Friday, February 28, 2020

Friday Links!

This is entirely wonderful: You'll never forget this YouTube account where a man serenades elephants on the piano.

This is a hundred and fifty-nine years overdue: Marine commandant banishes Confederate symbols from all Corps installations.

This is quite amazing: Researchers find an animal without mitochondria.

Sheer exuberance (and his head is as still as a world-class sprinter): Westminster Dog Show Obstacle Course Winning Run.

From Wally, and it's a terrific read: Solari boards: The disappearing sound of airports. An epic headline: Why America Is Losing The Toilet Race. This is fascinating but tough to read: In the Midst of a Border Crisis, Cooking Is About More Than Survival. A classic, but not anywhere near the best game: How to win Monopoly in the shortest possible time. This is an astonishing video: Aquatilis-Under The Ice. This might be really helpful to me, actually: The Hottest New Literary Genre Is ‘Doomer Lit’. So good: I went to Hogwarts for seven years and did not learn math or spelling, and now I can't get a job.

A series of strong links from Ken Piper. First, it's This Clever Robotic Finger Feels With Light. Next, an excellent list: The Most Influential Science-Fiction Books Of All Time.  About time: Physics undergrads crunched numbers for Star Trek’s tribble problem. This is a very interesting read: Gopher: When Adversarial Interoperability Burrowed Under the Gatekeepers' Fortresses.

The always excellent C. Lee sends this along: Soba restaurant in Japan struggles to find new employee, rewords job ad and offers flood in. Fascinating and provocative: If only Iwo Jima had been captured sooner. Terrific: The Fairey Rotodyne, the vertical takeoff and landing airliner time forgot. Such an excellent, wonderful movie: ‘Parasite’ Has a Hidden Backstory of Middle-Class Failure and Chicken Joints.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

This Might Be Highly Useful

Mom had hip replacement surgery last Friday.

Her biggest problem, by far, has been nausea. Very strong, not controllable with medication (even Zofran has had limited effectiveness), and it's affected her ability to eat so much that she became very weak.

Almost certainly, this was created by the multitude of medications she's been taking after surgery.

Two nights ago, a nurse gave her a pad soaked in isopropyl alcohol and told her to breathe deeply. She did it one or two times, and her nausea went away. Immediately. It was incredible.

I wound up Googling this (it sounded like an absolute placebo) and found that it's actually a legitimate thing, and that emergency rooms, in particular, are using it on a regular basis. Studies have shown that it's far more effective than a placebo. Low cost, no side effects, and effective.

I'm passing it along in hopes that you won't need it, but it's good to file away, just in case.

I Wrote About This A While Back

The train is picking up speed: Robots Aren't Taking Our Jobs--They're Becoming Our Bosses.

This is going to be very tricky, in a political sense, because "Won't someone think of the middle managers?" is not going to be a rallying cry that resonates with anyone. 

What we have created is a "free enterprise" system that is unregulated to a degree that it has become highly predatory. That predatory environment has allowed companies to show no regard whatsoever for their employees well being or anything but corporate profits translated into higher stock prices. 

At the same time, the political groups pushing for this environment are also philosophically opposed to social programs as propping up "weak" people who lack the will to work. 

I don't know how this blows up, but it certainly looks like it will, at some point. It's not sustainable.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Come On Down

When I was a kid, there were four tiers of retailers.

Tier one, the bottom of the barrel, was K-Mart (and maybe Woolco, if anyone remembers them). K-Mart was ultra-discount, the kind of place you went if you only cared about price.

Tier two was Sears. It had lost some luster by then, but it was still a quality option, especially for appliances and tools. You didn't want to buy clothes there, though. Ever.

Tier three was J.C. Penney. This was a "nice" store, upmarket for the middle class. This is a store you went to when quality mattered. Also a respectable place to buy clothes.

Tier four consisted of stores that were too upscale for the area I lived in. Well, Dillard's might have been in tier four, and there was one of those in the nearest mall. Dillard's, though, was considered unnecessary, because you could get everything they had at Penney's, and for much less.

That was retail back in 1970, when I was nine years old.

Today, I needed a little throw blanket, so I went to the mall. I buy everything I can from Amazon, but if I need to touch or feel a product, I still go to the mall.

There's a Macy's at this mall, and a Penney's, too. Macy's is tier three now, what Penney's used to be. Penney's meanwhile, is tier three, barely.

After poking around for a while in an inventoried ghost town, I found a blanket for "65% off". Off what is anyone's guess.

I went to check out.

This was upstairs, and I walked around for ten minutes and not only couldn't find any employees, I couldn't even find a register.

