Monday, October 05, 2015

Dilemma (of the TV sort)

We have a venerable 55" Panasonic VT50, which is beautifully calibrated and has an unbelievable picture.

Well, venerable in an electronics sense. It's about three and a half years old.

Panasonic doesn't make plasma televisions anymore. Neither does anyone else.

It's currently at a local repair shop, and repairing it isn't going to be cheap--at the low end, probably $600, and at the high end, over $1200.

What I really want, though, is to not get it repaired.

LG recently dropped the price on the 55" 4K Flatscreen OLED from $4,999 to $2,999. That's too much to pay for a television, but the picture is drop-dead gorgeous. And my local retailer is willing to waive sales tax AND throw in a three-year service warranty.

That's about $800 in free stuff, roughly, even though the television is still too expensive. That doesn't mean I don't want it, though.

I was managing this okay until I actually took the Panasonic to the repair shop today. There's this curious effect when there's no television on the stand in the living room. When the Panasonic was still there, even when it was broken, it seemed like a gigantic hassle to replace it with another screen instead of getting it repaired. Now that it's off for repair, though, there's just this big gaping hole in the living room that would be so easily to fill with an OLED.

If it was under $2,000, I don't think I'd be hesitating. Instead, though, I'll probably get the Panasonic repaired and hope it hangs on for another year or two.

I can still hope for the repair shop to give me a ridiculous estimate. Then I'd have no choice, right?

Hockey Update

Eli 14.2 lost his first game of the season on Saturday.

In his defense, he made 30 saves on 31 shots and lost in a 15-round shootout. And he saved 12 of the first 14 shots in the shootout.

I've never heard of a longer shootout. 15 rounds takes a long, long time.

It was quite a game, probably the best game he's ever played. In 31 shots, there was exactly 1 shot that he didn't catch, cover, or direct into the corner. And, of course, they scored on that one rebound.


He played not nearly as well on Sunday, but won 5-2.

He's played 8 games this season, with 7 wins and 1 loss in a shootout. Goals against average of 1.72.
Save percentage of .931.

In terms of quality of play, it's the best stretch he's ever had. And he's earned it, inch by inch, with the hard work he's put in.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jason Woolf, and this is a riveting and heartbreaking story: The Reckoning: Football, Love, and Remembering Paul Oliver.

From Shane Courtrille, and man, this is a fantastic read: How to explain the KGB’s amazing success identifying CIA agents in the field?

From Steven Davis, and this is an excellent read: How the NFL—not the NSA—is impacting data gathering well beyond the gridiron. Next, and this is terrific: Daniel Thompson, Whose Bagel Machine Altered the American Diet, Dies at 94. Next, and this is one of the best reads of the week, it's The Avenger: After three decades, has the brother of a victim of the Lockerbie bombing solved the case? One more, and it's fascinating: Hit Charade: Meet the bald Norwegians and other unknowns who actually create the songs that top the charts.

Steven sent in so many links that he gets a second paragraph, and this is an excellent analysis: A mucky business: Systematic fraud by the world’s biggest carmaker threatens to engulf the entire industry and possibly reshape it. This is also fantastic: How Much of Your Audience is Fake? Marketers thought the Web would allow perfectly targeted ads. Hasn’t worked out that way.

From C. Lee, and this is entirely wonderful: Shirley Curry plays Skyrim. Next, and there are a limitless number of interesting stories from WWII: Hacking When It Counts: GI Ingenuity.

From Geoffrey Engelstein, and here's the actual academic paper on urinal selection optimization: The Urinal Problem.

This link was sent in to me as "outside solicitation", for lack of a better description, and I always reject those. However, it happens that it's also an outstanding resource, so I"m going to link to it anyway: Artsy: Discover, Research, and Collect the World's Best Art Online.

From Michael Gilbert, and any Action Park link is a good link: After spate of injuries, Action Park told to close water slide.

From John Willcocks, and this video is just stunning: This totally crazy wingsuit video made me stop breathing.

From Brian Witte, and this could be quite a breakthrough: Plastic-Eating Worms May Offer Solution to Mounting Waste.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Ghost In My Brain

This book is mesmerizing: The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back,

I mentioned it a few weeks ago, as part of the post about Pete Thistle's Dad (Fix Dale's Brain).

A few days ago, I started reading it myself, and it's incredible.

Clark Elliott was a DePaul professor doing cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence. Then his car was rear-ended, he suffered a severe concussion, and for the next eight years his life was catastrophically difficult.

As a scientist, though, he took reams of notes about what was happening to him, so it turned into a rare opportunity to document, from a personal perspective, the function and dysfunction of the brain.

The way that he explains how the brain struggles to function after a TBI (traumatic brain injury) is one of the most fascinating things I've ever read.

Here's the short version, and believe me, the book is 1000X better than this. First, he explains that if we wrote down everything our brain knows in a 12 point font on regular paper, the paper would stack all the way to the moon (238,000 miles).

And back.

That's nearly half a million miles of stacked paper, full of everything that a single person knows.

