Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is both wildly interesting and entirely horrifying: Slut-Shaming, Eugenics, and Donald Duck: The Scandalous History of Sex-Ed Movies. Also, and this is a wonderful moment, it's This 102-year-old was a famous dancer in the 30s, but never saw herself on screen until today.

From Les Bowman, and this is an excellent read: How Success Almost Killed A Game, And How Its Creators Saved It.

From Thomas Fields, and this is the ultimate stick bomb: Guinness World Record - 30,849 Sticks - Largest Stick Bomb.

From Steven Davis, and this is fascinating: The Ingenious Design of the Aluminum Beverage Can. Also, and this is bizarre, it's How a ditty from a soft-core Italian movie became the Muppets’ catchiest tune. One more, and it's terrific: TYRANNOSAURS: Behind the Art with James Gurney. One more, and I've never seen these before (neither has Eli 13.8): Freeline Skates are Strangely Awesome.

From C. Lee, and this is outstanding: The golden ratio has spawned a beautiful new curve: the Harriss spiral. Next, and this is a fantastic read, it's Turning Ethiopia's desert green.

From Marc Klein, and this is very touching: Still In The Game.

Here is an absolutely insane video (and some equally insane photographs): An Absolutely Massive Volcano Is Exploding In Chile Right Now. Closing out the week, a bit of accuracy overkill: This Clock Only Loses One Second Every 15 Billion Years.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Workout

I am seriously beat today, so I'm going to discuss the workout that Eli 13.8 does to build his explosiveness and strength. We incorporated some ideas that might be interesting to some of you, particularly if your workout routine has gone a bit stale.

I may have talked about this before, and if so, I apologize.

What I wanted to do with Eli was create a workout that fulfilled the following criteria:
1) a multi-year lifespan (so something that would grow with him).
2) focus on explosiveness, quickness. and strength.
3) no weights. Strength exercises would be body-weight only.
4) constant disruption, so his body didn't get used to the workout.

So with those criteria in mind, here is the list of the exercises we came up with:
Warm-up:
--5 minutes on exercise bike
--ball toss (high speed ball tossing--cross toss (two balls in sequence), bounce toss (two balls in sequence), moving toss (two balls in sequence), and simultaneous toss (two balls). We toss these back and forth as fast as I can possibly can. This is for hand quickness and coordination.

Strength:
--chin-ups (to exhaustion).
--pull-ups (to exhaustion).
--dips (to exhaustion).
--bar lift (I don't think that's the right name, but your hands grasp pegs above you instead of a bar. To exhaustion.)
--one step push-ups. This is a ladder of pushups where you go from 1 to 10 (and back down to 1) with one step in-between. So do a pushup, take a step, do 2 pushups, take a step, do 3 pushups, etc. This is 110 push-ups in total, if you can finish. Eli can do them all.
--ball transfer (using the heaviest weighted ball, go back-to-back with partner and pass ball around as quickly as possible). 50 in each direction.
--ten pound press on wobbleboard. One-handed press of weighted ball to exhaustion. Good multi-function exercise (strength + balance).

Leg Strength:
--stand on gel wobbleboard in goalie stance. Ball toss while balancing. To exhaustion.
--walking bodyweight lunge (90' in total).
--single-leg squat (x20 each leg).

Core Strength:
--core builder (to exhaustion). A leg left from an upright position (legs are off the ground, upper body is secured). Goal is to get legs parallel to floor. To exhaustion.
--Superman toss. Lay on stomach, extend legs and arms off ground (just like Superman in flight). Catch tossed balls. To exhaustion.

Quickness:
--rope skipping (5x30 sec, 20 sec break. At boxer speed.)
--hop-hop-stick (just like it sounds: two lateral hops on the same foot, then land on the other foot. You go back and forth in a set of 12).
--step-step-stick (two quick lateral steps, not hops, then land on the outside foot. Back and forth in a set of 12).

