Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Links!

This is a brilliant, devastating read about what high-contact sports can do to people: My Husband Is Dying Every Day.

This has been acknowledged already, to some degree, but it's still a sad read: Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back On The Legend Of Gary Gygax.

From Wally, and this is fascinating: Inside the world of investigators who know you've faked your death. This is concerning: Hack in the box: Hacking into companies with “warshipping”. If you're into this kind of thing, it's mesmerizing: 1930s Engine Tester Restoration ( IMPOSSIBLE Restoration ) Joseph Weidenhoff. This is an excellent read: WEWORK ISN’T A TECH COMPANY; IT’S A SOAP OPERA. Like geese, but inflated: The Great Mattress Migration of 2019. This will be useful some day: Serena Versus the Drones.

From Steven Davis, and it's excellent (modifying one word because I don't want to set off work filters): How Renaissance Artists Brought P-----graphy to the Masses.

From C. Lee, and this is wonderful: Great Australian cafe war ends with 'insanely painful' coffee cup tattoo. This is convenient: Use Google to Roll Dice for Your Favorite Tabletop RPG. This is very useful: Save the Receipts for Your College Textbooks. This is a great idea: Find Hundreds of Science Experiment Ideas in 'Scientific American'. I love reading about this chalk: Hagoromo, the 'Rolls Royce of chalk,' continues writing its legacy in South Korea. This is an amazing bit of history: Way Before Roller Coasters, Russians Zipped Down Enormous Ice Slides. This is by Art Spiegelman, creator of a brilliant series), and it's tremendously thought-provoking: Art Spiegelman: golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is excellent: Why Route 66 became America’s most famous road.

From Kevin Womack, and Travis reading comments from RGO reviews is absolutely hilarious (NSFW language): Reading the Comments (Language Warning, Obviously). Seriously, you need to watch this, because it's impossible to get through it without collapsing in laughter.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Most Pressure in History

Overwhelmingly, the nominee was Stanislav Petrov.

If you're not already aware, here are the details:
The Soviet Union’s missile attack early warning system displayed, in large red letters, the word “LAUNCH”; a computer screen stated to the officer on duty, Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, that it could say with “high reliability” that an American intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) had been launched and was headed toward the Soviet Union. First, it was just one missile, but then another, and another, until the system reported that a total of five Minuteman ICBMs had been launched.

“Petrov had to make a decision: Would he report an incoming American strike?” my colleague Max Fisher explained. “If he did, Soviet nuclear doctrine called for a full nuclear retaliation; there would be no time to double-check the warning system, much less seek negotiations with the US.”

...But Petrov did not report the incoming strike. He and others on his staff concluded that what they were seeing was a false alarm. And it was; the system mistook the sun’s reflection off clouds for a missile. Petrov prevented a nuclear war between the Soviets, who had 35,804 nuclear warheads in 1983, and the US, which had 23,305.

A 1979 report by Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment estimated that a full-scale Soviet assault on the US would kill 35 to 77 percent of the US population — or between 82 million and 180 million people in 1983. The inevitable US counterstrike would kill 20 to 40 percent of the Soviet population, or between 54 million and 108 million people. The combined death toll there (between 136 million and 288 million) swamps the death toll of any war, genocide, or other violent catastrophe in human history. Proportional to world population, it would be rivaled only by the An Lushan rebellion in eighth-century China and the Mongol conquests of the 13th century.

I always thought that Petrov had his hand on the button to actually launch nuclear missiles. And I thought thought he was military, but he wasn't--he was a civilian, reporting information to the military.

He didn't make the decision alone, either, which I also didn't know. It was in conjunction with his staff.

Still, though, it was incredibly courageous, and a brilliant decision. And for those few minutes, it was probably the most pressure that anyone has ever faced.

Was it as much pressure as Collins? Not to me. If Petrov reports the false data, it would just confirm what other stations reported. It wasn't solely on him. Five nuclear weapons hit the USSR, they retaliate, we retaliate, and the world is basically uninhabitable after all the nukes are fired. No one is really around to blame him, and it wouldn't have been his fault, anyway.

