Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday Links!

From Guy Byars, and it's both funny and a fascinating look at large numbers: When a Man Took a Joke in a Pepsi Ad Seriously, Chaos Ensued. This is excellent: How to Stay Calm When Things Get Scary

From Wally, and this is utterly fantastic: Horror Musical Instrument - The Apprehension Engine. I always wondered about this: The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets. This is a an odd one: Claws out! Why cats are causing chaos and controversy across Britain. I had absolutely no idea that this was a thing: Where Broadway Fans Wear the Crowns and the Tentacles.

From C. Lee, and cats are strange: And now, a spot of everyone’s favorite winter sport: Japanese cat curling. This is a tremendous article (and a tremendous website, I've recommended it before): Master of Orion. Still true, sadly: Neal Stephenson: Innovation Starvation. This is a brilliant, thoughtful book review (far better than the book): Barons of Crap. This is tremendously thought-provoking: Decline of social engagement may betray democracy. These are lovely: Japanese Illustrator Imagines A World Where Humans Live Among Giant Animals.

From Jonathon W., and it's amazing: This is the highest-resolution photo of the sun ever taken.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Enthusiasm Engine, 18.6 edition

Eli 18.6 finds out at the end of next week if he's going to Geneva this summer for an internship at the U.N.

His first semester was terrific. I don't know how anyone could have had a better time, and his grades were A's and A+s.

He started doing "speed climbing", which is different from bouldering in interesting ways. In bouldering, you accumulate points as you reach certain markers on a route. The routes change for every competition, and you don't see them beforehand. Climbs can take over 5 minutes.

Speed climbing is almost the opposite. A route is set at the start of the year, and it's the same for all competitions. At nationals, the route is 15 meters, but most gyms don't go up that far, so for NCAA regionals, it's 10 meters.

This was Eli's thing, when he was a kid and attended those week-long rock climbing camps. He went up the wall like a spider.

Yeah, you see where this is going.

When he first started, three weeks ago, he was doing the course in about 13 seconds. Then 10, then 8. Then 7.

Yesterday, he did it in 6.6, and he doesn't even have his own speed shoes yet.

National class for a 10 meter wall is around 5 seconds, I think, but still, that's damn fast, and he just started.

Never surprised.

Hello, Hello, Grand Rapids

When I mentioned how little sunshine there had been (now 32 hours in 30 days), I forgot to mention that there's a bright side (sorry).

We've only had 32 inches of snow. Normal at this time? 48 inches. That's a huge drop, and when you combine that with average temperatures being up around 5 degrees this month, it means that roads are still totally clear. No snow. No ice. That almost never happens.

All in all, a great, gray winter so far.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Hello, Grand Rapids

We've had 32 hours of sun.


On Conversation

I've been thinking about how I have conversations with people.

I have this extremely weird way of exerting dominance in a conversation: I listen.

I know, that sounds impossible. What I do, though, is encourage someone to talk about themselves, then ask follow-up questions that are generally pretty penetrating.

In doing so, I bend the conversation toward what I want, which is to talk about real things.

I'm really, really bad at small talk. I don't like it, I don't understand it, I don't want to engage in it at all. So by listening, that doesn't happen. The conversation almost immediately drills down past all that, into something else.

The something else is the conversation I want to be having.

Most people, after I do this, will eventually start asking about me, and instead of skimming the surface, they'll ask real questions, too. They genuinely listen, because I listened to them. Then we have a good conversation, and I wind up with a strong notion of that person.

Some people do nothing but talk about themselves. They never show any interest in me. That's fine for both of us, because I know to stay away from that person, and they won't ever have to pretend to listen to me. Everybody wins.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I always thought I was very passive in conversations. When I thought about it, though, I was actually being the opposite, just in an unexpected way.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Wuhan Coronavirus

Pandemics are fascinating in so many ways, so every time one potentially pops up, I read a little more. I'm going to share some information.

