Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Links!

From Wally, and this is thoughtful reflection: The Father Of The Internet Sees His Invention Reflected Back Through A 'Black Mirror'. This is lovely: In Germany, the world's most romantic postbox. This is both remarkable and bizarre: DIY dot matrix pencil printer.

From Guy Byars, and I've never heard of Crokinole, but it looks like fun: We're Mesmerized By This Incredibly Close Game Of Crokinole.

Dubious Quality Super Genius Garret Rempel sent in links to two of the most astounding skating performances in history. Words fail me.
Brasseur & Eisler: Patricia The Stripper
1992 Olympics EX - Isabelle Brasseur/Lloyd Eisler

From C. Lee, and this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read: What to say when you meet the Angel of Death at a party. Boy, what a surprise: England and US will not take Pisa tests in tolerance. A very odd idea: I Snuggled With This Robot Cat and It Didn't Scratch Me Once. This is an insightful look into indie development: How the Sausage gets made (aka "where the @$%^ is DQII"). This is terrific: You Should Thank Maurice Hilleman for Helping You Live Past the Age of 10.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jessie Diggins

I was going to write a post about my favorite athlete in the 2018 Winter Olympics yesterday.

She'd put in some absolutely mind-boggling cross-country performances, going so hard that I expected her rib cage to burst and her heart to explode. She seemed to have an unbendable will, and had performed incredibly well, even though she had two fifths and a sixth in her events so far. But she had gotten everything, absolutely everything, out of herself.

And she was an underdog, since the U.S. generally is weak in the Winter Olympics, with the exception of the 42Olympic events. And my whole life, I've always identified with underdogs.

Then she won a gold medal yesterday.

So I really wanted to write about her yesterday, but didn't want to put up a spoiler for people who record everything (like me).

The event was the Women's Cross Country Team Sprint, and her name is Jessie Diggins.

I was watching this race, and I was tearing up as she willed her redlined body to make one last sprint, a sprint so powerful that it should have been impossible.

The call of the race was incredible as well. Here's a link with a video of the last thirty seconds or so (I tried to find the entire race, but of course NBC is ass and I couldn't find it):
Women's Cross Country Team Sprint Finish

I've basically binge watched cross country skiing and biathlon during the Olympics, and I swear I'm going to start watching the world championships every year now. Not sure how, because our coverage of these events in the U.S. is nonexistent, but I'm going to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Yes, the Future (part two)

DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, who has always been one of the best people, said this to me a few years ago: "the game industry is searching for a business model that works, and none of them work."

Ah, that explains quite a lot, doesn't it?

It has been extraordinarily painful for me to realize two things in the last few years:
1. Gaming culture is a cesspool of misogyny, racism, and white nationalism.
2. Gaming companies have increasingly begun making products where there is no game, only behavioral manipulation.

Those both hurt, don't they?

I remember back in the long-ago 1980s, playing games and being absolutely amazed at how wonderful they were. PC gamers were different, it seemed. We were almost uniformly bright--elevated, even--and what worlds we could access!

Created by wonderful people, seemingly, incredibly creative people who were experimenting with an incredibly powerful new tool.

Maybe gaming culture was always full of assholes, and I just didn't know it because we weren't all connected back then, but it feels like at some point, it all went bad.

Things fall apart, as a nod to Chinua Achebe.

So I look back on something I've truly, truly enjoyed for over four decades, and it feels poisoned, to some degree. I still know deeply intelligent, thoughtful people who play games, but their voices have been drowned out by the braying shouts of idiots.

Now, instead of experiencing everything that gaming has to offer, instead of living all over the gaming world, I spend my time in secret gardens, places that haven't been trampled.

Little indie games, probably made by people somewhat like me, who played and loved games before the fall.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Yes, the Future

Remember how I wrote a while back about how games with microtransactions are inherently ruined, because the desired player state is not engagement and satisfaction, but purchasing?

Here we go.

A presentation given to gaming companies was leaked (by someone terrified by our dystopian future, I assume). Here's the setup:
The paper's slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank.

Yeah, it's definitely not a prank.

Here's a link to the full presentation (don't read it in the dark), but let me extract a few particularly sleazy moments for you.