A novel approach for a retail store.

I went downstairs and found two registers. Two. I said to the clerk, "You appear to have eliminated both employees and registers as a cost-cutting measure."

She laughed. "Were you upstairs?" she asked.

"I was."

"We don't have anyone up there during the day. We just put up signs that say come on down. We have a person up there at night."

A person.

This is not a small store, by any means. It's a healthy walk from end to end. But that walk will not be taken by employees.

Well, one employee. At night.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Expert Requested

Anyone with a science background who feels like they are fully current with the coronavirus situation.

I'd like to make another post about this, but I'd like a more informed opinion than mine. Thanks.

On Wardrobe and Assassins

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous (literally):
You hit on a really good point, and I thought you’d be interested to hear that a similar principal applies to conducting undercover law enforcement work as well. I’m not talking about Donnie Brasco deep-cover operations – just everyday cases where an agent or detective needs to be out in public without drawing unnecessary attention.

It can be a little trickier if you’re in a small town. There was a time once when I was off duty and was out at the airport waiting for my family to arrive on an incoming flight. I saw an agent I knew from another agency in a crowd and I greeted him, and he completely ignored me. I realized immediately that he was working and took it in stride. I’ve since learned that there is something of a proactive remedy against this happening in public. When I’m going to be out and socializing with other adults, I almost always wear the exact same thing – the same pullover sweatshirt, hat, and jeans. That is my social outfit, and I will never wear it while I’m working, thus somewhat reducing the chance that someone unexpected out on the street will recognize me and try chatting me up.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Fortunate Typos

I was looking up some motion settings for the C9 OLED, and I texted myself so that I wouldn't forget. The settings were Deblur 3, Dejudder 0.

Later, when I looked up the text, it said this: Devour 3, Shudder 0.

I feel like a portal should open up and consume me at this point. Likely, even.

This is probably already a series on Netflix.

On Wardrobe and Assassins

I was watching a show the other night, and the assassin was wearing a turtleneck and slim-fit jeans.

How is that every assassin I see is wearing form-fitting clothes? They look so hip that they just exploded off a magazine page. They catch the eye of every person they pass because they're just so damn good looking. They'd be the first person anyone would mention if they're interviewed by the police.

Not me.

If I'm an assassin, I'm buying the loosest fitting clothing I can find. I want to look like a human Shar Pei. Nobody will ever tell the police, "Yeah, I noticed a guy in loose-fitting gray sweatpants."

I wonder if actual assassins watch these shows and go, "Holy shit! What is up with the turtlenecks?"

Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday Links!

A fantastic read: The story of the Atari Jaguar saviour that never came out.

From Geoff Engelstein, and it's a wonderful story: At 75, my mother decided to play through "Red Dead Redemption 2".

From Meg McReynolds, and how many rollercoasters reach the century mark? You know Jack: Kennywood celebrates the Jack Rabbit's 100-year anniversary.

From Wally, and it's a deep dive: The diehards of doom! Why Doctor Who is the show fans love to hate. These are nifty: Book Nook Shelf Inserts Are Really Cool, And Everyone Should Know They Exist — Here Are 14 Of The Most Creative Ones You'll See. This is a stunning video: Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami. This is utterly fantastic: Open Source Rotary Cellphone. This is just a staggering story: Con men scam $1 million from isolated Mennonite craftsman by claiming to be Illuminati.

From C. Lee, and it's fascinating: Black in the USSR. I had no idea: Why are the Vibrant Colors of 'The Scream' Fading? Outstanding: Fourteen Fun Facts About Love and Sex in the Animal Kingdom. This could be incredible: Scientists make energy with invisible source: infrared light.

From Jonathon W., and it's hilarious: The Deep Roots of an Italian Song That Sounds Like English—But Is Just Nonsense.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Eli 18.6: 6.2

He said he still had some headroom, and that he was sure he'd been sub-6 in some practice runs that weren't timed. This is on the 10-meter wall.

He's been working on this for six weeks.


Here's a concept I believe we can all get behind:

I saw this and it felt like a display of pure joy:

This is an outrage!

On Matters Culinary

If you take a bag of jalapeno potato chips and crush them, then pour about 1/3 of the bag on a baked potato, it's a flavor miracle. Seriously.

Send Us Your Armies On Sale

The debut novel of Vic Davis, Send Us Your Armies, is on sale for $0.99 today at Amazon. That's a great deal.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

No Difference

I think it's very easy to assume nowadays that foreign-based phone support is the biggest problem with customer service. It's doubly easy to do so because almost every big company uses foreign-based customer service.