First off, if you want some historical background, this is a terrific book that I highly recommend: Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. A third of the world infected, deaths of 50-100 million people. Fatality rates are incredibly difficult to calculate because many deaths come from secondary infections, which is part of the reason for the wide range.

The case-fatality rate of the Spanish flu was 2.5%, according to the CDC (1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics). If you want to go into serious rabbit hole territory, here's an article about how case-fatality rate is calculated: The Time Required to Estimate the Case Fatality Ratio of Influenza Using Only the Tip of an Iceberg: Joint Estimation of the Virulence and the Transmission Potential.

The case-fatality rate of SARS was 17%, which is one of the reasons it didn't get very far. That high of a fatality rate severely limits the ability of a virus to spread, because the people who get infected have a limited window to transmit the virus.

At 2.5%, on the other hand, the Spanish flu was well-suited to infect a huge number of people, and the sheer number infected made even a 2.5% fatality rate incredibly high in terms of deaths. Plus, there were an untold additional number who died from secondary infections.

So far, the case-fatality rate of the Coronavirus is 3%. Certainly, that's a little worrying, although it's also true that containment ability worldwide has improved since SARS, where almost everything went wrong. Lessons learned, etc.

Birds were the host of the 1918 flu, but bats hosted SARS, and it's strongly believed that bats are the host of this current virus as well.

Why are bats such excellent disease reservoirs?

I thought you might ask that: Why Bats Are Such Good Hosts for Ebola and Other Deadly Diseases?
You know some of the reasons (they live in incredibly close proximity, they fly long distances), but here's an excerpt that blew my mind:
Even though bat genomes contain many of the same ingredients as other mammals, bats use them differently. In particular, the bat genes coding for proteins that detect and repair damaged DNA are much more prevalent than expected... 

...DNA damage repair genes are frequent targets for invading viruses, which could be what is applying the evolutionary pressure. The findings also mesh with the anecdotal observation that bats rarely (if ever) develop tumors—perhaps because the repair genes can outpace any malignant growth.

...Newer, still-unpublished findings suggest that unlike in humans or mice, where defenses such as anti-tumor and anti-viral genes are activated only in response to a threat, in bats these genes seem to be perpetually turned on. That activity keeps levels of any harbored viruses simmering below the point at which they could cause harm. In other words, evolution has conspired to turn bats’ surveillance mechanisms up to 11.

As for why, Wang suggests a link with flight, which boosts a bat’s metabolic rate to a level many times higher than when it is resting. Such sustained energy production generates stress that can damage cells and DNA if it isn’t quickly detected and repaired.

So perhaps initially, those damage-repair proteins got turned way up to combat the damage caused by bats doing what bats do, which is flying around every night. If true, the ability to carry lethal viruses might have come second, as a sort of coevolutionary accident, Wang says.

All right, I've kept you long enough, but there's one more link to share: a real-time tracking of confirmed infections. A pandemic scoreboard, if you will: Wuhan Coronavirus Global Cases (by Johns Hopkins).

[UPDATE: Here are some surreal photos taken in Wuhan: Coronavirus: Photos From Wuhan Under Quarantine.]

Monday, January 27, 2020

On Death

I was on the phone with Mike, who told me that Kobe Bryant had died. Eli 18.5 texted me at the same time.

It was hard to believe. The halo people are trying to put on Kobe Bryant is too cracked to wear, but there's no denying that he was a major sports figure, one of the greats, someone whose death lands with a big number on the Richter scale.

TMZ reported this first, and I took a look and then went to ESPN. Nothing. Then I went to NBC Sports. Nothing. The Washington Post. Nothing.

It was an eerie feeling, to look at these websites and to realize that in those places, Kobe Bryant was still alive. Things were still normal. The helicopter crash hadn't happened yet.

In 1980, my roommate told me that John Lennon had died, and I didn't believe him. I turned on the radio and waited.

This was different, though. I knew. It's just that I was looking through a time capsule, if only for a few minutes.

I had a dream Saturday night.

