Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Links!

From Rob Funk, and this is fantastic: Have We Found Alien Life? Microbes That Eat and Breathe Electricity Have Forced Scientists to Reimagine How Life Works--On This Planet and Others.

From Simon Jones, and this is a great read: The curious case of the sweaty nipples.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: Education plus ideology exaggerates rejection of reality. Next, and this is remarkable, it's Raspberry Pi Engine Control with Real-Time Adaptive Extreme Learning Machine (Linux). This next link is fascinating, believe it or not: Example of an economics exam from Harvard University in 1953. One more, and it's breathtaking: Clear Roof Breathes New Life Into Historic Spanish Church.

Speaking of breathtaking, have a look at this link from Matt Kreuch: Zoomable Andromeda Galaxy. Also, and all I can say is "Wear a cage, people!", it's Blood, Sweat and Teeth: Wild Nights with an NHL Dentist.

From J.R. Parnell, and these are entirely wonderful: 15 Creative Long Exposures Capture a World Unseen. Also, and this is fantastic data visualization: NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life.

This is a terrific article from a very unique perspective: Silk Road Mom Learns Sad Truth About Son.

From DQ VB.NET And Extreme Weather Advisor Garret Remple: Don't leave your car, professor says.

From Jonathan Arnold, and I have no words:
Oregon Was Founded as a Racist Utopia.

A bevy of excellent links from C. Lee. First, it's How Books Became a Critical Part of the Fight to Win World War II. Next, and I now have the book referenced in this article (but haven't read it yet): Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? Next, and it's whimsical (and true): Parachuting Beavers Into Idaho's Wilderness? Yes, It Really Happened. Lastly, and bean cookers can celebrate, it's Don't soak your dried beans! Now even the cool kids agree.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

HoloLens: There Can Be Only One Answer

Eli 13.5 and Gloria watched the HoloLens demo last night, then Eli went upstairs to play a little Just Cause 2.

"We are required by law to get one of these the day it's released," I said to Gloria.

"How much does it cost?" she asked.

"HOW MUCH DO WE HAVE?" I answered.

Today, I was driving Eli home from his off-ice workout, and I was telling him the story of the conversation I had with his mom last night. "So when she asked me 'How much does it cost?' I answered"--

"HOW MUCH DO WE HAVE?" he said. No, he didn't hear me answering Gloria last night.

Oh, and

Sorry, there's a funny bug report story, but the post ran so long anyway that I'm going to save it until next week--that's why it wasn't included.

Gridiron Solitaire Number Unknown: Scoreboards and Bug Reports

I think we've almost reached the point of agreeing on the new scoreboard, and I thought you guys might be interested in the process.

Have a look at Fredrik's first image:


We started lobbing ideas back and forth. I focused on the announcer first, wanting to lower his position by having the text ticker start next to his body. Plus, I wanted Fredrik to try extending the second layer of the scoreboard horizontally to that there would be a larger difference in height between the scoreboard tiers. Here was the next iteration:


That was heading in a good direction, but the scoreboard width of the second tier wasn't working. So Fredrik lowered the height of that tier, added the video board (since it will now be displayed all the time instead of sharing the space for text messages), and here's the result:


I thought about this particular image. I liked it, but something was nagging at me. Phil, one of my favorite beta testers, looked at the image and suggested different scoreboards for different stadiums. That's a great idea, but object placement would kill me, so I started thinking about how it would be possible to customize the scoreboard.

I went to look at some stadium pictures on the web and I quickly realized something important: the unique identifying mark of most scoreboards is a top tier above the data where the stadium or team name is displayed.

Well, duh. Why didn't I think of that before?


When the video board is added, it will display flush with the top of the field. And that custom border at the top is going to be unique for each stadium. There's enough room up there to do all kinds of cool things, and it's going to be a separate visual element, so it's easy to change without changing the scoreboard element itself.

That may not exactly be how it's going to look, but it's close. I'm still trying to figure out if I could incorporate the home team's primary colors into the scoreboard itself (easy to do, technically, but would it mess up the display of data in combination with certain colors? That would be a big problem with some of the more garish colors). So that's still in process.

One more thing. Fredrik sent me a card redesign, and it is drop-dead sexy. Have a look:


Yes, I totally love that look. Twelve more to go!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Project HoloLens

The Internet has lost its collective mind over this today: Project HoloLens: Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Holographic Goggles.

