space for playing games or organize events to bring gamers together based on a mutually shared interest. These are great places to go to engage with the people who are most likely to introduce other people to the hobby. That, and its fun!

What is the release date of your game and the price? Where can people buy it?
Flipped Off! is available on October 20th, 2016 for purchase online at which will get you a full production-quality print package in 8.5”x11” format for printing at home, as well as 18”x24” format plus instructions for printing with Print & Play Games as well as alternate printing recommendations if you only want to print the critical components and use other generic pieces you having lying around for markers & tokens.

The download price is $1.99 CAD (~$1.51 USD) for the complete package.

If you choose to print the complete package at home, paper plus toner / ink costs will cost you under $6 to print on cardstock using a laserjet printer, and even less if you choose to print only the critical components.

What is your next project?
We currently have 4 new projects in the works which have not all been announced. But our next project is a kids’ card game with artwork by Fredrik Skarstedt called Go Fish Fitness that combines Go Fish with fun exercises that you can inflict upon the other players in the game by making a match.

We are also hoping to run a Flipped Off! Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign in the new year. Please keep an eye on Tricorn Games or @TricornGames on Twitter, tricorngames on Instagram or on Facebook for future updates.

Nintendo Switch

I think this is very, very slick:
Here's Your First Look At The Nintendo Switch, Nintendo's Next Console.

They're not going to have any problem selling this (in March of 2017, when it launches).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ask A Developer (Garret Rempel, Part One)

Here's a new feature for you guys. It's called "Ask a Developer", and it's a series of questions to explain and understand how developers work, in addition to giving them a space to pitch their new game.

I teased Garret that the next version of "Ask a Developer" is going to be called "Ask a Developer: 100 Words or Less", so that the hook is every answer has to be 100 words or less. But his answers are so thoughtful that I know you'll enjoy reading the extended version of this feature.

Describe your game in one paragraph.
Flipped Off! is a tactical card game for 2-5 players where you play a plotting Mastermind aiming to defeat your rivals and seize victory. You must manage your Minions - the Pirates, Ninjas, and Robots that do your bidding, play Actions that can improve your situation or wreak havoc with your enemies, and use your cards to launch attacks and hope that your rivals can’t turn the cascade of results to their own advantage.

What were your objectives (max three) with the original design?
My primary objective for this game was based around using a flip mechanic – where cards in play have a different effect on each side of the card, and when it is activated the card flips, changing its effect – and putting this mechanic into the hands of the players.

My other two objectives were to emphasize organic complexity (depth), by using a simple set of rules that could be combined in many different ways to produce a great deal of variation. And to keep the game both quick and fluid, by limiting the number of actions each player can take on their turn and also allowing other players to be involved with each turn. During each turn a player has 4 actions they can take (draw a card, play an action, swap a minion, and attack) but they must also choose between playing it safe and keeping control of what happens on their turn (not attacking, playing a passive action) or taking a risk (attacking, playing an aggressive action) by allowing another player to take an active part in the turn - but gambling that they could get a much bigger benefit by doing so at the risk of having the tables turned on them.

What distinguishes your game? 

Flipped Off! plays like a cross between Fluxx (draw a card, play a card) and Magic: The Gathering. Its distinguishing feature is that using your Minions to attack other players can cause a chain reaction – allowing that player to attack another, and so on. But how that chain progresses is under the control of the player who was attacked. This can quickly allow all players to be directly involved in every turn, but it opens up opportunities for clever players to turn the tables on their attacker and to try and turn any move to their advantage.

This can lend a feeling of Russian Roulette – that the simple act of taking your turn can go very, very badly. It means that players have to carefully consider how they approach the game, balancing a cautious approach of playing defensively and playing not to lose, against being aggressive and looking to manipulate the board to their advantage in order to force a combo with big rewards.

How long does it take to play?
For a 4 player game 15-30 minutes once you are familiar with the Advanced Rules, up to an hour if you’re just learning. The Beginner’s Rules by themselves take a little longer to play because it limits the wild, complex cascade effects that can happen with the Advance Rules. A 2 player game can take as little as 5-10 minutes.

