Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Italia

Here you go:

Yes, it's the Pontiac Italia. What the hell is that?

A fair question, and the answer is here: This Coach-Built 1979 Pontiac Firebird Is One Of One, Asks $26,995.

Incredibly, this car was built to look quite a bit (at casual glance) like a Ferrari, but the base is a Pontiac Firebird. One of the strangest auto combinations ever.

How did I see this bizarre chimera of an automobile? We've been looking for a used Honda-CRV for Eli 16.0, and this dealer had one (we bought it). The Italia was in the lobby, and man, it looked brand new. Incredibly striking.

I asked the salesman how it was still unsold, and he said "It looks like a Ferrari, but it still drives like a Firebird."

Fair point.

So Eli 16.0 has his own vehicle now, and I got to see a very obscure bit of automotive history as well.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

One More Picture

Reveal tomorrow.

A Clue

Another picture, plus the year it was built (1979):

Identify This Car!

Don't guess. A guess will be wrong. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Houston (part two)

This is very, very instructive: Boomtown, Flood Town. This story actually came from DQ Music Advisor Chris Hornbostel by way of a gaming forum, and I highly recommend reading it before we continue.

I'll wait.

Like I said yesterday, the flooding could not have been prevented, but it's so much worse than it should have been.

The basic formula.

Houston had, at one time, ample prairie lands. Lands that could absorb an enormous amount of water. What happened in the last 20-30 years, though, was land that could absorb water was steadily replaced with concrete and other surfaces that cannot absorb water.

If water can't go into the ground, it will stay above the ground.

Developed land makes lots of people lots of money. Undeveloped land doesn't. So there is an enormous incentive, all the way from private citizens to zoning commissions to City Councils, to allow rapid land development.

People seem to want development until they get their development, or their house, and then they want it to stop. That doesn't happen, of course, because other people haven't gotten theirs yet.

It's all barely regulated, particularly in Texas, so development goes on and on and on.

Plus, flood control would require the government, and it would be expensive, and if there's two things Texans hate, it's the government and taxes. So while many of them do want flood planning and action taken, no one wants to actually pay the money that's needed for government to function.

So what you have is--pardon the pun--a perfect storm of geography and politics combining to make an enormous city incredibly vulnerable.

What happens on the back end, though, is that now, over half a million people are going to need federal help. It's going to be incredibly expensive. So will that aid happen, or will the victims of this terrible tragedy be blamed in some way that will excuse the government from helping them?

Today, some areas will pass 50" of rain in the last five days. Inconceivable.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Houston (part one)

Have a look:

You'll need to click on that for the full-size image, but it's worth your time. Basically, the Houston metro area has had 25-35 inches of rain since Harvey came to shore Saturday morning. Most of that came in a 48-hour period.

I read somewhere that the amount of rain that had fallen (as of yesterday) was equivalent to the entire continental United States receiving .16 of an inch of rain.

What's happening right now in Houston? It's raining. Pretty hard.

It will be a long, long time before anything seems normal again in Houston.

It's not just Houston, either. From Rockport to Houston, the entire Gulf Coast has been savaged, and further inland, the Colorado River is at its highest level in 104 years. There is still massive and unprecedented flooding to come.

If the storm had tracked 50-75 miles west, Austin would have been crushed by 30+ inches of rain, but instead, it was spared. 7-8 inches of rain in the metro area, which was incredibly fortunate. Or not, depending on your point of view, because Houston is much less well-equipped to handle the rainfall.

I'm not going to post a bunch of weather *orn--you can find it everywhere--but here's one shot that's worth seeing:

See that "4-22" sign? That's a runway designation. You're looking at an airport, and not a small one, either.

Could the flooding have been avoided? No. Did Houston's development policies make this exponentially worse than it needed to be? Absolutely yes, and we're going to talk about that tomorrow.

Friday, August 25, 2017


Having grown up less than ten miles away from Corpus Christi, and having gone through Hurricane Celia (130 MPH winds with gusts clocked at 180+) in 1970, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the people on the Texas coast who haven't evacuated are making a terrible mistake.

The wind in a hurricane is very dangerous (we stayed during Celia, and it was incredible), but the rain can be much, much more dangerous, and this storm is predicted to move so slowly that it's essentially sheltering in place, so to speak, for the next 4-5 days. There are forecasts with some models of over 40 inches of rain in some places by next Friday.

That will cause catastrophic flooding, and people are going to die because they didn't leave.

It feels very, very strange to be watching all this unfold from so far away.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a riveting story: Not Fuzz: They were partners in fighting crime. The only problem: Neither was a cop. But when one friend turned on the other, things got real.

This has blown my mind so thoroughly that I seriously doubt it will ever be together again: Researchers encoded a film clip in DNA and store it inside a living cell.

From Wally, and this is so, so weird: Bizarre Foreign Superhero Films You Never Knew Existed. Next, and this will particularly entertain some of you, it's James Bond's best and worst cars of all time. This is superhuman, and it's a rooster: Metal Rooster.

From C. Lee, and its a good read: Instead of Dumbing Down Shakespeare, Smarten Up the Kids. Next, and it's an excellent read: Donald E. Westlake: The Writer’s Writer’s Writer. This is very silly: Headbanger Bird.