I would try to explain what this product does, but I can't, because when I watched the video, my brain exploded. So while I'm trying to clean up the mess, you need to hit the link and go take a look for yourself.

Cooler than the Oculus Rift? Incredibly, yes. Next next gen? Yes.

When will it actually be finished? Sorry, that appears to be unknown, although demo units are supposed to be available at the Windows 10 launch later this year.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Electronic Arts and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Service Day...

This was sent to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

It is epic.

Here's the set-up: around Thanksgiving, A. Nonymous tried to purchase something through Origin. His credit card was declined for no apparent reason, and his band verified that they had not declined the purchase.

Easy to sort out, eh? Well, read this. Wonder why people don't want to buy games from big companies? Welcome to Exhibit A.

Please: names have been replaced with "XXXXX" and "-------".
*****
Hey Bill,
I had to share this with you.  I have had 6 back and forths with EA about this issue of my not being able to make a purchase since I last emailed you.  I have been struggling to resolve it and will click on the "contact me by phone" link and wait for a call 4 hours later and pray that it resolves my issue.

On the 10th I got this email:
My name is --------- and I am a specialist here with EA, I would firstly like to apologize again for the length of time you have been waiting for a reply from our team regarding your issue. We greatly appreciate your considerable patience and understanding. It has been a pleasure speaking with you thus far. 

I am a huge gamer myself XXXXX so I understand when problems like this occur it is extremely inconvenient. You are through to the correct department anyway XXXXXX so rest assured I will do everything I can to explain what the situation is with your account.

We have reviewed your transaction history and thank you once more for providing this valuable information for us on your initial contact. We understand your anxiety and worry when this occurred. We understand payment problems can be stressful so I can assure you we will do our very best to explain the situation to you.

From reviewing and investigating your transaction history, it would appear your most recent transaction(s) has been rejected by your card issuer/bank. We would advise contacting them for further assistance before re-attempting any other potential purchase. We do not have the precise information as to why this payment may been rejected hence advising contacting the card issuer.

I am sorry to bring this negative news to you today. I am a huge gamer myself so I understand your frustration with this matter. I have been playing games for years thus I completely empathize with firstly any billing problem occurring and secondly the fact that you cannot purchase a game you obviously wish to play. I cannot apologize enough again for the considerable time you have been waiting for my reply -----, I hope this reaches you safely. I do hope this is helpful and will put your mind at ease. Please contact us again if there is anything else we can do to help you going forward. Again thank you for your patience and understanding. All the very best in the future and I hope you continue to enjoy our games.

First of all I never talked to this dude.  Second of all he says that the transactions were rejected by my bank... my bank claims that's not true as do my other credit cards that I've tried to use.  So he closes the account and says essentially "Sorry, it's not me, it's you."

So on the 12th(!!!!!) I talked to someone that my issue had been "escalated" to who said they were reaching out to the proper people to solve it and they would be in touch with me.  so 3 days later I get this email:
Hello! My name is ------ and I will be the Specialist assisting you today. I wanted to start by thanking you for your patience and apologizing for the wait time that you have experienced thus far. Just so you are aware, once I accepted ownership of your case, all of your responses will jump to the front of my personal queue, so the dialogue between us will be much quicker than the amount of time it has taken to get to your case.

Now let’s get started. From my understanding and after reviewing the case notes and previous correspondence, you are having problems placing an order in our system. I am a gamer myself and I completely get your frustration. I hate running into these types of issues when I’m trying to get my game on, but know that I am here to help and intend on doing so!

I would like to begin by asking you if the issue persists. Sometimes, these issues work themselves out but if not, please let me know and I will personally run this down and get it figured out for you. 

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to reach out and like I said, I am confident that we can get to the bottom of this for you; I would just ask that you be patient with us while we work through everything.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that you had all the resources you could need for any future issues. We have an extensive knowledgebase full of troubleshooting and general knowledge located at help.ea.com as well as Answers HQ. Answers HQ brings all of the EA community together to offer support to each other and I’ve personally even found a lot of solutions that we use based on how awesomely supportive our community is. You can find it at answers.ea.com. I know these don't help with the current situation but I just wanted to make sure you had them for any possible future needs.

Hope to hear from you soon,
--------
EA Games Specialist

So many wonderful things about this.  The first is that this guy has taken ownership of my case but I haven't talked to him when I've tried to reach out since.  Second of all their solution is to just plug in your card again and see if it magically works!  Thank you magic wand. I love that they suggest that I just use their online forums which are useless and full of people with the exact same problem and no solutions.  Good going EA.