Previous dynamic pricing models caused backlash because customers viewed selectively increased charges as unfair. Our [pricing] models go under people's radars by disguising dynamic prices as rewards instead of indirect taxations.
... We show how a customer is targeted by our Reddit AI Chatbot H.A.N.K. and is persuaded to return to a previous product they had otherwise publicly disavowed. Those responses are not generated by a human! They are created out of AI's problem set being to resolved our stated goal of manipulating the customer into reactivating themselves. H.A.N.K.'s targeting can extend to additional social media platforms.
... The AI was able to determine when a user was laying down and had the phone in their lap in their bedroom based on GSM data. After a few minutes, users were being targeted for many "free bonus", non-revenue generating gameplay ads, and the AI severely discouraged premium ads. The AI found a correlation between this specific sitting position and increased revenue in the following days. 
... The AI has a subroutine specifically for high value distraction events. A distraction event is something that a user will prioritize attention to over the game... for example, is a user is in their home and 100% of the time a child crying ends a game session, that is a high or maximum value distraction event. The AI begins a new testing lifecycle that starts when the game session closes. It will patiently lie in wait for the high value distraction event to end, then it tries to learn what actions it can take in order to create a new lucrative gaming session from the user. 
... This Artificial Frustration Event pattern was built off this player's personal frustration past. Frustration was induced during a natural gameplay event. Specifically, this user died while they were attacking an enemy human player in an arena that had the characteristics of being higher level than them, had very low health at the end of the fight, had shown to hit their random critical strikes often, had an above-0 spectator count, and ended after more than triple the time an arena fight normally takes...The AI then loads a new goal to increase revenues...After it finds a pattern, it will introduce premium solutions we've preset to each of these problems. For example, level boosts, Critical Strike booster, and other pay-to-win avenues. In this case, low health victory was the main cause of frustration. The AI recommended an MVA to the player, with the player bought. The player was then paired against other people who were vulnerable to the same target vector (Frustration Quick) and the MVA caused frustration to the new player during their natural gameplay event.

Well, I guess you need to go take a shower now after reading this. Go ahead, I'll wait.

The basis of this foul beast is a monitoring program that the user can choose to opt out of, but they have to opt out.

If they don't, then the program collects audio data from their cellphones and analyzes it to identify thousands of possible sounds that indicate a user's current state. They can also use data from wifi and GPS to construct a model of the user's environment.

Oh, and there's a social media AI to manipulate the user into engaging with a game or returning. Incredible.

Most incredibly, and this is so far off the Known Chart of Evil that I have no frame of reference, it's manipulating the outcome of user versus user competition in games to influence the purchase of premium in-game items. Then, when the poor sap has purchased the premium item, they match him against another poor sap who HASN'T purchased the booster yet.

And so it goes.

Man, it depresses me so much to even by typing this shit out.

It seems like it's time to face some ugly truths:
1. This will get more evil and insidious, because there's so much money to be made.
2. Any game with micro-transactions that are not purely cosmetic is probably pure evil to some degree. There is no innocence here.
3. Any game with competitive multiplayer that also has pay to win mechanics is infested beyond hope.

Based on the presentation, Orwell was an optimist.

Is there any way to protect ourselves from this? Well, never buying a game with micro-transactions seems like a good place to start.

All those "free" games? Nope. Apparently, freedom is never free, as the saying goes. Or something like that.

Also, if a game has competitive multiplayer, but offers pay-to-win in any form, no matter how seemingly mild, run away. You are being manipulated beyond your ability to conceive, at a level of intrusiveness that is downright terrifying.

Big publishers? They're all doing it. If they don't say they're not doing it, they're doing it. And what they're doing is very, very dirty.

Fortunately, we're in a very bipolar era in gaming. Excellent little indie games are everywhere, and they're mostly wonderful, and because of that, we don't need to put up with any of this crap.

Not one bit of it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Way Behind on Email--Sorry!

It's not you, it's me. Trying to catch up tomorrow.

A Winner, For Sure

"Here's what I want to see," I said. "A skater dressed as a puppet, beginning the free skate in a collapsed position on the ice."

Eli 16.6 laughs.

"Suddenly, he jerks to life!" I said. "He careens around the ice wildly, as if he's straining to break free of an unseen hand controlling him. In the background of the music, you hear a child's voice shout, 'I want to be a real boy!' "

"Oh, Dad," Eli says.

"Then he continues skating blah blah blah," I said. "That might win TWO gold medals."

Things come to your mind--bad things--if you watch the Olympics long enough.

I really think there's room in the Olympics for a team free skate event. That way, one skater could be a mime trapped in a box, and the other skaters on the team could form the box. Ratings bonanza.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Links!

This is a gripping and magnificently written article: The White Darkness: A solitary journey across Antarctica.

From Chris M, and this is remarkable: Engineering Marvel of the Winter Olympics: A Broom.

From Geoff Engelstein, and this is entirely fantastic: This 19-year-old Kiwi farmer accidentally became a character in a US board game.