Then he explains that how much someone knows isn't the amazing part. What's amazing is that we can access that information and pull information from that massive repository in less than a second.

After the concussion, Elliott's ability to access that information was overwhelmingly impaired. There were times when he could no longer understand the concept of "left" versus "right". He could be standing outside his car, with the key in his hand, knowing that the key had to go in the lock, but unable to understand how he could do that.

In one incident, it took him six hours to get home after giving a lecture--with a car, and only ten miles from his home.

You probably know someone who has struggled with post-concussion syndrome, or maybe your kids have sustained concussions while playing sports. This book will help you understand what's happening to them and why it's so difficult for them to explain it to you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


This is one of those rare days where I didn't write earlier, just got back from hockey practice, and I'm running on fumes. So I'm going to turn in and I'll be writing again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Discrete Streams

I saw a couple when I was at lunch today.

He was eating his food. She was sitting beside him, on her cellphone, surfing the Interwebs or whatever. I've seen this so often lately, and it's become a concern.

What I am concerned about is people being together but being apart.

I don't mean for loners like myself. I have always been together but apart in many ways. It's very fundamental inside me. I only rarely feel connected.

Out there, though, are huge swaths of people who have always been connected. Cellphones and the mobility of data have increased their remote connections to people, but their intimate,  in-the-moment connections have been transformed into something far less rewarding.

I've noticed this very much with parents in the last six months, as part of my daily breakfast trip to P. Terry's. Parents are with their children, or at least in physical proximity, but they're not paying attention to them at all. Instead, they're fiddling on their cellphones for long stretches of time.

I don't understand how you bond with another person if you're not engaged with them when you're together.

I never thought that anything would fundamentally change how people communicate with each other, but this seems to be a collateral aspect of cellphones making so much of the outside world available at any moment.

I'm not sure where this ends up, but I know it will be somewhere else.

Kickstarter: Yes, Indeed

Jordan Weisman, the creator of BattleTech and MechWarrior, is back with the first turn-based BattleTech game for PC in over two decades.

That's all I needed.

Battletech Kickstarter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

As A Quick Update

Yeah, I sort of broke my wrist about two months ago.

I was riding and went to step off forward. The pedal, somehow, rotated around and I stepped on the pedal, even though my entire body was in the process of stepping off the unicycle. So--and this is almost impossible, because it's never happened to me in five years of riding--I fell off backwards.

Put my wrists down to break the fall because it's instinctive. I was wearing wrist guards, which helped, but my left wrist still hurt like hell a few days later.

Bad timing, though. We were leaving for Detroit the next week, and I was trying to finish the new version of GS, so I just didn't have time to have a cast on that was going to limit my ability to work. So I went and got one of those flexible braces at the drugstore and started wearing that around.

About three weeks ago, I went to the doctor for a sore throat, and thought I'd go ahead and get my wrist x-rayed while I was there.

I was lucky, though. I did break it, but it was a "chip fracture", meaning the bone broke, but the break didn't extend very far into the wrist (like it normally would). The doctor showed me the calcification where it was healing.

Haven't ridden since then, but it's better to the point that I'll probably start again in another couple of weeks.

Looking more closely at the wrist guards, I think I found the problem:

The hard plastic and the bend is designed to absorb the stress of impact, but I think if I had added a 1/2" layer of shock absorbing foam on top of the plastic, I probably wouldn't have broken anything. It's hard to know how much protection you need, though, until you actually fall and test what you're wearing. So I'm going to mod the glove before I ride again and hopefully that will be the end of bones breaking.

Well, Mars

Mars Shows Strong Signs of Flowing Water, Researchers Say.

I did not see that coming.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jonathan Arnold, and what a read: MAN VS. MACHINE THE TRUE STORY OF AN EX-COP’S WAR ON LIE DETECTORS.

Next, and this is a brilliant story that I highly recommend reading, it's A Long Walk's End: when fugitive James T. Hammes went on the run, he went for a hike.

Steven Davis had a ton of links later in the post, but this one deserves special consideration: What Happened After My Kidnapping.

This is a long, fantastic read: How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars. Lots and lots of good history here.

From 3Suns, and this is just stunning: Scientists have programmed robots to build bridges without human help. Also, and this is sobering but not surprising, it's New: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease.

From Michael Gilbert, and this is tremendous: The High-Tech Toilet That Sank a Submarine. Also, and this is quite useful, it's Urinal Decisions. One more, and it's terrific: Nano Niagara Falls (Time-lapse, Tilt-shift, 4k).

From Craig Miller, and this is fantastic: To Scale: The Solar System.

From Steven Davis, and this is excellent: The Brilliant Doctor Behind My Favorite Obscure Website. Also, and this is fascinating, it's The 550,000 miles of undersea cables that power the internet. Next, and this is a wonderful article, it's Why the Best War Reporter in a Generation Had to Suddenly Stop. One more, and it's a bizarre optical illusion: The McCollough Effect. And even one more: The Ultimate Hybrid War Strategy: Attack Deep-Sea Fiber-Optic Cables.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is terrific: The Hardest chess problem in the world?

