Thursday, November 30, 2017


During my visit to eye doctor for my ellipsoid underwater dichotomy whatever, I went ahead and had a regular eye examination.

My prescription had changed, so I needed a new pair of glasses.

Styles have changed.

"Do you see anything you like?" asked the glasses lady.

"Well, I don't know," I said. "All these frames seem to be shouting 'F--- YOU, I'M WEARING GLASSES! LOOK AT ME!" Do you have any that aren't like that?

She laughed, then looked around. For quite a while.

"Huh," she said. "I guess we don't. I never thought about it that way."

"Don't think about anything my way," I said. "Trust me."


We went to the grocery store to buy a tub of Cool Whip. A disputed tub of Cool Whip.


Eli 16.3 has been laughing from the time I started talking. "A solid point," he conceded."

"A solid point?" I asked. "That's the ONLY point. There is no other point."

"You do have a pie problem," he said.

"It's not like scientists are preserving the last tubs of Cool Whip in the underground seed bank in Norway," I said. "It's not an endangered resource."

All Caps Thursday


Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Gloria has an eye infection that she gets sometimes because she wears contacts (and leaves them in too long).

"Good morning," I said.

"I have another eye infection," she said. "Encrusted with discharge."

"Oh, that's a great name for a band," I said.

"Next level," Eli 16.3 said.

"Their debut album: 'Preventative Care'," I said.

"I like that," Eli said. "Are they indie?"

"Country," I said. "Their first big single is 'Clean Washcloths, Dirty Hearts'."

The Cheap Seats

Commentary during the Grey Cup, which I am 100% sure was a better game than the Super Bowl will be this year.

Commercial break:
"Tim's a loser," Gloria said.

"A loser?" Eli 16.3 said.

"TIM is driving a MOTORIZED couch," I said. "Tim is the ANTI-loser."

"He's a loser," she repeated.

"On the way home from the car dealership, Tim stopped for dinner--and brought it home to his wife," I said. "Do you know what Tim's wife is thinking as she eats? 'Tim: what a winner!' "

"Admit it, Mom, Tim rules."

Near the end of a tie game:
"You may get to see one of those plays where a punter kicks it into the end zone, and the other team's punter kicks it back out. And if you do, life will never be the same."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Of Course

For some reason, food was discussed.

"We haven't had baby corn in a while," I said. "I like baby corn."

"I haven't seen it in the grocery store lately," Gloria said.

"Of course you haven't," I said. "It's very tiny. You can't just waltz in and find it like you could a full-sized vegetable."

The Masters of Chirping

Hockey players chirp each other constantly.

"Hey, do you know who chirps better than hockey players?" I asked Eli 16.3 when he came home from school.


"Middle-aged African-American women," I said.


"I was in Walgreens, and there were two women in their fifties talking to each other. The first one said, 'I only put these shoes on because I thought I was going to work out', and the second one said, 'Bitch, you ain't working out!' "

Eli just lost it, laughing for a long time. "That's the greatest chirp EVER," he said.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Inspirational Math (follow-up)

Brenty sent in an interesting email about this.

I thought you might be interested in more information about the “Fall down 7 times get up 8” proverb. 

I’m not an expert in Japanese by a longshot, but I know enough grammar and usage to understand what’s happened here. It’s a very different language than English structurally, so a lot gets “lost in translation”, quite literally. 

What we’re dealing with here is something that is traditionally written in kanji (Chinese characters), as that’s all Japanese had for a long time after borrowing them. It will be written like this, read top to bottom:

Or 七転八起 which can be pronounced “shichi ten hakki”, which is literally “seven (times) down; eight (times) rise” — one character for each of the four ideas. So, not quite the same as falling and getting up. In Japanese it doesn’t sound so silly: you’re up at the beginning, down and up several times, and then up again at the end. Reminds me a bit of Chumbawumba...

Anyway, Japanese isn’t generally written like that anymore except on fancy placards in a traditional setting, so modern Japanese of the same phrase looks like this:

七転び八起き — “nana korobi yaoki” (Japanese pronunciation for the kanji instead of Chinese, with Japanese hiragana used to modify the kanji. Japanese use “Chinese” pronunciations for kanji linked together like the first example, but these were established centuries ago and bear only a vague resemblance to actual Chinese, since, like English speakers, it sounds different to Japanese ears.)

This has a meaning more like “(always) rise (after) a fall”, since were not using action verbs here, like “rising” and “falling”, just “rise” and “fall”. So it’s the verb situation which translates poorly into English, and conveys a bad math problem/proverb rather than the feeling of getting “up” after each time you are knocked “down” (sorry, couldn’t resist, but also I’m serious).

