Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Links!

A little light this week, as usual during the holidays, but some good stuff in here.

Leading off this week, from C. Lee, and if you liked this film as much as I did, it's your lucky day: ‘THE BIG SLEEP’: SEVENTY YEARS SINCE HOWARD HAWKS’ ELECTRIFYING FILM NOIR MASTERPIECE. Also, and this is a fascinating read: India Pale Ales: A history of the authentically global beer.

From DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, the best of holiday traditions: THE STORY OF HOW TWO FRIENDS ELABORATELY RE-GIFTED THE SAME PAIR OF PANTS FOR OVER TWO DECADES.

From Steven Davis, and this is excellent: A Journey To The Bottom Of The Internet: the Monet cable system. Also, and this is spectacular, it's Heirloom Tech: Aineh-Kari Next-Level Mirror Mosaics.

From Wally, and this is so, so clever: The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel. Here's an interesting story about Germany's final WWI offensive: Operation Blücher. One more great read about the Civil War--this time, an auditory analysis: The Sounds of Silence: Acoustic shadows bedeviled commanders on both sides during the war.

From Ken Piper, and this is remarkable: North Carolina's Abandoned 'Wizard of Oz' Theme Park Will Haunt You.

From David Yellope, and this is a fascinating story: The forgotten story of … Jeff Hall, the footballer whose death turned tide against polio.

From Brian Witte, and this is fantastic: The Alien Style of Deep Learning Generative Design.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Paging Roy Batty

The Christmas gift I got for myself, in November, was a PS4 Pro.

We've been so busy, though, that I didn't even hook it up until the night before Eli 15.4 and Gloria went to Austin.

I have an emotional attachment to the Final Fantasy series, particularly FFVII, which was jaw-dropping for its time. FFX was very, very fun. Then I lost the thread.

I was curious about FFXV. The reviews had been a bit puzzling, really, saying that the game was a bit of a mess. That's true of every FF, though--ambitious, flawed, wildly imaginative. So, to launch the Pro, I ordered FFXV on a day when Amazon marked it down to $35 as one of their flash deals.

I'm not sure how long I've played at this point--between five and ten hours--but I can say this with no doubt: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

It's as if forty people sat down, wrote down every cool thing they'd ever seen in a game, and then mixed them all together. It is so over-the-top spectacular that I've just sat there and laughed more than once.

I don't want to even describe what I've seen, because then it would be spoiled for you, but there's certainly a little bit of Shenmue in this game, and those kinds of games lend themselves well to tourism, because there's so much to explore.

Playing this game paying strict attention and getting wound up about the story would probably be a mistake. Playing it as a gaming tourist, just exploring the world, is a wonderful way to play the game, because the sights are jaw-dropping.

It's also entirely amazing how real the game looks. Not all the time, and some areas are more detailed than others, but it's so visually stunning. Plus, and this is true of all my favorite FF games, the unnecessary level of attention to detail is something I truly love.

For example, fishing.

Fishing is not a major part of the game. At least, not for a normal player, but it is for me. And the detail is astonishing--it's the best looking fishing simulator I've ever seen, even on PC. There are also options to turn off the radar so that you're just blissfully fishing in open water with no indicators to guide you.

It's spectacular.

I'm a Prince or something, and I have to fight the bad guys, but I made some decisions. Because I'm a Prince, I'm going to act like an entitled trust fund baby and focus on entirely meaningless side quests entirely for my pleasure. I'm also a dedicated angler, and I fish for as long as I want to, even when my crew complains, because I'm the Prince, damn it.

Story? Don't really care. Let the world save itself this time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Well, Damn It

I ordered a notebook.

I need to be able to develop outside the house. It's frequently too noisy to work during the day, plus we're out of town most weekends for hockey, so I need to be able to be productive anywhere.

Plus, it would be a bonus to be able to game a bit. For research, people!

I've been looking at the Dell XPS 15 for months, but the refresh won't happen until CES in January, and I don't know how long it will be until units start shipping.

Then I saw the Gigabyte Aero 14.

Here are the specs:
Aero 14Wv6-BK4 14" Notebook
QHD IPS display
6th Gen Intel Skylake i7-6700HQ
DDR4 2400 16Gx1 RAM
Win 10

Sexy, huh? A 1060 would work fine with most games at 2560x1440. A blazing fast hard drive. Plenty of RAM.

Price? $1699. But it's a business expense, and even if it wasn't, that's a very reasonable price for those specs.

I ordered last week, and it was delivered yesterday.

I charged up the battery for an hour or so, then turned it on. There were a few brief screens to finish installing Windows, and one screen asked me for my wifi password.

The password is on a piece of paper an arms length from my desk, so I reached over, grabbed the paper, and looked back at the screen.

It was blank.

That's right. Brand new notebook and it can't get through three screens without crashing.

Rebooted. Was able to finish the Windows install this time.

Now, though, my suspicion radar was on full alert.

I downloaded the 3DMark demo to do a stress test. I ran TimeSpy, which, based on reviews I'd read, should wind up with a score of about 3500.