The very best most special part is the signature "Hope to hear from you soon," because there is no method to contact the guy in the email.  If you reply to the email it goes to a generic ea email and you get an email saying no one will see it.  No phone # attached... nothing.

So finally today, after encountering this issue around Thanksgiving... I waited to get called back after 4 hours of hitting the "call me" button I get a phone call.  That guy can't help me but he'll bounce me to someone who can... and then I get put on hold...and the phone disconnects.  I just started laughing.  But a miracle occurred and a woman from EA called me right away and when I told her what happened she just laughed a little sadly about their systems and she ended up telling me exactly what the issue is, gave me XYZ (which I've been trying to purchase for months) for free and then afterwards sent me her email.  She said she'd get it sorted in 24 hours and let me know and if there is anything she can do to contact her personally.

It only took 3 months to get in touch with someone who could help me.  A miracle.

God I wish their games were on Steam.
******
Isn't that great? Canned customer support e-mails (that aren't even grammatically correct), total disconnect between the issue and actual reality, and a 5-minute problem that has taken (at this point) two months to resolve (and it may not be resolved yet--let's not celebrate prematurely).


Well, I Certainly Hope So


Monday, January 19, 2015

The kicker

It's always a running joke about me that I am better than normal at most things, but not great at anything.

One of those things, surprisingly, was kicking a football.

When I was in high school, I went through a few weeks where I really enjoyed taking a football and kicking tee out to the football field and seeing how far I could kick a field goal.

I wasn't particularly interested in kicking as a skill; I just wanted to know the maximum distance I could kick a field goal.

I found out on a lovely fall day, with no tailwind. 48 yards. I can still remember the feeling of the ball exploding off my foot, and how that ball was in the air forever before it came down, just over the crossbar. I didn't really care about kicking after that, because I knew I could never kick a football harder.

Eli 13.5 enjoys kicking, too, so we go out occasionally when we want to do something relaxing.

With very little practice, he can make 35 yard field goals, and I'm expecting that by this time next year, he'll have made one from 45.

Today, I kicked a few. It's never felt right, trying to kick as an old man, but today the ball felt good coming off my foot. I made one from 30 into a headwind, but just barely.

"So if headwind is costing me 2 1/2 yards, which seems reasonable," I said, "then if I come out and kick with a slight tailwind, the net gain compared to a headwind would be 5 yards, which means I can still make a 35 yard field goal."

"That's a lot of circumstances, dad," Eli said, laughing.

He'll make a 49-yarder some day, but I still have the big foot for now. Historically speaking.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from C. Lee, and this is an incredible story: The murder that has obsessed Italy. Also, and someone should do this here, it's Small Hokkaido bookshop’s unique service is getting business from all over Japan.

From Steven Davis, and this is fascinating: the long and intensive process to create a hand-colored lithograph. Also, and this is incredible: A Rare Flipped Iceberg in Antarctica Photographed by Alex Cornell.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is mandatory reading for all of us: How the Oreo was Invented.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is amazing: 132-year-old rifle found leaning on tree in Nevada park. Next, and this is brilliant, it's Animator Dillon Markey Reinvents the Failed Nintendo Power Glove as an Indispensable Stop-Motion Animation Tool. Also, and this is quite remarkable (I guess it's a "technology dance"): Pixel - extraits.

This is a terrific story about living in Whittier, Alaska, surely one of the oddest places to live on Earth: The Alaska Town Living Under One Roof. Also, and I didn't know there was a word for this: What High-Speed Cameras Can Tell Us About the Smell of Rain. One more, and it's both sports and boardgame related: The Packers Got Everyone in Green Bay Playing Settlers of Cataan.

From Jonathan Arnold, and if you want to go to Mars someday, you'll want to read this: All You Have Eaten.

From Meg McReynolds, and this explains quite a lot: The Psychological Reason 'Billie Jean' Kills at Weddings.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hooray!

The repressively cheery tone of holiday letters terrifies me.

No matter the event, it's presented in an impossibly cheerful way.

In downsizing news, Johnny lost a leg this year, and it couldn't have happened at a better time!!!

(Andrew, please note: I'm specifically NOT referring to your annual holiday letter, which is entirely delightful)

Baseball: This Would Work

I write several grouchy old man posts a year about how baseball is so tediously slow that it's unwatchable.

