Wednesday, February 28, 2018


"I'm making cheese straws to take to my dinner with Mary Shawn," Gloria said.

"What?" I asked. "You don't MAKE cheese straws. You buy them prepackaged at the store."

"No, you can make them," I said.

"They grow," I said. "They grow and you pick them. Not off a tree. More of a plant, like green beans, where you stake the vines and what not. You don't make green beans, do you?"

Gloria laughed.

"Come on! Haven't you seen those pictures of little Italian boys picking cheese straws in the fields?"

I Wonder

Absent any other factors, are introverts more likely to use headphones to listen to music than extroverts?

I realized today that I use headphones to create a a space where I look inward. Most of the music I listen to I use to deepen my concentration, so it makes sense to listen to it in an enveloping way.

Would extroverts find that claustrophobic, though? I never thought about it until now.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Not even surprising:
It seems Metal Gear Survive only comes with a single free save slot – if you want a second one you’ll have to pony up a significant chunk of extra cash.

Metal Gear Solid requires you to create an avatar, which is tied to your single-player and online multiplayer save file/account. If you want to start a fresh playthrough, you’ve got to create a new character, which means you’ll have to delete your original save or cough up 1,000 SV Coins. Konami is selling their premium in-game currency in various set amounts — 550 SV Coins will set you back $5, while 1150 will cost you $10.

If you share your Steam, Xbox Live, or PSN account with family members, each additional player will have to spend that extra $10 to play with their own character.

If you're wondering if you can earn "premium in-game currency" by playing the game--well, you get 30 SV coins a day that you log in. So if you want that extra save slot without paying, it's only 34 days away!

RPS goes into more detail Metal Gear Survive’s scuzzy microtransactions: paid saveslots, cash for emotes and buy-a-boost.

I can think of a few phrases that apply here: "burn in hell", "kiss my ass", etc. All kidding aside, though, there is a serious problem here. People buy the game not knowing about the specifics of the micro-transactions.

Games should now come with warning labels that specifically spell all of these micro-transactions out in detail, just like heart medication and sexual dysfunction medication and whatever. So during a commercial for Metal Gear Survive, there would be a somber voice in the background:
Metal Gear survive comes with only has one save slot. To gain a second save slot, requires an in-game purchase of virtual currency that costs approximately ten dollars. Your friends cannot play with their own character without additional purchases, also costing about ten dollars. 

Fully detailed. Not kidding.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Question of Responsibility

Gloria made cupcakes. They were delicious, and care-free.

"These cupcakes are tasty," I said. "I love cupcakes. They're cake without the responsibility."

Gloria laughed. "How do cakes have responsibility?"

"Come on, you don't know?" I asked. "How big a piece should I cut? Maybe that's too much cake? Maybe other people want cake. Where is the plate I need to eat this cake? Where is a fork? How do I get this plastic film back on the cake? Where do I put the cake?"

"I had no idea," she said.

"Cupcake," I said. "Unwrap. Eat. Dispose of wrapper. Freedom."

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Links!

From Wally, and this is thoughtful reflection: The Father Of The Internet Sees His Invention Reflected Back Through A 'Black Mirror'. This is lovely: In Germany, the world's most romantic postbox. This is both remarkable and bizarre: DIY dot matrix pencil printer.

From Guy Byars, and I've never heard of Crokinole, but it looks like fun: We're Mesmerized By This Incredibly Close Game Of Crokinole.

Dubious Quality Super Genius Garret Rempel sent in links to two of the most astounding skating performances in history. Words fail me.
Brasseur & Eisler: Patricia The Stripper
1992 Olympics EX - Isabelle Brasseur/Lloyd Eisler

From C. Lee, and this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read: What to say when you meet the Angel of Death at a party. Boy, what a surprise: England and US will not take Pisa tests in tolerance. A very odd idea: I Snuggled With This Robot Cat and It Didn't Scratch Me Once. This is an insightful look into indie development: How the Sausage gets made (aka "where the @$%^ is DQII"). This is terrific: You Should Thank Maurice Hilleman for Helping You Live Past the Age of 10.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jessie Diggins

I was going to write a post about my favorite athlete in the 2018 Winter Olympics yesterday.