What are your strongest gaming influences?
That is a difficult question to answer, both because there are so many, but also because it is hard to separate games I’ve enjoyed from ones that were truly influential, but the most influential would have to be Chess. As a player, I am not good at the game. I can play well if I spend the time to think hard about my moves, but I prefer to play quickly and recklessly, and make lots of mistakes. What was influential about Chess though is in its concept and its implementation. Small board, limited number of pieces each with a very limited set of options, yet it could produce such a beautiful conflict between two players. That such a simple game could produce endless variation and replayability was huge. It led to my discovery of real-time strategy games on the computer (Warcraft, Age of Empires, Starcraft, Command & Conquer, etc, etc, etc.) which live in the same space. Generally they are more complicated than chess, but the endless variations mean they are still among my favourites.

What are your best gaming memories?
It took me a long time to understand that my best memories about gaming – have nothing really to do with the games themselves. My best memoires are always about the people that I played with, and that the game was simply the setting. There are a few exceptions where I have been surprized or in awe of something a game has done (Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Mass Effect stick out), but the best times are the ones that involve people. Learning to play checkers with my grandfather, mapping dungeons with my father, the gleam in the eye of a notoriously evil dungeon master, and the groan of my coworker around a Settlers board when I drop the mic by flipping a victory point off the top of the dev card pile to win it… for the third game in a row.

People make the best gaming memories.

Who is your favorite designer, and why?
There are any number of designers that I quite appreciate and respect both from the realm of computer games and from tabletop games, but I have to give it to Bruce Shelley for Age of Empires. Between the chess-like strategic gameplay, the innovative take on historical education, and the simple elegance with which it is presented. The game was able to provide a platform that could produce strategic complexity, it could be used to form a narrative, and it also connected with the human experience on a historical scale. It was an accomplishment that surpassed its flaws. Add onto that fact that he was also involved with the Civilization franchise and Railroad Tycoon (both of which were favourites of mine as well) he would have to be my favourite.

What game have you played for the most hours? Why?
If I consider game series, then I would be hard pressed to choose between Warcraft, Starcraft, Age of Empires, Civilization, Elder Scrolls, Baldur’s Gate/Neverwinter Nights, and Diablo.

On the tabletop, Dungeons and Dragons wins hands-down for sheer time investment, but Settlers of Catan (and its spinoffs), Cribbage, and Scrabble are also high on my list.

But the single game I have played for the most number of hours (excepting D&D) is Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings for all the reasons I mentioned above in regards to Bruce, but also because I worked on a site called Age of Kings Battlefield during the late 90s / early 2000s which was built around an active, dedicated, and friendly community of forum users. The strength of the Battlefield was the community and as a result there were many, many late nights of playing Age of Kings with people that I considered friends.

What is your design process? What would you consider the foundation of your process?
My design process always starts with a single idea. It could be a mechanic, a concept, a theme, or a combination of two elements, and it always comes to me in the form of “I like X, but what if?”. I like to take one element and then build upon it in my own way – following a series of decisions, pulling in unrelated elements from elsewhere to include, until I have something complete.

One of the earliest projects that I worked on with friends was fixing Axis & Allies. The mechanics of Axis & Allies was intriguing, but the static board and setup made the actual game a tedious slog (in my opinion). So we started by redrawing the map, and creating a fantasy world on which to play. Then because the static setup wasn’t fun, we created a simple purchase guideline for claiming territory and buying units to start the game using Risk as a model. Suddenly we had a brand new game, with all the strategy and fun parts of A&A, with a dynamic structure that allowed every game we played to be different and exciting.

In my current project Flipped Off!, I started with an interesting mechanic as a foundation – the card flip. The central component of the game would be flipping cards to affect the other players, and that each card would have different effects on each side of the card. That way a player had to weigh in the balance the effect a card would have by flipping, but also the potential impact that could occur by exposing the opposite side.

The rest of the game was built up from that one idea, and it was done by asking questions and then answering them. If cards are flipping – what kind of cards are they? Are there other kinds of cards in the game? How many times can a card flip? Can you flip other player’s cards? Can you protect a card from being flipped? How many different kinds of flippable cards are there? Are opposite sides of a card complementary, or do they have opposite or divergent effects? What kind of theme do the cards have? How does the theme relate to the effects on the cards?