That doesn't mean I don't want to watch it. I just can't, in its current form. The pace of the game is unbearable.

In 1974, the average length of a major league game was 2:29. That's the era in which I became a fan. Today, 40 years later, the average game length is 3:09. And the extra 40 minutes is coma-inducing tedium: excruciating time between pitches, endless trips to the mound, etc.

Incredibly, Major League Baseball, which is at least as progressive as [insert your choice of organizations from the 15th century HERE], is actually experimenting with ways to fix this.

Most prominently: a pitch clock.

How it works is simple:
...we know how it'll work from its use in the Arizona Fall League: pitchers have exactly 20 seconds from the moment they receive the ball to come to the set position for the next pitch. It'll be tracked by on-field scoreboards visible to pitchers and umpires, and if they fail to come set, the umpire declares an automatic ball.

That seems simple. Was it effective?
The pitch clock was one of a handful of innovations tested out in three Arizona Fall League games, all designed to reduce the length of games, and together they appeared to work. Games average 2:51 in the AFL; the three experimental games lasted 2:14, 2:28, and an 11-inning affair that went 3:12.

30 minutes shaved off games? Sign me up.

You can see more details and a video of it working in action here.

Of course, this will probably never happen. Getting MLB and the MLBPA to agree on anything is basically impossible, and has been for decades. Throw the umpire's union in there and it's even worse.

If they ever do this, though, and games actually start lasting 2:40 again (or less) on a regular basis, count me in.

Behold!

Scorching into my inbox this morning:
Behold, you are reading a letter from the President Barack Obama USA. Finally, I have received lists of the names of people who are Involved in money laundry and terrorism Which your name is Among the names that was submitted to me and I have ordered to release arrest warrant to the IPA to quickly carry October Their duty and make sure that They get you arrested and summon you to the court immediately Which They Will Be on Their duty on Thursday morning the
assigned since you are trying to play ball with me.

You have failed to comply with Them all after the warning and instructions given Beheerder Beheerder to you, but since you are Also Among the terrorist we are facing in the country, I will make sure that personal I wipe away the crime in the state and I promise you That You will definitely pay with your life because I am here to protect the interest of my people and not to put Them in shame, you suppose to support this government and not to spoil it. Since It Has Been confirmed by Benin Republic government that Actually this fund belongs to you and here the law demands That It can not be release to you Unless you Provide the certificate Which is OWNERSHIP CERTIFICATE DRUG And That Is what the IPA Has Been demanding for a very long team now. For your own good, I am giving you today last chance to tell me the the President why you have failed to Provide the certificate and why do you fail the IPA That Is working under my instruction Which you know that once you disobey Them you have disobeyed me as well.

Do note that if you failed to get back to this office Within 24hours, you will be apprehended and charge to court immediately for Involving in money laundry and terrorism and there you will see my face. You will only be free if you get back to my office by promising That You Will Provide the fee for the Which certificate will cost you only 100usd to obtain infor- mation it Within 48hours Otherwise you will be in soup, BE WARNED!. I will advise you on what to further Top the Top They once hear from you in other to resolve this matter amicably. Contact Mr Jeff Kennedy So that He will Provide you the certificate once you have send Them fee.

Kindly Respond to this message.

Highlights:
1. I have ordered to release arrest warrant to the IPA
2. Beheerder! Beheerder!
3. OWNERSHIP CERTIFICATE DRUG
4. the fee for the Which certificate
5. I will advise you on what to further Top the Top



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Athlete

Sure, after twelve years of reading this crap, you thought you'd seen everything there was to see.

You are incorrect, sir!

We went to San Antonio for a game last Sunday, and the rink has a separate area (where there used to be a second sheet of ice) where they hold events.

We walked into the rink an hour early, and in the non-ice area, there was a dog show going on. The best kind of dog show, with dogs running through obstacle courses.

We all found this knee-slapping hilarious (and totally entertaining), because some of these dogs were tiny. Very, very tiny. But while they had different sizes and levels of skills, every dog was full one of thing: enthusiasm. Every single one looked entirely thrilled to be running through a maze, and there was tail wagging aplenty when they were done.

This small warrior was our favorite. He was not the most skilled, perhaps, but his enthusiasm was boundless.

The Deep Freeze

We're in the deep freeze.

For the last week, the average high temperature has been 20 degrees below normal. The average high this time of year is 61F, so the average high has been 41F for the last week.



Doom cold.

Garret (who lives in Winnipeg), you can start laughing now.

