Thursday, March 31, 2016

A New Product From Taco Bell, One Day Early

The tacolupaladarito. I think that represents peak Taco Bell.

It's Certainly Hotter Up Here Than I Was Expecting

Seriously, I didn't think it was a degree about 120.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Perils

The Austin Airport has become so congested now that it takes longer to park and walk in than it takes to drive there.

It seems that cities face difficult decisions--almost Malthusian in proportions--when they're growing fast. They can either greatly expand their infrastructure to accommodate the growth, thereby probably increasing the rate of growth even more, or they can try to slow things down by growing infrastructure much more slowly or not at all.

Austin should be a very rich city, but they are (proudly) talking about having "lean" budgets. The budget, though, is not a match for the city in any way. It's not lean times in Austin, and the incredible number of people moving here need basic city services like navigable roads. They don't, and they're not going to, because the city and state refuse to create enough revenue to build and service them.

Fast growth can be very seductive to a city, but I don't see that it works, at least not in this state. Far better to have a modestly growing, more stable city where growth can be managed more effectively and city services can be useful.

Possibly Over-Described

We went to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Gloria asked for some Parmesan cheese with her food.

The waiter came back a few minutes later.

"We've changed to a shaved delivery system," he said, turning a crank on the device powering his system.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Make Better Decisions #19: Pizza Jesus, etc.

Have a look at the contents of this cutting edge vending machine: knockoff cologne, tattoos, candy, and Tylenol. No way to suss out that product mix. 

Here's another product we were waiting for, I guess:

What? I have no idea.

At least we can close up with a comforting image of Pizza Hockey Player Jesus:

There's really no Jesus there, but there definitely is a hockey player if you look hard enough. Sort of from a beneath perspective. And we were at the rink, with hockey players eating the pizza.

Monday, March 28, 2016

French Fries

We ate barbecue at Eli 14.7s favorite place today. They serve some food (french fries, for example), in little paper "boats".

Eli always orders french fries, and I always eat a few. Today, one had fallen out of the boat and onto the table, and I picked it up and ate it.

"Hey!" Eli said.

"It fell off the boat," I said. "If it falls off the boat, it's in international water."

"Excuse me, maritime law is not in effect here!" he said.

I disagreed.

This is a big time coming up for Eli 14.7. He's trying out for a tier one team in Michigan, one of the top programs in the country.

That's a huge move, potentially, for him, even though he went to TAC and played as well as the tier one goalies there. By any reasonable standard, this seems like a slim chance.

It doesn't feel like one, though.

He's in unbelievable shape. He's never played better. The adult shooters (all former college players) who shoot on him are having a hard time scoring on him now. I don't think he could be any sharper than he is right now.

So it's time.

I think he has a very good chance. The program he's trying to join is exactly where I think he would develop most as a person. The hockey will sort itself out.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Links!

This is an utterly fascinating read about--rice cookers: An Ode To The Rice Cooker, The Smartest Kitchen Appliance I’ve Ever Owned.

From Steven Davis, and man, this is a great read: Dirty Hands: A cheating scandal in the world of professional bridge. Next, and you absolutely must read this article, because it's about one of the funniest people in history: The Hoaxster Who Revealed Sad Truths About America. Next, and this is just sad: How The Cordon Bleu Lent Its Name to the Exploitation of Young Chefs. Also, and I'm trying to not overuse the word "fascinating", but this is: How Maritime Insurance Built Ancient Rome. Here's a fantastic article about the shoe wars, and Steph Curry in particular: You won't believe how Nike lost Steph to Under Armour.

From Chris Meadowcraft, and this is one of the best links in Internet history: Awkward Metal Band Photos.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is excellent: How Many Decimals of Pi Do We Really Need?

From Wally, and this is quite interesting: Seven Things I Learned Attending Hot Dog University. Next, and wow: Open-Source Animation Production Software OpenToonz Available March 26: Animation production software with expanded feature set employed by Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli to be distributed for free. This is fascinating: Goths vs. Greeks: Epic Ancient Battle Revealed in Newfound Text. One more, and it's spectacular: Hugo Eligible Art 2015.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this: This Is Why You Don't Ask the Internet to Name Things.

From Phil, and what a story (and what a badass): Nunavut hunter falls through ice, makes pants out of a fox to stay warm.

From C. Lee, and this explains quite a lot: Why flying is awful, explained using your sad, lonely apartment. Next, and this explains something I've always been curious about, it's Why Superheroes Wear Their Underwear On The Outside.

From Garret Rempel, and written by Garret Rempel, and it's an IT detective story: Gotcha #5 - Network Performance, CSS, and HTML5.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is just amazing: Fascinating Photos from the Secret Trash Collection in a New York Sanitation Garage.

Closing out this week, here's a wonderful little story (be sure to watch the video): World's oldest living animal, 184-year-old tortoise named Jonathan, has first ever bath.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Tryout (part four)

One more game.