I had a real blast from the past today, though.

I called a manufacturer of a major soundbar. This company has this bizarre approach to functionality that has some functionality attached to the remote, while the rest of it is only usable with their app.

To start off with, that's horrible design. Just horrible.

What's even more horrible is that the app is terrible. It's incredibly flaky when installing, and the app itself has something like a 2.5 rating (with thousands of reviews), which you don't get unless the app is crap.

I needed to call customer service to answer a question about an error code I was getting.

I called.

The voice cheerily told me that I was 77th in the queue.

I was told that I could leave my number, which I did, and someone called back 2+ hours later. I clearly concluded that this person was based in the U.S. He had me on the phone for less than two minutes, couldn't answer a simple question, and told me I needed a Level 2 tech. He took my number.

The Level 2 tech (again, based in the U.S.) called me 21 hours later. I wasn't available. He left me a toll-free number to call.

When I was free, I called. This time, I was 1st in the queue. And held for 22 minutes.

Now I did get the information I needed, after I talked to the tech. But it reminded me of how terrible U.S. tech support was BEFORE it started being outsourced.

I remember this happening all the time. Half-hour waits in queues, or longer. People who couldn't answer even the simplest questions. People who were totally disinterested in helping me. And this kind of attitude starts at the executive level, not the employee level. Their lack of commitment to service, seeing it as an expense instead of an integral part of future revenue, is what leads to bad customer service.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Better Late Than Never

I've been playing quite a bit of UnderMine lately.

It's a run around, shoot stuff, find stuff, eat stuff game. Looks like this:

Yeah, it's a little dark underground. Not everywhere, though. 

UnderMine has plenty of positives. Interesting creatures with varied attack patterns, lots of items to find, blessings, curses, gold, and dogs for petting. 

Plus, the animation is smooth. So smooth. 

I've gotten (by my meager standards) fairly good at this game. I get into the flow state pretty quickly now, which is always an amazing experience. 

My entire life, I've always looked at where I was moving, and when I took a ranged shot, I always looked at where the shot was going until it landed. 

I've always done it like this. And it's wrong. 

What I've discovered in the last few days is that I've been looking at the wrong things. I need to be watching where enemies are going, not my character, and I need to be looking at where shots are coming from, not where they're going. 

This has made a huge difference in my skill level. 

I know, it's a "duh" moment for a lot of you, but man, it was revelatory for me.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Your Four-Class Personality Test

I should have realized this a long time ago.

Role playing games have always had the four basic character classes:
-thief or assassin, depending on the game

Because I'm dense, I never thought about what these choices say about who we are, particularly if we make them all the time.

I realized this, finally, because I realized my choice has changed.

To start off, I've never chosen the warrior class. Zero interest. That's why I've never been able to get into the God of War series, even though I've played a couple. Aggro has never been interesting to me, not in my entire life.

What I chose for a long time was the mage class. Probably all the way into my mid-thirties. Enormous power, but channeled with intelligence.

In the last month, though, I realized something: I haven't chosen the mage class in a long, long time. Now, I always choose the thief class. The stealthy one, the one who gets by on their wits without any special powers.

That's definitely a personality shift, and it's not just in class selection. Do you know what perfection would be in terms of professional status for me? If people knew my name as having written a profound book, but had no idea what I looked like. No one would ever recognize me on the street. I would just have done it, and other people would know, and that would be enough.

When I was younger, I wanted to be recognized. A magic user, showy spells, lots of magic missile fireworks. Now, though, I'd rather be in the shadows.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday Links!

Leading off, from C. Lee, and what an epic read: ‘The intelligence coup of the century’: for decades, the CIA read the encrypted communications of allies and adversaries..

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and nature is incredibly inventive: There's a new radiation-eating fungus strand growing at Chernobyl.

From Wally, and it's amazing: Scientists in Israel grow date plants from 2,000-year-old seeds. An excellent read: The New 3D Printing. I'm not sure what to think: The Art of Costumes at Costume-Con 37. Toy train parkour: Diesel Train Stunts - Brio trains parkour,

More links from C. Lee. First, free stuff: 60 Free Film Noir Movies. This is absolutely phenomenal: The Best Board Games of the Ancient World. Wash those hands, my friend: Study: To slow an epidemic, focus on handwashing. Really alarming: 10 US oil refineries exceeding limits for cancer-causing benzene, report finds. About time: Physicists determine the optimal soap recipe for blowing gigantic bubbles. Of course, we always suspected this: Nighttime Camera Catches Coyote and Badger in Absolute Cahoots.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

If Only They Would

I watched parts of a few XFL games this weekend.

