Thursday, March 28, 2024

Friday Links!

 From DQ Sled Dog Correspondent Meg McReynolds: Blowhole the Sled Dog Became a Social Media Star—But Was He a Criminal First?

From C, Lee, and it's not a good look: Honesty researcher committed research misconduct, according to newly unsealed Harvard report. No surprise: Here's Proof You Can Train An AI Model Without Slurping Copyrighted Content. This is amazing: CRISPR Gene Editing Eliminates HIV From Infected Cells. Uh-oh: Unpatchable vulnerability in Apple chip leaks secret encryption keys. A baffling story: A cougar attacked them. They fought back for 45 harrowing minutes. I don't disagree: END THE PHONE-BASED CHILDHOOD NOW. Very amusing: British Highschoolers try Trader Joe's for the first time! An excellent read: Why Prof. Ashoka Mody Believes India is Broken. Japan's most treasured dog: Rare photo shows loyal dog Hachiko in his last years. It's been 60+ years, and maybe it's time to get over it: Remember When the U.S. Secretly Built a Social Network to Destabilize Cuba?

From Wally, a bizarre and stupid lawsuit: The Weird Lawsuit Over Netflix's Enola Holmes, Explained. An interesting analysis: Can Russia Continue the War After 2024? OED update: The Oxford English Dictionary’s latest update adds 23 Japanese words. A terrific read: Now Arriving at J.F.K.: Horses From Iceland and Dogs From the West Bank

From DQ Fishing/Guitar Consultant David Gloier, an interesting read: This was village life in Britain 3,000 years ago

How to get to Zambia

It's easy.

Take a bus from Oxford to London. Take the Chunnel train to Paris. Take a plane to Kenya. Take another plane to Lusaka. Take a bus to Mongu. Take a car to the village.

That's Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, with buses thrown in for good measure. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Truth vs. Alex Jones

I don't write about uncomfortable things very often. 

In this case, though, I'm making an exception. There's a new documentary on HBO (and Max) titled The Truth vs. Alex Jones

It will make you incredibly uncomfortable. Emotional. Angry. Please watch it.

Why is it important to watch it? To have an understanding of what kind of crazy this country is dealing with now. To understand that at least a quarter of this country is incapable of rational thought, and that any politician pandering to these people needs to be destroyed electorally. 

Historians will look back on this era with astonishment someday. It will be hard for anyone to understand how grifters become a driving force in this country.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A Game

I had an idea for a game this morning. It's the dystopian future of gaming, but it might also be great.

It's not a game when you purchase it--at least, not when it's installed. It's a game generator, and you give it a subject and a genre (and whatever additional detail you want to add), and an LLM creates a game for you. Graphics, sound, rules, everything. 

You could either specify the kind of game you wanted, or you could just hit the "surprise me" button and let the LLM create something for you on its own.

Every single person using this engine would be having a customized gaming experience. No two games would ever be alike. There wouldn't be any guides or sharing tips. You'd on your own for the first time since the 1980s (and even then, you could go on a BBS or Usenet and find tips).

Even better, the LLM would allow you to iterate on what it created. So you could give general feedback, like "too many combat encounters with X type," or you could be extremely specific (in a football game, you could say "offenses run far too often in the last two minutes of a half"), and the LLM would retool the game with the feedback incorporated. 

You might even be able to share the created games. There could be an option to export the game into an installable file package.

I'd play this, and tinker with it, endlessly. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

A Quote

I was reading a Harlan Ellison short story today (part of The Best American Noir of the Century) and saw this:
Do not fall into the error of the artisan who boasts of twenty years' experience in his craft while in fact he has had only one year of experience--twenty times.

It's not his quote--it's from Trevanian's novel "Shibumi"--but it made me stop and think. I've known so many people like this. I hope I'm not one of them.



Eli 22.7's team won the hockey tournament in Prague. I think they were as surprised as everyone else was. 1-0, 3-1, 2-1, 2-0 in the prelims (all 30-minute games). 6-1 in the finals (full length). He was named outstanding goalie of the tournament.

As you can tell from the look on his face, he'll never stop being goofy. Thank goodness.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a tribute to the highlight of my trip to England in 1999: ‘A portal to a new world’: when the Trocadero was the centre of the video game universe

This is a terrific read: The top 5 astronomical discoveries of all time (so far)

Of course it was too good to be true: Physicist who worked on room temperature superconductor accused of ‘research misconduct’

From C. Lee, a fascinating story: Hey, chocolate lovers: new study traces complex origins of cacao. And it just gets more oppressive: Nobel Literature laureate Mo Yan is accused in patriotism lawsuit of insulting China’s heroes. An excellent read: Tank Museum In U.K. Playing Big Role In Keeping Ukraine’s Armor On Track. I certainly think it is: Is Google Getting Worse? How many Scaramucci's is this? Swept away: $500,000 sand dune built to protect US homes disappears in days. This is fantastic: Trailblazing female baseball coach aims for Japan pro ranks. I would have used this every weekend during travel hockey years: Woman invents portable bag that heats food, keeps it warm. Cook your bacon: Tapeworm larvae in brain linked to underdone bacon. Disney used to be very creative: Donald Duck - Mathmagic Land.