I wasn't worried about Eli 14.7 making it as a camp selection. That seemed like a crazy dream. I just wanted him to play well, because the confidence he'd gain from this weekend would be permanent.

He was pretty confident already, though.

"Dad, I know this is a crazy weekend, but I feel great," he said. "I've felt great all weekend."

"Same three keys," I said.

"I know," he said, and he laughed. Then he walked into the rink and his future.

There was no real way for me to connect the dots between a kid playing in "A" league in Texas to this kid in front of me. He was so poised, so at ease, in such a high-pressure environment.

Was this too much to ask? Was he going to crack?

In a word, no.

The second game was much the same as the first, except he didn't get as much work. No rebounds. No drama. Just workmanlike control in the crease.

He gave up one goal, then one more in the last 30 seconds on a penalty shot.

A very, very strong game.

He came off the ice and I hugged him. "I don't know if you'll make it," I said, "but there's absolutely nothing more you could have done. That was a master class in how to play the position."

He gave me a big grin.

"That was SO MUCH FUN!" he said, laughing.

Then we went home.

The results were going to get posted later. How much later, we didn't know, and didn't even know if they'd be posted that day.

There was a website. Eli refreshed quite a bit, and so did his teammates.

I didn't. He had been brilliant. It didn't matter if they took him.

"Stop that," I said, laughing. "If they post it, you'll know within fifteen seconds because everyone else will text you."

"Good point," he said. He played Stardew Valley for a while in the car, the drive was interminable, and finally, we got home.

No results.

Around 8 p.m., I went up to his room. He was riding a motorcycle down the steepest mountain in GTA V, seeing how creatively he could wipe out.

His phone was beside him.

It's pretty involving, riding down a mountain at high speed. We talked about strategy, and laughed every time he wiped out, and time passed easily.

His phone buzzed.

He picked it up and looked at the screen. "Dad, I MADE IT!" he said with a huge smile on his face. "We're going to Salt Lake City!"

He gave me a big hug. His hugs are strong now, all about who he'll be one day.

"What about the other guys?" I asked.

He looked back down, then shouted. "CAM MADE IT TOO!"

Two kids. From Austin.

I never thought I'd ever have a reason to visit Utah. Funny how that happens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Tryout (part three)

"Dad, they didn't take six goalies," Eli 14.7 said as he scanned the weekend cut list. "They only took FOUR."

This was a big deal.

"If I can just outplay two of the three," he said, "I'm going to Salt Lake City!"

Then he laughed.

"That sounded way easier than it actually is," he said.

The three goalies remaining, besides him, were two AAA goalies and a kid who I think is the best AA goalie in Dallas. Plus, he's a super nice kid, and he and Eli talked all weekend.

The format for the weekend was basically 70 minutes of run-clock hockey. Referees stopped the game for almost nothing, unless the goalie trapped the puck for a faceoff. Any penalties they called (very few) would be resolved by a penalty shot.

There are two kinds of speed to adjust to when kids are playing at this level: shot speed and game speed.

Shot speed is more straightforward. Eli has had ex-college players shooting on him in practice sessions for three years. Plus he'd seen national-level shooters at his goalie camp for the last several years as well.

Game speed was different. Passes are much faster at this level, and kids make decisions much more quickly. So the puck moves much more quickly, and there's much more passing down low. It's much closer action.

I didn't know what was going to happen. Eli looked so good right now, but this was a stout, stout challenge. Still, though, he looked fine. "Dad, I feel great," he said. "Don't worry about a thing."

Fat chance.

The game started on Saturday (in the single coldest rink I've ever been in), and while I had no expression on my face, I was eating broken glass inside.

Eli, though, was fine.

The puck was flying around, but so was he, and his crease movement was so smooth. He was staying square. He looked in control.

He was composed.

I'd like to have some hugely dramatic incident to write about here, but there wasn't one. He faced about 15 shots, and he gave up one goal and zero rebounds against the best competition he's ever faced.

I was so happy for him, and so proud. He knows that I'm proud of him as a person, not as an athlete, but he had just eaten a gigantic pressure burger and never even flinched.

I bumped my fist against his glove as he skated off with a big smile on his face. "You were in control of everything going on out there," I said, smiling.

"I just felt great!" he said. "Man, that was fun."

I'm biased, but I thought he'd looked the best out of the four. He was the only one who was always balanced, who always controlled the puck.

As for the judges, I just didn't know. At worst, though, I thought he was still in the mix.

We had dinner, went back to the hotel, and he got his standard "solid eleven" (as he calls it) of sleep. He sleeps huge hours on hockey trips, just to make sure he's fully rested.

One more day. One more game.

Tomorrow: the final day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Tryout (part two)

"Give 'em to me," Eli 14.7 said, as he started carrying his gear into the rink.

"One: balance," I said. "Two: be correct. These kids will punish you if you aren't." He nodded. "Three: control rebounds. Don't give them any extra opportunities."