This would look great on Eli’s helmet, and not seem silly at all to actual Japanese people (can’t say for certain about Chinese, but the characters have the same meaning so I think you’ll be okay):

Anyway, I hope this helps. No ones ever gonna keep you down. Cheers!

Sound Advice

"What are the scores today?" Eli 16.3 asked.

"Um, let's see," I said, scrolling through my phone for college football scores. "Florida is ahead of "DEST" 56-7 at halftime."

"What is that?"

"There's a Destin, Florida, that's basically a beach," I said. "I think Florida St. scheduled a beach."

"Can they do that?"

"You really shouldn't schedule a beach," I said.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Links!

Light for the holiday week, as usual, but there's some good stuff in here.

This is a staggeringly fantastic article: The.Last of the Iron Lungs.

From Wally, and I do not recommend this in any fashion: We Tasted Pringles’ Limited-Edition Thanksgiving Dinner, the Entire Holiday Meal in Chip Form. This is an interesting read: The story of Hitler's 'miracle weapon'.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and it's amazing: Man finds car 20 years after forgetting where he parked it.

From Steven Davis, and this is fascinating: How the World’s First Color Photograph Came to Be By Abigail Cain. Also, and I always wondered about this (it's NSFW for language), it's Why Can't You Use Phones on Planes?

From Roger Robar, who said he had fond memories of this place: Abandoned: The Rise, Fall and Decay of Disney’s River Country.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific article: How an unpaid UK researcher saved the Japanese seaweed industry. This is bizarre: VA study shows parasite from Vietnam may be killing vets.

From Chris Meadowcraft, and this is fascinating: The Grasshopper Problem.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Androids (a continuing discussion)

You need to read this article first: How to Hire Fake Friends and Family: In Japan, you can pay an actor to impersonate your relative, spouse, coworker, or any kind of acquaintance.

Here's the open:
Money may not be able to buy love, but here in Japan, it can certainly buy the appearance of love—and appearance, as the dapper Ishii Yuichi insists, is everything. As a man whose business involves becoming other people, Yuichi would know. The handsome and charming 36-year-old is on call to be your best friend, your husband, your father, or even a mourner at your funeral.

His 8-year-old company, Family Romance, provides professional actors to fill any role in the personal lives of clients. With a burgeoning staff of 800 or so actors, ranging from infants to the elderly, the organization prides itself on being able to provide a surrogate for almost any conceivable situation.

What's astonishing about this service is that women hire actors to play the role of fathers for their children. For years. They act as grooms at weddings. They fill multi-year, complex roles. With this service, it's possible to create an entirely different backstory for your life, with physical people--not online trickery--filling the roles.

It made me think about the android discussion we had a few weeks ago, and whether androids would be valued as relationship partners. I think they would be highly valued, in certain situations. An example from the article:
The women typically say that in a real relationship, you’re slowly building trust. It takes years to create a strong connection. For them, it’s a lot of hassle and disappointment. Imagine investing five years with someone and then they break up with you. It’s just easier to schedule two hours per week to interact with an ideal boyfriend. There’s no conflict, no jealousy, no bad habits. Everything is perfect.

I think it's easy to say that an emotional interaction with an android, or an actor, is a symptom of how many things are broken in our society, and how substantial human relationships are the fabric of society, etc.

Here's a radical proposal, though: maybe they're not.

Maybe society is evolving, as it always does, and what we consider relationships are evolving, as they always do. Maybe lots of people are broken, and this will just be a different way, a new way, to try and heal some of the damage.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Factor

I was walking outside a mall last week, in Detroit.

It was dark, and I walked up behind a woman, then started to go around her.

I felt awkward. Sort of a small sidewalk, and I felt like I was passing a little close, particularly in the dark.

She turned, looked at me, and relaxed immediately.

Was it because I was a genial-looking old man? Hell, no. I'm not genial, and she didn't look at my face. Instead, she immediately looked at my left hand, which was carrying--an ICEE.

I had a sudden realization: the least threatening thing on earth is an ICEE.

Just create a mental image of anyone--scary government agent, vampire, axe murderer--and put an ICEE in their hand. Threat level: zero.

Use this knowledge wisely, and only for good.

The Smart Shopper

I talked to one of my favorite people in Austin this week, and she told me a story about her 4-year-old son. This is Angie's story from here on out.

Jack eats breakfast, then I take him to preschool, and the first thing he does there is--eat breakfast. Which is fine, because he's so skinny, and I figure he needs the pounds.

He goes to preschool at 7:20, but one day last week, he came in at 7:05 and said, "Mum, can you take me to preschool now? It's important!"

I take him, but we're there so early that the building isn't even open yet. So we wait in the car for about 10 minutes, and then the doors open. He shouts, "Thanks, Mum!" and runs into the building.