I was in an electronics store, one of the old dusty ones that still sells components, and I was back in Austin. It was early in the morning, right after the store opened, and I looked up and saw my friend Andrew, who I hadn't seen in fifteen years.

Andrew looked like Bluto, and he was older now, but still looked that way. He was a complicated fellow, full of rages and regrets, but all of his various insecurities combined into a funny and charming package.

We talked.

I asked about his health, because he had multiple ongoing conditions to manage. He said that he'd recently found out that he had a terminal condition. I asked him how long he had, and he said about six months.

Then I asked him if he'd made his peace with it, and he looked at me and said, "Would you?"

"When you're a kid," I said, "you have a day when you're outside playing, and the weather is perfect, and you can run so fast, and you know that it will be like this forever. When you get older, even when you're in decline, there's always a little part of you that still believes it."

That's when I woke up.

A Political Post

Joseph Heller must be spinning in his grave today.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday Links!

The week of MLK day, this seems appropriate: Black History, According to White People.

"My friend, we failed at so many things. Let us also fail at making a video game." The making of Disco Elysium: How ZA/UM created one of the most original RPGs of the decade.

This is a totally cool story: Avast! This french noblewoman-turned-pirate wasn’t out for treasure, just revenge.

Terrific links from C. Lee. First, a long and fascinating read: The Chef Restoring Appalachia’s World-Class Food Culture. Excellent analysis of imaginary battles: The Real Failure at Winterfell. RAM nerd alert: Are More RAM Modules Better for Gaming? 4 x 4GB vs. 2 x 8GB. This is very perceptive: How to get your kids to hate video games, according to Japanese Twitter.

From Wally, and it's an excellent read: Is this the most powerful word in the English language? This is quite fantastic: This Custom Lego Version of Echo Base Is Ready for the Empire's Siege. Eli 18.5 would enjoy this: Les Objets Volants--Juggling From Space. This is an excellent read: N.K. Jemisin's Dream Worlds.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Current State Of The Delts

This guy:

To his similarly-shaped friend: "Bro, my delts are burning."


I mentioned that it snowed 6" last Friday night.

Saturday morning, I saw a woman walking into the Gardens from the (deeply) snowy parking lot. It was 22F, and she was wearing a mini-skirt and leather, knee-high boots.

She looked like a parrot on an iceberg.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Noise cancellation: a golfer's approach

I was wearing my noise cancellation headphones as I wrote at the Gardens. This is what I always do. 

A very old fellow was sitting two booths away, looking at me. Then he stood up and walked over (I avoid this at all costs, generally). He pointed to my headphones, which I took off. "Noise cancellation headphones?" he asked. 

I took out my wireless, noise-cancellation earbuds. His face. Mind blown. 

It's like golf. You have different clubs for different types of shots. I'm the same way. 

Wireless noise-cancellation earbuds? Check. Noise-cancellation headphones that fit over the wireless earbuds comfortably? Check. Wireless noise-cancellation headphones to wear by themselves when the cafeteria is empty? Check. 

When you combine noise-cancellation earbuds with noise-cancellation headphones, you are in potent territory. A bomb could go off thirty feet away and I would only feel the concussion. I wouldn't hear a thing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Clutch Performance

Last week, there was a big winter storm coming in Friday night.

"I stopped at the grocery store and got some supplies," I said.

"That's good," Gloria said. "Did you get any batteries?"

"No, I just got essentials," I said. "Cupcake Pop-Tarts. Two kinds of Hot Pockets. Frozen personal-size pizzas. Dove ice cream bars."

"Those are all things you like," she said.

I mean, that's true, but it's survival of the fittest so that I can help her survive. I'm clearly the most survivor-y. I can call for help for hours longer because I have a better cellphone battery.

We did get about 10 inches of snow, and the first half of it was very wet. Heavy. We have a snow blower, a small one that's battery powered. I came in from using it on Saturday.

"I think that snow blower would choke on a snow cone," I said.

"You have to push it," Gloria said.