He hugged me and we started walking in together.

"And don't forget to have fun," I said.

"Oh, I'm HAVING fun," he said, laughing.

Then he went out and had fun.

These tryout camps are very odd, because he was playing one period of two separate games. That's not much time, and he came in for the second period of both games, so he wasn't even warm.

In the first game, though, it didn't matter. He came in focused and looked like he'd been warming up all day. He had plenty of work, but was never off balance, never out of control. Ultra efficient. He gave up one goal, but had several very nice saves and looked totally in charge.

"That looked terrific," I said when he came out of the locker room.

"I felt great," he said. "No problem with the speed."

The second game was a few hours later, and he gave up two goals and didn't look as sharp as the first game. Still, he looked solid, and again, he was never off balance or awkward.

That left the hour of drills.

"I don't know what they're going to decide," I said, "but you've had two strong games. Go out there and handle those drills and let's see what happens."

"I'm good," he said.

Drills show off how controlled and precise his technique and movement are, and he was particularly good at the three stations in the corner of the rink by where the judges were watching.

It was a tough hour, at high speed. Not much time between rotations.

With twenty-four goalies on the ice (two different birth years combined), seven stations, and thirty shooters, it was wild out there. Eli looked so good, but was anyone looking at him? How could just a few judges see all that?

He skated off and I hugged him. "They're taking six," he said. "I think I have a good chance."

He came out of the locker room at 7:15, and they were posting by 8:00. "That was so solid. You never let anything bother you," I said.

"No, man," he said. "I felt great all day."

We were talking about whether we should go for a quick dinner, then come back at eight, when one of his friends said they had already posted the results. "Dad, let's go!" he said, walking toward the headquarters area.

He got to the page before I did, posted on a glass wall, and he looked slowly down the list of names. "I didn't make it," he said, sadly.

Cue up the consolation speech. I had it ready.

"Look," I said, my voice softening, "I thought you did--"

"Eli, you IDIOT!" said one of his friends, who was standing next to him. "You DID make it!"

He had been on the white team, but the jersey numbers for the white team were listed in green ink. I looked down at the sheet, and his number was there. He saw it at the same time I did.

"Oh my god!" he said, laughing. "I get to play this weekend!'

Tomorrow: the weekend.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Tryout (part one)

Eli 14.7 went to a state-level USA Hockey Development Camp tryout last weekend.

I know--didn't his team just win state about five minutes ago? Yes, but I don't schedule this stuff. So after one weekend at home, we went back to Dallas.

This was a long tryout, potentially. Friday-Sunday, but only if he made the first cut on Friday.

Basically, all the best kids in Texas/Oklahoma attended this state tryout camp in hopes of being selected to move on to the Rocky Mountain Region development camp in Salt Lake City for four days in May. That camp will have kids from seven states--Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe if you get selected from the Rocky Mountain camp, that leads to a national camp.

90% of the kids trying out were either AAA or AA players, so Eli was facing very stiff competition. Still, though, it had been a great season, and I was very happy for him that he was getting to play against such high-caliber kids.

The camp format was that he would play one period of two different games on Friday, then have an hour-long goalie evaluation session where they did various drills. Then, cuts would be announced, and six goalies would be coming back for the weekend.

Want to know how hard AAA kids shoot? Have a look at this jersey:

See all those marks? those are puck marks from two periods of wear. That's how hard they shoot.

I didn't know what to expect. Eli has played so well this year, and his technique is so precise. Outstanding rebound control, which is very tough for younger goalies to master. I was hoping that's what the judges would be looking for, but who could know for sure?

I did know, though, that he would give it his all. Give'r, as they say in Canada.

Tomorrow: part two.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Links!

From Craig Miller, and it's more Star Wars: THE FORCE AWAKENS PORTFOLIO: ILM SAN FRANCISCO. Next, it's more Star Wars, and it's amazing: DARTH MAUL: Apprentice - A Star Wars Fan-Film.

From Steven Davis, and this is excellent: Follow Along with Adam Savage as He Learns to Build a Puppet. Also, and this is a terrific read: The Creed: What Poor Richard cost Benjamin Franklin. Next, and this is so very clever, it's Toy Dinosaurs Add a Prehistoric Dimension to Travel Snapshots.

From Wally, and this is fascinating: The Eggcorn Database - v. 0.5. Next, and this is remarkable, it's Mapping the Sounds of Greek Byzantine Churches: How Researchers Are Creating “Museums of Lost Sound”.

From C. Lee, and this is a great read: How the Japanese Diet Became the Japanese Diet. Next, and if you're curious about the AI that defeated one of the best Go players in the world, read this: The superhero of artificial intelligence: can this genius keep it in check? Next, and this is hilarious, it's Japanese kitty gets a great playtime idea from its hamster housemate.

From Punning Pundit, and this is terrific: How The World’s Most Beautiful Typeface Was Nearly Lost Forever.