Collins, if he screwed up, would have made a mistake that every person on Earth would have known about, and it would have followed him for the rest of his life.

He knew about the pressure in advance. It lasted for a much longer period.

Petrov is a legendary hero, and fully worthy of that title, but I still think it was tougher for Collins.

Here's an interesting thought experiment with Petrov. Is it possible that he had already decided what to do in this situation? That was his job, and how could anyone have that job and not try to play out every possible permutation in advance? If he already had, and he had already decided that nothing could be gained by the USSR launching missiles in retaliation of a real attack, then he's even more courageous than anyone portrayed.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Family Match Play Championship

"What is that on your bag?" Eli 18.0 asked. I'd taped "The Republic of Bill" to the outside of my golf bag.

"The proud flag of my country," I said.

Eli smoothed out the flag and read it, then burst out laughing. "What does the Latin mean?" he asked.

"Slow and steady wins the race," I said.

He burst out laughing again. "That's perfect, he said."

It was, and I only wish the match had been as much fun as that moment.

I didn't even realize it, but we both wanted to win. I mean, we played golf together every day all summer, and Eli was almost always better, and he thought he was going to roll me.

A fair assessment, except I'm a scrappy bastard, even now.

What happened was we both played terribly. Really, really poorly. But I hit a few shots, and he missed a few putts, and even though it wasn't fun, I was 1-up going to the fifteenth hole.

I had an eight foot putt to win the hole, and I made it. "Oh my god," Eli said. "You lined up closed, your putter face was open, and your stroke wasn't square. But because you made the wrong read, it went in."

"Is it that, or is it just a champion under pressure?" I asked.

"Absolutely not," he said.

"Well, I thought I'd ask," I said. And he was right, which is why it can be infuriating to play me. I can be a much weaker player, but hit a shot at just the right time.

I was 2-up going to sixteen, and if I could win one more hole, I'd win the match. Which wasn't meaning much now, because I had this idea that we'd both play great, and it would be this wonderful way to end the summer.

We weren't though, and we were both pissed off and miserable because we were playing so poorly.

I will say that then I hit a three-iron under a tree limb about four feet off the ground that qualifies as one of the best shots in my life, then hit a sand wedge to ten feet and made the putt.

To win, although it didn't feel like winning.

"We need to play tomorrow," I said.

"Yeah, we do," he said.

It was disappointing, hoping for a moment that just didn't come.

Saturday, though, was everything that match play wasn't. We still weren't playing well, but it was because we were both so relaxed, and we smiled and laughed and talked about how wonderful the summer had been. The weather was beautiful, and it was peaceful, and it was the end of something and the beginning of something else.

And all of the somethings were fine.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A New Era

I thought there would be a lot of stuff going through my head, but there's not so much stuff.

It's hard, to be sure. Your best friend for at least the last 15 years has gone away, and the relationship won't quite be the same.

At the same time, though, that's what's supposed to happen. A parent's job is to help their kid be mature enough and independent enough to move away. Eli 18.0 is both, and he's right where he should be, at an excellent university, surrounded by a ton of bright kids.

I'm really, really happy for him.

Plus, I'm exhausted. We've been together almost every day of his entire life, and once he hit about 3.0, the Enthusiasm Engine took off. I've been hanging on for years.

After this summer's golf, here's the stuff that hurts: right elbow, left wrist, left bicep, both feet, both hips. I made it through, and I'm going to keep practicing hard, but I'm also going to get healthy.

Plus, the novella. I have about 35 pages of notes on what will probably be the final revisions, and I waited all summer to get started. Now I can have a reliable schedule and put in solid work every day. It should take about three months of sustained effort, and then I think it will be done.

Oh, and Spanish. I'm working on Spanish for an hour a day.

Eli is going off to do great things, and I have important things here. I think we'll both be happy and have so much to share when he comes home for the holidays, or any time in-between.

It's not the same, but it's okay.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Off On A New Adventure

He taught me more than I taught him.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Links!

This is so clever: Review: The Cheesecake Factory is the restaurant America wants, deserves.