From Wally, and this is thorough: Jane Marie - “Selling the Dream” and The World of Multi-Level Marketing | The Daily Show. Do we really need a hotter pepper? Are you ready to eat the new hottest pepper in the world? From the magnificent McSweeney's: TABLE SETTINGS FOR VARIOUS OCCASIONS

This Doesn't Feel Like the Future

The second draft is completed up to the end of part two. About 140 pages, which is a good length. The full draft will be a little over 200, probably.

How is it going? Steadily. 

I finished Spaceman of Bohemia last night, and it's one of the most enjoyable science fiction novels I've ever read. It's so intricate and well-crafted, and it's written extraordinarily well. Certain passages in the book were so beautiful and evocative that I read them several times.

When I write, there are moments when I feel like a new astronomer with a crude telescope. I only see a fraction of what real astronomers do, but experiencing even that much astonishes me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Eli 22.7 Update

Through a series of unlikely events, Eli 22.7 was elected student body president of his college at O last week.

This week, he's in Prague for a hockey tournament. He gave up one goal in four games in the prelims and they're in the finals tomorrow morning.

He's going to Zambia next week for ten days.

For me, that would be the week of a lifetime. For him, I don't think it cracks the top ten.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Units of Currencies

C is amused by my unit of currency, which is televisions.

If I'm considering a trip, I think about how much a 65" OLED costs. The trip becomes two televisions, or three televisions. A high-end phone? That's about .75 televisions. A nice tablet is .35 televisions.

I've made purchase decisions this way. Is the utility of Device X as high as a 65" OLED? Very few things are, in my opinion.

When I'm with C, I'll occasionally refer to something as costing "two televisions," which endlessly amuses her. Well, maybe not endlessly.

Today, I was in a grocery store, and there were two guys in their 20s talking as they scanned groceries. "No way," one of them said. "That's almost four hats."

Welcome to the hat economy.

Monday, March 18, 2024


Here are a few of the emails I received about Thursday's post on the earliest accrual of skills after death in games/books/films.

First, games. From Dan S, and I still remember the greatness of Ultima Underworld:
I was a programmer and designer for the (first ever) first-person 3-D RPG Ultima Underworld (1992). In the game is a "silver sapling" that acts as a resurrection point when you die (although there is an experience point penalty). You can take a seed from the sapling and plant it anywhere you like to create a new resurrection point.

I remember thinking it was a cool mechanic (it was another developer's idea, I think) but I don't remember how novel we thought it was. I'm sure other RPGs had some sort of non-perma-death that this was just a bit of an evolution from. It was meant mostly as a checkpointing convenience and the purpose wasn't really for it to be exploited in a strategic way, although by the time we released the game we knew that it could be, since one of our playtesters found ways to abuse it during speedruns (e.g., throwing it into an inaccessible area and then committing suicide). Anyway, I don't think it really meets the criterion of "fundamental part of the game design" but maybe it's interesting history.

The Infocom game Enchanter (1983), which some of us had played, has a "survive unnatural death" spell that you need to use appropriately to win, if that counts. I doubt it was an explicit inspiration but it was in our backgrounds.

From Andrew S., and this is a book reference?
There was a 1986 book by a fellow named Ken Grimwood called "Replay."  Rather than a day cycle, the protagonist (middle aged) "dies" from a heart attack and wakes up as a college student and gets to relive his life from that point multiple times.  There are some twists to it, and he meets a woman who is going through the same thing.  Not a bad book actually.  I suspect it's out of print now, but it looks like ABEBooks has several copies of various editions for fairly cheap.

From Daniel W., and it's a book reference from way back:
Your “A Question” post triggered a memory from deep in my past. This isn’t a video game, but predates Groundhog Day by over thirty years: Rogue Moon

This section of the plot summary of Rogue Moon is particularly interesting: 
Barker is the first to retain his sanity after dying in the artifact, but even he is deeply affected, exclaiming, " didn't care! I was nothing to it!" He returns again and again, advancing a little farther each time.

Thanks to all who responded!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Friday Links!

This is a stunning surgical achievement: Delhi painter receives rare double hand transplant

From Iditarod Correspondent Meg McReynolds, and it's a doozy: The Iditarod Is Embroiled in a Controversy Over Moose Guts.