From C. Lee, and this is an utterly fascinating story: Brazil's Cancer Curse.

From Joshua Buergel, and this is sheer insanity: Kenny Belaey's Balance.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lumino City

I don't know how I missed this when it first came out, but I did.

Lumino City is an adventure game, with the backgrounds and NPC's actual miniatures filmed in the tilt-shift style. It's staggeringly beautiful and entirely endearing.

I don't even like adventure games, really, but I'm playing this game quite often in 20-30 minute bursts. The puzzles are clever, the help system is the best I've ever seen in an adventure game, and it's one of the most charming game worlds I've ever seen.

You can see the trailer and everything else here: Lumino City (Steam).

The Cough

Eli 14.1 is going for allergy testing tomorrow.

We went to a specialist last week who seemed entirely reasonable. There are several tests, had some bloodwork done, and allergy testing is just another piece of the puzzle.

When we find out about the allergies, I'll post an update in case you or your kids are having anything resembling what Eli's had. You guys sent in a ton of excellent information when I asked for help, and I'll pass all that along as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This morning, a man and his wife sat down three tables away from me at P. Terry's. The tables are small and close, so they were about eight feet away from me.

I didn't really notice them at first.

There's a hospital across the street, and many people will pass through P. Terry's as they visit someone in the hospital. I assumed that's what this couple was doing. I know all the regulars, because I have breakfast at PT every day.

I briefly looked at them before I resumed reading. They looked to be in their sixties, probably early sixties. The man was clean-shaven, and had on a gray knit shirt and slacks. The woman had dark hair, not quite to her shoulders, and she was wearing a simple dress.

They were Japanese.

I turned back to reading, Nothing to see here.

After a few minutes, I started hearing something. Their conversation. The man was speaking Japanese in a low, soft voice, and it was beautifully melodic. Occasionally, his wife spoke, and it was in the same soft, beautiful tone.

I didn't feel like I was eavesdropping, because I didn't understand what they were saying. So I just listened.

There were other people, and the music loop in the background, and the ice machine, and I heard nothing but their voices.

I did that for fifteen minutes, maybe longer, reaching a very still place inside me, and then they stood up. When the man began to walk, I was shocked, because he was clearly much older than I thought, his gait stiff and pained.

The man I thought was in his early sixties was a decade older, at least.

His wife looked at me as she walked back from putting away their trash. I nodded, and she gave me a flicker of a smile.

I stayed a few minutes longer, then got up to leave.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Being Evel

Here's something else you might be interested in: a documentary of Evel Knievel titled Being Evel.

What you need to know about Evel Knievel, first and foremost, is that he was an asshole. A giant, unrelenting asshole, a truly despicable person.

He also wasn't a great jumper. Somehow, though, the fact that he wasn't a great jumper actually played in his favor, because the possibility that he might crash made him exponentially more entertaining.

There are three facets to the documentary, and they're all well done. The first chronicles his jumps and the phenomenon he became, and there is a ton of outstanding footage (remember that Caesar's Palace jump, or the one in Wembley Stadium?). The second facet focuses on his personal relationships, which were uniformly disastrous. The third facet, which I'd never even considered before, is the incredible influence Knievel had on the development of extreme sports. Kids started copying (on their bicycles) what Knievel was doing on a motorcycle, and everything went from there.

If you know who Knievel is, and remember him, then this is a must-see. If you don't, but you're curious, this is an excellent introduction.


Eli 14.1 and I went to see Everest on Friday.

Here's an interesting double, if you have time. Go see the movie, then read Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air. They both describe the same events, but from a radically different perspective.

Krakauer's book came out in 1997--it's a riveting read--and was immediately embroiled in controversy, because the families of the deceased climbers were unhappy with how their children/spouses were portrayed in the book. A Russian guide name Anatoli Boukreev, who Krakauer held more responsible for the disaster than anyone, was incensed.

Boukreev wrote his own book (also mired in controversy for outright misstatements), and some of the families wrote books, and it's been an angry mess.

The result has been the Rashomon effect, where everyone involved has a substantially different perspective. The film is told from the collected perspective of the families. The book is told from Krakauer's perspective, of course. And Boukreev's book (The Climb) is yet another perspective.

Seeing these different perspectives in a compressed period of time is fascinating. I reread Krakauer's book after seeing the movie, and it adds several layers of details (not always corroborating) to what can be shown onscreen.

The film, by itself, is bleak but excellent. In the IMAX format, the power of the mountain is overwhelming. It doesn't convey its true power--that's not possible--but it's impressive nonetheless. And it does an outstanding job of conveying just how painful it is to climb Everest--incredibly, unbelievably painful.

Krakauer's book does this as well, establishing that anyone near the summit will have some kind of debilitating physical problem by the time they get there. It's hell, and hell isn't even an adequate description.

It's not an uplifting experience, so be warned. But it is worthwhile.

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