The benchmark hadn't been running for more than two minutes when the fans spun up like a jet engine. The system was so hot that it felt like it would melt through the floor.

Final score? 2375.

I ran it again a few hours later, and this time, with much less fan action, the score was 2950. Still almost 20% below its peers.

Then I ran some system stress tests (not Prime or anything--that would probably melt it) and it seemed to be stable.

All right, I thought. Maybe I can salvage this.

Powered down in Windows--and went to a blank screen, but not off. I could hear the fans running lightly in the background.


I decided to just let it sit there and see what would happen. About twenty minutes later, it lurched back to life. I tried to shut down again, and this time it worked.

I think if I was younger, and had more time, I might be willing to troubleshoot all this crap, but I'm not, and I don't. If something costs $1700, it should work out of the box, and intermittent display issues are notoriously difficult to troubleshoot.

So it's going back, and I guess I'm waiting for the XPS 15 refresh. It doesn't matter if a system has the perfect combination of components if it's only half-baked when it gets released.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Spirit of Giving

We were on the way home from the airport last night.

"Your present came in," I said.

"Seriously?" Eli 14.4 asked. "You've hyped this so much that I'm starting to believe you."

"Every one in a while, a gift goes beyond," I said. "This gift is so far beyond that I can't even describe it."

"Well, hurry up and get home!" Eli said.

Like every kid on earth, he loses several pairs of skate guards a year.

Not anymore:

"I'm speechless," he said. "Those are too perfect for words."

"Those are your backup skate guards now if you lose another pair," I said.

"Backups?" he said. "Who said they were backups?"

Pedals and Good Design

I went to pick up Gloria and Eli 14.4 at the airport last night, and I noticed something interesting.

My Honda Accord Hybrid has an extremely responsive brake pedal. Even a light tap gives you strong braking. The gas pedal is almost the opposite, because it's not nearly as responsive, and you have to mash it to accelerate quickly.

I drove Gloria's car--a Subaru Forrester--to the airport (more room for goalie gear), and as I was reaching a pedestrian crosswalk, the car lurched forward as the engine growled.

If there had been a pedestrian in front of me, I might have hit them. Scared me to death.

The Forrester is the opposite of the Accord in terms of pedals--the gas pedal is highly responsive, while you have to mash down hard on the brakes (compared to the Accord, anyway).

That's dangerous, and here's why.

I was pressing down hard on the brakes, in my boots, and I think part of my boot was also pressing down on the accelerator (different car, different pedal width, etc.).

If I did that in the Accord, almost nothing would happen, because I would be touching the accelerator so lightly that the car wouldn't go forward. With the Forrester, though, I was pressing down hard on the brakes, so the ultra-responsive accelerator getting incidentally pressed lurched the car forward.

Plus, if your foot is just a bit in the wrong place, slamming down on the brake (because the car accelerated unexpectedly to you) could make the car go forward even faster.

That seems like bad design.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Fighting Eleven #12: Results

I wrote an egregious amount of code in the last five days. Not very efficient, or pretty, but boy, there's a lot of it now.

When I'm not getting constant requests for service and a long list I have to complete every day, I make fast progress.

The recruiting module consists of two parts: identify/generate/display recruits, and the recruiting battle.

When recruits are generated, show a player card with the following information:
*Star rating
*Yardage rating
Passive ability
Active ability

The items with an * are complete, with one small hiccup that I'm asking Garret about. I can generate recruits at all positions and they have appropriate names (from an enormous sample), and appropriate heights and weights. The star rating is based on the program rating and reflects accurate historical recruiting patterns for the last ten years.

I've decided that going a hundred miles deep on a minor detail is okay. That's just how I work, and I'm going to stop worrying about it. Inefficient, but satisfying. And it's very satisfying to know that name, height, weight, and star rating are entirely authentic.

Hometown is going to be complicated. The model I'm going to use has basically three areas: home state, adjoining states, and beyond. Programs need to have recruits interested in their program in a geographically accurate manner. I've done a ton of research on this, but it's still in process, so I'm going to shelve that for now and get some less complex things done.

I realized two things that seem like important refinements of the design.

First, I had previously conceived of the game with a pre-defined deck, with (on offense), 2 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, and 1 K.

That doesn't make sense, though, because it limits the development of team personalities through the deck.

Now, except for being required to have 1 QB and 1 K, users can go to town. Want to have a pass-crazy offense? Well, get 4 WR and ignore the running back position, if you want to.

This will also make the AI decks have much more personality, because each team has a "program style" that determines how it will play, and the decks will reflect that.

Much better.

Second, I had originally thought that each yard would have both Offensive and Defensive yardages.

That's kind of stupid, really.

Offensive positions will have offensive yardage only. Defensive positions will have a defensive yardage only. When you're on offense, you play offensive cards, and vice versa.


On a play, you can either choose to play the yardage on the card or activate the card's special ability (if it has one), which puts you into a kind of rock-paper-scissors situation where every special ability has a counter that can be played by the other player.