She'd put in some absolutely mind-boggling cross-country performances, going so hard that I expected her rib cage to burst and her heart to explode. She seemed to have an unbendable will, and had performed incredibly well, even though she had two fifths and a sixth in her events so far. But she had gotten everything, absolutely everything, out of herself.

And she was an underdog, since the U.S. generally is weak in the Winter Olympics, with the exception of the 42Olympic events. And my whole life, I've always identified with underdogs.

Then she won a gold medal yesterday.

So I really wanted to write about her yesterday, but didn't want to put up a spoiler for people who record everything (like me).

The event was the Women's Cross Country Team Sprint, and her name is Jessie Diggins.

I was watching this race, and I was tearing up as she willed her redlined body to make one last sprint, a sprint so powerful that it should have been impossible.

The call of the race was incredible as well. Here's a link with a video of the last thirty seconds or so (I tried to find the entire race, but of course NBC is ass and I couldn't find it):
Women's Cross Country Team Sprint Finish

I've basically binge watched cross country skiing and biathlon during the Olympics, and I swear I'm going to start watching the world championships every year now. Not sure how, because our coverage of these events in the U.S. is nonexistent, but I'm going to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Yes, the Future (part two)

DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, who has always been one of the best people, said this to me a few years ago: "the game industry is searching for a business model that works, and none of them work."

Ah, that explains quite a lot, doesn't it?

It has been extraordinarily painful for me to realize two things in the last few years:
1. Gaming culture is a cesspool of misogyny, racism, and white nationalism.
2. Gaming companies have increasingly begun making products where there is no game, only behavioral manipulation.

Those both hurt, don't they?

I remember back in the long-ago 1980s, playing games and being absolutely amazed at how wonderful they were. PC gamers were different, it seemed. We were almost uniformly bright--elevated, even--and what worlds we could access!

Created by wonderful people, seemingly, incredibly creative people who were experimenting with an incredibly powerful new tool.

Maybe gaming culture was always full of assholes, and I just didn't know it because we weren't all connected back then, but it feels like at some point, it all went bad.

Things fall apart, as a nod to Chinua Achebe.

So I look back on something I've truly, truly enjoyed for over four decades, and it feels poisoned, to some degree. I still know deeply intelligent, thoughtful people who play games, but their voices have been drowned out by the braying shouts of idiots.

Now, instead of experiencing everything that gaming has to offer, instead of living all over the gaming world, I spend my time in secret gardens, places that haven't been trampled.

Little indie games, probably made by people somewhat like me, who played and loved games before the fall.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Yes, the Future

Remember how I wrote a while back about how games with microtransactions are inherently ruined, because the desired player state is not engagement and satisfaction, but purchasing?

Here we go.

A presentation given to gaming companies was leaked (by someone terrified by our dystopian future, I assume). Here's the setup:
The paper's slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank.

Yeah, it's definitely not a prank.

Here's a link to the full presentation (don't read it in the dark), but let me extract a few particularly sleazy moments for you.

Previous dynamic pricing models caused backlash because customers viewed selectively increased charges as unfair. Our [pricing] models go under people's radars by disguising dynamic prices as rewards instead of indirect taxations.
... We show how a customer is targeted by our Reddit AI Chatbot H.A.N.K. and is persuaded to return to a previous product they had otherwise publicly disavowed. Those responses are not generated by a human! They are created out of AI's problem set being to resolved our stated goal of manipulating the customer into reactivating themselves. H.A.N.K.'s targeting can extend to additional social media platforms.
... The AI was able to determine when a user was laying down and had the phone in their lap in their bedroom based on GSM data. After a few minutes, users were being targeted for many "free bonus", non-revenue generating gameplay ads, and the AI severely discouraged premium ads. The AI found a correlation between this specific sitting position and increased revenue in the following days. 
... The AI has a subroutine specifically for high value distraction events. A distraction event is something that a user will prioritize attention to over the game... for example, is a user is in their home and 100% of the time a child crying ends a game session, that is a high or maximum value distraction event. The AI begins a new testing lifecycle that starts when the game session closes. It will patiently lie in wait for the high value distraction event to end, then it tries to learn what actions it can take in order to create a new lucrative gaming session from the user. 
... This Artificial Frustration Event pattern was built off this player's personal frustration past. Frustration was induced during a natural gameplay event. Specifically, this user died while they were attacking an enemy human player in an arena that had the characteristics of being higher level than them, had very low health at the end of the fight, had shown to hit their random critical strikes often, had an above-0 spectator count, and ended after more than triple the time an arena fight normally takes...The AI then loads a new goal to increase revenues...After it finds a pattern, it will introduce premium solutions we've preset to each of these problems. For example, level boosts, Critical Strike booster, and other pay-to-win avenues. In this case, low health victory was the main cause of frustration. The AI recommended an MVA to the player, with the player bought. The player was then paired against other people who were vulnerable to the same target vector (Frustration Quick) and the MVA caused frustration to the new player during their natural gameplay event.