From Steven Davis, and I had no idea: 5 Famous Artworks That Were Accidentally Destroyed. This is a terrific read: From Picasso to Noguchi, 11 Artists Who Designed Spectacular Playgrounds. Next, an excellent question: Why Is Western Art History Full of People Peeing? Maybe a little late in the summer for this, but it's an excellent read: The Science of Soft Serve.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


I occasionally hear The Jack Benny Program on a Sirius XM channel (Radio Classics) devoted to old programs. I'm always surprised by how genuinely funny the show can be, even 80 years later.

There's a character named "Rochester" on the show, and he's African-American. I listened to the program today and there were a few jokes involving Rochester that were pretty cringe-worthy, by today's standards. I knew that Rochester was a big deal, though, because it was the first time an African-American had a recurring role on a national radio program.

So I looked Rochester up, and his story was much, much more interesting than the radio program. Thanks, Wikipedia.

The actor who played Rochester was named Eddie Anderson, and he got his start, like most comedians of his era, on the vaudeville circuit. He was originally on the Benny program in a one-time role, but he was so well-liked that he was called back to play a series of characters, and proved so popular that they wrote him into the show.

His impact on the show was substantial. Originally a highly stereotyped character, those elements were written out of his character over the years, and Benny's respect for Anderson (and their friendship) led to some powerful moments. Once in New York while on location for the show, a Southern couple complained about being in a hotel with a black man (because the cast was staying there).

Seriously, this country and its shit, I swear.

The hotel manager told the show that they would find Anderson accommodations at another hotel, but Benny's brother-in-law, the show's producer, assured the hotel that Anderson would check out the next morning. And he did, along with the other 43 members of the cast.

Like I mentioned in the open, it's remarkable how funny the show still is, even though Anderson's first appearance was in 1937. Snappy writing, unbelievable timing, and the interplay between Benny and Anderson is genuinely funny in any era.

Here's the full Wikipedia entry, and it's well worth reading: Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Random Exchange

From John Harwood (in italics) with my responses (plain text).

BTW, Illinois does not have 
to provide a day of rest  for 
"certain crew members of 
uninspected towing vessels 
operating in the navigable waters 
in or along the state of Illinois" 
so FYI in case that comes up.

Seems like that could be
critically useful someday.

Yes, and a Kentucky employer 
does not have to let you have 
Sunday off if you work in a 
fishing tackle or bait shop. So 
much for retiring to Kentucky. 

Because on Sunday with the
liquor laws, you're never too
drunk to fish.

I assume that applies equally 
to all days, but it's important 
to call Sunday out specifically,


There was something rolling around in the trunk on our way to the rink. Something sizable.

"Lesson learned," I said.

"What lesson?" Eli 16.0 asked.

"If you're going to put a human head in the trunk, make sure it's secured properly before driving," I said.

He burst out laughing. "Where did that come from?"

"I'm just striving for a better normal every day," I said.

Somebody Passed Their Driver's Test

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


We played pickleball for over four hours on Sunday.

One of the old guys walked up to us during a short break. "I saw you guys playing singles earlier," he said. "Who won?"

"Well, he did," Eli 16.0 said, pointing to me.

After the fellow walked off, I turned to Eli. "That had to sting a little," I said.

Great Moments

I had two moments in games last week that were truly wonderful.

#1 In Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, I decided to jump off the edge of a cliff, just to see what would happen. So I did, and about halfway down, my character opened an umbrella and floated gently to the ground.

I'd buy the game just for that one moment.

#2 In The Golf Club 2, I was playing a round on a cloudy day, and then suddenly, light streamed across the course as the sun came out. It felt incredibly, unbelievably real.

Madden 18

I really, really want to be able to buy Madden.

Real football has concussions and CTE and billionaire owners fighting over dimes. Video football has none of those, and it doesn't take three hours to play.

Every year, though, there are such staggering AI gaffes that it keeps me away.

This year? Hey, I can show you in a single play, courtesy of Ryan Moody. Here, go have a look, and try not to burst out laughing:
Madden 18 AI --Oh, My.

This has been going on for over two decades, and still, they can't get it together.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Review

I walked around a track for an hour. It got a little less light. 4/10, would not view again.


There is a total solar eclipse in parts of the United States today.

In Grand Rapids, we get 80% of an eclipse, which is still something. I also had the special solar eclipse doughnut at Krispy Kreme, which was very impressive and lasted about the same length of time (two minutes).

In case you're outside the U.S. (because it's 100% news saturation here), this is the path:

Maximum eclipse time in Grand Rapids is about 2:20 EST, so I plan on walking on a track for thirty minutes before and after. A park would have been a better option, but Eli 16.0 is an instructor at goalie camp this week, so my mobility is limited.

I'll try to snapshot Google traffic after the eclipse ends, because getting out of the totality path should be absolute madness.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Links!

From Wally, and this is a fascinating story: Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe. This is a crazy bit of history: How Ice Cream Helped America at War. This is a terrific read: The Bloody San Antonio Origins of Chili Con Carne. This is an incredibly thoughtful article: Caitlin Is Not Groot: Finding Proper Communication Adaptations in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here's some fairly obscure WWII history: Mystery of the Ghost Blimp. This seems pretty accurate: How To Make A Blockbuster Movie Trailer.