From Matt Kreuch, and this a fantastic set of songs from SXSW artists: The Austin 100: A SXSW 2015 Mix.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Draft Day Sports: College Basketball 2016

I was a bit behind on this, but here's the press release from Gary Gorski and Wolverine Studios (and just in time for the NCAA Tournament):
Wolverine Studios proudly announces that Draft Day Sports: College Basketball 2016 will be released on Friday, March 11, 2016 exclusively from

DDS:CB 2016 features a brand new and redesigned user interface giving players access to more data and improved functionality, new game features such as news stories on top players, new reports to let you compare and keep track of data, a reworked game engine to take into account the impact of new rule changes, updated conference structures and improvements to the best recruiting AI in any sports game. DDS: College Basketball 2016 is also compatible with DDS: Pro Basketball 2016, also recently released, and allows players to seamlessly and effortlessly move players from the college game to the pro game.

For more information on the game including screenshots and to learn about the new features in more detail, please visit

George, A Low Motivation Cat Who Just Wants To Sit On Paper That Rustles For The Rest Of His Life

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Eli 14.7 In Net

Eli 14.7 is trying out for TAC this weekend, which is a regional tryout camp that feeds into a national development camp in Salt Lake City.

In preparation for the camp, he played a 4x4 game against other kids trying out for TAC and a few coaches who played at the college level.

I'm usually terrible about getting video of anything, but last night I made the effort, and this morning I put together a one-minute video of some of his work last night, which you can see below:


For those of you who have been around for years, it's hard to believe that Eli has grown from the little goalie with the mismatched gear into what you see in this video.

Oculus Rift Coverage

There's a ton of good Oculus Rift coverage this week, so here's a small summary.

First, the launch games, along with a comfort index in terms of the intensity of the VR experience:
All 30 Oculus Rift launch titles revealed - each with a "comfort" level.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is on the last, and all I can say is that I hope Firewatch adds VR support, because it's a natural.

Here's a launch games video (thanks Geoff Engelstein): Introducing the Games Coming to Oculus!

Here's an Engadget article about experiencing the launch games firsthand: The first Oculus Rift games bode well for the future of VR.

I really, really hope they can pull this off in terms of being commercially successful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lil' Cthulhu

DQ Reader Scott Meaney (with Richard Laufenberger) has a Kickstarter for a Cthulhu card game, and here's a description:
Lil' Cthulhu is a quick and quirky card game in which 2-5 players take on the roll as Cultists of Cthulhu, taking turns trying to keep Lil' Cthulhu happy. He has demands and you better see to them or you will know suffering! Your goal is to be the first Cultist to offer up the toys he is demanding or be the last sane cultist standing, which ever comes first.

Scott also added this in an e-mail:
In spite of its cute look it's a "real" Cthulhu experience. Victory is a brutal uphill struggle against your constantly dwindling sanity, but it can also be modified for kids and newcomers to card games. It's a great intro to the mythos for young players and fun side-quest for older fans.

It's all very clever, and looks like a very fun game. Here's a link to the Kickstarter:
Lil' Cthulhu - You cannot win, only hope to survive!

The Waitening

"Waitening"--definitely not a word.

The Oculus Rift is supposed to ship on March 28 (I was in the first batch of pre-orders). And I've been waiting for this for decades, so the anticipation level is very high.

If you're in the same boat, The Rift Arcade is a decent news source.

I'm still assuming that the first-gen commercial hardware is not going to be powerful enough to make everyone happy. Tech like this is a process, though, and just getting the tech to a commercial release point is a huge milestone.

I do think there is going to be huge demand for using virtual reality as travel simulators, allowing people to experience a destination before they slap down their cash for a trip. Museums, too.

Plus, an entirely new category of software for people who can't afford or don't have the time to go somewhere: VR Vacation. Experience everything without leaving your study.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Keeping An Eye On

A Few Hours With Adrift, The Astronaut Survival Game Born From Trauma.

Launching at the same time as the Oculus Rift, with full support.

The Mermaid

Eli 14.7 and I went to see MEI REN YU (THE MERMAID) today.

It's a Chinese movie about a mermaid assassin. That's definitely an under-served genre.

The movie is wildly-over-the top, and it's hilarious. Eli and I burst out laughing so many times that it seemed like the normal state of things.

The writer/director, Stephen Chow, also did Shaolin Soccer, which was also very funny. So if you liked that movie, you should rush out to see this one.

I'm not even linking to a trailer. No spoilers. 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and this is about the measuring kind of ruler: Rulers of the Ancient World. Next, and this is both incredible and strange, it's Anatomical Balloon Dog and Rubber Ducky Models by Jason Freeny.

From C. Lee, and this is fascinating: How Photography Was Optimized for White Skin Color. Also, and this is a terrific read: The Bizarro Life of Cartoonist Dan Piraro.

From Tim Steffes, and this is just amazing: Watch this giant hand-cranked musical instrument containing 2,000 marbles play music.