When I pick him up after school, he says, "This is why I had to go to school early. Yesterday, they RAN OUT of chocolate milk."

"Jack, I can buy you chocolate milk at the store. You don't have to only drink it at school."

"I know, Mum, but this was FREE milk."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Inspirational Math

"I read something today that claims to be a Japanese proverb," I said.

"What is it?" Eli 16.3 asked.

"Fall seven times, get up eight," I said. "Pretty inspirational."

"Hmm," Eli said, thinking. "That doesn't make sense."


"Well, if you fall down seven times, and get up seven times--"

"You're already standing," I said.

"Exactly," he said. "So what's the extra 'get up' for? How do you get up when you're already standing?"

"Maybe you have to stand up first?" I said. "So falling down isn't the first move here, possibly. It's standing up."

"Too confusing," he said.

"Inspiration withdrawn," I said.

Have to get the math right if you want to inspire, proverbs.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Minotaur's Massage Maze

I need a massage.

I screwed up something on my right side, probably sciatica, and it hurts. That's okay, but it's not getting better, which is not okay.

So I'm looking for a deep tissue massage place, which sounds straightforward. "Sounds".

All of these places have hours more suited to someone who lives in the base of a tree. "Third Wednesday, 3:30-5:00 p.m.", "Thirty minutes before and after sunrise", or "When the powers of the Earth align".

No websites, either, just an underground network of communication elves, moving hand-written messages from village to village. Elfnet.

"Leave a message".

Now, you might think that implies some kind of promise by the receiving party to listen to the message and respond, but in my experience, that is not the case. It's more of a message in a bottle outreach.

Most of these places are rated 5-stars in Google, and they all have one review. Which isn't sketchy at all, or maybe most of their customers are of the eleven persuasion, and can elves even write? I'm just not sure anymore.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is fantastic: Build Your Own 3D Zoetrope With This Desktop Animation Kit. This is remarkable and obscure: The Glass Armonica, Benjamin Franklin’s 1761 invention. This is useful for everyone:  Here's a 21st Century Skill--and How to Teach It!. This is stunning: An Astonishingly Small Stone Carving That Has the Power to Change Art History.

From Roger Robar, and this is an interesting read: The Mentally Ill Hero: How The Tick and Dirk Gently Give Unbalanced “Sidekicks” Center Stage.

From C. Lee, and this is a thoughtful read: I was depressed, anxious, and on the verge of suicide… then Zelda: Breath of the Wild saved me.

From Wally, and this is bizarre: Tiny Fossils Reveal That Human Ancestors Could Be Crushed With Your Thumb. From the wayback machine: 1964 NOMDA Blue Book: Smith-Corona (SCM) Font Styles.


Ending the week, and this is a great read, it's Two Stars Slammed Into Each Other And Solved Half Of Astronomy’s Problems. What Comes Next?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Just A Normal Thing

I went to work out at the YMCA last weekend, and a wheelchair basketball tournament was in progress.

It was kids.

Every time I see a kid in a wheelchair, I feel sorry for them. My feelings don't come from a bad place, but it's patronizing. I assume that a wheelchair is a life-breaker.

I assume that kids aren't strong enough to handle it. In truth, though, it's because I couldn't handle it.

After I worked out, I watched a few games. And you know what?

It was all so very normal.

Kids, being athletes. Playing hard, and playing physical. Parents griping about the referees.

The basketball was solid. Fast breaks. Kids setting picks. Selling out on defense. One kid, clearly the star, being selfish with the ball.

Nobody felt sorry. There was nothing to feel sorry about.

While I was watching the game, I kept accidentally getting in the way of a very small person in a wheelchair. Every time I apologized, he said, "It's all good." So when I saw him, and I wasn't in his way (for once), I asked him how many games a day they played, and if it was tough, because the pace was so high.

He said, "We train for it, so it's not bad," and I told him good luck in his game. Even though he didn't look like an athlete, at all, I stayed and watched for a few minutes, and looks were deceiving. He was deft with the chair, and his basketball I.Q. was high.

I talked to a lady who was running the merchandise table, and she said there's a tournament circuit, and the best teams travel all over the country. Not quite AAU basketball, but not that different, either. She said that kids in chairs often struggle with depression, and being on a team gives them a positive experience, and goals. Plus, she said handling a chair on a daily basis is much, much easier when you play sports.

I looked at the faces of the people streaming in as I walked out. Nobody felt sorry.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Oldening

In my study last week, I suddenly saw flashes out of the corner of my left eye.

I turned toward the hallway. Light flashes every second or so, at the very far edge of my vision.

Very unnerving.

I got up and walked into the hallway. No lights flashing there. Then it happened again, and I couldn't figure out where the hell it was coming from.

Of course, it wasn't coming from anywhere.