Explosiveness:
--vertical leap (2x12 standard, 2x12 "star" leap).
--standing broad jump (90' in total, as few jumps as possible).
--power skips for height (90' in total).
--power skips for distance (150' in total).

What makes this workout disruptive is that after warm-up, the order for the exercises is completely at random. Each exercise is on an index card, and we shuffle the cards before each workout. So instead of doing these in some kind of logical order, they can be in any order. That makes it a very different workout, depending on the card order.

Plus, today we tried the "Cash Moneyville" workout for the first time. I cut four pieces of yellow construction paper and randomly inserted them into the index cards. When we saw the "gold" paper, that was a moneymaker exercise. Eli had 30 seconds to negotiate with me as to how much money he could make with each rep. If he was asking for too much, I'd say "lower". If he wasn't asking for enough, I'd say "higher".

Yes, he loves The Price is Right.

It wasn't much money, but it was a huge incentive to get the biggest possible reward. So the four "gold" exercises he did at a much higher rate (his normal rate is high already). That made the workout disruptive at multiple levels, because he was using different effort on a few exercises, and that affected the entire workout.

The next step (eventually) is to advance the workout in terms of adding balance elements as often as possible. So when he does single-leg squats, for example, he might do them on a wobbleboard (which is really, really difficult).

If you're thinking that this workout is insanely difficult, it is for me. It's not, though, for Eli. He destroys this workout now, which is why I added the "gold card" element for the first time today. Plus, he likes the work, which really sets him apart from most kids. He enjoys working hard, and the workout is clearly making him faster and stronger.

This takes about 45 minutes, roughly, and it's good time. If you're doing one kind of workout all the time (like running), this is a nice way to break things up and focus on your entire body. And I hope you guys can incorporate some of these principles into your own workouts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Software Predators

Mom 85.1 called me this morning, and she was frustrated and upset.

Mom, among her peer group (people who started using computers later in life), has good computer skills. When things go wrong, though, sometimes she doesn't have the experience in obscure PC knowledge to fix them.

There are lots of people like my mom, who enjoys using computers but doesn't understand why they have to be so complicated--because, if you haven't used computers before, they are complicated. When anything goes wrong, they go from fun to being arcane and obscure.

And sometimes, companies make them obscure for predatory reasons.

There's a fantastic application called TeamViewer that we use so that I can take control of Mom's system remotely and help her fix things. It's much easier to help her when I see what she's seeing instead of having her describe it to me, because there is so much detail on a computer screen that it can be difficult to choose what's important.

As soon as I can see her desktop, I know that something has gone quite wrong, because instead of Google search, I'm starting at a search engine "powered by Ask.com."

Ah, you Java (Oracle) assholes.

When you install Java, there's a shitty attempt by Java to cram the Ask.com toolbar down your throat, and you have to opt out or it gets installed.

Why does that matter? Well, in a functional sense, Ask.com returns search results where they don't distinguish between ads and actual information. That means that when you do a search with Ask, the first eight results might be ads, but you won't be able to tell that.

That's garbage, and incredibly unethical, but it gets worse. There is a long, long list of third party programs (many of them from a sleazy company called "Mindspark") that will install the Ask toolbar/browser crap and change your home page without your consent.

Want to get rid of the Ask.com toolbar?

I figured it would be relatively straightforward--there must be a program installed that I can uninstall, right? I checked and there's nothing. Then I looked in Chrome browser extensions and didn't see anything about Ask. There were only two extensions installed (one of which I installed for her). That should have been a clue (I'm an idiot), but I ran right past it.

Thus began a long, long trip down various rabbit holes. Deep rabbit holes.

Here's the non-cursing version: there are a ton of extensions/programs that will install the Ask.com toolbar and hijack your browser without your consent. And when you try to remove it, there will be no entries for Ask in the installed programs list.

The answer, if I had been thinking more astutely, was in the second installed extension in the browser. It was something called "Rage Radio" (more assholes), and one of its "functions" is to install the Ask.com toolbar.