Eli came up with a new name, because "Fighting Eleven" was never going to make it. So the new name is "Fourth and Goal College Football". Or something like that.

Also it was 50F today. I actually see green spots in the yard.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Links!

Bucking the historical trend around the holidays, we're loaded this week!

Leading off, and you absolutely must see these, it's  This Deep Sea Fisherman Posts His Discoveries on Twitter and OH MY GOD KILL IT WITH FIRE.

From Wally, and this is an excellent read: The Ones That Got Away – Seven of Military History’s Most Incredible Evacuations. Next, and these are very clever, it's 9 SUPERHERO SNOWFLAKE PATTERNS [FREE PRINTABLES]. This is stunning: Silver Swan Clockwork Automaton, with mechanical water. This is terrific: A Sci-Fi Short Film: "The New Politics" - by Joshua Wong.

From Steven Davis, and this is disturbing: Uber said it protects you from spying. Security sources say otherwise. Next, and this is amazing, it's Sculpture Demonstration. This is sobering and interesting: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Battle of Verdun. Next, and this is excellent, it's How you can be good at math, and other surprising facts about learning.

From C. Lee, and this is remarkable: Finding micrometeorites in city gutters: an amateur enthusiast advances planetary science. Boy, the truth hurts: Now, America, You Know How Chileans Felt. Pertinent: How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler: Reports on the rise of fascism in Europe was not the American media's finest hour. Now you know:  How the Tea Bag Was Invented. Next, and this is fascinating, it's The Founder of the Smithsonian Institution Figured Out How to Brew a Better Cup of Coffee. This is fantastic: Heinlein and Clarke discuss the Moon landings as they happen.

From David Yellope, and Grace Hopper was an asskicker: Google Honors Grace Hopper…and a “bug”. Also: Obama honors code pioneers Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton.

From Paul Meyer, and man, this country has a troubling history: Right Choice, Wrong Reasons: Wyoming Women Win the Right to Vote.

From Phil MacGovern, and it's quite surreal that we're in this group, I guess: Families Who Relocate for Sports Prodigies. Not a prodigy, but Eli 15.4 is pretty damn good.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Dan Fitch sent me a fascinating e-mail last week:
Side note for your Friday Links... you just posted about being able to visualize a solution in your head. Did you know there are people out there who have "aphantasia", which means they simply do not have a mental "inner eye" of any kind? It's sometimes called "mental blindness." A good friend of mine discovered last year that he had this. He assumed that everyone else was just being metaphorical when they said "picture in your minds eye". Some people are better than others at powering their "inner eye"; mine is pretty weak, my sister is super strong, and some have none at all.

The strangest part is, this was only recently discovered, even though as many as 1% of the population may have aphantasia. My friend who is mentally blind is writing a book. And when I read it, or talk to him, I certainly cannot tell that he is different as far as imagining things. But his inner life must be significantly different than mine! WEIRD.

Here's a BBC article about it from last year: Aphantasia: A life without mental images.

I am lucky, because even though I have a hard time visualizing spatial relationships in 3-D, I do have incredibly vivid images at times. I had no idea that for some people, this just didn't exist.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fighting Eleven #11: The Plan

Okay, it may not be much of a plan, but here goes.

The design is essentially locked down at this point. The weakness of the design is that certain seemingly minor elements are going to require a disproportionate amount of development time in order to create a game that feels realistic.

The strength of the design is how the different elements interact in convincing and interesting ways.

What I haven't had, though, is any development time. The request for service level has been extremely high since we moved up here, and it just hasn't let up at all.

Then, a development, so to speak.

Gloria and Eli 15.4 are going to Austin for five days, but I'm not going with them, for two reasons.

Reason one: we have traveled so much that the thought of doing another, major trip during the holidays makes me ill. It's just too much. I'm worn down and need recovery time.

Reason two: I'll have five quiet days with no interruptions to do development. That might be enough time to get a major portion of the recruiting prototype done.

This is absolutely the worst way to do development--in huge chunks, instead of steady, daily work--but given our schedule, it's all I've got.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Eli 15.4 had been scuffling in his last three games, not playing nearly as well as he should.

On Saturday, we drove to Detroit for a game against the #8 team in the country.

Got outshot 40-13. Only had 2 shots in the last 22 minutes of the game.

Lost 2-1 in a shootout. Eli had 39 saves.

Everything he's been working on this fall clicked. Everything. It was a huge, dominating game against a highly skilled team. I think it's the most complete game he's ever played, and if he can play like that more consistently, he's going to get attention from scouts.

He was almost more dominating on Monday in his goalie lesson, with a 17-year-old shooter who played in the USHL.

Sometimes these little moments of dominance can be teasing. They don't look like it this time, though. They look like growth.

You Make The Call

Gloria made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Those fantastic cinnamon rolls that come in a can and are always associated with a perfect childhood.

I ate two of them in my study, then emerged.