I figured the best thing I could do was close my eyes for a while, so I did. Fifteen minutes or so, and when I opened them, the flashes were much less frequent, but still there.

The next day, it happened again. Not very often--once an hour or so--but it was getting increasingly freaky to me that it was still happening.

When in doubt, go to the eye doctor. Immediately.

After a thorough examination, what he told me blew my mind. I'm going to use Wikipedia here, because it's thorough:
The vitreous (Latin for "glassy") humor is a gel which fills the eye behind the lens. Between it and the retina is the vitreous membrane. With age the vitreous humor changes, shrinking and developing pockets of liquefaction, similar to the way a gelatin dessert shrinks and detaches from the edge of a pan. At some stage the vitreous membrane may peel away from the retina. This is usually a sudden event.

Hell yes, it was sudden.

It's called "posterior vitreous detachment", and while there is a small risk for a detached retina, that didn't happen in my case (I have to go back for a follow-up in six weeks, but the odds are very low at this point).

The doctor told me that the reason I saw flashes is because the vitreous detaching sends electrical signals to the brain, which the brain interprets as light. So every flash was a little bit of detachment happening.

I never knew anything like this existed. Absolutely no idea.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Grudging Diplomacy and Other Images

I really enjoy the layers of reflections in that picture.

I stress walk before Eli 16.3s games, and wandering through a neighborhood near the rink, I walked past this:

Parking garage? Skateboard ramps? Burial ground? Chipmunks? If only I had investigated.

In this next picture, George is giving me the "Am I helping? This is helping, right?" look:

This was during the World Series, and what a beard!

"That beard goes to Community College," I said. 

"Do you see the dirt on the back of his jersey? His beard put it there," Eli said. 

"That beard is self-trimming," I said.  

Monday, November 13, 2017

Costume Count 2017 (raw data)

Wade through at your own peril.

Also, "Probably a Jedi" is very solid.