From John Harwood, in honor of Pi Day: How do we know that π never repeats? If we find enough digits, isn’t it possible that it will eventually start repeating?

From John W., and impeccable McSweeney's: Gen Z Beowulf. This is genuinely incredible: Beer Me, Obi-Wan!

From C. Lee, and oh, no: Microsoft engineer begs FTC to stop Copilot's offensive image generator – Our tests confirm it's a serious problem. Another failing: Hackers exploited Windows 0-day for 6 months after Microsoft knew of it. Ugh: AI worm infects users via AI-enabled email clients — Morris II generative AI worm steals confidential data as it spreads. The hype isn't new: We’ve been here before: AI promised humanlike machines – in 1958. I don't want to live in a world without cinnamon: Don’t use these six cinnamon products, FDA warns after concerning lead tests. A fascinating bit of history: World War II ‘Rumor Clinics’ Helped America Battle Wild Gossip. In America, this would just lead to an 8-day workweek: How Does a 10 Day Week Sound? The French Tried It For 13 Years. This is an excellent read: The 'banned' Star Trek episode that promised a united Ireland

A Question

Hall of Fame links provider C. Lee has an interesting question:
What was the first game to incorporate the Groundhog Day-like mechanic by which character deaths gradually let the player accrue experience/knowledge/powers that can be used in subsequent runs? I mean a game in which that mechanic of death and resurrection is explicitly part of the game as opposed to just reloading a save.

As a side note, I'm a big fan of this game mechanic.

Shiren the Wanderer came out in 1995. That's the earliest example I know. He mentioned Baroque and Planescape Torment (1998 and 1999, respectively). 

He theorized that no games had the mechanic before the movie Groundhog Day (1993).

In literature, there were certainly earlier examples. Perhaps the most well-known was Richard Lupoff's 12:01 P.M. (published in 1973).

I've hit the wall on what I know about this, so if any of you have earlier examples, please weigh in. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

'Tis the Season

I just drove past an inflatable leprechaun vomiting a rainbow into a plastic pool and I heartily approve. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Mom 94.0

Mom was born in 1930.

She grew up during the Great Depression. She watched Hitler rise to power (and the ex-president she says most resembles Hitler). She saw WWII. She saw the Korean War. She watched men walk on the moon. She saw the end of the Soviet Union. She saw the Berlin Wall crumble. She saw the computer revolution. She saw 9/11. She lived through the coronavirus pandemic. 

She raised two children(who both turned out okay), and got a Master's degree in English while she was doing so. She was a highly respected English teacher for over thirty years who had many loyal students. She has an unswerving sense of right and wrong, and never betrayed her principles. 

She is responsible for many of my good qualities, and none of my bad ones.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I play all the Grand Theft Auto games.

Sure, they're violent and nihilistic, but the worldbuilding is superb, and the story is always interesting. I dig in hard for the first half, always enjoying myself, but at some point, the violence and incredibly cynical worldview wears me down. I get to 60-70% completion of the  main story, then quit and watch the cut scenes on YouTube so I can find out what happened.

A good experience, but conflicted.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is on Game Pass, so I downloaded it a few weeks ago. I've never played a Yakuza game. I don't know why, really, I just hadn't. I was interested in the representations of cities in Japan, though, and also the turn-based combat.

I didn't expect it to be a game that's superior to Grand Theft Auto in every way, but that's what I found.

Two of the cities modeled were Tokyo and Osaka (prominent areas in each, not the full cities), and they were meticulously authentic. I recognized so many places. Traffic patterns were even authentic (much more vehicle traffic in Osaka than Tokyo, for example). Yokohama was the third city, but we didn't visit there, so I can't compare it to reality. It was beautiful, though.

The worldbuilding is deep, and so is the story, which wouldn't have been out of place in a film. Character development is terrific. The side activities are tremendous. I ran a confections company. Played golf. Hit in batting cages. Raced go-carts. There are so many more it would take paragraphs to list them all.

The combat is satisfying, and while it can get repetitive (your best moves are your best moves, generally), I still enjoyed it. Many of the enemies are wacky in the best possible way. Plus, almost no one is killed. Enemies get knocked out, then vow revenge. Only one character in my party even had a gun, and it was a special skill. Through the entire playthrough, only a handful of people died, and it was all in service of the story.

Best of all, the nihilism of the GTA series was entirely absent. The main character is a decent, honorable person, and so are the people around him. It's funny (very funny, actually), and surprisingly gentle at times. It doesn't emotionally exhaust you. 

Finishing the game took me about 70 hours, and I definitely wasn't in a hurry. There are plenty of post-game modes and activities, but I haven't started again. The end was so fulfilling that I'm not sure I want to go back.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a fascinating read: Company that plans to bring back the mammoth takes a key step.