"Question," I said. "If you lick the extra icing off the plate after eating the cinnamon rolls, is that a problem or a strategy?"

"Disorder," Gloria said.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Friday the 13th, Winter Edition

I drove Eli 15.4 to Detroit today for a goalie lesson.

It was about 10F outside with a wind chill below zero. Sunny, though, and beautiful.

We stopped in Lansing for lunch on our way down. My windshield reservoir had frozen (because I was lazy and hadn't drained it before topping off with no-freeze solution), which was not good, because there was a bit of muck on the windshield.

I did have a bottle of water in the back seat, though, so I took it and poured it on the windshield.

I got back in the car and sat down. "Hey, you better turn the wipers on before that freezes," Eli said, and we both looked at each other and laughed. Winter humor.

Then we looked up.

"AHHHHHHHHHH!" we both shouted at the same time, like when the guy with the machete pops out of the shadows in a horror movie.

The water on the windshield was completely frozen.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sorry--Romania's Poison Cave Link Fixed

Link was fouled up, but now it's fixed. It's a good story, too.

Friday Links!

Sorry, very light this week, like every year coming up on the holidays.

Steven Davis, and this is a long and mesmerizing read: HOW TO KILL A RATIONAL PEASANT. This is a remarkable bit of invention and music: Conveyor Belt Hero.

From Brian Witte, and this is amazing: The bizarre beasts living in Romania's poison cave.

From Daniel Quock, and this is a beautiful little film that is very moving: Dareka no Manazashi.

From C. Lee, and this is remarkable: 'Lost' Austrian film predicting rise of nazism restored and relaunched. This is a fantastic read: Finding North America’s lost medieval city.

From Wally, and this is a must-read: Gish Gallop. This is excellent: A little-known story from the life of John Glenn. I didn't even know this existed: The World Of Flyball Dogs.

Finishing off, and this is quite a cat, it's Cat climbing a rock wall.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'Tis The Season To Be Grouchy

Man, this is just crap:

Fast Pass for Santa? So your kid is not willing to wait in line for fifteen minutes to sit on the lap of the man who delivers ALL THE TOYS IN THE WORLD. 

I know, it's the parents. It's still awful. Is there anything left in this country where people are treated the same no matter how much money they have?

In better news, look what I found today:

I loved Hot Tamales candy as a kid, but if it came in its own slick lunchbox, I would have lost my mind. I still might.

So here's what traffic lights look like when it's 15F outside and the wind is blowing 40MPH:

That dark sky in the background? That sky is not your friend.

In family news, we discovered last night that George has a bit of kangaroo in him. A fat kangaroo.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mad Science Update

Well, here's a milestone that I never thought would happen.

I don't visualize in 3-D very well. Or rather, I visualize quite poorly in 3-D. I just can't do it.

However, today I figured out the kind of frame I wanted to hang the strip curtain on, looked at various bits of PVC pipe and connectors in Loew's, saw it in my head, and it works exactly like I thought it would.

You'll laugh when you see a picture, because it's not complicated at all, but I've never been able to do it.

Also, we have blowing snow today with a current wind chill of -1. Tonight it's supposed to be wind chill of -13.

Meditation for Beginners

I have a friend who is looking to get into meditation, and it's so long since I've done it that I don't even know where to tell him to start. Do any of you recommend a book or website for someone just starting out?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mad Science

Eli 15.4 and I sometimes refer to what he's trying to do as "mad science", because we've had to use all kinds of unconventional approaches because we didn't have access to mainstream training equipment.

I think we may have reached peak mad scientist.

Thanks for your e-mail about trying to help Eli improve his sudden state information processing, as well as his transition from steady state to sudden state (Eli listened to me explain processing states in enthusiastic and lengthy detail and was singularly unimpressed. "That's called 'scrambling'," he said, laughing).

Kids these days. Get off my lawn.

You guys sent in some terrific e-mail, suggesting different approaches, but one stood out in particular. Hennie Van Loggerenberg sent in an e-mail about cricket, and the slip fielder.

What is the slip fielder, you might ask? Here's a description (thanks, "sportskeeda"):
A slip position lies in the area behind the batsman and besides the wicket keeper towards the off-side. It is not limited to just one fielder but there can be multiple slip fielders extending up to 5 or 6 at a time. The fielders at slip are named as the 1st slip, 2nd slip and so on starting from the one right most near the wicket-keeper for a right-handed batsman and the whole area comprising of the fielders in that region is known as the slip cordon.

The name of the slip region is supposedly derived from the time when the fielders started standing next to the keeper in the anticipation of any slip (mistake) from the batsmen. Hence, in due course, the fielding position itself was termed as the slip.

So slip fielders are behind the batsman and the wicket, and they are there to catch high-speed deflections off the batsman's bat. In baseball, that would be foul ball territory, and just imagine what it would be like to have fielders stationed in baseball behind and to the side of the catcher, trying to catch foul balls.

Slip fielder = Exceptional athleticism. Here's a video of some of the greatest slip catches ever.