The list of questions is long, but by writing down questions as I thought of them allowed me to revisit that list at any time and answer those questions. As the list of answers grew longer, the game began to take shape in my mind and the rules became clearer until I have the end product that you see today.

How do you handle design paralysis? What do you do to move forward?
Perfect is the enemy of good – better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.

From my experience as a software developer and consultant, projects are more consistently successful when you are aiming to produce and refine, than to perfect and deliver. By approaching a project with the aim to deliver something that is useable, no matter how flawed, and plan to revise and iterate to improve it – you will end up with a better product than if you spend twice as much time designing it first. The reason this is true is that usually the client doesn’t know what they need until they have the chance to try something and decide that it doesn’t meet their needs!

This works just as well for game design, I built something based on what I thought I wanted, making arbitrary decisions (or ignoring something entirely) if I didn’t know which would be best, and then I played it. Only once I could experience how a decision worked in practice, was I able to understand what I didn’t like about it, and how it could be changed to be better than it was.

When you are paralyzed by choice, the answer is simple – not necessarily easy – but simple. Do anything, and don’t fear the consequences of messing up. This is easier if you plan to mess up in the first place. Understand before you start that you will get things wrong, and you will get them wrong quite a lot. Don’t be afraid of failure, if something doesn’t work – learn why it didn’t work, and try again.

Fighting Eleven #7: Meaningful choices

I'm stuck.

There's going to be a skill tree (or skill web, perhaps) for your players (cards) in F11. When you first recruit your player, he has four visible qualities:
--offensive yardage number (if you play the card when you have the ball)
--defensive yardage number (if you play the card when the opponent has the ball)
--positive quality (which could modify yardages, or cause turnovers, etc.)
--negative quality (could reduce yardages, etc.)

Your players are going to change each year, which means their "qualities" will be modified, and how much they change depends on how often you play them. So if they're inactive for a game, they don't get any experience. The more experience they get, and the more positive things that happen when they're played (like TD's on offense, or turnovers on defense), the more points you have to direct toward improvement each offseason.

Now, the tricky part.

I want these points to be available for purchasing upgrades, but I want the upgrades to be more interesting than "5% more yards" or something like that.

It's brutally difficult to do, though.

It's possible to distill ratings for players into three major categories: speed, strength, and intelligence. Almost any possible rating is some combination of those three attributes, so using them as the foundation makes sense.

As I dig into this, though, it's very hard to make upgrades seem unique.

If a player gets faster, they should gain more yards on more offense and close more quickly on defense, which reduces yards. Strength should break tackles and improve ball security (it's a mirror of those on defense). Intelligence should increase yardage on offense (better recognition of the defense, better instincts on hitting holes) and decrease yardage on defense (not biting on play fakes or receiver routes, etc.).

That's all way, way too similar.

This upgrade system is one of the critical components of the game, because playing a static card is boring and repetitive. Playing a card that lives and breathes and changes in meaningful ways is entirely different, and would be so much more interesting.

I think I have an interesting, engaging design for recruiting. Making the player cards dynamic and meaningful is the key to making the on-field action interesting, and I know I can work through the design issues.

I haven't done it yet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Things and Other Things

Hmm, so apparently that chipmunk picture I posted yesterday is a "ground squirrel". Google needs to brush up on its chipmunk identification as well.

I will say this, though: chipmunks are adorably cute. Even if you don't like cute things as a rule, they're just off the chart. I assume this is consolation when their network of burrowing tunnels destroys your lawn.

This was an actual conversation from yesterday.

I walked into the house and Gloria (5'4", 105 lbs.) was patting her stomach.

"Is your stomach okay?" I asked. "Also, 'It would be if it wasn't so big' is not an acceptable answer."

She laughed.

"I'm starting to think that our bedroom mirror is misleading me," she said. "I'm much thinner in the upstairs mirror than the downstairs mirror. Will you go look at both and tell me which one is more accurate?"

"F--- no," I said, and she burst out laughing. "I will never, NEVER do that. I will jump into a waiting plane and parachute to safety before I even consider looking at those mirrors."

I am strongly in favor of a new law that restricts the size of the mirror that women can use to ruthlessly examine their appearance. If I was President, my first action would be to decree that mirrors could no longer be larger than 6" x 4". Using a full length mirror?