"I do push it," I said. "With wet snow, it's just not strong enough. I think you have to shovel in the snow to get it to eject out the side."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King Day

I make this post every year on Martin Luther King Day, as racism continues to destroy everything we seek to build.

Today is a national holiday in the United States to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's easy to forget the kind of hatred and stupidity that King was fighting against, but a good place to start is here: What was Jim Crow. The Wikipedia entry for Jim Crow laws also has detailed information. And the Wikipedia entry for King is here.

Also, here's a link to a 2006 post when Eli asked me about Martin Luther King for the first time. It's still one of my favorite posts.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, what is probably the greatest piece of writing on gaming I've ever read: Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

This is tremendously thought-provoking: Superior pinpoints racism in science: Naive scientists plus strategic racists.

This is terrifying: Footage of Australian fire crew overwhelmed by flames.

Who knew that caring about your citizens actually works? Portugal has found an antidote to right wing populism.

From terrific artist Fredrik Skarstedt, and it's fascinating: Why I Take Fake Pills.

From C. Lee, and this is tremendously concerning: The medications that change who we are. This is wonderful: Selfless African grey parrots get by with a little help from friends. What? How an English Energy Crisis Helped Create Champagne. This is heartwarming: When Disasters Hit California, Sikh Temples Provide Meals and Refuge. A nice farewell: Okinawa native gave Ultraman distinct feel with eye for social ills.

From Wally, and this is awesome: Oldest material on Earth discovered. This is an excellent look at airline history and comfort: The great shrinking airline seat. These are absolutely stunning: Artist Carves Everyday Foods into Exquisitely Patterned Masterpieces. These are revealing: WWII Interactive Photos. I think Danny MacAskill could complete a Ninja Warrior course--on a bicycle: Danny MacAskill's Gymnasium.

From Chris Meadowcraft, and it's a foul concoction: Gin yogurt criticized.

From Eric Lundquist, and it's terrific: Botanical Sexism Cultivates Home-Grown Allergies.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Found: Steam Controller

[UPDATE: I have two backup controllers headed my way, so thanks very much!]

I was an idiot and didn't buy any extra Steam controllers during their recent end-of-life sale, but I've realized that I really depend on mine to play games that normally use a gamepad. For some reason, I can't do a ton of button presses with my right hand without pain, so I map everything to the circular touchpad and tap instead.

Game changer.

Of course, if the one I have breaks, I'm screwed. Really screwed. So if any of you stocked up on Steam controllers, and wouldn't mind selling me one, please let me know. Thanks.

A Visual Definition

Sub-optimal solution:


Gloria: "Nature can be really cruel, but at least animals don't talk and tweet about it."

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Want To Yell

We have a friend in Austin. A bright, vibrant woman. Four children, all as bright and vibrant as their mother. A husband, the same.

What a family. We love them. There's a classic children's book called Go, Dog, Go! about a lively and happy group of dogs, and since the family's last name rhymed with 'Go,' we always said, "Go, *****, go!" every time we saw them off to do something, which was always.

Each kid played hockey, and each kid was in a different age group. Two played travel. Four sets of practices, four sets of games, and travel.

They were always smiling.

We stayed in touch after we moved to Michigan. They're the kind of people you always stay in touch with.

The mom was in her mid forties, and a fitness instructor. On Wednesday night, she had a massive stroke.

On Sunday night, she became an organ donor. She was selfless, too.

Her husband has been incredibly gracious in how he has handled this terrible tragedy.

I am not feeling so goddamned charitable. I am not feeling gracious. I am so angry. I want to find the random number generator and kick it in the face until it can't get up anymore.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Send Us Your Armies

Vic Davis, the one-man band responsible for Armageddon Empires, Solium Infernum, Six Gun Saga, and The Occult Chronicles, has written a book.

Hell, yes, I say.

This book is titled Send Us Your Armies, and it's part of what is going to be a trilogy called Pilgrim's Path.

I finished reading it last week, and let me say this: Vic wrote the hell out of this story.

You can purchase it at the link above, and it's also available with Kindle Unlimited.