Rude boy would say "scramblers".

Once Hennie mentioned this, it led me down a long Google rabbit hole of research into how slip fielders trained. It wasn't an exact match, but there were enough similarities to the kind of skills Eli needed that it was worth pursuing.

Eventually, that led me to a training device. This is Katchet:

Here's a description:
Katchet mirrors random deflections encountered when the ball deviates after hitting the bat or wicket.

Katchet has been designed to deflect the ball in an unpredictable yet realistic fashion.

It's simple. You throw the ball off the Katchet and it simulates deflections and spin. Infinite variability. Plus there's something new coming out shortly called the "KatchMax", which is supposed to be even more unpredictable.

Even better, you can get a plastic version of the wicket so that you can throw the ball off the Katchet and have it deflect off the stumps.

There's just one more element that's needed, and it would be to make the ball unseen coming off the Katchet, to simulate a shot where the goalie is screened and never sees the puck coming off the stick. So it's absolute, complete reaction, with no pre-knowledge of anything.

That's where the strip curtain comes in (I think--I'm still working on this).

A strip curtain is that curtain you see in refrigerated areas. Here's a picture:

Here's the idea: using white butcher paper on a PVC pipe frame (48" high, same as in hockey), I cut very thin strips (1/2" wide, for example) to create a strip curtain. Any kind of ball can be used with the Katchet, so I need to find a small ball (maybe a racquetball) that will go through the strip curtains with minimal loss of speed, but not so heavy that it would damage the curtain.

Eventually, a paper strip curtain is going to wear out, but there has to be an optimal balance in there somewhere.

So, young Eli The Aspiring Goalie looks at a white strip curtain and sees nothing. Suddenly, a small ball explodes through the curtain, moving in unpredictable ways, and he only has a split second to respond and catch it.

0% predictable. No sudden state information has any value at all.

This doesn't address the transition between states, but I think this would be very, very good for sudden state training. And it's versatile--the distance between the ball and the curtain, and the curtain and the athlete, can be constantly adjusted so that the training is disruptive as possible.

No comfort zone.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Buried, and Why Do My Arms Hurt So Much?

We've gotten about 15 inches of snow in the last five days, as far as I can tell. 

We went from October weather in December to Alaska weather in about a three day period. 

That colored stick in the yard? Apparently, we just bought the stick, not the plowing service. Or, at least, that's what it seemed like this weekend, when we had at least 8 or 9 inches of snow on the driveway. 

So yesterday, I shoveled. 

I started out wearing three layers of clothing and a heavy coat. 

I shoveled a while. I was getting hot, so I took off a layer. 

Then I took off another layer. 

By the time I was done--90 minutes later--all I had on was a t-shirt and a coat, and I was sweating like a pig. 

[aside: yes, I was wondering where that phrase came from, too, so I looked it up and it's not about pigs at all. It's about pig iron: origin.]

Snow doesn't look heavy, and this wasn't wet snow (which is apparently made by the devil, from what I've been told). But if you do the same thing three hundred times--scooping, lifting, carrying, dumping--it starts to feel like you're lifting tanks.

Your arms hurt. You get a headache. You slip around. Well, I do, anyway. 

I was sapped when I came in. 

Gloria called the alleged plowing service and they said they did plow Saturday night, but the snow fell so fast that you couldn't tell by Sunday morning. Seems reasonable, given how hard it was snowing.

Plus, everyone up here is sick. 

I don't know if this is a uniquely Northern phenomenon or what, but it seems like half the city is sniffling or coughing or sneezing. Me, too--I caught something a month ago, rode it out, then caught something else. 

I can't seem to get well, and neither can anyone else. 

On the positive side, my snowshoes are coming this week, so I'll have a new way to exercise outside without killing myself for the next few months. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Friday Links!

Total volume is low, but long reads are plentiful this week.

This is an absolutely epic takedown: All American Huckster: The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time.

From Wally, and this is a phenomenal read: THE SUPERHERO SAGA OF BROOKLYN’S WEIRDEST BURGER JOINT. Very solid recommendations: 10 Wargames to Buy Your Wargamer for Christmas! This is excellent: Forgotten New York.


From C. Lee, and this is a remarkable story: Whistle-Blowing AIDS Doctor Reflects on Roots of Epidemic in China. This is a very, very bittersweet interview: What it's like to become a YouTube gaming celebrity at 80 years old. This is entirely sickening: Google, democracy and the truth about internet search.

From Steven Davis, and these are so beautiful: The Timeless Beauty of Vintage Aerolux Light Bulbs Containing Floral Filaments. This is a beautiful, calming video: Caixa d'Òptica - Optical Box (c.1750-1790) Museu del Cinema.

From Ken Piper, and this is a fantastic story: THE LINEBACKER, THE DEAD BODY AND A PIZZA DELIVERY FROM HELL.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is stunning: First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

This is Unfair

I don't mind twelve consecutive hours of snow.

I do mind that when I open my car door, a blizzard sneaks in, and then it's snowing inside my car. Poor sportsmanship, nature!