Cutting out the boring in-between stuff, if you ever get in this situation and want to get out of it, here are some basic steps to take:
1. Download a program called AdwCleaner (you can read about it at the link). It will clean all kinds of garbage out of your system.
2. Go into the settings for your browser, and reset your home page. In Chrome, I could actually delete the Ask.com entry.
3. You probably have some extension you don't remember installing in your browser. If you only have a few extensions, it won't be difficult to find the rogue and uninstall it, but if you have many, it will be more difficult. You can Google everything (in a separate system, since Ask hijacked your computer's browser) and find out which ones are basically crap and should be uninstalled.
4. There's an obscure setting in Java that will let you turn off "sponsored" software, believe it or not. Go here to set it properly.

If you want all the details of how slimy Oracle is behaving, go here: A close look at how Oracle installs deceptive software with Java updates.

Mom's system is fixed now, but none of this should have happened in the first place.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Big Eli 13.8 Post

We ate breakfast Saturday morning at the Pancake House.

As we were walking back to the car, I started to run.

Eli 13.8 started laughing and chased me. We were both sprinting like crazy, trying to reach the car first. "Oh my god," Eli said, laughing. "We are such idiots."

Fair point.

Eli is a teenager now. He's 5' 8 1/2" and 120 lbs. (and it's all muscle, too). His voice is almost as deep as mine. He can touch a regulation basketball rim, and his standing long jump is 8'0".

He's very different from the boy I've written about for over twelve years, but in some ways, he's not different at all. If I start running for absolutely no reason, he'll still chase me. He's still a kind and generous (and gentle) person. He's still utterly funny.

So he's different, but he's not different at all. He's both at the same time.

This is what I didn't understand about the transition into being a teenager: it happens at a very uneven rate. There are thousands of little pieces of a person that transition into being a teenager. Some of those little pieces change early, but even after they've changed, other pieces will still be as they were in childhood.

Eli can make his own dinner with no problems. He can scrimmage against adults and hold his own. He also still has a stuffed bear on his bed, and that bear might be there for years.

It's an uneven, messy process, just like much of life. However, and this is important, "messy" doesn't mean "bad".

There's a reason I haven't written about Eli for a while, but I didn't understand it until today. All I knew was that something wasn't in place.

Children tend to have discrete moments, moments that lend themselves to teaching. These little moments are building blocks, and building blocks are easy to write about.

With Eli now, though, building blocks have been replaced with flow. There's a current to his life that wasn't there before. There aren't set pieces.

We still enjoy our time together as much as ever--maybe even more--but that time doesn't lend itself to long write-ups as readily.

The only thing I try to do now--and I've always tried to do this--is to be as simple and straightforward with him as possible. Be kind to other people. Work hard for what you want. That will take him a long way. He taught me that life is much simpler than I ever thought it was, so I'm trying to remind him now.

His life still revolves around hockey. He was on a very, very poor team this season--not poor in personality, because many of the kids were terrific--but they just weren't very good hockey players. So he played some phenomenal games and wasn't rewarded in the slightest, because they were unwinnable games going in.

He reached a point, midway through the season, where he was fed up with guys not playing their positions. He was facing 40 quality shots a game, which was ridiculous by any standard, and he finally reached the point of being angry. We had a long talk the next day, and I asked him who he wanted to be. He could be the guy who felt victimized, and nobody would even blame him. I asked him, though, where would that get him?

"Nowhere," he said.

The next night, there was a new kid who had moved in and was joining the team. He was a big kid, and not in very good shape. One of the things the team did in warm-ups was pushups, and the new kid couldn't do nearly as many as was required. The coach told him that he had to start over, and the kid was ready to walk right there.

"I'll do them with you," Eli said. So he did, and after a few push-ups, the rest of the team started doing them as well.

Was this some kind of turning point for the team? Not really, at least in a competitive sense; they still lost nearly every game. It was a true moment of leadership, though, and it reminded me that Eli was still a leader, even when he was frustrated.