From Wally, and the Amazon reviews are just outstanding: JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank. Also, and these are terrific, it's Steam Noir. So is this: Ogre Cybertank Artwork. One more, and if you love trains, here you go: On board with the Flying Scotsman. Here's another Amazon classic: The 2009-2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China.

From DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, and it's fantastic: After The Big One: An immersive, reported science fiction saga about surviving the coming mega-quake.

From Craig Miller, and this is a great read: The Complete Conceptual History of the Millennium Falcon.

From David Yellope, and boy, this is so, so stupid: Chelmsford man allegedly hired hit man to kill undercover trooper.

From John DiMinno, and while this is one of the most unlikely covers ever, it's also excellent: Disturbed - The Sound Of Silence [Official Music Video].

From Ken Piper, and I guess we can stop asking the "where are you" question: Woman in 'Mystery Machine' mini van leads police on pursuit. Next, and this is so bizarre, it's Magnetic mind control works in live animals, makes mice happy.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Finals (part two)

Usually, I know what to say.

Eli 14.7 has been talking about Michigan for two years, and this year, it's been with more and more frequency. His entire life, to a degree, has been structured around getting ready for tryouts. So to hear him say "I don't want to go" was the one thing I wasn't prepared to hear.

I had no idea what to say. So instead, I hugged him tightly and we said nothing for a few seconds.

"Buddy, if you don't want to go to Michigan, I understand," I said. "Don't worry about a thing. I just want you to go out there and enjoy this moment. Don't forget to be happy out there."

He smiled weakly. "I won't forget," he said.

Then he walked off, slumping under the weight of everything he was carrying.

Two years ago, I would have walked him around the building and we would have talked it out together. He's older now, though, and even though I wanted to guide him, I trusted him to somehow work through what he was feeling and be ready to play. He had been so composed and so strong all season.

What it did, though, was turn me into a nervous wreck.

How could he play with those kinds of emotions roiling around inside him? What if he played terribly? What if he was the reason his team lost the state championship?

After a moment where he seemed so fragile, it was so, so hard to push those thoughts away. I fought with them for an hour, feeling like I was eating broken glass all the time.

Stare at a clock for an hour and you'll know how quickly time passed for me.

Then, in a second, it was all happening.

The first shot he faced was from San Antonio's superstar, and it was one of the hardest shots I've ever seen from a junior player. Eli trapped it against his stomach.

No rebound.

I didn't know how he could be clear in the head--I know I wasn't--but he looked so strong, so quick. San Antonio couldn't get anything, not even a rebound.

Then, we scored. 1-0.

Ten minutes later, we scored again. 2-0.

And again. 3-0.

And one more time. 4-0.

With ten minutes left in the game, we were firmly in control. And took a stupid penalty.

Then, we stopped skating.

Within thirty seconds, Eli was alone against their star, and he had the puck only a few feet above the crease, seemingly with no one from our team within thirty feet of him.

Eli waited, and waited, and after what seemed like forever, he went for the poke check. Immediately, the puck went right over his lowered shoulder.


Two minutes later, a breakaway. A backhand shot, Eli didn't have the post totally sealed, and it went in.


Three minutes later, another defensive breakdown, and a pass from behind the net led to a wide-open shot from just above the crease.


And now, for whatever reason, I'm switching to present tense.

I'm basically in end stage renal failure at this point, even though my face is still blank. There are still five minutes left, and we've done absolutely nothing in the last five minutes to make me think that we can even get to overtime, let alone win.

Well, it's on his shoulders now.

With less than three minutes left, the superstar comes down on another breakaway. He makes move after move, and then he goes to Eli's right side and slides the puck in.

It's tied.

Except it's not. While he turns away to celebrate, Eli somehow extends an impossible distance and grazes the puck with his right skate.

That is just enough.

The puck winds up under his pad, somehow. No goal.

There's  a split second where everyone in San Antonio's crowd is celebrating, because it looks like a goal, and while they are still cheering, our fans realize that Eli made the save, and they go wild.


And in that moment, somehow, we wake up.

San Antonio pulls their goalie, and there is ninety seconds of us not being able to clear the puck, but finally the puck is in the corner with only a few seconds left, and we have it pinned.

The clock never stops moving.

Then the buzzer sounds. 4-3. Game over.

State champions.

In what seems like a single second, kids are wrapped so tightly around Eli that I don't know how anyone can breathe.

That's a few seconds after the tightest scrum, but you can still barely see Eli's white helmet in the background.

Eli holds up the handshake line, like he always does, because the goalie is first in line, and he talks to almost every kid. Hugs quite a few.

Neighborhood rivalries.

Then they skate off the ice, and Eli wraps me in a huge hug. "We did it," he says, laughing. "Can you believe it?"

I can.

