Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I hit a nerve yesterday when I mentioned IBS, so I'm going to go into more detail today in hopes that it will help some of you guys.

First off, I've had IBS symptoms for about two decades. There's no specific test for IBS. It's more of an exclusionary diagnosis, after everything else is ruled out. I call it a "constellation" diagnosis, because almost every person has different issues and symptoms, and treatment is just as different.

For me, it's been incredibly confusing over the years. I've tried a ton of different diets, and none of them have made any difference whatsoever. It's never made any sense that I can eat some foods that should theoretically be hard on my stomach, but can't really eat others that would seem to be much more gentle. There's never been anything logical about it.

Also, the confounding thing is that it appears to be totally unrelated to stress. Last year, when we were traveling almost every week for hockey, I was exhausted and very stressed, but my stomach was better than it has been in years. Soon after we stopped for the season, though, my stomach ground to a halt, and it's been messed up pretty badly for about seven month, even though my stress level has gone way down.

A few weeks ago, I ran across something called the FODMAP diet. Here's a description from Wikipedia:
FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.

The term FODMAP is an acronym, deriving from "Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols." These carbohydrates are commonly found in the modern western diet. The restriction of these FODMAPs from the diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd. Since the development the diet has been studied for its efficacy for individuals with FGID and is now considered beneficial to be commonly recommended for individuals with FGID.

I have almost no idea what any of that means, but the clinical test results are very impressive. The rate of significant improvement was over 65% in the few studies that have been done. That convinced me to try it out.

I started with this: Stanford Health Care: The Low FODMAP Diet. Be warned, though, that this is an incredibly confusing diet, because there's no easily followed, general rule to know which foods are excluded. Nothing I know about food is of any use here, because (for example) some vegetables are okay, while others aren't. Same for fruits, etc. No lactose. No wheat. No a billion other things. You just have to consult the list.

It's also difficult to follow this diet because it seems so random. I was so desperate, though, that I was willing. What you basically do is follow the diet for 4-6 weeks, and if you've improved, you then slowly add foods in the "no" list back into your diet to see which foods cause problems. You won't react to everything on the excluded list, so you need to find out what specifically causes problems.

In some ways, this is like an elimination diet, but you're able to eat more foods at first, and there's a more specific basis for the process.

Most importantly, I'm actually getting better. This is the first diet I've ever followed where I could actually feel a difference. As additional supporting evidence, we had Thanksgiving dinner on Monday (long story), I ate anything I wanted, and I've been in substantial discomfort for the last two days. So I'm back on track today and I'm going to do everything I can to stick to this for the prescribed period.

If you have IBS and have never been able to find anything that helped, this might be worth trying.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I'm on this entirely bizarre diet (that, surprisingly, has several scientific studies supporting it) temporarily in my ongoing effort to improve my IBS. Good grief.

Because of this, I had to go to Whole Foods today.

A trip to Whole Foods is always like entering another universe. This time, though, I got pictures. Like this:

"Rugged mature English cheddar"? I expect the wrapper to be flannel with a fully realized backstory about how this cheese works at a logging camp.

Do we need "handcrafted" potato chips? And are they making those chips around a campfire or something? Who's that rugged fellow with his khakis showing? Is he also English and mature?

Gems of War

The developers of the original Puzzle Quest have a new F2P game out called Gems of War.

I thought I would play this for 15 minutes and dismiss it, given that it's F2P, but dismissing it hasn't been that easy. I've played it for almost two hours and it's very, very solid. In the simplest terms, it's a slightly overcaffeinated variation of Puzzle Quest, but man, it's well done. It's packed with just one more-isms.

Play mechanics are rock solid and the art is quite striking. I can't tell you about sound, because I'm double-tasking by listening to albums as I play.

If you enjoyed Puzzle Quest, I'd recommend giving this a whirl. I haven't encountered any F2P d-baggery yet--I haven't encountered any artificially difficult levels, and the nagging to buy things has been at a minimum so far.

I do have one concern, and it's the same concern I have with all F2P games. They all seem a little hyperactive, like every moment has to the greatest f-ing moment ever, because if it isn't, you'll just quit. All these games yell quite expertly, but none of them ever breathe. Gems of War is constantly giving you rewards, but they feel very calculated, if that makes any sense. It's as if they're trying to foster an addiction instead of rewarding play.

