Thursday, December 28, 2023

Friday Links!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Leading off this week, a fascinating read: Corvids seem to handle temporary memories the way we do

From C. Lee, and it's an excellent breakdown: Visualizing How Big Tech Companies Make Their Billions. It's been a brutal year: You can't talk about 2023 in games without talking about layoffs. Not what I expected: Ram, Tesla and Subaru Have the Worst Drivers, While BMW Drivers Have the Highest DUI Rates. Some bizarre numbers: Most Canadians Live South of Seattle and Other Map Surprises. An absolutely tremendous read: How the Women of the North Platte Canteen Fed Six Million Soldiers During World War II. This is an interesting approach: How and Why I Stopped Buying New Laptops. I didn't even know this was an issue: Worried About Your Pyrex Exploding? Check If It Has This Special Ingredient. I remember the commercials from long, long ago: How Kosher Wine Became a Hit in the Caribbean and Beyond. Very, very clever: Collegiate Punctuation Marks Trying to Be the Next Oxford Comma.

From Wally, and potato chips are one of life's greatest pleasures: ‘How do you reduce a national dish to a powder?’: the weird, secretive world of crisp flavours. This is excellent: Professor Brian Cox will make you love science. Public domain day is coming soon: Public Domain Day 2024

The End of Civilization

"Do you stir yogurt before you eat it?" Eli 22.4 asked.

"Of course," I said. "I'm not a savage."

"Exactly!" he said. "I've got friends who just open the cup and go to town."

"You have to stir it or it's not creamy," I said. "What would that even taste like?"

"I don't want to find out," he said.

"Plus water. Sometimes there's a little water on the top. Do you just plow through that?"

"I couldn't do it," he said.

"The world is descending into barbarism," I said.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Fixer

Eli 22.4 and I arrived at a game idea today.

We were talking about FIFA, or whatever it's called now. I said EA should add a gambling option in career mode where you could bet on your own team in games, potentially increasing your annual budget. Partner with a sports book for the branding and there you go. This can't happen of course, because the EU would lose it's mind (with good reason), but it's fun to think about.

Eli said there should be a match-fixing game, and that's when my head exploded.

It would be called The Fixer, and it would basically be a sports management crime simulation where you tried to fix matches in multiple sports all over the world. In career mode, you could advance from fixing entry-level professional matches to world boxing titles and team sports championships.

Sort of Football Manager, but with crime.

It scratches my deeply-held itch for numbers and probabilities. Who do you approach? How much do you pay them, and how high of a chance of success do you need to put down a big wager? Most importantly, how do you avoid getting caught?

We're going to design this over the next few days, I hope. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Buy, Buy, Buy

Today, I went to Costco, the great maw of American consumption (Sam's Club would also be the correct answer).

It's interesting how these "consumption clubs" skew our idea of value. When I walked in, one of the first things I saw were 560 sandwich bags for only a dollar more than it would cost me to get 80 at a local grocery store. I had my hand on the box when I remembered it would take me three years, at least, to use 80 bags. Most of that 560 would wind up in my will.

Still, it was hard not to buy them because the cost per bag was so low, even though I didn't need them.

I do become the blueberry equivalent of the Hunt Brothers because I buy so many when Eli 22.4 is hear. We eat them all, though, and sooner than I ever expect.

I walked past a giant box of cereal with "NO SUGAR ADDED" prominently displayed on the box. When I was a kid, that message was the death knell for any cereal I was considering. How could that be considered a feature?

The history of cereal is very, very strange, and it focuses on two names: Kellogg and Post. Even stranger, it focuses on only one city: Battle Creek, Michigan. Here are the twisted details: The weird but true history of cereal - from anti-sex campaigns to mind control.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Different, Yet the Same

Last year it was basketball in a foot of snow. This year it was tennis in 53 degree weather.

No nets, because the nets get taken down everywhere in November, but it didn't really matter. Not to us, anyway.

I used to be fast on the court--really fast, actually--but those days are so long gone I can hardly even remember them now. I feel like a buffalo, and hitting with Eli 22.4 for an hour after not playing for the last year made my arm feel like it was attached to a taser.

It's a high-ibuprofen environment when he's here, but in a good way. 