That's prison time.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nature Newsflash: Squirrels do not have short tails


This is a chipmunk. We had never seen a chipmunk before, except in cartoons.

"Hey, that baby squirrel was hanging out on the porch," I said. "That's really cute."

"I think that's a short-tailed squirrel," Gloria said.

"Is that a thing?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she said. "I think so."

Yes, we need to brush up on our chipmunk identification skills. It's embarrassing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Links!

From C. Lee, and it's a fascinating read: George Kennan’s Love of Russia Inspired His Legendary “Containment” Strategy. This is an absolutely fantastic piece of history: The Redacted Testimony That Fully Explains Why General MacArthur Was Fired. Here's an interesting look at the future: Look, no claims!: Self-driving cars are set radically to change motor insurance. This is very cool: Life, as seen through 73,732 digital photographs. We discussed this a few weeks ago: Japanese idol group member misses performance after misreading train station kanji.

When one paper on raccoon-dog feces just isn't enough: Emperor's latest paper on raccoon-dog feces published.

From Wally, and it's very charming: The magpie that saved a family. This is quite fantastic: The rise and rise of tabletop gaming. These are quite beautiful: The Mystery of the Phantom Page Turner. This is quite interesting: Roman Times and Dates. This is a terrific read: The Pleads Of The Many: 50 Years of Star Trek Lawsuits. I had no idea: How a Board Game Helps DoD Win Real Battles. These are both clever and quite a portal into the past: 11 Amazing Home Front Posters From The Second World War.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is both amusing and awesome: Man unwittingly attempts to rob big-time college runners. A big mistake.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is fascinating:  Why Americans and the British Spell English Words Differently.

From Brett Harper, and this is an absolutely mesmerizing read: SPEAK, MEMORY: When her best friend died, she rebuilt him using artificial intelligence.

From Steven Davis, and this is just fantastic: Salvador Dali’s Rare Surrealist Cookbook Republished for the First Time in over 40 Years. Next, and this is amazing, it's World's Largest Ship Elevator Opens at Three Gorges Dam in Central China. Next, how pop-up books are designed: Engineering the Perfect Pop. I can confirm that these are very, very good: Honeycrisp was just the beginning: inside the quest to create the perfect apple.

From Sean McIlroy, and this is hypnotic to watch: Eruptions, Earthquakes and Emissions.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sunrise in Grand Rapids

Sick Burns and Frogmore Stew (your email)

Lide sent in this note about yesterday's food memories post:
In the Carolinas, that is called Frogmore Stew, or Low Country Boil.  I'm sure it has other regional names as well.  it's awesome, and flexible enough to feed a small family or a small army.

Now, on to some sick burns.

Scott sent in an e-mail about Diogenes, who was apparently the Dorothy Parker of his ear. These are from the Wikipedia page:
He once destroyed his only possession, a wooden bowl, after seeing a boy drink water from his cupped hands. He commented "Fool that I am, to have been carrying superfluous baggage all this time!" He would walk around carrying a lamp in the daytime and when people would ask him what he was doing, he would tell them he was looking for an honest man (or perhaps just a human, implying that most people didn't use reason.) Plato described Diogenes as "a Socrates gone mad." and when Plato taught that Socrates defined man as a "featherless biped" Diogenes mockingly plucked a chicken, brought it to the Academy shouting "Behold! I have brought you a man!"

This is even better:
Alexander the Great met the famed philosopher in Corinth and asked if there was anything he could do for Diogenes. Diogenes replied, "Yes, stand out of my sunlight". Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." Another version of the story has Alexander coming across Diogenes while he's looking in a pile of bones. Diogenes explained, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave."

Alexander the Great apparently appreciated a sick burn, even if he was the target.

Winston Churchill had some great, sick burns. Here's one when he was verbally sparring with Lady Astor:
"Sir, if you were my husband, I'd poison your drink," said Lady Astor.

Churchill responded " Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

Next, a burn by an unlikely source: Mohandas Gandhi.
"What do you think of Western civilization?" a reporter asked.

"I'm all for it," Gandhi replied.

Richard Nixon once called Pierre Trudeau an asshole. "I've been called worse things by better men," Trudeau said.