It's later, much later, and we're in a convenience store to get drinks on the way back to the hotel. "Hey, about that Michigan thing--"

"Oh, dad," he says, laughing. "That's not what I meant. I'm desperate to go to Michigan. I just didn't want this season to end. We only had one game left, and we were going to win. I knew when I walked into the arena, it was for the last time. That's why I said I didn't want to go."

"Are you sure? No doubt?" I ask.

"Just try to stop me," he says, and he puts his arm around me.

He puts his arm over my shoulder now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Finals (part one)

I grew up in a small town.

7,302, to be exact, according to the sign at the city limits. It seemed big to me, though.

There were two sides of town (at least to me), split cleanly in half by railroad. The other side of town, where the rich people lived, was called East Cliff.

Our side didn't have a name, but it was a nice place to live.

On our side of town, though, even in a small town, we had neighborhoods. All of these neighborhoods met in the same park to play baseball and football. And over time, rivalries developed.

Kids who grew up on Driftwood Drive were a little different from kids who grew up on Daniel Moore, even though they were only blocks away. Same thing for kids who grew up on Crosby versus kids who grew up on Westover.

We were all friends, but we hated losing to each other, because nothing is more intense than a neighborhood rivalry.

In Texas, the neighborhood rivalry is between Austin and San Antonio.

Most of the kids know each other. Many of them are friends, some of them good friends. The one thing they can't stand, though is losing to each other.

"Who do you want to play in the finals?" I asked Eli 14.7 after their playoff sweep in the semis.

"San Antonio," he said. "I wouldn't want to go out any other way."

He got his wish.

His career record against San Antonio over three seasons was 1-5. They've finished second and first the last two seasons. Eli's team had never made the finals.

This season, though, had been very close.

We beat them 3-2 in a shootout in November, then lost 2-0 in a game where Eli played even better than when they won. So it was 1-1 on the season, and the first time we'd beaten them in three years.

This team, though--Eli's team--had something going.

We hadn't lost since the start of the new year, and were on a 16-game winning streak. We were 30-7 for the season. Both goalies were red hot. San Antonio was beat up and missing two good players.

If there was ever a year, this was the year.

Eli wasn't starting the first game, because he'd played the semi-final clincher the week before.

From the opening puck drop, the game was a battle. San Antonio went up 1-0 early in the first, and then early in the second, one of our players was ejected.

Very, very questionable call, but functionally it meant that we lost a top-four defenseman and San Antonio had a five minute power play.

This was a chance for San Antonio to blow the game wide, wide open. They had one kid who could play AAA for many teams, and he was the star. Even though he played defense, the offense flowed entirely through him, and he would play thirty minutes of a forty-five minute game.

He'd scored the first goal, and now he was out for blood.

He didn't get it, though. Somehow, the five minutes passed and San Antonio didn't score, mostly because our goalie made half a dozen outstanding saves. Then, barely a minute after the penalty ended, we scored.

Middle of the second, and now it was 1-1.

From that point on, we started putting on more and more pressure, and eventually, San Antonio wore down. It was 4-2 when our second kid got ejected (this time it was a good call).

Another five-minute power play.

Again, though, it was largely a missed opportunity. They scored to make it 4-3, but we scored again and held on for a 5-3 win.

The second game was only three hours later, which meant we only had two hours before Eli had to be back at the rink to prepare. He had a small meal and I tried to keep the talk light.

Last year, his team hardly won a game. This year, he had a chance to clinch the state championship. That's a long ride, and I wasn't sure how he was feeling.

Plus, this could be his last time playing for an Austin team.

We got back to the rink, and started unloading the car.

"Give it to me," Eli said, referring to the three keys I always give him before every game, even though I don't think he really needs them anymore.

We both like it, though.

"Okay," I said. "Track puck to glove. Move from square to square. See the play."

"Got it," he said.

He started carrying his gear toward the rink, and I walked with him as Gloria went to park the car. I put my arm around him.

Eli looked up, and there were tears in his eyes.

He buried his face in my shoulder and began to weep. "I don't want to go," he said.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Stardew Valley (#2)

I can't remember the last time I saw a game generate as much goodwill as Stardew Valley.

Here's an example:
Stardew Valley Players Fight Piracy By Buying Pirates The Game.

Seriously, on what planet does this ever happen? Did every person at the Gamers With Jobs forums suddenly infect 100 other people with this level of niceness?

Plus, this game has sold over 250,000 copies. 250,000. One guy made this game!

It's going to sell a million copies, too. It's that good. It's just a brilliantly designed, detailed game, with so much to do and explore.

Eli 14.7 and I play it every chance we get, and then we swap stories.

"George needed a hot pepper for his arthritis, and when I gave it to him, he said 'Took you long enough.' "

"Oh, that's so George," Eli said, laughing.

"Stop talking about people who aren't real as if they're real--you're confusing me!" Gloria said. "You're both more social in the game than you are in real life?"

"And that's a problem why?" I asked.

"Exactly," Eli said.

The Chameleon

Well, that died an awful death, and quickly.