After I picked him up yesterday, we went to the store to pick up a few things for lunch, and he got a big bunch of kale. It hung out of the bag, and he turned and it fell out. We reached down at the same time, caught it at the same time, and laughed at the same time. 

Just like always.  

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Friday Links!

Happy holiday wishes to everyone! A big set of links in case you need a distraction.

Leading off this week, and what a project, it's Restored 478-key, 31-tone Moog synthesizer from 1968 sounds beautifully bizarre

I used to think Elon Musk was a genuinely successful dick, but it seems more and more like someone who is unusually skilled in the art of the grift: Tesla blamed drivers for failures of parts it long knew were defective.

No matter what you think these will sound like, I bet they'll surpass your expectations: Listen to the blood-curdling screamy sound of an ancient Aztec death whistle.

I'm reposting this from last week because they're so fantastically strange, and if you missed it, have a look: Shock of the old: 11 murderous and macabre Victorian Christmas cards

From C. Lee, and it's an amazing discovery: Scientists Pinpoint Cause of Severe Morning Sickness. This is a brilliant read: Manchuria: a "utopia" created by opium. Bizarre: Once They Were Pets. Now Giant Goldfish Are Menacing the Great Lakes. This is unexpected: MIT Scientists Unearth New Aspects of Mouse Intelligence. This is a terrific read: The Napoléon that Ridley Scott and Hollywood won’t let you see. Amazing! Why scientists are making transparent wood. Japanese health guidelines: Walking 60 minutes each day a recipe for good health, longer life. This is fantastic: Donkey Kong: A Record of Struggle. Part two from the impeccable Digital Antiquarian: Putting the “J” in the RPG, Part 2: PlayStation for the Win

From Daniel W., and it's quite ingenious: #climatechangecrochet – The global warming blanket.

From Wally, and this is for you, car nerds: Famous Cars: The Most Memorable & Expensive Cars to Ever Grace Our Screens. A few surprises (Tony the Tiger? Really?): HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! 5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DR. SEUSS' YULETIDE CLASSIC. This is brutal: The worst-behaved tourists of 2023. I thought it was a different kind of boring: And the winner for San Jose BART’s boring machine name competition is… There is so much stupid in this story: Lord of the Rings fan fiction writer sued for publishing own sequel

A Sensation

I went swimming yesterday, and I had a moment.

When your goggles are on, there's a sensory deprivation element involved, because they'll inevitably fog over. You'll also be underwater part of the time, so your hearing is muted as well. You can't see or hear much, really, and it's quite enveloping in a very pleasant way.

For me, anyway.

After finishing my laps, I hopped up on the edge of the pool and took off my goggles, and I was immediately stunned by light and sound and colors, almost as if I hadn't been breathing and suddenly took a deep breath. It felt like a moment out of a movie, if they made movies about bad swimmers in their sixties (narrator: they don't).

Both beautiful and disorienting, in its own way.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Potpourri (but no candles)

I picked the single worst week of the year to try and write a longer form piece, so I'm retreating for now. Please enjoy these pictures of Ireland from Eli 22.4 instead:

An amazing day of weather for early December in Ireland.

In book news, I need to finish two more chapters to complete the first section (about 55 pages). The second draft of the first section, more accurately. It's a bit of a slog right now, because I'm ripping out most of the groundwork of these chapters (or using it somewhere else), so there's quite a lot of new writing going on.

It does feel like  a book now. Part of one, anyway. Progress.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Boy and the Heron

I'm working on a longer piece that will hopefully run tomorrow, so I don't have to much to say today, except that I went to see The Boy and the Heron and it left me speechless. It's one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen. Even for Miyazaki, it's a towering achievement, and utterly beautiful. 

The other boy (Eli 22.5) is in Ireland for the next two days. I'll have pictures later.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

I stumbled onto something fascinating yesterday. 

Thanks to a TV show (Doc Martin, season 10), I heard about Charles Bonnet syndrome. Wikipedia:
A type of psychophysical visual disturbance in which a person with partial or severe blindness experiences visual hallucinations.

On the surface, that's kind of interesting, but here's more:
The hallucinations associated with Charles Bonnet syndrome can vary widely from simple, repeated coloured patterns to images such as double-decker buses coming into one’s living room or people sitting on the couch.