Of course, that's what all these games are doing, Candy Crush in particular. Feed the beast, find the whale, then haul them in. I find all of that very, very creepy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rocksmith 2014 (Further Impressions)

I've been playing Rocksmith 2014 for about 3 weeks now. I'm trying not to overdo it and burn out, so I'm limiting my practice to about 30 minutes a day.

After 10 hours, I've found out something interesting: I don't think I'm going to burn out this time.

Previously, I hit a wall with chords. It felt impossible.

This time, there's much more help with chords in the game, and I'm slowly progressing. I can play a few different chords now, and I don't feel frustrated. There's a chord "book" where I can review the fingering for a particular chord, and there's a mini-game that's based on chords. So it doesn't feel hopeless.

To me, this isn't a game at all. It's a well-designed, high-feedback learning tool, and I'm going to keep plugging away, because it's fun. I just wish I knew how guitar players twist their hands into impossible chord shapes.

I also bought the White Stripes song pack, which was an easy decision, because I like them so much. As an added bonus, the guitar on most of the songs is very straightforward, with less complex chords (but still plenty of interesting hooks).

There's also a band I'd never heard of before, and they're good. Very good. They're called Gold Motel, and here's the song that's in the game: Brand New Kind of Blue.

Gaming 101

"Dad, are they any open-world games besides Crackdown that I can play?" Eli 13.3 asked a few days ago.

"Well, I can think of one other game," I said. "It's one of the best games I ever played, at least in the last ten years."

"What is it?" he asked.

"Just Cause 2," I said.

And so it begins.

"Dad, there's a grappling hook!"

"I can hijack planes!"

"I can base jump!"

"I just jumped off a blimp"!

"I can parasail!"

"I just found a rocket base!"

I still have so many fond memories of this game that I get a big smile on my face whenever I think about it. Now Eli gets to have those memories, too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and I dare you not to laugh at this: We are All This Golden Retriever Spectacularly Bombing an Agility Test.

From Steve Davis, and I'm going to try this later: How to Fold the World’s Best Paper Airplane. Also, and this is quite interesting, it's Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry. One more, and it's excellent: GET TO KNOW A PROJECTION: AZIMUTHAL ORTHOGRAPHIC.

From Brian Witte, and this is mind-blowing: Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy. Also, and this is fascinating, it's NASA Computer Model Provides a New Portrait of Carbon Dioxide.

This is from J.R. Parnell, and it's a short documentary about the making of one of my favorite songs ever: Here’s The Amazing Story Of How 10cc Recorded "I’m Not In Love".

From Meg McReynolds, and I have no words: The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation.

From Shane Courtrille, and this is both forward-thinking and comforting: The Dutch Village Where Everyone Has Dementia: The town of Hogeway, outside Amsterdam, is a Truman Show-style nursing home.

From Dan Wilhite, and this is amazing: One of world’s largest landslide deposits discovered in Utah: A landslide with a 90 kilometer-long debris field? That's pretty big.

From Jeremy Connell, in reference to the breathing post I made last week. This guy is just incredible: William Trubridge.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an incredible piece of craftsmanship: The Roentgens' Berlin Secretary Cabinet.

From Lael Jones, and this is an amazing site: Story Corps. Lael describes it as "a site that collects stories from people as an oral history project", and it's tremendous.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Droid Turbo (Verizon)

I'm one of those old codgers who still has unlimited data with Verizon. To keep it, though, I have to buy my phones outright, not get the subsidized upgrade every two years.

Because of that, I kept my Samsung S3 for a long time, through drops and repairs and etcetera. The battery was starting to go, though, and I decided it was time for an upgrade--subsidized by me--but I couldn't find a phone that I wanted for almost a year.

When the Droid Turbo was released recently, it looked like the phone for me, so I went to a Verizon store to have a look. Verizon stores have this quaint service model from the 1950s, because it takes 20 minutes, at least, to get any help.

I told the representative that I would be willing to give up unlimited data in exchange for a reasonable level of data and a lower monthly bill. Then she started explaining the options and the charges and I felt like I was at a carnival staffed entirely by grifters. I'm surprised she didn't go to the back and bring out the sacred texts, then spend an hour consulting them with Verizon elders. She said it would be more expensive to go from unlimited data to 6GB of data.

Well, that makes sense.

It was absolutely miserable in a customer service sense, so I thanked her and left.

I wound up buying the phone through another vendor, and I'm very glad I did, because this phone is a killer. It is ultra-fast, the display is gorgeous, the camera shoots great pictures and video, and the battery is utterly ridiculous. I can use it for two days, at least, before I need to recharge it, and then there's a "turbo" charger that will charge it roughly 1% a minute.