From Wally, and this is very interesting: The bread that changed how the Irish eat breakfast. This is terrific: The Pinball Doctors: The Last Arcade Technicians in NYC. This is a remarkable story:  A Bomber’s First and Last Mission. This is incredible:  The Marksman Who Refused to Shoot George Washington. This is incredibly cool: My crazy kid jumping on his buddy’s ice covered trampoline. This is certainly creative: Best pirate I've ever seen.

From Michael M., and this is quite a story: Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech's Repair Monopoly.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific read: The Sixth Stage of Grief Is Retro-computing. This is excellent: The Argument Against Quantum Computers. Incredible: Heart Stents Are Useless for Most Stable Patients. They’re Still Widely Used.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pictures (part 2)

Big goings on around here this week--I'll fill you in on Monday--so one more picture post. 

Seriously, what the hell is this?

That is a phrase that influences people to buy something. They're just throwing together words at random now: "wild", "craft", "ethics", "Non-GMO", "clean", etc. Just throw three of those at the wall and peel off what sticks. 

Of course, it raises a legitimate question: is there a way to unethically wildcraft something?

Here's another great one, and God knows, we've needed this product for a long time:

That's right: cat litter with probiotics. I looked for a version with active cultures, but was unable to locate.

Finally, it's been so cold up here that some wildlife froze right in the middle of the street (looks like Cecil Turtle to me):

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

In Comparison

The first link on Friday is to an incredible story about Henry Worsley, who tried to solo--across Antarctica.

On a previous crossing expedition, he'd gone with two others, and there's a list of the clothing he packed for the journey: His clothing included two pairs of pants, a fleece shirt, a down jacket with a hood, gloves, a neck gaiter, a face mask, two pairs of long johns, and three pairs of socks.

That's it. That's all the clothing he packed to cross Antarctica.

I was reading this list, and I started thinking about what I wear in the rink. Let's compare (I'm in plain text, Henry Worsley in italics):
Two pairs of pants (two pairs of pants)
Three Patagonia base layer shirts (a fleece shirt)
Goose down parka with hood (down jacket with hood)
Gloves (gloves)
No face mask (face mask)

I'm basically wearing more clothes in the rink THAN A GUY CROSSING ANTARCTICA. Plus Hot Hands.

And I still get cold.

Under the Big YMCA Top

"Incredibly, someone is checking you out," I said to Eli 16.6.

He was working out at the YMCA, with me as staff, so I was tossing balls to him at various times, etc.

I noticed a girl who was persistently looking at him. This isn't that unusual at the YMCA, because even if you're a guy with a neck the size of a Buick, Eli is doing things that you can't even conceive of doing. He is both a point of interest and a colorful local character.

He finished an exercise and walked back toward the weight area, and he crossed past where the girl (and her mother) were working out.

When he came back, I was ready for chirping. "So was she checking you out?" I asked.

He burst out laughing. "Her mom looked at me and asked, 'Are you in the circus'?"


"She did," he said. "I only wish I had thought to say 'That's Plan B'."

"In her defense," I said, "you were balancing on a Bosu ball, pressing a fifteen-pound ball with your left hand, and juggling two balls with your right."

"Fair point," he said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


We got some weather last week:

I think that's a foot of snow, roughly, in about five days or so. It snowed so hard, for so long, that all the snowplows got behind (which doesn't happen often up here--the infrastructure is pretty incredible). I felt like I was driving in Siberia:

I was snowshoeing around the lake, and it was so beautiful. Deep, deep powder (which is hugely exhausting), no tracks, just untouched snow.

Except for this:

It was about the size of a door, and I wondered. Portal into an underground resort? I'd like very much for that to be true. An underground, tropical resort.

I don't even mind the temperatures, or the snow. I just have boot fatigue, as crazy as that sounds. I'm sick of putting on my winter boots every day and clomping around in them.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Whatever Winter Olympics of Figure Skating in a City I Can't Possibly Spell

The biathlon is awesome. Probably my favorite Winter Olympic sport.

In America, we can't find two people who actually understand biathlon, so for the 7.5KM sprint, NBC finds a guy who understands the sport and pairs him with--a moron.

Here's how well that strategy worked.

Knowledgeable guy:
You can tell when he's getting tired because the kick out on his stroke gets choppy.


Knowledgeable guy.
(Surprisingly interesting technical comment. Nuance. A thoughtful perspective on the challenges of the sport.)


Also, we were watching curling, and suddenly, I had a thought.

"Hey, do you think curling has THE HAMMER?" I asked.

Eli 16.6 burst out laughing.

"Oh man, I bet it does," he said.

"So every time you go curling," I said, "there's that one guy whose only objective is to knock all the rocks out of the circle with one shot, and he curls at 40 MPH."

"Curling is his winter sport when he's not bowling," Eli said.

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