From Justin Schultz, and it's a sad, sad story: Joe Murphy, Red Wings' No. 1 pick, is homeless again — and refusing help.

From Ken Piper, and this is fascinating: Sirens of Greek Myth Were Bird-Women, Not Mermaids.

From C. Lee, and it's interesting: The science of creating a dream team. This is fantastic: From ball pits to water slides: the designer who changed children’s playgrounds for ever. This is both outstanding and a very hard read: Teen Idol Frankie Lymon’s Tragic Rise and Fall Tells the Truth About 1950s America. Fascinating: It’s All Greek to You and Me, So What Is It to the Greeks? I would use these if they were still around: After Automats Died in New York, They Flourished in the Netherlands.

From Wally, and this is cool: This Remote Corner Of Nevada Is One Of The Darkest Places In The World. This is excellent: ‘NCAA Football’ Is Still Alive, Because One Online Community Won’t Let the Game Die. This is genuinely incredible: Transforming stadium from concert to football field in 67H. Rabbit Hole: The Ritman Library: Hermetically Open Project. Here's a real blast from the past: Remembering the best shareware-era DOS games that time forgot. This is a wonderful story: One is Chinese. One is American. How a journalist discovered and reunited identical twins.

From D. F. Prosser, and way to go, smart aleck: Geeky license plate earns hacker $12,000 in parking tickets.

From Steven Davis, and this is a terrific read: Challenges Faced by Women in Art Academies.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Championship

"What's the over-under on how many balls those guys lost in nine holes?" I asked Eli 18.0

"Twenty?" he asked.

"I think that's about right," I said.

Pilgrim's Run, even though it's beautiful, turned out to be a big bust. It was very pretty (not overwhelming, but beautiful), and it was incredibly cheap, but we were paired with another twosome, and they were terrible.

Super nice guys, but terrible. No kidding, they lost at least twenty balls in nine holes.

It was miserable. Plus, it took two and a half hours to play nine. Then we made the turn, saw THREE groups waiting to tee off, and bagged it. It would have taken three hours to play the back, and it wouldn't have been any fun.

We took the fun option instead: got in the air conditioning, stopped at Taco Bell, and went home.

After this morning's round, Eli said, "We're taking separate cars tomorrow."

"Of course we are," I said.

It's eighteen holes of match play for the Family Golf Championship. And, even better, the flag I had made for the Family Olympics (which never happened because I broke something) is now taped to my bag. He's going to have a heart attack when he sees this in the morning:

It's on.

I don't have much of a chance, but I'm not dead yet. Plus, he hates playing early.

Our tee time? 7:40 a.m. Heh.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Big Week

Eli 18.0 leaves for Michigan on Sunday.

I'm happy for him. He's going to have a great experience, and he's ready.

I'm going to miss him terribly, but this is the right time for that to happen. I have a sizable list of things I'm going to jump into to keep me very busy, but I know it won't be the same.

We're going to a very special public course today called "Pilgrim's Run." It's about forty-five minutes from Grand Rapids, and it's spectacular. It's kind of a last hurrah for golfing together, at least for now.

I'll post pictures when we get back.

Oh, and what I thought would happen did happen: Eli has gotten really, really good. He's about a five handicap now, but that seems to go down by about a stroke a week, incredibly. His mind just gulps down huge chunks of information and integrates them at non-human speeds.

I don't know how much time he'll have to play at school. There's a university course (it's excellent) only one campus bus stop away from his dorm, so maybe he'll be able to keep practicing.

It's in the back of his mind to play college golf someday. He had an instructor tell him that he could walk on in a year, which sounds preposterous, but he does preposterous things all the time.

I would be a little surprised, but only a little.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


What I didn't mention about golf yesterday is that I was always a muni player.

Municipal golf, on public courses, is totally different from country club golf. It's inclusive. It's messy. It's definitely louder.

Country clubs are not like that at all.

The family of Eli 18.0s best friend has a country club membership, and they asked us to play last week. Eli's already played there several times, but this was my first.