If you're looking for a phone, I highly, highly recommend this one. I think the Droid Turbo is exclusive to Verizon, but there will be slight variants popping up with everyone shortly, I assume.

I'm in the middle of an upgrade cycle, I guess, because I'm building a new PC next week as well. My current PC is about five years old, and I need more power for Visual Studio as well as critically important things like Oculus Rift support in Elite: Dangerous. And stuff.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna): Impressions

This is simply wonderful.

Never Alone is a cultural document of the Iñupiat, framed by a simple platforming game. Here's a description:
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is the first game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of the game. Play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard which threatens the survival of everything they have ever known.

As you progress through the game, you uncover cultural highlights in the form of short videos that you can view whenever you'd like. As an example, one is about Scrimshaw, and do I even need to say anything after that?

It's absolutely beautiful, and while the game is relatively simple, it's also quite satisfying. As I mentioned, the visuals are terrific, and the sound design, in particular, is outstanding. The cultural videos are fascinating, and all the different elements are interwoven in a coherent and entertaining way.

As an added bonus, the narrator speaks in his native language, with English subtitles. That adds even more atmosphere to what is already a deeply atmospheric experience.

Here is the website: Never Alone. As a cultural document, this is a magnificent piece of work, and it is deeply entertaining as well.

This is What Happens When You Fast Forward Through Commercials

I saw an image of Santa, then immediately saw a sign that said "I NEED A KIDNEY."

A Brief Letter

Dear Buffalo,
I am very sorry.
Every Other Place On Earth

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Surprise (or two)

This has been quite a week for releases from small studio.

As I mentioned yesterday, This War of Mine is terrific. Very, very dark, but terrific.

Today, two additional games I've been looking forward to were released: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), which is based on folklore of the Alaska Native community, and Rollers of the Realm, a medieval pinball experience with role-playing elements and quite a few neat little twists.

I'm playing Never Alone tomorrow, but here are some brief impressions of Rollers of the Realm. There are a ton of neat ideas represented here, and they come together in a very light, satisfying experience. As an example, you have different characters, and each character is represented by a different pinball, each with their own physical characteristics. The Knight, for example, is heavier and does more damage. The healer is much faster and collects mana much more quickly (which can be used to revive a character if drained). There's loot to collect, and foes to fight, and each level is designed as some form of pinball table.

Like I said, Rollers of the Realm seems to be very much on the light side of gaming, but it's undoubtedly fun, and it's nicely designed. The visuals are crisp and clean, the voice-acting is decent, and the world is very cohesive.

I've played about an hour, I'm guessing, and it's been quite enjoyable. It's not Visual Pinball, but it's not trying to be--it's a game that combines elements from multiple genres, and it does so well.

This Couldn't Be Any Better

This is easily one of the best things I've ever seen. I mean, just have a look at the headline: "Town Tricks Neo-Nazis Into Raising Money For Anti-Neo-Nazi Charity."

Here are some details:
Each year, residents of Wunsiedel in Bavaria have to deal with a gathering of neo-Nazis who trek to their town to commemorate Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler's deputies, in a perverse recognition of National Heroes' Remembrance Day on Nov. 15, according to the Independent.

But this year, the townspeople teamed up with Rechts gegen Rechts (Right Against Right), an anti-extremist organization with a plan to turn the tables on the would-be brownshirts, as a video released by the group showed.

Their trick was simple enough: As the neo-Nazis prepared their annual march through the town, residents of Wunsiedel agreed to pledge €10 for every mile the unsuspecting fascists walked.

According to the video, the money would go to EXIT Germany, a charity dedicated to providing a way out for disillusioned rightwingers trying to escape the neo-Fascist scene.

Yes, that is undiluted genius.

Do yourself a favor and enjoy the video, because it will absolutely make your day a little better: Town Tricks Neo-Nazis Into Raising Money For Anti-Neo-Nazi Charity (VIDEO).

Monday, November 17, 2014

This War of Mine

This is a powerful, emotionally corrosive game.

I started playing earlier today, and find myself entirely unable to stop. My group of fellow survivors, living in an abandoned and decrepit building, are losing their emotional resiliency as our problems mount up. Self-sufficiency is a cruel fairy tale from other, more prosperous times.