"Bobby in a Box" 1
"I Made My Own Costume" 1
"Probably a Jedi" 1
80's Baby 1
AJ 1
Alicorn 1
Alien 1
alien 1
Ambiguous Teenager 2
Angel 2
antifa 2
Anubis 1
Ariel 1
Aristocrat Woman 4
Army man 1
astronaut 2
Bacon 1
Bacon and Egg 1
Bam-Bam Rubble 1
banana 1
Barnacle Boy 1
Baseball Player 4
Basketball Player 2
Bat Woman 2
Batgirl 10
Bear 2
Bee 2
Beemo from Adventure Time 1
Beetle 1
Beetlejuice 1
Bellatrix LeStrange 1
Belle 1
Big Bad Wolf 1
Bird 1
birthday cake 1
Blue Jays fan 3
Blue Man 1
Bob the Builder 1
Boba Fett 1
Boy with themed backpack 2
Bunny 5
Butterfly 4
c3-p0 1
Cake 1
Camouflage Ghost / Forgetful Sniper 1
Caped Unknown 1
Captain America 9
captain hook 1
Cat 26
Catholic School Girl 1
Cheerleader 3
Cheetah 1
Chewbacca 3
Chinese Princess 1
Chipmunk 1
Chuckie 1
Cinderella 2
Clark Kent 1
Classic Bedsheet Ghost 2
Cleopatra 1
Clifford the big red dog 1
Clown 5
Clown (evil) 8
CNN Correspondent 1
Construction Worker 1
Corpse Bride 3
Cow 2
Cow Head 1
Cowboy 4
Cowgirl 3
Creeper From Minecraft 2
Creepy Pasta 1
Cruella DeVille 2
crypt keeper 1
Daisy Duck 1
Dalmation 3
Dancer 3
Dark Riding Hood 1
Darth Vader 3
Davey Crocket 1
Day Of the Dead theme 2
Dead Dolly 3
Dementor 2
Demon 1
Descendent 2
Devil 6
Dinosaur 2
Doc McStuffins 1
doctor 2
Dog 3
Dr. Who (Tom Baker) 1
Dragon 2
Dragonslayer (or Knight) 1
Duck mask with fake assless underwear 1
Duckling 1
Dumbo (Onesie) 1
Eeyore 1
Egyptian Queen 1
Einstein 1
Element of Air 1
Elephant 1
Elf 1
Elsa 1
Evil Fairy 1
Evil Jester 1
Ewok 1
Faceless Black Bodysuit Thing 1
Fairy 7
Fievel 1
Fireman 3
Fisherman 1
Flapper 1
Flash 1
Football player 7
Fox 1
Fox in a suit 1
Fred Flintstone 1
Gangster 3
Genie 1
Ghost 4
Ghoul 7
GI Joe 1
Giraffe 1
Girl 1
Godzilla 1
Gopher/Woodchuck 1
Gorilla 1
Goth Girl 1
Graduate 1
Grim Reaper 3
Groom 2
Groot 3
Guy from Scream 2
Guy with exposed lit lungs 1
Guy With Gas Mask 1
Gymnast 1
Half of a Nerds Packet 2
Halo Soldier 1
Hamster 1
Harlequin girl 1
Harley Quinn 5
Harry Potter 7
Hei Hei 1
Hermione Granger 4
Hockey Player 9
Hot Dog 2
Hotdog vendor 1
Hufflepuff student 1
Hulk 4
Identity Thief (burglar outfit w/ many different name tags) 1
Incredibles 2
Iron Man 3
Jack Skellington 3
Jake from Adventure Time (Onesie) 1
Jason (Friday the 13th) 3
Jedi 1
Jessie 2
Jester 1
Jim from The Office as "Dave" 1
Jockey 1
Joker 2
Just Face Makeup 4
Killer 1
knight 4
Kylo Ren 2
Ladybug 2
Lame mask/black cloak 3
Lego 1
Leopard 1
Mad Hatter 2
Mad Scientist 2
Mad Surgeon 1
Mario 2
Marshall from Paw Patrol 3
Martial Arts Guy 1
MasterChief 1
Mechanic 1
Mermaid 1
Mermaid Man 1
Michael Jackson 1
Mickey Mouse 1
Minimal Vampire 1
Minion 5
Minnie Mouse 4
Moana 3
Modern Hunting Outfit 1
Monkey 1
Mouse 1
Mr Incredible 1
Mulan 1
Multisyllabic mumbling shy kid 1
Mummy 1
Murder Clown 2
NASA tech 1
Nerd 2
Netflix 1
Ninja 14
Ninja Turtle 3
Ninjago 1
No Costume 25
No Costume Apart From Flipflops Detail 1
Nurse 2
Optimus Prime 1
Panda 1
Parka, Balaclava (reversed) and Sunglasses 1
Paw Patrol 1
Peasant 1
Pebbles Flintstone 1
Peter Pan 1
Phantom of the Opera 1
Pikachu 6
Pink Cat 1
Pink Monster 1
Pink Parrot (Onesie) 1
Pink Power Ranger 1
Pirate 13
Pirate Queen 1
Policeman 5
Power Ranger 1
Princess 36
Princess Anna 1
Princess Jasmine 1
Princess Strawberry 1
Prisoner 1
professor 1
pumpkin 1
Puppy 4
Purple Hair Thing 1
Raccoon 1
Railroad Crossing Arm 1
Rainbow Dash 1
Rainbow Unicorn 1
Random dressup 8
random mask 3
Rapper 3
Reaper from 'Overwatch' 1
Red Dancing Guy 1
Red Riding Hood 1
Redcoat Soldier 1
Referee 1
Rey 2
Robin 1
Rocket Raccoon 1
Rodeo Cowboy 1
Rufio 1
Sally from nightmare before christmas 2
Scarecrow 1
Scary Bunny 1
Scary Clown 5
Scientist 3
Scooby Doo 2
Scream 1
Scream Ghoul 1
Serial Killer 3
Skeletal T-Rex (inflatable) 1
Skeleton 16
Skunk 1
Sleeping Beauty 1
Smurfette 1
Snow Leopard 1
Snow White 2
Soldier 3
Sophia 1st 1
Sorceress 1
Spaceman 1
SpecOps Operative 1
Spider-Man 10
Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man 4
Steve From Minecraft 1
Steven Universe 1
Stitch 1
Stormtrooper 4
Supergirl 4
Superman 5
Tank 1
teacher 2
Teddy Bear 1
Teenage Kitty Kat Girls 3
Tennis Player 1
The Flash 2
The Hulk 1
Thing 1 1
Thing 2 1
Thor 2
tick-tock the croc 1
Tie dyed kid 1
Tinkerbell 2
Toad 1
Toga 1
Tough Girl 1
Transformer 1
T-Rex 3
Turtle 1
Two Pokemons 1
Uma (Ursula's Daughter) 1
Undead 1
Underkill 1
Unicorn 2
Unidentified 13
Unidentified (bundled up) 8
Unknown 1
Vampire 12
Vampire Bunny 1
Vampire Hunter (thank god) 1
Vampire Pikachu 1
Vampire Princess 1
Vampire Witch 1
Voldemort 1
Voodoo Doll 1
Warm Demon 1
Warrior 1
Wednesday Addams 2
Werewolf 3
Wicket the Ewok 1
Wilma Flintstone 1
Winnie the Pooh 2
Winter Jacket 9
Witch 30
Wizard 1
Wolf (Rob Stark?) 1
Wolfman 1
Wolverine 1
Wonder Woman 9
Woody 3
yoda 1
Yoda 1
Yoshi 1
Zombie 11
Zombie baseball player 1
Zombie Bride 1
Zombie Bride 1
Zombie Cheerleader 2
Zombie Skateboarder 1
Zombie Spiderman 1

Costume Count 2017 (Data Dig)

First, two notable costumes I'd missed in the initial collection:
Identity thief (burglar outfit with many different name tags)

Kudos, gentlemen.