Double decker buses? Okay, now I'm in.

There's no consensus on cause, but this is tantalizing:
The specific cause of the hallucinations is unknown; however, they are most commonly attributed to deafferentation or lack of true visual input into the brain, which causes a release phenomenon similar to phantom limb symptoms after amputation.5 The deafferentation theory is supported by the results of a study that included 13 normally sighted patients who were blindfolded for 5 consecutive days. Of these patients, 10 reported hallucinations after an average of 1 day.

Note to self: wear a blindfold for consecutive days.

This is another one of those things that affects old people and no one tells us until we get there:
Among older adults (> 65 years) with significant vision loss, the prevalence of Charles Bonnet syndrome has been reported to be between 10% and 40%; a 2008 Australian study found the prevalence to be 17.5%.

Now we get to the mind-blowing detail;
Patients will experience vivid, complex, recurrent visual hallucinations, commonly of faces, animals, or cartoons.

I know this condition can be serious, particularly when it's undiagnosed, because people might act on their hallucinations. However, seeing cartoons would be amazing.

It has been speculated (though not absolutely confirmed) that author James Thurber (who lost an eye to his brother's arrow in childhood) had Charles Bonnet syndrome, which might help explain his imaginative, singular vision of the world.

There was a survey of people diagnosed with this syndrome, and 7% said it actually improved their life as opposed to impairing it. If they're seeing cartoons, I totally understand.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and it's dark and brilliant: Shock of the old: 11 murderous and macabre Victorian Christmas cards

If you want to buy a book for a gaming nerd, here's a great place to look (thanks Cyriel): Bitmap Books: retro gaming books, redefined

From Wally, and this will be in the public eye until these 3-hour epics start bombing (it won't be long): Give Me a Break: Why Cinemas Want to Bring Back Intermissions. It took a while to figure it out: Internet sleuths identify lost ‘X-Files’ song, solving 25-year mystery

From C. Lee, and it's a terrific read: The extraordinary life of a Holocaust survivor living in Japan. England has so, so many: ‘How do you reduce a national dish to a powder?’: the weird, secretive world of crisp flavours. Coffee hounds, this is for you: This Simple Trick Will Help You Brew Better Coffee, According to Scientists. Classic: ‘Sir, You Can’t Park There’. It's quite wide-ranging, really: The surprisingly robust careers of Star Trek stars who became video game voice actors. Yikes: The hidden hazards of bargain PSUs: a case packed with iron filings. Ugh, it never ends: Just about every Windows and Linux device vulnerable to new LogoFAIL firmware attack. So, so many bad tourists: Venice gondola capsizes after tourists refuse to sit down and stop taking selfies. This is quite unsettling: Chinese prisoner’s ID card apparently found in lining of Regatta coat

From Ken Piper, and it's an excellent read: Dieselgate, but for trains – some heavyweight hardware hacking. This is one of the neglected effects of AI: AI and Mass Spying. A thoughtful read: Facts, frames, and (mis)interpretations: Understanding rumors as collective sensemaking. A classic holiday song (to me): Fairytale of New York: the story behind the Pogues' classic Christmas anthem. Happy holidays, dolphins, and congratulations: So Long And Thanks For All The Fish! Russia’s Naval-Defense Dolphins May Have Escaped. 

The World Must Increase Its Production of Blueberry Bagels

I went on a ninety-minute walk today, and after an hour I was getting hungry. I walked past a bagel shop and decided to get a blueberry bagel and toast it when I got home.

As soon as I decided I was going to stop, I could taste that toasted bagel. The perfect addition to a protein shake and yogurt (which is my usual lunch now).

I walked up the counter, full of victory, and the guy told me they're out of blueberry bagels.

The world is out of blueberry bagels.

It's been like this for decades. Einstein's Bagels in Austin were always out of blueberry bagels first. There are three different bagel shops in Grand Rapids I go to occasionally, and they're always out of blueberry bagels. Maybe they're getting scalped on eBay. Maybe it's the fault of Big Bagel. Maybe it's (gasp) the Deep State. I don't know.

What I do know is that all this foolishness needs to stop and world production of blueberry bagels needs to increase immediately. 