Well, I guess you need to go take a shower now after reading this. Go ahead, I'll wait.

The basis of this foul beast is a monitoring program that the user can choose to opt out of, but they have to opt out.

If they don't, then the program collects audio data from their cellphones and analyzes it to identify thousands of possible sounds that indicate a user's current state. They can also use data from wifi and GPS to construct a model of the user's environment.

Oh, and there's a social media AI to manipulate the user into engaging with a game or returning. Incredible.

Most incredibly, and this is so far off the Known Chart of Evil that I have no frame of reference, it's manipulating the outcome of user versus user competition in games to influence the purchase of premium in-game items. Then, when the poor sap has purchased the premium item, they match him against another poor sap who HASN'T purchased the booster yet.

And so it goes.

Man, it depresses me so much to even by typing this shit out.

It seems like it's time to face some ugly truths:
1. This will get more evil and insidious, because there's so much money to be made.
2. Any game with micro-transactions that are not purely cosmetic is probably pure evil to some degree. There is no innocence here.
3. Any game with competitive multiplayer that also has pay to win mechanics is infested beyond hope.

Based on the presentation, Orwell was an optimist.

Is there any way to protect ourselves from this? Well, never buying a game with micro-transactions seems like a good place to start.

All those "free" games? Nope. Apparently, freedom is never free, as the saying goes. Or something like that.

Also, if a game has competitive multiplayer, but offers pay-to-win in any form, no matter how seemingly mild, run away. You are being manipulated beyond your ability to conceive, at a level of intrusiveness that is downright terrifying.

Big publishers? They're all doing it. If they don't say they're not doing it, they're doing it. And what they're doing is very, very dirty.

Fortunately, we're in a very bipolar era in gaming. Excellent little indie games are everywhere, and they're mostly wonderful, and because of that, we don't need to put up with any of this crap.

Not one bit of it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Way Behind on Email--Sorry!

It's not you, it's me. Trying to catch up tomorrow.

A Winner, For Sure

"Here's what I want to see," I said. "A skater dressed as a puppet, beginning the free skate in a collapsed position on the ice."

Eli 16.6 laughs.

"Suddenly, he jerks to life!" I said. "He careens around the ice wildly, as if he's straining to break free of an unseen hand controlling him. In the background of the music, you hear a child's voice shout, 'I want to be a real boy!' "

"Oh, Dad," Eli says.

"Then he continues skating blah blah blah," I said. "That might win TWO gold medals."

Things come to your mind--bad things--if you watch the Olympics long enough.

I really think there's room in the Olympics for a team free skate event. That way, one skater could be a mime trapped in a box, and the other skaters on the team could form the box. Ratings bonanza.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Links!

This is a gripping and magnificently written article: The White Darkness: A solitary journey across Antarctica.

From Chris M, and this is remarkable: Engineering Marvel of the Winter Olympics: A Broom.

From Geoff Engelstein, and this is entirely fantastic: This 19-year-old Kiwi farmer accidentally became a character in a US board game.