It's funny, but even at my age, I feel like an impostor when I'm at a country club. Someone asks if they can take my clubs, and I feel like saying, "No worries. Don't you have something more important to do? I can carry these."

I definitely feel like a ten-year-old at the grown-up table.

The luxury is nice, to be sure. It's great to have range balls waiting for you at a hitting station instead of buying a bag every time you practice.

Something about it is less nice, though. Country clubs are a way to keep one kind of people away from other kinds of people. It's the private school of sports.

It seems like so much of the foundation of this country has been creating institutions to keep one kind of people away from other kinds of people. It's been particularly, painfully true for golf. I didn't really understand that as a kid, but I do now.

When I stepped out of the car (wearing nice golf shorts and shirt), our friend who asked us to play said, "You have to tuck in your shirt."

I said, "What?"

He said, "You have to tuck in your shirt. If you don't, I'll get a letter."

That's just not the kind of world I understand.

I went back to my home course, our little public course, and I told the story to a woman who works the counter. She said, "I had a guy call once and asked if we had a dress code for shirts. I said, 'Wear one.'"

Yeah, that's definitely the right place for me. 

Monday, August 19, 2019


Spacebase Startopia resurrects the silly space station sim in 2020

One of my very favorite games, finally getting a sequel! It's not being done by Mucky Foot, obviously, but it's still nice to see again.


Eli 18.0 was going to Cedar Point (the roller coaster park) on Sunday with his friends. He was leaving at 6 a.m.

I figured I wouldn't go back to sleep after he left (father worries, even though he's an excellent driver). I decided to just make an early tee time at our little local course, have breakfast, and be at the course by about 6:45. I never go that early (because there's no reason to), but once I got there, I was greeted with this:

So peaceful, and so beautiful. And this was the view from the first tee.

I have complicated feelings about golf, and I didn't understand that until recently. I thought I was just playing because Eli had suddenly gotten into it. 

That's only partially true. 

When I started playing as a kid, I think I was about ten, and I loved it immediately. By the time I was twelve, I was riding to work with my neighbor two doors down, because his concrete plant was only five minutes away from a golf course, and he'd drop me off about 7:40. 

Back then, I paid $3.75 and played as much as I wanted. I'd play a morning round, have a cheeseburger (.75) out of the vending machine, and then play again in the early afternoon. 

See, back then, I was the Enthusiasm Engine, too, just like Eli. 

By the afternoon, it was in the nineties with high humidity, but I was twelve and I didn't care. I would play a second round by myself in a little over two hours.

Johnny would come pick me up about 4:00, and I'd go home. 

It was so much fun, and golf was my thing, because it rewarded both athleticism and thinking.  

Stuff happens, though. The course was too far away, and I couldn't go all the time with my neighbor, and there was no range near our house during the school year. Lessons were expensive, and I needed them, and even if I had gotten them, the local pro really wasn't very good. 

Eventually, it just all dried up. 

I was okay with that, but I realized at some point this summer that I genuinely missed the feelings I had on a golf course, that kind of splendid isolation that can happen. It's a kind of active meditation. 

I also realized I felt like I had unfinished business in terms of getting good, because I was very skilled for my age once, but it felt like a video game I put down before I finished. 

Now, I'm getting it back, and I have this weird overlap feeling sometimes when I hit a nice shot and the moment overlaps with my kid self. 

It feels good.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Links!

This is a terrific read: The crowdfunded phone of the future was a multimillion-dollar scam. Also, and this is a big deal, it's Colombia confirms that dreaded fungus has hit its banana plantations.

From Daniel Willhite, and this is terrific: One Year of Lightning.

From Wally, and it's another search for Earhart (there have been so many): Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue. This is bizarre: The women who tasted Hitler's food. This is an excellent read: The last magnetic pole flip saw 22,000 years of weirdness. This is amazing, and what a dog! Go long! Really long!