I wrote about the Coleco Chameleon a few months ago. Seemed great. I was in.

Then reality happened. I think this story explains it all:
Crowdfunded Game Console Is Made Out of Tape, Cardboard, and Fake Circuits.

In short, the tech wasn't really tech at all. Or it was other people's tech (like a Super Nintendo unit, or a video capture board that was dishonestly labeled as a prototype motherboard).

Coleco removed their name from the project because they couldn't verify a working prototype.

Hey, at least we have Stardew Valley, right?

Monday, March 07, 2016


We got back from the state championships at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. Two hours later, I was taking Eli 14.7 to High School practice.

Tonight, a high school playoff game.

In other words, it's been a madhouse around here, and there's another high school playoff game tomorrow night.

So no state championship weekend story until tomorrow, but here are two images to hopefully hold you over until then.

First, and I may have shown this before, from the What The Hell Department:

I did a little research on this, and that sign doesn't quite mean what I thought it did. That "standing" reference is to taxi stands, not pedestrians. Same thing with the "stopping"--that refers to cars.

However, there's zero need for any of those signs in the suburb where we played last weekend, seemingly. Very strange.

Also, based on this picture, you'd think they'd be best of friends, but no:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and this is an incredible read: The Trials of White Boy Rick.

Well, this is quite spectacular:  First Audio Recordings From the Bottom of the Mariana Trench are Nightmare Fuel.

From Wally, and this is fascinating: No Wool, No Vikings: The fleece that launched 1,000 ships. Next, and this could be useful: 20 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Decisions. If you love fried foods, you have to read this: Deep fried. Okay, this is fantastic: You can now read the entirety of sci-fi magazine If for free. This is very, very clever: The Setup Wizard: Daily Accounts of a Muggle I.T. Guy working at Hogwarts.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and I still remember being astounded by how ten-year-olds didn't care that a book was 500 pages long: The 'Harry Potter Effect': Books for Young Readers Got 115 Percent Longer in the Past Decade.

From Craig Miller, and attention, Star Wars nerds: Star Wars: The Force Accounted.

From Roy, and chimps continue to amaze: Ritualized behavior? Chimps all throw rocks at the same tree.

From C. Lee, and this is a remarkable story: How an outpouring of reader support freed one Challenger engineer from 30 years of guilt.

From Brian Witte, and this is utterly mind-blowing: Life and Rocks May Have Co-Evolved on Earth: A Carnegie geologist makes the case that minerals have evolved over time and may have helped spark life.

From Glenn, and this is utterly interesting: Why You Can't Trust GPS in China.

From Steven Davis, and this is very cool: Sculpting Massive Scenes with Balloons Brings a New Twist to STEM Education. Next, and man, you need to read this: The Invention of the ‘Type A’ Personality. Here's something from the wayback machine: How a Basket on Wheels Revolutionized Grocery Shopping. This next link is worth it just for the parody video: Inside Apple's secret packaging room.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is incredible: Nigerian sailor 'a phenomenon' for surviving in air pocket for 60 hours.

From Ken, and this is a classic: Runaway unicorn darts in and out of California traffic.

Closing out the week, from Meg McReynolds, and this is just outstanding: The Animated Bayeux Tapestry: A Novel Way of Recounting The Battle of Hastings (1066).

Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Humble Armory #2: Worlds

I forgot to mention that there's a tote board in the armory where people (and you) can bet on adventuring parties. It will help give you an idea of how competent the party is, in addition to the information you glean from the lead adventurer of the party when you interview him (reading his "player card", which will be like a baseball card of sorts).

If you see an adventuring party that has 50-1 odds against, you could load them up with the best possible equipment, then bet on them and hope for a big payday.

The risk? That you lose your very expensive equipment because these oafs still can't make it through alive.

Plus there will be a "standings board" for adventuring parties. See who's hot and who's not.

Okay, so yesterday I outlined how the game would work. Today, I want to talk about why I could work on it for a long, long time.

I like the base mechanics, and as I refine them further, I think I can make something that will be fun to play. But if you're like me, when I find a game I enjoy, I'm disappointed when it ends--at least, I'm disappointed if it's still fun by the end.

I don't want to make a game with 20-40 hours of content.

There are people on Steam who have played Gridiron Solitaire for 400+ hours. That's what I want for the Humble Armory.

I don't want to outline the design in too much detail, but basically, there will be a hub from which you can travel to various pocket universes (the hub has to be revealed through the gameplay, but you'll eventually find it) . So there could be, for example universes with the following themes:
--water world (with whaling)
--outer space

Basically, those pocket universes are unlimited in terms of how many there could be, and each one would have entirely different plot lines, NPC characters, etc.

Most of the mechanics in terms of your job at the armory would be similar, but each universe would have a heavier emphasis on one key mechanic. So in one universe, for example, the bestiary would be more important.

The important part in terms of design is that I have to create a structure that allows me to easily "drop in" this additional content and have the universe function, instead of writing a jillion lines of code for each.