My life is quite simple, on the face of it. During the day, I make what I can in the workshop. Tools, furniture, even weapons, but only if I have the right raw materials. I might also trade, if I trust the person enough to open the front door. If someone else is taking care of those responsibilities, I might grab some sleep. We only have one bed right now, so we use it in shifts.

At night, one of us goes to scavenge for supplies. This is critical, because it's not like we're going to be growing our own food anytime soon, and the last time I looked, this abandoned building was lacking a pharmacy.

There are relatively safe places to scavenge, but they will rarely have food and medicine. Sure, try the local superstore, except everyone else within 20 miles is thinking the same thing. Unless you want to resort to violence, you become a human rat, searching through every trash pile, through everything, for supplies. And the longer you're a rat, the more the potential rewards of violence begin to drift into your head.

The slow grind of despair is a remarkable achievement for any developer. Individual moments in this game weigh heavily on me, and I find myself agonizing over minor decisions. As my fragile band begins to weaken, both physically and spiritually, I find that a virtual despair settles over me as well.

Like I said in the open, powerful and emotionally corrosive. Brilliantly.

I'm not going to explain the mechanics or go anywhere that could remotely be considered a spoiler. The game's website is here, and I encourage you to go have a look. This War of Mine is exceptional, and exceptionally gripping.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is a powerful, mesmerizing article: Into nothingness In the 1940s, Japan’s search for a national philosophy became a battle for existence. Did Zen ideas create the kamikaze?

I've linked several times to stories about Soylent, the liquid food replacement that had a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign a while back. Here's a terrific article about Soylent and possible cultural consequences: Freedom from food: It takes time to plan a meal, to say nothing of cooking and eating it. What if we could opt out of food altogether?

Breaking Madden is one of my favorite videogame series ever. This week, Jon Bois tries to get Mark Sanchez to the Super Bowl--for over 90 years: Breaking Madden: The Mark Sanchez Century.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fascinating, an article about the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447: The Human Factor. Next, and this is depressingly predictable, it's The Cliff and the Slope: The proof is in: Detailed report shows how U.S. Internet access monopolies punish rivals and catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire—legally.

From Steven Davis, and this is a mesmerizing short film from the 1930s: Kiri-Clogs - A Tale Of Japan (1932). Also, and this is amazing, it's How Lobster Eyes Inspired a Radiant Heater. One more: Sesame Street: James Earl Jones: Alphabet.

I have no words for this, but what a picture: World's Smallest Man Meets World's Tallest.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is quite beautiful: Dad Filmed His Daughter For 15 Seconds Each Week From Birth To Age 14, The Result Will Leave You Breathless.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is both illuminating and amusing: Graphic Shows The Size Of Rosetta's Comet.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a fascinating video: Testing WWII Exploding Ammunition. That's right: exploding on purpose.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Head Exploding in 5,4,3...

Churchill Downs just bought Big Fish Games.

Stop laughing. Well, keep laughing, but it's real: Churchill Downs to Buy Big Fish Games for Up to $885 Million.

I hope John Cutter gets a piece of that $885 million.


I had to go to the dentist for a crown today.

I've been developing some anxiety about the dentist. I don't freak out in the chair or anything, but I definitely feel strongly uncomfortable. I've mentioned that before, I think.

I may have also mentioned that I very hard to focus on my breathing when I'm in situations like this (the dentist, MRI, etc.). What I didn't realize until today was the extent to which I can control my breathing.

I've always had a low pulse rate and low respiration rate. But I realized during the procedure today that I was breathing so slowly that it was worth measuring. So when I got out of the chair and into my car, I stopped for five minutes and timed how many breaths I took when I was focusing on controlling it.


That's total, not per minute.

When I swim, I do several things to increase my heart rate without otherwise increasing the physical stress. So when I do breaststroke, I'll try to swim half the lap underwater. Or when I swim freestyle, I'll try to swim every fourth or fifth stroke instead of second or third. Plus I can still swim an entire length underwater (which is not hugely unusual, but it's quite a while to go without breathing).

That all must be having some kind of effect, I guess.

Oh, and it's not Bradypnea, which is an "abnormally low breathing rate" along with all kinds of undesirable symptoms. I don't have any of those symptoms at all, and I feel fine. And I don't breathe that slowly when I'm not specifically focusing on it, although I think my respiration rate is probably in the low normal range.

Anyway, there's a physical oddity for you.

The Fraud of Frosted Flakes

Of course everyone's life would be much better if they had a super enthusiastic animated tiger in their kitchen. That has nothing to do with breakfast cereal.

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