It will get better very, very quickly: Google’s Genie game maker is what happens when AI watches 30K hrs of video games.

Next, an outstanding article that was scrubbed soon after publication: Behind F1's Velvet Curtain.

From David Gloier, and it's a terrific read: The Sea Creatures That Opened a New Mystery About MH370: Could freaky barnacles do what advanced technology couldn’t — find the missing plane?

From Wally, an iconic gas station burrito: The Cult of Allsup's. NASA has a tabletop RPG (attention John H.): The Lost Universe. This is an absolutely riveting read: Scandal in Oz: Was “Over the Rainbow” Plagiarized? Truly the heroes we need: A Massachusetts Library System Will Let You Pay Fines With Cat Pictures.

From C. Lee, and this is remarkable: Is the 100-year old TB vaccine a new weapon against Alzheimer’s? Keyless cars: Gone in 20 seconds: how ‘smart keys’ have fuelled a new wave of car crime. More: Revealed: car industry was warned keyless vehicles vulnerable to theft a decade ago. Some of these are bizarre: It’s no accident: These automotive safety features flopped. Yup: Google reneged on the monopolistic bargain. Even vibrators aren't safe anymore (from malware): Vibrator virus steals your personal information. This is fantastic: Moonlight Etchings of the Forgotten Artist who Taught Edward Hopper. Beautiful: Evolving Themes of Absence and Presence in the Paintings of Minoru Nomata. This artist reminds me of The Far Side: Matthias Adolfson

It's Just Happening Sooner Than We Expected

Remember the white-hot outrage when teachers discovered their students were using Chat-GPT to write papers? Some teachers are now using ChatGPT to grade papers.


Very soon, students will turn in assignments they didn't write to teachers who will give them a grade they didn't determine. AI will be given a grade by AI.

People who actually take the time to learn how to think will become even more valuable.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

In Process

I've been thinking about writing a post about my dad, or rather, a trip I took with him that has become unexpectedly memorable in the last few weeks.

Not in a good way, to be clear.

The facts of this trip, as I know them, haven't changed since 1972, when all this happened. Over time, though, different versions have emerged. Different, but still me. My memories have become a personal Rashomon.

Seven years of therapy will do that in terms of interpreting memories. It also helped me understand that while the facts don't change, my understanding of the consequences of those facts changes over time as I grow.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

A Basketball Nerd Post

Plenty of people are complaining that Caitlin Clark has the all-time NCAA scoring record now instead of Pete Maravich, because Clark is playing four years and Maravich only played three.

Comparing players of different sexes across different era is dumb. It's only happening because it helps ESPN whip their hype machine into a frenzy. It's phony.

Having said that, though, let's take it seriously.

It's true, Maravich played only three years. It's also true that he was a once-in-generation, legendary players. 

Lots of that legend was for the wrong reasons, though. 

He took 38 shots a game. He did score 44 points a game, but it was on 43% shooting. Those numbers were look strange in any generation, but the story behind it is even stranger. 

Press Maravich, Pete's dad, was the coach. He expressly built a team with no second star so there would be no dilution of his fame. Pete was the Harlem Globetrotter, and the rest of the team were the Washington Generals. 

In other words, the environment where Pete put up those numbers was entirely artificial. It wasn't about winning, it was about Pete getting as many shots as possible. 

His college film is stunning. Just to see him flying all over the court, taking ridiculous shots--plenty of which go in--is astonishing. He might have been the greatest dribbler in history. He wasn't playing as part of a team, though. He was the team.

He was one of one, and so is Caitlin Clark. They're totally different, though. Clark has one of the quickest releases I've ever seen. She doesn't hog the ball, and she's remarkably efficient.

It's an insult to both to compare them. They're both legendary and don't need to be compared to anyone.

It Must Be Close

This is how I imagine Eli 22.7 wakes up every day: good morning.

Monday, March 04, 2024

It Comes At You Fast

I talked to a realtor on Friday.

Eli 22.7 is ready to sell the house. It's not realistic to keep it, because even after he gets his doctorate, he won't be coming back to live here.

I've been winnowing down possessions for months, but I'm one person handling the stuff of three people. No matter how much progress I've made, it's still less than I wanted.

After an hour discussion with the realtor (who was excellent), we decided to list the house on April 29. She believes it will sell in less than two weeks (reasonable, for many reasons I won't list). Probably a thirty-day closing.

In other words, I'll need to be out of the house by early June.

I don't have any mixed feelings. I'll be very happy the day I lock the door and turn over the keys. It never felt quite right, and then it felt tragic after Gloria's death. 

It will be a relief to leave.

There are an inconceivable number of tasks to complete between now and then, but I was going to have to do them all, anyway. This just gets it done sooner.

Friday, March 01, 2024


 The Win 11 install link is fixed now. Sorry about that.

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