In other "news," I'm supposed to put a warm compress on my eyelid three times a day, and I was wisely advised to put rice in a sock and microwave it, which has the added benefit of making my study smell delicious in the morning. Win/win.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


Thanks to readers who identified my sad plant as a Christmas cactus, ironically enough.

Apparently, the Christmas cactus thrives on abuse, including the procedure for getting it to flower, which seems to involve putting it in a dark room for a month.

I've progressed from dramatist to masochist in my plant selection, if that can be considered a progression.

I also have a bacterial infection in my left eyelid. 'Tis the season, indeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Tree (plant, really)

There's been a plant in the laundry room since I came back to the house.

It's cold in the laundry room and inhospitable for humans, let alone plants, but somehow it's survived, even though I only remember to water it when the soil gets crunchy.

Today, I had a thought. Why am I not trying to help this plucky bit of greenery survive?

I've had other plants, but they were dramatists, the plant versions of Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven. Even with an inordinate amount of care, they wilted away. 

All the while I neglected this hardy, pioneer-spirited champion in the laundry room. So today, I brought it upstairs. It genuinely doesn't look good:

The thing is, though, maybe sunlight will help, and a little more attention. As Linus says:
I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

Monday, December 11, 2023

The Day Before and the Day After

It wasn't quite one day, but it was close.

After its initial announcement in 2021, Fntastic released The Day Before in Early Access last Thursday. Here's the description from the Steam page:
The Day Before offers players a uniquely reimagined journey into post-apocalyptic open-world MMO survival set in the present day on the US East Coast following a deadly pandemic.

That's what the developers said it would be, anyway. It was the most wishlisted game on Steam for quite a while. The description sounds pretty great, right?

What it turned out to be, though, was an extremely shitty extraction shooter that was so riddled with bugs it wouldn't even qualify as an alpha. Early Access titles can be rough, but it was nowhere near even those loose standards.

It sold over 200,000 copies (at $39.99) before word got out. Incredibly, almost half (46%) of those purchases were refunded. Staggering numbers, because it stuns me that 54% of the people who bought this game WOULDN'T refund it.

Today (four days later), Fntastic announced it was shutting down operations.

There have been signs all along that this game was a scam. Lots of signs. I think the degree of the scam, though, still took most people by surprise.

The only game I can think of that remotely compares would be the last version of Front Page Sports Football in 1999. I remember being shown a version of the game two weeks before it was going to be released and I asked, "How many months ago is this build?" The answer I got was, "This is the release build," and I almost started laughing because it wasn't even an alpha. The game wound up being recalled, and it killed the franchise.

The owners of Fntastic have scrubbed their social media accounts and basically disappeared. They'll come up for air at some point with a different company name, because that's what these kinds of people do. 

To Steam's credit, the game has been removed from sale and they're offering refunds to anyone who purchased the game, regardless of hours played. 

If you bought this, go get your refund.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Friday Links!

I never thought I'd lead off with a four-hour video about YouTube plagiarism, but here we are: Epic 4-hour documentary about YouTube plagiarists sends them scurrying desperately away. Dipping in and out of this video is fantastically enjoyable, by the way. 

From Meg McReynolds, and it's truly in keeping with the season: a truly hilarious company holiday party story, told in bullet points

From Wally, and it's promising: New Catalyst Completely Breaks Down Durable Plastic Pollution in Minutes. This is interesting and thoughtful: The Cthulhu Helix (2023) by Umehara Katsufumi (梅原克文).

From C. Lee, and it's an excellent read: How the 'Western mind' was shaped by the Medieval Church. Related: How East and West think in profoundly different ways. Fascinating: Maps have ‘north’ at the top, but it could’ve been different. An historical oddity: The Muddled Origins of the Word ‘Viking’. A wonderful read, and I can't wait to see the new movie when it opens: What’s It Like to Work With Hayao Miyazaki? Go Behind the Scenes. Welcome to Crazy Town: Chinese celebrity chef vows to never cook egg fried rice again after nationalist backlash. I have no idea how this is remotely possible: The Man Who Invented Fifteen Hundred Necktie Knots. This is not exactly apples-to-apples, but it's an interesting data point nonetheless: Electric vehicles report 79% more issues than gas-powered cars

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Dunderhead [duhn-der-hed]

I just published tomorrow's post today, so enjoy the double-dip and I'll see you on Friday with the links post, unless I post it five minutes from now, which seems like a distinct possibility based on recent behavior.