From C. Lee, and this is so, so clever: If Jane Austen Characters Used Dating Apps. This is tremendously thought-provoking: There is no such thing as western civilisation. This is both whimsical and a bit wonderful: Yokohama government trash-helper app gives poignant philosophical advice to depressed citizens.

From Steven Davis, and yeah, this is embarrassing: USPS Printed the Wrong Statue of Liberty on 4 Billion Stamps—and the Artist Sued.

From Ken Piper, and this is amazing: Video games could soon replace pills in treating some cognitive diseases.

From Griffen Cheng, and this is utterly fascinating: Military kit through the ages: from the Battle of Hastings to Helmand.

From Simon Jones, and this is both interesting and a bit amusing: The Guy Who Invented Those Annoying Password Rules Now Regrets Wasting Your Time.

From Geoff Engelstein, and seriously, what a badass: A Look Back ... Julia Child: Life Before French Cuisine.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


George is getting better.

His blood sugar levels are going down, and he seems to enjoy the process of the shots, because Gloria gives him treats and pets him for a few minutes before and after.


George also likes to hide inside things, and he loves paper more than anything:

Here's what you do at goalie camp to get gear dry, and some of you have seen this kind of image more than once:

Eli 16.0s coach sometimes has him skate with a weighted tire (so that you move with your core instead of reaching), but Eli does it now on his own, and uses it in drills for recovering after a shot. Being really good at something means you're willing to do all kinds of things that other kids won't do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


There are a few cleanup stories from goalie camp that I haven't gotten around.

I had to do laundry twice in five days, because when there are two ice sessions and two dry land workouts in a day, the number of clothes Eli 16.0 goes through is just unbelievable.

The hotel (which is our absolute favorite) had laundry facilities, but those facilities consisted of one washer and one dryer. For several hundred people.

Tuesday night, I was able to finally get Eli's clothes washed, but there was going to be over an hour wait for the dryer, so I just grabbed everything and headed back upstairs.

"No dryer," I said.

"How are the clothes going to get dry?" Eli asked.

I looked at him. And smiled. And waited.

"Oh, no," he said. "Not--not--the Lasko Vortex!"

"V 3," I said. "And I'm totally impressed that you remembered the name."

"Remember? How could I forget?" he said.

The angle on the picture is misleading, because it makes it almost look like the fan was on the ground. It was actually leaning against off the ground at about a thirty-five degree angle, which mean the airflow was blasting up and into the clothes that were hanging up in the closet. 

And it worked, too. Almost everything Eli wears on these trips is either goalie clothing or some form of Dry-Fit, and it all dried overnight with no problem.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Daily Deal on Steam

Today it's Football Manager 2017, which is on sale for $10 (a massive 80% off).
Football Manager 2017 Daily Deal

Mayhem Mayhem Mayhem

As we pulled up to the bowling alley last night, we saw a sign that proclaimed "MONDAY MAYHEM".

"There's very little actual mayhem," I said to Eli 16.0. There was only one other group on our side of the alley, and the other side was totally empty. 

"I can't even see the pins," I said, and Eli burst out laughing. It was pretty dark, really, and I'm old.

I kept hitting the pocket, but the ball was so light that pins were always left standing. "I have the world's only non-violent bowling ball," I said. 

We're not good when it comes to bowling. I used to be not terrible (140-170 range), but now I can barely break 100. Eli puts huge spin on his shots and has zero control. 

We were awful and had a great time. And it's only $10.95 for all you can bowl during Monday Mayhem, which is a phenomenal deal.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Good Day For This

Someone needs to set this up, stat:
Neo-Nazis Slowly Realize This Small Town Totally Punked Them.

A Type of Chart

"We have a television RED ALERT," I shouted. I had just turned on the IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Eli was in the other room.

He walked in quickly. "What happened?"

"There's a runner named 'Butt Chart' in the five thousand," I said.

"I don't believe it," he said.

"Believe it. His last name is 'Butt Chart'.

Eli saw the runner's singlet with his name on front: "Butchart".

"Oh no!" he said, laughing.

"The announcer pronounces it differently, but every public school kid in England knows how to pronounce that name," I said.

"Every single one," Eli said.

It got worse from there, including the obligatory mention of "Rectum? Damn near killed him!"

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Links!

From Paul Adams, and this is excellent: Lars Anderson Discovers Japan.

From Wally, and this is amazing: Long Live Gopher: The Techies Keeping the Text-Driven Internet Alive. Also, and this is quite funny, it's Tolkien’s Map and The Messed Up Mountains of Middle-earth. This is a fantastic read: How a board game company defined video game ads for 20 years. This is very cool: Sir Peter Jackson’s studio reveals augmented reality demo.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is fascinating (and long): SIR JOSEPH BAZALGETTE and LONDON’S INTERCEPTING SEWER SYSTEM. Also, and this is both amazing and somehow terrifying, it's Unbelievable Speed Of Chinese Models Stuns Photographers Around The World. This sounds like a movie: British caterpillars are being killed by a rare 'zombie' virus. This is both bizarre and very cool: The Unique Marvels Of Croatia’s Underwater Park.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific read: The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe. This is stunning: South Korea spy agency admits trying to rig 2012 presidential election. This is surprisingly poignant and personal: Jon Ronson on bespoke p***: ‘Nothing is too weird. We consider all requests’. This is absolutely incredible: The best way to fix broken bones might be with glass. This is a fascinating story about automation and the labor market: Rise of the machines.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: How to Build Amazing Balancing Bridge out of Coins Without Glue.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

To the Moon--Rakuen Steam Bundle

Here's a fine bundle for a ridiculously low price ($9):
Rakuen + To the Moon.