The world is better when Vic Davis is creating something.

Pharmacy Insider

I was talking to a pharmacist yesterday. She's retiring at the end of October, at the age of 62.

I asked her if it felt strange, once she'd set a date. "Yes, but I've been doing this for twenty years, and I've had both my knees replaced."

She told me that knee replacements were common in the pharmacy profession. "Occupational hazard," she said. Standing for long, long hours for years takes a toll. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Now it's the herder-ferter

I was watching a playoff game. Gloria was asleep on the couch next to me.

She had been asleep for several hours when I went upstairs, looking for a snack. I found Dove bars in the freezer, a huge win. I took one and went back downstairs. She stirred.

"Hey, I didn't know we had Dove bars!" I said.

She looked at me, confused. "Herder," she said.

"Dove bars," I said.

"What?" She looked at me again. "The ferter," she said.

"You don't understand," I said. "I already went to the herder-ferter and got one."

"Oh," she said. A few seconds passed. "The freezer."

"Not anymore," I said.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday Links!

A long, long week.

From C. Lee, and it's fascinating: A New Study Indicates Humans Self-Generate Misinformation. I'm a fan: Belching in a good way: How livestock could learn from Orkney sheep. So interesting: A virtual version of da Vinci’s mystery glass orb has helped explain its weirdness. What a mess: The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.

From Wally, and go goats! California Cities Turn To Hired Hooves To Help Prevent Massive Wildfires. This is incredibly embarrassing: SentrySafe Opened With a Coat Hanger - LPL. This headline delivers in so many ways: The Maine Maritime football custom that ended with a ref shot by a cannon started with a 1968 prank. A long and terrific read: How New York’s Bagel Union Fought — and Beat — a Mafia Takeover.

From Meg McReynolds, and The Enthusiasm Engine approves: Make 2020 the Year of Maximum Enthusiasm.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

On Consolation

Writing every day at the Gardens gives me a wide view of humanity.

Every age. Every kind of behavior, both polite and otherwise. It's amazing what you see if you just sit and watch.

I notice children, because they're awesome. Most of them, anyway. A few appear to have futures serving a dark lord, but only a few.

I also notice how parents work with their children, particularly when they're distressed. Some parents, when their child gets upset and starts wailing, react by putting on a dog and pony show. "Don't cry! Look at the giant unicorn!" kind of reactions.

I don't remember how I handled those moments with Eli 18.5 (he didn't have many), but now, that strikes me as an inefficient reaction. It seems like it models behavior that says sorrow should be distracted, which seems unhealthy. It also makes it seem like being upset is not okay, when it's really just a normal part of life.

What I would do today is just ask "Is there anything I can do to help?" If the child said no, then I'd say, "I'll sit with you until you feel better." That way, the child would understand that it's okay to be upset, and that it will pass. A few minutes of patience seems like it would go a long way in helping children develop their own coping strategies.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


"Look, I got this soup mug," Gloria said. She handed it to me.

It was hefty. Had a lid on it, so I couldn't see inside, but it felt like it was full of soup. "That's great," I said.

Later, I was going to have some dinner, and all plans had collapsed. "I think I'll just have that soup," I said.

"What soup?" Gloria asked.

"The soup in the mug."

There is no soup in the mug," she said.

"Wait, no soup? Then what's the use of it?"

"Well, it's a mug that you put soup in," she said.

"But there's no soup."

"It just holds soup. It doesn't come with soup."

"It should have already had soup," I said. "Have the soup that comes with purchase, then have a mug left over. Seems like a missed opportunity."

Two days later (today), I unloaded the dishwasher. In it, a ribbed, large mug. "Where do I put this thing?" I asked.

"That's the soup mug," Gloria said.

"Not to me."

She laughed. "You know that even if it had come with soup, the soup would be gone, and the mug would be exactly the same as it is now."

"Not exactly," I said. "I would have already had a positive experience with the mug, leading to a friendly relationship going forward. This way, it's been nothing but maintenance so far."