Top ten this year:
Princess      36
Witch      30
Cat              26
Skeleton      16
Ninja      14
Pirate      13
Vampire      12
Zombie      11
Batgirl      10
Spider-Man  10

Zombies are underrepresented in this, in particular, because there are specific zombie outshoots in their own category.

Princesses, though. Damn. Every year.

In a positive note, there were 3X as many Wonder Woman costumes as cheerleader costumes this year. Way to go, world!

Total costumes counted: 804

Reporting countries:
United States
(No Scotland this year--not sure where Paul is)

Reporting cities (sorry, no "fancy" map this year, and these are very raggedly in order from West to East):
Gresham, Oregon
Savage, Minnesota
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota X4
Chicago, Illinois
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Canton, Michigan
Cincinnati, Ohio
Louisville, Kentucky
Huntsville, Alabama
Toronto, Ontario CA
New York City, New York
Columbia, South Carolina, 
Baltimore, Maryland
Portland, Maine
Halifax, Novia Scotia
Odense, Denmark

Yes, there's a costume reporting powerhouse cluster in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. 

All the data is coming in the next post (my formatting errors included free of charge).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Links!

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is fascinating: The Secret History of Paris’s Catacomb Mushrooms. Bizarre: Sajama Lines.

From Wally, and this is a masterpiece: Japanese Woman Recreates Food From Miyazaki Films And Other Anime.

From Steven Davis, and this is potentially remarkable: 'Big void' identified in Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza. This is quite amazing: Unconventional Domino Tricks by Hevesh5 & Kaplamino. Very striking: La mécanique de l’Histoire, an acrobatic performance by Yoann Bourgeois. Oh, yes: Ridiculous Tricks You Can Do With a Slinky.

From Roger, and it's hilarious: Thor: Ragnarok 4D w/ the 'Thor' Cast.

From Brett Harper, and this is brilliant: Virtual reality could be the answer to treating phantom pain.

From Ken Piper, and this is a bizarre and brilliant story: The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too.

Possibly the first salad dressing-related link in DQ history: MIT Could Revolutionize Salads With a New Stable Way to Mix Oil and Water.

Ending the week, this is just utterly spectacular: You'd never believe this amazing blues guitarist is only 12-years-old. However good you might think this kid could be, based on the link title, I promise he's better.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


Sorry, Costume Count 2017 info delayed until Monday because I found the DVD drive.

I had a bunch of CDs of Eli 16.3s earlier hockey years, given to me by various parents taking pictures, and I hadn't gone through them in years. Today, though, I did, and boy, it brought back memories. I even have video of him playing a game when he was 10.6 (3-2 win, 17 saves).

I'm not sure how we got here from there. Seems impossible.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Official Face of Costume Count 2017

Brian's son, dressed as Annubis:

Here are the awesome details:
I’m very proud to say that my son has reached the super-secret end boss of Spelunky, King Yama, probably a dozen times. I expect he’ll finally complete the game as a six-year-old.

The point of all this, of course, is that Anubis figures in heavily as a mini-boss in Spelunky – thus serving as the inspiration for Ian to decide over a year ago that he wanted to be Anubis for Halloween. 

Costume Count 2017

Three countries. Seventeen cities. A staggering number of reports from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Costume Count 2017.

Summary data tomorrow, but here are a few good bits:
Camouflage Ghost/Forgetful Sniper
Creepy Pasta
Duck mask with fake ass-less underwear
Guy with exposed lit lungs
Minimal Vampire
Multi syllabic Mumbling Shy Kid
No costume apart from flipflops detail
Railroad Crossing Arm
Vampire Hunter ("Huge Kudos to the Vampire Hunter girl for wearing an outfit that sets her against ~2/3 of her class at school. I seem to remember her from last year doing the same thing, so maybe she sees it as a steady job.")

Kudos to "Minimal Vampire" and "Railroad Crossing Arm", in particular. The unquestioned winner of the 2017 Costume Count, though, is--
Bobby in a Box

The description of BiaB that makes it all worthwhile:
"Fell over on neighbors steps, fell over on our steps, both times took help to get back upright. Seemed entirely accustomed if not resigned to falling over on steps on the way to get candy."

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Golf Club 2 (a few notes)

Sorry, it's been a messy day and I just now sat down to write.

I've been playing a bit of GC2 lately, because it's relaxing, and somehow I got good.