[UPDATE: Sorry, it was showing up at $4.49 for me because I already own Rakuen. The price if you don't already own either game is $9. Still a great price!]


I hit someone today. With my car.

I wake up at 7. Can't sleep. I've been doing that a lot lately.

Instead of staying in bed, I decide to go work out. Get ahead of the curve.

There's a street in Grand Rapids called "Beltline". It's sort of a pseudo-highway, because it's divided (with a wide, grassy median) and has a 55 MPH speed limit, but there are stoplights every mile or so.

To get to the YMCA, I cross Beltline.

I go down a slight hill (at 30-35 MPH), the light turns green, and three cars go across the intersection. I'm still a few seconds away, but I know how long this light lasts, and I'm going to make it through with no problem.

I'm almost into the intersection, the light is still green, and something flashes into my vision from the left.

It's a cyclist, riding on the shoulder, and he is totally oblivious to the red light he's riding through.

All this happens in the next split second.

I realize I'm going to hit him.
I realize I might kill him.
I lock up the brakes.
I turn the wheel hard right, hoping to avoid t-boning him.
The car starts to slide.
We collide.
I feel the impact of his bike and body against the car.

I leap out of the car and run to where he's on the road, a few feet from my car. "Totally my fault," he says, as I help him get up. "You had the light."

He looks to be in his mid 40s, moderately fit, maybe 5'8" or a little shorter. Wearing a blue helmet. Solid.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

"Let's move off the road," he says, and I pull the car onto an angled, wide curb.

"I think I'm okay," he says, and he lifts up his left elbow to show a red patch--no lost skin, but a friction burn. "I think that's all."

"I can't believe you bounced off my car and all you have is a friction burn," I say.

"I have a history of bouncing off things," he says.

"How is your bike?" I ask. "Is it still rideable?"

"I think so," he says. He has to open up his rear brakes just a bit because the wheel was out of true, but everything else checks out.

I have to ask.

"What happened? Did you not see the light?"

"I saw it," he says. "I just spaced." He shakes my hand. "At least you weren't going too fast," he says. "Thank you for stopping."

"Why don't you start riding and I'll give you a minute or so?" I ask. "I'll pull up beside you, and if your bike isn't okay or you feel shaky, I can give you a ride."

"Thanks," he says. He mounts his bike and rides off.

About two minutes later, I drive up beside him and roll down the window. He waves. "I'm good," he says.

I wave and drive on.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

What the

Who the hell is Jojo Siwa and why is Nickelodeon advertising her upcoming special 1,000 times an hour?

North Korea

This is not a political post. If it had a tag, the tag would "watch the hell out". This is also not a normal subject in this space, and we'll return to normal tomorrow.

Today, though, let's talk about this: if you have money in the market right now, watch out.

Why? Because things with North Korea are getting very strange very quickly.

A quick review.

Six months ago, the North Koreans were considered buffoons. They were The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, and to some degree, that's what they've always been.

Suddenly, in six months, they've become scientific geniuses, even allegedly able now to put a miniaturized nuclear device inside a missile that could theoretically strike a good portion of the world.

Does that make any sense? No. Is it even possible? Probably not.

However, in this era, what the United States will do before they launch a military strike is go through a period of extreme puffery to make the target seem suitably dangerous.

That's what happened before the Iraq war.  That appears to be what's happening here.

I'm not talking about a military invasion with lots of troops. A military strike or intervention would almost certainly be an air campaign. It would not be for the purpose of destroying the nuclear arsenal, because that is most likely deep, deep underground in bunkers that cannot be reached by weapons.

It would, instead, be to destroy North Korean military infrastructure and capability.

North Korea is of tremendous geographical importance to China, because it provides them a sizable border from South Korea. It's a critical territory.

And yet, China isn't saying anything.

Does that make any sense? No.

It would make sense, though, if China was using North Korea as a giant honey pot. So they would allow an attack on North Korea because it would then justify other actions that China wants to take.

That's concerning.

Even more concerning, the information coming out of the U.S. right now is contradictory at almost every turn. Presidential advisors said today that the president spoke "off the cuff" yesterday when he warned North Korea that they would be met with 'fire and fury'.

Really? Has anyone in recorded history every used the phrase 'fire and fury' off the cuff?

No, they have not.

The only conclusion that accounts for all these conflicting facts is this: the principal actors involved want military action to happen.

That would account for the inflammatory rhetoric from the U.S., the inflated threat assessments, and the curious silence from China.

And if that happens, no matter the outcome, it will rock the markets. Hard.

Please watch out.