From C. Lee, and this is hugely concerning: Asia's 'zombies' concentrated in India, Indonesia and South Korea. This is a cool idea: Smithsonian Scientists are Using Ginko Leaves to Study Climate Change--and They Need Your Help. I didn't know: Why Are So Many Different Drinks Called Horchata? This is fantastic: How a Literary Prank Convinced Germany That ‘Hansel and Gretel’ Was Real. Thought-provoking: Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman. An excellent read (check out the Kuba Comet!): How the television transformed our homes.

From Les Bowman, and it's a brilliant and sobering read: American Wealth Is Broken.

From Brian Brown, and EA's defense is truly hilarious: The flawed Kinder Egg defence.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw (mini hints guide)

This is a brilliant game. 

It's old-school, but with new school conveniences. It's huge, but it also has large amounts of detail on the micro scale. It has a storyline, but there's an enormous amount of freedom to do whatever the hell you want. 

Here are a few tips that can make your first couple of hours a bit easier. I think the flow state of this game is better than almost any space game I've ever played, but onboarding for new players can be a little intimidating, so here are a few hints to help. 

Before the more detailed info, here's a quick one: play pool at the bars. Besides being a nice little pool simulator (hold down left trigger to assist in small movements of the cue), it's also a great way in the early game to win pieces of equipment for your ship. So play a few games to practice, then visit the bar whenever you're at a new space station.

The most challenging concept for me, when beginning the game, was information acquisition. I didn't conceptually grasp how it worked, so I was confused, but I do understand it now, and here's the explanation.

First, think of internal information versus external information. Internal information is data about the status of your ship, the missions, etc. This is all accessed by pressing the menu button (on an Xbox controller--it's the tiny button just to the of the bit Xbox button). This is a menu that is navigated in a left-right manner, and it helps me to think of it as the engineering/captain menu. 

For external information, while you're in the cockpit, press the "Y" button. This brings up a radial menu, and there are a ton of functions:
Targeting mode
Local Map
Power transfer (from shields to power and vice versa)
Sector Maps
Closest Station
Closest Mission
Scan Area

Each of these functions has an icon, and you'll also see text when you select that icon, so it's easy to follow. I think of this as the navigator menu, because it's where you find system maps, etc. Also, and this is VERY important, it's where you'll find targeting mode, which you can access during battles to target individual ships, or even to find a path to get the hell out of there if things get to hot. 

Which is going to happen. A lot. Shit goes sideways all the time, particularly in the early game, and trying to fight to the death just means you're going to die a lot. 

When you select a target, holding down the left trigger initiates auto-pursue, and don't even think about not using it. For one, it's entirely consistent to the game world, to have such a feature on your ship, and two, it absolutely doesn't make the game too easy. It's incredibly useful. 

Okay, I forgot one other thing, so I'm just going to jam it in here at the bottom: mining lasers are not only useful for mining, but also as a very decent weapon in combat. 

That should help you in the first few hours, and after that, it's all going to flow so naturally that it becomes a stunning game experience, Which is no surprise, because Travis has never made anything less than an excellent game (this is his fifth, I think, and how many designers/developers have that level of consistently high quality product?).

Here's the purchase link one more time: Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Get flying!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sound Decisions

Gloria was going out to a concert.

"So, what are you having for dinner?" I asked Eli 18.0.

"Freelancing," he said. "I'll figure something out."

"Well, I think I'll have a big bowl of blueberry ice cream," I said.

"See?" Eli said to Gloria. "This is what happens when we leave him on his own." He turned back to me. "You're basically a hate-crime against nutrition."

"So what are you having?" I asked.

"Before I go eat a REAL dinner, I'm having a Dove Bar and Cheezits," he said, snootily.

"All I can say to that is 'in what order?'" I said. He laughed. He does that.

I walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, you might want to mow the lawn today, because it's getting long and it's supposed to rain," Gloria said.

"I'd love to mow the lawn, but I am currently out of town," I said.

Happily Messy

I haven't mentioned this for quite a while, but Eli 18.0 still plays the piano. And I love the way he plays it--exuberant, messy, happy. Doesn't need to be perfect. Just enjoys playing.

Here's what he sounds like, roughly. He's playing "Maple Leaf Rag," which is pretty difficult for humans, and he clearly hasn't mastered it yet, and the piano keyboards sound terrible when recorded (nice in person, though), but you can still hear how he's become a bit skilled in not a long period of time.