Finally, my favorite sick burn artist of all time--Dorothy Parker. This was her review of an actress in a Broadway play: She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sick Burns (Update)

C. Lee sent in the sickest of burns from Gilgamesh, which was written around 2000 B.C.

Gilgamesh spurns the marriage proposal of the Goddess of Love, Ishtar:
You are the door through which the cold gets in. You are the fire that goes out. You are the pitch that sticks to the hands of the one who carries the bucket. You are the house that falls down. You are the shoe that pinches the foot of the wearer. The ill-made wall that buckles when time has gone by. The leaky water skin soaking the water skin carrier.

From a Long Distance

We were driving home from practice. Just went by a Pizza Hut.

"Hey, I want to eat there some night," I said. "I want to try out those lemon pepper boneless wings."

"Ugh," Eli 15.2 "Not Pizza Hut!" He's a dedicated (and frequent) Papa John's consumer. "Why do you want to go there? Who eats lemon pepper anything?"

To answer that question, I had to think a little.

It has to do with my father, and my pleasant memories of being with him, of which there are only two.

Oddly, they both involve food.

Once, he drove down to Corpus Christi and took me for a weeklong beach fishing trip with his new family and another family he was close to in Louisiana. Including me, seven people in all.

I loved fishing, and I really enjoyed being on the beach. That enjoyment, though, was always strained through the sad fact that my father was generally an asshole, so almost none of the happiness I felt was undiluted.

After fishing one day, we cleaned the fish, and my father heated up a giant pot of oil while dunking the fillets in a mix of flour and lemon pepper. Lots of lemon pepper.

It was easily the best fish I'd ever tasted, the lemon pepper giving off a distinctly sharp but very pleasant flavor. I never stopped moving on the beach, so I was always hungry, and this made everything taste even better.

Since then, whenever I hear of anything that's lemon pepper flavored, I'm always inclined to give it a try.

The other memory is in a similar vein--same trip--and it involves shrimp boil.

If you've never used shrimp boil, it's a little pre-made bag of spices that you dump into a pot of boiling water when you cook shrimp or crawfish, and it makes whatever you're cooking spicy and hot.

Hot like mouth-burning hot.

So we boiled shrimp, but also threw in chunks of potato and half ears of corn, and when it was done, it was amazing. The potatoes and corn tasted even better than the shrimp, and I'd never seen anyone cook them that way. Delicious and oh-so-hot, so much so that my mouth was burning for at least an hour after I was done.

That's why I'll go to Pizza Hut soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Like I mentioned yesterday, we were in Chicago for hockey last weekend, and we went down to the hotel buffet Sunday morning.

Occasionally, when we're feeling particularly regal, we will order off the menu instead of getting the buffet.

I had my eye on some mini-waffles that were not available in the buffet, so I ordered them off the menu, along with a side of bacon.

When the bacon arrived, it looked absolutely delicious, with exactly the right amount of crisp.

"Hey, you need to try a piece of this bacon," I said, nodding to the plate that had just been delivered.

Eli 15.2, a big fan of bacon, nodded and took a piece. We both roughly took a bite of our respective pieces of bacon at the same time.

"Ugh," I said.

"That's just--not," Eli said.

"What kind of carcass did they get this from?" I asked, and Eli started laughing.

"Man, that looked like real bacon," I said, "not Universal Buffet Bacon."

"That's it!" Eli said. "It tastes exactly the same."

And so it did.

If you eat at enough hotels in the hockey hotel class, you'll eat at many, many breakfast buffets. And even though this hotels are owned by many different companies, their bacon all tastes exactly the same.

Good bacon has a sweet note, a lightness. Universal Buffet Bacon, in contrast, has multiple bitter notes and a harsh, almost burned, flavor, even if it looks perfectly done.

What's so distinct about this bacon is that I've never tasted it anywhere but in a hotel buffet. Not once in a standalone restaurant, not in my entire life, has bacon ever tasted like it does in a hotel lobby.

The mini-waffles, however, were excellent.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sick Burns: A Historical Survey Request

I can't stand to watch Presidential debates, because I find them extremely stressful.

I do, however, enjoy all the sick burns on Twitter while the debates are happening.

I won't quote any of these burns, because--depending on your voting preference--you might feel The Rage Of One Thousand Suns®. It did, however, spark a discussion.