[UPDATE: Here's a New York Times Article that again cites "intelligence experts" in regards to North Korea's current nuclear capability. Also, please note that I'm not saying North Korea has no nuclear devices. They clearly do. What's at issue is whether they have a delivery method for those devices that constitute a real danger, and how the U.S. has escalated the assessment of that threat in the last few months.]

Tomorrow: back to our usual silliness.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Rim Walkers

It's 7:58 a.m., on the last day of goalie camp.

We stay in a hotel attached to a mall, which is the most convenient thing on Earth when you don't get back until 7 p.m. each day. Just walk to dinner, then walk back to the room.

This is the fourth year we've stayed at the mall, plus we stayed there for two weeks during tryouts last year, so everyone at the hotel knows us, and we even have a friend in the mall.

This is why, at 7:58 a.m. on a Friday morning, we were standing outside the mall, waiting to go see our friend before we left.

The mall doors were still closed, and about ten mall walkers were milling around. All of them were in their seventies, at least, and they were impatient.

"Joe used to open the doors right on time," said one of them.

"This new guy has a lot to learn," another one said.

At exactly 8 a.m., when the doors still weren't open, they began moving toward the glass doors, peering inside.

By 8:05 a.m., it was nearly a riot. A sedate riot.

Finally, the security guard opened the doors.

"I thought you'd forgotten about us!" said the first walker to pass him. He sighed.

We took deep breaths and entered the mall walker vortex.

Entering a mall during walking time is like accidentally driving onto a NASCAR track after you take a wrong turn coming home from the grocery store. There are specific rules, and if you don't follow them, you'll get run over.

Rule #1: Stay to the outside.
Everyone hugs the very outside, as close to the stores as possible. "Rim walkers," Eli 16.0 said, and it fits.

Rule #2: Walk in a counter-clockwise direction.
We were walking toward the store our friend runs, just sort of walking in the middle, and The Guy Who Has To Be In Charge walked past us. "Walking against the current, guys," he said.

"We're salmon," I said under my breath, and Eli laughed.

The tone of this post makes it sound like the old people weren't nice, and that's not true at all. Most of them were extremely nice, and even better, they were happy to be at the mall, walking. They waved at their friends as they passed by, and they all had at least one other person to walk with.

There were two women walking together, and they were both using walkers, both with big smiles on their faces, talking up a storm as they slowly moved along.

That was very, very nice.

Monday, August 07, 2017

A Good Hockey Picture

Eli 16.0 had a strong week at camp--easily the most fit and athletic off the ice, one of the best on the ice.

I understood last week, to a greater degree than I ever have before, that he is truly an elite athlete compared to other goalies his age (and even older). What's going to be key for him is to translate all that athleticism, every bit of it, onto the ice. He doesn't do that all the time, and he needs to if he's going to play juniors and beyond.

"Still in the pool," I said on the way home last Friday, and he laughed. I've been saying this every year after goalie camp since he was ten--there's a pool of players that will get opportunities to play in juniors and college, and he's still in the pool.

That pool is shrinking every year, and if he can just hang on for another year or two, very good things will happen.

There's one other thing he has to do, and we also talked about this on the way home. "You know how guys always say 'I was right there, if only I'd had the right situation?' "

"Everybody says that," Eli said.

"What do the guys who make it say instead?" I asked.

"Every situation is the right situation," he said. "Even when it's not, they find a way past it."

That's true. You wouldn't believe what high-level junior hockey is like. It's an absolute maze, and many kids wind up playing for two or three teams, across multiple leagues, in the same season. It's asking a lot of seventeen and eighteen-year-olds, to be so resilient. If you don't have an overarching sense of purpose and belief in yourself, it's hard to come out the other side.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday Links!

One of the best assortment of links ever posted in this space.

This is a phenomenal story: THE DRUG RUNNERS: The Tarahumara of northern Mexico became famous for their ability to run incredibly long distances. In recent years, cartels have exploited their talents by forcing them to ferry drugs into the U.S. Now, with their land ravaged by violence, they’re running for their lives.

From Brian Witte, and these are oh-so-beautiful: National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017.

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating read: Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world. Next, and this is an outstanding read, it's How Firaxis saved XCOM from complete disaster. Well, these rules sound much more thoughtful: Monopoly was invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. This sounds like a disaster: Loss of Fertile Lands Fuels 'Looming Crisis' Across Africa. Here's part two of a great series: The complete history of the IBM PC, part two: The DOS empire strikes. It has sadly become very clear that our criminal justice system is, in many places, a criminal enterprise: She was convicted of killing her mother. Prosecutors withheld the evidence that would have freed her.

From Joshua Buergel, and I had no idea: Transgender soldiers served in the Civil War. Also, and this is a terrific read, it's Forget To Remember: Roger Craig and the Sabermetrics of Jeopardy.

From James Lee, and this is both interesting and sad: Done in the Dark (Lamar Odom).

From Steven Davis, and this is a good read: The Ghost Villages of Newfoundland. Next, and this is thought-provoking, it's 'It's digital colonialism': how Facebook's free internet service has failed its users. This is fascinating: The Radical, 600-Year Evolution of Tarot Card Art.

From Wally, and this is a great story: Swimming eagle rescued by Maine lobstermen.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Quite a Morning at Camp

On Eli 16.0s sheet this morning: NHL players. Lots of them.