Risk and Human Behavior

We had a little water in our basement (very normal for this area), so we had an inspector/fixer guy come over today and take a look.

He told me a great story, and it's a cautionary tale.

Around 2006, he started flipping houses. Perfect fit for him, because he can fix quite a few different things. So he'd buy a house, fix it up, and flip it.

He flipped 18 houses.

He was red hot, and he was ready to retire. He had four houses left that he was flipping, then he was getting out of the game with about 900k or so.

That was in 2008.

You know what happened next. The real estate market absolutely collapsed, he couldn't sell any of the houses, couldn't afford to keep them (because he'd borrowed money to buy them), and he blew up.

So he's in his 60s and he's still working, and he said he'd be working for a long time.

What was remarkable about this fellow is that what he he was doing wasn't particularly risky, given the standards of the time. When everyone around you is taking absolutely huge amounts of risk, taking risk feels normal. Even taking excessive amounts of risk (like he did) seems conservative, because so many other people are taking absolutely insane amounts of risk.

The least crazy person in a group of crazy people is still crazy. It is incredibly tough to remember that.

"That guy is taking too much risk, and I'm taking much less risk, so that must mean I'm safe." That's the kind of thing people say to themselves in a boom, but they're comparing their behavior to the wrong end of the stick.

It's hard to understand that in a financial bubble, though, because risk is highly and almost unerringly rewarded until the market crashes. So not taking huge amounts of risk seems stupid, because that huge risk is making you huge amounts of money, and if you keep making money from high risk, it doesn't feel like high risk anymore.

It feels normal. It feels smart.

It's also very hard for people to understand that markets are predatory. Unregulated or lightly-regulated markets are incredibly predatory, and that creates fisherman and fish. While the inspector/fixer guy might have thought he was the fisherman, he wasn't--he was the fish. The banks loaning people obscene amounts of money with very little collateral?

The banks were the fishermen.

He didn't understand that, and he's working an extra twenty years because he didn't.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Positive Experience

I was given a tetanus shot yesterday by a female wizard.

Tetanus shots feel like peanut butter jackhammered into your arm. Every one I've ever had hurt like hell, and the pain lasted for days.

Yesterday, I barely felt the needle.

Last night? No soreness whatsoever.

Today? Very, very mild soreness in my arm.

I didn't even know that was possible.

An Information Processing Model For Goalies (A Puzzler For You)

This is about goalies, nominally, but it's also about information acquisition and decision making in general. So some of you will like this, and some of you have already fallen asleep.

I'm very excited about writing this, though. And you guys can help Eli in a major way.

I've noticed that Eli 15.4 has been very dominant at times this season, even against nationally ranked teams (he's won in goal against teams rated as high as #8 in the country).

At other times, though, he's looked vulnerable, and even though I've been thinking about it for a few months, I couldn't figure out why.

Until now. And it relates to models for processing information.

Being a good goalie has much in common with being a good driver, believe it or not.

A good driver is constantly acquiring information in a steady stream. Information from side and overhead mirrors, from peripheral vision, from constantly assessing the situation in front of them. Along with information acquisition, there are good habits, like always observing a safe following distance, which support and reinforce the data stream.

Let's call this the steady state acquisition model.

Even the best drivers, though, wind up in high traffic situations at times. Situations where they can't have a safe following distance, or the road conditions are unstable, or (more likely) other drivers are unstable.

A guy cuts in front of you and you have to swerve, but also manage to avoid drivers who might be coming up behind you. A car who emerges out of a blind spot.

In these situations, there is a split-second where a driver has to correctly and almost instantly react to a huge amount of new information. Even a high level of skill in the steady state acquisition model is useless here, because this is an entirely different model.

Let's call this the sudden state acquisition model.

There are drivers who are absolutely awful at steady state information acquisition. They have terrible driving habits. Yet they excel in sudden state acquisition, at avoiding accidents in split-second situations. They cause some of these situations, yes, but they're still adept in critical situations. That doesn't make them good drivers--they're not--but they're skilled in a very specific way.

A high-level goalie has an enormous set of steady state information acquisition that he continuously processes. It amazes me when Eli talks about it, because his information acquisition model is incredibly sophisticated, and he processes a staggering amount of information during a game.

In this mode, he is utterly dominant.

In the sudden state mode, though, he is much less dominant. A puck squirts off someone's stick, or suddenly appears from behind a screen.

Deflections. Turnovers.

Instead of steadily sipping information, the sudden state situations require an enormous gulping of information and an almost instant response, particularly because most of these situations happen only a few feet away.

That's when I realized why Eli was dominant at some times but not others.

In practice, in lessons, every drill focuses on steady state acquisition. He's dominant in steady state mode because he's learned the skill.

There really aren't any sudden state drills.

Until now, at least, because you guys are going to help me create some.

This is absolutely a trainable skill. All you need is an experience bank to draw on. And if Eli is able to do this, he is going to be an absolutely monster in net.