"So I'm wondering," I said, "who had the first sick burn?"

"Probably Jesus," Eli 15.2 said. "Plenty of sick burns in the New Testament." That's true. You could make a strong argument for Job, Chapter 38, as a tremendously sick burn, probably calling for immediate medical attention.

Shakespeare was quick with the sick burn as well, but he came much later.

So here's the question: what's the first sick burn? How far back does this go?

Not Even Sure How

Gloria was sitting at a restaurant when she turned, bumped against a chair, and her glasses fell off, along with two other pairs she had at an unknown location.

Good lord, you're a glasses piñata," I said.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Friday Links!

From Wally, and wow, this is amazing: Rise Of LETRONS (Official Video). Next, and this is excellent, it's The Illyrian alphabet that wasn’t: how two centuries of European printers circulated an imaginary Balkan script. This is going to be a big deal, and soon: Some Like It Bot: Algorithms are getting better at entertaining us.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific interview: The Feeling of Cinematic Beauty Shunji Iwai. Next, a fascinating story: D-day landings put at risk by double-agent's homesick wife. This is simply incredible: New “Artificial Synapse” Gets Closer to Mimicking Brain Connections. Next, and this is fascinating: The ugly truth behind those “cute baby bird” Internet memes: Birds are buying alligator protection using baby bird sacrifice. This is an absolutely fantastic read: Why so many of America’s sushi restaurants are owned by Chinese immigrants.

From Griffin Cheng, and now we all know: Speaking "Star Trek": Meet the Man Who Made Up the Klingon Language. Also, and I guessed this correctly, it's What Is Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play? Next, and this is quite interesting: Debunking the Myth of the ‘Real’ Robinson Crusoe.

From 3Suns, and this is so bizarre: A Health Benefit of Roller Coasters.

From Steven Davis, and these are amazing images: A “Quick Perspective” on the Scale of the Manmade and Natural Marvels That Surround Us. Next, and this is an absolutely fascinating article, it's High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is a magnificent piece of writing: BUFFALO: ALSO KNOWN AS THE AMERICAN BISON.

From David Yellope, and this is remarkable: Greenland's receding icecap to expose top-secret US nuclear project.

From Bryan B., and this is quite a story: Mystery man who turned in 9/11 flag steps forward, explains.

From Rob Funk, and this is excellent: The spy who liked me: Britain’s changing secret service.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is entirely fun: MLB's code is clear: Flip your bat and you'll pay. But in South Korea, flips are an art.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

About What You'd Expect

In Eli 15.2s Science class this week, they measured reaction times.

Oh yeah, you can see where this is going.

The teacher explained that the limit of human reaction speed is .1 seconds. Below that, it's considered a false start in track because it's not possible to react more quickly.

They used what's commonly called the Reaction Time Ruler Test. Here's a description from the link:
The person to be tested stands or sits near the edge of a table, resting their elbow on the table so that their wrist extends over the side. The assessor holds the ruler vertically in the air between the subject's thumb and index finger, but not touching. Align the zero mark with the subjects fingers. The subject should indicate when they are ready. Without warning, release the ruler and let it drop - the subject must catch it as quickly as possible as soon as they see it fall. Record in meters the distance the ruler fell. Repeat several times (e.g. 10 times) and take the average score.

What was Eli's reaction time, based on this test?


In another version, his time was so  low that the teacher told the student tester that he must be doing it wrong. So he walked over and did the testing himself, and Eli got the exact same result.

That's why just having a high level of technique in a sport isn't enough, because you must also have enough time to use the technique. That's why players always talk about the game "slowing down" when they're dialed in, because their reaction time is so good on that particular day that it gives them extra time to react.

Even a hundredth of a second is a substantial difference at a high level.

I did a goofy online test (here) and could consistently get in the .21-.23 range (although this is probably more accurate, and I was getting in the .25-.27 range). I'm going to ask Eli to take one of these and I'll let you know the results.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Ankle, and the Past

Because it's appropriate (thanks, Brian Witte): Louis CK - Incurable Shitty Ankle.

That's not what I have--for now, at least.