Actually, it's not "somehow". I figured out something that I want to pass along in case you're playing.

I had a persistent fade on my shots and couldn't get rid of it. Worse, it wasn't entirely consistent. Even worse, it meant I couldn't draw my shot on holes where it was needed.

The game gives you good feedback on the forward swing (when you're using mouse swing, which is what I use). What it doesn't do, though, is give you feedback on the backswing.

I'd spent all my time trying to correct my forward swing, but after experimentation on the range, I realized my problem was in my backswing. In real golf, if you want to correct a fade, you want an inside-out swing, but in GC2, it's the reverse. You actually want to go a little out on the backswing, then straight or a little in on the forward swing.

Once I figured that out, I started hitting the ball straight (or nearly so) almost every time, and when I need to, I can draw the ball now with no problem.

There are some beautiful user-created courses available for GC2, and I like them much better than the stock courses. The courses in general are amazing, with the exception that they seem lack some of the elevation of real courses. Just a bit too flat, compared to real life.

Here are a few of my favorite courses (they tend to get easier the further down the list you go):
The Capybara Club
Dusty Lion (East)
Briarbanks Country Club
The Whitefang
Burrowing Owl Golf Club
Chambers Bay (beautiful links course)
Roseland Hills CC
Fisherman's Dock at South Bethany
Harps Pass Municipal GC
Northumberland Park UK

The Capybara Club, in particular, deserves mention, because it handles elevation in a very realistic manner. And it's very, very beautiful. It's also a beast, probably the toughest course I've ever played--extremely long, narrow fairways, and small greens.

Runic Games

It was a sad day when Runic Games closed last week.

Here's a terrific series of reminisces from Travis Baldree about Runic during the Torchlight era:
How Microsoft Almost Published Torchlight, And Other Memories From Runic Games.

Travis is working on another space game now, and it's going to be incredible. Can't wait.

Monday, November 06, 2017

GameStop (your follow-up)

I'm doing costume count results this week, so if you haven't sent in your count yet, please do so.

Here's an update on the Gamestop post from last week. This is from a former mid-level employee at Gamestop.

I worked at GameStop in the 2011-2013 timeframe as the company was trying to figure out how to diversify more and reduce its reliance on physical game sales. This move actually makes a lot of sense.

In recent years, the biggest challenge GameStop has faced is just getting people to come into the stores period.  Amazon, Walmart, BestBuy, etc. are all typically offering better prices, better service. It's been very hard for them to compete for the last few years. If it weren't for the launch of the Nintendo Switch, this year would be very bleak for GameStop in terms of game sales.

One of the things GameStop does amazingly well is customer analysis (especially with people who sign up for PowerUp Rewards). They've got a LOT of customer data that shows just getting someone through that door means money, and it doesn't matter if that person is coming in to buy a $10 Mario keychain, they know they can upsell that customer pretty successfully. And the more often that person comes through the door, the better those numbers get.  Everything GameStop does these days is to drive you to the store.  In-Store pickup, web-to-store, store-to-store, mobile all point the customer back to a brick and mortar location.

It's also worth noting that overall, game sales (even used) are not a growth area for the company anymore. With ThinkGeek, they've been moving heavily into the memorabilia and merchandise market. Tommy wants the latest Mario game?  I bet GameStop can sell mom/dad on some pretty sweet new Mario merch too, especially at Christmas.

That $10 a month rental fee? First, this will earn a positive return just by bringing customers back that had previously moved on to competitors.

Second, people will definitely forget they're signed up after a point.  All subscription businesses are built on a certain % of customers staying on for X months without actually using the service before cancelling.  GameStop is good with customer numbers and I'll put money on this being how they were able to justify the program financially.  Some people will maximize what they can get out of it, but a lot won't, and those people will be the profit.

Third, as I said before: upselling.  This gets people in the door. This gives store employees a chance to push a pre-order (because hey, you want Call of War Duty 15 when it comes out next year? We may not have many used copies on hand for a few weeks... do you really want to wait?), GameInformer subscriptions, and most importantly, merchandise. I bet, on average, that $10 monthly subscription generates them at least 5x that with customers who actively use the subscription.

In the end, I don't think they're really going to cannibalize at all, they're losing those customers anyway. This is a way to bring them back, and shift those customers into new product categories.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and what a story, it's Rediscovering History’s Lost First Female Video Game Designer.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is exceptional: Space changes how genes are expressed.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is very interesting: Where the Peppers Grow: The distinctive numbing flavor of Sichuan peppers defines the region’s world-famous cuisine. So why are they so hard to find in America?