From Wally, and this is very interesting: The bread that changed how the Irish eat breakfast. This is terrific: The Pinball Doctors: The Last Arcade Technicians in NYC. This is a remarkable story:  A Bomber’s First and Last Mission. This is incredible:  The Marksman Who Refused to Shoot George Washington. This is incredibly cool: My crazy kid jumping on his buddy’s ice covered trampoline. This is certainly creative: Best pirate I've ever seen.

From Michael M., and this is quite a story: Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech's Repair Monopoly.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific read: The Sixth Stage of Grief Is Retro-computing. This is excellent: The Argument Against Quantum Computers. Incredible: Heart Stents Are Useless for Most Stable Patients. They’re Still Widely Used.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pictures (part 2)

Big goings on around here this week--I'll fill you in on Monday--so one more picture post. 

Seriously, what the hell is this?

That is a phrase that influences people to buy something. They're just throwing together words at random now: "wild", "craft", "ethics", "Non-GMO", "clean", etc. Just throw three of those at the wall and peel off what sticks. 

Of course, it raises a legitimate question: is there a way to unethically wildcraft something?

Here's another great one, and God knows, we've needed this product for a long time:

That's right: cat litter with probiotics. I looked for a version with active cultures, but was unable to locate.

Finally, it's been so cold up here that some wildlife froze right in the middle of the street (looks like Cecil Turtle to me):

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

In Comparison

The first link on Friday is to an incredible story about Henry Worsley, who tried to solo--across Antarctica.

On a previous crossing expedition, he'd gone with two others, and there's a list of the clothing he packed for the journey: His clothing included two pairs of pants, a fleece shirt, a down jacket with a hood, gloves, a neck gaiter, a face mask, two pairs of long johns, and three pairs of socks.

That's it. That's all the clothing he packed to cross Antarctica.

I was reading this list, and I started thinking about what I wear in the rink. Let's compare (I'm in plain text, Henry Worsley in italics):
Two pairs of pants (two pairs of pants)
Three Patagonia base layer shirts (a fleece shirt)
Goose down parka with hood (down jacket with hood)
Gloves (gloves)
No face mask (face mask)

I'm basically wearing more clothes in the rink THAN A GUY CROSSING ANTARCTICA. Plus Hot Hands.

And I still get cold.

Under the Big YMCA Top

"Incredibly, someone is checking you out," I said to Eli 16.6.

He was working out at the YMCA, with me as staff, so I was tossing balls to him at various times, etc.

I noticed a girl who was persistently looking at him. This isn't that unusual at the YMCA, because even if you're a guy with a neck the size of a Buick, Eli is doing things that you can't even conceive of doing. He is both a point of interest and a colorful local character.

He finished an exercise and walked back toward the weight area, and he crossed past where the girl (and her mother) were working out.

When he came back, I was ready for chirping. "So was she checking you out?" I asked.

He burst out laughing. "Her mom looked at me and asked, 'Are you in the circus'?"


"She did," he said. "I only wish I had thought to say 'That's Plan B'."

"In her defense," I said, "you were balancing on a Bosu ball, pressing a fifteen-pound ball with your left hand, and juggling two balls with your right."

"Fair point," he said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


We got some weather last week:

I think that's a foot of snow, roughly, in about five days or so. It snowed so hard, for so long, that all the snowplows got behind (which doesn't happen often up here--the infrastructure is pretty incredible). I felt like I was driving in Siberia:

I was snowshoeing around the lake, and it was so beautiful. Deep, deep powder (which is hugely exhausting), no tracks, just untouched snow.

Except for this:

It was about the size of a door, and I wondered. Portal into an underground resort? I'd like very much for that to be true. An underground, tropical resort.

I don't even mind the temperatures, or the snow. I just have boot fatigue, as crazy as that sounds. I'm sick of putting on my winter boots every day and clomping around in them.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Whatever Winter Olympics of Figure Skating in a City I Can't Possibly Spell

The biathlon is awesome. Probably my favorite Winter Olympic sport.

In America, we can't find two people who actually understand biathlon, so for the 7.5KM sprint, NBC finds a guy who understands the sport and pairs him with--a moron.

Here's how well that strategy worked.