What makes this piece so hard (when I watch him) is the degree of hand independence and hand movement that are required to play any part of it.

I didn't record the whole thing, and it cuts off in the middle, but you get the idea.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Released!

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw was released today, and it's terrific. 

Please overcome any aversion you have to the Epic Store and go purchase a copy immediately. 

I planned on having a small help guide for the new player ready today, but it's unfortunately slipped a day. Tomorrow, though, look for it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Stupid Town

I told Eli 18.0 that I'm getting an OLED when he goes to college. To put downstairs, in his area.

"Hey! That's my space," he said.

"Not anymore," I said. "The day you leave for college, you become the minority shareholder of that area." He laughed.

I've been looking for a deal on the 65" for the last few months. I've watched prices for years, actually, from the day they released the first one (five years ago?).

Saturday, I saw a great deal on the "E" model, which has much, much better sound than the "C" model, but is usually quite a bit more expensive.

The company offering this deal was Greentoe, which is kind of a marketplace where you make bids and suppliers either accept or reject your offer.

I know, that sounds strange, but they're one of the online merchants for OLED that are high volume.

There's a deal posted on Slickdeals with the price to offer, so I go to Greentoe and offer that price. I got an email back within minutes asking me to make a second bid that included tax (fair), which I did. Confirmation that the bid was accepted came within minutes.

Okay, I'm done, right? So, so excited!

Two days later (yesterday), I get this email.
Hi Bill,

I have good news! Your offer on the LG OLED65E9PUA was accepted !

The retail partner that accepted your offer sent us an alert.  They are having trouble clearing your order through their order verification department. Unfortunately we don't know the steps involved here or the reasons they are having trouble.  Many times the issue is a similar name creating a verification challenge.  We have seen people try to spoof the identity of others.  

Can you please provide us with some additional information about yourself that they can use to verify the order?  Usually a work email address tends to clear this up very quickly.  We have sent them things like this in the past and that has helped get people through the process very quickly.  

I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Fraud is a big problem in our industry and retailers aren't willing to take chances with expensive items like this. I hope you understand.  We will keep all information confidential and it is only used for anti-fraud verification purposes.  

Oh yeah, red flags all over the place there.

Let's see. I provide a valid credit card number with a shipping address that's the same as the address attached to the card, and that's not enough? What exactly would they be doing with a work email address, anyway? What kind of information does a merchant need for "anti-fraud verification purposes," anyway?

I sent back a polite but testy response, pointing out how sketchy this was, and got this email a few hours ago:
Let me explain a bit more as I realize this is a strange request. We've had an issue with fraud recently and people logging in and buying things using other people's information. When this happens the retailer gets a chargebacks because the real person says it was not them who bought the item (which it wasn't). As a result, some of our partners are taking steps to double check customers making large purchase (i.e. a tv). We ask for a work email address because it's a great way for us to verify a person due to the fact that a fraudster wouldn't be able to access a person's work email. 

Also, as part of our marketplace seller agreement we have offered to assist the retailers in this process because they don't have the resources to do it themselves for our customers. That's why we are reaching out to you instead of them. 

Let me know if this is something you can provide. We will not add the email to any marketing emails. 

BTW - If you don't have a work email we can also use linked-in private messages and accomplish the same thing if you want to send us a link to your LinkedIn profile instead.

Yeah, that's not happening.

They're not getting any more information from me, obviously. I don't send transparent information into opaque processes.

I cancelled the order. Excitement level returns to normal.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off with something cheerful, because we can all use it right now: The Greatest Try Ever Is What I Watch When Things Get To Be Too Much.

These are beautiful beyond words: Spirograph-like multi-color ellipses.

It's not really that complicated: What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.

This is another significant (and deeply concerning) piece of data: Just one season of playing football—even without a concussion—can cause brain damage.

This is legitimately adorable: Big Dog Plays An Expert Level Game Of 'Hide And Seek' With A Little Dog.