I'm not going to pretend that the games were good. They weren't. But the NFL is using the XFL as in incubator for some really, really interesting rules changes (in particular, the kickoff) that might be adopted next season.

A second outdoor football league will never succeed in this country. Well, it will never succeed unless the winner of the league gets promoted to the NFL for the next season, and the worst team gets relegated.

That will never happen, because no NFL owner would take that chance, but that would create a thriving second league with a ton of fan interest, and the playoff games would get huge ratings.

Plus, the quality of football in the second league would be much higher, because teams would be competing to move up to the big time.

Too bad that won't happen.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mr. Eli's Wild Ride

This was last Friday.

I got up at 5:30 and left the house at 6:00, driving to Ann Arbor to pick up Eli 18.6. The weather was terrible for most of the trip, and a 2:00 drive turned into 2:45.

As soon as Eli got in the car, the weather started to get better. In thirty minutes, the sun was out. Deep symbolism there.

We got back to Grand Rapids at 11:20, just in time for his 11:30 dental appointment. Then he got a haircut, took a long nap, and we all met for dinner downtown.

Why? Because Gloria and Eli were going to see "Hamilton."

Started at 8:00, lasted almost three hours. What a day, right?

Not so fast.

Gloria then had to drive Eli back to Ann Arbor, and they didn't get there until 2:30 a.m. because the weather was so bad. Gloria then spent the night in Livonia, which is a Detroit suburb, because getting home at 5:00 seemed like a really bad idea.

Why the madness? Because he had to get in line (sleeping in a tent with his friends) to get good seats for the Michigan St. game (the biggest basketball game of the year). 20F, snow.

He said with four of them in a three-person tent, it was like a sauna.

They got great tickets to the game, Michigan won, and he promptly took a four hour nap.

Just a normal day.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Tale of Two Tickers

ESPN's XFL presentation last weekend:


ESPN has specialized in putting so much crap on the screen that you can't even see the game. You're watching a program with 80-85% of the available screen space, and ESPN's advertising ticker (that's what it is now) is just screwing things up. Plus the flashing yellow and flashing red for "final scores" and "critical news." It's gotten to the point where it's just trash.

Fox redesigned their scoreboard to fit better on mobile devices, which is very, very smart. The scoreboard is minimal, and it's framed so that additional statistics are shown to the right or left of the scoreboard. A mobile user won't see them.

All in all, it's a huge improvement from FOX (I don't say that much, or ever).

Makes You Think Of...

China takes desperate, “wartime” measures to stop coronavirus in Wuhan

An excerpt:
Chinese authorities seemed resolute to take whatever extreme actions they see as useful to get a grip on the outbreak. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who visited Wuhan Thursday and announced the new control measures, said that the city and country face “wartime conditions.”

“There must be no deserters, or they will be nailed to the pillar of historical shame forever,” she added.
Honestly, "Deserters Will Be Nailed To The Pillar Of Historical Shame Forever" might be the greatest band name of all time.

Monday, February 10, 2020

I Recommend An Article Title

"What are you working on?" I asked.

"An article," Gloria said. I looked over her shoulder. It was 'An Unconventional Approach to Security Tools Deployment.'

"Hmm, pretty vanilla," I said.

"I thought 'Unconventional' was the highlight," she said. Security articles are very, very dull.

"Well, I think I could punch that up if you just change one word. I recommend 'A Bohemian Approach to Security Tools Deployment.' That guarantees everyone will at least read the first paragraph."

Friday, February 07, 2020

Friday Links!

This is an interesting analysis: Data suggests virus infections under-reported, exaggerating fatality rate.

From C. Lee, and this is tremendously interesting: How shrubs can help solve climate change. This is sobering, to say the lease: As sea levels rise, little of the United States will be unaffected. This is fascinating: Here’s What Julius Caesar And Others Would Look Like Today. I didn't realize it was so difficult: What to call this new coronavirus? Some cautionary tales. A correction: ‘Deaf’ genius Beethoven was able to hear his final symphony after all.

From Wally, and it's stunning: Jaw-Dropping Celtic Warrior Grave Contains Shield Labelled a Find 'of The Millennium'. I had no idea a CD version wasn't enough:  Mechanical Keyboard Sounds: The Album on Vinyl. I did not see that coming: Elevator Door Mystery Game! A lengthy an excellent read: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the National Weather Service. A very long read, but the subject is the precursor to one of the most heroic resistances in history: The most brutal bombing in the history of the wars (Stalingrad August 23).