Mostly, though, even during this season from hell, he worked. Worked and worked and worked. It really sets him apart from other kids, that willingness to push himself. He understands that he's in a long, long process, and that every off-ice workout where he truly pushes himself is one more tiny step. Plus, he likes the work.

The season wasn't all gloom.

While we were in Dallas for a tournament, we went by a Hockey Giant in Plano (mandatory trip when we're up there). There was a shooting contest in progress, and it required the shooter to make a shot in all four corners (there was a goalie tarp attached) as quickly as possible.

It took Eli four shots. 7.9 seconds.

Several of his teammates were there, and of course they lost their minds over seeing their goalie turn into a sniper. He wound up with the fastest time on his team.

The top 15 shooters qualified for an on-ice shooting contest at a local rink, and he wound up 5th (out of hundreds of kids, because the contest ran for about four weeks after his time was posted), but there was an ice storm in Plano the weekend of the next round, and we couldn't get there.

Bragging rights, though, were not diminished.

He's in the (very short) offseason now, working on building his explosiveness. I think that's his ticket to bigger and better things. He needs to be able to shock people with his athleticism, and if he can, that will get their attention.

Truly, he's already in the super freak category.

I found an academic article about the standing long jump length of goalies who attended the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine. The mean standing long jump length for goalies was 8'0", and as I mentioned at the front of this post, that's Eli's standing long jump length now, as a 13.8 year old.

That's utterly ridiculous, because he's going to grow at least another 5-7 inches. Plus his legs are already as long as mine, even though I'm still 4 1/2" inches taller.

He's a super athletic giraffe, basically.

Eli is still several years too young to have any idea how far he might go. But his attitude is going to help. He talks in his sleep, and during one tournament trip he started talking in the middle the night. Here's what he said: mumble mumble mumble work ethic mumble mumble.

Even in his sleep, he's working.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Boom


That's the best single game I've ever had (going back to the mid 1980s). Three home runs, a double, and a single, all scorched. This is with a AAA team, so EB has been promoted once.

However, it's boom or bust for Enormous Bottoms, huge games followed by multi-day strikeout festivals. I've gotten his power against left-handed pitchers up into the low 80s, though, and he's leading AAA in Home Runs.

A Fascinating Read (Boston Marathon related)

This is truly a phenomenal story (recounting the story of Katherine Switzer):
Behind The Photo That Changed The Boston Marathon Forever.

Service

I received the following e-mail from Shrapnel Games on Friday:
Dear :

On 11.29.10 10:11 PM you placed an order at the Gamers Front, but did not complete your purchase. If you had trouble using our shopping cart, please contact our Customer Support Center so that we may assist you.

If you abandoned your shopping cart for another reason, we would like to hear from you so that we may improve our shopping experience. You may contact us here and let us know how we may make you shopping experience better.

We are sorry you had trouble, and would like to have you visit our site again. Please accept this coupon for a 15% discount on you next order:

Coupon Code: XXXXXX

You can enter the coupon code at checkout for your discount.

Happy Gaming,

The Gamers Front Staff
Shrapnel Games, Inc.

I guess should have expected this, because when I e-mailed their customer support address in 2010, I received this replay:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting Shrapnel Games. A member of our support staff will contact you within the next five years. 

Happy Gaming,

The Gamers Front Staff
Shrapnel Games



Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Links!

I may have posted this link a few years ago, but it's so fascinating that it's coming up for a second run: Cracking the Scratch Lottery Code.

Here's an entirely wonderful story (it's nice to find these in the middle of large amounts of awful stuff going on these days): Classy Organization: Padres Keep Sick Pitcher on Payroll 20 Years After Last Throw.

From Scott Gould, and this is clearly the greatest cricket commentary ever: Scrotometer.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: Ankylosaurs, the armored dinosaurs that could pack a punch.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is stunning: Artists Hack an Xbox Kinect and Create an Experimental Film on Movement.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Guinness World Record Stick Bomb - 17,822 Sticks!