If you want to go further down yesterday's mathematical rabbit hole, you can, thanks to P. Rowe: Numberphile.

From C. Lee, and it's more detail on Wednesday's post: Goodbye Aberration: Physicist Solves 2,000-Year-Old Optical Problem. This is a welcome surprise: Unearthed Steinbeck Short Story Isn’t at All Like ‘Grapes of Wrath’. This is remarkable: The trick that makes you overspend. This is fantastic: For Sale: A Poisoner’s Lab Secreted in a Beautiful Book. I had no idea: There Is Just One Sculpture on the Moon.

From Wally, and this is ridiculous: Libraries are fighting to preserve your right to borrow e-books. This is useful: Backblaze Hard Drive Stats Q2 2019. This is surprisingly fascinating: A Musicologist Explains Why There's Something Fishy About That Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Katy Perry. A good read: Does This Schnitzel Define Vienna? I think it was always 10%: The Grocery Industry Confronts a New Problem: Only 10% of Americans Love Cooking. This is excellent: Neal Stephenson on Depictions of Reality (Ep. 71).

From Marc, and man, Wii Sports was amazing: The strange and surprisingly intense world of Wii Sports speedrunners.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Under Pressure

The more I know about Michael Collins, the more I think he was under more pressure than anyone in history.

Michael Collins was an Apollo 11 astronaut, but he didn't go down to the surface of the moon. He was the command module pilot, so he orbited the moon while Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the surface in the lunar module.

There were plenty of scenarios where the lunar module wouldn't be able to re-dock with the command module, usually involving some kind of equipment failure. But it was also possible that it could happen because Michael Collins made some kind of mistake that couldn't be corrected.

If that had happened, Aldrin and Armstrong would have died, and Michael Collins would have flown back to Earth, alone, knowing that it had been his fault.

Can you imagine living the rest of your life after that? I can't.

There's pressure, and then there's that kind of pressure.

If you can think of anyone who might have been under more pressure, shoot me an e-mail.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Rabbit Hole

I read this earlier today: A Mexican Physicist Solved a 2,000-Year Old Problem That Will Lead to Cheaper, Sharper Lenses. Here's an excerpt:
It’s a problem that plagues even the priciest of lenses, manufactured to the most exacting specifications: the center of the frame might be razor-sharp, but the corners and edges always look a little soft. It’s a problem that’s existed for thousands of years with optical devices, and one that was assumed to be unsolvable...

But that’s all going to change thanks to Rafael G. González-Acuña, a doctoral student at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey. After months of work, he managed to come up with a mind-melting equation that provides an analytical solution for counteracting spherical aberration, which had been previously formulated back in 1949 as the Wasserman-Wolf problem which stumped scientists for decades.

If you take a look at his formula, "mind-melting" is not an exaggeration.

This made me curious about what other 2,000-year old problems remain unsolved. As far as I can tell, there aren't many.

However, I did stumble onto Hilbert's problems (great name for a band, of course), which were published in 1900 by mathematician David Hilbert. There were twenty-three of them, all unsolved, and remarkably, one hundred and nineteen years later, only eight have been fully resolved.

These aren't unsolved anymore, but it did take a very long time: 2000 years unsolved: Why is doubling cubes and squaring circles impossible?

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

A Good Story

The golf course we play the most is eight minutes from our house. It's short (par 65), but the people are incredibly nice, and the maintenance staff clearly takes pride in the condition of the course.

I call it a hidden jewel. Eli 18.0 says I'm exaggerating, but he likes it, too. Here's a story that kind of explains why.

We were standing in front of the clubhouse a few days ago and one of the course maintenance staff walked up. He was holding a carrier, the kind you'd use to take a cat to the vet.

"Here he is!" he said happily, like he was announcing the arrival of a celebrity.

We took a look inside the carrier. There was a baby raccoon the size of a small cat inside. Raccoons are pests, but they're also pretty adorable.

"He's been getting in the trash behind the clubhouse. We finally trapped him."

"What will you do with him now?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm going to walk over to the woods behind the maintenance shed and let him go," he said. "We don't want him to get used to looking through the trash for food."