Coherence (part two)

Okay, this is the real coherence story I was sidetracked from yesterday. 

To be fair, the sidetracking was entirely done by myself.

I don't watch dating shows, but I see lots of promos, and lots of people who have had "work" done on their faces. I see plenty of woman in my small town who've had work done, too. Men have cosmetic surgery, as well, so it's not just women. 

There's been something bothering me for decades about plastic surgery, but I could never explain it until now.

I see so many people in their fifties and sixties whose faces have lost coherence. 

One feature doesn't quite fit with another. One is too big in proportion to others, or too lifted, or too stretched, or something. People who haven't had plastic surgery never look like this. Their faces might be attractive or unattractive, but their faces make sense.

With cosmetic surgery, though, in many cases it seems like some degree of coherence is lost. So I look at a person and don't understand their face anymore. 

I'm sure there's plenty of excellent cosmetic surgery I never notice, because it still looks natural, but I see so many seemingly-wealthy people (presumably going to expensive surgeons) whose faces turn into a kind of puzzle. Plus, they all start to blend together, which is even more odd. There's a "look" that's desirable, and everyone tries to achieve it, but all it does is take away their uniqueness.

I understand why people have it done--we all want to be young forever--but it seems like such a high cost.


I did a search on old posts for "coherence" to make sure I hadn't mentioned this before.

I hadn't (and I'll write about it tomorrow), but I was reminded of the singles funniest quote from an athlete I've ever heard. 

This was Jerome James, aka "Big Snacks," who could best be described as "durable," a big man who had a 9-year NBA career in spite of never averaging over 5.4 points a game or 4.1 rebounds. He was 7'1", though, and like Abe Lemons used to say, "Fast guys get tired, but tall guys never get short."

By the way, his career salary total in the NBA was 44.7 million. This is why you want your children to be 7'1" and play basketball.

Jerome was a colorful local character, to put it mildly. Once his coach accused him of being selfish, to which Jerome replied, "I don't even know what he is talking about. I just worry about Jerome."

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Holiday Cheer

My sister gave me a Charlie Brown Christmas tree twenty-five years ago or so. 

We always brought it out during the holidays and put it on the kitchen counter. Now, with no reason to buy a big tree anymore, it's become the sole tree in the house. 

Here's what it looks like: 

I think you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it and see everything in greater detail. And yes, that is Rudolph the Headless Reindeer beside it. One must have traditions. Evan the Inappropriate Elf is also on display.

The switch stopped working on the Charlie Brown tree, which meant I couldn't turn the lights on, so I took it to an electronics repair store. I expected to walk into a building where nothing had moved since 1950, including the dust, but instead I walked into a thoroughly modern lighting store that was spotlessly clean. 

I told the fellow behind the counter what had happened, expecting him to tell me to come back in a month. Bad timing, since I wouldn't have the tree during the holidays, but it couldn't be helped. Instead, he just unscrewed the switch, looked at the wires, and poked around in a box for another switch, which he put on right there. 

Ten minutes. Twelve dollars. Home for the holidays.

I asked him what was the oldest piece of equipment he'd ever worked on, and he said something from the 1880's. He specifically named it, too, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Also, quite a few things from the 1920s, chandeliers in particular. 

It would be fascinating to see a culture's evolution through its lighting. 

Monday, December 04, 2023


It's only December 4 and I'm already sick of Christmas. 

Maybe it's just because I'm an old grouch, but it seems like holiday hype has continually amped up over the last decade. Not just commercially, but also with the number of people spending huge amounts of money for ornate yard displays. 

I don't remember trees being sold before Thanksgiving, either (but I saw them this year). I don't know how anyone can keep a tree reasonably fresh for more than two weeks, let alone a month. It's basically kindling by then.

Eli 22.4 is coming home on December 24, which will be great. For everything else, though, I think I could give it a pass.

I miss the days when it was just Charlie Brown and Rudolph and a tree. Oh, and the Grinch. 

Maybe I was using the Grinch as a manual. That could be the problem. 

Site Meter