I have some video, which won't be up until next week, but he's never had an NHL player shoot on him before. That's a thrill I'm sure he won't ever forget.

Ask a Developer (Joshua Buergel, part two)

What is your design process? What would you consider the foundation of your process?
Is "haphazard" a process? All of my designs have started with some central idea that I wanted to explore. Foresight began from the notion of "what if a deck of cards also had information on the back?". Hocus was "could you make Poker work with spells?" Fox in the Forest, somewhat strangely, started with "can I make a modern take on Cribbage?" It wandered very far from that starting point, having basically no Cribbage left in it at this point, but that's where I started.

From that origin, I spend a lot of time thinking. Most tabletop designers will tell you that they try and get something to the table quickly, to try and test and iterate fast. I mostly do not do that. Instead, I spend a long time just considering the system in my head. Where will be the key decision points? Where's the central tension? What's the objective that players are going to pursuing? I don't really concern myself too much with genre, or by sticking to particular mechanisms. What I'm seeking is the ability to think through what a game might look like, and what kinds of decisions players are making. The specific details are fuzzy, but I'll scribble a lot in a notebook in this stage. I'm trying to just sketch what the game might look like in progress. At some point, the game kind of works in my head. It's at that point that I'll put together a prototype.

For a prototype, it depends on the complexity of the design. But I'll usually whack up some cards in InDesign, print them on paper, cut them out and stick them in card sleeves, usually with a Magic card. That makes a perfectly shuffleable deck of cards. For tokens, printing on 110 lb card stock works fine for prototype purposes. Boards, I'll usually just hand draw for a first cut. After I've got it assembled, I'll play it solo. Just set up the game, and play each position. Am I seeing interesting decisions? Or is everything obvious? Does it work at all? You can't really judge fun this way, that ephemeral quality that's difficult to predict ahead of time. But you can judge mechanical soundness. Specifically, while you can't be sure if a game is good at this stage, you can sure tell if it's bad. At this point, either I'll have a bunch of small changes, or I'll have to go back to the drawing board.

I'll keep in this cycle, of thinking deeply and drawing, then solo testing a prototype, until I have something that feels non-trivial. It's at that point that I start torturing my friends. They've been playing tabletop games with me for more than 20 years (some much longer!), so I trust them to let me know if the game has some legs or if it's a woofer. Again, a cycle of iteration ensues, where I take the notes from the last playtest, make adjustments, and try again. Eventually, the game either needs to go back in the shop for major retooling (restarting the cycle), or it gets to the point where I can take it to strangers. I'll then troll my social networks for testers who are willing to have a look, and send them prototypes to try out.

The truth of blind testing is that most testers don't help you. Most of them, you'll never hear from again. Of the remaining, the majority will play it once, and therefore you're getting pretty shallow feedback. A small minority, then, play the game more than once, and can give you deeper insights. But what I'm looking for in blind testing is pretty simple: did the players have fun playing the game? And were they capable of learning it on their own? Hoping that blind playtesters will be able to spot major design flaws is foolish, you should be treating them mostly as a confirmation that your design work is sound.

After blind testing, if things have worked out, I'm close to being done. I can tinker and tune forever, and at this stage, I've got to decide what I'm going to do with the game. That gets into publishing, which I'm not sure is really the focus of this series, so that's good enough for now.

How do you handle design paralysis? What do you do to move forward?
As someone with three kids and a full-time job, keeping momentum is a real challenge. I really only get to spend concentrated design time in the evenings, when the kids are in bed, and sometimes I'm pretty worn out. By far the biggest thing is to just make at least one chip in the design every night if possible. Change the wording on a card, scribble a diagram, take an edit pass at the rules, whatever it is. As long as you're still moving forward, even if you need a time lapse camera to spot it, you're doing great. I'm not really in a position where I can crunch on a design and make big leaps forward. I have to be happy with making slow progress. The advantage of that approach is that I do spend tons of time just thinking about my games - during lunch breaks, during boring meets, during my bus ride into work. That thinking can't really be accelerated, and by putting in all that thought, hopefully it's helped me to make some polished, unique games.

How has the game changed during playtesting? How long did the playtest last?
This game has been in progress since February of 2014. It started as a companion piece to Hocus, and while we decided not to proceed in that direction, I kept chipping away at the design. I did blog about some of the changes (, but briefly, it started out as "Cribbage with spells". I tested variations on that concept, and it wasn't going anywhere, so I retreated into my design bunker (my basement). After a lot of thought, and inspired by games like Écarté and Piquet, decided to strip a bunch of cards from the deck and focus on a trick-taking game instead of a riff on Cribbage. That version proved to have legs, especially as I added some special abilities to the cards to liven things up. From there, the key challenge was to figure out ways to stop one player from gaining control of the game and just throttling their opponent. After adding some tools to the deck for the player who is off-lead to combat that, the game was feeling good. At this point, the game had a draft phase, where players who won tricks also got to select a card to add to their hand. The cards also had goals on them to modify scoring.