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation," she said. Or something like that.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

IGF Nominations Up!

Here are your finalists for the 2020 Independent Games Festival Awards

I can personally vouch for A Short Hike, which is terrific.

Kentucky Route Zero: Final Act January 28

Well, this is great news.

Kentucky Route Zero is a beautiful, shimmering thing, one of the most memorable games I've ever played. It puts magical realism into rural Kentucky, and if that isn't enough for you, I don't know what to say.

I wrote "one of the most memorable," but as I did that, I tried to think of a more memorable game. I can't. Everything about it is magical.

If you haven't played it, starting now is a good idea. It will probably a couple of weeks to work through the first four acts, and you'll be ready on January 28th for the last chapter.

Monday, January 06, 2020

The Man You Trust

I haven't had an update for a while, even though I've been working seven days a week since the day Eli 18.5 went to school.

Here's how you rewrite the first 60 pages of a novella:

Wait, no.

It's less horrifying than it looks. That's about 300 pages, but it only represents the process of turning the first 60 pages into 105 pages. And it's a lean 105, even now.

That's why it's taken longer than expected. It's a time-consuming, methodical process, and I am so happy with the results. But it's taking a while. I write and write and rewrite and edit and edit and edit.

At this point I'm almost 2/3 of the way through, which means I'm hoping for end of April/early May to have the rewrite done. There's still work to do after that, but less creating.

I think that means late fall for this to be released. Here's hoping, anyway.

When I'm done, I'm going to spread out all the rewrites and edit pages in a huge room and take a picture. I'm looking forward to that moment.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Friday Links!

A little light, as usual, at the end of the year.

From C. Lee, and it's an excellent essay: An invisible baseball curves through Japanese literature. So absolutely true: How to Apologize Like a Tech Ghoul: 2019 Edition. Incredible: Famous Fluid Equations Spring a Leak. This is a fantastic article: I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them.  William Sydney Porter alert: The History of O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is incredible: The bushfires in Australia are so big they're generating their own weather — 'pyrocumulonimbus' thunderstorms that can start more fires.

From Wally, and elephant seals are big: Big Sea Lions on a Small Boat. This is a long and excellent read: Kazutaka Miyatake On Studio Nue And The Birth Of Real Robot Mecha Design. This is fascinating (the time ball): The invention that inspired a New York tradition. This is a chronicle of an epic, incredible meltdown: The Implosion of the RWA (Romance Writers of America).

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Your Own Heist Film

Man, I think this is fantastic:
The Challenge Vault: a locksport training tool and mechanical puzzle that teaches you to be a safecracker

I'm not going to pretend I have the patience for this, but just look at the description:
...a safecracking practice box that is both a gorgeous artifact in its own right and a superb mechanical puzzle that can be made progressively harder by adding wheels that you access by opening the safe, which arrives set to the easiest setting.

I mean, come on! How could anything be more perfect than that?

I'm seriously out of gas today (I'll elaborate next week), but I hope everyone had a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Micro Chef

I was hungry.

What I really wanted was nachos. This was problematic, because Taco Tuesday was coming up in two hours, and tamales had been added as a New Year's bonus. I wanted tamales, but I wanted nachos now.

Then I had an idea: what if I didn't make nachos? What if I made a nacho?

Selecting the perfect chip took a while. Then lining up the individual strips of cheese in parallel, then another layer to cross-hatch. I used an avocado.

Three seconds in the microwave, then three more.

Gloria came home. "Hey, I used an avocado," I said. "I was cooking."

"I need those for guacamole," she said.

"I looked it up on Google and sprinkled lemon juice on what was left, so that it would stay fresh," I said.

"Well, thanks for doing that," she said.

Eli 18.4 walked in as Gloria walked off. "Dude, I made a nacho," I said.

"You made nachos?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I made a nacho."

Eli started laughing. "A nacho?"

"That's right," I said. I showed him the picture:

"Oh my god, you did make a nacho," he said. "How did it taste?"

"Just like you think it would," I said.

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