From J.R. Parnell, and I want one of these: Dare to Press the Mystery Button: Seattle’s Enigmatic Soda Machine.

From Brian Witte, and this link is hypnotic, because it's an infographic event horizon: Dadaviz.

From C. Lee, a terrific essay on one of the games that disappointed me most (KOTOR II): Vanishing Points.

From Jeff Fowler (Jeff, thanks for the link, but I couldn't e-mail you back--got an invalid domain error), and this is just amazing: Spider-tailed Horned Viper: Persian Horned Viper - Víbora Iraniana Rabo-de-Aranha.

This is spectacular: How Can This Self Alley-Oop Even Be Real?

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and the headline says it all: Woman blames coffee-drinking parrot for car crash.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Note

Sorry, the day got upside-down for me very quickly today, but just as a note, if you're not watching the NHL Playoffs, please do so.

Seriously, the NHL Playoffs are the best thing in sports. And in overtime, with no commercial breaks and players flying all over the ice, it's unforgettable.

There were so many great moments last night (particularly in the Ottawa-Montreal game), and it was just the first game of the first round!

Gracie


This cat is a sloppy sleeper.

Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord

This is an item from the wayback machine, but several years ago, I wrote about a game called Age of Fear. The sequel has been released (Age of Fear 2: the Chaos Lord), and it's made its way to Steam. Here's the Steam page, and if you're into turn-based strategy (seriously, who isn't?), this might be right up your alley: Age of Fear 2: The Chaos Lord.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring


Garret sent me a picture of snow in Winnipeg last week. This is not snow.

The pool opens on April 1, and even though the water is still cold (around 65F), I start swimming.

The funny thing about swimming is that if the sun is shining and it's warm (it was 80F today), the pool can be almost any temperature and I can survive. Swimming in very cold water on a cloudy day, though, is another matter entirely.

What does it feel like, swimming in 65F water? Well, for me, it means that if I swim for longer than 15-20 minutes, my extremities feel a bit "thick" when I get out of the pool. Your body dissipates heat 30X more quickly in water than in air, which means 65F water is much colder than it sounds. I've learned over the years, though, how long I can swim, and when I need to get out.

This is my favorite moment of spring, actually. Pool's open, the water is brutally cold, and the sun is shining.

Make Better Decisions (Plastic Baby Edition)


You should not be living at the post office, small plastic baby.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MLB 2015 The Show: Road to the Show (part two)

What usually drives me crazy about annual sports franchise releases is that so little time is spent on making the game better for the people who play the most.

The best example of this is Madden, which will have a bunch of new crap "features" that just represent churn, not improvement, and in some cases, they actively make the game worse. Almost always, though, those features are useless for the hardcore user.

If you wanted to play Road to the Show last year, and by "play" I mean multiple seasons, cranking through games, here were the problems
1. Loading times. Getting in and out of a game during the season meant 30+ second loading times each way.
2. Pitchers threw over to first base. All the time. I saw four consecutive throws over to first base between pitches dozens of times. Brutal.
3. Fielding cameras for outfielders. There were lots of edge cases where the fielding cameras was totally useless. There was an "arrow indicator" under the player's feet, but that could be imprecise. This made good fielding almost impossible for an outfielder.
4. "Hair Salem" (damn it, I can't read my writing. That could be anything).
5. Lots and lots of screen hopping to do things.

Guess what changed?
1. Loading times have been cut in half. Very, very impressive.
2. Pickoff moves are rare, and I've never seen more than one throw over between pitches.
3. Fielding cameras are still problematic for outfielders, unfortunately. This is easily fixable--just pull the camera back further--but there's no option to do that.
4. "Hair Salem". Yeah, I'm going to assume that's fixed.
5. Screen layout is much improved. I didn't like it--at first--but the more I played, the more it made sense. For the vast majority of what you do in RTTS, it requires less hopping around screens now.