Knowledgeable guy:
You can tell when he's getting tired because the kick out on his stroke gets choppy.


Knowledgeable guy.
(Surprisingly interesting technical comment. Nuance. A thoughtful perspective on the challenges of the sport.)


Also, we were watching curling, and suddenly, I had a thought.

"Hey, do you think curling has THE HAMMER?" I asked.

Eli 16.6 burst out laughing.

"Oh man, I bet it does," he said.

"So every time you go curling," I said, "there's that one guy whose only objective is to knock all the rocks out of the circle with one shot, and he curls at 40 MPH."

"Curling is his winter sport when he's not bowling," Eli said.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday Links!

This is a brilliant story to lead off with: The search for Jackie Wallace. And another one: Watch how 19th-century Genaille-Lucas calculating rulers work.

From Sebastian Morgan-Lynch, and this is a terrific article about very weighty things: Don’t fear failure: Why quitting gymnastics taught me the true meaning of success.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is fascinating: The Man Who Saw Inside Himself.

From Wally, and this is a great read: 13 writers who grew to hate their own books. This is so, so good: The Star Wars Posters of Soviet Europe. This is absolutely amazing: Instead of Filling Cavities, Dentists May Soon Regenerate Teeth. This is worth reading:  Ten Myths of Gettysburg.

From Ken Piper, and this is excellent: Of grimoires and glyphs: the history behind RPG magic.

From C. Lee, and ah, Finland: Finnish broadcaster targets youth vote with anime-inspired video.This is very, very thoughtful: Life’s stresses often sink me. Here’s how I decided to change that.

From Jeremy, and I really enjoyed this game (back in the day): The Faery Tale Adventure: A personal history. Also, and this is absolutely fantastic (it's an entire book): The CPRG Book Project: Sharing the history of computer role-playing games.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Emotional Impact

"What just happened?" Eli 16.6 asked.

"I have no idea, buddy," I said. "No idea."

Eli is laughing. He's laughing, and he looks at me, and he says, "I'm crying." I've been trying not to cry until that point, and then I'm laughing, and a few seconds later, I feel big tears rolling down my cheeks.

We're both laughing so hard we can hardly breathe, and we're crying at the same time.

The reason we're laughing is that we're watching Paddington 2, and we're both crying.

I love the Paddington books, and this was faithful to the books, but the story was much darker and much more affecting than anyone on Earth could possibly expect, and the emotional impact hit both of us very hard.

And funny. It was very, very funny. And action. At one point, I leaned over and whispered, "This is practically a Bourne movie." Eli burst out laughing, but it was true.

"I'm wrecked," he said, on the drive home. "I'm going to have to recover before practice," he said, laughing.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


Eli 16.6 wears a suit and dress shoes to the rink before games.

"I think I need to get my shoes shined," he said before we left for Detroit. His shoes were scuffed and scratched in places. Winter in Michigan is hard on dress shoes.

"No problem," I said. "We can check at the mall after we eat dinner. Some malls have a stand for that."

Gloria went to a closet and brought back things.

"What are those?" I asked.

"Shoe polish and a rag," she said.

"Oh, no," I said. "We're leaving this to the professionals."

"It's just shining a shoe," she said.

"Sure," I said. "And if I want a chair, I can just make one, right? Even though I can barely dress myself, I can just tape a chair together or something. Or I can call a chair person and they can make a quality chair."

"Good grief," Gloria said.

"I don't have time to go to shoe shining school and get a degree. Or an advanced degree, if I could afford the student loans."

"Packing it anyway," she said.

"Just begging for disaster," I said.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Three People, One Toilet

Hockey trips. In bathroom stackup situations (usually before we leave for the rink), Eli 16.6 goes first, Gloria goes second, and I go last.

"Really sorry, but I went number two in there," Eli said.

"Oh, great," I said. "Now if your mom goes number two, that's a number four."

"I'm not going number two," Gloria said.

"I don't know if I can survive a number four," I said.

Gloria disappeared into the bathroom, then emerged.

"That's a number four," I said.

"It's NOT A FOUR," Gloria said.

"Now if I go number two," I said, "that's a number eight. It's geometric."