Spending an hour and a half at the gym doing 2/3 rehab exercises sucks, to put it mildly. The best part about workouts is that I can zone out for long stretches, but there's no zoning out when you're doing rehab exercises. Plus, you're always conscious of the weak part of your body, so it's hard to relax.

I know the rehab is working, because my range of motion is getting much better, but the soreness is pretty high to make progress this quickly.

Now, on to a story.

I noticed something today while I was at the YMCA.

There's an employee there that Eli 15.2 and I call the "Form Policeman", because she's always dropping by and offering suggestions (some of which are right--some, a bit dubious).

I was sitting on a bench doing ankle alphabets (hell is full of ankle alphabets) near the end of the workout, and I was exhausted.

She sat down quietly beside me.

"I'm going to have you sit up straighter," she said.

I didn't even realize she was there until she spoke, and I looked up. She's a bit older than me, but her face is still bright and she seems kind of mischievous.

In this tiny moment, I realized that at one time, she was a lovely woman.

When I was young, it was easy for me to appreciate my future. Now, my future is appreciating the future of others. In exchange for that loss, though, I can now appreciate the past.

For most of my life, I would have looked and just seen an old woman. To look at her and see who she once was is a good thing, I think, and I'm glad I can do it now.

I hope that someday people will do that when they look at me.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Possibly Convenient

As I was writing the previous post, I needed to insert a trademark symbol, and stumbled on an easy way to do so.

If you're running Windows, you should be able to press the Alt key, and while holding it down, enter "0153" on the numeric keypad. That will insert a Trademark symbol.

Copyright? The code for that is "0174".

Well, This is Something

Here's a long article about Star Citizen:The 24-Year Feud That Has Dogged Star Citizen.

It's quite stunning, really, because of this e-mail exchange: Customer Support.

There are so many emails that I'm not going to quote them, although you can read them all at the link. I will say, though, as someone who has actually been in Customer Service at the managerial level, that I have never seen a more staggeringly unprofessional manner. It's incredible that a company, let alone a company that has gathered over 115 million dollars in funding from its backers, could ever act in this way.

So let me say this: Star Citizen is never going to be anything but a high concept train wreck. Why do I say this? Because the Customer Service emails indicate a company that is so out of control, so clueless, that it indicates severe and terminal difficulties behind the scenes.

Those are not the kinds of emails healthy companies send.

Even if I didn't know about all the other problems (which many other people have analyzed in depth), this would be a gigantic, flaming red flag.

Hey, I still hope I'm wrong. I'd like nothing more than to play The Game To End All Games™.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Car Talk (part two)

Well, that was fun.

I didn't know this, but Eli 15.2 and the other goalie split the game.

Eli played the first half.

15 saves. 0 goals. 0 rebounds.

He looked so precise and so in control. He looked like he had a future.

Of course, harnessing this more frequently is how you get from Point A to Point B, and that's what he's been working on the last few weeks.

Final score? 3-1.

For the weekend, 35 saves on 36 shots.

Car Talk

From lovely Troy Michigan, outside a showcase, a photograph of people photographing themselves:

I'm writing this in in the car, waiting for Eli 15.2s last game of the weekend to start (yes, it's Monday, but the showcase runs Saturday-Monday).

His team won 3-1 with him in goal on Saturday, and he had 20 saves. He also got trucked twice, but stayed in the game and played very well.

Today, they play a Colorado team that is going to be in the bottom half of the top ten nationally, I'm guessing, and they look quite a bit like Eli's team: excellent skaters, not a ton of size, and very sound.

Eli's team plays man-to-man defense, which creates some interesting issues for a goalie. On the positive side, his team has fantastic puck possession numbers, because they are aggressive at all times in terms of attacking the puck when the other team has possession.

The downside, though, is that if anyone busts an assignment on defense, the shot that gets taken is very, very prime. With a zone defense, shots come from predictable areas, with the defense funneling the attack, but with a man defense, shots can come from anywhere and everywhere.

That's going to make him a much better player in the long run, because it's going to condition him to expect chaos, but it's definitely a mental adjustment.

The other adjustment is that at this age, teams rarely play two games in the same day, at least not at showcases. So he played Saturday morning, then his goalie partner played the Sunday game. I worked out with him on Sunday for about 45 minutes, but there's much more sitting around than when he was younger and they usually played two games a day.

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