At this point, I reached out to Randy Hoyt of Foxtrot Games, knowing that he enjoyed classic games and thinking he might be open to looking at it. I sent him a prototype, and it didn't take him long to decide that he wanted to publish the game. Working with him and his team, we made a number of changes to the game to make it more accessible while still keeping the heart of the game. We dumped the draft phase as being more fiddly than it was worth. We dumped the goals from the cards for largely the same reason, replacing it instead with the scoring system in the published game which adds a ton of great tension. At that point, the blind testers were enthusiastic, and I was still having a great time playing it. It was ready to ship.

How did you handle the process of getting your game to market?
For this game, I wanted to work with an established publisher for a few reasons. The first is to help increase my profile in the hobby. Future publishing efforts of mine will go easier if I have more of a track record. It will also be easier to work with other publishers if I've already had a successful design with another publisher. The second reason is that I knew that Randy, as a lover of these types of games and having a similar history with them, would be able to help me make the best version of the game. Having a great developer on your side makes such a tremendous difference to the final product. With Hocus, working with Grant Rodiek, we could perform that function for each other. On Fox in the Forest, Randy and I were on the same page, and were able to really get to a great final place.

After signing the game with Randy, he took care of all the nitty-gritty details of publishing. Tracking down an illustrator and graphic designer, wrangling layout files, dealing with pre-press and everything else, that was all him. I've been through that stuff before on my own, and it was nice letting somebody else drive the bus on this project.

How do you handle marketing? How much time have you devoted to marketing versus design/development time (in hours, if you know)?
This is another tremendous advantage to working with an established publisher. It's actually another step beyond that, because they're working with a publisher called Renegade Game Studios. Having those publishers on my side means that they're handling marketing for me on this project, which is amazing. For Hocus, we had to do the marketing ourselves. We reached out to reviewers, tried to line up interviews, talked about the game on social media, and purchased advertising on hobby sites. In the end, we're not sure how much those avenues really moved the needle. In tabletop, as with any other type of games, it's hard to gain attention in a crowded marketplace. I wish I had tremendous advice on this front, but I do not. I can say that if you're independent, Kickstarter itself is a tremendous marketing platform, and the 5% we paid to them (plus 5% for credit card fees) is easily the best marketing money we ever spent on Hocus.

What is the release date of your game and the price? Where can people buy it?
It released everywhere on July 19th with an MSRP of $15. Renegade has strong distribution, so it should be available in basically any tabletop hobby shop. It's also available online through the big online retailers, like Cool Stuff Inc., Miniature Market, Amazon, and others.

What is your next project?
I've got several designs in various stages. A game I'm calling Killing Monsters and Taking Their Stuff is probably the furthest along. It's been about four years in development or so, and I think I've finally gotten a system that will be worth showing to other people. There are various other games in a conceptual stage, including a dice game on the French Revolution, which I'm excited to really dive into shortly. Beyond those, there are an assortment of games that have hit the tabletop in prototype form and gone back into the garage. It's never entirely clear when I'll have a breakthrough on anything, so it's hard to say what the next game that will come out will be.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ask A Developer (Joshua Buergel, part one)

Today is part one of a new Ask A Developer with Joshua Buergel, who has designed and developed excellent card games that have been talked about in this space before, notably Hocus and Foresight.

Describe your game in less than 100 words.
Fox in the Forest is a two-player trick-taking card game that tries to capture the feel of classic card games like BRIDGE, HEARTS, and the like, but in a modern package, and designed for just two people.

What were your objectives (three) with the original design?
Most importantly, I wanted to fill a niche that is very sparsely populated. There are some trick-taking card games that work with two, but they're rare, and I felt like it was a place I could do something new. Beyond that, I wanted to create a game that could stand the test of time, that could be played many, many times, the way people might play Cribbage or Gin. Finally, and a bit more nebulously, I wanted to make a game that would be enjoyed by couples.

What distinguishes your game?
Beyond the category itself, what I tried to do with the game was make sure that there was plenty of drama in each hand. In particular, the scoring system can have you desperately trying to win or lose tricks, depending on where you are in the hand and what your opponent is up to. Or what you think they're up to. It's not unlike shooting the moon in Hearts, as you can have success either by taking the majority of tricks or by taking very few. That push-and-pull is really at the heart of the game.

How long does it take to play?
About 30 minutes or less, usually.

What are your strongest gaming influences?
I've been hobby gaming since about 1983, with my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, so I've collected a lot of influences in that time. I try and take a very broad approach to gaming, where I look in as many places as I can. Just in terms of what I think about in gaming and how I spend my time, Dungeons & Dragons still probably is the most dominant influence on my hobby, with a nod to Magic the Gathering for an intense period in the 90s, and to Bridge and Pinochle for how much time I spend with them in high school and college.

But, to name some specifics: Sid Sackson is probably my most admired designer. Both due to his amazing body of work (Acquire, Can't Stop, Sleuth, and Focus, just to name a few), but also due to his ecumenical approach to games. He didn't just design brilliant games, but also took to cataloging extant games, in his books Card Games Around the World and A Gamut of Games. I'd consider both of those books to be essential to anybody interested in game design, and I often return to them and re-read them when I'm looking for ideas. I feel like not enough tabletop designers out there really engage with the history of the craft, and most would be significantly better if they did so. Add to that reading list David Parlett's magisterial Penguins's Guide to Card Games, which is another tome I frequently turn to when I'm looking for inspiration.