Let me explain two drills that I made up as starting points. Remember, we're trying to create situations where a huge amount of visual information has to be processed immediately and appropriate action taken.

Drill #1
There are three shooters and a coach (who passes the puck) in this drill.

The coach calls out a position and location for the goalie. So the position could be standing, the butterfly, VH, or reverse VH. I'm sure there are others, but you get the idea.

Certain locations go with certain positions, so the VH and reverse VH are always against the post. The coach calls out a valid location along with the position.

The goalie gets into the position--and closes his eyes.

The three skaters move into three distinct positions.

The coach passes the puck. While it's traveling across the ice, the coach shouts "GO!" The goalie opens his eyes and has to immediately acquire the puck location and immediate threats, and respond.

The skater will shoot immediately, or can make one pass. So it's a bang-bang play, as they say.

The skater location can be constantly changed between reps, even including very difficult locations like behind the net. Or two guys could be together, with one screening the other.

The number of positions for the skaters is basically infinite, but the drill will focus on positions inside fifteen feet, because that's both the most dangerous in a game and the most difficult in terms of the amount of information and the time available for processing.

You could have more skaters in this drill, but it's usually tough to find shooters for goalie drills, so three is probably as high as is possible.

Drill #2
This is also a "blind" drill, where the goalie starts out with his eyes closed.

The coach stands about twenty feet away and tumbles a puck, tossing it in the air so that it's going to bounce erratically when it lands on the ice.

Each puck should be thrown differently--different heights, different speeds.

When the puck is still in the air, the coach shouts "GO!", and the goalie has to find the puck, even if it's not in his expected visual frame (So a puck high in the air can be difficult to acquire, because the goalie is never expecting a puck to be that high, but it does happen in games on deflections sometimes).

Eli calls these "knuckle pucks", and they're very, very difficult to handle in games.

There should be a shooter (or even two) located close to the goalie, and their job is to get their stick on the tumbling puck and shoot. Their locations should change between reps, just like in the previous drill.

The shooters can shoot immediately or make one pass to set up a shot from the other player.

This is a very in-close drill, with an unpredictable puck, so it's a somewhat different type of data being acquired than the other drill. In both, though, there's a flood of information that the goalie has to acquire immediately.

Interested? Here's where you can help.

If you have ideas for on-ice drills based on these principles, please e-mail me. Also, if you can come up with off-ice drills that incorporate these ideas, also let me know. I think these skills can definitely be improved off-ice, but not at the computer--it needs to be based in 3D space, so that his body can move at the same time he's acquiring the information.

I think this is totally doable, and it will really help Eli build his game. Thank you for your help.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


It began with this text:
Canepa World Netless Tennis Championships. 3:30-4:15 pm, Monday December 5. Because nets are for wimps and losers.

It was sent to Eli 15.4 at 2:00 pm yesterday.

"You know, some people would say that no nets on the courts, snow, and thirty-eight degrees means no tennis," he said.

"Some people say that," I said. "Other people see nothing but opportunity."

"I'm in," he said. "It's on."

The nets at the tennis center were taken down last week, much to our surprise. Because of the weather up here, all the outdoor nets get taken down for winter.

That's okay, though, because we invented our own rules variation.

Ground stroke service from the baseline, and every shot must land beyond the service line. That makes for a surprisingly satisfying and intense game, even without nets. It's kind of racquetball, kind of tennis, kind of its own thing.

Going into this championship match, though, I had a problem.

Eli is so much stronger than I am now, and he hits so much harder. I wasn't sure I could beat him at regular tennis anymore.

For the World Championships of Netless Tennis, though, I had a secret weapon.

"New balls," I said, handing him the can.

"Finally!" he said. "Every practice ball we have is so flat."

"Hey, World Championships," I said. He laughed.

The court was about 90% dry, with snowdrifts along the fence. During warmups, Eli hit a ball past me that rolled to the fence. "Hey, keep that ball out of the snow, and oh my god did I just say that?" he said, laughing.

We were both laughing. A lot.

"Okay, three sets to ten points, have to win by two," I said, as we finished warming up.

"Sounds good," he said. "You're toast."

"I have one request," I said. "Since I'm an elderly gentlemen compared to me, allow me to pick the balls we use."

"Oh no," he said. "What are you up to?"

"Well, you won't find out unless you let me choose the balls," I said.

"All right," he said. "I'll regret this."

I reached into my bag and pulled out three red and yellow balls, and held them up. "OH MY GOD!" he said, laughing so hard he almost fell over.

These were training balls for young kids learning how to play. They're 15% larger than a regular tennis ball (which doesn't sound like much, but they look HUGE), with 75% reduced bounce. Plus, because of the size increase, they're much, much slower.

Power? Useless.


We played.

My personal highlight was serving and volleying (an underhand serve, lobbed almost to the baseline), after which Eli held up his hand.

"Need a minute?" I asked.

"I can't see," he said. "I'm laughing so hard I'm crying."