Here's the hard thing, though: when you live somewhere and have a wardrobe that supports average early-January highs of 61, you don't really have adequate clothing for an average high of 41.

I go from outside (40F) to the rink (40F) for several hours, then back to the outside (40F). I'm so cold that when I gets home, it feels like the house is 40F.

I wear layers. Layer after layer after layer. Not enough, though. I even bought a pair of gloves yesterday, which I've never really worn (no one really needs to down here). Buying the gloves was amusing, because I went to REI, and it looked like a post-holiday sale. It was mobbed. Even Austin Guy (who wears shorts every day, all year long) was stocking up on cold-weather clothing.

Tomorrow, it starts to warm up. Not in the rink, though.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire Number I've Forgotten Completely: The Future

I haven't been posting about it, but stuff's going on around here.

I really, really want two new card decks, both with more athletic/action poses. One would just use the jersey numbers (no numbers on the outside of the card at all), while the other would be a 'big" number deck, with the numbers on the edges of the card being the primary focus.

A user would have three decks to choose from: original, jersey numbers only, and big numbers.

Conceptually, I want to use as many of the big image poses as possible on the new deck. So the players on the card deck are also players in the big images that get shown for certain events during the game. It ties up nicely.

In addition to that, though, Fredrik has two very cool ideas.

The first is to have the announcer in the bottom left-corner of the screen to "announce" text events, instead of having a scoreboard dropdown. That makes so much sense that I'm embarrassed I didn't think about it originally.

His second idea is to modernize the scoreboard, and incorporate the little game window as part of a big video screen. That's also an excellent idea, because with more modern-looking players, it makes sense to modernize the scoreboard as well.

Here's a very, very early screenshot, and it requires some explanation, so hold your horses after you see it:


Here are some notes that help this make sense (it will be easier to see if you click on the picture to expand it).
1. the scoreboard is not final, obviously, but you can see that it's definitely tarted up quite a bit, with some nice shading and colors. Plus, the little game window underneath is going to be physically "attached" like a video screen, although this version isn't quite there yet. You can see what we're trying to do, though.
2. Those card images are placeholders, since some don't even show the jersey number, but you can see how those poses pop with that bright white background. Plus, there's a drop shadow around the cards that just slightly lifts them off the field (and looks really, really good).

It might be possible for the deck with big numbers to use poses where jersey numbers aren't displayed, because the numbers will be so large on the outside. For the other deck, poses where the jersey numbers are clearly displayed will be used. I really like the idea of two "dedicated" decks, though.

3. The black ticker at the bottom is going to turn on when there's a text event, and the text will display line by line (like it does now). But the font will be larger, because the ticker is larger. The bar will also not extend across the announcer's body (which will let the announcer image itself be reduced a bit in size).

It's very early days on all this--it's going to take several months, at a minimum--but I'm excited by the possibilities.


Monday, January 12, 2015

The Mask

"If you had one word to describe how I look in the training mask, what would it be?" I asked Eli 13.5

"Bane," he said without pausing. That's fair.

I have a unique workout problem. My heart is strong, and my breathing is very strong, but my body is made out of pretzel sticks. I get injured at exertion levels that are way, way too low to challenge my heart.

That's one of the reasons I swim--harder effort possible without additional strain on the body. But I recently did something to a stomach muscle while swimming (incredibly), so now I'm walking on a treadmill until it heals.

We were in a sporting goods store two weeks ago and I saw an altitude training mask. I've never even seen one at the retail level. It's called the elevation training mask, and it's supposed to simulate training at altitudes from 3k to 18k feet.

It's very simple. It basically looks like an oxygen mask with a velcro sleeve to secure it on your face. There are plastic discs with openings on the front of the mask. You get several sets of discs, and each one has a different number of openings. When you want more difficulty, you just replace the discs for a set that has fewer openings.

I started out with the 3k discs, and while it certainly felt strange the first time I used it, the mask was surprisingly comfortable. If you're claustrophobic, forget about it, but if you're not, it's an interesting experience, and it certainly makes exercise more difficult.

Today I put in the 6k elevation discs for the first time, and it was a noticeable difference. I felt like I was having to work much harder, even though the treadmill pace was unchanged. At 18k, I assume I would just be just sucking fumes and then passing out on the treadmill.

This isn't cheap (it's $80), and it's certainly a niche product, but it seems well made and it's improved my workouts without additional strain on my balsa wood body.

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