Thursday, February 06, 2020

An Observational Post, Not A Political One

I'm kind of straddling the line here, but it's an interesting topic to discuss. The UK, not the US (please feel free to breathe a huge sigh of relief).

Given the UK's exit from the EU, and the government's apparently total lack of understanding about how trade agreements are negotiated, it made me wonder about the future.

How long does a world composed of (increasingly) entirely selfish actors survive without serious conflict? Along with the selfishness comes isolation, because coming to trade agreements when there is no consideration for the other party is almost impossible.

The UK seems to think they have leverage in trade negotiations with the EU. Hahahahahahahah.

Sorry, couldn't help myself.

What they've actually done is given up all the leverage they had in the EU for no leverage at all in the trade negotiations. It doesn't seem like that will end well.

Of course, there's a strongly racist component of Brexit, just like the conservative movement in the US. In general, there's a large share of the population of each country where being racist isn't even considered dishonorable anymore.

It makes me wonder where all this leads, because it doesn't seem like it will lead to anything good.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


Boy, some awesome stuff this week.

First off, the last act of Kentucky Route Zero has been released. Even before this final act, the game was my favorite adventure game of all time, and a top ten (or five) game of the last 40 years for me (damn, that's a long time).

I'm actually waiting to play the final chapter for about a week because I am impossibly busy, but I am really, really looking forward to it.

Next, I loved the King's Bounty series (made by the same team that made Space Rangers 2). Yesterday, there was a new preview for King's Bounty 2 on RPS: Oh huh, King's Bounty 2 looks more like a modern RPG than I'd expected.

I've spent hundreds of hours playing Space Rangers 2, then all the King's Bounty games, so I can't wait for this, and it's coming out this year (anywhere from July to September, according to the article).

Finally, the Trese brothers announced their new game: The Trese Brothers dish details on Cyber Knights: Flashpoint, their new cyberpunk RPG. The only developer more dedicated to improving their games is Tarn, because they put out weekly content additions for almost two years after they release. They've done that with Star Traders: Frontiers, and it's unbelievably good.

These guys are one of my favorite developers, because design interesting, dense games. They put up a Kickstarter with a goal of 50K to help them finish the game, and it already hit 66K on the first day. That's what their community thinks of them.

Early access in March 2021 is the target.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

In "4K"

I'll skip the old man grouch post about how the Super Bowl has almost entirely divorced itself from what makes football fun to watch in the first place.

Okay, one note. In the first half, there were 53 plays from scrimmage. And 48 commercials. That's why the game felt so ponderous. It was ponderous. Every year, the game has to overcome the presentation.

Also, Patrick Mahomes is a superstar, in all-caps. What a privilege it is to watch him play.

Okay, here's the actual old man rant today.

In 2002, Fox broadcast the Super Bowl in 480P resolution, after CBS had done it in 1080i the previous year. It wasn't even real 480P. Fox used 480i production trucks and used a line doubler to output 480P.

Fox crowed for weeks about how 480P was actually a superior format. It wasn't, and the Super Bowl looked like shit. Fox pretended it never happened, then started broadcasting in 720P, which was still an inferior format to 1080i.

Seventeen years later, they're still doing it (ABC, too).

This year, Fox crowed about how they were broadcasting the Super Bowl in 4K for the first time. In typical Fox fashion, they were lying. What they broadcast was 1080P upscaled, along with HDR.

Did it look good? Yes. Did it look like 4K HDR? No. I've seen college football in true 4K and it is spectacular beyond belief. This wasn't nearly as good, and why should it be? Calling upscaled 1080P 4K is like putting a bedsheet on a pole inside a rowboat and calling it a sailboat.

Fox claims upscaled 1080P in HDR is "just as good" as 4K. That's so they can cheap out and not buy 4K cameras.

Same old shit.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Saturday, In Which Someone In Our Family Finds Out He's Going To Geneva (Hint: It's Not Me)

He got it!

Eli 18.6 emailed us on Saturday morning about 10 a.m. and promptly went back to sleep. All he sent was the acceptance e-mail. Then he called two hours later.

No pulse on that kid.

I'm pretty sure I misunderstood what this program actually is, because the U.N. internship is apparently only one of several possible things. What is entirely correct is that he will be studying international politics/relations, will be at both the U.N. and the EU over the course of the six weeks, and will be staying with a local family in Geneva.

It sounds pretty fantastic. No, wait--it sounds totally fantastic.

Plus, he will make a ton of great contacts, because that's just what he does. People like him and want to help him whenever they can, which is one of the best qualities anyone can have because it  leads to so many opportunities.

So it was a very, very happy Saturday around our house. And Sunday. Still happy today.

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