Here's a view of the main menu for RTTS mode:


That is a TON of usable information on one screen: next game, team calendar, league updates, training info, player comparisons, and equipment (kind of a crap feature where you can earn and equip certain brands of gear for a stat boost. Not interested, and get off my lawn, you damn kids.).

Everything--absolutely everything--is one or two button presses away, at worst. Again, this is something that's most useful for the players who play hundreds of games, and it's terrific to see that player group being rewarded.

What this all means is that when I sit down to play, there's no single thing that is annoying enough to make me stop playing. Last year, the loading times drove me insane, and then, when I got into a game, the throws to first base were even worse.

Now, that's all fixed. Single games take around 5 minutes to play (you only see the plays your player is involved in), loading in and out is very quick, and it's all pretty fantastic.

Except for the $*#*@ fielding camera. Hey, nothing's perfect.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MLB 2015: The Show (Road to the Show)

Enormous Bottoms is my character to role play the hell out of Road to the Show. I wanted a guy whose skills were massively unbalanced. So Enormous Bottoms has never sunk one training point into anything else but power.

This is a terrible strategy for success. It's an excellent strategy for role playing, though, and there are a ton of guys like EB in real life, big power hitters who strike out a ton and can't field their position with any degree of competence.

Here's the current skill set of Enormous Bottoms:


That's all default ratings, with the exception of power versus right handed pitchers (99) and power versus left handed pitchers (60).

Here's the rules I use in EB's career:
1. A rating category must be improved to 99 before any other category can receive training points (with the exception that if a rating starts to degrade, I will spend points to restore it to its original level).

I reached 99 with right handed power, then started on power versus left handed pitchers. Once that hits 99, the next category will be Arm Strength.

If you look at that image, you'll see that Contact is 25. So what I wound up with is a massively unbalanced player, which is just what I wanted. He's going to be hugely powerful, hit a ton of home runs, with a massive number of strikeouts. And a cannon for an arm, even though he doesn't catch very well.

2. Every swing Enormous Bottoms takes, for his entire career, is a power swing. No contact swings. No regular swings. He's Dave Kingman, basically, for those of you who remember back that far.

3. No bat adjustments. It's possible to reposition the bat during the swing, to adjust to high/low pitches, but I'll be doing none of that. Instead, Enormous Bottoms has to wait for a pitch in the optimal zone for his swing. If he swings at a low strike or a high strike, he's unsuccessful. So there has to be a ton of plate discipline in terms of pitch selection.

All in all, this creates a player that seems--to me--to be fairly realistic. Let's look at his minor league stats through nearly two full seasons:




That's just what I was hoping for. 58 home runs in two seasons, 164 RBIs, and 250 strikeouts.

His line this season is strong: .283 BA, 34 HR (leading his AA league), 90 RBI (leading the league), and 141 Ks. I'm not sure they have league "leaders" in strikeouts, but believe me, he'd be crushing that, too.

He almost has as many extra base hits as he has singles. So a typical game for Enormous Bottoms might be 3 strikeouts and a towering home run.

I unintentionally avoided one of the biggest problems (for me) with RTTS mode. Building a player evenly tends to get him promoted too early, because as soon as his overall rating is better than the player in the league above him, he'll get promoted. Playing in a higher league, though, makes it harder to get training points based on performance (because performance will usually go down in a higher level league).

Enormous Bottoms, though, doesn't have that problem. He's spent almost two solid years in AA ball, because cranking up one ranking doesn't improve your overall rating nearly as quickly.

Plus, I love the minor leagues in this game. They added new ballparks this season, and most of them are terrific. So it's very pleasant to bumble around in the minor leagues for several seasons.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the game design elements of The Show and how they've substantially improved the game this year.

He's Baaack


That's right. 5'5" and 220 pounds of balding Puerto Rican-Japanese dynamite. Enormous Bottoms, #44 in your game program, but #1 in your heart.

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