Another designer who has had a significant influence on me is Uwe Rosenberg, award winning designer of tremendous hobby games like Caverna (#10 all time according to Board Game Geek), Agricola (#14), and A Feast for Odin (#38), among many others. But what inspired me are not those big box designs, with their mountains of bits and wide sweep (although I do love them). Instead, I've found his earlier career inspiring, with his explorations of what card games can be. Games like Bargain Hunter, Bohnanza, Klunker, Space Beans, and Mamma Mia got me to thinking more deeply about what is possible with a simple deck of cards, and really helped me to try and find new types of game play.

There is a rich tradition of European game designers creating new trick-taking games which were also very inspiring for this particular game. Karl-Heinz Schmiel's Was Sticht?, Frank Nestel's and Frank's Zoo, Klaus Palesch's Sticheln, and Urs Hostettler's Tichu are all great examples of modern card games that have taken classic gaming concepts and still managed to create novel and fascinating games. I'd like to think Fox in the Forest falls into that same category.

What are your best gaming memories?
Well, it'll be hard to top the fact that I met my wife while playing Bridge in the hallway of her dorm. She was sitting out of her room working on her architecture project, and we were sitting in the hallway playing cards, because that's what we did. She was kind of fascinated by college kids who were spending their evenings playing a complex card game instead of going out and getting wasted, and took to regularly hanging out with us. When one of our group failed out of school, we taught her the game, and she hasn't been rid of me at any point in the ensuing 23 years (and counting!).

Even beyond that, hobby gaming has been central to my life for almost as long as I can remember. I used to bike to the public library on Saturdays to play in a public game of D&D, when I couldn't scrape up enough players myself. I would play endless games of D&D with my best friend Tim Hodler, just the two of us, to the point where his parents actually said that he had to spend less time around me, because they were worried about me being a bad influence. (The 80s, folks!) I would sit and endlessly read game rules and supplements, and try my hand at creating things, stuff I wouldn't show to anybody. Gaming became the glue that held together my social group in middle school and high school, with friends that I still play games with to this very day. And, as the story above shows, it has even shaped the most important relationship in my life. It's a hobby for me, of course, but it's an essential part of who I am and how I came to be the person I am today.

Who is your favorite designer, and why?
My favorite game design is Vlaada Chvatil, designer of games like Through The Ages, Mage Knight, Codewords, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and so many others. He's my favorite designer because all of his games are singular visions. Frequently, the only thing tying his games together is how brilliant they are. He can go from a weighty civilization game like Through the Ages (#2 and #18 on the BGG list, thanks to multiple editions) to a light party game like Codewords to a real-time cluster like Galaxy Trucker without breaking a sweat. His mechanisms are novel, the interactions in his games are always interesting, his themes are often very clever, and he even makes genuinely funny games to boot. If I design anything even half as good as Through the Ages in my time, I'll have really accomplished something.

What game have you played for the most hours? Why?
There are four games that are possibilities. D&D is a possibility, although given that I've experimented with a bunch of different RPG systems over the years, and indeed, D&D itself has been through five major editions in the time I've been playing, it's probably not the right answer. Up through college, the answer would easily have been Bridge, but I haven't been playing it much recently. I was deeply into Magic the Gathering at one time, playing lots of tournaments and spending tons of time building decks, even ranking pretty high in the sealed deck ratings. However, the king is probably a game I haven't mentioned yet: Warhammer Quest, the brilliant dungeon crawling miniatures game that I've been playing continuously since it came out in 1995. At this point, my group has developed a rich body of rulings, extensions, house rules, and traditions around it. We still get together every few weeks or so and spend a day playing it.

What makes Warhammer Quest still the standard for dungeon crawling board games is the extraordinary breadth. The different types of monsters you encounter, and the variety of abilities they can have as well as the variety of treasure you can find, gives you a never-ending parade of novel situations. Warhammer Quest also has what I think of as tremendous design space. Monsters and heroes are described by a wide variety of statistics, which are simple to apply, but give room for differentiation. But it's not just that, the combat sequence has enough steps in it that there are plenty of places for creatures to be unique. Think about the ability of a system to capture different archetypes: a heavily armored, slow warrior; a fast, lithe warrior; a ranger with a bow; a fire mage; a barbarian. How different does the barbarian feel from the armored warrior? If they do feel different, it's likely the case that the system representing them has enough degrees of freedom to be able to capture subtle shades between what otherwise might be similar melee-focused fighters. That strong universe of design space is something I admire about Warhammer Quest, and is something I've strived to replicate in other designs.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

New Ask a Developer On the Way

Tomorrow and Thursday, a new Ask A Developer with Joshua Buergel, which will be up after I find time to format the posts properly.

Shot in the Heart

Greetings from a parking lot in front of an ice rink. Today I want to tell you about a book.

Shot in the Heart is written by Mikal Gilmore, who was Gary Gilmore's younger brother.

The book reads like a haunted fever dream, a recounting of generations of anger and violence and misery. The history of the Gilmore family is tragic, almost tragic beyond words.

It's an absolutely masterful piece of writing as well, even though it's very, very painful to read at times.

What the book really drives home is that Gary Gilmore was a tragedy far beyond himself.

I haven't read a better work of non-fiction in a long time.

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