Monday, February 05, 2018

Well, that was certainly something

I've seen all LII Super Bowls, and that was, easily, the best.

More passes TO quarterbacks than punts? Incredible.

Also, incredible daring all around. No one backed off the entire game. Even though I don't care that much about football anymore, it was a real pleasure to watch.

Now, an issue.

There was a moment in the fourth quarter where New England absolutely and completely botched calling a timeout, and the reason I know that is because of gaming.

With 2:08 left in the game, Philadelphia has the ball. First down. They run the ball, and the Patriots call timeout with 2:03 left.

This is a terrible, terrible decision. Why?

If the Patriots let the clock run to the two-minute warning, when the clock stops anyway, then on second down, the Eagles have to run the ball if they want to be sure the clock will keep running. So the chances of the Eagles passing are essentially zero.

By calling timeout at 2:03, though, they guaranteed that the clock stops after the second down play, no matter what. So the Eagles could have called a pass play, knowing that it wasn't going to stop the clock from running down, because the clock was going to stop anyway.

The Eagles didn't pass, but the Patriots came out in a defense that wouldn't have been able to defend well, if they had, and the only reason the Eagles had that option is because the Patriots gave it to them with poor decision making.

Never give your opponent more options, because it gives you more to defend. Basic gaming battle strategy.

Also, I wonder if the Patriots lost the Super Bowl because they wanted to teach Malcolm Butler some kind of lesson. Your best cornerback, who played 98% of the defensive downs during the season, and he doesn't do anything but play on special teams because of "packages"? No way. That's gibberish.

Pretty expensive lesson.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Links!

Cases like this should send people to prison: How Goodyear Hid Evidence Of 'The Worst Tire Made In History' Linked To At Least 9 Deaths.

Here's a nice palate cleanser after that awful first link, full of warmth and cheer: The World's Top Pokemon Go Player.

From C. Lee, and this is an important but depressing read: How the Elderly Lose Their Rights. This is remarkably bizarre: The Russian Computer That Ran On Water. And we built them, too: Like Water for Money. And, for the trifecta: Gardens as Crypto-Water-Computers.

From Wally, and this is an excellent and difficult read: MIA. Next, and holy cow: Al's Original Plasma Poppers. This is terrific: What Workers Around the World do for Lunch. We live in Canada, but it's called "Michigan": Tiger Tail Ice Cream: This orange and black licorice flavor is kind of a big deal in Canada..

From Steven Davis, and damn, the links are bleak this week: Haunting Photos from Japanese Internment Camps Show the Human Cost of Fear. This is fascinating and very, very strange: Kawanabe Kyōsai, Painter of Insanity.

From Ken Piper, and boy, there should be lots of people in prison over this: Drug companies submerged WV in opioids: One town of 3,000 got 21 million pills.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is very funny: Deep learning technology is now being used to put Nic Cage in every movie.

From Chris M., and I guess it's about time: Monopoly is releasing a special edition of its iconic game that's made specifically for cheaters.

From Scott Sanders, and this is a fascinating read: Two theaters or 1,000? How to release an Oscar-winning film Seven out of eight best-picture winners followed this pattern for success.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Super Bowl

Tom Brady is just Gwyneth Paltrow with a slightly better arm and a penis.

He sells all this garbage high-performance crap in conjunction with his "doctor" (not a doctor) Alex Guerrero, who is a big proponent of alternative medicine (in other words, not medicine).

It's all bullshit, and it's expensive bullshit, too.

I was watching the AFC Championship Game, and yes, Brady made some amazingly accurate throws, but his arm strength is gone. Those balls were in the air longer than punts! It's been like that for the last half of the season.

Brady talks all the time about how he's turned back the clock. I'll cut to the chase: he hasn't. Within the first five games of next season, everyone will be whispering about his arm strength, because that's what quarterbacks lose first, and there's no going back past a certain age. It got Elway, it got Manning, and it's happening to Brady right now.

I can't figure out why the Eagles have been written off. If they get pressure on Brady without having to blitz, they'll win. And by the end of next season, at the latest, Brady will be no longer be a viable NFL quarterback.

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