That's not how it would go at some (many) courses. Here, though, a baby raccoon was given the VIP treatment.

Some Lighthearted Fun

We all can use some: A Small World Cup.

It's utterly ridiculous in all the best ways.

Monday, August 05, 2019

As Normal as Possible

Eli 18.0 received his roommate assignment for school last week.

"This guy is normal," he said, and that's a big compliment, because ultra-smart kids often tend toward the odd side.

"So that means two not normal kids will be rooming together," I said.

"That's right," he said.

"Here's the conversation I hear happening," I said.
" 'Do you shower?'
'Not very often.'
'Cool.' "

"That's probably pretty close," he said.

My favorite story about M.I.T. is that incoming freshman, as part of orientation, were told they had to wear shoes to class.

Eccentric people are often awesome. It might be very hard to live with one, though. I'll ask Gloria for a first-hand report.

A Mercifully Short Political Post

I will be brief.

There is a substantial overlap between white supremacy ideology and the ideologies being promoted by Fox News, Republicans in Congress/Senate, and the President. Identifying people of other races as "invaders", telling them to "go back where they came from", and saying the "white race" is being replaced are all standard talking points of white nationalists.

It's literally the same language, with identical phrasing.

People who think it's different are deluding themselves.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Friday Links!

A long week, and a strikingly odd set of links.

From Wally, and this is excellent: Could La Folia be History's Most Enduring Tune? A bizarre story: Q: How many cows does it take to build a Zeppelin? A: 250,000. Very high WTF here: Knitting Heavy Metal World Championships. This is next-level: This Ramen-Eating Godzilla is Priceless, Charlie Brown Feels Shame.

From Andrew Milgate, and this is, by far, the greatest Tour de France spectator link I've ever seen: Vive le Tour! And another: The Tour de France Devil : Didi Senft.


From C. Lee, and I completely agree: Story time: the five children’s books every adult should read. I wrote about this being a big deal a few months ago, and here it comes: McKinsey Bot on Your Office Computer Could Be Sizing You Up. Fascinating:  Why childhood sweethearts no longer measure up – and six other ways dating has changed. This is great: The Victorian Cards That Explained How to Use a Book to Flirt. I can't believe this was actually a thing: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

So, You Want to Go Skydiving

Gloria took a picture of the skydiving building as soon as we arrived.

"Gathering evidence?" I asked.

Eli 18.0 mentioned several times how excited he was about jumping. "I think that's kind of misleading," I said. "You jump on a basketball court. You fall out of a plane." He burst out laughing.

That's all the skydiving comedy I had.

Now, in case some of you are planning to skydive for the first time at some point in the future, allow me to share a few things I learned yesterday.

1. Dress a little warmer.
I would normally wear shorts. To skydive, though, I wore jeans, a base layer, a t-shirt above that, and a light jacket. Why? Because at 9,000 feet, it's much colder. I was comfortable the whole time with this clothing setup.

2. Stretch.
Again, why? Because when the chute opens, there is a ton of pressure on three parts of your body: hips, groin, and neck. The harness fits tightly around your groin, and it will absorb most of the force when the chute opens. Your hips will absorb quite a bit, too. As for your neck, keep your head up, not down, or your neck will get slammed hard.

I was a little sore after we landed, but I'm fine today, and I was kind of broken to start with, anyway.

3. The hardest part is stepping out of the plane.
Seriously, in a tandem jump, that's the most difficult moment. It's very, very frisky, outside a moving plane.

4. The falling part is easy.
Seriously, you're basically in an adult Baby Bjorn setup. You literally have nothing to do and no decisions to make. And it feels incredibly safe. Serene, almost.

5. It's over very, very quickly.
You freefall for less than ten seconds, and you're on the ground in less than five minutes.

Overall it was--okay? I guess I thought it would be a little more overwhelming or high adrenaline than it really felt. Like I mentioned, it was serene, almost meditative. For me, at least. Eli 18.0 had an entirely different reaction. He was in adrenaline overdrive.

The Enthusiasm Engine will survive long past 18.0.

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