If there's a decent amount of interest in the game, I can keep adding pocket universes to keep people playing.

I also think that this kind of game is a good candidate for Early Access, at least at the beta stage.

When I designed GS, I just sat down and wrote down every feature I could possibly want (not knowing how hard anything would be to code, since I'd never done it before and had no idea what I was doing). Then, over a period of years, I eventually put it all in.

That is an awful, awful way to make a game, in terms of workload.

This time, everything I do is going to have efficiency as one of the primary goals. I want as little code as possible. I'm willing to redesign a feature and lose 10% of its functionality if it means I write 30% less code.

With the time I save, I'll be able to put in all kinds of neat things I think about as the game progresses. I hope.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Humble Armory #1: Basics

This may never come to fruition.

The idea is a game called The Humble Armory. 

You're a blacksmith in a medieval town that is basically an adventurer's tourist trap. Adventuring groups come to you and you choose how to outfit them. You also negotiate a deposit for your equipment, plus a percentage of the treasure if the party comes back.

What would a typical turn be like? You'd be able to do any of these things (no "action point" constraints):
--craft (weapons/armor, and later, a bestiary where you can breed animals)
--review the adventuring parties that would like to rent your equipment
--choose a party/parties and outfit them. As part of that process, negotiate the deposit and the reward in treasure.
--when an adventuring party has departed, you'll be able to see their progress via a battle flag (it can change colors, depending on their status). You might also receive a desperate, hand-written note from the party. You can choose to help them (or not), depending on your whims. If you don't help them, they may not make it back alive.

What else?
--a social element where you get to know adventurers. You'll feel personally responsible for their successes/failures. Adventurers progress over time.
--if an adventuring party looks like it is incompetent, you can try to convert them to an expedition to gather raw materials instead.
--the ability to expand your operations to include a training academy for your adventurers.

No, really, what else?
--if your adventurers are too successful, the supply of evil they can fight dries up, and that will make the adventurers go somewhere else. This could destroy your town, so you have to manage the supply of both good adventurers and evil overlords. This may put you in a situation to some extremely morally dubious things to save the town.
--you have a moral compass, based on the kinds of decisions you're making. If you play as evil, the game gets progressively darker, both in the kinds of decisions you're faced with as well as weather/music. If you play as good, the weather is sunny as well as the music, and you'll be involved with entirely different (and less lethal) kinds of decisions.
--Some of the NPC's you'll meet have their own story arcs, which you can participate in if you wish. Some of these story arcs will be quite involved.

I'm leaving out quite a bit--I'd like to refine other elements--but those are the basics.

I'll have one big additional feature to share with you tomorrow, and it fits in with the concept of having a game that I could work on for yours and continue expanding.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Dust Bowl Farms

I'm picking up Eli 14.6 from school.

"Oh man, I got shut down so hard at the Flower Festival," I say as he gets into the car.

He starts laughing.

"I asked every girl in the town to dance with me and got rejected. Maru said 'Ew. No thank you.' "

"Oh, that's terrible," he says, laughing harder.

This is the current in-house craze: Stardew Valley.

It's generally described as a Harvest Moon-type game, which is true, but it really doesn't do it justice. I've played Harvest Moon games, and I've never enjoyed them like I enjoy Stardew Valley.

What's hard to explain is why.

To some degree, it's the details. Let's use fishing as an example.

I'm a terrible farmer/gardener in these games, but I love to fish. So I've basically ignored my farm and focused on fishing instead.

Fishing is just unbelievably good in this game. Here's a screenshot of the fishing mini-game:

This screenshot thanks to a Let's Play by paulsoaresjr: Stardew Valley E02 "The Art of Fishing!" (Gameplay Playthrough 1080p).

When you hook a fish, you see that bar, and the fish moves up and down. You, in response, need to move that light green rectangle up and down, keeping the fish inside the rectangle. If you do, you reel the fish in. If you don't, the fish takes out line, and you can lose them.

At the beginning, it's surprisingly hard. Frustrating, even.

A bit of practice, though, and a few skill/rod upgrades, and you become much better.

Different fish have different styles of fighting, just like in real life, so even before you see the fish, you can generally tell what you've hooked. This is very true of real fishing, and it's an outstanding touch.

Also, and this is another great touch: if you see a patch of water with bubbles, that indicates a school of fish, and if you cast into that area, the fish will hit very quickly. Again, that's a very nice approximation of what happens in real life--active water indicates bait fish being disturbed or trying to escape.

In the village, there are ponds, lakes, rivers, and an ocean area, all with their own fish types. Plus there are fish only appearing at night or in certain seasons.

It's all very thoughtfully done, and it's enormously satisfying to play.

Now, the best part: the whole game is like this.

Everything I've done has been fun and clever. It's totally relaxing, and the graphics and music are perfect for this kind of game.

Here's the Steam link: Stardew Valley.

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