An excellent group of links, as always, from C. Lee:
Don't Put Your Keys Between Your Fingers for Self-Defense (hopefully you'll never need this)
The useless design features in modern products
Meet the model changing the future of space medicine
Ukiyoe Heroes woodblock printmaker shares secrets of the trade with fun print parties in Tokyo

From Steven Davis, and it's fascinating: The Real Story of Automation Beginning with One Simple Chart. This is a fantastic read: 9 Analog Photography Techniques You Need to Know. An interesting question: Why Are There No Great Female Werewolves? This is beautiful, and with bonus Strauss: Most Satisfying Video of Pop-Up Cards designed by Peter Dahmen.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

iPhone X Facial Recognition (from Garret)

Garret is much smarter than I am, so here's his correction to the post I wrote on Tuesday.

Some of your assertions are not strictly true. It isn't impossible for Apple to come up with the 1 : million number, and it's not even impossible for them to test that number.

The thing about the probability is that it is likely an algorithmic calculation based on the probability of collisions in their image hash. It's not a real-world tested number, but it is likely generated by taking a massive database of sample images that are run through the facial recognition software and then checked for collisions - "matches" that are invalid. If they take 1000 images and run them through their software and 2 images match - that gives you a 2 / 1,000,000 probability that any two random faces will be erroneously matched by their software.

In fact, you would need 1,414 unique images to generate a testable 1 / 1,000,000 probability.

Now what will happen is that facial recognition will be too restrictive to start with. Different lighting conditions, different angles... it's a hard problem. If people complain that its too hard to unlock their phone because facial recognition isn't reliable enough, if it needs optimal conditions to work, then what is likely to happen is an adjustment to the algorithm to loosen those constraints. But this is a sliding scale, the more you loosen those constraints, the more likely collisions will occur. It's a balancing act between convenience and security - and that's a juggling act that will always have SOMEONE complaining about.

There are many reasons I don't like the idea of using facial recognition to unlock a device, but I won't get into them here. Accessibility wise there might be a use case where it makes sense, though I don't know what that use case is. For the general public though, I don't consider this a net positive feature.

Then, another e-mail an hour later (and just as interesting).

There are a couple of confounding factors that may cause the actual incidence of collisions being higher than the statistical incidence of collisions.

Consider a random (representative) sampling of test data, and select 1500 images. If you get a single collision, that would translate into slightly less than 1 collision per million comparisons.

But the distribution of people who look at your phone is not random, nor representative. Consider all the people in the world, which of those people is going to be mostly likely to be misidentified as you by an algorithm? The answer: your closest blood relatives. Your brothers and sisters especially (due to aging factors). What this means is that the people around you that are most likely to mistakenly unlock your phone are also the ones closest to you.

Now consider this. The chance that any random person has an identical twin is roughly 1 in 150. So if you consider a geographic sampling of people as opposed to a purely random sampling, the actual likelihood of a false-positive match is 1 in 45,000 simply due to the existence of identical twins. This is a problem that isn't likely to come up in a random image sample due to the astronomical odds of selecting BOTH twins (which is somewhere in the range of 1 in 363 billion that a sample of 1500 single portrait photos will contain pictures of each twin).

So the likelihood of your phone being able to be unlocked by another person is actually MUCH higher than 1 in a million (it's actually somewhat more frequent than 1 in 45,000).

But the numbers that Apple is giving you (although it is not explicitly stated since as far as I know they haven't published their methodology) isn't the probability that your brother or sister can unlock your phone. What they are telling you is that if your phone is stolen by a stranger, the odds of that stranger being able to unlock your phone because their face is a collision with yours is 1 in a million.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

What, a Post About Gamestop?

Incredibly, Gamestop has announced something that seems to be a legitimately good deal.

That seems impossible, I know.

It's called "Power Pass Unlimited Gaming". It's $60 for six months. Here's the official description:
Enjoy half a year of unlimited gaming for the price of one new game!
Pick any pre-owned game, from throwback classics to the latest hits.
Swap as often as you want and keep the last one. 

Well, if anyone should have a giant stock of pre-owned games, it should be Gamestop. And it's only $10 a month, which is just one lunch, basically.

Plus, it seems like you could find the most expensive used game they offer, check it out a week before your six months is up, keep that game, and sell it right back. So that $60 expense could be only $40, pretty easily.

How does Gamestop make money on this? Damned if I know.

You could argue that people will get this subscription and never use it, but if I'm a parent, I absolutely get this for my kid, and we'll go to Gamestop every week, just like Blockbuster in the old days. I wouldn't have any new games to trade in because I wouldn't buy them anymore.

All right, I'd buy some new Nintendo Switch games. Those are exempt. Everything else, though, I'd just rent.

Also, if I was a used games consumer, I wouldn't need to buy them anymore, either.

No matter how I look at this, it appears that Gamestop is cannibalizing its own business model. That's an interesting business strategy.

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