It was over in two sets, 12-10 and 11-9, equal parts drama and comedy. I sank to my knees and held up a "WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP" that I had secreted away.

"That was an unbelievable amount of fun," Eli said, laughing.

"Let's keep going," I said. We played a third set, just for fun, and laughed all the way.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Holiday Tragedy

Investigators say Operator was texting Santa at time of accident

Learner's Permits

I was hoping for a Fisher-Price My First Snowstorm© as an introduction to winter driving.

This is the mildest fall/early winter that anyone can remember in Grand Rapids. Amazing, really. We played tennis outdoors last week.

Last week, looking at the St. Louis forecast (games there last weekend), it looked like there might be a bit of rain, but no snow.

Because of that, I couldn't decide whether I should go ahead and get snow tires put on Gloria's car, or wait for another couple of weeks. To be on the safe side, though, I went ahead and had them put on last week.

Here's what happened:

A seven-hour drive home from St. Louis turned into a ten-hour drive instead, with snow for about seven of those ten hours. Very heavy, in places, and very icy at times as well.

Twice, jackwagons blew past us at 70 mph, then skidded off the road into ditches within 30 seconds. One took out a fence.

The total ditch count for the drive was twelve.

We were not one of them. Snow tires are the best thing.

Since we survived, this turned out to be some very good training for driving in harsh winter conditions.

Still, I'd like to have last week's weather back, please.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Links!

In case you missed the Grey Cup last Sunday, here's a fantastic highlight package. The CFL always looks like more fun than the NFL. Next, and I agree 100%, it's George Harrison Is Still Classic Rock’s Best-Kept Secret.

From Rob Funk, and this is an epic read: The Last Unknown Man: He appeared out of nowhere. He had no name, no memory, no past. He was the only person the FBI ever listed as missing even though they knew where he was. How could B.K. Doe remain anonymous in the modern age’s matrix of observation?

From Steven Davis, and this is quite a story: Saving Classic Mickey. This must be watched: Medieval helpdesk in English. This is an excellent story from the wayback machine: The Office on the Move: Portable & Pocket Typewriters. This is terrific: Earth's History Plays Out On A Football Field.

From C. Lee, and what a bizarre story: The Medical Mystery Behind America's Best-Selling Hair-loss Drug. This is an entirely fascinating read: The real secret to Asian American success was not education. Boy, this is discouraging: For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks. This is stunning: Your brilliant Kickstarter idea could be on sale in China before you’ve even finished funding it.

From Wally, and the title of this video is somehow hilarious: Don't Build a Mini Metal Foundry Until you See This First. This is a fascinating read: Who First Farmed Potatoes? Archaeologists in Andes Find Evidence. This is very interesting: A Brief History of Copyright in the United States. I had no idea: The Fire That Inspired 'Smoke on The Water'. Next, and this is remarkable, it's How the Expansion of Paris could Start with an Abandoned Radiation Bunker.

Here's a fantastic link from David Yellope: The True Story Behind Nintendo's Most Coveted Game.

From Roger Robar, and this is quite interesting: Disney's teenage princesses have always been voiced by adult women. Until now.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Fighting Eleven #10: Extracting Convincing From Real

One of the biggest challenges I'm facing for this game is how I create verisimilitude without drowning in the details.

I have a database of all D-I signings for the last ten years. It's about 10,000 players, a huge amount of raw data.

It's a giant puzzle, really, and for the game to work, I have to understand how the pieces fit together.

What's the ratio of five, four, and three-star recruits for a five-star program? What percentage of players sign in-state, or from an adjoining state? Those are the kinds of questions I need to answer to be able to put a slice of that into the game.

The 100% way to do recruiting would be to have all schools recruit every year, incorporating their team style, program status, program strengths, and location.

That's always my first instinct, to go way, way overboard, but that's not an efficient way to do this.

My job is to not go overboard. I need to give the user a sense of reality with as few AI rules and programming as possible.

Here's an example of trying to extract a slice of realism, which is all that the user sees. I'm not generating a huge database of fictional recruits each season. Instead, I'm generating 4 recruits that the user can recruit for each graduating player. So if 3 players need to be replaced, there will be 12 recruits available (4 at each position that needs to be replaced).

I use the real database to create 15 fictional recruits that should plausibly be interested in the user's program. This sounds easy, but it's much more complex than you would image. What star level for the recruits? Where do they come from? Why are they interested (I have to generate their priorities for the recruiting mini-game)? Also, what other schools are interested in the recruit, and why?

Now, because the user will play the same teams in conference play every season, those teams will actually have their own deck of player cards, and I'll replace graduating players with appropriate recruits for that program. So instead of doing recruiting for 120 schools, I'll be doing it for about 10.

When the user plays in-conference teams, he/she will recognize player cards from previous seasons, instead of just playing against a random deck. So I go in-depth with the teams the user will play every season.

My goal is to come up with 10 rules for the AI. 10 rules that will create a realistic recruit, and bonus points if I can do it in 5 rules. I'll let you know next week how I've done.

Site Meter